It’s Christmas time at Hogwarts. Chestnuts are roasting in fires, snowballs and mittens abound, and owls are risking their lives in blizzards delivering the mail.
Heather says: Oh, sorry. It’s just been so long since Rophy last Pottered, I’m head-in-hands times infinity.
Rin says: Joining you.
Sophy says: Stop trying to deflect from the animal cruelty, you two. Oh owls. Those old time London chimney sweeps had nothing on you. And really, it’s rather bewildering that they send messages via the means of owl anyway in this magical world. I mean, seriously, they can turn a cat into a table but they haven’t come up with the internet yet?
Get with it, wizards!
Nobody wants to stay at Hogwarts over Christmas because it gets really cold there – and also because it sucks not having anywhere to go. Malfoy is careful to point this out in front of our Lonely Boy Harry, and his cronies have a good laugh. It really is a shame that Harry doesn’t have the snake-charming advantage over them that he had over Dudders.
Speaking of which…
OH DUDDERS, I MISS YOU. ARE WE GOING HOME TO PRIVET DRIVE FOR CHRISTMAS? PLEASE SAY YES.
Harry says no. And though I can’t blame him for not wanting to, I do fear his choices are putting my entertainment at risk.
Anyway, Harry’s staying at Hogwarts and it’s going to be the best Christmas ever because he’s not in a spider cupboard, and also because Ron and his brothers are staying behind too on account of their parents going to see their brother in Romania.
There’s is no mention of Hermoine staying back.
I don’t see how it can possibly be the best Christmas ever.
Heather says: I feel like this is what Rin looks like every morning, shaking out her pillow and wondering what happened to Quinn.
Rin says: Every night she saves me
Sophy says: You felt her heart beat
Hagrid shows up delivering a Christmas tree to the school and Malfoy starts making cracks on his other favourite subject, other than not being loved, which is not having money. He sneers that Ron might want to have Hagrid’s job when he grows up because the hut Hagrid lives in must seem like a palace compared to what he’s used to.
Ron gets all up in his face and just at the moment he does Snape shows up and takes points from Gryffindor. Typical. I wouldn’t put it past him to be waiting around the corner about it.
Hagrid and the boys go to check out the Great Hall which is sumptuously bedecked: “Festoons of holly and mistletoe hung all around the walls, and no less than twelve towering Christmas trees stood around the room, some sparkling with tiny icicles, some glittering with hundreds of candles.”
I have to say, that does sound pretty awesome – certainly a lot better than the last time I had a Christmas tree and it was actually just a lemon tree with tinsel on it.
Heather says: Remember how you guys celebrate Christmas in SUMMER? Australia is so weird/best.
Sophy says: For the record, the lemon tree Christmas happened in France.
Rin says: One day we’ll have a very Ropher white Christmas with eggnog and carolling and leaving cookies by the fire.
Sophy says: YES. Stocking up on crackers now.
But soft! Time to get in some Hermione goodness before she goes off on her holidays.
She blithely discusses their plans to go down to the library later to research the top secret matter they’re not supposed to be looking into right in front of Hagrid, and the boys follow suit, telling Hagrid if he doesn’t want them poking around he could just save them the trouble and tell them who Flamel is – after all, Harry opines, “we must’ve been through hundreds of books already and we can’t find him anywhere.”
And to that I say Dear Wizarding World. Google is awesome, you need to invent it quicker.
The kids ignore Hagrid’s ineffectual grumbling and go to the library. Harry wanders into the restricted section where they keep all the stuff about the Dark Arts that the older students get to look at, and also presumably all the wizard porn.
He gets shooed out of there pretty quickly which I’m guessing means he’ll be back soon.
He rejoins Ron and Hermione who’ve had as little luck as he has. And Hermione, rather devastatingly, is about to leave. She asks them to send an owl to its death if they find something, and Ron says she should ask her parents if they know who Flamel is – it’d be safe to ask them.
Hermione delivers a parting shot, as only she knows how: “Very safe, as they’re both dentists,” she says.
I was never all that into dentists until two of them made a Hermione.
Heather says: also.
Rin says: I think you have single-handedly changed everyone’s perspectives on going to the dentists. Now any time we have to go to the dentist, it’ll be the best experience of our lives.
Sophy says: I used to be rather chuffed when they gave me a free toothbrush at the dentist. Now I’ll just be sad because I didn’t get a Hermione.
Holidays at Hogwarts. Harry and Ron eschew their sleuthing duties in favour of being ordinary children – you know, the kind who toast marshmallows, plot frivolously against their enemies, and play wizard chess.
