The Chamber of Secrets
Chapter 16 of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The Chamber of Secrets
Professor McGonagall reminds students that exams are starting next week, which apparently catches everyone by surprise. Considering the serious situation, it seemed unlikely that exams would be held. Three days later, it is announced that the Mandrakes are ready to be harvested, and the Petrified victims will be revived that night. Ginny, who appears somewhat upset, apparently has something important to tell Harry and Ron, but Percy arrives after a night's patrolling, and interrupts, causing her to run off. Ron is angry, believing Ginny may have wanted to tell them something about the Chamber of Secrets, but Percy claims it had nothing to do with the Chamber, and deflects further questions.
While the mystery may possibly be solved with Hermione's revival, Harry still wants to see Moaning Myrtle. An opportunity arises that morning: as Professor Lockhart escorts students to History of Magic class, Harry and Ron suggest there is no need to guard them any longer as Hagrid has been arrested. Lockhart agrees and goes off to take a nap. Harry and Ron head for Myrtle's bathroom, but Professor McGonagall intercepts them. Harry lies smoothly, saying they had intended to visit Hermione in the hospital wing. Touched by their apparent concern, McGonagall grants permission, which forces them to actually go to the infirmary. While there, they find a torn-out book page clutched in Hermione's petrified hand describing Basilisks. A Basilisk kills with its gaze, but no one had died because they weren't looking directly at it. Mrs. Norris saw a reflection in the water on the floor. Colin Creevey was looking through his camera lens. Justin saw it through Nearly Headless Nick, and, of course, Hermione had her mirror. This explains both the fleeing spiders and the killed roosters — spiders fear the basilisk, and a rooster's crow is fatal to it, so presumably whoever has been controlling it has also been killing the roosters. Harry hears the voice because he is a Parselmouth— the Basilisk is a snake. Hermione had guessed that it has been traveling through the walls and ceilings using the plumbing; the page in her hand has "Pipes" written in the margin. It occurs to Ron that, if Myrtle was the Basilisk's victim fifty years ago, the Chamber's entrance may be in her washroom.
Harry and Ron sprint to the staff room to report their findings to Professor McGonagall but find it empty. An announcement rings out ordering all students to their Houses and summoning the faculty to meet in the staff room. Harry and Ron hide so they can overhear what has happened. The staff arrive, and McGonagall reports that Ginny Weasley was taken into the Chamber. Lockhart arrives belatedly, and, after he is briefed, the other teachers challenge him to back his boasts by opening the Chamber and defeating the Monster. He excuses himself to go to his office and "prepare". Having gotten rid of him, the remaining instructors plan how to inform the students and discuss the school's future.
Harry and Ron rush to Lockhart's office to share what they know, but find him hastily packing. He confesses that he never actually performed the feats in his books. Rather, he took credit for other witches' and wizards' accomplishments, and erased their memories with a charm. He threatens Harry and Ron with a memory charm, but Harry disarms him, and Ron tosses his wand out the window. They force Lockhart to Moaning Myrtle's lavatory.
Myrtle reveals that when she was a student, she went into the washroom to have a bit of a cry. Hearing a boy's voice, she looked outside the cubicle and saw big yellow eyes—then she died. She points to one particular basin. Harry addresses it in Parseltongue, and it opens to reveal a vertical shaft. Ron and Harry push Lockhart down it first, then follow.
At the bottom of the shaft, they discover a giant snake skin on the ground. Lockhart pretends to faint, and as Ron approaches, he grabs Ron's wand. Lockhart says he will tell everyone that he defeated the monster, using the snake's skin as proof, and that Harry and Ron were tragically rendered insane upon seeing Ginny's dead body. He casts a memory charm, but Ron's broken wand backfires and explodes, erasing Lockhart's memory and causing the ceiling to collapse. Harry and Ron are unhurt, but the fallen rubble separates them. Harry leaves Ron to clear the rock fall while he explores the tunnel further ahead. Finding a door engraved with shimmering serpents, he opens it by speaking Parseltongue.
