Tuesday, August 29, 2006

CHAMBER OF SECRETS--Chapters 12 through 14

CHAPTER TWELVE: The Polyjuice Potion
After being found at the scene of the latest crime, this time by Professor McGonagall, Harry is taken to Dumbledore. The attack on Justin Finch-Fletchly and Nearly Headless Nick confirms Ernie McMillan’s feelings of mistrust and suspicion, as well as the rest of the school.

Once Harry is in Dumbledore’s office, he (and we) sees all of Dumbledore’s unusual possessions.

A number of curious silver instruments stood on spindle-legged tables, whirring and emitting little puffs of smoke. The walls were covered with portraits of old headmasters and headmistresses, all of whom were snoozing gently in their frames. There was also an enormous, claw-footed desk and, sitting on a shelf behind it, a shabby, tattered wizard’s hat—the Sorting Hat. [COS-p. 205]

Rowling, in this brief paragraph, has given us a picture of items that will be important in future books, as she often does. But right now, she has given Harry the opportunity to ask the Sorting Hat about his house placement—something that has bothered him since his first year when the Hat said he’d do well in Slytherin. The Hat, though, sticks by it’s assessment, a great disappointment to Harry.

Also in Dumbledore’s office, Harry sees Fawkes, who promptly bursts into flame, while Harry watches helplessly. Still in shock when Dumbledore comes in, Harry apologizes, but Dumbledore is not at all concerned as he tells Harry that
“He’s been looking dreadful for days; I’ve been telling him to get a move on.” [COS-p. 207]

There’s more information about Fawkes that Harry (and we) should remember, as Dumbledore tells Harry about the ugly wrinkled newborn bird that he has just seen on a “Burning Day”.

“He’s really very handsome most of the time, wonderful red and gold plumage. Fascinating creatures, phoenixes. They can carry immensely heavy loads, their tears have healing powers, and they make highly faithful pets.” [COS-p.207]

Even though Dumbledore does not think Harry is guilty of the latest attacks, he senses that Harry is holding something back and asks him if there’s “something you’d like to tell me,” he said gently. “Anything at all.”
Harry didn’t know what to say. He thought of Malfoy shouting, “You’ll be next, Mudbloods!” and of the Polyjuice Potion simmering away in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. Then he thought of the disembodied voice he had heard twice and remembered what Ron had said: “Hearing voices no one else can hear isn’t a good sign, even in the wizarding world.”

He thought, too, about what everyone was saying about him, and his growing dread that he was somehow connected with Salazar Slytherin. . .

“No,” said Harry. “There isn’t anything, Professor. . .” [COS-p.209]

As someone at Leaky Lounge forum brought up, it isn’t often that Harry lies, but in this instance it is a lie of omission. It’s his passion for the truth that made him lose control when he knew that Aunt Marge’s view of his parents was a lie, so why not tell Dumbledore the truth now? I think it's because this is still early in Harry’s career at Hogwarts; he is being shunned by nearly the whole school because they think he is Slytherin’s Heir and has set the monster loose. He doesn’t have enough trust in himself yet, after so many years of being treated like he is worthless, to tell Dumbledore what is really on his mind. This scene is in sharp contrast to some of the ones in Half-Blood Prince, when Harry does speak his mind with Dumbledore.

I’ve wondered, though, if Dumbledore used Legilimency and saw all the answers about Harry’s fears or if he just intuitively figured it out—Snape is always telling Harry that his emotions are written all over his face, and it’s likely that they are at this moment as well.

The rest of the school is in a panic, understandably so. The twins, however, tease Harry about being the Heir of Slytherin, which makes Harry feel better since he knows that they aren’t taking the rumours seriously. Percy thinks they are the cause of Ginny’s distress.

Most of the students have left for Christmas, which leaves just the Weasleys and Hermione in Gryffindor Tower. Even before they open presents, Hermione has added the last of the lacewings to the Polyjuice Potion which is now ready.

Following the Christmas feast, Hermione explains her plan. After Crabbe and Goyle eat the chocolate cakes that she filled with a simple Sleeping Draught, Harry and Ron can hide them in the broom cupboard, take some of their hair and their shoes. Hermione already has a hair from Millicent Bulstrode.

Ron turned to Harry with a doom-laden expression.