Yes, wizard chess. And frankly it’s a little too wizardy for my tastes, on account of how the chess pieces are freaking alive. This is not only terrifying as a concept, but also means you have to woo them to do what you want. Is this the Wizarding World’s way of teaching kids social skills? What happened to sharing a spade in the sandpit?
Harry goes to bed on Christmas Eve quite the archetype of the unloved child: he is not expecting any Christmas presents in the next morning. When he wakes he is shocked to find packages at the end of his bed, and Ron is all “What did you expect, turnips?” and I kind of love Ron because turnips.
The Dursleys, keen to show they haven’t abandoned their charge, have sent Harry a fifty pence piece stuck to a determinedly spare note. Hagrid has given him a flute he carved himself that sounds “a bit like an owl,” Hermione has given him a box of chocolate frogs, and Ron’s parents are the kind of darling human beings who’ve sent a lumpy parcel along for him containing homemade fudge and a “Weasley jumper”. Mrs W has even matched his jumper to his eyes: Ron’s “always maroon” but Harry’s is green, and honestly, it’s people like her that stop Melancholia from hitting the earth.
Heather says: Is this how come Rin started making t-shirts? To bring cheer to the whole world like Molly Weasley? I honor you for honoring her, Rin.
Rin says: If I was really anything like Molly, we’d all have matching woolly jumpers in our respective Ropher colours. But we don’t have them. I shouldn’t be honoured, I should be shot.
Sophy says: Just knit the jumpers? I don’t want you to die
An aside: it’s interesting to note that a fifty cent piece is still a fifty cent piece, reading, as I am, the Americanised version of the novel. They’ve changed jumper to sweater – even mum to mom for fear the US kiddywinks won’t make it on their own. I’m surprised Harry didn’t receive a “dollar bill” in that envelope.
There is only one parcel left, which I assume is from Ron, but quickly realise is not once the contents are revealed. Before I tell you what’s in it I just want to say how perfect it is that neither of these boys has had the presence of mind to make so much as a card for each other or for anyone else… whereas Hermione’s not even around and there are still gifts from her, wrapped up and on the ends of their beds.
Oh Hermione. Always present. Always better than others.
Moving on. The item in the final package is “fluid and silver gray,” and “strange to the touch, like water woven into material”.
And no, you guys, it is not an especially soft and luxuriant pashmina.
It’s an invisibility cloak.
Yes, really. And it just goes to show how far I’ve come with this malarkey that the first question I’m asking myself is whether it talks.
Harry puts the cloak on and he and Ron marvel at how it makes any part of his body it is covering invisible. They then notice that it’s accompanied by an anonymous note, written in a mysterious hand, telling Harry that it used to belong to his father.
This is a lovely moment, made all the more poignant by its very British restraint. Ron, distracted by the raptures he’s in over the cloak and how he’d give anything to have one for himself, eventually realises Harry is just sitting there staring at the note and asks him what the matter is…
“Nothing,” said Harry. He felt very strange. Who had sent the cloak? Had it really nice belonged to his father?
I have to give Rowling major props for subtlety here. She could have assumed the children reading her novel were emotional imbeciles and hammered the point home – for example – “Nothing,” said Harry. He felt like he might burst into tears because the note reminded him of his dead mother and father and how he would never, ever know what it was like to have parents of one’s very own.
Yuck, right? Totally fair, but totally yuck.
Rowling knows the big emotion is coming later – there is no need to play that hand now. And besides, the sentiment is all the sadder – all the sweeter – for being so flatly put. Harry felt strange. And that’s just how loss would feel to a little boy who up to now has had little other than loss to compare it to.
Very nicely played.
Heather says: One reason I could never be a novelist is because the only emotions I understand are ones about books and TV. So, like, my characters would always be feeling “very strange” unless they were watching a television show, and then their souls would come alive.
Rin says: I feel like I would connect with that book on a very deep, personal level. Write it.
Sophy says: WRITE 6 SEASONS AND A MOVIE OF IT!
Harry hides the cloak when Fred and George burst into the room wearing their Weasley jumpers, which Mrs W has thoughtfully emblazoned with a F and a G respectfully, doubtless in some futile quest to keep them out of double trouble.
George asks Ron why he isn’t wearing his jumper – no he “demands” to know. “Come on, get it on, they’re lovely and warm,” he says. He notes that Ron’s jumper doesn’t have a letter on it, and bemoans his mother’s silly old thoughtfulness – “We’re not stupid – we know we’re called Gred and Forge.”
I like George. George can stay.
