Mudbloods and Murmurs
Chapter 7 of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Mudbloods and Murmurs
During the first week of classes, Harry has avoided Professor Lockhart with some success and Colin Creevey with less, only to be awakened far too early Saturday morning by Oliver Wood who wants to start Quidditch practice before the other House teams. At the pitch, the team finds they have been preempted by Slytherin, armed with Professor Snape's note giving them permission to use the Pitch to train their new seeker: Draco Malfoy. Also, Draco's father has donated new Nimbus 2001 brooms that are even faster than Harry's Nimbus 2000.
Ron and Hermione arrive to watch the practice. As Draco mocks Gryffindor's brooms, Hermione comments that nobody on the team had to buy his way in, they made it on pure talent. Malfoy, angered by the aspersion, calls Hermione a "filthy mudblood." When Ron retaliates by casting a jinx at Malfoy, his broken wand backfires, jinxing him instead. Hermione and Harry carry him, belching slugs, to Hagrid's hut. Hagrid uncharacteristically criticizes Professor Lockhart, suggesting that his books may not be entirely truthful. He also mentions that Lockhart was the only applicant for the Defence Against the Dark Arts job. Apparently word is out that the position may be jinxed.
Hagrid is shocked that Malfoy called Hermione a mudblood, which Ron explains is a most insulting term used to denigrate a Muggle-born's ancestry. Hagrid also says Lockhart was annoyed when he told him that Harry was more famous than Lockhart would ever be. Hagrid then shows the Trio his pumpkin patch. Apparently, despite being prohibited from performing magic, he has used an Engorgement charm. The pumpkins, with a month to go before Hallowe'en, are the size of small boulders.
That evening, Harry arrives at Professor Lockhart's office, which is decorated with pictures of Lockhart. As midnight nears, Harry, worn out with stuffing envelopes, hears a low voice muttering violently. Jerking to attention, Harry strains to understand the words. Lockhart hears nothing, but noticing the late hour, dismisses Harry.
Ron arrives at the dormitory soon after. He had one final slug attack on a Special Award for Services to the School. Ron thinks it odd that Harry could hear the voice and Lockhart could not, particularly since the door had remained closed. Even if someone was invisible, they would need to open the door to get in.
Several main plot points are highlighted. The first is Draco's addition to the Slytherin Quidditch team, and the team's new brooms, which are probably related. Slytherin House students are known to use any advantage to achieve their goals, and it is likely that Draco, wanting to oppose Harry in Quidditch, used his father's influence to be made Seeker, while the team willingly accepts the Malfoys' generous terms to gain a competitive edge with superior racing brooms. Likely Draco's plan was to humiliate Harry by out-flying him. We do not yet know how well this will work.
Bigotry, a recurring theme throughout the books, is brought into focus here by Draco's animosity towards those he perceives as inferior. Though the Weasley family is pure-blood, Draco despises them for their poverty and their concern for Muggles, in a pattern he almost certainly learned from his father. Similarly, he taunts Hermione about her Muggle parentage, calling her a "Mudblood," a term so derogatory that it shocks Ron and Hagrid, though neither Harry nor Hermione are sure what it means. Hermione, on the other hand, accuses Draco of buying his way onto the Slytherin team through his father's gift, using money and influence, rather than talent and hard work, to obtain what he wants. Although he would claim otherwise, Hermione's words apparently do sting Draco, and his ongoing resentment is likely as much about his jealousy over Hermione's superior intellect and Harry's fame and talents, as about their Muggle antecedents. Being an only child with a cold, disciplinarian father, Draco may even subconsciously envy Ron's large, loving family and the close friendship he enjoys with Harry and Hermione. Draco lacks true friends, instead garnering hangers-on like Crabbe and Goyle, who he also considers inferior to himself, and as little more than lackeys to support him. Ironically, Draco is likely talented enough to have become Slytherin's Seeker on his own merits, but rather than work hard to make the team, he instead opts for a short-cut method to immediately achieve what he thinks he already deserves.
Mr. Malfoy's "gift" also reflects much about his character. Rather than teaching his son to work hard to achieve his goals on his own merits, and already dismayed by Hermione, a Muggle-born, outperforming Draco academically, as well as Harry's superior talents, he freely abused his position to elevate his son's prestige, as well as enhance the Malfoy family's image; now Mr. Malfoy can brag about Draco's "accomplishments".
Another point is Ron's damaged wand. Even after mending it with Spell-o-Tape, it performs unpredictably, producing gray smoke clouds and odd noises, and now we see it may not cast spells in the desired direction, even when it does work. Ron, naturally, is frustrated, not only because he is unable to perform magic correctly, further lowering his confidence, but with knowing that, as poor as his parents are, he will probably have to make do with a damaged wand that was already a shoddy hand-me-down, for a long time to come.
Solidarity is shown among the faculty, and one teacher will rarely criticize another. This is stated explicitly in a later book, but has been only implied so far. Given that Hagrid mentions that Lockhart's books might not be entirely truthful, one gathers that there is probably much suspicion in the staff room that Lockhart is far less competent than he claims. Given this, and Ron's previous comment that Lockhart offers no proof to back his claims, readers may surmise that Lockhart's abilities are suspect.
Lockhart's personality is served up in large quantity as Harry performs detention. Lockhart clearly believes Harry is as celebrity-driven as he, and therefore needs tips on how to handle fame. Lockhart revels in being famous, to the extent that spending hours every week sending out multitudes of autographed pictures is tolerable. Possibly, Lockhart's self-image is fueled by the belief that, being so widely known, he is universally loved, and he is unable to conceive that anyone is not similarly craving affirmation by the masses.