“Have you ever heard of a plan where so many things could go wrong?” [COS-p.214]

Amazingly, it all goes well at first. The Polyjuice Potion is disgusting but works. Harry and Ron set off without Hermione, who tells them she can’t go. They realize they have no idea where the Slytherin Common Room is, but run into Percy in the dungeons, right after they've met a Ravenclaw girl who turns out to be Percy's girlfriend, which they learn much later. It’s interesting that the students only know the location of their own common room. Was that also part of the enchantment from the founders? If so, it seems that they really didn’t trust each other very much. The Sorting Hat divides them into separate houses, and the locations are so secret that the students only have the chance to intermingle during classes or on the grounds. Definitely, this will not help with the harmony and cooperation that the Sorting Hat later tells them they need to achieve.

Draco comes along, leading the way to the Slytherin common room where they get their chance to question him. It turns out that he has no idea who the Heir of Slytherin is either, when Harry (as Goyle) asks him if he knows who opened the Chamber.

“You know I haven’t, Goyle, how many times do I have to tell you?” snapped Malfoy. “And Father won’t tell me anything about the last time the Chamber was opened either. Of course, it was fifty years ago, so it was before his time, but he knows all about it, and he says that it was all kept quiet and it’ll look suspicious if I know too much about it. But I know one thing—last time the Chamber of Secrets was opened, a Mudblood died. So I bet it’s a matter of time before one of them’s killed this time. . . I hope it’s Granger,” he said with relish. [COS-p.223]

Draco really is an evil git. Ron is the one most ready to retaliate—an early indication of his feelings for Hermione.

Malfoy doesn’t know who is responsible, but he does know that the person was expelled and thinks he’s probably still in Azkaban—“the wizard prison, Goyle.”

Lucius has told Draco to “keep my head down and let the Heir of Slytherin get on with it.” The Ministry of Magic raided their manor last week.
“Luckily, they didn’t find much. Father’s got some very valuable Dark Arts stuff. But luckily, we’ve got our own secret chamber under the drawing room floor—“ [COS-p.224]
Their hour is up and Harry and Ron leave before Draco discovers he hasn’t been talking to Crabbe and Goyle. They now learn why Hermione couldn’t go—the hair was a cat hair, and she now has a fur-covered face, yellow eyes, pointed ears and a tail, which is highly amusing to Moaning Myrtle, but sends Hermione to the hospital wing.

We are going to see Polyjuice Potion several more times. We would do well to remember that even someone who is a close friend can be fooled by an impersonator.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: The Very Secret Diary
The use of the word terrible is another echo of the word when Harry is buying his wand from Ollivander, and he says something about Voldemort's wand going out into the world to do great things, "terrible, but great" [PS/SS]. I think it can be a hint of how we are to view the characters or the situations where the word is used, as well as being an indication and reminder of how the English language continues to change. Some words have nearly come to mean the opposite of their original meaning.

This chapter has so much in it. We once again get a reminder of Hermione's dedication to her school work, when she refuses to take time off, even though she's in the hospital wing for a month. And of course, it's Ron who finds it disturbing that she is keeping Lockhart's get well card under her pillow. (Another hint that Ron is the one who is interested romantically in Hermione, though he doesn't know it yet.)

I love all the times they have little chats with Moaning Myrtle. The answers are always right there, if they only had the hindsight to see them.

One of my favorite lines is when Ron is explaining to Harry why the book might be dangerous, based on things he's heard from his dad.
"And some old witch in Bath had a book that you could never stop reading! You just had to wander around with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed." [COS]

LOL--reminds me of myself and the Harry Potter books. I have a very hard time putting them down and I keep re-reading them. What has Jo done to these books?

Once again we have an example of Harry's curiosity getting the better of him. And yet, he's never curious about the things that most people would be--what were his parents like, where were they buried, what did they do for a living. . .But he'll poke his nose into things that might be very dangerous or are clearly none of his business. The diary seems to qualify as both, given the information from Ron and that the book IS a diary.

Ron is quite a source of good information in this one, when he recognizes the T. M. Riddle as the same name on the trophy that he kept having to polish when he kept burping slugs all over it. Poetic justice, that one (for Riddle's memory). Kind of goes along nicely with the Weasley twins throwing snowballs at the back of Quirrell's turban which turned out to be Voldemort. Perhaps Rowling is making another point about how we should deal with frightening evil people; Dumbledore told Harry to say Voldemort's name, and in the snowball instance and the trophy covered with slugs, Voldemort's importance is diminished by humor.