Percy puts his head round the door next, irritated by all the noise – because of course, Christmas morning ought to be a quiet affair, especially where small children are concerned. He may not be a mischievous twin, but his jumper does have a letter on it – “P for Prefect,” George teases, and the twins proceed to shove the jumper over his head.
Time for Christmas dinner. There’s a lingering account of the feast on the table, with a quick stop to sneer at muggles and their super lame Christmas crackers. Wizard ones are so much better, because they don’t have “little plastic toys” and “flimsy paper hats” in them, but rather “blast like a cannon and [engulf everyone] in a cloud of blue smoke,” whilst issuing forth “a rear admiral’s hat and several live, white mice.” Sounds rather ostentatious and terrifying to me. And screw you, Rowling, I happen to be very fond of those flimsy paper hats.
Heather says: Er, sorry. I thought I just heard you say “Screw you, Rowling,” which of course you did not do, because who would curse our Lord and Savior? Right? RIGHT??
Rin says: When Sophy gets scared, she lashes out. Uh. I mean. I got these bruises from running into the doorknob.
Sophy says: WELL YOU SPEND TOO MUCH TIME WITH THE DOORKNOB LATELY I DON’T LIKE IT. AND I WAS NOT SCARED, I WAS OUTRAGED. Heather, if you don’t want a similar outburst directed at you at the Ropher Christmas you’d best refrain from speaking ill of the flimsy paper hat you’ll be getting in your cracker. Thank you.
There’s a brief interlude in which the kids have a snowball fight and Harry loses at chess and blames Percy, before another meal ensues, equally gluttonously described. Yes, this sounds like the Christmas I know, minus all that pesky cooking and cleaning. Presents, followed by eating, followed by feeble attempts at diversion, followed by more eating, however reluctant one may be, followed by seeking refuge in sleep.
However when Harry gets to bed, sleep won’t come. He can’t stop thinking about the cloak and the fact that it had been his father’s, and the note and the fact that it had told him to “Use it well”.
He decides using it well entails going straight to the library, which I think Hermione would agree was a worthy cause – whether he was reading up about Flamel in the restricted section or not.
Harry ponders the shelves of ominous tomes, ums and ahs about where to start, finally opens an interesting looking book at random… and it screams at him. And okay I would officially hate Hogwarts. Not even the books are safe? Seriously???
Heather says: Gahaha! Sophy’s been carrying that rubbish can lid around since McGonagall showed up at Privet Drive! Hang onto it, Soph; things are going to get a lot more sinister than talking books!
Rin says: I think the best part is imagining how she’d look actually walking around with her legs positioned like that.
Sophy says: I just tried it. It’s hilarious. We’ll film it at Christmas.
Harry bolts, makes a narrow escape as Filch comes to see what’s going on, but before he can breathe a sigh of relief Filch is coming back in his direction – with Snape. He slips through the nearest doorway to keep his invisible but all too solid body out of their way.
He finds himself in what seems to be in an unused classroom, with one item in it that “[doesn’t] look as if it [belongs] there, something that [looks] as if someone [has] just put it there to keep it out of the way.”
It’s a big, beautiful, golden mirror, the one the chapter is named for, so it must be darned important. Pay attention.
Harry walks up to the mirror wanting to admire his invisibility again, but nearly has a cow or two when he sees not only his very visible self, but a whole crowd of people standing behind him.
Rowling plays the fear and confusion well – since Harry, though invisible, is reflected, he asks himself whether all the other people reflected in the mirror are simply invisible too, tests the theory by reaching gingerly behind himself to the person closest to him in the mirror. There is no one there. But the important thing is that as he focusses on the figure behind him in the mirror to gauge its distance, he begins to see its face – to know its face.
It’s a woman. She’s very pretty, with dark red hair and bright green eyes that are just like his. She’s waving to him; she’s crying and smiling at the same time. The man next to her puts his arm around her and the movement causes Harry to shift his focus to his face. He’s wearing glasses and has untidy hair that sticks up just like Harry’s does.
He recognises these people – by their resemblance to him and by the primitive memory of them buried somewhere deep inside his consciousness. They are his mother and his father. And behind them are others who look like them – like him. Harry is seeing family for the first time in his life, unless you count Petunia and the Dursleys which you probably shouldn’t. They most certainly are not pictured – no cameo for Dudders, woe!
But I am only feigning disappointment now, because the paragraph that follows is too lovely, and it is too significant not to be quoted in its entirety:
The Potters smiled and waved at Harry and he stared hungrily back at them, his hands pressed flat against the glass as though he was hoping to fall right through it and reach them. He had a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness.
