The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 12

The Harry Potter Reread has gorged itself on chocolate frogs, and now can only speak in croaks and ribbits. Which is very rude of it. I suppose it’s up to us to snap it back into shape… I’d do it on my own, but I am gorged on pumpkin pasties. (Really, I’d just very much like to try one. There must be a recipe somewhere…. Bingo.)

There’s a lot to discuss this week, so it’s a single chapter this time! We’re on Chapter 12—The Mirror of Erised. Which means that this chapter is made of emotions, invisibility, and Christmas! Nothing can possibly be bad about that. Right?

Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.

Chapter 12—The Mirror of Erised

Summary

Harry decides to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas along with Ron and his brothers. He, Ron, and Hermione have spent their last weeks before break trying to figure out who Nicolas Flamel is by going through library books. They don’t have any luck. Christmas day is the best Harry has ever had, and he gets proper presents for the very first time—one of them happens to be an invisibility cloak. The note that comes with it claims that it used to belong to Harry’s father.

That night Harry goes out exploring in the cloak, intending to get a peek at the books in the Restricted Section of the library to see if Flamel’s name comes up. He opens a screaming book (which is terrifying), then runs and ends up in an disused classroom whilst trying to avoid Filch and Snape. In that classroom he finds a mirror, and in the mirror he sees himself and his family. He tells Ron about it the next day, but when they return to find the mirror at night, Ron does not see the Potters—instead he sees himself as the most successful of his brothers; Head Boy, Quidditch Captain, holding the House Cup. They are interrupted by Mrs. Norris and scurry back to their dorm.

Ron realizes that Harry’s gotten a bit obsessed with the mirror and tells him not to go back the next night, but Harry does anyway. Professor Dumbledore is there waiting for him, and he gives a little lesson to Harry, trying to explain what the Mirror of Erised is. He tells him that it shows people their deepest desires, and that also makes it very dangerous. People waste away in front of it—which Harry is well on his way to doing. He informs Harry that the mirror is being moved, and that he shouldn’t try to find it again. Harry asks Dumbledore what he sees when he looks in the mirror, and Dumbledore tells him “a pair of thick, woolen socks.”

Commentary

Okay, first I have to quote this bit because I’d completely forgotten it:

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

Peoples.

This means that the Weasley twins, unbeknownst to us all, were throwing snowballs at Voldemort. Snowballs. Voldemort. They were pelting the great Dark Lord with snow. In the face. Please tells me someone informed them of this later? Like, Harry mentions that Voldemort was under the turban at a dinner at Grimmauld Place during Book Five, and the Weasley twins are like, WE HAVE DONE OUR PART TO STOP EVIL. WE THREW SNOWBALLS AT THE DARK LORD, WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING SO-CALLED ORDER OF THE PHOENIX?

I’m so happy right now, imagining Voldemort’s face as it gets cold and eats snow, I don’t know what to do with myself.

The fact that Ron wants to help Hagrid carry a Christmas tree that is clearly several times his size and weight is just precious, and basically everything that I love about Ron Weasley. And then, of course, it’s what Draco uses to make fun of him. Bullying is such a specific art, isn’t it? You find ways to tear people down just for being decent human beings.

Okay, so I understand that they feel like they can’t ask Madam Pince about Flamel because they’re worried it’ll get back to Snape. But… couldn’t they have just asked around to a few of the more scholarly older students? Asked a student to ask Madam Pince on their behalf? (You know the twins would have done it.) I guess the real point is that the Hogwarts library needs a reference catalogue. Or a better reference catalogue. Better things.

I do find it amusing that Ron completely forgets that Hermione comes from a Muggle family, just so this exchange can take place:

“And you could ask your parents if they know who Flamel is,” said Ron “It’d be safe to ask them.”

“Very safe, as they’re both dentists,” said Hermione.

We get our first glimpse of wizard chess in this chapter, which will be very important later, of course. The idea that every wizard is basically meant to have their own set of pieces if they play, that they can bond with those pieces after a fashion, is such a great idea. I also find it interesting that Ron has inherited the set, suggesting that he really is the only one in the family who favors the game so much; since it’s an older heirloom from his grandfather, it seems likely that one of the other Weasley brothers would be keeping it currently if any of them were particularly enthralled by the game. So this is an interest and skill that happens to be more or less unique to Ron.

