He saw his reflection, pale and scared-looking at first. But a moment later, the reflection smiled at him. It put its hand into its pocket and pulled out a blood-red stone. It winked and put the Stone back in its pocket – and as it did so, Harry felt something heavy drop into his real pocket. Somehow – incredibly – he’d gotten the Stone.
The Dumbledore challenge is what everybody wants to talk about… even when we’re talking about the Heads of House! And wouldn’t you know I’d get to everybody’s favorite challenge just as my schedule goes into total meltdown?
I’m finishing a Math class. I’m starting up my own classes. I’ve been writing Syllabi, getting administrative stuff taken care of, and now I get to launch in to 1st week lesson plans. But I won’t completely abandon you!
We’ve talked in the Comments to previous posts about just how insurmountable Dumbledore’s Mirror enchantment is. I personally find it amusing to read Quirrell’s perplexity, and ultimately his mounting panic, as he begins to realize how far he is out of his depth.
He starts the challenge overconfident:
“The mirror is the key to finding the Stone,” Quirrell murmured, tapping his way around the frame. “Trust Dumbledore to come up with something like this… but he’s in London… I’ll be far away by the time he gets back….”
Then, he gets trapped by the very nature of the mirror itself:
Quirrell came back out from behind the mirror and stared hungrily into it.
“I see the Stone… I’m presenting it to my master… but where is it?”
Then he gets frustrated…
Quirrell cursed under his breath.
“I don’t understand… is the Stone inside the mirror? Should I break it?”
“What does this mirror do? How does it work? Help me, Master!”
But Voldemort can’t help because he doesn’t know the answer any more than Quirrell does. All he can reply is:
“Use the boy… Use the boy…”
Note that Dumbledore entrusted an 11-year-old boy with the secret of the mirror… but did not similarly entrust one of his own staff. We learn later (as in TPT later) that Dumbledore had suspected Quirrell before the Halloween Feast. And we also learn (in TPT) that Dumbledore and Snape protected Harry for the purpose of allowing him to test his own strength.
What’s curious is that, wrong as Harry can be about Snape, he has a pretty good read on Dumbledore:
“He’s a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know. I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. I don’t think it was an accident he let me find out how the mirror worked. It’s almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could…”
Harry intuitively has a sense of what Dumbledore is up to, even before knowing the details of why.
So what is it about this challenge that turns the Mirror of Erised into an unbeatable protection? Dumbledore’s enchantment did not change the nature of the Mirror. The Mirror still shows the individual what he most desperately desires. But Dumbledore also placed an enchantment on the Mirror that would make it impossible to retrieve the Stone if the Stone were the ultimate object of desire:
“You see, only one who wanted to find the Stone – find it, but not use it – would be able to get it, otherwise they’d just see themselves making gold or drinking Elixir of Life.”
Dumbledore’s enchantment seems tailor-made for Harry – for someone who would only want to find the Stone in order to prevent its falling into the wrong hands. But the beauty of using the Mirror for this purpose is that the Mirror itself could drive greedy people like Quirrell insane with desire. Add to that an utter inability to attain the object of desire, and you get a sense of the depth of Dumbledore’s enchantment.
One of the commenters on the Snape task mentioned that the Logic Puzzle coldly leaves the unsuccessful individual dead or locked in that chamber forever. Well, Dumbledore just upped the stakes. In his challenge, the individual can get trapped in that chamber forever… and trapped with a Mirror that has the potential to drive him insane.
But enough from me. I’d like to hear your comments. What does this task tell us about Dumbledore?
Okay, folks. I’m getting prepared for the Fall semester – which means that I’m putting together syllabi for the classes I’m teaching. I haven’t done this in 10 years, and it’s amazing how much additional language you need to put into syllabi these days, given the more highly advanced state of technology. And then next week, I’ve got professional development activities on campus. And the following week… classes!
What this means is that for the next week or so, I may just dribble out a post here and there. But I’m aware that I owe you a post on Dumbledore’s enchantment of the Mirror, a post on Quirrell’s seduction by Voldemort, a post on Harry’s encounter with Voldemort, and at least one post on Dumbledore’s explanation to Harry. I’ve also got guest posts lined up before we quit PS/SS.
And then we’ll be ready to move on to CoS.
In the meantime, I just wanted to draw your attention to some magic buttons. WordPress has kindly added a “Like” button to the bottom of each post. So if you like a post, please “Like” it.
If you really like a post, Twitter has just today given you an easy way to broadcast the post through your Twitter network. And WordPress has decided to support it!
To tweet a post, click the “Tweet” button at the bottom of the post. It will go out across Twitter… just like magic.
[Harry] braced himself, saw the black flames licking his body, but couldn’t feel them – for a moment he could see nothing but dark fire – then he was on the other side, in the last chamber.
There was already someone there – but it wasn’t Snape. It wasn’t even Voldemort.
