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?

A Pack of Enchantments

“I don’t know how you found out about the Stone, but rest assured, no one can possibly steal it, it’s too well protected.”

“I suppose you think you’re harder to get past than a pack of enchantments!” she stormed.

Poor Professor McGonnagall. She’s left to guard the castle while Dumbledore’s running off to the Ministry, and now some ickle firsties are claiming that someone’s going to steal the Stone! As much sympathy as I have for the Deputy Headmistress, though, I do find her confidence in the enchantments disturbingly overconfident.

Yes, the Stone is guarded, as Hagrid earlier told the Trio:

“… he borrowed Fluffy from me … then some o’ the teachers did enchantments …. Professor Sprout – Professor Flitwick – Professor McGonnagall -” he ticked them off on his fingers, “Professor Quirrell – an’ Dumbledore himself did somethin’, o’ course. Hang on, I’ve forgotten someone. Oh yeah, Professor Snape.”

But the enchantments will fall… first to a determined thief, and then to a very determined group of 11 and 12 year olds!

So now that we know who is guarding the stone (and it reads largely like a staff roster of House Heads at Hogwarts!), let’s get a brief overview of the how:

  1. Hagrid (Care of Magical Creatures): Fluffy
  2. Professor Sprout (Herbology): Devil’s Snare
  3. Professor Flitwick (Charms): Enchanted Keys
  4. Professor McGonnagall (Transfiguration): Living Chess Pieces
  5. Professor Quirrell (Defense Against the Dark Arts): Troll
  6. Professor Snape (Potions): Logic Puzzle, Potions, Enchanted Fire
  7. Professor Dumbledore (Headmaster): Re-Enchanted Mirror of Erised


As guardian of the trapdoor (and we have discussed the Fluffy/Cerberus connection before), Fluffy should prove a formidable foe. After all, he nearly ripped off the leg of Severus Snape… who wasn’t even trying to steal the Stone!

But perhaps that’s whole point. Fluffy’s presence would dissuade all but the most determined of thieves (or, apparently, the most determined of Gryffindors!). And that is why Snape asked Quirrell if he had figured out how to get past the dog. As Voldemort’s slave, Quirrell does have the determination required. This is a man who made an attempt on the Stone at Gringotts after all! And since the time Snape cornered Quirrell in the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid has rendered Fluffy’s protection null by unknowingly revealing Fluffy’s weak spot to “Quirrellmort.” Consequently, when the Trio arrive at the door to the 3rd floor corridor, an enchanted harp has already played the beast to sleep.

Their reaction to seeing the harp? Predictably: “Snape must have left it there.”

Gryffindor Determination

But the Trio, too, came prepared to play Fluffy to sleep. Harry brought a flute, and that flute proves their salvation when the harp stops playing.

The young Gryffindors’ determination to get through the trapdoor comes not from a desire to steal the Stone but from the desire to prevent Voldemort’s return to power – a determination spearheaded by Harry’s reminder of the threat that he… and Hogwarts… and the Wizarding World as a whole would face if Voldemort returns:

“If Snape gets hold of the Stone, Voldemort’s coming back! Haven’t you heard what it was like when he was trying to take over? There won’t be any Hogwarts to get expelled from! He’ll flatten it, or turn it into a school for the Dark Arts! Losing points doesn’t matter anymore, can’t you see? D’you think he’ll leave you and your families alone if Gryffindor wins the house cup? If I get caught before I can get to the Stone, well, I’ll have to go back to the Dursleys and wait for Voldemort to find me there, it’s only dying a bit later than I would have, because I’m never going over to the Dark Side! I’m going through the trapdoor tonight and nothing you two say is going to stop me! Voldemort killed my parents, remember?”

He glared at them.

“You’re right, Harry,” said Hermione in a small voice.

As DH shows, 6 years later, Harry is quite on target with his analysis of what the return of Voldemort would mean. And this is before he learns about blood prejudice or about the blood prejudice campaign that would also target the likes of Hermione (Muggle-born) and Ron (blood traitor)… and it is well before Harry learns that he himself was the target on the night his parents were killed.

The only thing Harry is substantially wrong about (apart from the Snape bit) is that Voldemort would be able to kill him at the Dursleys. Actually, the Dark Lord can’t. In fact, as we learn much later, Harry is under special blood protection under his aunt’s roof because of his mother’s sacrifice. And this is the reason Dumbledore “inexplicably” keeps sending him back to the Dursleys during school breaks.

Because of the Trio’s determination to stop Voldemort’s return, nothing is going to stop these kids from going through that trapdoor – not Neville (on whom Hermione, regretfully, uses a Petrificus Totalus), not Peeves (on whom Harry tests his best “Bloody Baron” voice), and not Fluffy.

