The Harry Potter Reread

The Harry Potter Reread: The Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 13 and 14

The Harry Potter Reread would do the Hokey Pokey and turn itself around, but then it would have to turn back in the other direction—otherwise it wouldn’t feel symmetrical. This is important, honest. Or it could crash into a wall on accident.

This week we’re telling all our secrets to disembodied strangers from the past and meeting politicians with questionable fashion sense. It’s chapters 13 and 14 of The Chamber of Secrets—The Very Secret Diary and Cornelius Fudge.

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 13—The Very Secret Diary

Summary

Hermione is stuck as a half-cat until the beginning of February, so Ron and Harry go visit her each evening (because they are awesome friends), and bring her homework. Myrtle’s bathroom overflows again, leading the boys to head in and find out what’s wrong. Turns out, someone chucked a book into Myrtle’s toilet. It’s the diary of T.M. Riddle, a boy who attended Hogwarts 50 years back and got an award for special services to the school. Hermione realizes that Riddle was in the school the last time the Chamber was opened, but the diary is oddly blank, providing no clues from that time. Even spells and magical implements don’t manage to proffer results.

The Mandrake are slowly maturing and no attacks have come about recently, so the student body is beginning to relax. Lockhart believes he’s the one who has made Hogwarts safe and decides to throw together some overblown Valentine’s Day activities as a pick-me-up for the school. Dwarves are delivering valentines to the students throughout the day, and Harry gets one (from Ginny) that is utterly embarrassing. His bag rips when he’s trying to get away from it, which leads to Draco finding the diary and trying to read it, not knowing that it’s not Harry’s and also blank. Harry gets it back, and notices that while all his books were splashed with ink, the diary appears clean.

That night, Harry decides to solve the mystery surrounding the diary. He realizes that ink absorbs and disappears into it. When he writes in the diary, Tom Riddle writes back. He asks Tom about the Chamber of Secrets, and Tom tosses Harry into his memory, showing him what happened at the school that year. Tom was a Prefect at the time, and Headmaster Dippet wasn’t able to let him stay at school for the summer due to the attacks; Tom lived in a Muggle orphanage when he wasn’t at Hogwarts, a half-blood whose witch mother named him for his father and grandfather. Riddle lies to Professor Dippet and clearly knows something about what is happening with the Chamber.

Later on, Riddle confronts a student about a monster he’s keeping, insisting that if he turns the kid in, the attacks will stop. The other boy is adamant that whatever he’s keeping is not responsible for what’s going on and his “pet” escapes—a giant spider. Harry comes out of the memory realizing that the boy with the monster was Hagrid… and he must have opened the Chamber of Secrets.

Commentary

Stuck as a near-cat for over a month and no one thinks anything of it. Not a big deal at all. Just another term at magic school, where even the star student can make such a large mistake that she misses weeks of class. Gosh, I wish my school had been so understanding when I had mono in tenth grade. I find it adorable that Hermione is so embarrassed over it, though. I can think of lots of people who would be thrilled to look like half a cat for a while.

I’d forgotten Ron’s many warnings to Harry about what the diary could be before he picks it up, which is adorable, and yet again another example of how Ron’s background in the magic world is invaluable. (Even if his paranoia doesn’t pan out in this instance.) And then of course, there’s the question over why Riddle got his award for Special Service to the School, which leads to this:

“Could have been anything,” said Ron. “Maybe he got thirty O.W.L.s or saved a teacher from the giant squid. Maybe he murdered Myrtle; that would’ve done everyone  a favor….”

Little accidentally psychic there, Ron? Because Riddle did murder Myrtle, didn’t he? Or rather, he set the thing on her that did the murdering. This is the best hand-tipping ever written. And it only really hits you on further reads.

Then there’s Harry fascination with the diary, his sense that he knows the person who wrote it, almost as though they were long-lost friends. I always wondered—is that a horcrux-calling-to-horcrux kind of situation, or does Harry himself simply have an affinity for identifying Voldemort due to that horcrux? I suppose what I’m trying to ask is, do those pieces of Voldemort’s soul naturally sort of reach for each other, or is this more the result of Harry having familiarity with a bit of Voldemort already via living side by side in the same body? Sorry, this is sort of complicated and difficult to word precisely. I guess I’m wondering how much the horcruxes have minds or wills of their own. They clearly have some….

Hilarious sort of catch-all on teenager-hood via talk of the Mandrakes:

[…]Madame Pomfrey was pleased to report that the Mandrakes were becoming moody and secretive, meaning that they were fast leaving childhood.

I mean, that’s probably the easiest way to describe the differences between a kid and teen, right? The hours I spent alone in my room playing music really loud can attest to this.

Ugh. That Valentine’s Day nightmare. Everything about it is just so icky. Also, we never hear much more about dwarfs in the Potter-verse, so this is sort of a weird encounter to have. Did Lockhart hire them? Capture them? Are they related as a species to any other magical beings? Are you as horrified as I am that Lockhart has them in wigs and costume? Could this is be any more weirdly exploitative?

And then there’s Ginny’s Valentine song, which does a great job of covering up her horror at seeing Harry with the diary. Genius. There’s so much emotional trauma going on, it’s no wonder her zoning in  on the black leather book is easy to gloss over. Also, weird question that probably doesn’t matter so much: I assume that Tom Riddle got money from some sort of scholarship fund that Hogwarts has? But even if that’s the case—where does he get the Muggle money to buy that diary? I suppose he just exchanged it, but it seems like it would have made more sense to simply buy a wizard diary… unless perhaps that would be harder to make into a horcrux for some reason?

