Re-Reading Harry Potter: The Heir of Slytherin

Image via Rowan Fairgrove on Flickr

I went ahead and finished the rest of [amazon_link id=”0439064872″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets[/amazon_link], so this post will cover chapters 11-18. I didn’t stop after chapter 15 this time. The end of that book is serious! You want to keep reading, you know?

Chapter 11, “The Duelling Club,” is the chapter in which Harry learns the most important spell he will ever learn, at least in terms of defeating Voldemort: “Expelliarmus.” And he learns it from Snape. If you read very carefully, you will notice that it is Snape who teaches Harry pretty much everything he really needs to know in order to defeat Voldemort. In many ways, Harry learns more from Snape than he does any other teacher. I always thought it was interesting that Harry’s signature charm involved disarming—simply taking away an attacking wizard’s power in order to prevent violence. It’s an incredibly effective charm. Because Snape is a bully in the classroom, however, it is very hard for his students to learn from him. They’re afraid of him. What an effective teacher he might have been had he not been so nasty! He is still my favorite character.

We also learn in that chapter that Harry’s ability to talk to snakes is rare and is a sign of being a Dark Wizard. Herpo the Foul, an ancient Greek wizard who probably invented the horcrux and hatched the first basilisk, was also a Parselmouth. No wonder Parselmouths have such a bad rep. Also, since I’m thinking about it, I need to take a minute to make a correction. I’ve seen a quote attributed to J.K. Rowling going around the Internet, mostly on Pinterest via Tumblr, in which she purportedly says that Nagini was that boa constrictor that Harry set free at the zoo on Dudley’s birthday. Not true. Nagini was not a boa constrictor. Actually, her species is never named. However, she was made a horcrux in Albania after Voldemort killed Bertha Jorkins. This rumor has apparently caused such a kerfuffle on the Harry Potter Wiki that the Nagini page has been locked.

Another thing you notice when you read the books is that Harry is a lot funnier and snarkier in the books than in the movies. When Lockhart is trying to coach Harry—”Just do what I did, Harry!”—in the duel with Malfoy, Harry responds, “What, drop my wand?” Snicker.

You do have to wonder why Snape tells Malfoy to cast Serpensortia in the duel. I mean, did he realize Harry was a Parselmouth? Did he hope to out Harry’s ability to speak to snakes? Or was it just a Slytherin thing, and I wouldn’t understand? I do like how the scene plays out, though—Harry doesn’t understand why, but he just yells at the snake to leave Justin alone. I love how Rowling shows us here that a sort of innocent scene in the first book, a case of accidental magic when Harry finds himself talking to a snake, turns out to be much more sinister than we suspected. And interestingly enough, it is the first magic we see Harry perform.

Of course, all of this prompts Harry’s crisis. He starts dwelling on what the Sorting Hat said about his being a good candidate for Slytherin. Also, it’s in this scene, I think, that we first hear the “nasty little voice” in Harry’s head—”Ah… But the Sorting Hat wanted to put you in Slytherin, don’t you remember?” He will hear this voice again. Is it Voldemort’s horcrux, talking to him? I know we all have that voice inside our heads that puts us down, makes us pay more attention to the negative instead of the positive. Still, you have to wonder if in Harry’s case, it’s a little more than that.

Then the whole school is buzzing that Harry is the Heir of Slytherin, and Harry overhears the Hufflepuffs talking about how he must have defeated Voldemort because he’s an even more powerful Dark Wizard. Interesting to note: you might recall Hufflepuff has produced fewer Dark Wizards than any other house. They get along with most folks well, but it stands to reason the mere fact that someone is in Gryffindor wouldn’t preclude the possibility that that someone is also evil. And then, right after this confrontation with the Hufflepuffs, Harry finds Justin Finch-Fletchley petrified in the hallway. He is going to have some ‘splainin’ to do.

In chapter 12, “The Polyjuice Potion,” Harry is taken off to Dumbledore’s office, a very cool place with a “decrepit-looking bird which resembled a half-plucked turkey.” Harry looks at the bird and “was just thinking all he needed was for Dumbledore’s pet bird to die while he was alone in the office with it, when the bird burst into flames.” OK, that is dark, for sure, but it’s funny. And in a tidy piece of exposition, we learn that the bird in question is a phoenix—they can carry heavy loads, their tears have healing powers, and they are highly faithful pets. All of which makes Fawkes the perfect deus ex machina. As a matter of fact, when I teach that literary device in my English classes, Fawkes is my example. As Dumbledore questions Harry about whether there is anything else Harry wants to tell him, and Harry doesn’t feel like he should share what he knows, once again, the description makes it appear as though Dumbledore is using legilimency on Harry. Harry is so frustrating in these early books in his refusal to seek help from people.

Another joke later in this chapter—George makes a crack that Harry is “nipping off to the Chamber of Secrets for a cup of tea with his fanged servant.” And, actually, it is fanged.

Of course, this is the chapter in which the trio takes Polyjuice Potion. This potion completely transforms in the books—even the voice. For some reason, possibly clarity—the movies chose to portray characters who have taken Polyjuice Potion with their natural voices. Question: how would this potion affect Muggles? Would it work? We know that love potions work on Muggles because Merope Gaunt successfully used one on Tom Riddle. But what about a Polyjuice Potion? What do you think? I have a hunch that it wouldn’t work on a Muggle, even if a Muggle could get access to some. Pottermore has some interesting things to say about Polyjuice Potion: “The idea that a witch or wizard might make evil use of parts of the body is an ancient one, and exists in the folklore and superstitions of many cultures.” That is true. Think of the witches’ spell in Macbeth. Pottermore adds, “The fact that Hermione is able to make a competent Polyjuice Potion at the age of twelve is testimony to her outstanding magical ability, because it is a potion that many adult witches and wizards fear to attempt.” True, true. J.K. Rowling shares some interesting insights into the potion on Pottermore as well:

I remember creating the full list of ingredients for the Polyjuice Potion. Each one was carefully selected. Lacewing flies (the first part of the name suggested an intertwining or binding together of two identities); leeches (to suck the essence out of one and into the other); horn of a Bicorn (the idea of duality); knotgrass (another hint of being tied to another person); fluxweed (the mutability of the body as it changed into another) and Boomslang skin (a shedded outer body and a new inner).