I’ll be back later to discuss, individually, the enchantments created by the House Heads on the other side of the of the trapdoor … and how the Trio overcome them. But this, at least, should get us started on our journey into the bowels of Hogwarts.

What is Slithering in the Forest

Firenze suddenly reared on his hind legs in anger, so that Harry had to grab his shoulders to stay on.

“Do you not see that unicorn?” Firenze bellowed at Bane. “Do you not understand why it was killed? Or have the planets not let you in on that secret? I set myself against what is lurking in this forest, Bane, yes, with humans alongside me if I must.”

The confrontation between Firenze and the other centaurs takes place after the thing that’s lurking in the forest – the thing that’s drinking unicorn blood – stands up and comes straight at Harry Potter. It is, of course, Voldemort, or Quirrellmort (as some like to call him at this stage of his “comeback”). And this is the first encounter between Harry and Voldemort since Voldemort gave Harry his scar.

The sound that “Quirrellmort” makes, curiously enough, is a “slithering” sound, and it is definitely out of place. It doesn’t sound like anything Hagrid has heard before in the Forest. This out-of-place sound appears twice – first, while Harry is with Hagrid and then later when Harry is with Draco. The fact that the sound is “slithering” conjures images of snakes… and reminds us subconsciously (or perhaps not so subconsciously) of Slytherin. And in reminding us of Slytherin, it reinforces the “Slytherin = Evil” notion that Hagrid first introduced to Harry in Diagon Alley.

If we need any more reinforcing, the thing making the slithering sound – Voldemort – is a Slytherin… as is Draco. But Draco is not quite up to the horror of this encounter. In fact, here is how Draco handles this first encounter with his future Lord:

The cloaked figure reached the unicorn, lowered its head over the wound in the animal’s side, and began to drink its blood.


Malfoy let out a terrible scream and bolted – so did Fang.

I find Draco’s reaction worth noting. It is easy to assume that it’s simply cowardice… except that Harry (who is hardly a coward) will find his own feet bolted to the Forest floor in fear. In addition, about 6 years from now, Draco will endanger his own life to save Harry and his friends at Malfoy Manor, and will endanger his life to save Gregory Goyle when the Room of Requirement is engulfed in Fiendfyre. So I’m not as certain as I was when I first read this passage that Draco is simply a coward. Surely he’s scared. He’d be a fool not to be. Harry’s scared too. But his response indicates to me that he is more than merely frightened. He is horrified. After all, he watched the cloaked figure slither up to the unicorn. It was only when it began to drink the unicorn’s blood that he let out the cry.

I find this potentially significant because this is the boy who will ultimately find that he is unable to commit murder. And this is his first encounter with the person who will charge him to commit murder. And he is as horrified here as he will later be when Voldemort murders Charity Burbage over the dinner table at Malfoy Manor. In other words, I think that this could very well be our first hint that Draco is not as “bad” as he’d like to believe he is.

And as for Voldemort himself, I find it curious that he’s driven away by Firenze. True, he doesn’t have his full powers. He doesn’t even have his body, and he is reduced to drinking unicorn blood in order to preserve some semblance of life. But still… this is Voldemort himself! The Dark Lord! You Know Who! He Who Must Not Be Named! And he’s slinking – or slithering – around in the Forest and getting chased away by centaurs!

And in this encounter, Harry has his first experience of the blinding pain in his scar. Though he had a flitting pain during the Great Feast at the beginning of term, this is much worse:

The hooded figure raised its head and looked right at Harry – unicorn blood was dribbling down its front. It got to its feet and came swiftly toward Harry – he couldn’t move for fear.

Then a pain like he’d never felt before pierced his head; it was as though his scar were on fire. Half blinded, he staggered backward. He heard hooves behind him, galloping, and something jumped clean over Harry, charging the figure.

The pain in Harry’s head was so bad he fell to his knees. It took a minute or two to pass.

He has never felt anything like this before. And this pain – this connection between Harry and Voldemort – will only grow stronger during the course of the series.

Now, here’s my question about the Voldemort-Quirrell-Harry encounter:

We know (or will soon know) that Quirrell encountered Voldemort during a trip to Albania and allowed the Dark Lord to become his master. Since that trip, he has developed the “stuttering Quirrell” persona – so much so that Hagrid mentions it on their trip to Diagon Alley. This indicates to me that he has probably already taught at least one term since his return. If that’s the case, then did Voldemort time his attempt to steal the Philosopher’s Stone (and gain eternal life in bodily form) to coincide with Harry’s appearance at Hogwarts?

