I have a confession to make. I am currently reading books three through seven for only the second time. Horrifying, I know, I have not reread the Harry Potter series in its entirety. Needless to say, it’s consuming my life. During my first go-through I would set aside an entire day to go from cover to cover, stopping only for bathroom and food breaks. Unfortunately, this time around I’m finding the binge method to be a little less feasible. There are many things that get in the way, like work, my increased need for sleep in my old age, house chores, and a Potter-naïve husband that has only seen the movies and tolerated my reading him The Sorcerer’s Stone a few years ago (I promise you he does have some good qualities). All of these are very unfortunate but necessary things in life, despite my newly rekindled obsession.
I’m sort of a sentimental person, relishing in the “firsts” during the re-read: the first time Ron and Hermione met, the first time Harry plays Quidditch, the first time we meet Hedwig. So, when I was given an extra segment to cover, imagine my delight when I’m given a chapter on introducing polyjuice potion and Tom Riddle. Polyjuice potion is up there with “wingardium leviosa” in classic Harry Potter magic, used throughout the series in incredibly important plot moments (i.e. Mad-Eye Moody, multiple Harrys). And because we already know about it, these moments always make sense and never feel contrived. Rowling is an absolute genius when hiding little Easter eggs like these. And then, there’s our introduction to Tom Marvolo Riddle, the man Lord Voldemort once was. Rowling knows she can’t have a believable and truly frightening villain without a past, and this is our first hint at it.
CHAPTER TWELVE: POLYJUICE POTION
Harry steps us into Dumbledore’s office for the FIRST TIME, and it looks appropriate for the most mysterious, interesting character of the series. Only Dumbledore would have a room that emits a sense of calm from the page, guarded with the password “lemon drop.” (We find later that he has a bit of a sweet tooth; I think Albus and I would have gotten along very well.) In this office are two objects of importance that we’ll see again in a few chapters.
Hanging out in the office is the Sorting Hat. Harry, especially fearful after the recent attacks, is still worried that he was placed in the wrong house and asks the Sorting Hat if he was sure with his decision. The Hat tells him he stands by his decision, but that he could have been great in Slytherin. It’s one of the main themes for Harry in the book, his worry that he was destined for badness. After learning that his ability to talk to snakes has a name, he starts to realize his similarities to Voldemort and it’s beginning to freak him out. This we’ll see more of later.
Also in his office is Fawkes the Phoenix, a creature, Dumbledore tells him, that is very loyal and strong, whose tears can heal, and bursts into flames, only to be born again from its ashes. Born again and rises. Hmm, that sounds familiar. Perhaps this is very distant foreshadowing? Anyway, they are interrupted by a frantic Hagrid, intent to convince Dumbledore that Harry is innocent. But, being Dumbledore and all, he knows this already. After Hagrid leaves (with the dead rooster, wtf?), Dumbledore asks Harry if he wants to tell him anything. But, it’s book two and Harry doesn’t know any better and doesn’t say anything.
And then, after all the freaky voices from the walls and kids getting petrified, Rowling does what she does best: brings the humor wrapped in an incredibly relevant plot point. It’s Christmas and the polyjuice potion simmering in Myrtle’s bathroom is ready. Hermione, who has somehow lost her mind and all of her rule-abiding practicality, leads Ron and Harry to drugging Crabbe and Goyle and topping off the potion with a bit of their hair. Hermione, in her fatal error, adds her saved hair from Millcent Bullstrode, and they drink up their highly illegal potion. Once Harry and Ron have changed into Draco’s posse, they try to get Hermione to come out of her stall and join them, but she urges them on.
Harry-Goyle and Ron-Crabbe get into character and make their way to Slytherin tower, conveniently running into Draco Malfoy (and Percy, but who gives a shit about Percy). Malfoy starts running his mouth about the Weasleys and how they don’t act like pure bloods, which makes me think that this is all the little shit talks about. He is obsessed with looking superior to everyone, already consumed by the inherited racism of his father. I know Rowling does not necessarily liken the pure blood to a specific historical event, but here we start to see how truly obsessed he is with the “master race” of wizards. If he knew who had opened the Chamber, he’d help them kill all the “Mudbloods.” He evens goes as far as to hope that Hermione is killed. If we hated Malfoy before, we hate him with an even deeper disgust now.
