The Mirror of Erised

chapter twelve of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Shortly after the trio begins searching for Nicolas Flamel, Christmas arrives – and Harry receives his father’s Invisibility Cloak. Using it, he stumbles across the Mirror of Erised, which shows him surrounded by his family. After Harry thinks of little else for two days, though, Dumbledore intervenes, and asks him not to search for the mirror again.

Winter at Hogwarts, by Helene Sirois

In mid-December, Hogwarts woke to find itself covered in several feet of snow.


Quirrell Gets Snowballed, by salamandersoup

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


A Walking Tree, by TomScribble

When they left the dungeons at the end of Potions, they found a large fir tree blocking the corridor ahead.


Harry and His Cloak, by Alicia M.B

His father’s … this had been his father’s. He let the material flow over his hands, smoother than silk, light as air. Use it well, the note had said.


What I See, by Chantelle

He turned slowly back to the mirror. There he was, reflected in it, white and scared-looking, and there, reflected behind him, were at least ten others.


Erised, by Chantelle

“Mom?” he whispered. “Dad?”


Sneaking Off, by Sheena Kristen Sy

“You can come tonight, I’m going back, I want to show you the mirror.”


A Powerful Ache, by reallycorking

That third night… 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. Except-


Harry and Dumbledore, by glockgal

“So – back again, Harry?”


Do Not Dwell On Dreams, by Hala Zabaneh

“The Mirror will be moved to a new home tomorrow, Harry, and I ask you not to go looking for it again. If you ever do run across it, you will now be prepared. It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”


about the chapter


J.K. Rowling has said many times that the tone of this chapter was heavily influenced by her losing her mother to multiple sclerosis when Rowling was 25 – before her children were born and before her books were published. It is without question one of the most poignant and most beautiful passages in the series, and it’s a great reminder of why the Harry Potter books are so universally loved and will continue to be for generations.

By the way, if you’re wondering what the mirror’s inscription means, reversing the letters gives the meaning: “I show not your face but your heart’s desire.”

Something You May Not Have Noticed

Reading about Ron and Harry opening Christmas gifts always makes me a little sad for Hermione. She’s with her family, but away from her two new best friends – who, judging by the fact that Harry was surprised to receive presents, probably didn’t reciprocate her Christmas gifts. It’s not remotely surprising that eleven-year-old boys didn’t think to get her anything – notice Harry and Ron didn’t get gifts for each other either, as they will in years to come – but for a young girl lacking in social confidence and grace, it probably didn’t make for the best Christmas of her life.

Life at Hogwarts

It’s really interesting that Snape asked Filch to “come directly to” him if “anyone was wandering around at night.” Snape and Filch have been working at Hogwarts together for over a decade – this isn’t the first time in that span students have been out of bed after hours. So why does Filch mention it specifically tonight? And why is Snape patrolling the corridors at all? Is it possible that they were expecting someone to be wandering? And if so, why would that be?

And as long as we’re asking questions, Filch and Snape always seem to be patrolling the corridors at night. When the heck do they sleep?

The Boy Who Lived

Family is so central to our existence as people. In Harry’s case, his desire to know his mother and father and make them proud will be a central driving force behind his passage into adulthood; his want to be with them is the “deepest, most desperate desire” of his heart. And all this despite the fact that when he awoke the morning of his eleventh Christmas, he had never even seen a picture of them. What a childhood he had.

The Final Word

“The Mirror of Erised is absolutely entirely drawn from my own experience of losing a parent. ‘Five more minutes, just please God, give me five more minutes.’ It’ll never be enough. After five minutes of telling her all about Jessie and, you know, because she – she has a grandchild whom obviously she never saw, and then I’d just be trying to tell her about the books and then I’d realize that I hadn’t asked her what was it like to be dead. Fairly significant question. But I can well imagine that happening. But it would never be long enough.”–J.K. Rowling, November 2002

31 Responses to “The Mirror of Erised”

  1. Wow, I love the picture by Alicia M.B, it’s really beautiful. I hope we get to see more by her.

    Also it’s very nice to read what you see that is not directly shown in the books (about Hermione and the Christmas presents). Such detailed and close reading on your part.

  2. This is one of my favorite HP chapters as well- so beautifully written by JK. I was ecstatic when the re-released this books for the tenth anniversary with the new cover from Mary GrandPre and she chose this moment. So telling of how significant the absence of his parents is to Harry as a character.

    Brilliant site. I am absolutely loving it! I heard Melissa talking about how wonderful it was on Pottercast recently and had to come see- and she was right! The artwork is so beautiful and this is such a fun way to continue to be involved in the fandom now that we have all seven books and we wait out the next few months/years for the last three movies. Well done!!

  3. I do love this chapter too, and I always wondered what the inscription above the Mirror of Erised meant. Obviously not enough to spell it backwards, how stupid of me.