Yes, I know the whole thing is contingent upon encountering Quirrell in Albania. But I mean afterward. If Quirrell has already taught a term, then did Voldemort decide that the time would be right when Harry arrived? Or is this Quirrell’s first term back, and is this actually Voldemort’s first opportunity to resume bodily form, and is it merely coincidental that it all coincides with Harry’s first term at Hogwarts? But let’s not forget… Harry was the target of the attack that murdered his parents. And Voldemort is scared of this boy.

Whatever the case, in their discussion about the properties of unicorn blood, Firenze gives Harry the clues he needs in order to figure out who the hooded figure is and why Harry’s life is in danger – clues that ultimately enable Harry to score his first Hogwarts defeat of Voldemort… and escalate his misinterpretation of Snape’s motives.

Sudden, Sinister Snape

“Don’t talk to me for a moment,” said Ron when Harry sat down next to him. “I need to concen—” He caught sight of Harry’s face. “What’s the matter with you? You look terrible.”

Speaking quietly so that no one else would hear, Harry told the other two about Snape’s sudden, sinister desire to be a Quidditch referee.

“Don’t play,” said Hermione at once.

“Say you’re ill,” said Ron.

“Pretend to break your leg,” Hermione suggested.

“Really break your leg,” said Ron.

Well, wouldn’t you know it? I write the generally accepted fact that Harry Potter is written primarily in 3rd person limited Point of View, and I get polyjuiced and parodied. And now, I have to step right back in to the fray because we are about to enter one of the richest chapters in all of PS/SS for showing how the limited Point of View works to throw the reader off! Sometimes, you just can’t win. But hey, I’m a Gryffindor. It’s in my nature to fly into the face of danger.

Sudden, Sinister Desire

Iggy, who likes to comment here, told me yesterday that Snape’s “sudden, sinister desire to referee Quidditch” is one of her favorite lines in the series. It’s one of mine as well.

The beauty of the line is that it reads as if the narrator is indicating that Snape’s desire to ref is sudden and sinister, when actually Harry only interprets it to be sudden and sinister. How do we know that this is an interpretation? Because we later learn, during Harry’s encounter with the book’s real bad guy, that it is objectively false.

Harry believes that Snape is out to steal the Philosopher’s Stone. He believes that Snape is out to kill him. And so he interprets every action of Snape’s through the lens of those false conceptions. In actuality, Snape is acting as ref in order to protect Harry from another attempt to harm him while he is in the air.

Soon after the announcement that Snape will ref, Harry has new cause for anxiety:

Harry didn’t know whether he was imagining it or not, but he seemed to keep running into Snape wherever he went. At times, he even wondered whether Snape was following him, trying to catch him on his own. Potions lessons were turning into a sort of weekly torture, Snape was so horrible to Harry. Could Snape possibly know they’d found out about the Sorcerer’s Stone? Harry didn’t see how he could – yet he sometimes had the horrible feeling that Snape could read minds.

Again, this passage passes itself off as factual, when the most damning parts are just Harry’s mind at work. Now what can we glean from this passage, when we strip away Harry’s anxiety?

Snape probably is sticking close to him. As we know from the final conversation with Dumbledore at the end of PS/SS (and from TPT in DH), Snape is working to protect Harry Potter. An attempt has already been made on Harry’s life. It makes sense that Snape would shadow Harry, and that Harry would run into his shadow… a lot. But the passage veers off into Harry’s fantasy when Harry starts thinking that Snape is following him in order to catch him on his own – i.e., in order to finish off the murder that Snape [sic] attempted in the previous Quidditch match.

We can also glean that Potions probably is not a pleasant experience for Harry. As we know from one of Snape’s conversations with Dumbledore shortly after Harry arrives at Hogwarts (TPT), Snape thinks Harry is a mediocre student with mediocre magic, and he has a tendency to let Harry know it in Potions class. But the passage veers off into Harry’s fantasy when the boy wonders if Snape’s treatment is tied to Harry’s awareness of the Stone. Probably not. It’s probably just Snape being Snape.

(I’ll leave alone for now the fact that without specific scenes from the Potions classroom, we don’t really know how much Harry may – or may not – be exaggerating the “horrible”-ness of Snape’s treatment, though it is likely that it is at least unpleasant).

Additionally, we can glean that Harry is fairly perceptive about Snape’s Legilimency skills. Snape probably is scanning Harry’s mind at necessary intervals. Snape may or may not know that Harry knows about the Stone, though I tend to think not because of the conversation he later has with Quirrell in the Forest.

Dumbledore’s Come to Watch!

“The whole school’s out there!” said Fred Weasley, peering out of the door. “Even – blimey – Dumbledore’s come to watch!”

