The Two-Way Mirror #29: The Vanishing Cabinet: An Old Plot

Hello, MuggleNetters. I have just turned in my complete dissertation to my readers, and a little earlier than I expected. There is still work to do, before and after the defense, but… I am writing a short editorial, to celebrate.

This is an idea I wanted to write about a long time ago, that I brought up in the thread to one of my editorials. I got it while answering in the thread one of the main objections to my editorial The Mirror of Erised: A HorcruxHow in the world could Voldemort turn the Mirror of Erised into a Horcrux, if the object needed to be on hand when he killed someone? Several posters brought this up. For example, ‘Illythia’ said this:

“You already brought up the question of when the Mirror arrived at Hogwarts. There’s problems either way. If it’s been at Hogwarts too long, then it would be almost impossible for Voldemort to have hidden a soul fragment in it. It seems to me that the item must be present during the murder, but I guess I have nothing to back that up! Then again, if the Mirror has been at Hogwarts since sometime after Tom was there, then its connection to Hogwarts is weakened.”

Although we don’t know if a Horcrux spell needs to be performed at the same time as a murder, just in case that is the case, I thought of a possibility to remove that logistical obstacle. That is not the only purpose of this editorial, however. I believe my discoveries will remain meaningful whether the “Mirror of Erised is a Horcrux” hypothesis turns out to be true or not. It is possible the story of the Cabinet will lead us towards a different discovery.

The fact is, we know Voldemort wanted very badly to get into Hogwarts. It was the main reason he asked for the DADA job twice. As Dumbledore says, “he may have felt that there were still mysteries to unravel, stores of magic to tap” (“Lord Voldemort’s Request,” 431, HBP).

It is possible, but not very likely, that Voldemort was able to do any searching of Hogwarts on the days that he had his interviews with Dippet and Dumbledore (it’s more likely he got to have a last look around when he saw Dippet, as he wasn’t so suspect then to be under constant watch). The question is, did he have other possibilities of getting into the castle?

I think that when Voldemort got an idea in his head, he was not about to take no for an answer. If he couldn’t get into Hogwarts openly as a teacher, he was going to find another, stealthy way. This is where the Vanishing Cabinet Plot comes in. The plot to use the Vanishing Cabinet to get into Hogwarts is clearly much older than it looks. We have evidence for this.

Rowling insists on the fact that the Cabinet was in Borgin & Burkes before Harry’s sixth year. When Harry looks at Draco through the shop window in his sixth year, he notices that the Cabinet to which Draco points when he asks Borgin to fix it (but the trio can’t see what he is pointing at, ironically, because the Cabinet is in the way) is the same one in which he had hidden in his second year:

“There in the midst of the cases full of skulls and old bottles stood Draco Malfoy with his back to them, just visible beyond the very same large black cabinet in which Harry had once hidden to avoid Malfoy and his father.”
(“Draco’s Detour,” 124, HBP)

And now we understand the importance of a very small detail from the second book, when Harry hid in that same Cabinet (‘Tia’ mentions this on MuggleNet’s infosection of Magical Objects/Vanishing Cabinets):

“Harry looked quickly around and spotted a large black cabinet to his left; he shot inside it and pulled the doors closed, leaving a small crack to peer through.”
(“At Flourish and Blotts,” 61-62, CoS)

As you notice, Harry did not completely close the door. If only he had… everything would have been different.

This Vanishing Cabinet clearly had a purpose that was determined before Voldemort’s rebirth. We know it was Voldemort who came to be in charge of making major purchases for Borgin & Burkes. I would put my hand in the fire that it was he who acquired the Cabinet and for his own purposes, as a way of getting into Hogwarts.

I think some backstory would be interesting here. For example, the Cabinet may be called Vanishing because Fred and George “redefined” it for their own purposes. They did not know more about it except that it “vanished.” But in HBP we learn that a more appropriate name for it and its pair would be the Communicating Cabinets. I don’t know exactly what the Cabinet looks like when the door closes and its contents “vanish” (or rather, are transferred to the other side). Does the Cabinet seem to vanish also? And why did the Cabinet break when Montague Apparated outside of it? Or was it already broken, Peeves having dropped it in Harry’s second year (see Tia’s article)?

Robbie Fischer has some interesting comments to make about the Vanishing Cabinet before HBP in an editorial appropriately named: Sneakier and Sneakier: Informers, Traitors, Double-Agents, and Spies in HP5:

“And speaking of the Inquisitorial Squad, I love the little joke the twins played on Montague. Remember that vanishing cabinet from Chamber of Secrets, when Nearly Headless Nick goaded Peeves into smashing it on the floor above Filch’s office in order to create a diversion for Harry? I don’t know if this is the same one–it sounded as if the one in Book 2 was pretty well destroyed, and maybe magical objects like that cannot be magically repaired without losing their charm. I have a feeling that is the case. No doubt there is more than one vanishing cabinet in the world, and I imagine (though we have not seen it through Harry’s eyes) that ‘vanishing cabinet’ means the sort of cabinet in which a person is placed, whereupon he or she vanishes into who-knows-where. Sleight-of-hand artists use that sort of gimmick quite often; it should surprise no one to see the genuine article at Hogwarts. And, it couldn’t happen to a better victim than a member of the Inquisitorial Squad!”

