Length: 1000 words approx
Summary: There is danger in dwelling on past mistakes.
Warnings: SPOILERS for Deathly Hallows
Author's note: Prompted by a question JKR was asked in a recent interview.
One glimpse was his undoing.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, Dumbledore found he could not help himself, unheeding of the sage counsel he had offered others; the long-held, oft-suppressed desire was suddenly overwhelming. Though the flickering torchlight offered little illumination for the room around him, what could be seen in those tantalising depths as he stood and stared was clear and bright.
Truly tantalising, he knew; for this vision was not truth, but merely a dream, something he could see but never again touch. He had once hoped to learn how to make such a dream reality; but he had lost the reality only when he began to dream of doing so. The only knowledge the dream offered him was the cruel understanding that he had never succeeded, and should never have tried.
Nonetheless, he knew only too well the lure of such dreams. He allowed himself to dwell in it; to see her once again as she had been, as she might have been, happy and smiling and safe -- sitting next to them, surrounded by the printed patterns he remembered with fond amusement, practising the calming Muggle pastime she had so enjoyed.
He could not have said how long he stood there, but knew it was too long for wisdom. He stared into the dream until a welcome shadow passed across him, breaking the moment.
"You sent for me, Headmaster?"
He looked away from the Mirror, his feelings at the interruption a familiar mixture of reluctance and relief, and turned to the man at his side. "Yes, Severus. In the light of what happened on Hallowe'en, I feel the need of additional protection for the Stone. I intend to add another small obstacle of my own." Seeing the other's raised eyebrows, he added, "At my request, an old friend has loaned me this excellent mirror to place in the last chamber. It has ... interesting properties, shall we say."
"I see." Professor Snape did not, in fact, look as if he did. "And I am required because ..."
"Once I have passed through your most ingenious challenge, I will need to replenish the potions." Snape nodded in understanding. "It might be advisable to place a Refilling Charm on the bottles, I suppose, as doubtless I shall need to visit again." Dumbledore took pains to keep his voice light, a distraction for himself as much as for Snape, using conversation to keep his mind away from dreams and visions.
"Very well. Do you need my assistance with this ... mirror?"
"Oh, I imagine I shall be able to manage by myself. Although I do confess that I wish I had thought of this before. As I think you have discovered, getting past Fluffy --" Snape scowled, whether at the reminder or simply at the name was unclear "-- is a delicate operation. And I have no reason to suppose our other colleagues have made things any more straightforward -- not least for one transporting such a cumbersome object."
Snape was silent for a moment as he digested this. "What does it do?" he asked abruptly. "Or is that too a secret?" He glanced at the frame, and then his eyes widened in understanding as he read the inscription.
Dumbledore smiled. "You seem to have worked the answer out for yourself, as is your ..."
He trailed off. Snape was staring into the Mirror, his hands jerking as if he were restraining himself from reaching out to touch what he saw there, and for a fleeting moment there was an expression of terrible longing on his face.
Dumbledore sighed in understanding, and placed a gentle hand on the younger man's shoulder. "I think you see what I see, Severus," he said quietly.
"I hardly think so, Dumbledore!"
"Oh, the faces we see may be different. But those we have loved and yet been unable to protect ... never give us rest." Snape looked at him with sudden intense curiosity, but he shook his head in discouragement. Now was not the time to discuss the matter, if indeed there ever came such a time. "And I would advise you also -- even if sometimes I fail to take my own advice -- do not dwell in dreams and forget to live."
"Nor dwell in the past, and so forget my wounds?" replied Snape bitterly. "What choice do I have? There is no spell to bring them back." When Dumbledore did not immediately reply, he added, "Oh, of course, that other Stone. One of the so-called Hallows of legend, none of which I ever expect to see in reality."
Dumbledore hesitated for a fraction of a second, but fortunately Snape had turned away and could not see his face. He hoped also that he could not hear the older man say softly, "Once I thought I saw it ... in a memory not my own." He shook his head and made the effort to speak in his normal tones. "Severus, be reasonable. You have now seen what this Mirror does. It has driven men to madness -- and for much the same reasons as the Hallow would have done, if the legends were true."
Snape's lips quirked into an unwilling smile. "Perhaps it is as well that neither of us possess it, then," he said. "I, for one, could not trust myself not to use it."
"Nor I." The admission was wrenched from him, and again there was that intent stare from the other, and again he forced levity into this voice. "I think you are correct, Severus -- we are two most untrustworthy people. And --" he said briskly "-- I think we will both feel more at ease if this mirror does not remain here any longer than absolutely necessary. Please fetch the necessary potions, and meet me on the third floor."
Snape glanced once more at the Mirror, then nodded and left abruptly.
Dumbledore raised the Elder Wand and spun it in his fingers, and as the Mirror of Erised rose into the air and began to float across the room, he caught one more glimpse in its depths of his sister, of his brother, of himself; and as he swiftly turned his head away from the vision he saw that the dream version of himself held in his hands yet another of the steady stream of small tokens she had knitted to present to them as loving gifts; unwanted by him then, ached for now.