The Harry Potter Reread wishes that the “security questions” that websites use to let you retrieve passwords and the like were more inventive. Instead of “What’s you mother’s middle name?” or “What street did you grow up on?” how about some questions like “What weapon would you carry into a battle?” or “How do you feel about turnips, generally?” It would just make life more interesting.
This week, we’re going to do some detecting and get a teacher to give us access to restricted materials! Which is really how we’d prefer school to go, so no complaints here. We’re on chapters 9 and 10 of The Chamber of Secrets—The Writing on the Wall and The Rogue Bludger.
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 9—The Writing on the Wall
Filch is sure that Harry and his buddies have murdered Mrs. Norris, but Dumbledore quickly discovers that she has simply been petrified. The mandrake root will cure her, once they’ve grown to maturity. Snape plays the suspicious card with the kids, but Dumbledore is certain that no child could petrify anything, so they’re released. Filch sobs about his cat and Harry knowing he’s a Squib, which eventually leads to an explanation from Ron on that front. Harry runs in to Justin Finch-Fletchley later on, who promptly hightails it away from him.
Hermione asks Professor Binns for information of the Chamber of Secrets, since all the appropriate library books on the subject have been checked out already by curious students. After a little pushing, Binns explains that the legend around the chamber is concerned with the Hogwarts founders: Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Helga Hufflepuff. Slytherin eventually separated himself from the pack because he didn’t want Muggle-born students to study at Hogwarts. Soon after, he and Gryffindor had a fight on the subject and Slytherin left the school. Rumor was that he created a hidden chamber in the castle that only his heir could unlock, and whatever waited in the chamber was some sort of monster that would purge the school of students Slytherin didn’t believe were worthy. The chamber, of course, has never been located.
The trio heads back to the scene of crime, where the writing is still on the wall (Filch hasn’t been able to scrub it off). They head into the girl’s bathroom, right off the corridor to ask Moaning Myrtle if she remembers hearing anything, which she doesn’t—she’d been too upset after how Peeves treated her at Nick’s party. Percy sees the trio in the loo and ushers them out angrily.
Later on, Ron proffers the theory that Malfoy is most likely to be heir of Slytherin, especially noting his commentary following the reveal of the wall message. Hermione figures that there’s only one way to get Draco to spill the beans if it’s true; they’d have to be disguised as Slytherin students. She remembers Snape discussing the Polyjuice Potion, which allows the drinker to appear as another person of their choosing. Unfortunately, the book containing the recipe is in the Restricted Section of the library. They’d need a teacher to sign off on it.
Luckily, they happen to know a pretty dim teacher….
I think my favorite thing about Snape’s behavior in this chapter is that he clearly knows they’re not responsible for Mrs. Norris—he just knows they’re up to something, and desperately wants to catch them out. This is also one of the best Snape Smackdowns of the entire series:
“I’ll make it,” Lockhart butted in. “I must have down it a hundred times. I could whip up a Mandrake Restorative Draught in my sleep—”
“Excuse me,” said Snape icily. “But I believe I am the Potions master at this school.”
There was a very awkward pause.
Rowling always does a great job of setting you against Snape until the instant he comes up against someone considerably more awful than him—at which point you’re chomping at the bit for him to tear that person apart. Also, can you imagine what the draught would have done if Lockhart had brewed it? Not that anyone was going to stand for it, but… just imagining the possibilities can make you twitchy.
Poor. Ginny. We keep getting little asides; she’s so upset about Mrs. Norris, scared Ron might be expelled. It all feels like a strange overreaction—even with how scary the situation is—because no one seems quite so worried, and then you remember that she knows something is off. She is losing time, and she’s mainly concerned about Ron and cat and the Chamber because she has this sickening feeling that she’s a part of the whole thing. She’s eleven years old and possessed by one of the worst wizards of her century. I do wish that we could get some segments of this story from her POV. We’re all so impressed by Harry in his first year, but what Ginny survives is a marvel.
Justin’s fear is just the start of Harry having difficulty with his classmates for their suspicions. It’s a theme that crops up frequently in the novels, and I have to appreciate that Rowling takes it seriously, rather than suggesting that the reader should dismiss it because they’re just a bunch of kids. Having half the school think you’re out to get them is going to seriously affect your educational experience. Of course, the fact that Justin is so unsubtle is a bit goofy.
Props to Hermione for getting Binns to talk about the Chamber of Secrets. It’s actually a great way to get the info dump, especially with Binns’ irritation over the student body’s interest in “myths and legends.” This is the first explicit information we get about the Hogwarts founders, and we never really learn much more. We get bits and pieces, we find out more about their descendants, but their exploits are not expanded on. I imagine the students hear more about them in lessons; they were supposed to be the greatest magic-users of their era, after all. (Greatest in the UK, at least. Sort of standard western civilization erasure going on a Hogwarts, which is not surprising. I’m sure there were other amazing witches and wizards doing fabulous things all over the world.)
