The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 7 and 8

The Harry Potter Reread would be more excited about the football/soccer World Cup if people could fly in it. Not that it isn’t plenty exciting, it could just use some oomph. Perhaps if they introduce bludgers? Could you make a real bludger without magic? These are the questions that plague the reread at night.

This week’s chapters show us how nasty little rich kids always get their way, how some wizard curses are different from Muggle ones, and most importantly—THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED. We’re onto chapters 7 and 8: Mudbloods and Murmurs and The Deathday Party.

Index to the reread can be located here! Other Harry Potter and Potter-related pieces can be found under their appropriate tag. And of course, since we know this is a reread, all posts might contain spoilers for the entire series. If you haven’t read all the Potter books, be warned.

Chapter 7—Mudbloods and Murmurs

Summary

Harry is woken on his first Saturday back at the crack of dawn by Oliver Wood. He’s got lots of strategies to be certain that Gryffindor wins the Hogwarts Quidditch Cup this year. Colin Creevey irritatingly follows Harry out to his practice, but as soon as the Gryffindors get out on the pitch, the Slytherin team shows up with special dispensation to use the field from Snape; they have a new Seeker to train. That Seeker is none other than Draco Malfoy, whose father bought the whole Slytherin team Nimbus Two-thousand One brooms (one step up from Harry’s model).

When Hermione insults Draco by insisting that his father bought him onto the team, Draco calls her a Mudblood, which results in outrage from the entire Gryffindor team. Ron is furious and immediately tries to hex Draco, which backfires due to his broken wand. He begins to vomit slugs in earnest. Harry and Hermione drag him off to Hagrid’s hut, narrowly avoiding a run-in with Lockhart, who is trying to give Hagrid advice on how to do his job. (A favorite activity of his, we are learning.) The groundskeeper teases Harry about the rumor Lockhart worsened about Harry giving out signed pictures. He points out that one of reasons he was hired is that it’s getting increasingly difficult to find DADA teachers. The post is gaining a reputation for being jinxed.

Hagrid gives Ron a pot for depositing slugs, and they proceed to explain to Harry and Hermione what Mudblood means—it’s a derogatory term for someone who has non-magic parents. Ron proceeds to explain that there are very few “pureblood” wizards in existence anyhow; if the magic community hadn’t married Muggles, they would have died out.

Harry and Ron get their detentions from McGonagall—Ron is polishing all the silver in the Trophy Room with Filch, and Harry gets to help Lockhart answer his fan mail. Harry is less than pleased at this outcome. He sits with Lockhart for hours, addressing envelopes to his fans. It’s then that he hears a voice, seemingly out of nowhere, talking of murder. Lockhart can’t hear it and sends Harry back to his dorm. When Ron arrives back from his detention, Harry tells him about what he heard.

Commentary

Couple things about the Quidditch teams here: Isn’t Oliver Wood the oldest person on the Gryffindor Quidditch team? And he’s a fifth year now, which implies that last year, the oldest person on the team was only in fourth year. So… the kids from years 5-7 when Harry was in first year all sucked at Quidditch? How unlikely does that seem? I mean, even if they weren’t quite as talented as the current Gryffindor lineup, in my experience, seniority counts for a lot at school. It might have been more realistic to have had one or two less-than-stellar seventh years in charge during Harry’s first year on the team. (Edit: Wood is in his sixth year..)

Also, what is the point of having to book the pitch for practice if a note from a teacher can completely undo that (entirely logical) system? I just, urrrggghh, Snape, my ire is limitless where you are concerned. Also, Rowling makes a point of telling us that the Slytherin team has no girls on it, which seems a pretty clear implication toward sexism in the house.

We’ve talked a little about this with the last book, but the fact that the school teams don’t all play on the same equipment is bonkers. Across the board. The school should just have their own set of Quidditch brooms for practice and gameplay, they could even be the same ones they use in flying lessons. Then, if Lucius Malfoy wants his kid on the latest and greatest, he’d simply have to make a gift to the entire school. Giving the entire Slytherin team such a huge advantage is even more ridiculous than giving Harry one all by himself. Even if broom speed isn’t the only deciding factor where gameplay is concerned.

You know, when you view Draco’s attitude between books one and two, it’s shot through the roof in the space of a summer (and he was never a sweet glass of lemonade to being with). He clearly took his first year real hard, especially after Harry getting all the praise by the end. It makes me wish we saw more of the Slytherins overall, and especially him—we don’t get a clear idea of exactly what prompts his character shifts. Being a general jerk is a little different from flat-out throwing around hate speak every chance he gets.

I also feel the need to point out that Ron doesn’t pull his wand on Malfoy until he calls Hermione a Mudblood. Draco has already insulted his family and their lack of wealth (in talking about the twins’ brooms), the thing Ron is most insecure about aside from his own self-worth, but he keeps it together. Then Draco opens his mouth about Hermione, and Ron tries to make him cough up slugs for hours. I might mark this as the earliest sign of his affection toward her, a little bit of boyish white knight syndrome. Incidentally, Hermione points out later that the curse he goes for is actually a very difficult one—and it looks like Ron would have managed it perfectly were it not for his busted wand. So the boy does have skills, regardless of how he may come off day to day.

This is the first time we get word of the Defense Against the Dark Arts post curse, and Hagrid is pretty vague on exactly how bad it is. People are only just now starting to think it’s cursed? Voldemort came to ask for the position a second time sometime in the 1950s, when the jinx was put in place. It’s the ’90s now. The position hasn’t held down a teacher for a few decades and people are only starting to whisper about jinxes now? Methinks Hagrid is being deliberately obtuse.