Also kind of interesting to note: when Harry and Ron (as Crabbe and Goyle) run into Percy, Percy says that because he is a Prefect, “Nothing is about to attack me.” Of course, that’s ridiculous, as Penelope Clearwater later is attacked, but where does he get that idea that Prefects are somehow that special? Tells you a lot about Percy rather early on, doesn’t it?

Harry and Ron learn from Malfoy that Ron’s father was fined over the enchanted Ford Anglia. But Malfoy says something rather interesting: “You know, I’m surprised the Daily Prophet hasn’t reported all these attacks yet.” Yeah. Me too. Why do they keep it quiet? Because of Fudge? I know Malfoy blames Dumbledore for that, but Dumbledore is a little more on the up-and-up than that. He has learned his lessons about secrecy (unless it is necessary). Malfoy also makes a comment that “A decent Headmaster would never’ve let slime like that Creevey in.” Which makes me wonder—have other Headmasters actively blocked the admittance of Muggle-born witches and wizards? Did Phineas Nigellus? Or was that kind of thing more or less outside their control, as long as a child showed magical ability? Hmm.

The last bit of interesting news Harry and Ron learn is that the Chamber of Secrets was opened 50 years ago, and a student died. In the next chapter, “The Very Secret Diary,” Harry and Ron find Tom Riddle’s old diary in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. Interesting note about Ron here. His first compulsion regarding the diary:

Harry stepped forward to pick it up, but Ron suddenly flung out an arm to hold him back.

“What?” said Harry?

“Are you mad?” said Ron. “It could be dangerous.”

Ron is not given to cautiousness as a general rule. But his first response to seeing the diary is to be careful and not to touch it. And he’s right. Ron is given the short shrift in the movies. He is a lot more intuitive than the movies make him out to be. He has good instincts. He also makes a joke about why T.M. Riddle received his special award for services to the school: “Maybe he murdered Myrtle, that would have done everyone a favor.” Yikes. That is exactly what he did. See what I mean? Good instincts. You will often find that when Ron is making a joke, he’s actually dead-on accurate. It’s a little spooky.

Ron tries to convince Harry to get rid of the diary, but “Harry couldn’t explain, even to himself, why he didn’t just throw Riddle’s diary away. The fact was that even though he knew the diary was blank, he kept absent-mindedly picking it up and turning the pages, as though it was a story he wanted to finish.” I think it’s the horcrux connection. He senses some sort of connection between himself and the book, and that is why he can’t bring himself to just toss it.

Oh. My. Gosh. That Valentine’s Day scene in the book is priceless. It’s too bad it was cut from the films. I love it. But when ink spills all over the diary, Harry gets a hunch and tries writing in it, which is how he discovers the diary talks back. And it tells Harry that “The monster [in the Chamber of Secrets] lived on, and the one who had the power to release it was not imprisoned.” Well, that is too true, isn’t it? The way Harry is pitched into the past through the diary reminds me very much of the Pensieve. In fact, because it is also Tom Riddle’s memory, in addition to a piece of his soul, it probably works much the same as the Pensieve.

Harry begins noticing odd similarities between Tom Riddle and himself—something that Riddle will also point out later on.

In chapter 14, “Cornelius Fudge,” the diary is stolen from Harry, and Hermione figures out that the monster in the chamber is a basilisk and goes to the library to confirm her hunch. She is petrified right afterward. Harry and Ron sneak out to talk to Hagrid using Harry’s cloak, and they learn that Dumbledore is suspended. Right before he leaves, he says, somehow knowing Harry and Ron are in Hagrid’s hut, that “help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”

In chapter 15, “Aragog,” Harry and Ron follow Hagrid’s suggestion to “follow the spiders.” Yech! Is that a horrific scene or what? The one thing that Harry dwells on after they escape from the acromantulas is that even they are afraid of the monster in the Chamber of Secrets: “The creature that was lurking somewhere in the castle, he thought, sounded like a sort of monster Voldemort—even other monsters didn’t want to name it.” The twinning of the basilisk with Voldemort is obvious to the reader here, but it doesn’t occur to Harry that the Heir of Slytherin could be Voldemort because he believes Voldemort to be roaming, bodiless and unable to inflict harm.

In chapter 16, “The Chamber of Secrets,” the boys find the piece of paper crumpled in Hermione’s hand and realize the monster is a basilisk, and finally Harry understands why he alone seems to hear the monster. Everything else comes together as they realize the student who died 50 years ago was, indeed, Moaning Myrtle. And then Ginny is taken into the Chamber.

How crazy are those two for thinking they can fight off a basilisk? Why don’t they ever tell anyone anything? Well, they do decide, for some crazy reason, to tell Lockhart, of all people. And they learn he’s a great big fraud, which they already suspected. But they manage to disarm him and force him to accompany him to the Chamber of Secrets.

On Pottermore, we learn that the other three founders had no idea about Slytherin’s Chamber of Secrets, and none of them created “grandiose statues” of themselves. He is also the only one of the founders to create his own room for the express purpose of keeping everyone but a select few out: “Perhaps, when he first constructed the Chamber, Slytherin wanted no more than a place in which to instruct his students in spells of which the other three founders may have disapproved (disagreements sprung up early around the teaching of the Dark Arts).”

Also, this is interesting:

There is clear evidence that the Chamber was opened more than once between the death of Slytherin and the entrance of Tom Riddle in the twentieth century. When first created, the Chamber was accessed through a concealed trapdoor and a series of magical tunnels. However, when Hogwarts’ plumbing became more elaborate in the eighteenth century (this was a rare instance of wizards copying Muggles, because hitherto they simply relieved themselves wherever they stood, and vanished the evidence), the entrance to the Chamber was threatened, being located on the site of a proposed bathroom. The presence in school at the time of a student called Corvinus Gaunt—direct descendant of Slytherin, and antecedent of Tom Riddle—explains how the simple trapdoor was secretly protected, so that those who knew how could still access the entrance to the Chamber even after newfangled plumbing had been placed on top of it.