Throughout the series, Harry constantly succeeds because he is aided by friends and allies: he is the sum of many parts. With his friends' help, the mystery is nearly solved as the puzzle pieces fall into place. Hermione, through her usual diligent research, gathering information, and patiently working to understand what it all means, has discovered what the monster is and how it navigates throughout the school. It is by sheer luck that she was still clutching the torn-out book page when she was petrified, allowing Ron and Harry to find it. Ron's steadfast loyalty and Wizarding knowledge have aided Harry throughout. Hagrid also provided an important clue (through Aragog), while Moaning Myrtle gave valuable information when Ron and Harry's hunch that she was the victim who died 50 years ago proves correct. It is still unknown who the Heir of Slytherin is, though the tunnel Harry is about to enter will likely lead him to the answer.
Harry's ability to dissemble, possibly part of the reason the Sorting Hat wanted to place him in Slytherin, shows through in this chapter when he deceives Professor McGonagall in order to keep their plans secret. However, he does not frequently exploit this skill, instead, he uses it on impulse or when he deems it necessary.
Also, as one mystery is nearly solved another arises: Ginny. Unlike the apparent Muggle-borns that were targeted, she is a pure-blood. Why then was she taken into the Chamber? Is Neville correct that certain pure-bloods are being targeted? Rather than becoming another petrified victim, however, she likely plays some other integral part in this evil plot, judging by her recent odd behavior and her earlier urgent attempt to reveal something important to Harry and Ron. Just what her role is also remains unknown, but it should be assumed that she is someone's innocent pawn. It may be that this person would only use a pure-blood to execute his plan, though Ginny may be considered "disposable" once she is no longer useful. We should note that Percy's behavior may have seemed suspicious when he prevented Ginny from speaking to Harry and Ron, but from his comments afterwards we can guess it was probably unrelated to the monster or the Chamber of Secrets.
Lockhart is finally unmasked as the fraud we have always believed him to be, and the bogus claims in his books are now confirmed to be other wizards' accomplishments. After stealing their stories, he claims to have altered their memories. Magically he seems quite weak, except for Memory charms, and Harry easily disarms him, as Professor Snape had in the Dueling Club. Lockhart is likely somewhat transparent to other wizards; he is certainly not held in particular esteem by any Hogwarts instructor, so it is entirely possible that those whose stories he stole may have deliberately given him misinformation. This could explain his confidence in the ineffectual Pixie-banishing charm he used in the first Defence Against the Dark Arts class. Of course, he likely never attempted it before, merely borrowing it from a more accomplished wizard.
With this revelation, it is worthwhile re-examining the technique the Weasley children used for de-gnoming the garden earlier. While we are never explicitly told that this technique came from Lockhart's book, the reference to Gilderoy Lockhart's Guide to Household Pests hints at that being the source. That the technique is, ultimately, ineffectual, is the same pattern that we have seen in Lockhart's activities to date, and so would suggest Lockhart was the originator. It is unlikely that Lockhart would have been able to publish a book on household pests under his own name unless he was already famous for his writings, so we can safely assume that several of his earlier works were already doing well in the magical bookstores. More competent magicians would have realized by that time, from reading his books, that his stories were questionable, and so when Lockhart, doing his "research", consulted a trained pest-removal wizard for information on removal of household pests, likely he would have been deliberately given misinformation. It is perhaps a shame that the wizards who provided the information would then have their memory modified, as it would prevent them from properly appreciating the joke they had played on Lockhart.
This is a particularly telling comment about celebrity's nature and those seeking fame. Lockhart, who the author has stated was modeled on a real person, is clearly willing to sacrifice anyone and anything to keep his own star bright. Harry, who Hagrid had earlier said is more famous than Lockhart would ever be, clearly is uninterested in the fame he has fallen into; throughout this book he tries, often futilely, to shun the limelight. In contrast to Harry, who remains a solid, sympathetic character despite his renown, Lockhart has fashioned himself into a glossy, empty shell, and the reader cannot help but be pleased to see him hoist by his own petard.
