What Would You See…?
A series of short stories by Ada Kensington
Acutely aware of his own laboured breathing, Severus Snape heaved his half of the package over another banister for the Headmaster to drag it up, over, and round yet another bend of the endless, criss-crossing maze of stairwells that made up Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Severus used the brief pause to wipe a few beads of sweat from his brow and to get his breath back. They had been lugging this package from one end of the school to another… and another… and yet another. However, each time they stopped, the Headmaster would pause thoughtfully, survey the new surroundings and shake his head quickly. Each time, Severus would sigh, pointedly, and would get ready to lift his end of the mysterious package to yet another obscure corner of the school.
To Severus, said mysterious package was truly mysterious. It was – in his opinion – a positive enigma. When the Headmaster had sent for him, he had mistakenly believed that Dumbledore had wished to discuss recent…rumours. However, when he arrived, to his utter surprise, he was assigned to heavy labour.
Heavy labour, that is, in heaving this bloody heavy parcel to the four corners of the school and back…
That had suited Severus. Heavy labour was infinitely less painful that discussing the current whereabouts of Lord Voldemort.
Upon reaching what felt like the hundredth corridor and the thousandth door, the Headmaster stopped so shortly that Severus rammed into his decidedly unyielding end of the mammoth parcel and responded by releasing a string of obscenities that would have made Minerva McGonagall blush. Dumbledore, however, seemed to have gone temporarily deaf (as was usually the case with Severus) and just smiled absently. While Severus continued to curse wheezingly, he opened a heavy door to a rather deserted looking room – and all at once – seemed to find what he was looking for.
Indeed, it seemed to be the case, for with twinkling eyes, he turned to Severus and beckoned him to step over the threshold. Groaning and wincing inwardly – Severus strode over to the room, and peered, scowling, inside.
The room was certainly deserted. Cobwebs stretched from corner to corner like strange, silvery parodies of paper chains. Dust thickly quilted the floor and old wood wormed chairs were stacked up against the walls, looming out from the shadows – brooding towers – and were all but forgotten. Aside from the chairs, the room itself was devoid of any other furnishings, and also seemed to have been devoid of any life – or indeed, unlife, as was usually the case with deserted rooms at Hogwarts – for quite some time. The only remnant of the outside world that ever touched this lonely room was the light, which filtered in through the few dusty windows – lending the room an eerie, ethereal hue, which made Severus, altogether, strangely unsettled.
“I think, my dear Severus, that we have found what we’ve been looking for,” the Headmaster whispered suddenly in his ear, making him start.
Severus blushed. Angry with himself for jumping, he regained his composure by ironing his face and slapping on his customary sneer.
“…And pray tell, Headmaster. What exactly have we found, after this past, cursed hour?” Severus snapped.
“Why, what we have been looking for, Severus,” the Headmaster replied in earnest, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “Now do stop gaping, and kindly help me with this package”.
Severus shut his mouth abruptly and mechanically stooped to lift (hopefully for the last time) the mysterious object into the lonely classroom, swearing that this would be the first and last time he ever helped this tiresome old dotard with his equally tiresome errands. However, Severus knew as well as anyone, that Albus Dumbledore was no tiresome old dotard. In fact (although Severus would never admit it openly), Albus Dumbledore was one of the most shrewd and clever people he had ever met – this coming from a pureblood, Slytherin.
Smiling slightly (although only slightly,) Severus hefted up the heavy package into a vertical position – where it seemed to stand quite capably on its own, with no need for support – and stepped back and mopped his brow with the back of his sleeve, sweeping away a strand of ebony hair from his eyes.
Standing upright, and illuminated by the eerie, grey glow, the structure – or whatever the cursed thing was – seemed rather… sinister. Covered still in its brown paper wrapping and string, it looked on the outside, rather nondescript.
However, Severus could sense that the object, whatever it was, was powerfully magical. For Merlin’s sake, he could practically reach out and touch the aura of raw magic emanating from the substantial object! Severus was overcome by a sudden and unfounded desire to tear down the wrapping and gaze upon the object and his wish was unexpectedly granted, as the Headmaster stepped forward and began to strip the contents from their wrappings. Not wanting to seem idle (of course), he quickly joined the Headmaster in tearing off the paper.
As the last sheet fell, Severus gazed up, looking with interest to see what this bloody thing was that he had carried halfway round the school and back.
It was, in fact, a mirror. A bloody impressive mirror at that.