Whispers that a monster lived in the depths of the castle were also prevalent for centuries. Again, this is because those who could hear and speak to it were not always as discreet as they might have been: the Gaunt family could not resist boasting of their knowledge. As nobody else could hear the creature sliding beneath floorboards or, latterly, through the plumbing, they did not have many believers, and none, until Riddle, dared unleash the monster on the castle.

Successive headmasters and mistresses, not to mention a number of historians, searched the castle thoroughly many times over the centuries, each time concluding that the chamber was a myth. The reason for their failure was simple: none of them was a Parselmouth.

In chapter 17, “The Heir of Slytherin,” Harry comes face to face with Voldemort again, this time as the 16-year-old memory/horcrux preserved in the diary. Question: Can a wizard regenerate from a horcrux alone? How does that work? Does it just keep a wizard from dying, or is there a way to create a new body from one? Inquiring minds want to know!

Another thing I want to know is why Harry stupidly flings his wand aside. It’s not like he needed to drop it to free his hands. What the heck was he thinking?

Another weird thing: Riddle accuses Hagrid of raising werewolf cubs under his bed. That’s impossible. Werewolves are people who transform at the full moon into wolves. They do have have cubs. They have children. Sometimes I think Voldemort is stupid. He’s supposed to be very clever, but for someone who is supposed to be clever, he sure forgets a lot of obvious, important things.

He tells Harry that his father abandoned his mother when he found out she was a witch. Sadly, we learn what really happened was she stopped feeding him love potion. I do feel sorry for Merope Gaunt.

Riddle tells Harry there are “strange likenesses between us, Harry Potter.”

  • Both half-bloods. Well, Harry isn’t really. His mother was Muggle-born, but not a Muggle. Tom Riddle’s father was an actual Muggle.
  • Both orphans. Well, the fact that Harry is an orphan is Riddle’s own fault.
  • Both raised by Muggles.
  • Probably the only two Parselmouths to come to Hogwarts since Slytherin. Nope, as we learned on Pottermore, the descendants of Slytherin between Slytherin and Tom Riddle could speak to snakes, too.
  • “We even look something alike.”

Creepy. And all of this has to do with the notion that they are essentially two sides of the same coin. They have many of the same problems and opportunities in life, but it is what they each choose to do with that life that makes them different. Voldemort is Harry’s shadow, and I’m not the first person to come up with that theory. Here is another interesting essay about that theory.

Just as things look bleakest for Harry the deus ex machina Fawkes shows up with the Sorting Hat, which is packing the Sword of Gryffindor. Harry uses the sword to kill the basilisk after Fawkes blinds it, rendering it a little less deadly (at least it can no longer murder Harry with its stare; the fangs are still a problem). Isn’t it weird how it just occurs to Harry somehow that he should stab the diary with a basilisk fang? I mean, what prompted that? Would you have thought to do that? I wouldn’t have. And I’d have died right there in the Chamber of Secrets.

In the final chapter, “Dobby’s Reward,” Dumbledore makes an interesting comment about Voldemort:

Very few people know that Voldemort was once called Tom Riddle. I taught him myself, fifty years ago, at Hogwarts. He disappeared after leaving the school… traveled far and wide… sank so deeply into the Dark Arts, consorted with the very worst of our kind, underwent so many dangerous, magical transformations, that when he resurfaced as Lord Voldemort, he was barely recognizable. Hardly anyone connected Lord Voldemort with the clever, handsome boy who was once Head Boy here.

We later learn that it was the process of making horcruxes that twisted Voldemort’s appearance. He was able to obliterate his past, and it always seems to be those wizards whom he has most cause to fear that remind him he was once Tom Riddle and call him by name: Dumbledore and Harry.

If you were wondering at all about the genesis of the argument over Gryffindor’s sword—did Godric Gryffindor steal it from the goblins? Or did they lie about it? Here’s the truth from Pottermore:

The sword was made to Godric Gryffindor’s specifications by Ragnuk the First, finest of the goblin silversmiths, and therefore King (in goblin culture, the ruler does not work less than the others, but more skillfully). When it was finished, Ragnuk coveted it so much that he pretended that Gryffindor had stolen it from him, and sent minions to steal it back. Gryffindor defended himself with his wand, but did not kill his attackers. Instead he sent them back to their king bewitched, to deliver the threat that if he ever tried to steal from Gryffindor again, Gryffindor would unsheathe the sword against them all.

The goblin king took the threat seriously and left Gryffindor in possession of his rightful property, but remained resentful until he died. This was the foundation for the false legend of Gryffindor’s theft that persists, in some sections of the goblin community, to this day.

Just so you know for later, Griphook was in the wrong.

Dumbledore also shares something very important with Harry. If you were an astute reader, you probably remembered it when you learned about horcruxes in [amazon_link id=”0439785960″ target=”_blank” ]Half-Blood Prince[/amazon_link]:

Unless I’m much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I’m sure…”

And you said, OMG! Harry’s a horcrux!

But Dumbledore also said, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” And that is what makes Harry different from Voldemort.

Case in point? Harry is moved to free Dobby from the Malfoy family. Voldemort didn’t care about house elves. To his detriment, later, when he harmed Kreacher and thereby lost the service of Regulus Black.

On the train ride back, Harry and his friends “practiced disarming each other by magic. Harry was getting very good at it.” See, I think Rowling is clever to insert that little sentence because if you are good enough at defending yourself, you don’t need to attack. And it is through defending himself that he will ultimately defeat Voldemort, turning Voldemort’s evil back onto himself and making him responsible for his own destruction.

Whew. These are really long essays. I need to condense.

Re-Reading Harry Potter: Enemies of the Heir, Beware

IC C3230 476a 1514As you might recall, I’m re-reading Harry Potter, and each five chapters, I’m stopping to comment here. This post concerns chapters 6-10 of [amazon_link id=”0439064872″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets[/amazon_link].

In chapter six, “Gilderoy Lockhart,” we see how Gilderoy Lockhart gets on as professor. The chapter begins with Ron’s mother sending a Howler. Question: if Neville received one from his Gran (which he ignored—”it was horrible”), then where were the trio? It must have happened when they were outside the Great Hall because Harry and Hermione don’t seem to know what it is.