Harry’s first Christmas presents! I do love the fifty-pence from the Dursleys. The fact that Petunia felt the need to send a present when the note she sends with it is so abrupt is bemusing. Remembering Hedwig’s personality here, it suddenly strikes me as likely that she sat around the Dursleys’ house and pecked at them until they sent Harry something back. She’s protective of her human.

The Weasley sweaters are sort of a perfect shorthand for everything that’s wonderful about the Weasley family. These lumpy homemade things that are really just a badge of how much Molly loves all her children. (And now Harry is included, because Harry has experienced a vacuum of love, and Molly Weasley will not tolerate it.) They’re not exactly pretty, but they’re “lovely and warm” and Ron will never get the color he wants because he’s the youngest boy and everyone else got preferable colors ahead of him. Fred and George continue to remind me that they’re much more than resident tricksters; they are so loving, and irritating, and insistent that their family be a family. They force their brothers to participate, even as Ron grumbles and Percy remains horrified.

Christmas dinner is the best, not only because wizard crackers, but for these sentences:

Up at the High Table, Dumbledore had swapped his pointed wizard’s hat for a flowered bonnet, and was chuckling merrily at a joke Professor Flitwick has just read him.

And,

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

Dumbledore in a flower bonnet. Hagrid kissing McGonagall, McGonagall in a top hat—the students are idiots. Staying at Hogwarts for Christmas is so worth it if this happens every year. Watch the teachers get wasted!

This is our introduction to the invisibility cloak, which is far more important than we know at this point, being one of the Deathly Hallows of legend. Ron is super excited to see one (there are other invisibility cloaks that are simply charmed or made of special hair), but what rocks Harry’s boat is the note that comes with it, telling him that it once belonged to his father. We will find out eventually that Dumbledore sent it to him, and though it’s not hard to understand why he sent it anonymously, the timing of the gift is interesting. He could have waited longer, but you have to figure that Dumbledore has an inkling that Harry and his pals are up to something. He may know it’s about the philosopher’s stone, he may not, but he wants to facilitate their wanderings. That cloak is a clear boon for any and every adventure Harry needs to have.

Aside from its usefulness, however, it is heartbreaking; this is the first aspect of his father that Harry has ever come into contact with. He has no heirlooms, no remnants to connect him. It is the first point at which Harry has some link to his parents. This is then compounded when he finds the Mirror of Erised, and we fully realize—he has never seen his parents. How could he have? There are no pictures of them in the Dursley house (they would have likely been wizarding pictures anyhow, and you know Vernon wouldn’t have kept something like that in a locked box under boards in his basement), no bequeathed lockets or statuary. Harry has never looked on his mother and father before. It is no wonder that he’s fixated.

Sidenote: Cleverly, Snape seems as though he’s keeping an eye out for Harry when the library incident occurs, but we will find out later that it was Quirrell that Snape was really watching out for, asking Filch to keep an eye after dark.

I do love Ron’s instinctual understanding that something is off with Harry after his experience with the mirror. He just knows the obsession is bad news, and does his level best to talk Harry out of it. Thankfully, Dumbledore is there to do some rescuing with a great lesson plan, starting with this humble quote when Harry’s surprised that he and Ron were observed the previous night:

“I don’t need a cloak to become invisible,” said Dumbledore gently.

I’m pretty sure this is the part where Dumbledore drops a wizard mic and exits the room, leaving Harry in a confused silence.

It’s not, though. It’s the part where Dumbledore sits down on the floor next to Harry (like an equal, preventing Harry from becoming frightened or defensive, that’s some A+ child interaction there) and helps him to understand why this mirror is really not so good for anyone. Why Harry needs to let it go, despite what it may show him. Then Harry asks Dumbledore what he sees in the mirror, like any typically curious child is wont to do. And Dumbledore tells him socks, which is a very him sort of answer.

The truth is probably that he sees himself surrounded by his family, particularly his dead sister, Ariana. Perhaps Grindelwald is there as well, untouched by the dark arts, arms about Albus’ shoulders with a smile on his face.

This is me, shoving my feelings off a cliff. I’d like rid of them, please.


Emily Asher-Perrin is basically destroyed now, thanks chapter. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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