I wonder who made the Cabinets and what their original purpose was. Were they meant to be a way of getting into Hogwarts? That doesn’t seem like a very friendly idea, unless the other Cabinet was in the Ministry of Magic or St. Mungo’s or something. Or were both Cabinets supposed to be within Hogwarts? How much did Dumbledore know or not know about the Cabinets? How could he not know about Voldemort’s acquisition of the second Cabinet (or its dangerous existence and presence in Borgin & Burkes)?

How did Voldemort discover both Cabinets and how they worked? We do know that he studied Hogwarts inside out, so that explains that he would find this out. Dumbledore, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to know everything about his castle, as he says to Karkaroff when he reveals that he accidentally found out about the Room of Requirement. I wonder why Dumbledore did not search the castle more. What does it say about him that is different from Voldemort? Other interesting questions are, where was the second Cabinet when Voldemort acquired it, and how did he get his hands on it? How did he convince Borgin and Burkes to pay for it? What did he tell them it would do? And when did he acquire it? How early in his career?

Or did Voldemort perhaps not buy the Cabinet himself after all? Perhaps he chose to work at Borgin & Burkes because the Cabinet was already there and he recognized its resemblance to the Cabinet at Hogwarts and figured that was his door. Did Borgin and Burkes perhaps use the Cabinet to get into Hogwarts and steal heirlooms and other interesting objects from, say, the cathedral place in the Room of Requirement? That’s a good, cheap source of merchandise for their shop… there might be interesting, precious objects hidden among the trash. That cathedral did look an awful lot like an antique shop…

Finally, did Voldemort ever use the Cabinet before the Death Eater ploy? My belief is yes. The presence of this artifact with such obvious history and unanswered questions in the story in my opinion does more than simply foreshadow what is coming in the sixth book. I think it is there to make something else possible in Voldemort’s history.

If Voldemort entered Hogwarts before, why he did not take that opportunity to wreak any havoc? I think the answer is simple. Until he found whatever it was he was looking for, until he tapped all the magical riches of the place, Voldemort did not want to attract attention to the fact that he was entering the school.

What made him decide to use the plot in HBP that would betray his door into Hogwarts? I don’t think he had yet found everything that he was looking for (especially the heirlooms). But I think he started fearing that Dumbledore might find out about his Horcruxes with Slughorn working for him. It became very urgent and important to take him out. This matter of life and death made his other desires relative. Also, if he had already made the number of Horcruxes that he wanted, perhaps he no longer cared for finding/getting his hands on the remaining heirlooms.

What is that “something” that Voldemort achieved while having an open door into Hogwarts? I think he must have achieved something pretty important, or perhaps Rowling would not have bothered creating so much backstory. My own idea is that he made the Mirror of Erised into a Horcrux during one of his stealthy trips. He may have killed someone in the Borgin & Burkes shop, and then stepped into the Cabinet, to be taken instantly close enough to his object to reach it within minutes. We might quibble about exactly how many seconds or minutes of delay between the murder and the Horcrux spell are allowable, but then we could also get Voldemort to Imperius someone to follow him into Hogwarts and stand with him in front of the mirror… and then he could transfigure that dead someone into a bone and take it back with him into Borgin & Burkes.

Concerning the possibility that what Voldemort did inside Hogwarts was turn the Mirror of Erised into a Horcrux, I’ll take this opportunity to answer a couple of other objections that were brought up in the thread. How could Dumbledore not see that the Mirror was a Horcrux? Could Dumbledore tell Gaunt’s ring was a Horcrux just by looking at it, or did he attempt to destroy the ring only because he deduced from the surrounding evidence that it was obviously a Horcrux? ‘Illythia’ pointed out that “[…] Dumbledore did not know about the Horcruxes until he was informed about the diary.” Dumbledore did explore the Mirror in order to get his brilliant idea about hiding the stone. But perhaps a Horcrux can’t be found unless you are looking for it? As much as Dumbledore saw into the Mirror, perhaps he had a huge blind spot there. We saw in HBP that Dumbledore’s contentment with his own brilliance verged perilously on careless confidence in his own judgment (assuming you are on the “Dumbledore did not expect Snape to kill him” side). We are supposed to see a danger sign when he gets too proud: a cruel irony is in the making. The first time Dumbledore says to Harry that one of his ideas was brilliant is in reference to hiding the stone in the Mirror of Erised. Wouldn’t it be ironic if his joy in his own brilliance had accompanied by the huge blind spot of not realizing the Mirror was a Horcrux?

My answer to the other objection, that Voldemort seemed clueless before the Mirror, is that Voldemort could not work the Mirror to get the stone because he wanted to get the stone in order to use it. Dumbledore insists that the only way to get the stone is to want to get it, but not use it. The only one capable of getting the stone out was the very rare individual that is Harry, who has the power the Dark Lord knows not, love, of which Voldemort has not an ounce. It is true that Voldemort was keeping awfully quiet while Quirrell was debating whether he should break the Mirror… But then, we didn’t get to see Quirrell actually lift his wand or hand against the Mirror. Maybe then Voldemort would have stopped him. But maybe he didn’t want to show himself too worried too soon, or Quirrell might have suspected the Mirror had some special meaning for Voldemort…

If it is not the Mirror of Erised that was made into a Horcrux, is there something else Voldemort discovered or did when he got into Hogwarts during those stealthy trips? I tend to think that there is, and that whatever it is, we will find out in the seventh book and it will be very interesting.