Chapter 2 of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Dobby's Warning
The strange, small creature on Harry's bed has large, green eyes, pointy ears, and is wearing a ragged pillowcase. He introduces himself as Dobby, a House-elf. Dobby is unable to reveal the Wizarding family that owns him, and hits himself uncontrollably each time he tries. He also punishes himself for speaking badly about his masters and for leaving his home without permission, which he did to deliver a dire warning: Harry must not return to Hogwarts because terrible events will happen at the school. Dobby is once again unable to provide more details. When Harry ignores his warning, Dobby taunts him about his friends not writing to him all summer. When Harry asks how Dobby knew that, Dobby admits having intercepted Harry's letters hoping Harry would think his friends no longer cared about him, and so would not return to school.
Furious, Harry chases Dobby downstairs, where the Dursleys are dining with the Masons. Dobby levitates Aunt Petunia's cake. When Harry refuses his demand to stay away from Hogwarts, Dobby drops the cake, splattering cream over Petunia's spotless kitchen before vanishing. The Dursleys blame Harry, and Uncle Vernon attempts to pacify the Masons, telling them his nephew is slightly disturbed. However, when a messenger owl arrives, Mrs. Mason becomes frightened, dashing Uncle Vernon's hopes for a lucrative business deal.
The owl-borne letter is from Mafalda Hopkirk, an official at the Ministry of Magic, stating that Harry has violated the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery. Any further magic on Harry's part while away from school may be grounds for expulsion from Hogwarts. Uncle Vernon locks Harry into his bedroom and bars the window, now knowing he is unable to use magic to escape.
Three days later, a rattling on the window bars awakens Harry; in the moonlight, Harry sees Ron peering in at him.
Harry is once again manipulated by forces he is unable to control. A House-elf wants to prevent his return to Hogwarts, nominally for Harry's own protection, though no specific information is provided as to what peril could be there. Harry, believing in his own strength, never considers any real danger awaits at Hogwarts, at least nothing serious enough to compel him to remain at the Dursleys. Dobby probably would have revealed additional information if he could, but as he appears to be a slave, he is likely prohibited from saying more. Of course, there is no definitive proof yet that the House-elf's warning is genuine, and there could even be some sinister motive behind his actions, though that seems unlikely — Dobby's character and actions seem too simplistic and transparent for such a deception, and the deception he does admit to, intercepting Harry's letters, seems almost child-like in its execution and expectation.
If Dobby is indeed being truthful, then his emotional reaction to Harry's respectful manner provides a glimpse into the Wizarding world beyond what Harry, and readers, have seen so far. Dobby's reaction suggests that non-human magical creatures are probably poorly treated in Wizarding society. Also, Dobby's reverential treatment toward Harry re-enforces his fame, and indicates it is even more wide-spread than Harry realized. Harry is still uncomfortable with the unwanted attention, and the knowledge that everyone knows more about him than he does. This fame, at least while he must stay at the Dursleys, is anything but an asset, resulting in his family treating him even more disdainfully as the magical world they so detest increasingly seeps into the Dursley household.
The Ministry's letter clearly surprises Harry. While he had been warned against using magic at home, he was unaware the Ministry could monitor him. However, they obviously are unable to detect just who performed the magic, as it was assumed it was Harry who cast the Hover charm. Harry's obvious fear while in the kitchen with Dobby was concern that Vernon would punish him for disobeying his orders, rather than the Ministry detecting him using magic. Harry knows Vernon still has significant power over him and can make his life even more miserable. Harry may also fear that Vernon will attempt to prevent him returning to Hogwarts, a fear that seems justified when Harry's bedroom becomes a jail cell.
Tension gradually mounts as Harry's chances to return to the place he loves grow ever more remote. While Ron's appearance at the window brings some immediate relief, it also raises questions: though Ron knows Harry's situation, how can he, also being underage, help Harry? And how, in fact, did he reach Harry's room without triggering a similar Ministry warning?
- Why can't Dobby reveal what the danger is to Harry?
- Why does Uncle Vernon lock Harry in his bedroom?
- Why would Dobby want to help Harry?
- How could Dobby know something bad might happen to Harry at Hogwarts? What danger might that be?
- How could Dobby, as a slave in another wizard household, be able to stop Harry's mail for all that time without his masters' noticing his absence?
- Can Dobby be trusted, or could he be involved in a plot to harm Harry? Explain.
- Why does the Ministry believe it was Harry who cast the Hover charm?
- Why did the Ministry notice Dobby's magic at the Dursley house, but not the magic that Hagrid used in the first book?
- What does Dobby's reaction to the way Harry treats him indicate?
- Why has Ron appeared at Harry's window? How can Ron, also too young to use magic, help Harry?
Dobby, we will eventually learn, is the Malfoy family's House-elf; we, like Harry, don't yet know this for certain, as he is restricted from revealing anything to Harry. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dobby's poor condition reflects how the Malfoys generally treat anyone they consider beneath them, just as Harry's physical condition reflects how badly the Dursleys treat him. We have already seen the Malfoys' disdain for those they consider their inferiors, as shown by Draco's treatment of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville, treatment that will continue throughout the series. It is Dobby's similarly shabby treatment, compared with how Ron, Hermione, and Harry are treated by Draco, that leads the reader to guess, possibly before Harry, that Dobby is the Malfoy's House-elf.
