The Heir of Slytherin

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Chapter 17 of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The Heir of Slytherin← Chapter 16 | Chapter 18 →


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Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Harry enters a long chamber; at the opposite end is a giant wizard statue, with an ancient, monkey-like face, a long thin beard, and wearing sweeping robes. Ginny is lying on the floor. As Harry tries to revive her, a tall, black-haired boy identifying himself as Tom Riddle approaches. Riddle, carrying Harry's dropped wand, explains he is a memory, preserved in his Diary for fifty years. He opened the Chamber of Secrets fifty years ago, intending to purge Muggle-borns and Half-bloods from the school. However, when the attacks were about to close the school and because Dumbledore (then the Transfiguration teacher) kept such a close watch on him, he halted the attacks and framed Hagrid. He left behind a Diary containing his sixteen-year-old self's memory in hopes it would, one day, fall into an unsuspecting victim's hands to help finish his work.

Ginny had been writing in the Diary all year. Riddle answered sympathetically, and Ginny confessed her fears, hopes, and feelings to him, partially pouring her soul into him during the process, which was exactly what he wanted. Gradually growing more powerful, he eventually poured a portion of his own soul back into her, possessing her and using her body to strangle the school roosters, write on the walls, and open the Chamber of Secrets. He tells Harry how Ginny related Harry's entire history and how happy he was when Harry found the Diary after Ginny, becoming fearful, threw it away. He was disappointed when Ginny reclaimed it. Seeing Harry with the Diary on Valentine's day, she feared it would reveal her secrets, and so she ransacked Harry's room to retrieve it. Tom forced Ginny into the Chamber for two purposes: first, to sap her remaining life force and fully return to life; and second, to lure Harry Potter there so he could meet him directly.

Tom wants to know how Harry, an ordinary baby wizard, could have defeated Lord Voldemort, the most powerful wizard of the age. Harry wonders why Tom cares. Riddle reveals he is a Half-blood. His mother named him Tom after his Muggle father and Marvolo after his wizard grandfather, a descendant of Salazar Slytherin. He scrambled his name to create a new one—Lord Voldemort, a name he knew people would fear when he became the most powerful Wizard in the world. It was also a way to eliminate his Muggle father's name. Harry states Voldemort was not the most powerful wizard, Albus Dumbledore is. He says Dumbledore probably saw right through Tom when he was at school and is still stronger than Voldemort. When Tom says Dumbledore was driven from the school by Tom's memory, Harry retorts that Dumbledore may be closer than Tom realizes.

Fawkes, Dumbledore's Phoenix, suddenly appears in a burst of fire and drops the Sorting Hat at Harry's feet, then perches on his shoulder. Tom is openly contemptuous: a songbird and an old hat. This is what Dumbledore sends to his allies? Tom again demands to know how Harry defeated him when he was only a baby. Riddle's form is becoming more solid as Ginny's life force ebbs. Harry must act quickly if he is to defeat him and save Ginny. Harry tells Riddle that by sacrificing her life for her son, his mother saved him from Voldemort and reduced him to an ineffectual remnant.

Containing his rage, Tom agrees that that indeed would be a powerful protection. He then summons the monster—a Basilisk. Harry avoids its deadly gaze, as Fawkes takes flight. Harry is smashed against the wall by the snake's coil but is not bitten. Fawkes blinds the Basilisk, and Tom again orders the serpent to kill Harry, telling it to smell him. The thrashing snake has swept the Sorting Hat into Harry's arms. He puts it on, thinking, "Help me!" The Hat constricts sharply and something bumps his head. Removing it, Harry finds a sword inside. As the Basilisk strikes, Harry impales it through the roof of its mouth and into its brain, killing it. But a single venomous fang pierces his arm.

Harry removes the fang, but it is too late. As the venom spreads, Harry dimly sees Fawkes land beside him. Riddle says Harry will soon be dead, even Dumbledore's weeping bird knows it. But suddenly remembering that Phoenix tears heal wounds, Riddle attempts a Killing Curse. Before he can strike, Fawkes drops the Diary into Harry's lap, and Harry stabs it with the fang, destroying Tom Riddle.

As Riddle vanishes, Ginny, gasping, awakens. Now sobbing, she had wanted to tell Harry that the Diary was controlling her, but Percy prevented her. Harry leads her from the Chamber to where Ron is clearing away rocks. Ron explains that Lockhart has forgotten everything, even his own name.