I love Lockhart as a character. He’s so completely odious. This passage captures him well:

“Yes, I know what you’re thinking! ‘It’s all right for him, he’s an internationally famous wizard already!’ But when I was twelve, I was just as much of a nobody as you are now. In fact, I’d say I was even more of a nobody! I mean, a few people have heard of you, haven’t they? All that business with He Who Must Not Be Named!” He glanced at the lightning scar on Harry’s forehead. “I know, I know, it’s not quite as good as winning Witch Weekly’s Most-Charming-Smile Award five times in a row, as I have—but it’s a start, Harry, it’s a start.”

We also see the mandrakes in a great Herbology scene. I wish there were more of those, actually. Professor Sprout is funny and no-nonsense. Lucky for Hogwarts that she just happened to procure some mandrakes the year that everyone gets petrified, no?

Lockhart gives the class a quiz about himself, which Hermione aces. I am kind of dumbfounded that she checked her brains at the door when it comes to Lockhart. I guess even smart women are susceptible to the wiles of a handsome face. Sad. The quiz scene was cut in the movie version of the book, which is a shame because Kenneth Branagh is hilarious when he says that line about wanting to market his own line of hair-care potions. In fact, he is just simply brilliant as Gilderoy Lockhart. After the Cornish pixies tear apart the classroom, and Lockhart abandons Harry, Ron, and Hermione to clean up the mess, I love it that Hermione defends Lockhart—”You’ve read his books—look at all those amazing things he’s done…” and Ron replies, “He says he’s done.” Ron had the measure of Lockhart from the very start.

In chapter seven, “Mudbloods and Murmurs,” we learn the pejorative term for Muggle-born witches and wizards. I always hated what the film did with this part because they decided that Hermione already knew the word. In the novel, she says, when Hagrid expresses outrage over Malfoy’s insult, “I don’t know what it means. I could tell it was really rude, of course…” Naturally, Ron, who wound up with a slug attack when his wand backfired after he tried to curse Malfoy for calling Hermione a mudblood, knows exactly what it means. Another case when the films give a great line of Ron’s to someone else. In the book, it’s Ron who tells everyone about the whole pure-blood/Muggle-born deal. He adds, “Most wizards these days are half-blood anyway. If we hadn’t married Muggles we’d’ve died out.” On Pottermore, you learn that when Hogwarts was founded, Salazar Slytherin’s notion of pure-blood supremacy was unusual. It wasn’t until the International Statute of Secrecy in 1692 that some pure-blood families became mistrustful of Muggles (for good reason) and the idea that marrying Muggles would taint your blood took hold among a substantial number of wizards. In the 1930’s, a Pure-Blood Dictionary was published, likely by Cantakerus Nott (must be Theodore Nott’s grandfather or great-grandfather), with a list of the “Sacred Twenty-Eight” pure-blood families (my notes in parentheses):

  • Abbott (Hannah’s family, known Hufflepuff)
  • Avery (one of the Averys is a hapless Death Eater, known Slytherin)
  • Black (Sirius’s family, including Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange; fierce pure-blood pride, known Slytherins except for Sirius)
  • Bulstrode (Millicent’s family, known Slytherin)
  • Burke (Caractacus Burke ran Borgin and Burke’s, suspect Slytherin)
  • Carrow (Amycus and Alecto Carrow are Death Eaters who wind up teaching at Hogwarts, suspect Slytherin)
  • Crouch (Bartemius Sr. and Jr., suspect Ravenclaw)
  • Fawley (as far as I know, no character in the series has this surname, no basis for House speculation)
  • Flint (Marcus’s family, known Slytherin)
  • Gaunt (Tom Riddle’s, aka Voldemort’s, mother’s family; most didn’t attend Hogwarts, but Riddle is known Slytherin, and they claim descent from Slytherin)
  • Greengrass (Daphne Greengrass is in Harry’s year in Slytherin; Draco Malfoy later marries her little sister Astoria; known Slytherin)
  • Lestrange (Rodolphus and Rabastan along with Rodolphus’s wife, Bellatrix; known Slytherin)
  • Longbottom (Neville, Augusta—Neville’s gran—, and Frank and Alice, Neville’s parents; Great Uncle Algie might be a Longbottom, too; known Gryffindor, suspect Frank and Alice were Gryffindors, too)
  • Macmillan (Ernie’s family, known Hufflepuff)
  • Malfoy (a very old pure-blood family; Lucius and Draco, along with Lucius’s wife Narcissa; known Slytherin)
  • Nott (Theodore Nott and his father, a Death Eater; known Slytherin)
  • Ollivander (Garrick Ollivander, known Ravenclaw)
  • Parkinson (Pansy Parkinson, known Slytherin)
  • Prewett (Gideon and Fabian, members of the Order of the Phoenix who were killed; Molly Weasley was their sister, and thus, she was a Prewett by birth; Molly was a known Gryffindor, suspect Gideon and Fabian were, too)
  • Rosier (Evan Rosier, a Death Eater; suspect Slytherin)
  • Rowle (Thorfinn Rowle, a Death Eater; suspect Slytherin)
  • Selwyn (Selwyn was a Death Eater; Dolores Umbridge claimed kinship with the Selwyns; Umbridge is a known Slytherin, suspect Death Eater Selwyn was, too)
  • Shacklebolt (Kingsley Shacklebolt, suspect Gryffindor)
  • Shafiq (this name is never used in the series, to my knowledge; no basis for House speculation)
  • Slughorn (Horace Slughorn, Potions Master; known Slytherin)
  • Travers (a Death Eater, suspect Slytherin)
  • Weasley (of course, the famous “Blood Traitor” family; known Gryffindors)
  • Yaxley (a Death Eater, suspect Slytherin)

Interesting how many of these families bought into the idea of pure-blood supremacy, and also of note is how frequently Slytherins are represented in this bunch, especially given Salazar Slytherin’s beliefs. Obviously not all families are in the same house—witness Sirius Black and the Patil twins. But the values of each family are probably passed on frequently enough that being in the same house is more common than it is rare, hence my speculation about possible houses above. Also interesting is the absence of the Potters. Harry’s father’s family is an old pure-blood family, and they descend from Ignotus Peverell. I speculate their absence from this list might be due to a regular infusion of Muggle-born spouses, including Lily. I think James’s parents were both probably a witch and wizard, and that neither was Muggle-born or Half-Blood, but I suspect they married into Muggle families at times, hence their exclusion from the list. We know their descent from the Peverell family is not a straight male line, so it stands to reason even the earliest Potter was a Muggle who married a witch.

