Re-Reading Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets, ch. 9-12

The Harry Potter books often read like mysteries. Even though they’re set in a school for magic and build up to these big battles between Harry and Voldemort, the plot is driven by some kind of overwhelming question. What is that three-headed dog guarding, and who’s trying to steal it? Who put Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire, and why? Who opened the Chamber of Secrets?

The answer seems obvious. Snape is trying to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone. Igor Karkaroff put Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire. Draco Malfoy opened the Chamber of Secrets. But as Harry and his friends learn in the set of chapters I just finished, the obvious answer is sometimes wrong. After they spend a month brewing polyjuice potion in secret, they finally manage to impersonate Crabbe and Goyle, only to learn that not only is Malfoy not the Heir of Slytherin, he doesn’t have any idea who it is. In fact, it seems all he does is complain that his father won’t tell him more about the heir, because if only he knew, he’d be out there trying to help them.

This is very different from the previous book, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione were allowed to go on believing Snape was guilty up until the dramatic plot twist in the final chapter. In Chamber of Secrets, the mystery is more complex, and Harry and his friends have to investigate more than one suspect in order to get the whole story. Once they figure out that A) Draco Malfoy isn’t the one behind this, and B) the Chamber of Secrets was opened before, it’s only natural that they’d start following that new lead instead.

Meanwhile, Ginny is lurking somewhere in the background, writing in her diary and getting very upset at any mention of the attacks, and everyone still assumes she’s just a timid first-year who’s afraid of the monster. But Ginny isn’t the only one who’s guilty in plain sight. First of all, there’s Lockhart, who remains arrogant, egotistical, and utterly incompetent. At this point, any reader would be asking themselves what they’re missing about this man who has supposedly dedicated his life to fighting the dark arts but is incapable of dealing with pixies or casting a shield charm. And then there’s Lucius Malfoy. What Harry and Ron hear via polyjuice potion makes it seem as if the Malfoys are not involved, but in fact, a lot of what Draco says points directly to his father being behind it all. Why else would he be instructing Draco to “keep [his] head down and let the Heir of Slytherin get on with it”?

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