Revisiting the “crime scene” is where we first find out that Ron is deathly afraid of spiders, and I sympathize with his plight so much. Five-year-old Fred doing some subconscious revenge magic on little three-year-old Ron and giving him a teddy bear spider is all my childhood nightmares come to life. And if he remembers it that well, you know how badly it traumatized him. It’s okay, Ron. Hermione just doesn’t get it. My fiancée used to laugh at me for shrieking at little spiders until I explained about the giant ones that used to creep into my room when I lived in a tropical area as a small kid. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, THEY HAUNT YOUR DREAMS.
And then there’s Myrtle. I know it’s intended as a sort-of joke, but her mention of coming back to the bathroom to kill herself (after Peeves was awful to her at the Deathday party) made me wonder if she hadn’t been suicidal as a living teen, or would have eventually gone that way. We do find out that she was bullied pretty mercilessly at school—it wouldn’t be that surprising. It makes it a little hard to think of her as comic relief sometimes, though she’s clearly intended that way. Rowling has said that the concept behind her character was riffing on how women can so often be found crying in public restrooms at parties or clubs, and so forth. Which, as anyone who has ever spent an evening crying in a public bathroom can attest to, is not all that funny.
Chapter 10—The Rogue Bludger
Hermione, Harry, and Ron see Lockhart after class to ask him to sign off on the restricted potions book. Hermione lies and claims it’s to better understand one of his books, so he gleefully signs away. Ron and Harry start to balk a bit at the prospect of the potion and its effects, but Hermione guilts them back into it.
The first Quidditch game of the year is up, Gryffindor vs. Slytherin. Oliver Wood is adamant that they win the game to set the tone for the year, and is particularly keen for Harry to show up Malfoy, since he’s the reason the Slytherin team is so zippy this year. Harry gets out on the field, and it quickly becomes apparent that a bludger has been tampered with—it keeps heading directly for Harry. The Weasley twins try their best to protect them, but Wood insists they’re needed elsewhere on the field, and Harry wants to win the match too. They keep playing despite Fred and George’s protests.
Draco taunts Harry’s attempts to avoid the bludger, which prevents him from noticing the Snitch hovering right next to his head. Harry gets hit by the bludger, which breaks his arm, but still manages to catch the Snitch. Lockhart insists on fixing Harry’s injury before he can get to the Hospital Wing—the spell he uses removes all the bones from Harry’s arm. Madame Pomfrey has to regrow Harry’s bones, which takes hours and is incredibly painful. He wakes up in the middle of the night during the process, only to find Dobby tending to him. Dobby admits that he was responsible for Harry not being able to get onto Platform 9 and 3/4, and the bludger was also his. He desperately wants Harry to return home, but won’t explain who is behind the strange happenings at the school.
He is interrupted by Dumbledore and McGonagall bringing a petrified Colin Creevey into the Hospital Wing. Dumbledore informs Minerva that the Chamber of Secrets is indeed open, and they must learn how.
If you ever needed more proof that Hermione is pure Gryffindor, this is a completely solidifying chapter for her. She is willing to break some very serious school rules and put a lot of time and effort into this Polyjuice Potion Gambit, because she wants to make sure that non-pureblood students are safe. If there’s even a chance that Malfoy is the heir of Slytherin, she is going to find out. And when Harry and Ron get al wishy-washy on her, she makes them feel cowardly for even considering backing out. This is important. It’s easy to peg schemes on Harry and Ron, easy to make them out as the primary troublemakers. But it’s the Hermiones that you really have watch out for. They keep all the big secrets. They make the grandest plans.
I really love Fred, George, and Alicia calling Oliver Wood out on his “win at all costs” tactics. Particularly when George holds him responsible for Harry’s suicidal desire to continue game play. The twins have a little brother, and are little brothers, they know how senior expectations can weigh on you. But how does Madame Hooch not notice what’s going on? Or Lee Jordan? The ref and the commentator should both see things like that, even with all the action going on. If your sport is that dangerous, you need to have eyes everywhere.
What astounds me most about Lockhart is that he truly does believe that he’s good enough at magic to attempt spells outside his purview. It’s clear that he sticks his mug where it doesn’t belong to get applause, but you’d think that if he wanted to keep up the pretense of being such a talented wizard, he’d stop trying to show off skills he doesn’t have. The fact that he doesn’t indicates a level of self-delusion that is truly disturbing. The mistake with Harry’s arm could have easily turned out much worse.
The problems with Dobby are interesting. I understand that he’d not allowed to disobey his masters, but that loyalty has such a broad umbrella. It’s not as though Lucius Malfoy specifically told Dobby that he wasn’t allowed to mention the Chamber of Secrets—he has no reason to waste the time, and he has no idea how unhappy Dobby is with his station—but to go against the machinations of the Malfoy family is as good as betraying them. Dobby comes off as annoying because he’s so unhelpful here, but on a first read there are so many subtle layers that we don’t understand at work.
Does Dumbledore make lots of late night hot chocolate runs? I certainly like to think so. I also like to think that he adds lots of liquor to them.
It also occurred to me: Colin Creevey is petrified so early in the year, and the mandrake root isn’t ready until the end of it. He effectively misses his whole first year. How did the school decide to handle that?