It is also fascinating to me that wizards don’t seem to discriminate based on race or religion. Blood status is much more important to them than other signifiers of difference. Indeed, the Pottermore article notes that

A minority of these families publicly deplored their inclusion on the list, declaring that their ancestors certainly included Muggles, a fact of which they were not ashamed. Most vocally indignant was the numerous Weasley family, which, in spite of its connections with almost every old wizarding family in Britain, was proud of its ancestral ties to many interesting Muggles. Their protests earned these families the opprobrium of advocates of the pure-blood doctrine, and the epithet ‘blood traitor’. Meanwhile, a larger number of families were protesting that they were not on the pure-blood list.

The article also notes that families who adhered most closely to the pure-blood doctrine when marrying wound up with strains of mental instability in their families. Witness the Blacks (especially Sirius’s mother and Bellatrix) and the Gaunts. If you haven’t ever had a gander at the Black Family Tree, it’s a fascinating piece of wizarding lore. I will talk about it some more when I get to the chapter about the Black Family in [amazon_link id=”0439358078″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix[/amazon_link].

Returning to the story, back at Hagrid’s hut, we learn something important about the Defense Against the Dark Arts post: Lockhart was the only person who applied for the job (or who agreed to take it, but I must say that if Dumbledore sought the guy out… well, he’s not always the best administrator, is he?). Hagrid says that “People aren’t too keen ter take it on, see. They’re starting’ ter think it’s jinxed. No one’s lasted long fer a while now.” Of course, we find out later it is jinxed, courtesy of Voldemort, who wanted it but was denied. Interesting notion: if Armando Dippet had still been headmaster instead of Dumbledore, how much you want to bet he’d have hired Voldemort? I seem to recall he tried to convince Headmaster Dippet to hire him right out of Hogwarts, but Professor Dippet said to wait and reapply when he was a little older. Of course, Dumbledore (and Voldemort, it should be noted) was a skilled Legilimens and already had the measure of Tom Riddle.

Another small detail (or two) often overlooked in this chapter: Hagrid sweeps a half-plucked rooster from the table and mentions he saw Ginny Weasley on the grounds—she claimed she was just looking around. Likely she had just killed that rooster. It would not be the last one she’d kill. The rooster’s cry is fatal to the basilisk, and Tom Riddle would take no chances.

Sure enough, Harry hears the basilisk for the first time while serving his detention, helping Lockhart answer his fan mail. Lockhart can’t hear it, which is strange. Harry tells Ron about the voice, and Ron says that he had a slug attack all over Special Award for Services to the School. Of course, that is Tom Riddle’s award for fingering Hagrid as the culprit in the last basilisk attacks, during which Moaning Myrtle was killed.

In chapter eight, “The Deathday Party,” the trio attends Nearly-Headless Nick’s Deathday Party. We also discover that Filch is a Squib, which explains why he never uses magic to clean up. Nick convinces Peeves to drop a Vanishing Cabinet on the floor, breaking it. Betcha that’s the same Vanishing Cabinet that Draco Malfoy spends most of sixth year repairing.

Another important note about this chapter: it forms the basis for all the dates in the Harry Potter series. Nearly-Headless Nick’s deathday is the only definitive date given: October 31, 1492. He tells Harry it’s his 500th deathday, which means that Harry is a second-year student in the school year 1992-1993. Going back, he was a first year in 1991-1992. Since he turned 11 in 1991, he was born July 31, 1980. All of the other dates in the series are based on this date, which is considered canon. Of course, none of the actual calendar dates will line up perfectly. For instance, term always starts on September 1, no matter what day of the week it is. Rowling has been famously unconcerned about maintaining that level of accuracy. It’s interesting to think that if Harry were really alive, he would be turning 33 this year, and it will not be for another four years that Albus Severus Potter and Rose Weasley go to Hogwarts, meaning right now, Albus Severus Potter is seven (depending on when his actual birthday is), and he would have been born in 2006, when Harry was 26 and Ginny was 25. This kind of dorky thing is fun for me to figure out.

Regarding the prospect of attending a deathday party, Hermione naturally sees it as a great learning experience, while Ron thinks it will be “dead depressing.” I happen to agree with Hermione in theory, but the end result was much closer to Ron’s prediction. Ron is pretty good about cracking some sort of joke or pun and then being right later. People forget about that when they just watch the movies instead of read the books, I think.

At the deathday party, Harry and Ron meet Moaning Myrtle. Later, when they are leaving, Harry hears the basilisk again, but this time they find a message written on the wall: “THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED. ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE.” Draco Malfoy rightly concludes, “You’ll be next, Mudbloods.” Of course, the trio naturally suspects Draco is the heir and culprit after this outburst, but he does reveal one interesting thing: he knows what the Chamber of Secrets is, and he knows that the monster within goes after Muggle-born witches and wizards.

In the next chapter, “The Writing on the Wall,” after Snape accuses Harry of hiding something, Dumbledore gave “Harry a searching look.” At that point, I am fairly certain he’s using legilimency on Harry, and that he has discovered Harry heard a voice. He would, of course, know all about the Chamber of Secrets, having been at the school when it was opened before.

Later in the chapter, we learn Ginny was really disturbed about what happened to Mrs. Norris, and Ron concludes it is because she’s a cat lover. Of course, we later learn it’s because she thinks she is responsible.

Because all the copies of Hogwarts: A History have been taken out, Hermione chances asking Professor Binns about the Chamber of Secrets in History of Magic. A pause here to reflect that this class could easily have been the most interesting and potentially one of the most important courses Harry took, but it’s dead boring instead. As a result, he never pays attention and we as readers learn precious little wizarding history. That is a pity!

