Most of these two chapters — which I assigned to myself at random, by the way — consist of Harry and Ron trying to wrap their heads around all the stuff that is happening*. And since these also happen to be the chapters where all the remaining pieces of the plot fall into place (right before the denouement, where we learn how all of those pieces fit together), that means a TON of stuff happens. Way more stuff, in fact, than I was expecting, having seen the movie a million times (in the movie, these two chapters are essentially boiled down to two sequences).
*Hagrid’s word, not mine. Hilariously.
It’s really interesting for me to read these books with the intention of writing about them. Normally, I just let myself get lost in the story, turn my brain off, and enjoy the ride. I must have read this book at least ten times (probably quite a bit more than that, actually), and during all those reads, I never once stopped to think of these chapters and how they fit into the rest of the book structurally. Perspective is weird, you guys.
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Where last we left off, Harry had just learned via magical fuckery that Hagrid was supposedly the one who opened the Chamber of Secrets, that the monster inside was large and had lots of legs, and that he had been expelled for his troubles. Also, importantly, that Riddle seemed only to turn him in when he realized that Hogwarts would be closed if the attacks weren’t stopped.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione spend the first part of this chapter trying to come to grips with this new and extremely disturbing information, trying to rationalize the Petrifying and kiiling of Muggle-borns with the image of their large but kindhearted friend. I don’t have very vivid memories of reading this book for the first time, but I do remember the feeling of physical dread I got at the possibility that Hagrid had even been remotely involved in something so awful. It just didn’t feel . . . right. And the trio seem to feel the same way. After talking it over with the Hogwarts Speculation Club (thanks for that, Kevin), they reach a sort of understanding. Hagrid, obviously, is NOT the Heir of Slytherin, but instead, seems to have been drawn to the monster for the same reason that he’s drawn to ANY monster, and danger (and the death of a student) followed in his wake. Harry speculates:
“And if, as a boy, Hagrid had heard that a monster was hidden somewhere in the castle, Harry was sure he’d have gone to any lengths for a glimpse of it. He’d probably thought it was a shame that the monster had been cooped up so long, and thought it deserved the chance to stretch its many legs . . . “
This is the only explanation they can wrap their heads around. It is unfathomable to them that someone so inherently kind could ever be wrapped up in such nasty business on anything more than an incidental basis. They feel it in their guts that something just isn’t right with their explanation (and the whole crappy situation), but it’s the best one they’ve got. They also make two questionable decisions: not to tell anyone else of their discovery (in order to protect Hagrid), and not to confront Hagrid unless and until there are any more attacks. (In Ron’s words, “That’d be a cheerful visit . . . Hello, Hagrid. Tell us, have you been setting anything mad and hairy loose in the castle lately?”)
Anyway, it’s been four months since the last attack on Nearly Headless Nick and Justin Finch-Fletchley, and in addition to holding out hope that there just won’t be any more attacks (right), Madam Sprout also informs them that the mandrakes were caught throwing a “loud and raucous party in greenhouse three” and that they’ll soon be ready so they can cure those who’ve been Petrified, and find out who’s been doing the Petrifying (they’ll know the mandrakes are ready when they start moving into each other’s pots, which is such a Jo detail, and I love it so much).
In the middle of all the madness, normalcy still finds a way to rear its head. All the 2nd years have to choose which subjects to take, and here is where I get jealous again. I’m actually not very Hermione-ish in most respects, although I do admire her quite a bit. I always loved school as a kid, but it was mostly because I was just naturally really good at it and didn’t have to try that hard (and even though I’m sure school does come naturally to Hermione as well, she also tries really absurdly hard at it). The biggest difference between me and Hermione, though, is that I did my darndest to blend into the background and not get noticed as much as was humanly possible, both by my teachers and by other students. Hermione doesn’t even attempt this, and it’s what gets her (unfairly) a lot of flack. But I do understand her impulse to just sign up for every class available. I mean, entering the wizarding world is like entering a really good bakery. How are you supposed to pick only a couple of pastries when everything looks delicious? How are you supposed to limit yourself to only six or seven magical classes when you could take all of them and see what you like? Harry, the putz, just copies Ron. If only he got graded at Quidditch** . . .
