By mid-December, everyone is excited for the holidays so they can return home. Harry, however, will not be returning to Privet Drive; instead he will stay at Hogwarts for the holidays. Harry is excited, because Ron and his brothers George, Fred, and Percy are staying at school as well—their parents are going to Romania to visit Charlie for Christmas.
Harry doesn’t want to return to Privet Drive for the holidays because Hogwarts feels much more like home than Privet Drive ever did; additionally, he is bound to have a much more loving and enjoyable Christmas with Ron and his brothers than he would with the Dursleys.
One day, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione return from a Potions lesson, Hagrid is bringing in an enormous tree to decorate the Great Hall, and Ron offers to help. Malfoy, who is also in the corridor, remarks that Ron must be vying for the gamekeeper job because Hagrid’s hut is practically a palace compared to the Weasley’s home. Ron lunges at Malfoy in anger but is caught by Snape, who deducts five points from Gryffindor for fighting. Harry and Ron are furious.
Harry’s friendship with Ron essentially extends his rivalry with Draco to Ron as well, as Draco feels it necessary to make fun of Ron too. Despite these divisions, friendships remain crucial for Ron and Harry because they can show each other support and even find comfort in disliking the same people, like Draco and Snape.
Hagrid tells the kids to cheer up—it’s the holidays after all. Hermione then reminds Harry and Ron that they should head to the library before lunch. They’re trying to find out who Nicolas Flamel is, which makes Hagrid furious. The trouble is that they don’t know where to look for Flamel—they can’t find him in any of the modern history books, and Harry wants to try to look at the Restricted Section, but students need specially signed notes to access those books.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione are bound by their friendship but also now by this collective desire to find out who Flamel is. For each of them, it feeds into a deeper desire to prove themselves: for Harry to prove that he can be a hero and not just a famous name, for Ron to prove that he is just as impressive as his brothers, and for Hermione to prove her intelligence.
The next day, Hermione goes home for the holidays. Harry and Ron spend their days sitting by the fire in the Gryffindor common room, roasting foods, plotting ways to get Malfoy expelled, and playing wizard’s chess. Wizard’s chess is the same as Muggle chess, except that the figures are alive, and players must convince the figures to follow directions. Ron never has any trouble at this, as he plays with an old set that used to belong to his grandfather, but Harry’s chessmen (which he borrowed) don’t trust him at all.
Harry and Ron’s time together during Christmas demonstrates how their friendship and love has progressed to the point where they spend all of their time together, enjoy the same activities, and also dislike the same things as well. Ron’s prowess at chess also foreshadows his eventual success in another game of wizard’s chess, albeit with much higher stakes.
On Christmas, Harry is amazed to find a small pile of packages at the foot of his bed—he hasn’t been expecting any presents. The first is a wooden flute that Hagrid has whittled. The second is from Vernon and Petunia: fifty pence, which he promptly gives to Ron once he sees how excited Ron is by Muggle money. The third present is from Molly Weasley, who knit him a sweater and made him some fudge. The fourth is from Hermione: a large box of Chocolate Frogs.
Harry’s presents serve as a representation of how much he has gained from the wizarding world: not only a sense of belonging, but a set of friends who substitute as his family. To Harry, who has experienced very little love before coming to Hogwarts, the gesture of friendship in being given presents at all far exceeds the value of the presents themselves.
Harry opens his last present, which contains a “shining, silvery cloth.” Ron is in awe: it’s an Invisibility Cloak, which he says is extremely rare. Harry throws on the Cloak, and his body disappears instantly. A note falls out, which reads: “Your father left this in my possession before he died. It is time it was returned to you. Use it well.” Since there is no signature, Harry wonders who could have sent it, and if it really belonged to James.
The Invisibility Cloak becomes a key piece of the rest of Harry’s story in this novel. Not only does it connect him to his father, but it also enables his rule-breaking tendencies. It is revealed at the end of the novel that Dumbledore left him the Cloak; with that critical piece of information in mind, Dumbledore’s counsel of “Use it well” reveals his support of rule-breaking when necessary.
Harry has an enormous and joyous Christmas dinner, and returns to his dorm with several party favors, including a new wizard’s chess set. Harry and the Weasley boys then have a snowball fight on the grounds, and later Harry breaks in his chess set by losing badly to Ron. At the end of the day, everyone climbs into bed, full and sleepy.
Not only Ron but also the entire Weasley clan become a substitute family for Harry, as they accept him as one of their own and treat him as they would a brother.
In bed, the Invisibility Cloak still nags at Harry, as well as the note: “Use it well.” He pulls out the Cloak and excitement floods through him, realizing that he can go anywhere undetected. He puts it on and makes his way toward the Restricted Section of the library, determined to discover who Nicolas Flamel is. The library is dark, and Harry doesn’t know where to start. In the Restricted Section, he pulls out a large black and silver volume that catches his eye, but when he opens it, the book starts screaming.