Professor Binns tells the rapt students the story of the Chamber of Secrets, dismissing it as myth. The trio goes to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, on the trail of the Heir of Slytherin. As they are leaving, they see Percy, who takes five points from Ron. As far as I can recall, this is the only mention of a prefect taking points from one of the trio (or from any student). It’s a wonder it doesn’t happen more often, but then the students may have a “we’re all in this together” mentality that prevents a lot of points from being taken. Still, how do you keep the Slytherin prefects in check? If it meant winning the cup, they’d take points left and right. Doesn’t seem fair to me, unless prefects can ONLY take points from their own housemates for infractions. Then, it makes total sense.

Because Hermione pays attention in Potions, she remembers Snape’s remark about Polyjuice Potion and even the name of the book where the recipe can be found, but it’s in the restricted section, so the trio has to figure out how to get permission to check it out. After Hermione suggests that if they made it sound as it they were just interested in the theory, Ron accurately predicts, “Oh, come one, no teacher’s going to fall for that… They’d have to be really thick.”

Finally, in chapter ten, “The Rogue Bludger,” Harry is trying to keep Professor Lockhart in a good mood so he will sign off for permission to check out Moste Potente Potions. Lockhart offers to “pass on [his] expertise” in Quidditch to Harry, noting he likes to help out “less able players.” This man is the most ridiculous person. Harry is probably the single most gifted Quidditch player at the school. He’s the youngest player in a century.

At any rate, they manage to get the book, and Hermione is uncharacteristically determined to break the rules when Harry wonders if they might get in trouble.

The Quidditch match with Slytherin begins, and as you probably remember, a rogue bludger chases Harry all over the pitch. In spite of this fact, he still manages to grab the Snitch right under Malfoy’s nose—nearly. He winds up with a broken arm, and that idiot Lockhart vanishes all the bones in his arm when he tries to fix it. I love his response to his error: “Ah. Yes. Well, that can sometimes happen. but the point is the bones are no longer broken. That’s the thing to bear in mind.” That’s the thing to bear in mind? And Hermione still defends him! “Anyone can make a mistake,” she says.

Dobby manages to visit Harry that night in the hospital wing. He sure gets away from Malfoy Manor quite a lot for a house elf. Wizards think they can’t do that kind of thing, but it seems they are little more wily than wizards realize. Moments later, a petrified Colin Creevey is brought into the hospital wing, and Dumbledore himself says that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened again. Emphasis mine. And he says, “The question is not who… The question is how.” Dumbledore, therefore, knew Tom Riddle opened it last time, though Hagrid was blamed, and he knows it must be Tom Riddle this time, but as Voldemort is currently bodiless and roaming the forests of Albania, Dumbledore doesn’t know how. I contend that it is not until the diary is found and destroyed that Dumbledore works out that Voldemort made horcruxes.

Re-Reading Harry Potter: The Burrow

The Burrow

The first five chapters of [amazon_link id=”0439064872″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets[/amazon_link] cover the period of time spanning from Harry’s awful 12th birthday, including his introduction to Dobby, the spoiling of Petunia’s pudding, and his imprisonment in his room, to Ron and Harry’s spectacular arrival at Hogwarts via flying Ford Anglia.

Through our introduction to Dobby, we learn house elves have powerful magic of their own. Dobby is able to apparate and disapparate, even in areas like Hogwarts where apparition and disapparition is impossible for witches and wizards. Dobby’s hover charm lands Harry in trouble with the Ministry because, we later learn, they know where magic has been performed, but not who performed it. Seems to me that houses with a lot of underage wizards, such as the Weasleys, probably get away with a lot more shenanigans than poor Harry could, as it would be difficult to determine who performed the magic, and indeed, it must be left to the parents to supervise. But Harry is the only wizard in Little Whinging, so he is unlikely to catch a break. We learn a great deal more about the Trace later on, but essential it is a charm placed on all underage wizards that alerts the ministry to magic performed in the vicinity of said underage wizard. Harry falls under more scrutiny as he lives with Muggles, and performing underage magic might not only be potentially harmful but might also breach the International Statue of Wizarding Secrecy. However, the Trace does seem to be rather inconsistently applied, and one might say, unfairly applied to Harry in particular, but when the Order of the Phoenix retrieves Harry from Privet Drive, they perform several spells, and the Ministry does not swoop in and clap Harry in the stocks. Hermione says she has tried a few simple spells before getting on the train to Hogwarts, and she seemingly did not get into trouble. Why? Because she didn’t know any better yet?  It seems to me that the Trace is, for the most part, rather ineffective at preventing underage wizards who live near other wizards from doing magic. For instance, Tom Riddle murdered his father and grandparents when he was sixteen, but he didn’t he get caught performing underage magic, and his magic was much more harmful than anything Harry ever did, not just to Riddle’s family but to the wider wizarding community who wouldn’t want Muggles to start up another witch hunt. In fact, the biggest breach of the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery that Harry commits is casting a Patronus charm to save himself and Dudley from a Dementor, and of course, such magic is permitted in life-threatening situations.

At any rate, after Dobby mysteriously is able to leave Malfoy Manor to warn Harry Potter not to go to school and winds up getting Harry in a great deal of trouble both with the Ministry and with Uncle Vernon, Harry is stuck in his room, miserably eating cold soup with Hedwig, when Ron, Fred, and George come to the rescue in Arthur’s flying Ford Anglia. The Weasleys fly Harry to the Burrow, which he describes to Ron as “the best house I’ve ever been in.” The Burrow would continue to be a place of solace and comfort, where Harry would find his real family. I have to agree with Harry. The Burrow is this amazing, madcap place, and the description Rowling gives makes it seem at once incredibly magical (it is most likely held up by magic) and incredibly comfortable. It is one of my favorite places in the novels, and I always enjoy it when Harry visits.

