The Harry Potter Reread is thinking about getting a jaunty hat to wear, because if a reread can’t be fashionable, then what’s the point? Also, because then it could use the word jaunty more often, which is depressingly underused in modern speech.
This week we’ll get our behinds handed to us after being taught some bogus curse defenses, and then turn into half-cats. Sort of. It’s chapters 11 and 12 of The Chamber of Secrets—The Dueling Club and The Polyjuice Potion!
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 11—The Dueling Club
Harry wakes up after his bones have grown back and goes to find Ron and Hermione. They’re working on the Polyjuice Potion—everyone in the school already knows what happened to poor Colin Creevey, and Hermione is keen to get the rest of the ingredients for their stew. Problem is, in order to get it, she has to raid Snape’s personal stores. In order to do that, they need a diversion. Harry launches a firework into Goyle’s cauldron when Snape’s back in turned during Potions, dousing several students with Swelling Solution. Hermione gets the goods and Snape is, fortunately, none the wiser (though he is much angrier).
A Dueling Club is announced, and a good portion of the student body is excited to try it out. That is, until they realize that Lockhart is instructing (with Snape as his grumpy Vanna White). Snape trounces Lockhart in the first demonstration, then they pair the kids off to practice. Snape forces Harry to pair with Draco. Hermione ends up paired with a Slytherin girl named Millicent Bulstrode. Draco and Harry get a couple good hexes off at each other before Lockhart and Snape halt the lesson. Lockhart suggests that two students demonstrate blocking opponent’s spells, and Snape recommends Harry and Draco because he clearly wants some entertainment out of this horrible evening.
Lockhart pretends to teach Harry how to block while Snape whispers evil plans to Draco. Draco then produces a large snake with his spell, which Lockhart then angers as he’s trying to dispose of it. The snake charges toward Justin Finch-Fletchley, and Harry runs to intercept, calling the snake off. Surprisingly, the snake listens. More surprisingly, Justin is mortified and the student body collectively backs away from Harry.
Ron and Hermione cart Harry off to the Gryffindor common room, where they explain that Harry didn’t just talk to the snake—he was speaking its language. He’s a Parselmouth, which is a problem because old Slytherin was himself. That is why the emblem of his house is a snake. And now everyone is going to think that Harry is the Heir of Slytherin. Harry tries to deny this, but he is reminded of how the Sorting Hat wanted to put him in Slytherin house before he requested another. He decides he’ll apologize to Justin and clear things up, but encounters a group of Hufflepuffs in the library who are convinced that he’s the Heir. He confronts the kids (led by Ernie Macmillan), telling them what happened, but they won’t believe him.
Harry storms off, only to run into Hagrid. He decides against telling him why he’s upset, then ends up in a corridor where he finds Justin and Nearly Headless Nick petrified. Peeves sounds the alarm and students flood the corridor to find Harry at the scene of the crime. McGonagall drags him off to Dumbledore’s office, telling Harry that his fate is out of her hands.
It occurs to me that if Harry had wanted to be a Marauder-style troublemaker—if his school years had been less fraught with actual peril, of course—Hogwarts would have had a real problem on their hands. His stunt in Potions goes down flawlessly, and no one sees him? Harry’s got some skills.
In regard to the black market amulets being sold around the school, these are the sort of inner workings at Hogwarts that I always want to know more about. School trades, note-passing, what sort of little tricks the students from wizarding families are pulling on the Muggleborns every year.
I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT FLITWICK’S DUELING PAST.
I have to assume that the reason Snape is helping out Lockhart is probably on orders from Dumbledore. Hard to imagine any teacher volunteering for that position, Snape least of all. And of course it puts him in a foul mood, to the point where specifically humiliates Neville in front of a sizable portion of the student body. I’m sure plenty of them know not to take his abuse seriously, but really? Kid’s already in a panic that the Heir is after him, leave Longbottom alone.
