To us Muggles, mirrors may serve no greater purpose than to ensure our teeth are spinach-free or to fix unruly strands of hair. But in the Wizarding World, though they mostly sat quiet and unnoticed, mirrors were powerful instruments that revealed desires and fears, and reflected truths and distorted realities.
Their enigmatic quality has been explored in literature for centuries and used symbolically in various ways. For instance, the usurped king in Shakespeare’s Richard II smashed a mirror as a reflection of his inner destruction. Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass slipped through a mirror to another world, only for it all to have been just a dream. In various versions of Snow White, mirrors were a tell-tale sign of the Evil Queen’s vanity while in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, they revealed the soul (or a vampire’s lack of one).
It was no surprise, then, that mirrors in the Harry Potter books also offered significant clues and insights if we looked a little closer. Each mirror came to represent so much more than mere reflections.
Here are some of the important mirrors we learned of and what we think they mean.
Harry’s untimely discovery of his late godfather’s gift completely gutted us. For a moment, Harry was hopeful that he would be able to talk to and see Sirius again through the two-way mirror. But all he was left with were his own eyes blinking back at him and Sirius’s name hanging in the air. In anger, he hurled the small square mirror back into his trunk, shattering it in the process (uh-oh, bad omen).
The mirror, intended to open up a connection between Harry and Sirius, ended up reminding Harry of the great barrier between them. Even death was beyond the reach of magic. The broken two-way mirror represented Harry’s grief and shattered emotions in a way words alone couldn’t, intertwining the looking glass with death. And it wasn’t the only time it did.
After Albus Dumbledore died, when Harry had been thinking of his late headmaster, he found one of the shards from the mirror and saw ‘a flash of brightest blue’. But he brushed it off as his imagination, a moment that again embodied his inability to interact with a dead loved one. The jagged piece would also foreshadow another significant death to come. The blue eyes actually belonged to Aberforth, who would later send Dobby to the cellar of Malfoy Manor to help Harry in what would become the house-elf’s last heroic act.
Things were also not as they seemed with the Mirror of Erised. The old device reflected one’s deepest desires but kept them just out of reach. For Harry, his wish was to be with a family he had never known. For Ron, it was to finally step out of his brothers’ shadows and be the best. Dumbledore, too, despite his initially evasive ‘thick, woollen socks’ answer, knew what it was like to dream of seeing his family whole and happy once again.
But the Mirror of Erised also symbolised the dangers of clinging to those wishes. Dumbledore himself warned Harry that it provided neither knowledge nor truth. Instead, obsession could leave people in disrepair and blur the line between reality and dreams.
It was by moving past those obsessions and living their own life that the characters ended up realising their dreams in some way. Harry was not reunited with his late parents, but they appeared to him when he needed them most, and he ended up with people who loved him just as much. Ron too faced his fears when he retrieved the sword of Gryffindor, saved Harry and destroyed a Horcrux – becoming the hero he always wanted to be.
The dark and mysterious aura of mirrors was amplified through the Foe-Glass. Instead of hopes and dreams, the Dark detector displayed one’s fears by revealing the possessors’ true enemies. Barty Crouch Jr, in his impersonation of Moody, relied on the magic mirror to keep an eye on his foes, but in his blind rage and desire to kill Harry, he did not see the images of Dumbledore, Snape and McGonagall growing more distinct.
The Foe-Glass appeared again a year later during the DA’s first meeting in the Room of Requirement, but the mirror was now cracked.
(Sidenote: cracked mirrors seemed to follow Harry a lot, and often appear in connection to Voldemort. For instance, in Chamber of Secrets, Harry noticed a cracked and spotted mirror in the bathroom of Moaning Myrtle, who was killed by Tom Riddle. And in the Order of the Phoenix, Harry saw Voldemort’s white face and red eyes through a cracked, age-spotted mirror in his dreams.)
It was probably a good thing then that Harry turned his back on the cracked Foe-Glass, because as we kept seeing, depending on magic too heavily could be dangerous. Like he told Dean, ‘You don’t want to rely on them too much, they can be fooled.’ That is, what one saw wasn’t always the truth. It was a lesson even Harry himself would continually learn.