**It’s really cute, by the way, that this early in the game they’re still assuming that their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher will last them more than a year. They just take it for granted that Lockhart will be around until they graduate. I think it’s by the next year that they catch on that’s something’s not quite right with Defense Against the Dark Arts.
And then the shit hits the fan (which, by the way, is really quite a disgusting image when you stop to think about it as I’ve just done).
Harry returns from a late night Quidditch practice to find his dorm room has been burgled, and nothing is missing except Riddle’s diary. It’s not very likely that all of his stuff was torn up because some random person decided they wanted his blank fifty year old diary, so it seems pretty obvious that the person who stole it knows that it’s magical in origin, and thus likely they know its connection to the Chamber of Secrets. The other troubling aspect of the theft? Only a Gryffindor has their passwords, which means one of their fellow Gryffindors is involved somehow, which pretty much NOBODY saw coming.
I always forget the connection between the lack of attacks and Harry having the diary, but it becomes pretty apparent the very next day. Right before the start of the Gryffindor vs. Hufflepuff Quidditch match, Harry hears the mysterious disembodied voice again. “Rip . . . tear . . . kill . . .” etc. This lights a fire in Hermione’s brain, and she rushes off to the library, having clearly just realized something important.
“But why’s she got to go to the library?”
“Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.”
But when they reach the Quidditch pitch, it’s only to find that the match has been canceled, and that McGonagall is waiting to show Harry something. She takes them to the hospital wing, telling them along the way that “There’s been another attack . . . another double attack.” And it’s Hermione and Penelope Clearwater lying Petrified in the hospital wing and everything is horrible and awful. No Quidditch, no Hermione, and as happened fifty years previously, it’s very likely the school will be closed unless the culprit is caught. Strict security measures are enacted in order to prevent any more students from being harmed. No extracurricular activities. Students aren’t allowed out of their dormitories except for meals and and classes. And all students are to be escorted by teachers in the halls.
So of course Harry and Ron take the first opportunity possible to break all of these new rules, and they don’t even feel a little bit guilty about doing it. (They do feel rather annoyed, however, as it’s really hard to sneak around the school in an invisibility cloak when there’s so many teachers and ghosts wandering the halls. Ugh, stupid teachers.)
It’s Hagrid they’re headed for, of course. (“The time has come, the walrus said,” etcetera, etc.) Hagrid answers the door with a crossbow in his hand, which is understandably disconcerting, and because he’s too busy being nervous, forgetting things like putting tea bags in their tea, and serving them cups of boiling hot water instead, they don’t actually have time to ask him about the Chamber of Secrets before an unwelcome knock announces the presence of Dumbledore (shit!) and the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge. While Ron and Harry hide under the invisibility cloak in a corner of Hagrid’s hut, the lime green bowler hat adorned Fudge informs Hagrid that even though Dumbledore vouches for his innocence, he’s got to do something so the school governors and everybody will just leave him alone already and think he’s doing a good job with his stuff. He’s all, No big deal, Hagrid! If you’re innocent we’ll have you back in a jiffy and no harm done! What’s a few weeks in Azkaban, after all? Hagrid really doesn’t want to go to Azkaban.
Fudge is a bit of an idiot and a pushover, but at this point he’s still sort of a harmless idiot and pushover, and he does respect Dumbledore’s opinion. Even though he ignores Dumbledore’s very logical point that taking an innocent Hagrid away will do absolutely NOTHING to stop the attacks, he does, to his credit, become upset when Lucius Malfoy also joins the party and informs them the school governors have also suspended Dumbledore, so goodbye Dumbledore, and yeah, we’re all fucked. Lucius Malfoy is THE WORST.
Most striking to me in this chapter is how much Fudge relies on Dumbledore, how much the idea of Dumbledore being gone frightens him, when his behavior later in the series is much to the opposite. But more on that in later books.
Dumbledore goes willingly, despite Hagrid’s outraged protests, but not before — as Fudge and Malfoy would see it — telling the empty cabin: “However . . . 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 will be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” He’s clearly not been fooled by Ron and Harry’s disguise. Hagrid chimes in as well: “If anyone wanted ter find out some stuff, all they’d have ter do would be ter follow the spiders. That’d lead ’em right! That’s all I’m saying.” And later, “‘An someone’ll need to feed Fang when I’m away.”