Remembering that Phoenixes can lift amazingly heavy loads, Harry has everyone join hands with him while he grasps Fawkes' tailfeathers. Fawkes lifts them from the Chamber to Moaning Myrtle's washroom. Myrtle seems mildly disappointed that Harry has survived, saying she'd be willing to share her toilet with him if he died. Fawkes then leads everyone to Professor McGonagall's office.


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In Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone, Harry, attempting to find and protect the Stone, was aided by his friends until they reached a certain point, then Harry was forced to confront Voldemort alone. Once again, Harry must follow a dangerous, unknown path by himself that he hopes leads to a solution: saving Ginny. As before, his friends' assistance brought him only so far, then circumstances forced him to continue on alone. This time, Harry also placed his faith into what he believed was an ally, that being Tom Riddle's memory, only to be betrayed when Riddle reveals himself as Lord Voldemort's younger self who lured Harry into a trap. Harry, still young and innocent, will likely never again be as trusting.

Riddle reveals the hidden back story to the recent events only because he arrogantly assumes Harry is about to die and no longer poses a threat. For Harry, obtaining this knowledge nearly cost him his life, and it is only Harry's loyalty to Dumbledore that saves him and Ginny. It is the expression of that loyalty which summons Dumbledore's Phoenix, Fawkes, who brings the Sorting Hat. In what becomes a common trait, Voldemort reacts with supreme overconfidence in himself, derisively dismissing the Hat's importance, considering it a harmless artifact rather than an instrument that delivers Dumbledore's potent power – power that is extended to Harry through the Sword of Gryffindor. The Sword becomes a recurring symbol throughout the series, representing justice, courage, and strength when wielded by a heroic figure, in this case, Harry. Voldemort, of course, vastly underestimated Harry's abilities. Though Riddle depended on Harry's cleverness to lead him into the Chamber, he never considered him capable enough to slay the Basilisk or the Diary. But even as Voldemort is apparently gaining strength, so Harry grows stronger and cleverer each time he confronts and thwarts the Dark Lord. And though Tom Riddle's Diary has been destroyed, Harry does not assume this is the last time he will encounter Lord Voldemort.

It should be noted that Tom Riddle's memory acted independently, taking over another person's life force (Ginny) to reanimate itself and manipulating events inside the school from the Chamber. This proves an unusual enough characteristic to warrant special attention. It certainly indicates that Voldemort, who still lacks a human body, can manifest himself in different forms, each apparently equally powerful.

Throughout this chapter Voldemort demonstrates his cruelty, and how it manifested even when he was only in his teenage years. (The version of Riddle's persona entrapped in the diary would not age, and clearly retains the characteristics of his 17-year-old self.) It more than proves that while he definitely hates Muggles, Muggle-borns, Half-bloods, and Squibs, what he wants, more than the recognition of his own pureblood self-righteousness, is his own personal power. If he needs to manipulate purebloods to get it, then that's what he'll do. The so-called Purity of Blood is certainly more important to a man like Lucius Malfoy than to Voldemort.


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


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  1. How is Harry able to look at the Basilisk without it killing him?
  2. Why was Ginny taken into the Chamber?
  3. How and why does the Sword of Gryffindor suddenly appear in the Sorting Hat? Where did it come from?
  4. How was the Diary able to deceive Ginny?
  5. Why did Ginny begin to fear the Diary, prompting her to throw it away?
  6. How does Harry know to stab the Diary?

Further Study

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  1. What caused Fawkes to suddenly appear in the Chamber bearing the Sorting Hat?
  2. How is Fawkes able to blind the Basilisk without being killed?
  3. How can Tom Riddle look into the Basilisk eyes without being affected?
  4. Why does Riddle ridicule Fawkes and the Sorting Hat?

Greater Picture

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

Riddle repeatedly says the Diary contains Tom's memory, which is what Harry sees and talks to. However, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Professor Dumbledore points out that Riddle's Diary does far more than a memory should be able to - it can independently think and respond, possess a person to do its bidding, and it can sap a person's life force to create a body for itself. This strongly indicates that the Diary actually is a Horcrux, a soul shard that renders a person immortal as long as the Horcrux remains intact. Or rather, this was a Horcrux until Harry destroyed it. At the time, Dumbledore expresses concern that the way the Horcrux was treated, as a weapon, is not how one would expect someone's sole chance at immortality to be handled; one would expect that an object containing a Horcrux would be hidden away safely. This one's apparent design argues that Voldemort has several Horcruxes... but how many?

