“Let me explain. The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is. Does that help?”
Harry thought. Then he said slowly, “It shows use what we want…whatever we want…”
“Yes and no,” said Dumbledore quietly. “It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them.”
Fair warning: this post is going to be quite lengthy.
This chapter is sad. Now that’s the understatement of the year.
Harry looks into the mirror and all he sees is his family surrounding him. That is the one thing his heart and soul truly desires.
I’m going to get quite personal here: rereading this chapter is more heartbreaking for me knowing that like Harry, Joel’s parents are gone. And nothing can quite fill the void in his heart from losing them.
Seeing his family in the mirror haunts Harry so much that even though the mirror is out of bounds, he, twice, risks sneaking out to the empty classroom where the it is located just to see his family again (the movie version only shows his parents; in the book, it shows his entire extended family.) It’s also worth noting that up until that point, Harry has never even seen a picture of his mom and dad T_T. We know how Harry is desperate for affection, for love, for family. And he is willing to stay in that cold and empty classroom all night just for that feeling of belonging – for that feeling of being – not just with his mom and dad – with his entire family – all now lost to him.
His heart doesn’t just desire his parents – his heart wants his family – that is what he sees in the mirror. He has found home in Hogwarts; he has Ron and Hermione and Hagrid; Ron’s family even has taken him in as one of their own. But the sense of belonging he gets from his new family unit is not a replacement for and will never be the same to him as it would have been to grow up with his own family: visiting his grandparents for the holidays, posing for awkward family photos, sharing delicious family dinners.
When Harry visits the mirror for a third time, he finds Dumbledore waiting for him in the classroom. Dumbledore explains that the mirror shows your deepest, most desperate desires, and many men have wasted away before it. He tells Harry that the mirror has been moved to a new location and to not go looking for it. Dumbledore also imparts this wisdom to him.
It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.
Harry asks Dumbledore what he sees in the mirror to which he replies “I? I see myself holding a pair of thick, woolen socks.” Harry was not quite sure if he was telling the truth.
How so incredibly poignant. Especially now after knowing how Dumbledore lived his life, his experiences, his regrets. He didn’t see himself holding a pair of woolly socks. But revealing what he sees would have given away too much, and I don’t believe young Harry is ready for all of that quite yet.
This chapter also marks the first one-on-one encounter between Harry and Dumbledore, and the first of their many odd, intimate conversations. Their relationship leaves us with a lot of points to discuss, but that’s one of the things this whole entire reread venture is about.