So the stage is mostly set at this point. We’ve got Hermione (who’s clearly already solved the mystery, so we know there’s an answer) out for the count, we’ve got already heightened tension because of the attacks and the increased security measures made even more tense when he and Dumbledore are forcibly removed from the school, we’ve got a mysterious beastie on the loose, and we’ve got Ron and Harry (who are already in way over their heads with being worried about Hermione and Hagrid) having been told that to figure out what’s going on, they have to go into the most dangerous and Forbidden part of the school grounds in order to look for said dangerous beastie. Everything, of course, will go perfectly.
Once they’re in the clear and they’ve taken off the Invisibility Cloak, Ron doesn’t miss a beat, saying there’ll be an attack a day with Dumbledore gone. And he’s not wrong. Speaking of Ron — forgive me on this next chapter, but I got, er, a bit experimental.
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[Archivist’s note: From the diary of Ronald Bilius Weasley, excerpted May 24, 1992 and May 25, 1992. The full diary can be found in the Museum of Magical History along with a number of other artifacts surrounding the opening of the Chamber of Secrets and the events leading up to the Second Wizarding War. Used with permission.]
As if last week wasn’t bad enough . . . Madam Pomfrey still isn’t letting us in to visit Hermione, and everyone is seriously scared by everything that’s been going on, and they’re talking about closing the school . . . not that I would mind missing out on classes and exams and things, but still. I think I would miss the old place if I couldn’t be here anymore.
Anyway, bad stuff. All over. And on top of all that I have to listen to people like Malfoy mouthing off and bragging about his stupid dad getting rid of Dumbledore, the evil little git. This morning in Potions, I actually wanted to kill him. He was sucking up to Snape like he always does, going on about how Oh, Professor Snape, I’m suuuure if you wanted to run for Headmaster, you’d have my father’s support and kissy kissy smoochy smooch can I have good marks on this potion? That’s bad enough, really, but then he had to go off about Muggleborns, spouting off his stupid ideas and using that word, you know. And I was so good! I was so mad, but I held it in and didn’t punch him in the ear like I wanted. But then he had to go off and say the he bet the next M—- would die, and ‘pity it wasn’t Granger’. I think I must have blacked out from rage because all I remember is that next thing Harry was holding me down. I honestly wanted to kill him, I was so angry. Never been that angry before, it was a bit scary actually . . .
Stuff like that’s been happening all over the place, people saying things they have no idea about. Ernie Macmillan finally apologized to Harry in Herbology today. He’s all right, I guess, but he was off about Malfoy being the Heir of Slytherin, as if we hadn’t figured that right from the beginning and it was the most brilliant idea ever. And Lockhart, the idiot, mouthing off about how he thinks we’re all safe now Hagrid’s locked up in Azkaban. Harry had to kick me before I blurted out that we knew exactly what was going on, and even the Minister of Magic doesn’t think Hagrid is guilty.
That’s the other thing. It was kind of an important day, I guess. Harry passed me a note right after the thing with Lockhart. It just said “Let’s do it tonight,” and I gulped a little and looked over at Hermione’s chair . . . it’s time. We’re going to do it, and she’s going to get better and things will get back to normal and the school won’t close. All we have to do is follow the spiders.
The spiders, the spiders, the spiders. THE SPIDERS.
I’ve been sort of half-heartedly helping Harry look for them after Hagrid told us to follow them, but I wasn’t in a hurry about it. Harry spotted them right after Ernie apologized (and don’t think Ernie wasn’t interested in why we were so excited about spiders . . . honestly this place is weird and I’m weird when weird stuff happens, and everyone probably thinks Harry and I are mad all the time). I am glad everyone’s laid off Harry though, poor bloke. He really took it sort of personally every time someone thought he was a murderer.
So they’re headed . . . into the Forbidden Forest. We have to go into the Forbidden Forest. Tonight. I’ve never been in there, and I can’t say I’d really like to go now, especially because of THE SPIDERS. But Hermione. And Hogwarts. And Harry’s going, so I’m going, too.
