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Complete, detailed, and amazing Reader's Guides
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Chapter Twelve:
The Mirror of Erised


NOTES | CHARACTERS | SETTINGS | TIMELINE / CALENDAR
EXCEPTIONAL CHARACTER MOMENTS
SPELLS | LINKS & RESOURCES | MEMORABLE LINES | STRICTLY BRITISH

Synopsis by William Silvester
Notes and links by Steve Vander Ark and Michele L. Worley

US hardcover edition: pages 194 - 214
UK hardcover edition: pages 143 - 157
UK paperback edition: pages 210 - 232
Timeframe: mid-December - 27 December, 1991 [Y11]

In which Harry, Ron and Hermione (HRH) start searching the library for facts on Flamel, the school empties for Christmas, Ron teaches Harry wizard chess, Harry gets his father's invisibility cloak for Christmas, tries it out at night and finds the Mirror of Erised, sees his family and is cautioned by Dumbledore.

The Mirror of Erised, PS12, by Mary GrandPré

Interesting facts and notes about the text of this chapter:

When asked whether she had a favourite passage from one of her books, JKR named this chapter, as well as the ending of Goblet of Fire (Sch2).

The Mirror of Erised is one of several great plot devices JKR uses for revealing character, as it shows the deepest desire of whoever looks into it. Other plot devices of this caliber include boggarts (which play on one's deepest fear) and dementors (who force one to relive one's worst memories), both introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban.

...the Weasley twins were punished for bewitching several snowballs so that they followed Quirrell around, bouncing off the back of his turban.

In other words, right off Voldemort's face!

The few owls that managed to battle their way through the stormy sky to deliver mail had to be nursed back to health by Hagrid before they could fly off again.

An instance of Hagrid's gift for Care of Magical Creatures - and his compassion in general. The image of the huge, gruff-looking Hagrid tenderly caring for a wounded owl is quite a delightful one. As the stories progress, Hagrid's character tends to become a bit annoying and even insensitive, which makes moments like this all the more important to remember.

So Malfoy, jealous and angry, had gone back to taunting Harry about having no proper family.

What a pathetic brat. Everything Rowling has said in interviews, culminating in her statements in (WBD), reinforce her depictions of Malfoy as being truly an awful, nasty, repulsive child. Can he be redeemed? Sure. But it ain't happened yet, folks (and no, crying in the bathroom doesn't constitute redemption!). He's abhorrent.

"How many days you got left until yer holidays?" Hagrid asked.
"Just one," said Hermione.

We aren't told exactly which day this is in December, but it seems to be fairly close to Christmas. McGonagall had been around only the week before asking who was planning to stay over the holidays, and we are told before that that it was mid-December. The first part of this chapter appears to be happening during the third week of the month, then. If we accept the "official" timeline setting Y11 as 1991, the date would be Thursday, December 20, or Friday, December 21.

Unfortunately, you needed a specially signed note from one of the teachers to look in any of the restricted books, and he knew he'd never get one.

Well, not until a certain git by the name of Lockhart took over as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, at any rate.

He, Ron, and Hermione had already agreed they'd better not ask Madam Pince where they could find Flamel. They were sure she'd be able to tell them, but they couldn't risk Snape hearing what they were up to.

How sad, if true. Are Harry, Ron, and Hermione correct in thinking that they shouldn't be asking Madam Pince for help? It would seem to me [SVA], being a librarian myself, that asking Madam Pince would be exactly the right thing to do. Is the Hogwarts librarian really as unhelpful as the children think she is? If so, what in the world is she doing in a school library?

They sat by the hour eating anything they could spear on a toasting fork - bread, crumpets, marshmallows - and plotting ways of getting Malfoy expelled, which were fun to talk about even if they wouldn't work.

The U.S. edition replaces "crumpets" with "English muffins".

Ron also started teaching Harry wizard chess. This was exactly like Muggle chess except that the figures were alive, which made it a lot like directing troops in battle. Ron's set was very old and battered.

Notice that in the books, wizard chess sets are not destroyed irreparably during the course of the game, even if the pieces do beat each other up.

He wasn't a very good player yet and they kept shouting different bits of advice at him, which was confusing.

A chess set actually doesn't need any more brain than a laptop computer to be able to understand the moves.

Harry picked up the top parcel. It was wrapped in thick brown paper and scrawled across it was To Harry, from Hagrid. Inside was a roughly cut wooden flute. Hagrid had obviously whittled it himself. Harry blew it -- it sounded a bit like an owl.

This turns out to be very useful, to the point of being life-saving when Harry, Ron, and Hermione need to make a little music to get past Fluffy, about six months from now. Here again we're shown a bit of Hagrid's tender side: he carves a flute, not a crossbow or something like that.

We received your message and enclose your Christmas present. From Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia.

