The Deathday Party
Chapter 8 of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The Deathday Party
October is marked by continuous rainstorms; the lake rises, the flowerbeds turn into muddy streams, and Hagrid's pumpkins have grown as big as garden sheds. Oliver Wood, however, sees no reason to let up on Quidditch practice, so it is hardly surprising that Harry is soaked and dripping mud as he heads to Gryffindor Tower after practice. On the way, he meets Nearly Headless Nick, and they discuss their respective troubles: Nick is upset because his application to join the Headless Hunt has been rejected again; being only nearly headless disqualifies him. Harry, meanwhile, dreads the coming game with the Slytherin Quidditch team, mounted on their new Nimbus 2001 brooms. Mrs. Norris, Filch's cat suddenly appears, and Nick warns Harry that Filch is in a bad mood. Filch's sudden appearance through a tapestry thwarts Harry's escape attempt. Incensed by the water and mud dripping off Harry's Quidditch robes, Filch orders him to his office where he fills out a form recommending punishment for "befouling the castle." A loud noise interrupts him, and Filch charges off after Peeves, hoping he has done something unforgivable that will permanently ban him from Hogwarts. During Filch's absence, Harry notices an envelope on his desk for a correspondence course called "Kwikspell," for home-study magic. When Filch returns, he notices the envelope has been moved and, embarrassed, lets Harry go.
On exiting Filch's office, Harry meets Nearly Headless Nick again. Nick arranged for Peeves to tip over a black and gold cabinet to distract Filch. Nick invites Harry to his Deathday Party to celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of his death, which occurred 31 October, 1492. He also invites Ron and Hermione, who are both keen to attend.
On Hallowe'en, the Trio descend to the Dungeons and are met by Nick and a panoply of ghosts, including Moaning Myrtle and Peeves. The gathering is rather uncomfortable for the living, and when Peeves insults Moaning Myrtle, causing her to run off sobbing, Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide it is time to leave.
As they exit the dungeon, Harry hears the same voice as in Professor Lockhart's office. He follows it, with Hermione and Ron tagging behind, through the Entry Hall to the first floor. Sloshing through water covering the hallway's floor, he sees writing on the wall: "The Chamber Of Secrets Has Been Opened. Enemies Of the Heir, Beware." Mrs. Norris is hanging from a torch bracket, apparently dead. Before the Trio can react, students leaving the Hallowe'en Feast surround them. Malfoy's voice rings out: "Enemies of the Heir, beware! You'll be next, Mudbloods!"
The Deathday Party gives readers a rare glimpse into how Hogwarts' ghosts interact with one another, as well as with the living. Even in death, they appear to be a typical community, behaving and interacting much the same as living people, socializing, arguing, cooperating, and even deliberately annoying and upsetting one another, as Peeves (who is a poltergeist) does when he insults Myrtle, causing her to rush off sobbing. The Ghosts generally like Harry and welcome the Trio's presence at the party, though it all seems rather odd to Harry, Hermione, and Ron. The ghosts, and Nick, in particular, always appear willing to help Harry whenever he needs it, such as when Peeves and Nick distracted Filch. Whether or not Ghosts can actually be happy in their dead state is unclear, but they appear to adapt and some find useful roles for themselves, such as the mascots for the school Houses, and Professor Binns, who continues teaching at Hogwarts after his death, apparently unaware at first that he had died. Moaning Myrtle, however, remains perpetually morose, possibly over her premature death, though it is not entirely clear why. It is also unclear, just yet, why some people become ghosts and remain within the living world, while others, such as Harry's parents, apparently do not. Harry must also wonder why this is, as well as what happens to those who are not ghosts. Also, Nick's Deathday party must be making Harry somewhat uncomfortable, it being the same day, October 31, that his parents were murdered by Voldemort.
The author excels at what is called "the set-up and the pay-off", the ability to write something that begs a question, then is followed later by an answer that illuminates more than the question asked. This chapter contains a small example: on Filch's desk is an envelope for a correspondence course that apparently teaches basic magic. Filch is horribly embarrassed when it is seen. Why?
And though it had been apparent only to Harry and readers that unusual events have been unfolding at Hogwarts, the bloody writing on the wall is the first concrete evidence that something sinister is underway. While this apparently strikes fear in most students, Malfoy, as smug as usual, seemed unsurprised and uses it as an opportunity to threaten those he considers inferior. It is unclear if he is in any way involved, though his earlier insult to Hermione, calling her a Mudblood, and his callous attitude now, indicates that while he may not be directly responsible, he may know something about what has happened.