Since this trophy has come up twice now, we probably are meant to pay closer attention to it. But in this chapter, its only that we are trying to figure out who Tom Riddle is--or was. I have to wonder if Harry will think to go back to Hogwarts (in book 7) to see if the trophy meant enough to Riddle that he turned it into a Horcrux, perhaps when he returned to ask Dumbledore for the DADA job.

Then again we have Ron actually coming up with a reason that is close to shy Riddle got the trophy--it wasn't the death of Myrtle that earned him the award, but the capture of the person responsible, or so it seemed. Hmmm. Rom was closer to the truth than he realized, really.

I'm not sure that I go along with this one, as I'm not in the Harry Horcrux or Scar Horcurx camp, but it does seem eerie that he is drawn to the diary as an old half-forgotten friend. It could also be that it is Harry's mind connection with Voldemort, which I don't see as evidence of his being a Horcrux that makes the diary seem so familiar to him.

JKR does a nice job of starting to direct our attention to the similarities between Riddle and Percy in this chapter. We've previously found Percy looking through a book on Hogwarts prefects and their careers. Now, Ron compares Riddle to Percy:
"prefect, head boy. . . probably top of every class" [COS]

And of course, Hermione's response is another contrast--
"You say that like it's a bad thing," said Hermione in a slightly hurt voice.

Ron doesn't answer and he does tease Hermione about her dedication to her school work, but it's a different sort of attitude than the one he has towards Percy. We know that, and so should Hermione. With the comparison, Ron has put Percy and Riddle in the category of achievers who are ambitious, rather than those who are like Hermione, wanting to learn, rather than seeking power.

I love the image of the Mandrakes becoming moody and secretive and their acne clearing up as an indication of their maturing enough to be useful for the Restorative Draught.

If we hadn't thought that Lockhart was totally useless before, the deal is sealed with his Valentine's Day "treat". Grumpy dwarfs dressed like cupids, delivering singing Valentines are a hoot. The decorations in the Great Hall are a foreshadowing of Madam Puddifoot's teashop when Harry goes with Cho in book 5. We also get a clear message about how the other teachers view Lockhart, in case we had any doubts, with McGonagall's reaction, Snape looking as though someone had just "fed him a beaker of Skele-Gro". Throw in Professor Flitwick (whose Christmas decorations, by contrast, are a welcome delight to everyone) burying his face in his hands at the suggestions of the students asking him for an Entrancing Charm, and it's fairly complete. We do have the mention of a Love Potion, which we learn later is forbidden.

Aside from cementing in our minds that it's the last thing Snape would ever teach ("the first person to ask him for a Love Potion would be force-fed poison"), it's another pointer that Love Potions exist and we should remember them.

I noticed in this chapter, too, that Hermione doesn't ever out and out lie to Ron--or to us. Earlier, in the hospital wing when Ron sees the get-well card, he asks why se has it under her pillow and then on Valentine's Day he asks if she was one of the 46 who sent a Valentine card to Lockhart; she doesn't answer him, rather than making up some excuse or just lying.

The function of the diarty is very much like the Pensieve, yet Riddle seems to b able to manipulate the information in a way that Dumbledore does not manipulate the Pensieve memories. The whole way that Riddle is able to write back to Harry rather than Harry just finding entries by Riddle makes it very different. And it also makes it an even harder to explain sort of item--just ow is it that a 50 year old memory is able to have a conversation with Harry or with Ginny? That's different and more sinister, than a Pensieve that replays an intact memory.

CHAPTER 14: Cornelius Fudge
Harry is shaken thinking that it was Hagrid who had unleashed the monster on the school fifty years before, information that he shared and discussed with Ron and Hermione. She thought that "Riddle might have got the wrong person." "Maybe it was some other monster that was attacking people. . ." [COS-p. 250]

Harry should take more heed of Hermione's intuition? But they keep going in circles, trying to explain how Hagrid could have been involved, only to return to the very real possibility that Riddle's memory was true. Hagrid, after all, loves all manner of creatures and rarely sees any of them as dangerous. They struggle, as we must struggle, with what action to take when information we learn implicates a friend whom we respect and trust. Is this similar to the reason that James and Sirius, possibly even Dumbledore, mistrusted Remus enough that they excluded him form their grand plan?

