This week, we discuss: why Pepperup Potion makes wizarding secrecy unforgivable; the Ghost Post; the souls of parchment; Sir Nicholas’s unfortunate history with teeth; the aptly named Argus Filch; things we learned from Jonathan Franzen; Filch’s bondage fetish; wizarding informercials; Austin Powers and magical erectile dysfunction; why Squibs matter; the prejudice book; what Nearly Headless Nick and Lockhart have in common; smoldering salamanders; how Corpse Bride could break Republican hearts; Hermione needs to pee, goddammit; Moaning Myrtle; why people are so anxious to excuse Draco; psychopathic escalation; why the fuck did we elect Lockhart; being a wizard doesn’t change things when you hear voices; the symbolism of the Chamber of Secrets; J.K. Rowling fixed the most annoying plot hole in the most interesting way; generations of wizards complicit in Tom Riddle’s rise to power; why the morally inept don’t care until it affects them; Christian symbolism; Percy’s suspicious mind and terrible metaphors; what Hermione and Tom Riddle have in common; Team Edward and Lockhart; more useless adults; misogynist bicorns; the lost art of insults; get the Snitch or die trying; poor Dobby, poor Colin; and how useful it is when villains utilize graffiti.
S: Welcome back to Advanced Muggle Studies!
C: What’s up, bitches?!
S: I’m Professor Seraphine –
C: I’m Professor Creed –
S: And we are still in Chamber of Secrets, chapters 8-10 if we are lucky and don’t get too distracted. If you’ve listened to us before, you know there’s a 50/50 chance.
C: Maybe less than that.
S: We’re going to play the odds, because we’re feeling daring today. Also, FYI, for those of you who are brave and/or self punishing enough to stick around until the very end of this, the new teaser for The Last Jedi dropped today, and we will be geeking out over it at the end. So if you are interested in our thoughts – and believe me, we have them –
C: OH yeah.
S: Check out our bonus post and you’ll hear us go mad over it.
C: You will be richly rewarded.
Chapter 8: The Deathday Party
S: If you’re going to die, you might as well have a party.
C: It seems morbid, but I guess if you’re hanging around as a ghost, how do you get more morbid than that?
S: One thing I learned from this chapter: morbidity has a home at Hogwarts. We start in October, everybody’s getting colds, which Madam Pomfrey is fixing with Pepperup Potion – which the world sadly needs.
C: I was going to say, I wish this actually existed.
S: I don’t care about the smoking from the ears! Considering how I feel when I have a cold that sounds pleasant. Nice and peppery, invigorating, and oh, I can breathe now!
C: Even if it’s fucking disgusting, I can breathe. Yes please, give it to me.
S: I will never forgive the Wizarding World for staying underground if for no other reason than that they are keeping the secret of Pepperup Potion to themselves.
C: To take us on our first tangent, it’s interesting that you say that.
S: Less than 5 minutes in!
C: We have the Wizarding World, and maybe we covered this before, but they can literally wave a magic wand and repair enormous damage to infrastructure, they can cure the common cold, mend broken bones, and they stay hidden from the Muggles. They allow a lot of suffering and death to happen.
S: That’s true. I get what Hagrid was saying in the first book – if people knew wizards existed, everyone would want magic solutions to their problems. Fair enough, that’s true. It would also make you extremely wealthy and powerful, but that’s beside the point. But at the same time, is that a good excuse not to do it? If you could genuinely make the world a better place, wouldn’t you do that? Magic has a terrible dark side too, and you could drag Muggles into that – but they get dragged into that anyway!
C: Yeah, so you might as well help them.
S: It feels like a cop out to me. Poor Ginny. I like the Ginny hints being woven in – she’s been looking pale, so Percy bullied her into Pepperup Potion, which gives the impression of her head being on fire. It’s raining, it’s pouring, Hagrid’s pumpkins are exploding to the size of garden sheds. But Oliver Wood is not to be deterred by rain, which is why Harry comes back from practice every weekend drenched. Everyone is stressed out. They’ve seen the Slytherin team practicing on the Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones, and unfortunately they are quite fast. Harry comes in this particular evening before Halloween, muddy and dripping, and he meets Nearly Headless Nick who is having an extremely suggestive conversation with himself. “Don’t fulfill their requirements…half an inch, if that…” I’m a bad person. Let’s clear that up now.
C: I have a question. He’s a ghost, and granted ghosts have outfits and things, but he has an actual letter.
