The Mirror of Erised, which Harry encounters on accident one night, hidden in a random room, symbolizes how intense, emotionally charged desires can be dangerous. “Erised” is “desire” spelled backwards, and the Mirror fittingly shows the person peering in it the deepest desire of his or her hearts. For Harry, an orphan without a loving family, this means he sees his parents, Lily and James, in the Mirror, as well as the rest of his extended family. While it initially seems innocent and even beneficial for Harry to be able to interact with his fallen family to some extent, the novel warns that even virtuous desires can prove harmful. Indeed, Harry quickly grows obsessed with the Mirror, ignoring virtually everything else in his life and returning three nights in a row (risking punishment for being out of bed) in order to stare into the Mirror’s reflection, as if in a trance. Dumbledore joins Harry on the third night, cautioning him that wizards have been driven insane by what they see in the Mirror, either entranced by the image or maddened by wondering if what it shows is possible. Thus, even though Harry’s desires are pure—he understandably misses his family and wants to see them—his deep yearning for something that can never happen prevents him from living in the present.
The Mirror of Erised Quotes in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
“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. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.”
“You see, only one who wanted to find the Stone — find it, but not use it — would be able to get it, otherwise they’d just see themselves making gold or drinking Elixir of Life.”