As they approach the Chamber, Ron's broken wand finally does something well: when Lockhart grabs it and, unconcerned whether Ginny may still be alive, attempts to erase Harry and Ron's memories, it backfires and Obliviates him, as well as causing a small explosion. We have seen this particular misbehaviour before, when Ron tried to jinx Draco and ended up jinxing himself. This backfire ends Lockhart's plan to claim he found the Chamber and destroyed the monster, at the cost of Ginny's life and Ron and Harry's sanity. With his memory erased, he has received the same as what he inflicted on other wizards—a fitting punishment. However, the explosion has separated Harry from Ron. Now, Harry must search for Ginny alone, without his friend's help.
- Why do Harry and Ron want to talk to Moaning Myrtle?
- Why are the roosters being killed? Do we know who or what is doing it?
- Why are the spiders fleeing the castle?
- What does Lockhart do when the Hogwarts teachers call on him to save Ginny? What explains his actions?
- What might Ginny have wanted to tell Harry and Ron? Why does she seem so upset?
- Why does Percy prevent Ginny from speaking to Harry and Ron?
- Why was Ginny, a "pure-blood", abducted when most of the other victims were Muggle-born?
- Why do the teachers really challenge Lockhart to open the Chamber of Secrets and fight the monster?
- How did Hermione deduce that the monster is actually a Basilisk? Trace her steps in figuring this out and state the facts she found.
- Why did Lockhart use Ron's wand, knowing it was damaged?
- Professor McGonagall says the Petrified victims will be cured later that evening. Why are Harry and Ron unable to wait until then to talk to Hermione? What do they do instead, and would it have been better if they had waited?
- How was Lockhart able to maintain his charade for so long?
The backfired memory charm's effects on Lockhart will be long-term, and Lockhart has yet to recover when we meet him again, some three years later. This is to be expected, in a way; Lockhart intended for the charm he cast at Ron to be everlasting, so when it backfired, it is to be expected that it would permanently affect him.
Even this early, the main characters' future romantic entanglements are seen. Ginny, having something important she needs to tell someone, approaches Harry first, rather than her brothers. Of course, earlier in the book, Ginny showed the classic schoolgirl crush on Harry. A person is often too shy or awed by the one she has a crush on to ever approach him. That Ginny can now go to Harry may indicate that her feelings have matured and deepened, possibly beyond the crush level. Despite several side roads on both Harry's and Ginny's part, this relationship will persist, off and on, throughout the entire series.
We also see the first of several progressively-larger hints the author drops about a budding relationship between Ron and Hermione. While Ron is upset over the Monster's depredations, he is far more affected by Hermione being petrified than anyone else, excepting his sister, Ginny. True to his character, though, Ron will be unable to recognize the basis of his concern for several years yet.
It is mentioned that Harry has to speak to the basin twice to get it to open; the first time, Ron tells him that he was speaking English. That Harry is unable to tell whether he is speaking English or Parseltongue should hardly be surprising, as he is unable to differentiate between the two languages when hearing them; no one else can understand the Basilisk, because to them its speech is a low, indistinguishable hissing, while to Harry it sounds like plain speech. This will be a plot point in the series' final book.
As a sidenote, in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry again enters an unknown tunnel (to the Shrieking Shack), following a friend (Ron) who has been taken against his will, that seemingly leads him to disaster, but results in another mystery being solved.
- Harry's ability to speak to snakes is first seen in the first book of the series, and no mention is made there of whether Harry perceives that the snake is not speaking English. We noted Harry's inability to tell the difference between English and Parseltongue in an earlier chapter. This is a key point in this book, as he perceives the Monster's voice at several points and does not recognize that the Monster is not speaking in English. We see this confusion again in this chapter, when Harry has a need to speak Parseltongue and finds it difficult to switch, and it will be a minor plot point in the final book.
- Basilisk venom, and basilisk fangs, will be found to be of use in completing Harry's series-long mission. Having learned of the existence of the Chamber in this book, and hearing the relatively simple Parseltongue password, Ron will later open the Chamber himself in order to retrieve some basilisk fangs.