  4. Something I was sure would be in your ‘Something You May Not Have Noticed’ section and that always makes me giggle is one of the quotes/pictures above: “The Weasley twins were punished for bewitching several snowballs so that they followed Quirrell around, bouncing off the back of his turban.” What the twins, and first-time readers, don’t know at the time is just what the snowballs are really hitting…

  5. I absolutely adore this chapter. But, I have always wondered why Harry wasn’t a little more curious about his parents, after all there are a lot of people in Hogwarts that can tell him things, and books, like the one Hermione read.. I don’t know, he doesn’t seem to realize that in Hogwarts he can get to know his parents a lot.

  6. 1. I never knew the thoughts of JKR when she was writing this scene. My mother has MS so I can (almost) sympathize. It is such as sad and beautiful moment. I got a little mad at Ron reading this because what Ron saw and how he reacted, though understandable, showed how shallow he really can be. I also noticed the writing was backwards the 3rd or 4th time reading the book. I felt really stupid!
    Interesting to think what Hermione was going through during that time, by the way.
    And the artwork is also really good in this chapter!

  7. I don’t know that I agree with you about Ron. He hasn’t had the same difficulties in life as Harry so he doesn’t see something so moving, but I don’t think there’s anything shallow about his heart’s desire. As Dumbledore says, it’s not the quidditch cup and the prefect’s badge in themselves that matter so much to him; it’s recognition as something other than just another Weasley. It must be very difficult to be the sixth child in seven (you don’t even get the benefit of being the baby) and I imagine he’s felt passed over or ignored fairly often growing up. Although the Weasleys are a warm and loving family, Bill and Charlie would have been too old to play with him when he was younger, Percy doesn’t strike me as the sort to seek out the company of a much younger brother, the twins had each other, and Mrs. Weasley was dealing with seven children at once. I think it’s quite understandable that Ron would see himself outshining them all in the mirror.

  8. Regarding Ron – we also learn much later in the series that he believes his mother was disappointed when he was born that he wasn’t a girl. Whether that was true or not, it seems to be Ron’s perception that his parents just kept having kids until they finally had a daughter, and that Ron feels he’s the least loved of the family.

  9. Regarding how Hermoine may have felt by giving but not receiving gifts, if it is indeed true that girls mature faster than boys, then I think that the adage of it is better to give than to receive applies. I don’t think she was neither surprised nor disappointed not to get anything from them and was just being her usual warm and generous self.

  10. Re: The Boy Who Lived Section
    This is a nitpicky thing, but if Harry is already eleven years old, than the Christmas during his first year at Hogwarts is his twelfth.

  11. I love the picture by “reallycorking”. When I was looking at it again just now, I really felt the utter loneliness in Harry and his real need and desire to stay near his family – in the picture he’s so much a lonely little boy (he is only 11) on the outside looking in. A really moving picture.

  12. I love the picture by Chantelle. The environment is so atmospheric and the depiction of Hogwarts’ scale and structure is perfect.

    Regarding Ron, I agree with those who have defended what he saw. Harry was a little insensitive when he tried to push Ron away from the mirror. I don’t think he yet realises the depth of Ron’s insecurities. Poor Ron.

  13. I love everything about this site. The artwork, the fan comments, absolutely everything. I just…can’t even describe it. J.K. has created an amazing world full of amazing things. I wonder if she’ll ever fully realize the scope of what she’s created and who she has changed and influenced with her stories.


  14. @Julia: Total quote!! That’s exactly what went through my mind when watching the picture… And it’s so… TWINS!!… to have pelted Voldy with snowballs!!! I wonder if they remembered, when the truth about Quirrel came out, at the end of the year…

    re: Hermione. I’m not sure she even registered disappointment at not receiving presents from the boys, just as they didn’t feel guilty about not getting her anything. After all, where could two 1st years staying at school have shopped for anything?! Besides, books 1 through 6 Hermione cares very little about her family, but we can assume that at least this first Christmas, when she’s only 12 and having been away from home almost 3 months, she’d have been happy to just spend some time with her family.

    re: Snape and Filch. This is an exceptional year: the school is protecting the Philosopher’s Stone, not to mention the overgrown puppy waiting for the chance to bite someone’s leg off on the third floor. Of course they’ll be more on the lookout than ever. Plus, Snape might already be checking out for Harry’s safety for Dumbledore, in his twisted way. Which makes you wonder at his constant obsession with getting him expelled!! He must have known that Dumbledore would sooner get a skull and snake tatooed on his arm than let Harry out of his sight.

  15. Irene, very good point about the increased security for the Philosopher’s Stone. I hadn’t thought of that but it totally makes sense.

    About the Hermione thing – I still think that not receiving anything from Harry and Ron would have made her sad. When could Harry and Ron have shopped for gifts? How about the same time/way that Hermione did? And it’s not to say that she isn’t happy to see her family, or anything like that. I just think that when a 12-year-old of any gender gives gifts to someone and they don’t reciprocate, they’re going to feel insecure and wonder whether that person considers them a friend or secretly hates them. I think most people who went through middle school probably experienced insecurities like that on some level.

