The Two-Way Mirror #1: Double, Double… Toil and Trouble
“Fire burn and cauldron bubble…” was the second line of Shakespeare’s witch poem. But what’s up with the doubles? I have begun to wonder about all the doubles that occur in the Harry Potter books. As this is one of those insights that produces what seems to be an avalanche of endless examples, I am convinced it has a good deal of significance; might it even be the “It” of the series? In that case, it would foretell a great deal of the nature of what is to come.
We might start with the genetic twin phenomenon – perhaps not the most important, but the most illustrative. There are real twins: Fred and George, Padma and Parvati Patil. Have you noticed to what grand stature the secondary characters of Fred and George have grown? Is it also a symbolic foregrounding of the double motif? (I am thinking to discuss Trinity in a different essay: remember Lee?). There are also near twins, such as the Creevy brothers, who are virtually indistinguishable from each other. Harry looks like an identical replica of his father (except he has his mother’s eyes) and his patronus is an identical replica of his father’s Animagus form.
Much more developed is the double identity phenomenon (Döpelgänger); it appears in every single book as a central part of the plot.
In SS/PS, we find out about Harry’s double life, Muggle and wizard, anonymous and famous, poor and rich, possible Slytherin and definite Gryffindor. We also meet the centaurs – half-human, half-horse. And most importantly, Professor Quirrell has two heads in one (or Voldemort’s face sticking out of the back of his head).
In CoS, we learn about Polyjuice potion – the form of potion magic that can create physically identical doubles (ie. Crabbe and Goyle being replaced by Ron and Harry). We also find out that Voldemort is Tom Riddle.
In PoA, the double identities multiply even more. Lupin is a Halfbreed; he is werewolf and human. We meet Buckbeak, who is half-horse, half-bird. Sirius has a fourfold identity, dog and man, apparent criminal and loyal friend and godfather. Ron’s pet rat is Peter Pettigrew (how about the “pet” in both names). And we see two couples of Harry and Hermione (the present and the future or past, depending on the point of view).
In GoF, there were two champions from Hogwarts in the Triwizard tournament instead of one. We have Mr. Crouch, Sr. and a Mr. Crouch, Jr., which leads to the confusion between the two. And the fake Mrs. Crouch and the fake Mr. Crouch, Jr. There’s also a true Mr. Moody and a fake Mr. Moody.
In OotP, we learn that Severus Snape (some fans think he is still doing it) played a double-agent role. Harry himself becomes double, housing Voldemort, sensing his moods, hearing his thoughts, and being temporarily possessed by him in the MoM. We learn that there were two boys who may have qualified for the role of Voldemort defeater – Harry and Neville – identical in a way (that is, until Harry was marked as Voldemort’s equal).
Objects participate in the same pattern. Sometimes pairs of objects include a bigger and a smaller version, or an evil and a good one. There are the similar but opposing examples: Voldemort’s dark mark and Hermione’s gold coins; Harry’s very good broom and his very best broom; Harry’s Hedwig and Ron’s little Pigwidgeon; the Order of the Phoenix and the smaller Dumbledore’s Army; different generations of heroes (Harry and his friends vs. James and his friends); Professor Trelawney’s very big prophesy and her very IMMENSE prophecy.
Other, more closely identical, objects include: the two-way mirrors of Sirius; the twin wands of Harry and Voldemort; the two serpents of smoke twirling around each other from Dumbledore’s silver instrument; the two great serpents – Nagini for Voldemort and the Basilisk for Tom Riddle; the two records of the great prophecy – a glass sphere and a pensieve (mind).
A bit of brainstorming brings to mind nearly endless instances of doubling, pairing, replacing and splitting. The goblet of fire has the split function of selector and portkey. Certain schoolmasters have something like diptych portraits; they are able to move between the two. Voldemort replaces Peter’s old hand of flesh with the illusion of a hand, a mirror image, a silver replica. The Priori Incantatem spell brings forth the shadows of the people Voldemort has killed.
J.K. Rowling’s style of choosing names that seems at times a simple humorous play on alliteration and assonance (repetitions of similar sounds), really accentuates the double phenomenon. Recall the titles of books that Hogwarts students have read at school (all the titles of Lockhart’s books are alliterated), as well as some names of their authors (ie. Bathilda Bagshot). We also have alliterated professors’ names: Filius Flitwick, Minerva McGonagall, Severus Snape… possibly the future Felix Felicis, whose name seems in addition to echo Flitwick’s. In fact, Felix Felicis’ name is the most perfectly doubled one, as it is but two grammatical forms of the same Latin word meaning happy or fortunate, as some fans have pointed out. We may further remember other odd names that show up, such as Neville’s favorite plant, Mimbulus Mimbletonia, and all of Fred and George’s fun advertisements: Basic Blaze Box, Deflagration Deluxe, Nosebleed Nougat, Fainting Fancies, Puking Pastilles. Certain chapter titles reproduce the same doubling echoes, such as “Dudley Demented,” and the future chapter “Draco’s Detour.”
Mirror situations play central roles in the climax of each book.
In SS/PS, the Harry in the Mirror of Erised transfers the hidden stone to the real Harry.