Harry’s got some pretty bright detecting skills, figuring out how the diary works after the epic ink-splashing. It’s also interesting that the horcrux has the ability to function roughly like a pensieve. I keep trying to remember what it was like to read this flashback section not knowing that Riddle was Voldemort. It was clear that something was up, with his specific parallels to Harry, but Rowling smartly doesn’t tell us which house Riddle is in—probably because there’s no indication on his person. (It’s easy to forget that even though the films make the distinction, Rowling doesn’t insist that all school uniforms are clearly distinguished with house colors.)

And knowing that Hagrid is liable to make mistakes with not-so-friendly beasts, this reveal was such a nasty shock, so perfectly insinuated. The idea that he might be Slytherin’s Heir seems patently ridiculous from the beginning, but pulling him (and his expulsion) into the story is just the right amount of hurt at the right time.


Chapter 14—Cornelius Fudge

Summary

The trio are unsure of what to do with their newfound dirt on Hagrid. They all agree that he would never intentionally hurt anyone, and figure that he’d probably just wanted to meet the rumored monster inside the Chamber of Secrets. Since no one has been attacked recently, they figure their problems might be over anyhow. In the meantime, second years are in the middle of picking out what new courses they’ll take next year. Hermione wants to do everything, while Harry just signs up for whatever Ron does.

One evening, Harry comes back to his room to find his belongings ransacked; Riddle’s diary has gone missing. Since the dorms are password protected, it stands to reason that only a Gryffindor could have taken it. As the Quidditch match against Hufflepuff is about to take place, Harry hears that disembodied voice again, threatening to kill. Though no one hears it besides him, this fact seems to trigger a thought in Hermione, who leaves them to check on something in the library. Harry heads out onto the field with the rest of the school, but the match is abruptly cancelled. Hermione and a Ravenclaw girl named Penelope Clearwater have both been petrified.

Hogwarts is put under serious lockdown, with students getting escorted everywhere and no one allowed outside the dorms past 6pm. Harry and Ron decide that they really do need to ask Hagrid about the Chamber, so they bust out the Invisibility Cloak and head down to his house. Hagrid seems ill at ease, when someone else knocks on his door. The boys hide and in strolls Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, with Dumbledore in tow. Albus insists that Hagrid is innocent of any wrongdoing, but Fudge believes some action must be taken; Hagrid will be sent to Azkaban prison. Lucius Malfoy then enters to inform Dumbledore that the Board of Governors for Hogwarts have decided to replace Dumbledore as headmaster, an act even Fudge is against. Hagrid suggests that Malfoy probably threatened the Board into taking that action.

Before Dumbledore leaves, he makes a point of saying that he will never be absent from the school if anyone loyal to him remains, and that anyone at Hogwarts who needs help will receive it if they ask. Hagrid makes a point of saying that if anyone needed some info, they might want to follow the spiders. Also that someone should feed Fang while he’s gone. Harry and Ron are understandably distraught by this turn of events.

Commentary

There’s some great setup going on here for the next book in picking new classes. We hear that Hermione signs up for everything, but we don’t yet know that’s impossible, or what Hermione will have to go through to make that course list come true.

The ransacked room is an excellent clue that seemingly leads nowhere; you’re inclined to believe that whoever would go after something containing information from fifty years ago would have to be the Heir, but the fact that the person should be a Gryffindor makes it difficult to create a list of suspects. It’s also just honestly scary. (I would also like to point out that this might have been avoided if Hogwarts was equal under their terms of who was allowed into opposite sex dorms. We find out later that the boys cannot enter the girls dormitory—it should be the same the other way around, then.)

By the way, that extra bit of Mandrake commentary about “moving into each other’s pots”? Way to get a bit of that adult humor into the kid’s book, Rowling.

It’s also frightening how quickly Hermione is taken… and just as she was about to figure the whole thing out, too. Always gotta bench the MVP when things get rough or the story ends too early. And of course, the clue is there again for Percy and Penelope, but it’s hard to pay attention when Hermione is out of commission.

It is weird that I’ve always enjoyed Cornelius Fudge’s weird fashion sense?

This is our introduction to Fudge, and I’m amazed this time around at how clearly Rowling establishes his position and the power dynamics at work. From this chapter alone you can predict everything that Fudge will do in the following books. His character flaws are glaringly obvious; like many politicians, he takes so many actions just to make it seem as though he’s taking care of business. It’s clear that he has no idea what to do, and putting Hagrid in Azkaban (first mention of the prison as well, I believe, and the Dementors obliquely) is an overreaction that looks strong, but ultimately accomplishes nothing by Fudge’s own admission. All they had to do was make Hagrid leave the grounds, right? If the Heir’s not around to direct the monster, it should stop. But instead he gets carted off to prison.

Even with all this, Fudge is mortified at the idea of Dumbledore being relieved by the board. So again, we see the power dynamics; Fudge wants to look good in the public eye, but he’d prefer to defer to Dumbledore, knowing that Albus is ridiculously powerful and has a track record with evil, so to speak. Fudge is a mouthpiece, someone who enjoys his position, but has nothing practical to show for it. He is owned by fear, ultimately, no matter what direction that fear is coming from.

And then Lucius Malfoy struts in with his trump card and lays waste to the place. I can’t help but respect the guy, despicable as he is—he knows how to get what he wants.

We do manage to end on a comical note, with Dumbledore and Hagrid both basically speaking to air while everyone else blinks in a befuddled manner. I sort of wish this happened more often when the cloak was in play.


Emily Asher-Perrin wonders what it says about her that she’d rather have a robot for a friend than a diary that talked back. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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