The family goes to Diagon Alley for school supplies, and Harry, who has never used Floo Powder before, doesn’t speak clearly enough and winds up in dodgy Knockturn Alley in time to see Lucius Malfoy unload some illegal-sounding goods on Mr. Borgin at Borgin and Burkes. In this scene, we are introduced to two magical objects that become important in [amazon_link id=”0439785960″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince[/amazon_link]: the cursed opal necklace and the Vanishing Cabinet. Draco notices the necklace on this trip to Borgin and Burkes, and we know he buys it later and winds up nearly killing Katie Bell with it (albeit in an attempt to kill Dumbledore with it). The sign indicates that the necklace has killed nineteen Muggles. I have always wondered if it was engineered precisely to kill Muggles by a dark wizard with anti-Muggle leanings. The Vanishing Cabinet’s partner is at Hogwarts. It’s not broken yet, but it will be by Halloween when Nearly-Headless Nick convinces Peeves to break it in order to distract Argus Filch from punishing Harry. Presumably, if Harry had wandered too far into the cabinet, he could have found himself at Hogwarts, although, according to the movies, you need to speak an incantation to complete the process. I consider the books, Pottermore, and official word from Rowling to be canon, and so far, there is no reason to believe based on canon that a wizard can’t simply walk into one cabinet and out the other. I have to admit I’m curious who placed the cabinets in their respective locations. Whoever it was, they were clearly up to something. Might even have been Tom Riddle. It would make sense. He worked at Borgin and Burkes, and we know he was desperate to get into Hogwarts to find artifacts to transform into horcruxes.

At Flourish and Blotts, we meet Gilderoy Lockhart, the only character J.K. Rowling confesses she based on a particularly unpleasant individual she knew. I was talking with Southern author Sharyn McCrumb about this character on McCrumb’s Facebook page. She made the comment that she could tell Lockhart was based on a real person, and I replied that Rowling had said so, and McCrumb made an interesting comment to the effect that the description was so spot on—the gender, age, and other particular details may have been changed to hide the real person’s identity better, but the essence of the character was intact and so clear a portrayal of a classic narcissist that McCrumb insisted he must be based on a real person. Facebook doesn’t make it easy to go back and find a particular post, so I can’t recall her exact words. He even retains this narcissistic element of his personality after his memory has been wiped by his own charm, which shows how deeply ingrained a part of him it is.

Another small incident that becomes interesting later: Percy is seen reading a book called Prefects Who Gained Power. Percy is really irritated when Ron teases him about it, and Ron remarks that Percy is very ambitious and would like to be Minister of Magic one day. Later on, when he acts like a complete git and sides with Fudge against his family and Harry, it makes sense because we know he is worried his association with them will hurt his prospects. I don’t think he ever became Minister of Magic, though I can well believe he devoted his career to the Ministry.

Lucius Malfoy also get into a fight over “what disgraces the name of wizard.” I do so love that scene. Pottermore reveals a great deal more about the Malfoy family. The family came to Britain with William the Conqueror, who gave Armand Malfoy the land in Wiltshire where the family still lives. They have historically been a slippery lot, and they often evade punishment for their crimes. Lucius Malfoy, for instance, claimed he had been under the Imperius Curse during Voldemort’s first reign of terror, a claim he would obviously not successfully be able to make the second time. We don’t learn this in the books, but Pottermore says he testified against Voldemort’s other Death Eaters in order to aid in their capture and conviction.

As soon as the Weasleys and Harry arrive, they eat and are put to work de-gnoming the garden, which is a pretty funny scene. Before too long, it is time to go back to school, and Harry discovers the Ford Anglia has been expertly enlarged to accommodate all the luggage and travelers. This charm must be the same charm performed on the tents at the Quidditch World Cup and possibly the same charm cast on Hermione’s beaded handbag in [amazon_link id=”0545139708″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows[/amazon_link] and on Alastor Moody’s magical trunk in [amazon_link id=”0439139600″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire[/amazon_link]. Hermione calls this charm the Undetectable Extension Charm.

At one point, the crew turns back because Ginny has forgotten her diary, which we later learn is a horcrux created by Voldemort when he murdered his father and grandparents. Ever wonder what would have happened if Arthur had said screw it, we are not going back for that? The horcrux would have been unable to do the damage it did at Hogwarts that year, unleashing the basilisk on the school, but we also may never have discovered that Voldemort made horcruxes, which might have made it impossible to defeat him later.

Pottermore has an interesting article about wizarding notions of Muggle technology. Arthur Weasley, for example, is obviously fascinated by it. However, we learn on Pottermore that wizards have at best a “condescending curiosity” about Muggle technology and at worst, an active disdain for it. Wizards don’t really need technology because they can use spells to do many of the things we need technology to do. Wizards’ aversion to technology is also cultural: using it might make it look like you don’t know how to properly perform spells. I can imagine an old pureblood wizarding family like the Malfoys having a much greater dislike for technology than, say, families mixed with Muggle heritage. Wizards have adapted two pieces of Muggle technology for their use, however: radio and cars. Apparently, there was an attempt to adapt television for wizarding use, but it was seen as too risky by the Ministry, whereas, for whatever reason, Muggles who accidently picked up wizarding communications via radio were seen as less of a threat. Cars were adopted out of practicality. Once Muggles stopped using horses and carts, then it made little sense for wizards to keep using them, unless they really wanted to attract Muggle notice. Over time, they learned to love cars as much as Muggles, but some families still held some disdain for the technology. Sirius Black’s family, for example, abhorred his flying motorcycle.

Once at King’s Cross Station, Ron and Harry are unable to get through the barrier to Platform 9¾. We learn later that Dobby has magically sealed the entrance. On Pottermore, you learn that Ministry of Magic officials are on hand at King’s Cross each year in case the Muggles do notice wizards disappearing onto the platform. It’s a wonder none of them were around when Harry and Ron caused their clamor. I suppose it’s understandable that in a moment of panic, Harry and Ron don’t think to send Hedwig to Hogwarts to explain their predicament. I suppose it stands to reason they might be concerned that Arthur and Molly can’t come through the barrier, but surely they could have apparated out. The moment Harry and Ron decide the only way they can get to Hogwarts is via flying Ford Anglia is the Dream Team at their most clueless. Naturally, they are in big trouble when they get back to school. The Whomping Willow smashes up the car, which ejects them. Snape first refers to the Whomping Willow as a valuable tree, which makes sense. They are probably rare. Later on, he calls it old, which, for a tree, it clearly isn’t. I think the exchange that takes place when he catches Harry and Ron outside the Great Hall is hilarious:

“Maybe he’s ill!” said Ron hopefully.