This is the first mention of Harry sending a message to or receiving one from number four during the school year, and we do not know how he sent it (owl post, which would annoy them greatly, or Muggle post) or what he said.

(Personally, I [MLW] imagine that Harry's message simply notified the Dursleys that he'd signed up to stay at Hogwarts over the holidays, so that they needn't turn up at King's Cross to collect him. I wouldn't be surprised if he added a 'merry Christmas' to be polite, but I wouldn't hold it against him if he didn't.)

As of book six, we still do not know how Muggle parents and guardians communicate with Hogwarts if they do not have owls. Possibly the Dursleys sent this message by return with Hedwig, if Harry contacted them via owl post; if Harry used Muggle post, of course, they would have used whatever return address was provided.

...written in narrow, loopy writing he had never seen before...

As we learn much later (PS17), Dumbledore sent the cloak, so this would be his handwriting. Harry recognizes this handwriting immediately in book six when he gets a number of handwritten notes from the headmaster inviting Harry to private lessons.

Your father left this in my possession before he died.

The question, of course, is why James Potter would have left his invisibility cloak with Dumbledore rather than keeping it with him. (Of course, if he had retained it, the cloak would have been lost when the house in Godric's Hollow was destroyed, so in terms of story construction that wouldn't work. JKR had to establish right away that the cloak hadn't been in the house on the fatal night.)

In terms of the story, consider the circumstances at the time the Fidelius Charm was to be cast. The Potters were going into hiding. Harry was at the top of Voldemort's hit list, something Dumbledore surely told James and Lily. Knowing that, neither James nor Lily would have been going off on any assignments for the Order of the Phoenix that would have required the use of the cloak. My opinion (unverified as yet by any statement in canon) is that James lent the cloak to Dumbledore so that other members of the Order could put it to good use while the Potters were concerned with protecting their son.

Use it well.

If we don't count the Dursleys' "gift", Harry's Christmas presents consist of various things to eat, a Weasley jumper, Hagrid's flute, and the invisibility cloak. The flute later gets Harry past Fluffy, and the cloak has been an immensely useful tool on many occasions.

It's worth comparing this to the arrival of Father Christmas in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, chapter 10 "The Spell Begins to Break" (the White Witch's spell of winter had meant that it was always winter and never Christmas in Narnia). When Father Christmas presents his gifts to Peter, Susan, and Lucy, he begins by saying "These are your presents... and they are tools, not toys. The time to use them is perhaps near at hand. Bear them well." (Emphasis mine.) And after presenting the tangible gifts, Father Christmas made sure to conjure up a little Christmas tea, so food and drink weren't forgotten there, either.

"I hate maroon," Ron moaned halfheartedly as he pulled it over his head.

Ron continually receives maroon clothing from his parents. In OP, his mother folds maroon socks for him. Apparently, Molly has a bit of a mental block about things like this; Ron doesn't like corned beef either, and sure enough, that's the kind of sandwiches he has for the train.

"You haven't got a letter on yours," George observed. "I suppose she thinks you don't forget your name. But we're not stupid - we know we're called Gred and Forge."

Molly has tried to mark the twins to make them easier to tell apart. (The scene back at Kings' Cross indicated that the twins can give even their mother a run for her money in that department.) By introducing these nicknames, however, the twins have quite obviously swapped sweaters to make things more difficult. "Gred" is Fred, who is now wearing the 'G' sweater, and "Forge" is George, who is wearing the 'F' sweater.

Percy nearly broke his teeth on a silver sickle embedded in his slice.

That is, Percy found a silver coin in his slice of Christmas pudding. Traditional Christmas puddings have various small items baked into them like this; finding one in your slice is supposed to be an omen of things to come (that you'll be rich, or travel, or remain a lifelong bachelor, or whatever). The meaning of the omen depends on which item turns up in your slice.

The specific Muggle equivalent to what Percy found is a silver sixpence, of course, rather than a silver sickle.

Harry watched Hagrid getting redder and redder in the face as he called for more wine, finally kissing Professor McGonagall on the cheek, who, to Harry's amazement, giggled and blushed, her top hat lopsided.

Honestly, I can't imagine this scene with the Hagrid and McGonagall we have come to know after six books.

After a meal of turkey sandwiches, crumpets, trifle, and Christmas cake, everyone felt too full and sleepy to do much before bed except sit and watch Percy chase Fred and George all over Gryffindor tower because they'd stolen his prefect badge.

Percy really ought to have gotten a clue after this, but sure enough, when Percy becomes Head Boy the twins will manage to get hold of his badge and taunt him with that, too.

He could go anywhere in this, anywhere, and Filch would never know.

This isn't entirely true, as he learns very quickly. The castle is filled with strange and unexpected things -- such as shrieking books -- and invisibility doesn't make one immune to their effects.

He set off, drawing the invisibility cloak tight around him as he walked.

