Prior Incantato: In Harry Potter, a spell that can reveal the last spell performed by a particular wand. In other words — magic revisited.

HP Mirror

After a long Labor Day weekend, Prior Incantato is back, with the piece of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that I’ve been waiting to cover ever since I first got the idea for this thing. We’re going to talk about mirrors, desires, phantoms and Flamels. At the end of Part 4, Harry vanquished a troll and got his Quidditch on. What’s next?

Chapter Twelve: The Mirror of Erised

I’ve been mentioning this chapter for weeks now, and the simple explanation is this: the Mirror of Erised scene is where J.K. Rowling finally shows her hand. All of this stuff about the magical world and an evil dark wizard has had some nice fluff to it, but it’s cotton candy compared to the meat we get here. This is a story about something else. The deeper magic. And not just book one, but the entire series. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Hogwarts – when the students aren’t throwing snowballs at the back of Quirrell’s turban (can you imagine if one of the Weasleys had actually knocked it off?), they’re enjoying the crisp cool air down in Snape’s dungeon. Draco makes a comment about Harry not having any family, because that’s so hilarious, and Harry thinks about the fact that he’s staying at Hogwarts over Christmas Break. Fortunately for him, Ron will be there, too, as his parents will be visiting Charlie in Romania.

Without any regard for the Jewish wizards and witches, the Great Hall is completely made over with a new Christmas theme. Harry, Ron and Hermione watch Hagrid bring in the last tree as they tell him they’re going to go study in the library to learn more about Nicholas Flamel. Apparently they’ve been through hundreds of books, but can’t find anything about the mysterious figure, which begs the question – why haven’t the wizards thought of Google yet?

After checking through even more books, the trio starts to wonder if the stuff on Nicholas Flamel isn’t buried in the restricted section, where all the books on horcruxes are. Unfortunately, none of them are old enough to have any access, so they’ll just have to forge some fake IDs to get past the bouncer, Madame Pince.

Once the school holidays arrive, Harry and Ron totally forget all pursuits of Nicholas Flamel, but instead start playing lots of Wizard Chess in order to give Ron something to do during the climax. However, their quest receives a shot of new life on Christmas Eve, when Harry gets one of his Christmas presents – the first of the Deathly Hallows, his invisibility cloak. Attached is an anonymous note from Dumbledore, whose handwriting is narrow and loopy, I guess. For some reason, Harry’s dad left it to Dumbledore before he died, and now the kindly old headmaster is leaving it to Harry at just the right time. A few weeks back, I posed the question about how much of what is going on behind the scenes is designed by Dumbledore. This is him clearly steering the narrative, by giving Harry the tools he needs to find out just a little bit more about the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Harry takes the bait and decides to use the cloak that night. Sneaking into the restricted section, he enjoys having his run of the whole castle. That is, until a book shrieks at him like he stole something. Which, I guess he kind of did. The Boy Who Lived runs past Filch and Snape (who is keeping an eye on the restricted section) and finds himself in an empty classroom… except for one important set piece.

The Mirror of Erised, or Desire of you’ve got a bizarre sort of dyslexia that flips words around backwards. As the mirror itself claims, it shows not your face but your heart’s true desire. The funny thing about this mirror is that you might not even know what your desire is, which is the exact case with Harry. And what he sees truly astonishes him. Here, Rowling peels back the layers to give us a peek not only into our main character, but also into the heart of the whole series: it’s a story about death and love. Harry sees his parents for the first time, and all the cards are on the table.

“Mum?” he whispered. “Dad?”

They just looked at him, smiling. And slowly, Harry looked into the faces of the other people in the mirror, and saw other pairs of green eyes like his, other noses like his, even a little old man who looked as though he had Harry’s knobbly knees — Harry was looking at his family, for the first time in his life.

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.


ErisedA hunger that Harry didn’t even know was there comes bubbling up to the surface. Whether it’s because he had grown up not knowing his parents or because he was too young to really handle these questions and feelings in a mature way, it’s hard to say. But now he’s been awakened to something truly powerful, something greater than all the magic he could ever learn at Hogwarts. Yeah, we’re back to that love thing again. Harry spends the next seven books trying to resolve that ache of joy and sadness.

Immediately, Harry runs to tell Ron of his parents, and drags Ron back to the mirror so that he can see his family. This only makes sense, as Ron is the only family Harry really has. However, when Ron stands in front of the mirror, he sees visions that surprise him, too: him as head boy, as a Quidditch champion, etc. Basically, he sees all the things his brothers are, where he’s out of the shadows and under the limelight.