This is the first concrete date given in the books for when the series is taking place. Unfortunately, it conflicts with many days of the week reported in the story; specifically, for instance, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, we learn that Harry was orphaned on October 31. If his second year at Hogwarts starts in September 1992, as here implied by the date given for Nearly Headless Nick's Deathday, then he must have turned 11 on 31 July 1991. As his birth date then would be 31 July 1980, he would have been orphaned on October 31, 1981. The book explicitly states that the next day was a Tuesday; but November 1, 1981 was a Sunday. Similarly, days of the week are given for Hallowe'en and for all three tasks in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but do not line up with the days of the week in 1994 and 1995.
These failures of correspondence between the series timeline and our physical calendar are unimportant to the story's overall sweep, so while they may be mentioned, they are provided more as a curiosity than as something the scholar need concern himself with.
- Why do Peeves and Nick create a distraction? Is it effective?
- Why does Nick invite Harry, Ron, and Hermione to his Deathday Party? Why might this be particularly unpleasant for Harry?
- Why does Moaning Myrtle run off sobbing? Is she over-reacting?
- Why does Filch suddenly seem embarrassed?
- What does "Enemies of the Heir beware" mean?
- Who or what attacked Mrs. Norris? Why?
- Does Draco know something about the message on the wall? Explain.
The voice Harry hears is, as mentioned in the Greater Picture section of the previous chapter, the voice of the Monster in the Chamber, now temporarily released. We will learn that the Monster is a Basilisk, navigating within the walls by means of the pipes, and entering the school via Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. It is no accident that the writing on the wall and Mrs. Norris' body are found outside Myrtle's bathroom, but this is never mentioned, even when Harry later guesses that the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets lies there.
It is also mentioned that Professor Lockhart does not hear the voice, despite its obvious anger and violence, when Harry hears it in Lockhart's study. We note that in this chapter, neither Ron nor Hermione can detect it either; they simply follow Harry's lead, bemused. Ron will remark that, even among wizards, hearing voices nobody else can hear is a sign of insanity; this will have some effect on Harry's actions in a later chapter, when Professor Dumbledore asks him if there is anything else Harry wants to mention.
Moaning Myrtle departing the party proves somewhat critical for reasons explained later in this book. Because Peeves upset her, Myrtle deliberately floods the hallway outside her bathroom. While we do not see the bathroom here, in a later instance, when someone "throws a book through Myrtle's head," Harry and Ron enter the bathroom, finding all the taps turned on, the gushing water overflowing onto the bathroom floor and into the hall. As an aside, a popular slang term for crying is "turning on the waterworks;" it seems Myrtle takes the expression literally. We will shortly find that Mrs. Norris is petrified, rather than dead; if the hallway had not been flooded, the Basilisk's glance would have killed her. Because Mrs. Norris saw the Basilisk's reflection from the water, rather than looking at it directly, she was spared. Mrs. Norris is the first to avoid directly sighting the Basilisk, and through luck or design, the Basilisk's other victims all avoid direct eye contact, saving their lives. However, fifty years earlier, another victim met a different fate.
Harry has inadvertently discovered something generally unknown about Filch: he is a Squib. Squibs are born into Wizarding families but have no magical abilities themselves. Filch is apparently hoping to overcome this "accident-of-birth" by taking a correspondence magic course. While Harry now knows that Filch is trying to learn magic, he does not yet understand this fact's import. Ron explains the details to Harry in the next chapter.
It is worth noting that though the cabinet that Peeves knocks over to distract Filch is insignificant to this book's storyline, it reappears in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince it is a major plot device. In both appearances, its being broken is important.
- The Disappearing Cabinet that Peeves knocks over and breaks here is twin to the one that Harry hid inside at Borgin and Burkes earlier. The twins will force Montague into it in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; Montague will sense, somehow, that the other cabinet of the pair is the one in Borgin and Burkes, and Draco will get that information from him. Draco will then spend most of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince attempting to repair it; once he succeeds, he will use it to allow Death Eaters to enter the school, avoiding the school's protective spells.
- While Neville had previously mentioned that he was "almost a Muggle", the discovery that there is a market for courses to teach magic is our first indication that Neville's lack of magical ability may be common enough to make commercial exploitation of it possible. In the next chapter, we will learn that "squibs", non-magical offspring of magical families, exist. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix we will learn that they are sometimes employed by people in the Wizarding world. And in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows we will learn that having a Squib child was, in the past, considered somehow shameful, a prejudice that likely remains active to some degree even at the time these books are set.