The corridor was always a familiar one, although it changed each time. Now it was the forbidden third floor corridor from his first year, now it was the stairway leading to the attic in number 12 Grimmauld Place, and now it was the hidden passage way to the cellar of Honeydukes. Wherever it was, it was dark, lit only by torches, even if there were no torches there in real life. There was always a slight breeze, causing the flames to dance and sputter and causing the hair on his arms to rise in a feeble attempt of warmth.
It always ended in the chamber.
The mirror was always in the chamber's middle.
The odd part, the part that drove him into an agitated frenzy, was that he could never look in it. He wanted to, desperately, even though he knew it wouldn't show him anything real. He'd see a fantasy.
Isn't it true that all legends have some basis in reality?
Since the end of the war, he'd been lost. He'd worked on settling down, getting married, getting a job, picking up the pieces and getting on with life. He'd watched his friends and loved ones around him, all doing the same thing. The difference was that they seemed genuinely happy with the results. He just felt like he was going through a series of senseless motions that didn't really mean anything.
If he looked in the mirror, he'd at least know what it was he wanted. He would, perhaps, have a goal he could work towards. If nothing else, he would be able to see his family one more time...Albus...Sirius...
But no matter how close he got or what way he turned his head, he could not see inside the mirror.
He'd wake grinding his teeth in frustration.
Of course, there was no time in his daily life for dreams. There were still Death Eaters to be hunted down. There were whispers of a new Dark Lord, quick to step into the fallen one's place, or maybe it was just that Voldemort hadn't quite died...again..., who was going to decimate the country while it struggled to recover from its last troubles. There were Dementors everywhere and the raging debate over whether or not to return the ghastly things to their previous job guarding Azkaban.
In short, there was reality to deal with.
Besides, he didn't trust dreams, hadn't since he was fifteen. Dreams lied. Still, laying asleep at night with the mirror before him was so tempting...
The door was open.
He was intent enough on the shadowy figures fleeing in front of him that he didn't quite realize at first that he'd passed from the secret corridor into the chamber itself, but the second his shoes hit damp stone instead of loose dirt and rocks, he knew.
He knew what to expect, of course. The chamber hadn't changed any since he'd last seen it. The statue of Salazar Slytherin sneered down at him from the far end, stone eyes accusing him for the long, rotting corpse stretched across the floor. Rats skittered across the floor, bold now that the scaled menace was dead, and watched him with beady eyes. The pillars supporting the roof made excellent cover for the Dementors he was chasing, and he fully expected to be mobbed by black tatters any moment.
What he didn't expect was the mirror.
He looked nervously around, his intestines twisting around themselves as he tried to fight the sudden juxtaposition of a month's worth of dreams and the reality around him. He was awake. Voldemort was dead, so there was no one to know his dreams, no one to set a trap, unless the new Dark Lord had found a way to read his thoughts.
He didn't even know if there was a new Dark Lord, so that seemed even less likely than it normally would.
The Dementors couldn't very well set a trap like this. It would have involved lifting the mirror, moving it.
Something in the darkness rustled, bringing him back to himself. This wasn't the time for dreams. He was here for a reason and that reason was lurking somewhere, waiting for him to be distracted.
He inched further into the chamber, heading for the wall. He'd flush the Dementor out, destroy it, and then he'd look in the mirror. He'd have his answers and his safety both. Yes, that was the sensible thing to do. Hermione would undoubtedly be proud.
The Dementor shot from behind one of the nearby pillars, rushing him. He raised his wand, easily pulling forward the memory of Bill and Fleur's wedding. For some reason that he couldn't fathom, it was always their wedding, never his own. It was the sign that the war was over, that life could continue, that it was possible to hope again.
The Dementor dodged the antlers of his Patronus and darted across the chamber. He followed, the silver stag running before him across the slippery stones. The rats scattered, chittering angrily at the interruption of their nice, quiet evening.
His shoe hit a particularly slick patch in the stone and he lost his balance. He skidded to a stop, arms shooting out to brace himself against the empty air in a wild, and somehow successful, attempt to stay upright. Catching himself to make sure he really did have his balance, he looked up from the stones.
The Dementor had vanished again.
Cursing, he turned around, trying to see where the Dementor had gotten off to. In his mad dash, he'd completely lost track of where he was, so it was rather surprising when he found himself looking into the mirror.
There was nothing stopping him now, no odd twist of dream logic that kept him from seeing the polished surface quite clearly, but what he saw didn't answer any more questions than the dream had. No lost loved ones smiled and waved at him encouragingly. No life plan stretched in front of him. He couldn't even see where that damned Dementor was hiding.
He couldn't see anything. The mirror was pitch black.
The Dementor all but forgotten, a little warning note niggling at the back of his mind, he reached out and touched the glass. His first impulse was that the mirror was broken. That was logical, wasn't it? Even magical artifacts stopped working after enough time, and who knew how old the mirror was? The only other option was that it was still working and this, this blackness was what he wanted.
But if that was so, what was the blackness? Why did he want it? How could he find it?
Or could it find him?
There was a rustling directly behind him. Strong, bony fingers clamped along his jaw and the sides of his face, tilting his head up. There was a blast of fetid, rotting breath...