[Archivist’s note, about this copy: There is a break in the page here, there are no dates in the diary. It is easily assumed Mr. Weasley wrote the above portion on the afternoon of May 24, before his and Mr. Potter’s sojourn into the Forest, and the following excerpt the next morning, by his own words, in his History of Magic class. Archivist will refrain from making snide comments on the teaching style of Professor Binns, who is still at Hogwarts as of this writing.]
I can’t believe I’m actually sitting here writing this. I can’t believe I’m not dead. Why am I not dead? Forget what I said about Malfoy yesterday. First I’m going to kill Hagrid. And I’m never going into the Forbidden Forest again. Ever.
We met the spiders.
It’s weird to sit here now and think about last night because it feels really far away somehow. (I’m in History of Magic, pretending to take notes. Most of this diary has been written in History of Magic, come to think of it . . . I also get most of my best thinking and daydreaming done here as well. Also, napping. Great naps to be found in History of Magic. Highly recommended. I should probably ACTUALLY be taking notes right now because Hermione’s not here, and we usually just copy off hers afterwards. Right, Hermione . . . I really wish last night would have gotten us somewhere, but Hermione’s still in the hospital wing . . .)
So last night. It took Harry and I FOREVER to leave the common room. Fred, George, and Ginny just wouldn’t leave. F&G kept roping us in to games of Exploding Snap, and Ginny just sat there looking worried or tired or something. I dunno. All this excitement is hard on the first years, I think. I should write Mum about her . . . ) I was kind of glad for the diversion, honestly. Wasn’t looking forward to going into the forest. Even after they went to bed and Harry and I snuck out again under his dad’s old cloak, I kept hoping once we found the spiders, they’d lead us somewhere else. Anywhere else.
Harry lit his wand so we could see (mine’s still useless, of course — it would probably have blown us up if I’d tried anything). A funny thing happened once we stepped into the forest, though (at least, until the THING happened). My fear sort of evaporated? Like thinking about going in was worse than actually going in. When the spiders led us off the path, I was the one who had to push Harry in, but I think we’re even, really, after what came next. After we found my dad’s car, that is. It was running wild in the forest all this time! I thought it was just a car all this time, but last night proves that my dad’s probably a better wizard than I thought. It’s been wandering around the forest for fun, I think, and it saved us after . . . well . . .
We found the monster Hagrid was keeping in the castle fifty years ago. We definitely found it.
I don’t actually remember much from the time we found the car until it deposited us back on the grounds proper. It’s all sort a confusing blur. But I do remember the terror. The mind-numbing, paralyzing terror.
The thing — Aragog — had his family pick us up and carry us to him. Harry talked to it, and I was completely useless.
Sorry, having flashbacks now, but I want to get this down. I remember something about a dead girl in a bathroom, and Hagrid being best friends with the spider, and the spider telling its family to EAT US, but that’s really about it until I was throwing up in Hagrid’s pumpkin patch (and he deserves it). Most of all I remember its size, and those pincers clacking and clacking . . .
Anyway, Harry had to explain what we’d learned in there after he’d calmed me down (and I’d vomited in the pumpkins some more, and maybe called Hagrid some bad names). I was able to get the gist of it, that Hagrid is innocent, and that he didn’t open the Chamber of Secrets. And that — and this is the scary part — that THING in the woods is NOT the monster, but something WORSE. And it’s still on the loose. And Harry wants to go looking for it. Why I’m friends with him, I don’t know. I guess he is pretty fun, though.
Oh! And the REALLY crazy part! I think we might be about to figure out what’s going on. Just as I was falling asleep Harry yelled off something about the girl the monster murdered never leaving the bathroom, and it’s Moaning Myrtle. We’re going down there to try and talk to her just as soon as we can slip away from the teachers (and good luck with that).
[Archivist’s note: entry ends here and does not pick up until two months later, well after the events surrounding the opening of the Chamber of Secrets had concluded, and thus does not suit our purpose here. For further insight into Mr. Potter’s younger years (and Granger and Weasley, as well), however, they are fascinating and I highly recommend them.]