It was February, the Christmas holidays were now barely a memory and the toast had fallen in the fire again.
Eloise had never quite got the hang of the toasting forks they used in the Hufflepuff common room. Her parents were both muggles and she could use a toaster just fine; it was only the long handled iron forks which continued to elude her. The toast always either burnt to a frazzle or fell into the fireplace. She'd actually managed to retrieve her slice today before it was completely destroyed and she'd eaten it with a vague sense of pride that it was at least vaguely edible, despite being mostly charcoal. That was when the giggling started.
After making the toast, she'd retreated to her usual corner of the common room with a book. It wasn't that Eloise wanted to avoid her housemates, it was just that she always felt so awkward talking to them... to anybody, really. Dealing with people – like making toast in a fireplace - was just something Eloise wasn't very good at. Her family didn't count; she had years of practice talking to them, but trying to have conversations with the people at school made her feel stupid. It seemed like everybody was cleverer, prettier or more interesting than she was and she was sure they laughed at her behind her back. Her mum said everybody feels that way when they're young and that nobody was really laughing at her, they were all too worried at being laughed at themselves. Eloise remained unconvinced. She had heard them laughing at her. In fact, she could hear them laughing at that very moment...
She slowly lowered the book and looked out at the common room. Several people quickly turned away when she looked in their direction, but continued to giggle behind their hands. That answered that then. They were definitely laughing at her, but why? It wasn't fair! She hadn't done anything wrong today; in fact, she'd been doing really well. She'd earned a housepoint in Astronomy the night before and today she'd finally made toast that she could actually eat. Eloise fished in her pocket for a hanky and wiped her nose, just in case. The laughter simply got worse and Eloise felt an icy tendril of panic creeping up her spine. That was when Megan came over.
"Um, Eloise? Did you eat that toast that fell into the fire?"
Eloise didn't say anything, she felt shaky and embarrassed and in any case, she didn't have a clue what the correct answer was. Did Megan think she'd stolen somebody else's toast?
"Only, well... the thing is, Wayne was using the fire to talk to his mum earlier and I think you might have accidentally eaten some of the floo powder he used."
Wayne Hopkins was watching the conversation from the other side of the room and sniggering. In fact it seemed like the whole common room had stopped what they were doing and were staring at her and Megan. Eloise still didn't know what to say. She just sat there like an idiot, hugging her book to her chest as the icy tendril reached her neck and the panicky feeling got worse and worse.
"You're muggleborn, so of course you wouldn't know, but you're really not supposed to eat it. My little brother went through a whole tub when he was two and he was ill for ages. Anyway, your... erm... your face has gone a bit... orange."
Megan almost managed to say it without laughing; she got as far as the last word, then snorted and buried her face in her hands. Finally able to move, Eloise dropped her book on the floor and ran from the common room before anybody could see her cry. She could hear Megan shouting after her...
"Wait, Eloise! I didn't mean to laugh. Come back! I'll help you fix it!"
...but she didn't stop.
It wasn't that the other Hufflepuffs meant to be nasty. She realised that once she'd calmed down. They'd have laughed at anybody who accidentally dyed their face a stupid colour. They weren't being spiteful, not like some of the Slytherins would have if they'd seen her. The trouble was that it didn't seem to make a difference. She still felt stupid for making a mistake that was apparently more common amongst two year olds and she still felt as if somebody with very cold hands was trying to strangle her whenever she got embarrassed or scared. No wonder people laughed at her, she couldn't cope with the simplest things! This wasn't the first time she'd run away from her classmates to hide in the store-room; by now it was almost as familiar to her as her own dormitory.
Except something about it was different today; there was something big at the far end with a cloth draped over it. Eloise knew it hadn't been there before the Christmas holidays and the trails on the dusty floor seemed to indicate that it had only recently been dragged into the room. Curious, Eloise stepped closer and lifted a corner of the cloth covering the whatever-it-was. There was a mirror underneath and Eloise tugged at the cloth a bit more so she would be able to see how bad the orange on her face was. The cloth slithered to the floor all at once and she began to see that the thing that had been under it might not be a mirror at all, but a moving portrait covered in glass or something else equally strange. Certainly, the room in the mirror looked nothing like the dusty store-room Eloise was currently in. The girl in the mirror did look like Eloise, but only from the back.
When her reflection turned around, Eloise's first thought was that the mirror was very cruel. The reflection was the same height as Eloise, with brown hair of the same length, but their faces couldn't have been more different. Her reflection had none of the blemishes that Eloise spent ages every morning unsuccessfully trying to hide, nor did she have Eloise's hesitant posture. The reflection didn't seem like a girl who would panic when people laughed at her. She didn't seem like a girl that people would ever laugh at, but if they did, she certainly wouldn't let it bother her. The real Eloise was deeply envious of this strange version of herself who didn't seem to care what people thought of her. Eloise wasn't like that; she wanted to belong and worried herself sick wondering if she'd ever find her place in the world. The reflection appeared to have found her place in the world already; it was 'wherever I happen to be.'
Eloise sat on the abandoned dust-cloth and watched the girl in the mirror make toast in a fireplace. Her timing was impeccable and she pulled the slice out of the fire and transferred it to the plate without even burning her fingers a little. She made the whole thing look easy. The real Eloise shuffled a little closer to the mirror to watch and nearly jumped out of her skin when her reflection suddenly tapped on the glass. Eloise's heart was racing as she tried to decide whether to run away or re-cover the mirror, but her reflection was smiling and waving at her and in the end Eloise managed to return the wave with a hesitant little trill of the fingers.
Now the reflection was making more toast, but she was sitting at an odd angle to the fireplace so that Eloise could see what she was doing. She cut a thick slice of bread and carefully stuck it onto the prongs of the fork. She held it in the fireplace, her wrist twisting this way and that and Eloise watched fascinated. It wasn't so precariously held on the fork as her own slices were, because it had been cut thicker and the way the reflection kept the fork moving gently, meant that it was toasted evenly instead of going black all down one side. Her mirror self retrieved the toast from the fire, turned it over on the fork and gave the real Eloise a brief thumbs up before returning it to the fireplace.
There was writing around the edge of the mirror, but Eloise had to puzzle over it for some time before she realised it was written backwards. "I show not your face, but your heart's desire." Eloise gave her reflection a thoughtful look as the piece of toast was removed from the fire and carefully added to the stack on the plate. The writing didn't seem to fit somehow, the mirror was showing her face and a plate of toast was definitely not her heart's desire! But then perhaps that was the point? If you weren't happy with yourself, then the mirror showed a version of yourself that you could be happy with. And if you felt like a failure because you couldn't make toast properly, then your reflection would teach you how to make toast. Some desires were probably quite difficult to make into pictures. Perhaps the really complicated ones could only be shown a bit at a time?
The reflection was smiling and nodding now, as if she knew exactly what Eloise was thinking. If the writing around the edge of the mirror was right, then she probably did know. It didn't work both ways exactly; Eloise couldn't tell what the reflection was thinking. She knew how the reflection would act though and maybe that was enough?
She wasn't pretty like her reflection and she didn't have natural poise. She wasn't popular or clever or calm under pressure or any of the other million things that would make her at ease in her own company, but she thought that if she were to try now, she could probably make a decent slice of toast and that was a start.
Eloise waved at the girl in the mirror and then walked out of the store-room without looking back. Before it faded completely, her reflection grinned at her and ate a piece of toast.