The Polyjuice Potion

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Chapter 12 of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The Polyjuice Potion← Chapter 11 | Chapter 13 →

Synopsis[edit]

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

After depositing Harry in the Headmaster's office, Professor McGonagall departs. Looking around, Harry sees small intricate mechanisms on the many tables, portraits of sleeping past Headmasters and Headmistresses on the walls, and the Sorting Hat on a shelf behind a desk. Harry puts on the Hat, asking it if it still believes he should be in Slytherin. The Hat responds that Harry would have been great there. Returning it to the shelf, Harry says it is wrong. Harry then notices an ill-looking bird on a perch. It suddenly bursts into flames, crumbling into ashes. Professor Dumbledore enters, and, unperturbed about the bird, explains, "Fawkes is a Phoenix, Harry. Phoenixes burst into flames when it is time for them to die and are reborn from the ashes." Lifting a chick from the ashes, Dumbledore says Phoenixes are extremely beautiful, except on a burning day. Also, "they can carry extremely heavy loads, their tears have healing powers, and they make extremely faithful pets."

Hagrid suddenly bursts in, loudly proclaiming Harry's innocence. Dumbledore assures Hagrid that he does not suspect Harry of anything. Abashed, Hagrid leaves the office. Dumbledore then asks if Harry wants to tell him anything, but recalling Ron's words that hearing voices no one else can, even in the Wizarding world, is a bad thing, Harry says nothing about it. Dumbledore dismisses him, and he returns to his dormitory.

Nearly the entire school believes Harry is the Heir; Fred and George, however, joke about it, loudly proclaiming that a "seriously evil wizard" is approaching whenever Harry walks down the hall. While Harry appreciates their humorous gesture, Ginny seems distraught.

The term ends, and there are a few stayovers for Christmas, including Draco Malfoy, and his cronies Crabbe and Goyle. On Christmas morning, Hermione barges into the boys' dormitory, waking them up and letting them know the Polyjuice Potion is ready. Harry receives Christmas presents from the Weasleys, while the Dursleys have sent him a toothpick. After the magnificent Christmas feast, Hermione gives Harry and Ron two small cakes loaded with Sleeping Potion. They place them where Crabbe and Goyle will find them after leaving the Great Hall. Crabbe and Goyle promptly eat them; Ron and Harry drag the unconscious pair into a closet, gather a few hairs, and head for Moaning Myrtle's washroom where Hermione awaits with the potion.

Hermione has already plucked a hair from Millicent Bullstrode's robes. After adding the hairs and drinking the potion, Ron and Harry painfully transform into Crabbe and Goyle's likenesses. From a cubicle, Hermione tells Harry and Ron to go without her—something seems amiss, but she does not elaborate.

Ron and Harry have difficulty finding where the Slytherin common room is located. They even ask a Ravenclaw student for directions. Percy suddenly appears and threatens the two with detention for being out after hours. Draco intervenes just in time, and leads the impostors to the entrance to Slytherin's common room. He gives the password, "pure blood", and heads in. Ron, barely able to contain himself, becomes infuriated when Malfoy shows him an article in the Daily Prophet about Mr. Weasley being fined for having an enchanted Muggle car. Draco discusses the Chamber of Secrets, saying it was opened once before. A girl was killed by the Monster, and the person who released it is likely still in Azkaban. Draco also mentions that there is a secret chamber beneath Malfoy Manor's drawing room containing many Dark objects. Although he does not know who the Heir is, he wishes it was himself. His father has instructed him to stay uninvolved in the matter, however.

As the potion starts wearing off, Harry and Ron rush back to the washroom. Moaning Myrtle is laughing wildly at Hermione. Apparently, the hair Hermione used in her potion belonged to Millicent Bullstrode's cat. Hermione now has a furry face, pointed ears, and a bushy tail. As Polyjuice Potion is not intended for species transformations, it will not wear off on its own.

Analysis[edit]

Much is learned in this chapter. Our introduction to Dumbledore's office here gives insight into the Headmaster's nature, and perhaps Headmasters in general. The Put-Outer, which we saw in book 1's first chapter, clearly belongs in Dumbledore's collection, being the same type of magical / mechanical hybrid as the devices which fill Dumbledore's office. It may be that Dumbledore actually invents these objects, rather than simply collecting them.