Harry stays there as long as he can, as close as he can, opened up wide to the presence and the absence of love. Only the faint stirrings of Hogwarts waking up stir reason in him, and he tells his beautiful, silent mother he’ll come again, hurries back to his room.
Ron is pissed when Harry tells him all of this, because he’s not the most delicate flower in the bed, and for him the salient point is that he was left out of a perfectly good adventure. Harry promises him he can come with him to see the mirror tonight, and the two of them speculate as to whether the mirror will show all of Ron’s family or just the dead ones.
In another pleasingly subtle reference to Harry’s altered mental state, Ron remarks that he looks “odd”.
That night he and Ron head out, both hobbling along awkwardly under the cloak. It turns out that the mirror doesn’t show you family, or dead family – not necessarily, anyway – it simply shows you what you wish for the very most.
Ron, having not yet lost anything of any note except perhaps primacy in his own eyes, wishes for glory – he sees himself as Head Boy, holding the House Cup – and the Quidditch Cup – because he’s Quidditch captain too. He vainly hopes that the mirror tells the future. Lol, Ron.
He and Harry argue over who has more right to look in the mirror because, again, Ron is not a flower. The two of them rush from the room when Mrs Norris appears.
The next day Harry is listless and uninterested in chess or visiting Hagrid or any of the delights of not being in a spider cupboard that so charmed him previously. Ron pleads with him not to go back tot he mirror tonight – he’s worried he’ll get caught and has a bad feeling about it generally. Harry tells him he sounds like Hermione and Ron blushes, presses his hand to his heart, and scurries back to his room to write the compliment down in his journal for safekeeping.
Okay he doesn’t, but he should.
Harry ignores Ron’s warnings and goes back to the mirror that night with considerably less stealth in his eagerness to see the lost faces of his family. His eagerness also causes him to not notice freaking Dumbledore sitting at one of the desks. Still, what does it matter? It turns out Dumbledore’s been watching him all this time. He doesn’t need a cloak to be invisible.
Dumbledore doesn’t get angry, because that’s not how he rolls. Instead he explains the mirror to Harry – and to us, saying that whilst it shows us what we most desperately want, it “will give us neither knowledge nor truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.”
Yikes. It kind of sounds like Ropher’s relationship with TV.
Heather says: I totally wrote that other thing about TV before I ever even saw this painting. This perfect painting. BRB, gotta do some art business in London.
Rin says: Oh my fucking god. If I thought I died at seeing the Ropher At Night portrait hung up on a wall like that… there is something else in the picture I didn’t see the first time and just. Dying. They seamlessly blended in because they DO belong in art galleries.
Sophy says: Why are those patrons looking at the wrong things?
But back to our story. And really, this is beautiful and difficult stuff. And there are quite as many stars in my eyes when I say “difficult” as when I say “beautiful”. Rowling is challenging her little readers here; she is growing them up as she grows Harry up. It turns out this book is not just about silly hats and pie and turning tables into cats. It is not just about wish-fulfilment. With this chapter Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has revealed itself to be not only about children, but also about the adults they will become.
The tease of missing things – lost parts of ourselves – the love that left us behind… It enthralls some of us so easily, shackles us to wanting, renders us entirely unable to see what we do have and what we could make for ourselves. It is so very easy to live for nostalgia alone. And Dumbledore is right – it can waste a live away.
Harry makes his first real choice here. He takes a grown up sized step towards deciding kind of person he’s going to be. He may be guided by the love of his parents, but he will not be led by the loss of them.
Dumbledore gently tells him that the mirror will be moved tomorrow and he doesn’t want him to go looking for it again.
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that,” he says.
And my god I feel like crying all over myself. I really, really like this chapter.
Before Dumbledore goes, Harry asks him what he sees when he looks in the mirror.
“I see myself holding a pair of thick, woollen socks,” he says. His rationale? “One can never have enough socks… Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair.”
Cute, but Harry’s not buying it. And neither am I. Dumbledore may say that a happy man would look in the mirror and see only himself, “exactly as he is”. I don’t think there is such a perfectly happy person in the world, except maybe Angel while he’s doing Buffy.
The Mirror of Erised.
Show me a man who says he sees socks in it and I will show you a liar.
Heather says: What would you guys see in the Mirror of Erised? I’d see myself in a time-traveling teleporter, like a TARDIS probably.
Rin says: Let’s be honest. I’d just see myself on the computer watching an episode of Glee where Faberry finally happens.
Sophy says: Socks. With Hermiones in them.