  16. @ Julia and Irene. Yeah I almost died laughing when I figured that out. I mean can you imagine? I wish Jk had written a scene where they figured it out themselves. Would have been hilarious.
    Also I never could figure out why Snape was so bent on getting Harry expelled. I mean what was the point? He can’t really leave.

  17. I dont think Snape wanted Harry to get expelled-it was just an act. In Prisoner of Azkaban when Harry attacked Snape using magic Snape made exscuses for him so he wouldn’t get expelled.

  18. For your “Life at Hogwarts” section, I have a little theory: Snape was up on this particular night because he was looking in the Mirror.

    Think about it: It’s kind of convenient that Filch found Snape so close to the corridor where the Mirror was (and not near the dungeons…especially on Christmas). What’s more, the door to the empty classroom was “slightly ajar” (SS 207)…Isn’t it odd that something as vital to protecting the Stone as the Mirror was left in a classroom with the door open? Snape had to have been inside the classroom, looking into the Mirror, and left it open when he came out after hearing Filch–or Harry–running. Finally, at the end of that first night, Harry stayed looking at the Mirror until “a distant noise brought him back to his senses.”(SS 209) This was probably Snape coming back…to look some more or to close the door.

    Going with this theory, it could be said that Dumbledore had discovered Harry and Ron at the Mirror the next night because he’d gone to head Snape off, and to tell him exactly what he ended up telling Harry. This gives Harry and Snape yet another thing in common….and I think we all know what–or who–Snape would see in the Mirror.

  19. “When could Harry and Ron have shopped for gifts? How about the same time/way that Hermione did?” – Josie Kearns

    Hermione probably did her Christmas shopping after she had returned home. Harry and Ron didn’t go home and hadn’t been to Hogsmede, so they didn’t have any opportunity. I don’t think Ron got Harry anything that year either (or vice versa) for the same reason.

  20. I always wondered what Christmas would have been like for Harry at the Dursley’s.
    Did he get presents? He must have gotten something. IF they would send him a present after he officially became a wizard, you’d think he probably received SOMETHING during Christmas in previous years, but considering the fact that they never acknowledged him birthday, it’s interesting to think about.

  21. LOVE the fact that Fred and George unknowingly spent an afternoon pelting Voldemort in the face with snowballs.

  22. Alice, I love your suggestion that Snape was also visiting the mirror!

  23. I’ve always wondered… what happened to the mirror? after the battle in the last chapter of PS we do not see the mirror again. Does Dumbledore take it and uses it for his own gain? If not where does it go? I think it would have been fitting to see harry find the mirror in DH so we could see if his hearts desire had changed at all in 7 years.

  24. Yeah Lewis I was just wondering the same thing; what would Harry see now (after Voldemort is defeated, maybe in the epilogue..?)

  25. Just throwing it out there- when Fred and George were bouncing snowballs off the back of Quirrell’s head, they were (though they probably did not realize it) hitting Voldemort in the face. Would Quirrell have been reprimanded by Voldemort for something like that? Could Voldemort feel it through the turban? Suffice to say, had the twins attempted such a feat post-Goblet of Fire, neither would have lived very long.

    Fantastic website. Gives TONS of insight into the books that I wouldn’t have dreamed of.

  26. I wonder what Ron saw in the mirror just a few years later. I completely understand what he saw when he was 11. After all, he was brought up in a very loving family and had everything he needed (even if some of it was second hand). I’m sure spending time with Harry and Hermione would change the way he looked at the world. By fifth year I’m sure his deepest desire would’ve changed from when he was 11.

  27. I laughed so much at the picture of Quirrell. Just imagine how annoyed Voldemort was when the weasley twins kept hitting him in the face with snowballs. I would totally want revenge for that!

  28. Voldy being pelted in the face with snowballs is downright hilarious! If only the turban wasn’t in the way… on second thought, it’s a good thing the turban’s blocking him. :)

    Re: Life at Hogwarts. I’m inclined to believe that Snape is using Filch’s extensive knowledge about the school’s layout and his “stealth” skills (if you could call swooping in around rulebreakers as “stealth”) in order to keep track of any unusual activity by Quirrell.

    Something You May Not Have Noticed: “They passed the ghost of a tall witch gliding in the opposite direction…” The witch noted here is, in fact, the Grey Lady – resident ghost of Ravenclaw. Jo, herself, said so, though cryptically:

    Press the CTRL button along with the letter ‘F’ and type “Grey Lady”.

  29. When Harry takes Ron to the Mirror, they pass by the ghost of a tall witch. Helena Ravenclaw, perhaps?

  30. after Voldy was hit by snowballs from the twins, when Quirrell was ‘alone’, what do you think of his reaction?

  31. LOVE Sheena Kristen Sy’s Fat Lady! Also, reading these comments I laughed aloud when I realized Fred and George were hitting Voldemort in the face with snowballs!

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