Once again, the Sorting Hat states that Harry would be great in Slytherin House. By now Harry has seen hints that a link exists between him and Slytherin, notably Harry's ability to speak Parseltongue. This has left him unsure whether or not he is the Heir of Slytherin, as he is unable to fully trace his ancestry, though no one in the Potter family, unlike Slytherin's heirs, was known for speaking Parseltongue. There must be some other explanation for Harry having this ability. Despite vehemently denying the Hat's belief, however, Harry, already troubled by this possibility, must be even more upset at the Sorting Hat's insistence on this link.

Harry's ability to speak Parseltongue not only sets him apart from everyone else, but it causes many students to suspect and fear him. Based on his comments after bringing the Petrified Colin Creevey, the reader should guess that Dumbledore does not believe Harry is the Heir, but he is hoping Harry can shed some light on recent events. Hogwarts is a place where being a wizard is considered "normal," and, for the first time, Harry is allowed to fit in with others like himself. Now he finds he is once again disdained and ostracized because he has an ability others lack. He does not tell Dumbledore about the voice because he fears that admitting to others that he hears voices others cannot will only further ostracize him.

Dumbledore's emphasis on the Phoenix's abilities also seems more telling than we would expect, and it is likely foreshadowing. These birds are extremely loyal, can lift heavy weights, and have healing tears; how could these abilities assist Harry?

Harry and Ron, meanwhile, were unable to find the answer they were seeking, but they have gained some valuable information from Draco, who is so self-absorbed he cannot even detect that "Crabbe" and "Goyle" are acting oddly, even for them. Now Harry and Ron know definitively that someone other than Draco is the Heir of Slytherin, though Draco wishes it was him, a stark contrast to Harry, who still fears that he is the Heir. Draco's behavior is telling, not only about himself, but also Slytherins in general who, known for embodying stealth, cleverness, determination, and ambition, will often take the shortest and easiest available path to reach what they want. Draco desires to be Slytherin's Heir not only because he believes it will bestow enormous prestige on him, but because he can obtain it merely through an "accident of birth", basking in the reflected glory, rather than anything he deliberately worked hard at to achieve on his own. This is the polar opposite to Harry, who did inherit his fame by fate rather than by his own design—a fame that dismays him, and that he feels is undeserved and propels him to prove himself in other ways. Meanwhile, Harry and Ron also learn that the Malfoy family is hoarding Dark objects at their mansion, information Ron will likely share with Mr. Weasley as soon as possible.

The information that Harry and Ron do learn is thanks to Hermione's efforts, though she, unfortunately, pays a price. Despite her clever planning and meticulous effort in brewing the Polyjuice Potion, her one tiny mistake (assuming the stray hair was Millicent's) has resulted in a huge furry problem, landing her in the Hospital Wing. It seems likely, knowing Hermione's nature, that she is probably more upset that she made an error, than what resulted from it. Regardless, her role here shows how vitally important she is becoming to "The Trio."

Also, Slytherin's password, "pure blood," is certainly revealing, and it could be considered as their creed. It clearly re-enforces Slytherin House's belief that they are separate (and superior) to the other Houses. This belief in pureblood superiority becomes even more extreme and wide-spread as the series progresses.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Review[edit]

  1. Why does Harry feel the need to put the Sorting Hat on? What does it tell him and why does Harry disagree?
  2. Why did Draco's father order him to stay out of what is happening at Hogwarts? What does this indicate about Mr. Malfoy?

Further Study[edit]

  1. Should Harry have told Dumbledore about hearing voices? What would Dumbledore have done?
  2. Who might the person be who is still in Azkaban Prison that Draco is referring to?
  3. Why would Dumbledore have a Phoenix as a pet, and is that what Fawkes actually is? If not, what exactly is he?
  4. What are Fawkes' unique qualities, and how could that be valuable to Dumbledore?
  5. Why would Draco wish that he was the Heir of Slytherin? What does this say about his character?
  6. Is the ability to speak Parseltongue sufficient proof that Harry is the Heir of Slytherin? Give evidence both for and against this argument.

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

Harry meets Fawkes, Professor Dumbledore's Phoenix familiar. Fawkes plays an important part later in the year, twice saving Harry's life (once by blinding the Basilisk, then using his tears to cure Harry of the Basilisk venom). Additionally, his other abilities are necessary, because it is his loyalty to Dumbledore that summons him to Harry's defence, and his ability to lift heavy weights returns Harry and his co-adventurers to the surface after the battle. Fawkes will prove helpful both to Harry and to Dumbledore throughout the series.