Against Ron’s pleading, Harry visits the mirror for several days in a row. And when Ron’s telling you that something is stupid, it’s probably reached a new level of stupidity. On the third night, Harry gets a surprise. Instead of the mirror, Dumbledore is there, waiting for him. This is our first extended conversation with the wizard, who is no doubt here to drop some wisdom, which he got one of his many magical degrees in.

Dumbledore explains just what the mirror does, and that he’s going to move it somewhere else. He also asks Harry not to go looking for it, which is about as good as asking Harry to please go looking for it. Harry asks Dumbledore what he sees in the mirror, and I love this bit:

“I? I see myself holding a pair of thick, woolen socks.”

Harry stared.

“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”

It was only when he was back in bed that it struck Harry that Dumbledore might not have been quite truthful. But then, he thought as he shoved Scabbers off his pillow, it had been quite a personal question.


One does wonder what Dumbledore truly saw in the mirror.

Chapter Thirteen: Nicholas Flamel

And of course, now that Harry’s seen his parents, the nightmares start. These aren’t just any nightmares though — Harry keeps reliving the night of his parents’ death, the night he got his scar from Lord Voldemort. This could either be because that hunger inside of him to know his parents has been awakened, or because Voldemort is growing a hunger of his own as he gets closer to the Sorcerer’s Stone. Whatever the case may be for his night terrors, Harry finds that Quidditch training helps significantly, and sinks himself entirely into that.

Unfortunately for Gryffindor, though, it seems that Snape is going to referee the next game. Ron and Hermione freak out at this news, advising Harry not to play. Before they can get too far into the discussion, Neville comes in with a leg-locker curse that Malfoy put on him. This sounds like some sort of awesome wrestling move, but it’s really just something that makes legs unable to walk. Which is kind of cool, I guess, but lame in comparison to the thought of Malfoy dropping the Muggle’s Elbow on Neville. The trio tells Neville that he really needs to start standing up for himself, which comes back to sort of bite them later on.

While eating their chocolate frogs together in the common room, Harry gets the Dumbledore card again and promptly flips out. He finally remembers where the name Nicholas Flamel came up — the back of the Dumbledore card, where it explains that he was an alchemist. Hermione thinks of just the book to find him in, and brings out a tome that’s bigger than the Beatles.

In it, they discover that Flamel created the Sorcerer’s Stone, and all the pieces fall into place: the Stone is what is being guarded by Fluffy, and Snape wants it. He’s planning a heist! All he needs to do is get Dumbledore, Quirrell, Hagrid and Harry on a plane and jump into their dreams inside dreams. Maybe that’s what’s already started going on with Harry at night — he’s being incepted.

Despite all these blockbuster plots, the Quidditch game arrives, and Hermione and Ron are on watch to make sure Harry doesn’t get thrown down into Limbo by Snape. While the game takes place in the sky above them, Malfoy shows up to make some “Weasley is poor lol” jokes (you think the guy could buy some new material), and Neville and Ron get into fisticuffs with him. During all the commotion, Harry spots the Snitch, and in a spectacular dive just past Snape, catches it for the win.

Joyous at his triumph, Harry hangs around after the match is over and spots Snape heading out into the Forbidden Forest. Harry follows the potions master at a distance (with his broom no less) and overhears Snape threaten Quirrell about the Sorcerer’s Stone, thus completing the red herring.

Once Harry informs the others of what he saw, they show their total faith in Quirrell’s unflinching ability to defend himself: they think the Stone will be gone by next Tuesday.

Random Observations:

  • As big of jerks as they are, the Dursleys actually send Harry a Christmas present, which he just laughs off and throws to Ron. Am I the only one that thinks this makes him kind of a jerk?
  • Ron seems to know that Harry’s present from Dumbledore is an invisibility cloak. My question is: even if it’s rare and valuable, people still seem to know what these are — odd that it would be one of the famed Deathly Hallows, yes? The argument could go either way here for a retcon.
  • Dumbledore wears a flower bonnet at the Christmas feast. I guess it went well with those half-moon spectacles.
  • Harry gets the distinct impression that Snape can read minds while in his class. You’re not too far off, Harry: he’s an Occlumens. And a pretty darn good one, too.
  • Dumbledore makes a curious comment to Harry at the Mirror of Erised about not needing a cloak to become invisible. Maybe this is explained later and I’m not remembering, but why then did Dumbledore need to borrow the cloak from James to begin with? And two, this adds even more weight to the idea of Dumbledore’s grand design. What all does he see around Hogwarts that Harry and his friends are up to?

    And there you have it, the end of Part 5. This one was getting pretty long at 2 chapters. We’ve got just 5 left, so it’ll probably be two more parts before we’re done, making it a nice even 7. How about that? Feel free to discuss in the comments!

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