An ornate structure, looking as though it had been crafted from a single lump of solid gold, stretched from the dusty floor to the lofty cobwebbed ceiling and rested on two huge clawed, golden feet (the feet being the end he had run in to a little earlier, he thought sourly). The mirror itself must have been set into its grand frame sometime after the frame was carved, as he didn’t quite know why, but he felt that the mirror somehow didn’t belong to its lavish frame. It made him feel a little uneasy to look at it, and a cold shiver ran down his spine, making him shudder when he inadvertently locked eyes with himself.
It was time to go.
“Headmaster, if you’re quite done now, I think I’d like to get back to my marking,” Severus said slowly, unable to take his eyes from the mirror.
There was no answer.
“Headmaster?” Severus said, turning around now, only to find that he was utterly alone in the eerie, forgotten classroom.
“Hmph,” Severus snorted, tossing his head angrily. “He could have at least told me he was…”
Severus trailed off.
For something had caught his eye. Something that was previously unseen, half hidden in the shadows where the light did not fall. Something that made Severus catch his breath…
Creeping forward to the mirror, he rose up on tiptoe and raised a thin, delicate hand to the smooth, curved strip above the mirror and slowly wiped away the dust to reveal a heavily engraved inscription, which read:
“Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi”.
Erised. The infamous Mirror of Erised…
In the History of Magic class in his day at Hogwarts, he had learned of this mystical enigma, and knew vaguely the mirror’s use. When he had become a professor, he had then heard rumours that the mirror was kept, hidden away, within the very walls of Hogwarts. The mirror, which gave neither knowledge, nor truth, was now standing silently and expectantly before him.
He now knew, without a doubt, why Dumbledore had enlisted his help beforehand and why he had so suddenly and abruptly left – and smiled nastily as he remembered the previous night’s conversation with the Headmaster.
What was his heart’s desire?
He truly did not know.
Whatever it was, it was obscene.
It was obscene how he feared and loathed Tom Riddle, taking the first opportunity that arose to betray him and the fold. Yet somewhere in his heart, somewhere in the deepest, darkest recesses of his heart – he was fascinated by him. Drawn irresistibly to his power, to his mellifluous voice, to his piercing gaze that could penetrate into the very recesses of your soul. His very presence sent electric shivers of adrenaline through him at the mere memory. Drawn in helplessly by his mind – his brilliant mind – sharp and brilliant like shards of fractured glass…
But he had turned.
Turned from the fold and betrayed his Lord. Betrayed his Lord and became a spy for Albus Dumbledore. A weak minded, cowardly, traitorous spy…
His mind and heart were in turmoil, and Albus had sensed it. Last night, Albus had asked quietly if he had ever regretted it.
He couldn’t answer him…
…and he hated himself for it.
Severus’s eyes began to sting with the beginnings of hot tears. However, he determinedly forced them back, clenched his fists tightly and took a deep shuddering breath.
“Well, Severus…” he whispered to himself. “What is your heart’s desire? What would you see…?”
Steeling himself, he stepped forward once again and locked eyes with himself – although it clearly was not himself. The image of a tall, thin man with shoulder length black hair and long, thin, pale fingers stared comfortably back at him with glittering black eyes and thin lips curled into a smug sneer. Severus stared stonily back at his “reflection”, trembling slightly – fearing what this apparition might show him.
For a heartbeat, he nearly turned and fled – but something kept him there.
It was now, or never…
“Show me…” he whispered shakily.
His reflection took a step forward, and in one fluid motion, it jerked up the sleeve of its left arm and thrust it in front of Severus – smiling nastily.
There was nothing. Not a blemish, not a scratch. Nothing.
The tears now trickled freely down Severus’s pale cheeks as he realised. He now understood what his heart’s desire was and, although he began to feel a little afraid – he could now answer Albus fully and wholeheartedly.
His reflection had now rolled up its sleeve, and stood, smiling back at Severus – watching expectantly. Severus managed a watery nod to the apparition in recognition, and it nodded back once – then disappeared. Wiping his tear stained eyes with the back of his sleeve, he turned round to leave…
…and ran straight into the Headmaster.
“Coming Severus?” the Headmaster asked conversationally, clearly ignoring Severus’s distressed appearance.
Severus, extremely grateful, played along. Drying his eyes and holding his head up high – he walked out of the room in front of the Headmaster – oblivious to the warm smile that was given to him from behind. Behind Severus, the Headmaster nodded, looking extremely relieved, then took Severus by the arm steered him away from the mirror and out of the room.
“Come, my dear Severus. There’s a delicious looking cream cake downstairs that I wish to sample,” Dumbledore said brightly.
Severus let himself be swept away downstairs and smiled slightly, as he remembered his reflection with neither a blemish, not a scratch.
“…his mind may be brilliant,” Severus thought to himself. “But in the end, it is ultimately fractured”.
He was ready – and he had never regretted it.