Also, the wizarding world must be bigger than we think if Harry is addressing Lockhart’s fan mail envelopes for four hours. Four hours, and it doesn’t sound like they were done. Ugh. Maybe it’s just the same forty people writing multiple letters. Maybe half of them are in Lockhart’s head and he writes their letters to himself in his sleep.

While we’re at it, let’s talk about dear Gilderoy, since some of the comments for the last chapters revolved around his hire. According to Rowling, Lockhart was born to a Muggle father and a witch mother. He was the baby of his family, and also the only of his three siblings to show any magical ability (which only intensified his mother’s preference for him over her other children). He was sorted into Ravenclaw, though he narrowly avoided Slytherin. Lockhart learned for the sake of the attention it garnered him, and refused to try hard unless his tasks came easily. He caused quite a ruckus in his time at Hogwarts, performing all sorts of ridiculous self-aggrandizing acts. Interestingly, he would have been in his third year during James and Lily’s final year at Hogwarts.

It would seem that he got a bit overexposed after his second big book, so much so that he had to fake his own kidnapping by trolls and then leak it himself to the Daily Prophet. This is why he tells Harry not to go for too many public appearances when he’s starting out—he’s speaking from experience.

Apparently, Dumbledore had a pretty good idea of what Lockhart was up to, insofar as how he came by such improbable stories for his bestsellers. He deliberately lured Lockhart back to Hogwarts, hoping that the DADA position would not only get filled for the year, but result in Lockhart’s exposure as a fraud. He even brought up Harry as a sort of carrot, insinuating that rubbing elbows with The Boy Who Lived might boost Gilderoy’s popularity. Which is to say, Albus Dumbledore has no patience for fools, and was happy to get Gilderoy Lockhart off the streets for good. It’s hard to blame Albus when you note how much damage his ignorance does, just by being in proximity to him.

 

Chapter 8—The Deathday Party

Summary

Harry has a chance run-in with the Gryffindor ghost Nearly-Headless Nick after a Quidditch practice. They commiserate together, Harry over the Slytherin teams advantage, and Nick over having his application to the Headless Hunt rejected. (It’s a sort of club for headless ghost, but since Nick’s head is not completely severed from his body, he’s not welcome to join.) Filch is on the war path, and when he sees Harry dripping mud in the corridor, he drags the kid back to his office with the intention of writing him up. Peeves makes a scene (it should be added here that he breaks the Vanishing Cabinet at Hogwarts to get the desired effect), and as Filch chases after him, Harry notices an envelope containing the basics for a course called Kwikspell. Filch returns, and upon realizing Harry has seen the envelope and possibly read its contents, sends him away with no punishment.

It turns out that Nick was behind Peeves’ little tirade, and to thank him, Harry agrees to go to Nick’s 500th Deathday Party, which happens to be on Halloween. The party isn’t much fun for the kids—all the food is rotten and Nick gets bowled over when the members of the Headless Hunt arrive. The boys have their first encounter with Moaning Myrtle, a ghost who haunts the girl’s bathroom on the first floor. The trio leave to try and make the tail end of the Halloween feast, when Harry starts hearing that mysterious voice again.

They follow the voice (which Hermione and Ron cannot hear), as Harry hears it planning to kill someone. They arrive in a corridor with words drawn out on the wall:

THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED. ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE.

Mrs. Norris, Filch’s cat, appears to be frozen, hung by her tail against the wall. The students arrive, all heading back from the feast, and see the warning. Draco Malfoy gleefully informs the “Mudbloods” that they’ll be next.

Commentary

First clue that something’s up with Ginny—she’s “pale,” so Percy makes her take the potion Madame Pomfrey has been handing out to everyone who’s got the flu. Pale being a codeword for “possessed by Tom Riddle.” Creepy.

So this is the first indication that we get of Filch’s being a Squib. I do love that Rowling bothers to give Filch a reason for his general disdain of the students and overall grouchiness, but it does make me want to shake him by the shoulders and shout ARGUS FILCH, GO OUT INTO THE WORLD AND LIVE YOUR LIFE. I understand that he doesn’t want to leave the magical world, but at the point where it causes him enough pain that he regularly wishes to torture children, I think it’s time for him to pursue happiness elsewhere.

The deathday party bit is actually one of my least favorite things in this book (or maybe any Potter book). It’s purely a setup to get the trio in front of the Chamber warning ahead of the other students (and to introduce Moaning Myrtle), and it’s depressing as all get out. Not because of the gross food or Peeves’ abuses, but because Nick gets completely trampled at his own party. If we maybe spent more time getting to understand ghost culture, this would be an interesting first glimpse, but since we don’t see much of them outside of this, it sits weirdly in the narrative. And Harry, Ron, and Hermione make no move to help Nick out when the Headless Hunt derail his celebration, which is sort of unlike them. I almost wish they’d helped him out with his speech delivery before nipping off.

Side thoughts: How do ghosts send letters? What other items can they seemingly fabricate for use? What is ghost hierarchy like across the board?

And then our first warning after the Basilisk gets a chance to petrify Mrs. Norris. I give Rowling credit for how genuinely frighten it is—the phrasing is foreboding enough that even if you don’t know what the Chamber of Secrets is (like Harry and Co. don’t at this point), you still understand something real bad is going down.

There’s a funny little flub in the students all finding the trio. It’s indicated that most of the kids are heading back to their dorms, but the warning is on the second floor. The Hufflepuff dorm is on the first floor (Edit: in the basement!), and the Slytherin dorm is technically below, under the lake. So why would Draco, or any of those students from those houses be there?


Emily Asher-Perrin is really having a hard time with the ghost letter thing. HOW DO YOU SEND GHOST LETTERS, ARE THERE GHOST OWLS? You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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