On the other hand, I’m so bemused by the fact that Harry hits Draco with Tickling Charm. I know that he probably doesn’t know anything more serious to cast, but it’s weirdly adorable? We can assume from the whispering that Snape gives Draco the spell for the snake, which I suppose his thinks is scary and clever and the emblem of their house, but could this club be run more irresponsibly? Between Lockhart being incompetent and Snape using it as a chance to give his favorite kids open season on his least-favorite students, this is basically a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Rowling chooses to have us find out about Harry’s ability to speak Parseltongue at the same time he does, which is chillingly effective. What seemed like a fun aside in the opening book is cast in an entirely new light, particularly when we find out that he’s speaking a different language without knowing it. Both really cool and completely terrifying. This is where one of the key themes of the book comes clear—Harry’s continuing fear that perhaps he should be in Slytherin, that there’s something innate in him that belongs there. The idea that he might be Slytherin’s heir is only making that fear sharper. (It would be useful if someone maybe mentioned to Harry that his family home was Godric’s Hollow, about as far from Slytherin as you can get, but you know how everyone is about giving Harry useful information.)
Hermione, like the logical kid that she is, figures he can fix this all with an apology. I do wonder how widespread the rumors about Harry are in this book. Do the older kids really care much? I feel like the upperclassmen would be less likely to buy those rumors, at least at the start. Even so, Ernie is building a pretty damning argument, even as he ignores Harry’s friendship with Hermione. (This becomes a problem later, of course, once she’s petrified too.) And then he button-pushes by mentioning the Dursleys, and Harry understandably withdraws.
We’ve got our next clue with the dead roosters Hagrid is planning to see Dumbledore about, but again, there’s no reason to think that this would be related to what’s happening with the Chamber. That is, unless you remember that in mystery yarns, everything you learn is always relevant.
And even after the conversation with the Hufflepuffs, nothing can prepare you for how the walls start edging in on Harry as he stumbles across more bodies and Peeves shrieks for the world to hear. Even on a reread, my anxiety skyrockets right there; Rowling knows exactly how to pace her tension out at these points. It never rains but pours for the Boy Who Lived, and he’s on a pretty awful losing streak here.
Still, knowing that the password to Dumbledore’s office is “Lemon Drop” helps to alleviate some of the horror. So that’s something.
Chapter 12—The Polyjuice Potion
Harry waits in Dumbledore’s office while McGonagall goes to speak with the headmaster. He sees the Sorting Hat and tries it on again—the hat assures him that it stands by its initial instinct, that Harry would have done well in Slytherin. Harry doesn’t want to believe it. Professor Dumbeldore’s bird suddenly bursts into a ball of flames. Harry tries to explain when Albus comes in, and finds out that the bird—Fawkes—is a Phoenix and just ending his current life cycle. Hagrid bursts into the office to assure Dumbledore that Harry didn’t attack anyone, but Dumbeldore already knows this. He asks Harry if there’s anything he needs to disclose. Harry decides to keep it all to himself.
While Fred and George take to joking about it, most of the students at Hogwarts now seem convinced that Harry is Slytherin’s heir. Everyone is scrambling to get home for Christmas and away from the school, but Harry stays with the Weasleys and Hermione, and Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle stay as well. The Polyjuice Potion is ready on Christmas, and Hermione wants to use it that evening. They enjoy their Christmas dinner before she lets Harry and Ron in on the plan; they are going to drug Crabbe and Goyle with chocolate cakes, get some hair off of them for the potion, then stuff them in a closet and go hang out with Draco. Hermione is using a hair she got off of Bulstrode in their duel. The plan goes off without a hitch, but Hermione decides she’s not going. Harry and Ron run around desperately searching for the Slytherin common room. (They might have tried a little reconnaissance before Operation Heir?)
They have a run-in with Percy, then get found by Draco himself, who brings them into the Slytherin common room. Draco shows them a newspaper clipping about Arthur Weasley being fined over his car, then goes on about how much his dad hates the whole family. Ron has a hard time keeping himself in check. Unfortunately, Draco is not the Heir of Slytherin, and he’s not even a very good source of information. Lucius Malfoy would only tell him that the last time the Chamber was open a Muggle-born student died. Harry and Ron have to run away as they begin changing back, feigning a stomachache for Crabbe.
They head back to talk to Hermione, but she won’t come out of the loo. It turns out that she got a cat hair off of Bulstrode’s robes, and since the potion isn’t meant for inter-species transformations… she’d not turning back. Harry and Ron take her to the Hospital Wing and figure that Madame Pomfrey won’t ask…
I want to live in Dumbledore’s office. It sounds comfortable and comforting at once, full of funny little instruments and furniture, and questionable smoke and old portraits. It gives that “grandparent’s house” impression while still maintaining the mystery Dumbledore has around him.