Can the cloak change size to fit the wearer or wearers? There is evidence as the stories progress that this is the case. Here, Harry "draws" the cloak tight around him. Is this part of the cloak's magic, and is this kind of "drawing" a magical effect similar to that with which Dumbledore and McGonagall "draw" up a chair later?

There was a suit of armor near the kitchens, he knew, but he must be five floors above there.

That is, Harry's current location is at least as high as the fourth floor above ground level - what in the U.S. would be referred to as the 5th floor and in the U.K. would be called the 4th floor. At this point in the stories, Harry hasn't been to the kitchens and says later that he doesn't even know where they are. He must have some idea, however, since here he knows enough of the general vicinity of the kitchens to know that the armor is nearby.

There are actually quite a few suits of armor around the castle, including two standing on either side of the castle door in the entrance hall, which would be nearer and more obvious than anything by the kitchen, so this statement is a bit odd. Rowling apparently hadn't thought the whole armor situation through when she wrote this.

"You asked me to come directly to you, Professor, if anyone was wandering around at night, and somebody's been in the library - Restricted Section."

Yet again we see that Snape apparently gets along fairly well with Filch. This is actually a tidy bit of diversion on Rowling's part. Filch is one of the "bad guys," at least as far as Harry knows, and by associating Snape with the caretaker, Filch's nastiness is associated with Snape. However, we know that Snape is actually using Filch's unique knowledge of the castle and snooping ways to keep an eye on Quirrell.

Harry felt the blood drain out of his face. Wherever he was, Filch must know a short cut, because his soft, greasy voice was getting nearer...

This might be a clue as to the location of one of the secret passages. As the Weasley twins will tell Harry two years from now when they present him with the Maurauder's Map (PA10), there is at least one secret passage with an entrance on the fourth floor (U.K.) - the entrance of that passage is behind a big mirror, and connects to one of the seven tunnels leading from the castle into Hogsmeade. That particular secret passage is one that the twins thought Filch didn't know about, but its existence tells us that there are secret passages connecting to the fourth floor.

It looked like an unused classroom...propped against the wall was something that didn't look as if it belonged there, something that looked as if someone had just put it there to keep it out of the way.

Assuming that Dumbledore has already concealed the Stone in its final hiding place inside the Mirror, take a moment and appreciate the brilliant bluff that's in operation at this point in the story. The Mirror is literally sitting out in plain sight, nowhere near the rather flamboyant traps guarding the third floor corridor. Anyone breaking in there at this point would be wasting his time.

On the other hand, of course, as Harry is about to demonstrate, leaving the Mirror lying around like this is dangerous for anyone who stumbles across it innocently.

Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.

Deciphering this just requires reading it back to front and ignoring the word breaks. The inscription reads, I show not your face but your heart's desire. Incidentally, this is a form of what's known as "mirror writing".

The tall, thin, black-haired man standing next to her put his arm around her. He wore glasses, and his hair was very untidy. It stuck up at the back, just as Harry's did.

As we will hear again and again in later books, most notably Prisoner of Azkaban and Order of the Phoenix, Harry is almost a double of his father James, who he is seeing here for the first time (remember that the Dursleys don't keep any photographs of Harry's parents). Comparing himself at eleven to his father in James' twenties, however, the resemblance Harry sees at this point in his life is merely striking instead of eerie. As a first year, Harry has been noted as being unusually small for his age, not tall; this may be due to undernourishment with the Dursleys, or that he hasn't hit a growth spurt yet, or just possibly that he inherited his mother's height rather than his father's. However, as a fifth year, he learned that he was within an inch of his father's height at approximately the same age (OP28).

Harry was looking at his family, for the first time in his life.

Dumbledore himself analyzes Harry's vision later on in this chapter.

When asked in BN what she would see in the Mirror, JKR said, "I would probably see my mother, who died in 1990. So, the same as Harry!"

One point that JKR has not yet brought up in canon is that what one sees in the Mirror would naturally change over the course of one's life. After Prisoner of Azkaban, for example, Harry might well have seen himself living with Sirius as part of his heart's desire.

The Potters smiled and waved at Harry

So all of the people in this image are from his father's side. Is this because only wizards can appear in a magical mirror, rather like the fact that Muggles can't see dementors or the Leaky Cauldron? And if these are all Potters, are all the attributes Harry sees on his relatives, the ones he shares himself, only from that side of the family? Does he share no traits with his Muggle relations? In a few pages, we'll see evidence that there are some Evans family members in the glass too, even though they're Muggles.

The reflections did not fade and he looked and looked until a distant noise brought him back to his senses.

More on this interesting happenstance in a moment, when it happens again...

They passed the ghost of a tall witch gliding in the opposite direction

This is the Gray Lady, the ghost of Ravenclaw. When asked about the Gray Lady in an interview, Rowling revealed that Harry had encountered her in this book.