[chapter ends… page turn…]
It was Quirrell.
Bet you didn’t see that one coming! Well, you did if you’ve read this blog for any amount of time… and I write assuming you’ve already read the entire series at least once! But I bet you didn’t see it coming before you read (or saw) PS/SS!
Or did you? If you didn’t get sucked in by the Snape red herring, I’d love to hear from you in the Comments. But of course, I’d love to hear from you in the Comments regardless.
For most readers, going into the final chamber and encountering Quirrellmort and the Mirror of Erised is kind of like going through the looking glass. Everything Harry (and the reader) thinks is a known fact gets turned inside out and upside down.
What’s fun about the first part of this chapter is that it’s Quirrell himself who disabuses Harry of all his false notions of who his friends, enemies, and protectors are. Harry had thought that Quirrell was a poor, weak, stuttering fool who didn’t stand a chance against the unmentionable Snape. Now, he’s confronted with the reality:
“You!” gasped Harry.
Quirrell smiled. His face wasn’t twitching at all.
“Me,” he said calmly.
The man doesn’t even stutter!
It’s significant that here, Quirrell’s face isn’t twitching… because his face always twitches. It is significant that he speaks to Harry calmly… because his speech is never calm. It was all an act – the hyper-nervousness, the stuttering, everything. Quirrell even mocks his own carefully-staged persona, noting that…
“Next to [Snape], who would suspect p-p-poor, st-stuttering P-Professor Quirrell?”
Harry couldn’t take it in. This couldn’t be true, it couldn’t.
And therein lies one of the biggest problems still plaguing HP fandom today. Harry is not the only one who can’t take it in that the bad guy isn’t Snape. Harry has so much trouble believing the truth that he starts arguing with Quirrell.
Let’s paraphrase Harry’s objections:
It has to be Snape! Snape tried to kill me! What do you mean he was trying to save me? I saw you with him in the Forest! But he always seemed to hate me so much, and anyway, I thought that it was him threatening you in the classroom!
Now let’s paraphrase Quirrell’s explanations:
No, it’s me. I’m the one who tried to kill you. Snape was trying to save you. In the Forest, Snape was trying to frighten me because he suspected me of trying to steal the Stone. Oh, he does hate you, but that doesn’t mean he was trying to kill you. That was my master, not Snape, threatening me in the classroom. Oh, and btw, I’m the one who let the troll in at Halloween.
To nearly every one of Quirrell’s explanations, Harry offers a new objection. It’s rather like certain fans who continue arguing with Rowling that she could not possibly have meant that Snape didn’t remain a loyal Death Eater after he turned to Dumbledore. After all, he was such a nasty git to Harry!
Well, to his great credit at least, Harry eventually gets over it. Let’s hope the same for those poor, sad fans who never do.
But for now, let’s focus on one of Harry’s key objections. In it, Harry actually tells us one of his reasons for suspecting Snape:
“But Snape always seemed to hate me so much.”
11-year-old Harry confuses attitude with action. Snape apparently hates him (attitude); therefore, Snape is trying to kill him (action). This has got to be some sort of unnamed logical fallacy! Any suggestions on what to call it?
Learning the truth at the end of PS/SS is Harry’s first big adventure into separating appearance from reality, but it is only the first. In CoS, a seemingly friendly voice in a diary is actually the voice of 16-year-old Tom Riddle/Voldemort. In PoA, the psychotic murderer who is supposedly out to kill him is actually a loving godfather who was framed for his “crimes.” In GoF, the DADA professor who inspires his career choice is actually a Death Eater trying to feed him to Voldemort. etc.,etc.,etc.
It is no wonder that when Harry emerges from the Pensieve in DH after witnessing one final reversal in perception, he believes what he’s seen immediately, without question… despite having thought only an hour before that Snape was a murderer and a traitor. By the end of DH, Harry has been well trained by experience to know that appearances can be misleading. And that experience begins right here, at the end of PS/SS.
“We’re nearly there,” [Ron] muttered suddenly. “Let me think – let me think . . .”
The white queen turned her blank face toward him.
“Yes . . . ” said Ron softly, “it’s the only way . . . I’ve got to be taken.”
“NO!” Harry and Hermione shouted.
“That’s chess!” snapped Ron. “You’ve got to make some sacrifices! I take one step forward and she’ll take me – that leaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry!”
“But – ”
“Do you want to stop Snape or not?”
So far, we’ve talked about the tasks and what they reveal about the House Heads and their Houses. But we haven’t focused much yet on what the tasks show us about the Trio. And there are actually 2 Rounds of encounters before the Trio even meets up with Fluffy and descends through the trapdoor.