Here, Harry’s rule-breaking is partially fueled by doing what is right, as he wants to protect whatever Fluffy is guarding from Snape, who Harry thinks is genuinely evil. However, it’s important that part of Harry’s motivation stems from wanting to prove that Snape is up to something bad. Given that Harry and Snape hate each other so passionately, it seems that Harry wants to find Snape guilty of something out of revenge for the awful way Snape treats him.
Harry closes the book, but the wail continues. Panicking, Harry knocks over his lamp and flees. He passes Filch in the doorway, trying to be as quiet as possible under the Cloak. Suddenly, he sees Snape come around the corner, saying that they can catch the intruder. Harry ducks into a nearby room so that Snape doesn’t run into Harry’s invisible body in the narrow hallway.
Harry flees in a panic, which suggests that he knows his motivations for being out of bed and in the Restricted Section aren’t purely good. Yet again, with the Cloak, he is granted a certain degree of freedom to do what he wants.
Inside the room, Harry discovers an enormous mirror (later revealed as the Mirror of Erised). Harry looks in the Mirror, and to his shock sees a crowd of people standing right behind him. But when he frantically turns around, the room behind him is empty. Harry looks again at the Mirror’s reflection. The woman standing right behind him has eyes just like Harry’s; the man standing next to her has glasses and untidy black hair. Harry realizes that these are his parents, Lily and James, and that the people around them are his extended family. They smile at him. Harry has “a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness.”
The Mirror of Erised, as Dumbledore explains later in the chapter, shows the Harry’s deepest desire—to be with his family. While this is a virtuous wish, and demonstrates the power of the love that a family can provide to a child who has never really had it, the chapter goes on to demonstrate how the desire for something unattainable can be dangerous and maddening.
Harry doesn’t know how long he stands in front of the Mirror, until a distant noise makes him realize he has to go back to bed. The next day, Harry tells Ron what happened, saying that he wants to go back and show Ron his family. Harry can’t eat all day; he can’t think of anything except seeing his parents—not even Flamel.
The descriptions of Harry here (standing there for an uncertain amount of time, not eating, not thinking of anything else) immediately hint at how these desires can be dangerous, because they prevent Harry from being able to live in the present. It is clear that the Mirror is addictive and can be maddening.
That night, Ron and Harry return to the Mirror. Harry once again sees Lily and James. But Ron can’t see anything, so Harry places him alone in front of the Mirror. However, Ron doesn’t see Harry’s family or his own family; instead, Ron sees an older version of himself as Head Boy and Captain of the Quidditch team, holding both the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup. Excitedly, Ron asks Harry if he thinks the Mirror shows the future. Harry says it can’t, as all of his family members are dead.
Just as the Mirror shows Harry’s deepest desire, it also shows Ron’s deepest desire. The image of fame and success Ron sees suggests that he longs to stand out among his brothers, many of which are high achievers. For Ron, the Mirror gives him hope that what he sees might be attainable, but for Harry, what the Mirror shows is both enchanting and torturous because what it shows can never be reality.
Harry asks to have another look, but Ron wants to look a little longer. They start to push each other out of the way, but a noise in the corridor startles them. Ron throws the Cloak over them as Filch’s cat, Mrs. Norris, enters. When she leaves, Ron pulls Harry out of the room and back to their dorm. The next day, Ron realizes that the Mirror is still plaguing Harry. Ron tells Harry he shouldn’t go back that night, but Harry refuses to listen.
The dangers of the Mirror show themselves more fully here. The vision of Harry’s family isn’t real, but the love that comes with Ron’s friendship is. Unfortunately, the Mirror starts to drive a wedge between the friends, demonstrating how even a wholesome desire like Harry’s can have unintended negative consequences.
The third night Harry returns alone. Harry sits down in front of the Mirror, knowing that nothing can prevent him from staying there all night with his family. Dumbledore appears quietly behind him, noting that Harry has discovered “the delights of the Mirror of Erised.” Dumbledore explains that it shows “the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.” Dumbledore then warns Harry that the Mirror provides “neither knowledge or truth,” and that people have “wasted away before it” and have “been driven mad” by what it shows.
Here, Dumbledore reveals the purpose of the Mirror to Harry. This passage makes it seem like Dumbledore actually wanted Harry to find the Mirror. In a way, this is Dumbledore’s first test for Harry: to be humble and self-sacrificing enough to give up his “deepest, most desperate desire,” in order to live for others.
Dumbledore tells Harry that the Mirror will be moved to a new home the next day, and asks that Harry not look for it again. Before Harry goes, he asks what Dumbledore sees in the Mirror. Dumbledore says that he sees himself “holding a pair of thick, woolen socks.” When Harry is back in bed, he realizes that Dumbledore might not have been telling the truth. However, he also realizes that it had been a very personal question.
The Mirror of Erised will resurface at the end of the novel, where Harry will overcome this personal desire and demonstrate a new desire: wanting to keep the Sorcerer’s Stone out of evil hands. Thus, Harry’s desire transforms from something dangerous and consuming to something useful and self-sacrificing.