"Can you see all your family standing around you?"
"No - I'm alone - but I'm different - I look older - and I'm Head Boy!"
"What?"
"I am - I'm wearing the badge like Bill used to - and I'm holding the house cup and the Quidditch cup - I'm Quidditch captain, too!"

Dumbledore himself analyzes Ron's vision later on in this chapter. As of Order of the Phoenix, Ron's vision has begun to come true: he's been made a prefect, been a major factor in winning the house cup more than once, and been instrumental in winning the Quidditch Cup. Judging from the prefect situation in OP, it seems quite possible that Harry might be passed over for both Head Boy and Quidditch captain in Ron's favour in later years. An ominous note of foreshadowing seems to be struck here, though, in that Ron is shown alone in accomplishing these things. (His star status in the Quidditch final in fifth year, for example, was partly due to the fact that Harry and his own brothers had all been banned from the team.)

A sudden noise outside in the corridor put an end to their discussion. They hadn't realized how loudly they had been talking.

Here we go, the second instance of a sudden sound out in the corridor, shaking them out of their Mirror-induced stupor. Although we can't know for sure, we might guess that the person making this noise, and the last one too, was Dumbledore. As he states in OP37, Dumbledore has been watching Harry more closely than the boy has known, and this may be one of those instances where we, along with Harry, notice Dumbledore's presence.

He was walking so fast he knew he was making more noise than was wise, but he didn't meet anyone.

Is this again evidence of Dumbledore's presence nearby? The Headmaster does turn up in the Mirror room this time, after all.

And there were his mother and father smiling at him again, and one of his grandfathers nodding happily. Harry sank down to sit on the floor in front of the mirror. There was nothing to stop him from staying here all night with his family. Nothing at all.

"One of his grandfathers," so there must be Evans family members here as well.

"Strange how nearsighted being invisible can make you," said Dumbledore...

This is an interesting concept with two explanations. Being invisible makes one feel invincible and invulnerable, presumably. However, being under a cloak would also cut down on one's peripheral vision. Probably Dumbledore is referring more to the first idea than the second. It is also possible that Dumbledore is referring to the fact that Harry used his invisibility to find and lose himself in the mirror -- in other words, he paid no attention to his surroundings because of what he discovered while being invisible.

"I don't need a cloak to become invisible," said Dumbledore gently.

Why is that? Certainly there are invisibility spells one can cast, along with spells like the Disillusionment Charm. Dumbledore is probably refering to something like that, although in the hands of a master wizard like Dumbledore, those charms and spells would be powerful indeed. It's easy to imagine the headmaster able to wander the halls of his school at will, completely unseen or undetected by the other inhabitants. Indeed, he tells Harry later that he's been watching him far more closely than Harry knows.

"One can never have enough socks," said Dumbledore. "Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn't get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books."

Socks are, of course, the ultimate lame Christmas present, especially from the point of view of an eleven-year-old like Harry. (Although, come to think of it, some nice new socks would be a distinct improvement on the so-called presents he's received most of his life at this point.)

If (and this is a big if, as Harry notes afterward) Dumbledore is actually being truthful about his heart's desire here, it would indicate that he's an extremely contented man - or that he's leaving out some highly significant details.

Characters introduced in this chapter:

Characters returning in this chapter:

Characters mentioned in this chapter:

Settings and locations introduced or returning in this chapter:

Settings and locations mentioned in this chapter:

  • Romania

Exceptional character moments:

  • Harry was perfectly prepared to have the best Christmas of his life to date without expecting any presents at all. The food and the fun would have been enough for him.

  • The Dursleys' so-called "Christmas present" to Harry - a cheap Muggle coin, taped to a letter (not even a Christmas card, not even wishing compliments of the season).

  • Ron having told his mother that Harry didn't expect any presents.

  • What Harry saw in the mirror: his heart's desire is to have a loving family around him.

  • What Ron saw in the mirror: his heart's desire is ambition, to stand out among the crowd of his siblings as the best of all of them.

  • Dumbledore's comment about socks is reminiscent of his remark to McGonagall back in chapter 1 about earmuffs.

Spells:

  • conjuring golden bubbles as Christmas tree ornaments

Links and Resources:

Memorable lines:

  • They sat by the hour eating anything they could spear on a toasting fork - bread, crumpets, marshmallows - and plotting ways of getting Malfoy expelled, which were fun to talk about even if they wouldn't work.

  • The Potters smiled and waved at Harry and he stared hungrily back at them, his hands pressed flat against the glass as though he was hoping to fall right through it and reach them. He had a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness.

  • "However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge nor truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible."

Strictly British:

Timelines/Calendar:

The action of this chapter takes place from the first snowfall of the season, in mid-December, through the night of 27 December (three nights after Harry's discovery of the Mirror of Erised, on Christmas night).

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