S: I HAD THE EXACT SAME QUESTION!
C: I’m glad it wasn’t just me! It stuck out at me this time.
S: I have it written down right here. I’m so glad I’m not the only one. How does he have a ghostly transparent letter? Are these the spirits of dead paper?
C: Is there a Ghost Post?
S: Seriously, how?
C: What is the ink you write with?
S: It boggles my mind. How do you have ghostly paper? Does the good stationary of the world have a soul? When it dies, does it go to the ghostly plane? Is it only Wizarding parchment that gets that privilege?
C: I’m just so glad you thought of it too.
S: Never gave it any thought before. Nearly Headless Nick is upset, because he’s nearly headless, and there is apparently an event coming up called the Headless Hunt. He’s very upset that getting hit 45 times in the neck with a blunt axe does not qualify him to join. I’d always wondered what Sir Nicolas did to get struck 45 times with an axe, did you?
C: He was killed in 1492. Columbus…what else was going on in the world at that time? Was it one of the many many many many times there was a civil war for the English throne? Maybe he picked the wrong side?
S: That would have been interesting. But according to the Harry Potter wiki, Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington was a wizard in the court of Henry VII. He met a lady in waiting, Lady Grieve. Nominative determinism, thank you very much. They met strolling in the park on the eve of Oct. 30, 1492. Apparently she had crooked teeth, and as Sir Nicholas was a wizard she asked him to fix them. But his effort to do so backfired, and he caused her to grow a tusk instead.
C: Oh dear.
S: He was as a result beheaded. Nearly.
C: So what you’re telling me is he was basically the Neville Longbottom of Henry VII’s court. Or the movie version of Seamus Finnegan.
S: I’m curious how a lady in waiting is more valuable than a court wizard.
C: And was she a Muggle, if she couldn’t fix it herself?
S: Yeah, and he was knighted by King Henry. Personally I’d think, “Hmm… Lady with crooked teeth….wizard…which one do I want more?” Just saying I feel like Henry’s priorities were misplaced.
C: Let’s not belabor the point.
S: Well, they belabored Sir Nicholas’s point, 45 times. But his head is still attached, so no Headless Hunt, which he’s upset about. And if you can’t participate in Horseback Head Juggling and Head Polo, I can see where you’d be depressed. This is where I thought, the ghost world is morbid. We’re dead, we’re ghosts, let’s play games with our severed heads! Also, why are their heads still severed as ghosts? Do I not understand how ghosts work? If you get shot and come back as a ghost, does your ghost still have the bullet hole? Or is it supposed to be just you?
C: I think it depends on what kind of movie is being made.
S: Fair point.
C: I have another question. Why are some people ghosts and some not?
S: Because they choose to be. Nicholas explains to Harry in Book 5 that only wizards can become ghosts. Which narrows the pool considerably. But it’s a choice, and people who are afraid of death tend to choose to remain behind, as opposed to going on. So Sir Nicholas was afraid of death and chose to stay. Professor Binns – I don’t know what his deal was, I just don’t think he realized he died. Personally I choose to believe Professor Binns refused to let a little thing like his own death get in the way of his career as the most boring teacher ever. He was on a roll and not about to stop now.
That question comes up in 5, when Harry is devastated by Sirius’s death. He wonders if that might be an option. But knowing Sirius as we do, that’s not the sort of thing he would choose.
C: So once you choose to be a ghost, are you a ghost for all eternity? Or can you choose to move on at some point?
S: I think you’re a ghost eternally.
C: That’s awful.
S: Depends on your perspective? As a ghost you don’t feel pain, you live forever – as a ghost, true, but if you’re like Sir Nicholas you hang out at Hogwarts forever and support generations of children. I could see how that might be fulfilling.
C: Or you could wind up like Moaning Myrtle.
S: And hang out in a bathroom forever! To be fair, she could improve as a person after all this time. But then too that raises the question of – are you frozen in your personality? Is it possible to change at all? But the ghosts are good for comic effect. I appreciate that at least. We get lines like “Half an inch of skin and sinew holding my neck on, Harry! Most people would consider that good and beheaded, but oh no, it’s not enough for Sir Properly-Decapitated Podmore.” Nearly Headless Nick is so salty.