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry learns that the Phoenix feather core of his holly wand, and of Voldemort's yew wand, both come from Fawkes. These are the only two tail feathers Fawkes has ever donated.

Draco's admission that he does not know who the Heir of Slytherin is, and that his father has told him nothing other than to stay uninvolved, is somewhat telling. Knowing what the Diary actually is, we can see that the Heir of Slytherin is, as Dumbledore has suggested, the same person as last time, Tom Riddle. However, that Lucius has given Draco no instructions, except to stay clear, again indicates that Lucius may lack a clear idea of what he has unleashed. If he does know more, Lucius may be withholding information from Draco because he believes Draco is still too young and irresponsible to be entrusted with Dark matters. Considering Draco has already blabbed what little he does know to the bogus Crabbe and Goyle, this is probably a correct assumption.

Having been to the Slytherin common room, Harry will be able to describe it accurately when claiming to be Vernon Dudley from Slytherin after the Snatchers catch him.

Ginny being distraught by the Twins' joking is worth mentioning. We believe Ginny has a crush on Harry, and presumably this alone would be enough to upset her; the Twins seem to be mocking Harry, and that may upset Ginny, despite Harry's appreciation that at least two people find any association between him and Slytherin laughable. Likely, though, Ginny's dismay is probably due to her dawning realization that she may acting as the Heir. Clearly she has begun to note that she is unable to remember anything during the intervals when the petrifications happened, and, as the Riddle Horcrux tells us later, Ginny fears she may be losing her mind. We should note that Ginny's attempt to discard the Diary will happen shortly before Hermione's release from the Hospital Wing in early February; this chapter of the story, encompassing the start of Christmas break, clearly is late December. As Ginny will attempt to flush the diary down Myrtle's lavatory in about a month, she must, in this chapter, already be very near the limit of stress she can take from the effects of the diary.

The sleeping headmasters' and headmistresses' portraits will play an active part starting from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The reader must be curious why these portraits seem so sleepy, when the portraits in the school proper are talkative and interact with students and faculty. Their apparent drowsiness is actually a means of concealment.

It will turn out that the Ravenclaw girl and Percy turning up in such proximity is not happenstance. We will learn later that she is Penelope Clearwater, a Prefect, and Percy's girlfriend. Penelope will be Petrified, and while we will see Percy's deep dismay at that occurrence, we will be carefully misled into believing that it is simply because Percy had previously believed Prefects to be invulnerable to attack.

Connections[edit]

  • Fawkes, first actually seen here, is a minor character and not properly a connection. However, his characteristics are important and do form connections.
  • The portraits of the sleeping headmasters will play parts in a number of subsequent books. We will first see them awake in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and we learn there that they can travel from those portraits to other portraits of themselves scattered around the world. The occupants of the portraits will thereafter generally play some part in any visit Harry makes to Dumbledore's office, and quite often to places where other portraits of headmasters are located. This will also prove a vital channel of communication for the Trio, as they will be carrying the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black, a past headmaster, with them through much of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
  • The small, intricate mechanisms on Dumbledore's tables will play a part in later books. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, one of them will be used to analyze the attack on Mr. Weasley. In that same book, the attempt to arrest Dumbledore will result in several of the mechanisms getting damaged. At the end of that book, Harry will be returned to Dumbledore's office, which he will find repaired; in his anger at Dumbledore he will destroy one of the tables and the mechanism on it. In this book, when the diary is sharing T. Riddle's memories, Harry recognizes that it is a memory in part because of the absence of mechanisms on tables in the Headmaster's office.
  • Earlier in this book, Ron laments that Percy is not willing to allow the family to use his owl, Hermes, leaving the Weasley family dependent on the aging Errol for their communication. Ginny will later tell us that Hermes is carrying letters back and forth to Penelope Clearwater, Percy's girlfriend. We see Penelope in this chapter, though she is not identified. She will be petrified by the basilisk later in this book. Percy keeping Hermes exclusively to himself will be mentioned in a later book, so we can assume that he keeps this pattern going through the intervening two years.
  • Harry's visit to the Slytherin common room in this chapter will aid him in the final book of the series. Captured, Harry will use this knowledge when claiming to be Vernon Dudley from Slytherin, and so will avoid immediate identification.