The Unbreakable Mirror

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?”

And finally…

“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?

6 responses to “The Unbreakable Mirror

  1. The philosopher’s stone has been used during its year at Hogwarts – used to keep the Flamels alive. Dumbledore has been getting regular access to it. Dumbledore can solve the mirror’s challenge because he has the quality of being able to contemplate calmly his own death – a strength we see again in HPHBP.

    • Hi Graeme,

      I hadn’t really thought about the logistics of keeping the Flamels alive. But yes, presumably Dumbledore would have needed to access the Stone regularly for that purpose.

      BTW, how do you think Dumbledore would respond to a vision of Ariana in the Mirror?

  2. Like Graeme said, it shows that Dumbledore is unafraid of death; otherwise he would be unable to (at least I think)use that preticular enchantment to protect the stone. It also, to an extent, shows that Dumbledore trusts Harry. Why else would he have allowed Harry to fight through the enchantments and face Voldemort once more. Sure, he may not have known that Quirrell was hiding the Dark Lord under his turban, but he knew something was amiss.
    Something I felt worth mentioning was the similarity between Snape and Dumbledore’s respective tasks. They both trap you in with only one way of getting out…is this possibly similar to their lives? Both were drawn into something (Grindlewald/Voldemort) and had only one chance of redemption. Probably a really long stretch, but it popped into my head and I felt it worth mentioning. :)

    • Dumbledore, I think, does trust Harry… but I think he’s also testing him.

      Interesting thought about Dumbledore’s and Snape’s dead-ends. I’m not sure that there’s a parallel with the tasks, but it’s a fun thought.

  3. You mentioned that someone noted how Snape’s task could leave one dead – I just wanted to mention that this is not as cold-hearted as it seems (in comparison to the others).

    Most everyone sees Sprout as rather likable and easy-going – yet she also designs a task that could easily leave someone dead. And truthfully the same could be said for Fluffy (Hagrid) and possibly the Chess set (Minerva) – and even Quirrel IF the troll had not been unconscious already. So, I don’t see Snape or Albus as particularly ‘vicious’ in their protections.

    That said – Harry actually messes up Albus’ protection. Quirrel/Mort had virtually no chance of getting the Stone if Harry had not gone after it to protect it. Presumably this is because Voldy is ‘part’ of Quirrel and HE wants to use the stone. Quirrel sees himself giving the Stone to Voldy – not using it himself. IF Voldy wasn’t attached to him, presumably Quirrel COULD actually retrieve the Stone.

    • Hi Hwyla!

      Here’s the relevant section of the quote from Mad:

      In this task, we see logic as a Slytherin quality. As you said in your description of intelligence, “Slytherin admires skill and practical application.” Logic is most definitely a skill, and can be applied in many situations, making it practical. I am a Slytherin myself, and find logic is my most noticeable quality. :)


      Of Snape as a whole, we learn that he is NOT the evil bad guy, despite Harry’s insistence. The task gives you an insight on his personality – cold and cruel logic, simply leaving you to die should you fail to solve his riddle – but it hides away the brokenness he feels on a daily basis, so you can’t really get a clear read on him. It’s very frustrating. >:(

      I think what Mad was suggesting with “cold, cruel logic” is not so much that Snape’s protection is vicious but that it is non-emotional. I just found it interesting that Dumbledore’s challenge not only leaves you stranded but also attacks the psyche. But yes – as you point out – Hagrid’s, Sprout’s, McGonnagall’s, and Quirrell’s tasks are all potentially lethal.

      BTW, in some ways, Snape’s is the most compassionate task… in that he provides clues on how to solve it. The other tasks are just “figure it out yourself!”

      I’ll need to think about the possibility of Quirrell retrieving the Stone. Voldy wants to use it. But Quirrell wants to give it to him. I’ve always thought that Dumbledore’s protection extended to Quirrell because Quirrell’s entire purpose for wanting to find the Stone was to give it to someone who wanted to use it. But that is a thought-provoking point.

      As for Harry… I do think that Albus expected him to try to protect the Stone.

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