Finally the Mandrakes are nearly ready, when they throw a "loud and raucous party in greenhouse three", making Professor Sprout very happy, at the end of March.
"The moment they start trying to move into each other's pots, we'll know they're fully mature," she told Harry. "Then we'll be able to revive those poor people in the hospital wing." [COS-p. 251]

At this point they must choose their subjects for next year. Students are getting all sorts of advice from home, with Neville being the most confused and worried. Harry, with no advice from the Dursleys (an idea he finds laughable), chose the same as Ron, while Hermione signed up for everything.

After Quidditch practice, Harry learns from Neville that someone has gone through all his belongings, and realizes that the diary is the only thing missing. It had to have been taken by a Gryffindor, something the trio find very disconcerting.

The next day is Quidditch, but as Harry, Ron, and Hermione leave the Great Hall, Harry hears the murderous voice again. Hermione, as she often does, has an idea and heads to the library, leaving Ron and Harry at a loss to explain her sudden revelation.

Gryffindor and Hufflepuff are ready to play, but the match is called off by McGonagall. She takes Harry and Ron to the hospital wing, where they see a petrified fifth-year girl and Hermione. The only clue was that a mirror (small, circular) was on the floor near them.

Students are restricted to their Common Rooms and escorted class to class and even to the loo by teachers.

Once again, Harry and Ron go where they should not; they use the invisibility cloak to visit Hagrid, hoping to learn something about the attacks. As usually happens when people are afraid, the rumor mill becomes the source of misinformation, spreading even more fear. The other Weasleys think Percy's apparent shock is because a prefect, Penelope Clearwater, was attacked. Once again, we have a set-up for Percy distancing himself from his family rather than turning to them in troubled times.

Ron and Harry manage to get out of the castle, despite all the security, including Snape patrolling the corridors. Hagrid opens his door to them, armed with a cross-bow, distracted and jittery.

They've barely arrived when another knock on the door announces Dumbledore with Fudge; Harry and Ron have just enough time to hide under the invisibility cloak in a corner.

Typical of Fudge and the Ministry, he's there to take Hagrid to Azkaban, even though Dumbledore tells Fudge that taking Hagrid won't help stop the attacks.

And then Lucius Malfoy shows up. It's clear that Dumbledore is not pleased but he does not stop Fudge from taking Hagrid. Lucius is obviously controlling Fudge and Hagrid tells us what has happened when he asks Lucius how he convinced all twelve of the school governors to suspend Dumbledore:
"An' how many did yeh have ter threaten an' blackmail before they agreed, Malfoy, eh?" [COS-p.263]

Over Hagrid's protests, Dumbledore leaves calmly as he glances at the very corner where Harry and Ron are hiding, and says:
"However," said Dumbledore, speaking very slowly and clearly so that none of them could miss a word, "you will find that I will only truly have left this school when none here are loyal to me. You will also find that help always will be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it." [COS-p. 263-4]

Ah, yes, the famous speech that seems to be fulfilled at the end of this book. But then in Half-Blood Prince we hear Dumbledore say essentially the same thing on the Astronomy Tower when he offers to help Draco. Later, following Dumbledore's funeral in HBP, Harry repeats the same thing to Rufus Scrimgeour. Who else has asked for help at Hogwarts--Severus Snape, perhaps? So we are led to believe.

Hagrid's message to Harry and Ron is to follow the spiders, "if anyone wanted to find out some stuff." [COS-p. 264]*

Ron is convinced there will be an attack a day now that Dumbledore is gone--and his reaction is not surprising. We are constantly told in all the books that Hogwarts and Harry are safe as long as Dumbledore is there. Those constant reminders make it obvious that at some point Dumbledore won't be there to protect them all.


*There are several essays out there about the possibility that Snape is an unregistered animagus who takes the form of a spider. Throughout the books there are references to his spider-like movements and appearance. Spiders have an oily substance on their bodies that keeps them from sticking to their own webs--hence, Snape's constantly greasy hair. There are other references that he might be a bat, but likely those are red herrings. The spider ones seem to fit much better, even down to the chapter in HBP, entitled "Spinner's End". So for the moment, through the rest of this book, I'm going to be looking for other cases that support (or not) the Spidey Snape theory, to borrow from Muggle Matters posts by Merlin on August 24 on this idea. Just a thought--does the Ministry have any idea how many wizards are animagi? Apparently not.