Of Watches and Mirrors

Hugo Da Costa

2158 words

“I give away to you the secret of secrets. Mirrors are doors through which Death comes and goes. As for the rest, glare at yourself all your life through a looking-glass and you will see Death at work like bees in a glass hive.”
– from Jean Cocteau’s Orphée3, 4

Nicolas Flamel, Paris resident and “opera lover,”6 would perhaps be acquainted with these lines, presented in the city of lights as a stage play, in 1927, and as a black and white movie, in 1950. It is uncertain, though, that the time he had left to “set [his] affairs in order”7 after the destruction of the philosopher’s stone, in 1992, would be enough for him to hear these very lines in Philip Glass’ chamber opera Orphée, which premiered in the US in 1993 and in Europe only in 2005. As the French author puts it, “time is a purely human notion.” It is thus related to mirrors: through them we “see ourselves growing old” and we are “brought closer to death,”4 reminded of our human, all too human, finitude. In his belief that he was “much more than a man,”8 and in his murderous attempt to fly from death in his fear, it is unsurprising that Voldemort couldn’t take anything from a mirror.

We’ve been presented to different kinds of mirrors and time-related devices in the Potter books. Now, in the Fantastic Beasts movies, the looking-glass and some well known variations on its theme reappear in all their might. In this second installment of a tripartite response to the essay “The Mirror Dimension,” from The Rowling Library Magazine (Issue 64, April 2022), the encounter between Albus and Credence through the looking-glass is analysed, and the astonishingly ignored appearance of Dumbledore’s pocket watch prior to this encounter is finally addressed.

Yusuf Kama arrives at Nurmengard, as his part of the countersight plan set up by Dumbledore. Grindelwald had already foreseen his arrival, and he questions Kama if he was sent by Dumbledore, to which Kama responds positively, before asking himself: “What would you like me to tell him?” At this point, Grindelwald gazes at Kama as if X-raying him, and asks Queenie: “Is he telling the truth?” She confirms it with a nod, and Grindelwald, instead of proceeding with the legilimency enquiry mediated by Queenie, nods at Credence, as if this sequence was previously coded for him to know the exact time to send the Obscurial, since he looks at no watch before sending him: as soon as Dumbledore’s true spy arrives, Credence must leave – but where must he go?


Dumbledore walks through the streets of Berlin – as if summoned by Vogel’s provocative remark, “Why leave Hogwarts when the world outside is burning?” –, but he was not there as a tourist. He had just visited the German Ministry of Magic to meet Newt, Lally and Jacob, and he instructed each one of them according to the new conjuncture, providing the necessary documents for the accomplishment of the next step of the countersight plan. He seemed to be in a hurry, and while he was giving the final instructions, he glanced many times at a small pocket watch (sterling silver or white gold?), as if he was seeing in it something more than the hours. And he is, indeed, seeing more than the hours: on the metal lid over the dial, Dumbledore sees Credence’s face. The image moves as a magical photograph, though it does not portray Credence in the past: it portrays Credence in a near future, as we will see. Dumbledore leaves the group and walks through the streets of Berlin, knowing he was about to meet Credence. The Obscurial, though, is not in Berlin yet. He’s in Nurmengard, about to receive Kama. At Grindelwald’s nod, he goes to Berlin. Dumbledore walks through the streets of Berlin – is he just wandering around, 13 www.therowlinglibrary.com waiting for the part of fate he yet does not know, but others could see? It would be too much a coincidence that Albus and Credence end up on the same Berlin street if both of them were wandering without a destination. It is most likely that the place was previously set up. Albus stops in front of a travel agency and observes the movement through the reflection at its window, without looking Credence in the eye. Credence stops across the street, in front of a Gramophone store, and stares with suspicion at Albus’ back; Credence draws his wand, holds it firmly in his right hand, and it happens.


From now on, it is hard to describe what happens without a hypothesis of what happens.

Albus looks above right, where he could see the street lamp that is installed in the agency’s facade. Albus is the owner of a Deluminator, and from its workings we can interpret what happens next. He may have extracted the light from the lamp, but let’s formulate it differently and more elaborately – after all, light is no ordinary matter. Let’s say that what we see, then, is a small and cloth-like piece of white matter (Rowling describes the remains of the Obscurus after the implosion of Credence at the end of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as “small tatters of black matter”1; it seems, at least to me, that this scene establishes its white twin), not only free falling down between Albus and the facade, but being accompanied by Albus’ stare all the way. Its fall is slower than the snow. When it reaches the height of Albus’ mouth, he closes his eyes and blows this piece of white matter with a non-verbal spell that envelops it and contains it as a small, oleaginous white mass (Rowling describes a “snowscape” and a “small, oleaginous black mass” found by Jacob in Newt’s case in 1926; it seems, at least to me, that it fits with the Berlin setting and the “ball of light, kind of pulsing, and bluish, like that light you get around a Portkey”9 that we see here). And then it happens again.

