The Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 12-13: Riddle Me This

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.


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.


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.

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22 thoughts on “The Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 12-13: Riddle Me This

  1. Kevin O'Shea says:

    Honestly, I think Healers really do need to have top marks in all practical magics and even some theory, to make sure that spells aren’t interacting with each other to make a situation worse. So Potions (which also covers poisons and antidotes), Charms and Herbology as you mentioned, and maybe a lesser focus on Transfiguration and Arithmancy, because those both deal with the theory behind spellwork (I’m assuming) more than the first three.

    • Ashley says:

      I am deeply fascinated by Wizard careers. I wish she would just hurry up and release The Scottish Book already. (Pottermore is not enough for me!)

      • Kevin O'Shea says:

        Especially since there’s effectively -two- kinds of foreign policy for government jobs. How to deal with other countries and how to deal with your own Muggles.

    • Lindsay says:

      I definitely have to agree with you. Counteracting spells and such would require a lot of knowledge.

  2. Dan says:

    No matter how many times I see it, one of my favorite moments in the books and movies is when Tom Riddle finally reveals who he is. Good thing the letters of his name can be rearranged to spell something so creepy, eh? (“What does SHIELD stand for?” “It stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.” “And what does that mean to you?” “It means someone really wanted the initials to spell SHIELD.”)

    • Lindsay says:

      AGH! I totally forgot to talk about how much I LOVE Rowling’s names. She is absolutely brilliant in naming people and Voldemort is not much different. Also, SHIELD is pretty great so far.

  3. Ashley says:

    1. When Hermione decides to break the rules, she goes ALL OUT.

    2. Dude. If you lived in the wizarding world, you’d SO be a healer.

    3. It has always bothered me that we never got confirmation whether or not Ginny sent Harry the singing Valentine. If it is her, she seriously needs to work on her love poetry. “Fresh pickled toad?” Yick.

    4. It’s always interested me that Riddle abandoned his plans with the Chamber of Secrets once his home at Hogwarts was threatened. It’s like killing Mudbloods was him just fucking with everyone. Oh, no big deal, JUST SOME FUN AND GAMES AND MURDER! Just wait until you guys see what I can REALLY do.

    5. When we found out in HBP that the diary was a horcrux, my brain just about exploded.

    • Kevin O'Shea says:

      5 – That’s what I love so much about her plot twists. She was telling us from the very beginning; we just didn’t know we had to look for them.

    • Lindsay says:

      1. She really does. Half the time, I’m rolling my eyes at her that she won’t do anything crazy, and then she pulls out fucking polyjuice.

      2. YES! I would love it. Can I get my Hogwarts letter please?

      3. I’m willing to bet it was Ginny. I love that she has a huge crush on him. And then I reading OOTP and she’s going out with a new guy every other minute.

      4. That IS interesting that he abandoned it after that. I’d never even thought of it that way.

      5. Mine too.

    • Jen says:

      Yes, that poetry is not what I would call… good.

    • notthatmattsmith says:

      3. I always read it as Lockhart being the one who sent Harry the Valentine. Doesn’t he say at one oint that he’s sending everyone a personal valentine?

      • Ashley says:

        Somehow I can’t see Lockhart taking the time to compose a love poem to Harry, especially one that says “his hair’s so divine, I wish he was mine”. Aside from the ick factor, I find it hard to believe he could focus on any other person besides himself long enough to do so.

    • uldihaa says:

      (Look at me, late to the party! As always.)

      3. When I first read this book, I thought it was Ginny too. But going back and re-reading it (having finished the series), I came to a different conclusion. I think this was a deliberate bit of misdirection. J.K. wanted you to think that Ginny’s reaction was because of the Valentine poem, not the diary. When it is revealed what the diary was doing, the reader remembers the scene but sets the little mystery of the valentine aside.

      I suspect that the real culprites are the Weasely twins. This is exactly what they would do and how they would do it. I can even hear their voices reciting (with mock-sincerity) the entire thing. This has their ‘signature’ all over it.

      • Ashley says:

        Yeah, the misdirection thing I pretty much figured. But I still want to know who actually sent it. (The Weasley twins seem good candidates, but I’d still like confirmation.)

  4. Jen says:

    Hermione is a stickler for the rules 99% of the time, but then when she breaks them she REALLY breaks them. Not only school rules, but wizarding laws. Go big or go home.

  5. Jennie says:

    “I think my appreciation for Chamber of Secrets has grown through this re-read.”

    Yes! I’ve noticed this, too. I wonder if it’s because it’s really not as terrible as everyone claims or if this project is just making it more enjoyable. (Both?)

  6. ladysugarquill says:

    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 Dumbledore Legeremence’d the answers out of his head, so no biggie.


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