Dobby is a minor character, though he proves extremely useful to Harry throughout the series. Here, he is violating orders by speaking to Harry; we gather this is because Dobby knows how House-elves' lots improved since the Dark Lord's fall following his encounter with Harry, and, aware that the Malfoys are planning some mischief at Hogwarts, has taken it upon himself to warn Harry. Dobby's freely-given loyalty to Harry will continue, and is returned with Harry's respect and treatment due an equal. The contrast between Dobby responding to Harry's needs, and his response to the Malfoys' demands, is a lesson in the difference and value of loyalty that is freely given as opposed to it being demanded.
It should be noted here that Dobby's expectations for ill-treatment from humans seems common among House-elves; we will see it again in Kreacher, and to a lesser extent in Winky. Later, we see that Ron, though treating House-elves benignly, also considers them as menials, while Harry and Hermione feel differently; Hermione is even moved to create a student organization, S.P.E.W., that advocates elf rights. Harry and Hermione have both been raised in non-magical households, and so only recently learned that House-elves existed and are enslaved. Raised as Muggle children, Harry and Hermione were isolated from the prevailing belief that House-elves are an under-class, and should be treated accordingly. Ron, having been raised in the magical world, believes it is morally acceptable to enslave these creatures, and agrees with the generally-held view that most elves are treated well, and are happy only when they have masters to serve. While this may actually be an accurate assessment, it could have resulted from centuries of selective breeding and behavioral conditioning. Bigotry towards House-elves, other non-human magical creatures, and also Muggle-born wizards and witches is a recurring theme throughout the series.
What Lucius Malfoy is planning to send into the school is Tom Riddle's Diary. It is always uncertain whether Malfoy knows exactly what the result will be, or even what the Diary is (Voldemort's Horcrux). The Diary, we later learn, was likely given to Lucius with information that it was an anti-Mudblood weapon, though without details as to how precisely how it would act. If Malfoy had known that the weapon was barely controllable and largely indiscriminate, he might have balked at putting it in such close proximity to his son, Draco, or would at least have issued Draco a stronger warning.
Interestingly, Dobby seems to be better aware of the threat's precise nature than Lucius Malfoy, who is orchestrating it. When Harry asks if the threat is connected to "He Who Must Not Be Named", Dobby claims it is not, but seems to be hinting at something. In the book's final chapter, Dobby states it was not precisely "He Who Must Not Be Named", as the threat was actually from before he stopped using the name Tom Marvolo Riddle in favour of the tabooed "Lord Voldemort". Dobby is clearly aware this early in the book that the threat, as embodied by the Diary and its embedded Horcrux, is Tom Riddle, who only later adopted his new, self-imposed title. We hear later that Lucius had told his son, Draco, that he did not know who the Heir of Slytherin was. We cannot know if Lucius was lying, but whether or not he knew that the Heir was Tom Riddle, he was probably ignorant about the precise nature of the weapon embedded in the Diary; if he had known that it was a Horcrux, he likely would have been far more careful about what he did with it, and would have known that the plan to attack Hogwarts with it would have to be placed in abeyance until Voldemort had returned and could give the go-ahead.
While Dobby knew Tom Riddle would be the threat's agent, it is unlikely he knew how the threat would be carried out. Dobby is probably unaware of what had happened the previous time the Chamber was opened, as Lucius was a student significantly after that sequence of events. (Tom Riddle had attended Hogwarts some fifty years before this; Lucius Malfoy, only about twenty years previous.)
It is mentioned elsewhere that stories involving magic have a drawback: by making anything possible and largely effortless, it becomes too easy for the hero to succeed, thus making the story uninteresting. The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery is an intriguing method for the author to impose limitations on using magic. Harry certainly could make his life easier by judiciously using magic during his summer vacations, but that would remove an interesting plot point. The Dursleys, annoying as they are, will remain useful as a contrast to Harry's life at Hogwarts, and his means of coping with his aunt and uncle without using magic becomes a ruler by which to measure his growing character and maturity. There is an exception to this in the next book when Harry reacts against his family using magic, though it is entirely unintentional, driven by extreme emotions after provocation.
The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery is significant later in the series. The decree states that it is a "reasonable" restriction, indicating that circumstances exist under which a minor can use magic, presumably in an emergency situation. While Harry is only issued a warning for the Hover charm, which he did not even cast, later, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, when Harry and cousin Dudley are attacked by Dementors intending to suck out their souls, Harry casts a Patronus charm to repel them. However, the Ministry of Magic immediately suspends Harry from Hogwarts and charges him with a crime, forcing him to attend a full Ministry hearing. Their sole motive at that time is to permanently expel him not only from Hogwarts, but wizard society, thus removing him as an impediment to the Ministry's official agenda regarding Voldemort. The Ministry misuses the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery solely to achieve this; Harry is forced to prove that his using magic in that situation is, in fact, reasonable, in the face of a court biased strongly against him.
- The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery is here mentioned for the first time by name. It is earlier mentioned in the previous book and in the first chapter of this book without being named. Concerns about violating this Decree will cause Harry to bolt early in the next book, only to be effectively pardoned in the following chapter. The Decree is mentioned again in the fifth book, and it is used later in that book as a weapon against Harry, at which it proves inadequate. Finally it is mentioned that the Trace enforcing the Decree has been terminated on the morning of Harry's 17th birthday.
- "Harry Potter" is the first thing Dobby says in the series. It will be also the last thing he says in the series, before he dies.
- The warning letter was sent by Mafalda Hopkirk. Mafalda will send Harry two more letters when he uses magic to protect himself and Dudley from Dementors. Later, when the Trio breaks into the Ministry, Hermione will be disguised as Mafalda by using Polyjuice Potion.