Following our hypothesis, the tiny, oleaginous white mass was extracted by the Deluminator and is not being governed by gravity, but by Albus’ non-verbal spell. After it is enveloped by another non–verbal spell, its vertical descent becomes a horizontal flight; as Albus is turned towards the travel agency’s glass window, it is going to hit it. But instead of splashing against the hardness of the window, it hits like a drop of water hits a pond or a puddle – but the white matter remains enveloped by the spell, and continues its flight through the glass window’s reflection, everything is inverted, as if the virtual image formed only by light through the glass had acquired materiality. It is floating now towards Credence, across the street, through the light. The oleaginous white mass only loses its envelope when it touches Credence’s third eye – on the middle of the forehead, above the junction of the eyebrows –, and it seems that the white matter “just went through”9 Credence. Perhaps it is at this moment that they consolidate their temporary dwelling in this world of light. The phoenix (as long as “it can disappear and reappear at will” [10]), Albus and Credence are the only living beings in this world of light; all the rest, as mere light, can be put out by the Deluminator.
Now, Albus looks him in the eye, and Credence, rather surprisingly, repeats the same messages we’ve seen up until this point of the movie in a mirror at the Hog’s Head. For Albus, and for us, it serves to reveal that these messages that appeared at Hog’s Head were written by Credence – and that the message we saw at Nurmengard was written by Aberforth. (How there is such a connection between these mirrors is something yet to be explained, or, at least, hypothesized.) But perhaps for Credence, he was repeating the same messages in order to confirm he’s being heard in his suffering. It is the first encounter they have, after five years in which Newt went to New York and Paris to find Credence in Albus’ place, and almost the whole encounter is Albus just hearing him. Credence expresses, in a street-destructing magic, his deep anger with the “abandonment” Grindelwald made him believe Dumbledore is responsible for, and he’s about to be the avenger Grindelwald wanted him to be. The only problem in this plan is that Grindelwald lied to Credence. Dumbledore, as the great wizard he is, refuses to do this (and I truly believe they could hurt themselves in this world of light; this doesn’t seem a safe place for the living beings who dwell on it at all). They leave this world of light when Albus acknowledges Credence’s pain, and confesses he’s sorry for it, with the hand on Credence’s chest. They pass from mirror to puddle (just like Orpheus in Cocteau’s movie), they return to “muddy waters.”4 It is not in the spectacular magic of the ones involved that the encounter resides.


Later in the movie, Aberforth asks Albus: “How long does he have?” To which Albus does not respond. At this point, it really seems to be a miracle that Credence is still alive; an Obscurial’s survival for that long is unprecedented: “There’s no documented case of any obscurial surviving past the age of ten.”1 But Albus could see, in the phoenix’s presence beside him, a sign: “The bird comes to him because he’s dying.” We’ve heard him before: “a phoenix will come to any Dumbledore who is in desperate need.”2 In this third movie, we come to the conclusion that, according to Albus, Credence is in need of true familial love: “He’s your son, Aberforth. He needs you.” It’s not a matter of finding a true identity anymore, but a matter of love, in the time that remains.

Time. The first time-related device we see in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World appears in the first chapter of the first book, in the hands of the very first wizard we see: Albus Dumbledore. “[…] he took a golden watch from his pocket and examined it. It was a very odd watch. It had twelve hands but no numbers; instead, little planets were moving around the edge. It must have made sense to Dumbledore, though […]”5 . This watch has never been seen in the Potter movies, but it was in the MinaLima edition of the first Potter book as an interactive papercraft element and as held by Albus in his Chocolate Frog card12s/sup>. This doesn’t seem to be, though, the same pocket watch we see in The Secrets of Dumbledore – a silver watch (although it can still be white gold, it would be too much to describe it as golden), with Roman numerals and gold planets moving around. But the latter still is a rather odd watch. On the metal lid over the dial, we see Credence moving towards him – an image only a Seer should have been able to see, and only a crystal ball (or a skull hookah) should have been able to show. From this appearance, we can wonder: in 1945, when Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s final duel took place, could both of them have foreseen how it would end? Or, if we are to stay in 1932, could Albus foresee that he and Aberforth would have to protect Credence from Grindelwald’s killing curse? That would give Aberforth’s question (“How long does he have?”) a lot more sense, for it implies that Albus was able to tell something of what was about to happen. “No one can know everything,” though – not even Albus Dumbledore.

[1] Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [screenplay], by J.K. Rowling (2016).
[2] Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald [screenplay], by J.K. Rowling (2018).
[3] Orphée [playscript], by Jean Cocteau (1927); for the English translation, see The Infernal Machine and other plays (New Directions, 1963).
[4] Orphée [screenplay], by Jean Cocteau (1950); for the English translation, see Three Screenplays (Grossman, 1972).
[5] Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling (1997): chapter 1.
[6] Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling (1997): chapter 13.
[7] Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling (1997): chapter 17.
[8] Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling (2000): chapter 1.
[9] Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling (2007): chapter 19. [10] Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [book], by J.K. Rowling (2017). [11] Gérard Lieber’s commentary on Cocteau’s Orphée in Théâtre Complet (Gallimard, 2003, p. 1664). [12] Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling, designed and illustrated by MinaLima (Scholastic, 2020, p. 15, 257)

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