“Dumbledore?” he said, dashing to the door to make sure. Fred was right. There was no mistaking that silver beard.

Harry could have laughed out loud with relief. He was safe. There was simply no way that Snape would dare to try to hurt him if Dumbledore was watching.

Perhaps that was why Snape was looking so angry as the teams marched onto the field, something that Ron noticed, too.

“I’ve never seen Snape look so mean,” he told Hermione.

Well, here’s another wonderful passage, full of misdirection. It is objectively true that Dumbledore is there to watch the match, and it is almost certainly objectively true that Snape has a very sour look on his face. But the passage goes into Harry’s head when Harry starts assuming that Snape would not dare to hurt him with Dumbledore watching, and that Dumbledore’s protective presence might be the reason “Snape was looking so angry.”

As it happens, Dumbledore’s presence does prevent someone from harming Harry. But that person is not Snape. And as it happens, it is highly unlikely that Snape “look[s] so mean” because Dumbledore is preventing him from murdering Harry! (After all, Snape is working in conjunction with Dumbledore to protect Harry.)

So what are some possible reasons for Snape’s anger? Oh, I dunno. How about the fact that Snape made himself unpopular with his fellow professors, who assumed (as the Gryffindor team did) that he wanted to referee the game in order to keep Gryffindor from winning? ( something we learn in the closing chapter of the book). Or how about the fact that he’s having to referee the game in order to protect the Potter kid – who is not exactly his favorite person? Or how about the fact that he’s experiencing the indignity of having to get on a broomstick and referee a Quidditch match?!?

Then, when the game finally does start, Snape finds himself attacked by Weasley bludgers… and the game closes 5 minutes in with Harry streaking straight at Snape, missing him only by inches in his effort to catch the snitch. Not exactly a wonderful day for Severus Snape. No wonder he “spat bitterly on the ground” when he landed! It makes you wonder if he was playing all these potential scenarios over in his head as he angrily entered the field.

The Philosopher’s Stone

“So we were right” [Harry told Ron and Hermione], “it is the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Snape’s trying to force Quirrell to help him get it. He asked if he knew how to get past Fluffy – and he said something about Quirrell’s ‘hocus-pocus’ – I reckon there are other things guarding the stone apart from Fluffy, loads of enchantments, probably, and Quirrell would have done some anti-Dark Arts spell that Snape needs to break through – ”

“So you mean the Stone’s only safe as long as Quirrell stands up to Snape?” said Hermione in alarm.

“It’ll be gone by next Tuesday,” said Ron.

In this lovely pasage, we are not in narrator’s voice. Rather, the narrator reports what Harry tells Ron and Hermione after he overhears Snape and Quirrell in the Forest. But Harry has no context for the conversation and consequently interprets it entirely through his suspicions… and gets its meaning completely backwards!

In actuality, Snape is not trying to find out from Quirrell how to get past Fluffy; he wants to make sure that Quirrell never finds out how to get past the beast. Likewise, Snape is not trying to break Quirrell’s protective spells; he is most likely discussing Quirrell’s previous “hocus-pocus” attempt to get Harry off his broom. And of course, it’s not Quirrell who needs to stand up to Snape; it is Snape who needs to stop Quirrell.

Curiously, Snape’s conversation with Quirrell ends with the comment that Quirrell needs to decide where his “loyalties lie.” We never know exactly how Harry interprets this comment (though we can assume that it’s not favorable to Snape). Regardless of Harry’s interpretation, what Snape is actually asking Quirrell is whether or not he’s loyal to Dumbledore and to the school, just as he (i.e., Snape) is. Despite Harry’s opinion that Snape is a villain out to compromise the DADA professor, Snape is actually 100% loyal to Dumbledore – making this one of the more ironic points in the chapter.

But there is one thing that Harry’s right about. There are enchantments guarding the Stone.

The “Nicolas Flamel” chapter is almost a misdirection overload! But it’s very good for demonstrating how Rowling uses the 3rd person limited to lead the reader astray so that her big “reveal” will be all that more of a revelation. But remember… none of this means that the Point of View leads to a generally untrustworthy, unreliable, and therefore unstable text. What it means is that Harry’s subjectivity can at times be mistaken and that this mistaken subjectivity can at times be presented as fact. This is not a controversial or radical or (Heaven Forfend!) Deconstructive statement. It is simply an easily verifiable truth based on the text.

Harry Potter POV (helpful sources):

Just as Dumbledore does not need a cloak to become invisible, I do not need a reference source to define the Point of View in a literary work for me. 8)
(It’s that Lit. Prof. thing)

For the reader’s convenience, however, I have provided some references that discuss Point of View in the Harry Potter series.
(Hint: It’s a limited 3rd person POV!).