Harry and Ron, who are incredibly horrible actors, try to keep themselves together, but the potion begins to wear off and they run out of Slytherin tower. Back in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, they discover Hermione has turned into a cat, and that she’s probably going to rethink breaking the law ever again. Maybe. Even Hermione, the creative brains of the operation, makes mistakes sometimes.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE VERY SECRET DIARY
Hermione is in the hospital, being de-whiskered and de-tailed by probably the most kick ass nurse ever. Seriously, Madam Pomfrey is the best- she doesn’t judge, and she doesn’t ask questions. Although, if she’s like any other nurse, what she sees the students getting themselves into at Hogwarts never truly surprises her. She has me wondering time and time again what it would take to become a Healer. (Probably Outstanding OWLs in Herbology and Charms?) Hermione, busy with school work, has been hiding a get well card from Lockhart under her pillow.
On their way out from visiting Hermione, Harry and Ron discover that Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom had flooded, water splashing everywhere. They find Myrtle very upset and a diary on the floor, which of course Harry takes. The diary is empty, except for “T.M. Riddle” written on the first page, and the year on the cover that indicates it was fifty years old. Ron, who had spent detention earlier that year polishing trophies, recognizes the name. Riddle had been a head boy, and received honors for assisting the school. But, as we’ll later see with Percy, being Head Boy doesn’t make him a good person. For the life of them, they can’t seem to extract any words from the diary, and Ron insists Harry throw it away.
In an effort to “boost morale,” Gilderoy Lockhart releases winged dwarfs onto the school for Valentine’s Day to sing the students’ valentines to each other. One of them knocks Harry down and sings a hilariously bad valentine (likely from Ginny Weasely to her future husband):
His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad,
His hair is as dark as a blackboard.
I wish he was mine, he’s really divine,
The hero who conquered the Dark Lord
Poor Ginny, who’s horrifically mortified, also watches Malfoy pick up the diary as Harry was assaulted by the dwarf. It’s so obviously her in this moment, but we’re so distracted by the valentine we don’t even notice. Harry disarms the diary back from Malfoy. In Charms, he spills red ink all over it, but it comes out clean. Interesting…
Once Harry is alone in his room, he’s free to explore the diary a bit more. He introduces himself as Harry Potter, which is never a good thing to do with a strange book. I’ve always thought he should have used a different name, but knowing Voldemort, he probably knew it was him. The diary writes back that his name is Tom Riddle. Little does Harry know, this is not the first time he has met Tom, but they continue conversing, leading the conversation to the Chamber of Secrets. Tom, understanding the importance of showing rather than telling, sucks Harry into the diary to show him a memory. In this memory, we are treated (without even knowing it) to details about the early life of Lord Voldemort. He is a half-blood orphan, who finds Hogwarts to be his home, much like Harry. He wants to stay at the school during the summer, but Professor Dippet can’t allow it. In fact, after the girl was killed, Hogwarts was in danger of closing. Riddle, wanting nothing more than to stay in Hogwarts, gets an idea. He finds Rubeus Hagrid, who is in his third year and just as obsessed with large, dangerous creatures. Hagrid is with a very large spider (who we later will come to know and probably not love as Aragog) and Riddle indicates that Hagrid is the one that opened the Chamber and Aragog is the creature that was wreaking havoc.
While Chamber of Secrets tends to be the least popular of the books, it introduces so many important things. The early trust of Tom Riddle is completely baffling to me. Harry must see a bit of himself in Riddle, the orphan who is at home at Hogwarts is a theme that connects them. But, also, it just demonstrates to us that Harry is not quick to judge and generally sees people as good, with good intentions. Despite his life experiences, he is not so jaded as to mistrust Riddle. Harry is also still very young at this point, and apparently being sucked into Riddle’s memory is a normal, exciting experience.
We see a young Voldemort as already a criminal mastermind, manipulating Hagrid into believing he was responsible for the death and fear at Hogwarts. Riddle is already so good at it he is able to convince both Hagrid and Harry of his guilt, despite their friendship. Here we find Riddle is already a masterful villain, regardless of his magical skills. He has convinced his elders that he was kind and polite, when in reality he is a manipulative psychopath. Later, we’ll know just how good of a villain he is at his young age, able to create an object that was able to house a bit of his soul- our look at the first intentional horcrux.
I think my appreciation for Chamber of Secrets has grown through this re-read. Upon first glance, it’s a quiet book, short, following a similar formula as its predecessor, perhaps still a children’s book. But, through this chapter, we are given a glimpse of the darkness to come, even if we don’t yet realize it. Rowling hides so many essential elements to her story throughout the second installment. Yet, upon first reading, we still have no idea what’s in store for us.
Now, please excuse me. The battle in the Department of Mysteries is about to begin and I’ve been dying to get back to it.