In CoS, Tom Riddle’s diary is a mirror of Tom Riddle: Harry only has to stick the poisonous fang in the diary in order to destroy the memory of Tom Riddle (a memory itself being a mirror image of what was once real), and in a sense keep the reflection of Tom Riddle from becoming real. In the same book, mirrors serve as a good defense against the basilisk: looking at something through a mirror is looking at it indirectly. In every attack of the basilisk, a form of improvised mirror is detected that has saved the life of the student (or the cat): a puddle of water, a camera, Nearly Headless Nick, and two real mirrors (I believe I did see this fact pointed out in an article, but I couldn’t find it again to give its title).
In PoA, two Harrys meet and their partial encounter leads to the production of a great patronus… seen twice by Harry: a quality from the future (now past) is transferred to the present. The doubling of Harry and Hermione into past and present versions saves the day.
In GoF, the twin wands, mirroring each other, create a miracle and save Harry.
And in OotP, inversely, a tragic loss takes place exactly because a mirror device was not used: the two-way mirror.
The concepts of separation and unity are tightly worked into each of these mirror episodes, and they are obviously connected to the idea of doubling (separated, but united: “but in essence one?” says Dumbledore when he sees the two silver snakes.)
In SS/PS, Voldemort is united with Quirrell, but Harry manages to be united with his mirror image and get the stone, leading to the separation of Voldemort from Quirrell, but not in the way Voldemort wished to be separated. As when Voldemort was initially separated from is body, he remains vapor.
In CoS, Tom Riddle is united with Ginny almost long enough to permit him to separate himself from the pages of the diary. Harry prevents this separation and severs the tie between Tom Riddle and Ginny.
In PoA, the time traveling couple must remain separated from the past couple. But Harry is united with his future self for a brief moment, when he witnesses the production of the patronus and becomes capable of reproducing the future/past patronus, through which he also becomes united with his father. Peter Pettigrew becomes separated from Ron and his former friends, which inevitably leads to his reunification with Voldemort, as the Prophecy predicted.
In GoF, Voldemort is united with Harry, Peter, and his father in a new body. This unity allows him to touch Harry, and separates Harry from the ancient protection of his mother. At the end, Harry must keep the wands united for just long enough, then he must separate them.
In OotP, Harry must learn through Occlumency to separate his mind from Voldemort’s, but he does not want to. This leads to unification with Voldemort in MoM and separation from his godfather. Only when he imagines being united with his godfather again does he become fully separated from Voldemort. A loss occurs when a clear choice is not made, when a certain door is not closed. Joining oneself with one side means becoming separated from the other side. Sadly enough, the truth is that Harry really lost Sirius because he would not let go of Voldemort (can you imagine that?). Although, like Dumbledore said, nothing is simple. There are many reasons and many consequences to each action.
These notions also remind me of Nearly Headless Nick. He is stuck between two worlds – life and death – and perhaps he regrets not making a clear-cut choice. Or Cho, who can’t separate herself (understandably, though) from the memory of Cedric and remains separated from Harry by a permanent barrier of tears. The Sorting Hat’s New Song sings of the importance of unity. We have heard of Voldemort’s skill at separating people. Voldemort’s army is also a bunch of “separators.” Giants just can’t live together without killing each other. Dementors separate people’s souls from their bodies (ironic kisses, dangerous unities). This idea of unity and separation has been carefully developed from page one. How many separations has Harry had to suffer? He is separated from his parents, from his godfather, and at the end of OotP, from all of his friends (in addition to more less drastic or permanent separations: from Ron, Cho, Quidditch and his broom). And as a result, Harry has grown more and more united with Voldemort… Not united in essence, but in a destiny of some sort. He was separated from Voldemort through what Dumbledore called love, only to be permanently tied to him again through the message of the Prophecy. What will help offset all these accumulated separations that are leading and pushing him towards a one-on-one confrontation with Voldemort? Only a definite separation from Voldemort – separating Voldemort from the whole world. What form of final unity is in store for Harry?
The title Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince seems to bring to the foreground this running theme of the double identity. Half-blood indicates that there are “two” paired parts in the Prince. Despite the theories that suggest the prince may be just a champion of half-bloods (I am not excluding it, but I can’t accept it as an exclusive explanation), I think there is an actual double nature to the Prince.
In chess, important pieces occur in doubles, or in a pair, such as the king and queen. Might it be possible that the books are written partially like a chess game? And an important piece, that usually stays hidden at the beginning, is brought forth: the near equivalent of a king, the Half-Blood Prince. (The title of prince fits better in this chess game in which all the major pieces are of a younger age.) We are reaching the end of the game. Perhaps the Half-Blood Prince needs to be protected as a king is? Perhaps, symbolically, through the HBP, happiness needs to be protected. Remember that Ron was a knight, Hermione was a castle, and Harry was a bishop in the original SS/PS chess game? Now, either our knight, bishop, castle and prince all display a double nature (true enough for Harry and the Prince, even to some extent for Ron (loser and winner), but what about Hermione? And who would be the equivalent of a princess (or queen)? Maybe that is to be found in Volume 7, the year of the final couples? Or, basing the idea on the number of DA members that went to storm the Ministry of Magic, we might say that our two bishops are Harry and Neville, our two knights are Ron and Ginny, and our two castles are Hermione and Luna? There are also lots of pawns who have the potential for transforming into something greater at the end of the board: the other students in the DA. (But this may be material for another essay.)
I am waiting for that moment of obvious revelation – that situation where the reader will say, “That is why there have been all these doubles in all the books!” But perhaps the doubles will be just a running background theme throughout.