This also marks the mysterious voice's first appearance. Something seems murderously angry in the castle, and Harry is concerned enough that he needs to discover what it is, despite his worries that only he can apparently hear it.
- Why was Draco made the new Slytherin Seeker? Is he capable?
- Why does Draco call Hermione a Mudblood? What does this mean and what is her reaction?
- Why would Snape give the Slytherin team permission to use the Pitch, even though it was previously reserved for Gryffindor?
- Why is Lockhart unable to hear the voice that Harry can? Where is the voice coming from?
- Why would Hagrid be forbidden to perform magic?
- Why does Hagrid believe Lockhart's books may not be entirely truthful? What evidence is there?
- Why does Draco consider the Weasley family inferior, even though they are pure-blooded wizards like himself? Is there more than one reason? If so, what?
- Why would Harry and Hermione take Ron to see Hagrid, rather than to the Hospital Wing, after he accidentally curses himself?
The Award for Special Services to the School is specifically singled out in later chapters because it was the one given to Tom Riddle. Tom plays a large part later in this book, and a significant part in the overall series.
The voice Harry heard in Lockhart's office was the Basilisk, the monster in the Chamber, which has been released and is roaming the school. Only Harry can hear the voice because he is a Parselmouth; to everyone else, the sound is a low and undefined hissing noise. Interestingly, Harry perceives Parseltongue as English, something that is an important plot point later in the series.
When Hermione learns Harry can understand snakes, knows the Monster's effect, and determines it is probably using the plumbing to move through the castle, she eventually concludes it is a Basilisk. Harry is able to obtain this information from her after she has been Petrified.
It is also important to note that Ron's wand backfired, jinxing him, rather than Malfoy, the intended target. While we have seen Ron's wand produce unintended strange sounds and smoke, producing the wrong spell, this is the first time a wand malfunctioning this way has been shown. This plays a big part when Harry, Ron, and Professor Lockhart delve into the Chamber of Secrets to rescue Ginny.
It is also interesting to note, though it is unrelated to the plot, that Hagrid's wand, which Harry correctly suspects is hidden within Hagrid's umbrella, was snapped in two when he was expelled from Hogwarts. However, even in its severed state, it appears to work reasonably well when he has occasionally been seen using it, while Ron's badly damaged and barely intact wand performs quite poorly, even when wrapped with Spell-O-Tape. Also, when Harry's wand is severely damaged by Hermione's ricocheting spell in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it becomes totally unusable, though it will later be repaired with singularly powerful magic. It is unknown why Hagrid's wand continued to work and the others did not, though the way in which each was damaged likely had some effect. While Ron's and Harry's wands are broken beyond normal repair, the inner core in Hagrid's wand may only have been slightly damaged when the wand was snapped in two. Hagrid, in fact, comments that his broken wand is less powerful than he expects it to be. It has been suggested that, as Dumbledore's wand seems to be capable of mending Harry's broken wand in the final book, Dumbledore, who never believed that Hagrid was the one who opened the Chamber, may have mended Hagrid's wand on condition that Hagrid keep it secret. Harry's wand does regain its full power after being mended, but we can assume that Hagrid's, being deliberately snapped, was more thoroughly broken, and so the repair might not have been as effective. This would explain why Hagrid's broken wand does not show the same random behaviour as Ron's, or the complete failure of Harry's.
- The effects of a wand being broken are noted here. This will be important later in this book, and will also play a part in the final book.
- Harry's being unable to distinguish between Parseltongue and English, which we first see in this chapter, will be noted again twice in this book, in The Dueling Club and the chapter named The Chamber of Secrets. This also proves to be a plot point in the final book.
- When Professor Lockhart reappears in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the only part of his persona which remains intact seems to be his handling of his fan mail. As he has done in this chapter with Harry, he immediately co-opts the Trio and Ginny to address envelopes for him.
- Hagrid's almost-overlooked comment that the Defence Against the Dark Arts position may be jinxed, and that there are few applicants for it, is part of a larger and as yet unrevealed pattern. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the twins run down the list of the four incumbents in that position during Harry's career at Hogwarts, and note that all four of them have lasted only one year. By early in the school year of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it is common knowledge, apparently, that Professor Snape dearly wants that post, but despite Professor Dumbledore's reported difficulty filling the position not only in Harry's second year, as reported here by Hagrid, but in his fifth year, as reported by the Twins, it is only in Harry's sixth year that Dumbledore appoints Snape to it. It is also in Harry's sixth year that we learn of Dumbledore's belief that the post has been jinxed by Voldemort. Clearly, Dumbledore expected that Snape would also only last a year in that post, and, as Snape was at that point secretly Dumbledore's ally against Voldemort, Dumbledore did not want to risk his going mad, dying, or otherwise losing his ability to help Dumbledore after the year was complete. It is only in the final book in the series that we learn Dumbledore planned to have Snape become Headmaster upon Dumbledore's death, fated to happen at the end of Harry's sixth year, which was also Snape's first and only year as teacher of Defence Against the Dark Arts. Dumbledore apparently believed that once he was gone, Voldemort would place one of his own stooges in that post and would vacate the jinx on the post, thus, probably, saving Snape to carry on Dumbledore's mission after his death.