Round 1: The adventure begins in the Gryffindor Common Room, when Neville tries to prevent the Trio from creeping out through the portrait hole. Hermione shows her excellent spell work by putting a “Petrificus Totalus” (Full Body-Bind) curse on Neville (foreshadowing many later uses of Petrificus Totalus: most memorably, Draco on Harry on Hogwarts Express, Dumbledore on Harry during Dumbledore’s death scene, Voldemort on Neville before Neville slays the snake). Round 1 goes to Hermione.
Round 2: The Trio encounter Peeves, who will of course make enough racket to get them caught roaming the halls at night. Harry ingeniously mimics the Bloody Baron from under his Invisibility Cloak. Round 2 belongs to Harry.
Round 3: The Trio meet up with Fluffy. Getting past the 3-headed beast is a collaborative effort. Harry quiets the dog by playing notes on a flute Hagrid carved for him. Ron opens the trapdoor, Harry goes through the trapdoor first, and Hermione continues blowing on the flute before jumping last. Round 3 belongs to The Trio.
Round 4: The Trio engage in another collaborative effort while tackling Sprout’s Devil’s Snare. Yes, Hermione is the one who recognizes the plant, notices its effects, and conjures the bluebell flames. But it’s Harry who recommends lighting a fire and Ron who reminds Hermione that she can light one without wood. Without Harry and Ron, Hermione would have frozen in panic. Round 4 belongs to The Trio, with some extra credit for Hermione.
Round 5: Flitwick’s Enchanted Keys also require a collaborative effort. However, for the collaboration to work, Harry has to rely on his Seeker skills and demonstrate a potential for leadership in Quidditch. He directs Hermione and Ron on the formation to fly so that he can catch the key he has identified. Round 5, I think, belongs primarily to Harry.
Round 6: Getting through McGonnagall’s Transfigured Chess match is entirely Ron’s task, with cooperation (not really collaboration) from Harry and Hermione. And this is one of the more difficult and risky tasks. So in taking the poll at the bottom of this post, it might be nice to weigh that difficulty and risk when considering Ron’s overall contribution toward saving the Stone. Round 6 goes to Ron.
Round 7: Getting past Quirrell’s Troll requires no effort on Harry’s or Hermione’s part because knocking out the Troll has already been accomplished… by Quirrell.
Round 8: Snape’s Logic Puzzle gives Hermione an opportunity to show her capacity for logical reasoning, and without her, Harry might have been stuck in that chamber forever. Round 8 belongs to Hermione.
Round 9: Dumbledore’s enchantment on Mirror of Erised gives Harry an opportunity to show his strength of character – the strength that helps him trump Voldemort’s attempt to attain the Stone and achieve immortality. We will discuss the Mirror in more detail in the post after next. But for now, Round 9 belongs to Harry.
The three members of the Trio show, from this very first major confrontation with Voldemort, that they possess an ability to work together as a group – and an ability to step forward with individual skills as needed. This will, of course, have major implications for the Horcrux Quest in DH, as will Ron’s sacrifice in the chess match…
You’ve Got to Make Some Sacrifices
When Ron decides to be “taken,” he decides to risk the possibility of death to keep Snape[sic]/Voldemort from getting the Stone. He does not know if the Queen’s blow will be lethal (and Harry and Hermione seem uncertain that he’s still alive when they move on to the next task). What he does know is, at the very least, it will hurt a lot and knock him unconscious. But the sacrifice is necessary in order to move his friends forward. So he sacrifices himself with that aim in mind.
I could be mistaken, but I think this is the first mention of sacrifice in the books. But it becomes a key theme in the series – as we will begin to understand when Dumbledore tells Harry of his mother’s sacrifice.
Perhaps most graphically, though, Ron’s sacrifice is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that Harry will be asked to make in DH, when he goes out to meet Voldemort. Once again, it will be a situation in which sacrifice is “the only way” to halt evil from triumphing. And once again, it’s a conscious decision to face death for the sake of something bigger than oneself.
Harry makes his sacrifice in order to prevent Voldemort from attaining immortality. And 6 years earlier, he watched a young boy make the cold, calculated decision to face the possibility of death in order to prevent Voldemort from attaining immortality.
Coincidence? Perhaps not.
And now… let’s have another poll – this time on the Trio’s individual contributions. And let’s discuss your responses in the Comments thread! Multiple choice is possible this time:
I can’t believe it’s been Saturday since I last posted… but then again, I can. My husband’s out of town, and I’ve been running around all over the place, and today I had to keep the kitties calm while they were locked in a room because workmen were installing a furnace.
So, before we move on, let’s take a poll!
Which House Head’s task beyond the Trap Door is most made of awesome… and why?
Please explain your choice in the Comments thread!
I’ll be back to check after I’ve had a chance to see this Alan Rickman movie that’s been in my queue forever. Something called Sense and Sensibility.
ETA: I just remembered… some of you are dropping in randomly and haven’t read the last four posts! So if you need a refresher on the tasks, here you go…