“Maybe he’s left,” said Harry, “because he missed out on the Defense Against the Dark Arts job again!”

“Or he might have been sacked!”said Ron enthusiastically. “I mean, everyone hates him—”

“Or maybe,” said a very cold voice right behind them, “he’s waiting to hear why you two didn’t arrive on the school train.”

At any rate, all that winds up happening to Harry and Ron is that they miss the feast and receive detention, which results in a Howler for Ron and nothing much for Harry. I imagine Hogwarts probably did talk about their arrival in the flying Ford Anglia for years.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2)If you have visited recently, you may recall I’m rereading the Harry Potter series on e-book after receiving the wonderful digital gift of the entire series, British versions. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets does not have as many differences from the American version. Once again, upon reading it, I was struck with how much of the foundation for the rest of the series is laid in Chamber of Secrets.

First, the nasty prejudice against Muggle-borns is first brought to light when Malfoy calls Hermione a “mudblood,” and she and Harry learn what it means from Ron and Hagrid. I never liked the fact that the movies put too many other characters’ lines in Hermione’s mouth, but always thought one of the most egregious violations was when Hermione herself explains to Harry what a mudblood is rather than Ron. After all, as much as she reads, she was still brought up in the Muggle world, just as Harry was, whereas Ron has only grown up among wizards. The reader doesn’t learn how deeply this prejudice against Muggle-born wizards runs until Chamber of Secrets. The only inkling the reader has that it’s a problem in [amazon_link id=”0747573603″ target=”_blank” ]Philosopher’s Stone[/amazon_link] is an offhand remark Draco Malfoy makes in Madam Malkin’s while he and Harry are being fitted for robes, and he is the only character in the book (if memory serves) who exhibits the prejudice. In Chamber of Secrets, we learn Tom Riddle/Voldemort shared the prejudice to the point that he set a monster on Muggle-borns when he was at school, killing Moaning Myrtle, and we also learn that not only do quite a few modern Slytherins share this prejudice, but also that the founder of the house, Salazar Slytherin, left Hogwarts and destroyed his friendship with Godric Gryffindor over the issue. The pervasiveness of the prejudice is really uncovered for the first time in Chamber of Secrets.

Another important issue in the books, starting with [amazon_link id=”0439785960″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince[/amazon_link], is the destruction of Voldemort’s horcruxes. We don’t find out what horcruxes are until Dumbledore explains them to Harry in Half-Blood Prince, but a reread of Chamber of Secrets reveals that Dumbledore definitely suspected Harry himself was a horcrux as early as Chamber of Secrets. Harry says, “Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?” Dumbledore replies, “It certainly seems so,” and explains that he didn’t think Voldemort meant to do it. Of course, Harry often hears a nasty little voice in his head, and he somehow intuits how to destroy the diary horcrux without knowing how he knows. His ability to speak Parseltongue probably stems from the horcrux inside him, and I have often wondered if he retained the ability after Voldemort destroyed that horcux, or if he lost it. It seems likely he lost it, but who knows?

We are also introduced to house elves and their peculiar enslavement and magic in Chamber of Secrets. House elves become a huge issue later on when Barty Crouch uses his to hide a horrible secret and winds up setting a Death Eater loose to help Voldemort rise again and subsequently loses his life. We also see how Kreacher’s mistreatment at the hands of Sirius Black costs Sirius his life, and how Harry is able to turn Kreacher’s feelings around through kindness. Hermione, of course, takes up the cause of house elves in [amazon_link id=”0439139600″ target=”_blank” ]Goblet of Fire[/amazon_link].

We also learn for the first time about Polyjuice Potion, which allows witches or wizards to disguise themselves as other people. Rowling was so careful to insert the incident when Harry, Ron, and Hermione brew Polyjuice Potion so they can quiz Malfoy about his involvement with opening the Chamber of Secrets, and given that they don’t really learn much useful information, it seems a sort of throwaway plot line, but it does enable them to become acquainted with Moaning Myrtle, and later on, when Barty Crouch, Jr., uses it to disguise himself as Mad-Eye Moody, we don’t suspect it until the end-of-the-novel reveal, when we learn how Rowling has hoodwinked us yet again while laying the clues out for all to see. Of course, it’s also used in [amazon_link id=”0545139708″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows[/amazon_link] when Harry is transported to the Burrow. I suppose the only thing that prevents Polyjuice Potion from wreaking utter chaos in the Magical World is that 1) Polyjuice Potion is difficult to brew, and presumably not every witch and wizard is up to it; and 2) the ingredients are hard to come by—even Barty Crouch, Jr., is forced to pilfer them from Snape’s stores in order to get them.

This book also contains a character Rowling insists is based on a real person—Gilderoy Lockhart. The real person must have been truly awful for Rowling to exact such revenge upon him/her in the form of Gilderoy Lockhart.  What a truly amazing character. So much fun to read and so much fun to hate. I love how Ron is really the first person to have the true measure of Lockhart. When someone points out to Ron all the amazing things Lockhart has done, he mutters under his breath, “He says he’s done.” Ron is the first character to insinuate Lockhart lied about his accomplishments. Even smart Hermione doesn’t see through Lockhart. We also learn for the first time that the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher job is hard to keep filled in this book as well. The DADA teachers seem to be the Red Shirts of the Harry Potter universe. Hagrid tells the trio that Lockhart was the only man willing to take the job and that people seemed to feel the job was cursed.

All of that said, this book is not necessarily my favorite in the series, but I always forget how much I like it until I reread it. It’s quite funny in some places, and it’s really important in terms of laying the cornerstone for the focus of the series. When I read the series first, only the first four books had been released, and rereading this time is bringing back a little of the memory of all the speculating and waiting to find out if I was right. I really wish I could tell J. K. Rowling how much these books mean to me.

Rating: ★★★★★