I’ve been wondering since last book about Filch’s name. The fact that he seems to be everywhere, and turns up at inconvenient times? Argus in mythology was the watchman. He was called the “many eyed god,” and kept an eye on everything. Which explains why Filch is turning up at all places in this book, and when he isn’t there, Mrs. Norris is.
C: We’re only a book and a half into this, but I feel like I’ve learned so much about how much research Rowling did for this series.
S: It’s so much! Which is why people who natter on about them being children’s books – you have literally no idea what you’re talking about. Yeah, they’re children’s books, but they’re so dense.
C: All we should do as adults is read Jonathan Franzen.
S: Hey, if you would read Jonathan Franzen you would understand that as a woman, you are neurotic and repressed, and if you would just let a good man come along and teach you how to have an orgasm you’d be okay. But you won’t, so you’ll be unhappy forever. That’s what I learned from Franzen, anyway.
Filch is in a bad mood, has the flu, some third years plastered frog brains on the ceiling, he’s been cleaning all morning. Nearly Headless Nick says if he sees you getting mud all over everything he’ll be very unhappy. Of course he sees him, and is furious and a little out of his head. He drags Harry to his office, which is the worst broom closet you can imagine filled with filing cabinets, that have the details of everyone Filch has ever punished. Fred and George have an entire drawer to themselves. Personally, I’m a little disappointed it’s not an entire tower of drawers.
C: They’ve got a few years left.
S: I imagine it makes for entertaining reading. Which also leads me to believe they are Filch‘s nemesis. He’s the old man to their Scooby Doo team.
Also, there’s a highly polished set of chains and manacles hanging behind Filch‘s desk, because it’s common knowledge Filch is always asking Dumbledore to let him suspend students by their ankles from the ceiling. WTF with Filch and his bondage fetish?
C: What role does Filch play in 7 when the Death Eaters take over Hogwarts?
S: Let’s see if the wiki tells us. When Umbridge comes along Filch is head over heels for her insane authoritarian rule, and she eventually signs his permission to whip the students. Seriously, Filch, seek help. There are therapists for this. Also we need to talk about consent!
C: You also shouldn’t whip children.
S: Definitely not. So it says when the school was taken over, the Carrows took over discipline and it’s unknown if Filch was punished by the Carrows for being a Squib. Apparently he lost his disciplinary duties and got demoted.
C: Wonder if they ever used his manacles and chains.
S: I imagine they made good use of them.
C: That’s disturbing.
S: He does have great, inventive swear words. “Great sizzling dragon bogies” is one of my favorites. Filch is seriously overreacting. But this is the problem with having a Squib clean the castle! Harry: “It was only a bit of mud!” Filch: “It’s only a bit of mud to you, but to me it’s an extra hour of scrubbing.” Can’t someone come along and do an Evanesco charm for him, and Vanish the mud so he doesn’t spend the extra hour, since he’s sick?
C: I could see someone offering and him saying no, because then he gets to be bitter and angry about it, and he likes that.
S: That’s fair. Fortunately there’s a loud bang. Filch: “PEEVES!” He dashes off. While Harry is waiting, since he at this point is still a good kid who thinks he should wait for Filch to come back – which, Book 5 Harry would have already left the room – he sits and sees a large glossy purple envelope with silver lettering labeled Kwikspell: A Correspondence Course in Beginner’s Magic. And now is the time when we need to read this in the way it is intended – like a Wizarding Infomercial.
C: Use your Lockhart voice for this.
S: No, you need the TV announcer infomercial voice. “Feel out of step in the world of modern magic? Find yourself making excuses not to perform simple spells? Ever been taunted for your woeful wandwork? There is an answer! Kwikspell is an all-new, fail-safe, quick-result, easy-learn course. Hundreds of witches and wizards have benefited from the Kwikspell method!”
This is fascinating!
C: My biggest complaint is these two testimonials: Madam Z. Nettles and Warlock D.J. Prod. You would do that backwards – give your full first name and last initial, because there might be a lot of Zeldas or whatever, and only one Nettle.
S: That’s the thing you catch? That’s hilarious. If I wanted to be super deep I’d say it shows the importance of last names in this world. But to me, this is all about erectile dysfunction. The way these are worded, they sound like bad Viagra, weight loss, miracle cure ads that you see at 2 a.m.
C: “Put on this copper laced sleeve and you’ll feel like you’re 20 again! No more arthritis pain for me!”