Then we get to the Hat and the furthering of that previously mentioned theme—Harry wants the Sorting Hat to assure him that it made the right choice, but the Hat stands by its original thoughts where Harry and Slytherin are concerned. Now, it is often pointed out that this is likely due to the Sorting Hat sensing the part of Voldemort that resides in Harry from the final Horcrux, but Harry does have certain attributes that work for the house; say what you will, he’s pretty darned cunning and definitely resourceful. So I suppose I’m wondering if anything that the Hat sensed might have originated with Harry? I’d like to think it was a smoosh of confusion rather than, O HAI THERE VOLDYMORT, I KNOW WHAT HOUSE U GO 2.
Always did love how Harry frets over explaining to Dumbledore that he didn’t kill his bird. It’s also a great intro to Fawkes, and it’s clear that Albus knows giving Harry information on the bird will be super essential later on. He lays it on thick, explaining his abilities and how loyal phoenixes are. Pay attention to bird! says Dumbledore. Bird special. Bird fiery. Bird important.
This moment in his office, however, it strikes me as far more important on this go-around; Harry often prefers to keep his concerns to himself, but this here is really the first time when an adult indicates that they can help Harry, and he very consciously turns down the offer in favor of keeping to himself. This is a defining characteristic for Harry, his tendency to keep secrets when he desperately needs to tell people what’s going on. And as becomes typical, a large portion of the reason he choses to keep to himself is out of fear that there’s something wrong with him.
Which is really when I realize that the events of this book imprinted hard on the poor kid. He gets so frightened of the Parseltongue, of potentially being the Heir of Slytherin, that this behavior continues well beyond second year every time something goes wonky. His scar hurts, but he can’t say so. He’s getting visions, but that’s no one’s concern. He’s frightened, but he probably shouldn’t trust the closest people to him because he’s not sure what they’ll think. And this is sort of where it starts, at least to such a serious degree. Hagrid offers to help before this, but Harry ostensibly turns him down because Hagrid can’t really do much. Dumbledore could potentially, but Harry still backs away. Even more interesting is you have to assume Dumbledore is suspicious and still allows Harry to do so. He lets Harry handle the situation the way he choses, without the pressure an adult figure would typically assert. He likely wants to see what Harry is going to make of this on his own.
I love Fred and George making a joke out of the Heir rumors. Such a perfect way to lighten the mood and let everyone know how ridiculous they think the accusations are. If I were Harry, I’d also be grateful.
Christmas and the Polyjuice Potion. Damn, Hermione should be special ops, she is not playing around here, you guys. Although I do find the idea that Crabbe and Goyle could still be hungry after an unending feast a little hard to buy. Also the fact that Harry and Ron actually get their shoes, but don’t change into them before taking the potion. Common sense, wizards do not have it. On the other hand, I do love that Harry and Ron are bright enough to give each other tips on how to act more like their borrowed faces.
The bit with Percy seems like a clue, but of course, we’ll learn later that this is all Penelope Clearwater. And then Draco shows up and ushers them down to the Slytherin common room (the password is pure-blood? Really???).
So, Lucius Malfoy is on the Board of Governors for Hogwarts. It is never made clear as to whether the board is part of the Ministry of Magic, although they are not discussed when the Ministry takes over the school in Book 5. What we do know is that the board has power to make major over-arcing decisions for the school, such as appointment of staff. Wonder how one gets elected to that lofty position? It is a bit annoying that we never hear about it or encounter any other members.
Lucius Malfoy is a smart guy, and Draco is… not so bright. He complains about how his father won’t tell him anything about the Chamber of Secrets and what’s going on because Lucius doesn’t want Draco connected to any of it. That is smart of Lucius. Yet Draco is babbling about it in the house common room. I know he probably figures he’s safe because he’s among Slytherins, but seriously? You don’t think it’s possible that someone might betray you in the right circumstances? I know there aren’t many kids around at that point, but I don’t get the impression that Draco is ever good at keeping his mouth shut. On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to understand how Lucius Malfoy convinced the wizarding courts that he wasn’t following Voldemort willingly.
And then we get the great reveal of Hermione’s poor half-cat transformation. Which is really just a bit of fun, at that point. Funnier still when you think about Madame Pomfrey simply rolling her eyes and taking care of business, rather than bothering them about what happened. If she’s so unflappable, you have to figure that what she encounters any given year is always this crazy.