Harry and Ron spend their Christmas holiday at Hogwarts. Although Malfoy teases Harry for staying at school during the vacation, Harry is actually looking forward to having Christmas away from the Dursleys, who always make the holiday a particularly unpleasant occasion. Hermione is going home for the vacation, but she forces Harry and Ron to spend a few more hours researching Nicolas Flamel before she has to leave. Despite their best attempts since Hagrid’s accidental slip, Harry, Ron, and Hermione have had no luck finding out anything about Nicolas Flamel. Hermione urges them to keep looking while she is away.
Harry and Ron spend most of their holiday relaxing in the Gryffindor common room, roasting marshmallows over the fire, and playing wizard chess. On Christmas day, Harry is surprised to find a small pile of presents at the base of his bed. In additional to a fifty pence piece from the Dursleys, Harry receives a box of fudge and a hand-knitted sweater from Ron’s mother, a large box of Chocolate Frogs from Hermione, and a wooden flute from Hagrid. He also receives a rare invisibility cloak from an anonymous source; the package is accompanied only with a note that tells him that the cloak once belonged to Harry’s father.
Harry decides to use the invisibility cloak to sneak into the restricted section of the library during the night and do some more research on Nicolas Flamel. Once of the books starts screaming after he opens it, and Harry runs out of the library and hides in an abandoned classroom while Filch prowls around. Inside the classroom, Harry discovers a massive mirror that is ornately decorated and carved with a strange inscription: “Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.” Harry looks in the mirror and is terrified when he does not see his own reflection. Instead, he sees several people smiling and waving at him. One of the figures is a very pretty woman with striking green eyes, and Harry realizes that he is looking at his mother.
Harry runs back to the dorm to get Ron and show him his family in the mirror. When Ron looks, however, he only sees Harry’s reflection. When he looks in the mirror for himself, he sees himself as Head Boy and captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Ron wonders if the mirror shows the future, but Harry knows that it does not because it shows his dead family. The next day, Harry is preoccupied with the images that he saw in the mirror. Ron urges him to forget it, but Harry feels a growing obsession to see his family again.
That night, he rushes off to the room and is so eager to sit in front of the mirror again that he does not notice that Dumbledore is already in the room. Dumbledore explains that the Mirror of Erised shows an individual’s most earnest desires. Yet, it does not provide knowledge or truth, and Dumbledore warns that its images can be very addictive and cause a person to lose sight of reality. Dumbledore tells Harry that the mirror will be moved to a new location the next day and urges Harry not to look for the mirror again.
Harry heeds Dumbledore’s advice not to look for the Mirror of Erised, but he finds himself haunted by the images that he saw. He also starts to have nightmares about his parents. When Hermione returns from vacation, she is shocked at Harry’s adventures with the invisibility cloak but is disappointed that he was not at least able to find out about Nicolas Flamel in the process. Quidditch practice begins in earnest again, and Harry is horrified to learn that Snape is going to referee Gryffindor’s next match against Hufflepuff. Ron and Hermione urge him not to play, but Harry does not feel that he can back out and let down the team.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione finally uncover the mystery of Nicolas Flamel from the collectible card on Dumbledore found in a Chocolate Frog. The description on the card mentions Nicolas Flamel as Dumbledore’s partner in his work on alchemy, and Hermione uses one of her books to find a more detailed description. Flamel is the only known maker of the Sorcerer’s Stone, which can turn metal into gold and produce the elixir of life. Harry, Ron, and Hermione conclude that Flamel asked Dumbledore to take the Stone from Gringotts and place it under his protection at Hogwarts.
Harry becomes increasingly nervous as the Quidditch match approaches. If Gryffindor wins the match, they will also be likely to win the House Cup championship. Yet, Harry worries about Snape as the referee for the match, especially since he is unsure of Snape’s motivation for stealing the Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry’s Potions classes are almost unbearable, and Harry gets the sense that Snape is treating him particularly bad because of the impending match.
When the match finally arrives, Harry feels more confident when he sees Dumbledore in the stands; he knows that Snape will not try to harm him in Dumbledore’s presence. Harry catches the Snitch in the first five minutes of the game, allowing Gryffindor to claim victory over Hufflepuff in an unprecedented amount of time. After the game, Harry flies toward the Forbidden Forest on his way to broom shed and overhears Snape threatening Professor Quirrell. Snape mentions the Sorcerer’s Stone and warns Quirrell not to become his enemy before stalking back to the castle. Harry decides that Snape is bullying Professor Quirrell to help him get past the three-headed dog and steal the Sorcerer’s Stone for his own purposes. Harry tells Ron and Hermione, and the three fear that the stammering Defense Against the Dark Arts professor will not be able to stand up to Snape for long.
For the majority of the text thus far, Dumbledore is a detached, almost abstract figure in Harry’s life. He is introduced in Little Whinging when Harry is an infant, but Harry has no idea that Dumbledore played such a crucial role in placing him with the Dursleys and protecting him from attention until his entrance to Hogwarts. He also has no idea that Dumbledore gives him the invisibility cloak for Christmas that he had borrowed from James Potter. From Harry’s perspective, then, Dumbledore is little more a figure on the trading card of a Chocolate Frog, more of an idea than an actual person.
With Harry’s discovery of the Mirror of Erised and Dumbledore’s subsequent conversations with him, all of this changes. Dumbledore is no longer a detached wizard but rather becomes a sort of father figure for Harry. He demonstrates genuine affection for Harry and a clear interest in Harry’s life and personal development, far more than that of any other student. He also takes it upon himself to teach Harry the valuable lesson of the Mirror of Erised: that desire can bring neither knowledge nor truth. Dumbledore’s position as a father figure will become increasingly important over the course of the book series, just as Harry’s loyalty to him and Gryffindor House will be.
Because of Dumbledore’s well-timed intervention, Harry avoids becoming dangerously obsessed with the Mirror of Erised and the images that he sees within it. At the same time, however, Harry’s visions in the mirror reveal elements of his character of which he was not even aware. As Dumbledore explains, the Mirror of Erised (“desire” spelled backward) reveals an individual’s deepest, most earnest desires. While Ron’s deepest desire is to surpass his successful brothers, Harry’s desire is far more poignant: a wish to be reunited with the family that he never knew.
Until this moment, Harry does not realize the extent to which the memory of his murdered parents directs his actions. His beliefs about Voldemort, his interest in the Sorcerer’s Stone, and even his refusal to be placed in Slytherin House all lead back to his loneliness and desperate desire to know his parents. The Mirror of Erised provides Harry with a clarifying glimpse into his own nature and ensures that he will view all of his future actions in light of this deep desire. As Dumbledore reminds him, a glimpse is all that Harry needs to develop this self-awareness; any more than a glimpse threatens to overpower Harry’s sense of reality and trap him into becoming fixated on family that will never be.
Interestingly, through his interactions with Harry in this scene, Dumbledore presents himself as a familial replacement for Harry’s lost family. The family that exists in the Mirror of Erised can never exist again, but that does not mean that Harry cannot create a new family in his life. Ron, Hermione, and Harry’s other close friends can each become a part of this new family, just as Dumbledore presents himself as a possible candidate. The most important thing is that Harry does not dwell in the past but focus on the future. Although Voldemort took away Harry’s true family, he did not take away Harry’s ability to make new friends, new loyalties, and new ties that are as strong as family.