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it is revealed that Harry has lucked into one of the few methods to destroy a Horcrux: Basilisk venom. It is learned that a Horcrux will act to protect itself; to destroy one, its physical container must be irrevocably damaged beyond ordinary magic's ability to repair. Also in that chapter, it will be revealed that the only known cure for Basilisk venom is Phoenix tears. Phoenixes are extremely rare creatures, so their tears are certainly outside the realm of ordinary magic.

This creates an apparent problem: a Phoenix is in close proximity shortly before Harry stabs the Diary. Could not the Diary, using ordinary magic such as the Accio charm, summon Fawkes' tears? Possibly, but the author has stated in an interview given after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published, that she carefully distanced the Phoenix before the death blow. And looking at the sequence of events, we see that Riddle attempted to Curse Fawkes, driving him away, before Harry stabbed the Diary.

Readers should also pay attention to the Sorting Hat delivering Gryffindor's Sword to Harry. During the final battle at Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, another worthy Gryffindor, Neville Longbottom, also extracts the Sword from the Hat, using it to destroy a Horcrux. This time, however, it is Voldemort himself who summons the Hat from the Headmaster's office, using it as a means to torture Neville, and apparently unaware that it can produce the weapon.

Ron will also wield the Sword when, after heroically saving Harry and recovering the Sword from a frozen pond where it was hidden, he destroys a Horcrux with it in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It will be learned that Dumbledore also uses the blade to destroy a Horcrux.

There are several other useful items mentioned. Thinking Harry will shortly be dead, Riddle reveals his grandfather's name, Marvolo, something Voldemort had taken pains to conceal. While this is not particularly useful information to Harry, Dumbledore, who also knows it, uses it to unearth another Horcrux: given the approximate age, and Marvolo being an uncommon name in the Wizarding world, plus the name Riddle associated with a wizard-caused death in Tom's youth, Dumbledore is able to locate and retrieve a Horcrux hidden where Tom's mother had lived. Tom also mentions what is likely his greatest shame: that despite being Slytherin's last heir, he is descended from a Muggle, one of the very half-bloods he so despises. Harry is able to cause some dissension among the Death Eater ranks he faces in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, just before the Battle in the Ministry when he reveals that fact.


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  • We will meet Marvolo, Tom's paternal grandfather, in a later book. Interestingly, perhaps, despite Tom's never knowing his grandfather or mother, he seems to very closely mirror the "pureblood" beliefs that grandfather espoused. At the same time, we will meet Tom's mother, and be very briefly exposed to his father.
  • The Chamber of Secrets, and the remains of the Basilisk, will reappear in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Ron and Hermione retrieve Basilisk fangs to destroy a Horcrux.
  • We will learn that the Sword of Gryffindor is a Goblin-forged blade, charmed to accept any foreign material that will strengthen it, and reject anything that does not. Harry's using this Sword to kill the Basilisk will result in the Sword absorbing Basilisk venom, thus empowering it to destroy Horcruxes. We will learn then that Dumbledore had used it to destroy a Horcrux; Ron will also destroy a Horcrux with it, and so will Neville. The Sword will be come something of a disputed item, with the Goblins claiming ownership; but the Sorting Hat will ultimately deliver it to Neville when he is in need.

We note as an aside that in this chapter Ginny states she "wanted to go to Hogwarts ever since Bill came". Charlie had been out of Hogwarts at least one year before Harry arrived, as the twins told Harry that the Gryffindor team "hadn't won since Charlie left". Even if Charlie had left early, after his sixth year, Bill, who is older still, must be either two or three years out of Hogwarts by the time Harry entered. Given that Bill was Head Boy, an office only open to seventh-year students, Bill must be either nine or ten years older than Harry, and thus ten or eleven years older than Ginny. As it is unlikely that Ginny would be able to formulate this sort of wish at the age of one, it is more likely that she would have said that she had wanted to go to Hogwarts ever since she can remember. The author has said that she has always had trouble with math, which is likely the reason for this small misstatement. (The scattering of errors of this sort have become known as "flints" on the fan sites.)