A queen stands in front of a mirror, asking a question. A princess has her life upended because the mirror answers with the truth. You know this tale. The iconic image associated with Snow White tends to be the apple, but we wouldn’t have a story without that mirror. Just for fun, I started reflecting on the role of mirrors in a more modern story—Harry Potter, of course.
The most famous example in the series is the Mirror of Erised, which Harry stumbles across in his first year. The mirror in Snow White must reply with the truth, no matter what the queen desires. This mirror shows the truth of what the person in front of it desires. As a friend of mine once pointed out, it’s a clever device to develop characterization. Later on in the book it also serves as a plot device to allow Harry to get the Philosopher’s Stone instead of Voldemort. Actually, here it serves as an indication of character once again. The Mirror of Erised was enchanted to only allow a person who didn’t want to use the stone to get the stone. When Harry gets the stone from the mirror, his status as a hero is reinforced by showing his selfless motives.
Moving beyond Erised, however, we can find that J.K. Rowling continues to use mirrors as important plot devices. Think of The Chamber of Secrets, where Hermione is found with a hand mirror when she gets petrified. It’s one of hints that Ron and Harry use to figure out that there is a basilisk running around the school. Once again a mirror is used as part of a revelation, though this one is more relevant to plot rather than characterization.
In The Goblet of Fire, a mirror plays a minor role through the Foe Glass in Crouch Jr.’s office. We see Dumbledore, Snape, and McGonagall appear in the glass as the enemies of the owner, emphasizing the fact that Moody has been an imposter the entire time. It builds up the tension in the scene, acting as a character reveal for the fake Moody and helps lead up to the second climax of the book.
The mirror that remains prominent in my mind, however, is in the fifth book. While watching Sirius fall into the veil was heart breaking, the moment that really hit me was when Harry finds the gift, and realizes he had a way to contact his godfather all along. This scene really plays into the devastating what-if scenarios people run through after a loved one has died, wondering if they could have done something to prevent that death.
What’s interesting about this particular mirror, however, is the way it is used in the last book of the series. The death of Sirius, and later Dumbledore, are done purposefully in the series so that there is no father figure left to protect Harry. But when Harry’s life is in danger in Malfoy Manor, Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth finds out he is in trouble via that same mirror and sends help. In a way, Harry is saved by his bonds to Sirius and Dumbledore even after they have passed on. In a book series where a mother’s love protects her son even after death, it seems fitting that our other loved ones can leave behind protection as well.