S: Exactly. “I had no memory for incantations, and my potions were a family joke! Now after a Kwikspell course, I am the center of attention at parties, and friends beg for the recipe of my Scintillation Solution.” What are you doing with that solution at parties, Madam Nettles? And what kind of parties? Scintillation??
Then the Warlock: “My wife used to sneer at my feeble charms.” Uh-huh. Something was feeble but it wasn’t your charms. “But one month into your fabulous Kwikspell course and I succeeded in turning her into a yak! Thank you, Kwikspell.”
C: I love that out of all the animals in the world he could have turned her into, he chose a yak.
S: “Lesson 1: Holding your Wand (some useful tips.)” WHAT POSSIBLE TIPS?
C: “Hold it in your hand, not squeezed between your butt cheeks.” Ta-da!
S: You hold it! Don’t point it at your eye, or something? Better wizards than you have lost a buttock! Don’t put it in your back pocket! Other than that – this is a fascinating and hilarious nugget of the wizarding world.
Filch comes storming back, and Harry stuffs it back in the envelope, and we name drop the Vanishing Cabinet that was dropped or broken, and Filch then sees that the envelope is not where he left it. He starts freaking out. Because it’s not his! It’s for a friend. Come on, this is ALL ABOUT ED.
C: “Oh no, that packet of single-serving Viagra you see on my nightstand, I’m not about to go into the bathroom and take that. It’s not for me.”
S: All I can think of is Austin Powers, when he’s being unfrozen and getting his personal effects back while he’s with the model chick –
C: Vanessa Kinsington.
S: Yeah, and they give him back his Swedish-made penis pump. “What? That’s not mine!” “One receipt for Swedish-made penis pump to Austin Danger Powers.” “Honestly! I swear, that sort of thing’s not my bag, baby.” “One book entitled ‘Swedish-made penis pumps: This Sort of Thing Is My Bag, Baby’ by Austin Danger Powers.”
C: I can’t believe you remember all of that.
S: I’ve watched it too many times. I’m not proud of it. I shouldn’t have admitted that I know all that.
C: The second one is great.
S: So yeah, Filch is terrified that Harry knows his secret. He kicks him out, all, “Don’t say anything – well, if you didn’t read it, you wouldn’t – just go and don’t say anything.” He’s terrified Harry will talk about it.
He leaves and meets Nick, who apparently dropped the Vanishing Cabinet from a great height.
C: He convinced Peeves to do it.
S: Harry is happy because he’s out of trouble, and he feels bad. Nearly Headless Nick seems to genuinely like Harry.
C: He looks out for his house.
S: Harry: “I wish there was something I could do for you about the Headless Hunt.” Nearly Headless Nick: “There is! This Halloween is my 500th Deathday.”
“Oh,” said Harry, not sure if he was supposed to be sorry or happy about this.
I feel the same way!
C: It’s an excellent question.
S: Nearly Headless Nick is holding a party down in the dungeons, friends will come from all over, and Nearly Headless Nick wants Harry, Ron and Hermione . He’s nervous Harry won’t want to, but Harry says he will go.
C: Which is incredibly nice of him.
S: It is! Nearly Headless Nick is thrilled to have the famous Harry at his party. “And,” he hesitated, looking excited. “Do you think you could possibly mention to Sir Patrick how very frightening and impressive you find me?”
C: So cute.
S: It’s a nice contrast. Nearly Headless Nick is excited to have the famous Harry, and in a way he wants reflected fame, and it reflects well on him if the famous Harry is at his party. Which is kind of reflective of Lockhart , who is always trying to glom onto Harry. But Nearly Headless Nick has a relationship with Harry, treats him as a friend, and is up front that he wants to impress people, as opposed to trying to be seen with him and leverage his fame.
C: Even if Harry wasn’t famous and offered to come to the party, I’m sure Nearly Headless Nick would still say yes.
S: He wouldn’t. But if someone like Harry comes and talks about how terrifying he is, it will impress his friends.
C: Maybe his head will spontaneously complete falling off.
S: Harry goes back to tell Ron and Hermione , who has the exact response I would, sounding like a tiny anthropologist: “A deathday party? I bet there aren’t many people who can say they’ve been to one of those. It’ll be fascinating!”
C: I would be into it. If it was a ghost I was friends with and not the Bloody Baron or something, I’d be into it.
S: They’re doing homework in the Common room, while Fred and George are trying to find out what happens if you feed a Filibuster Firework to a salamander. It is now “smoldering gently on a table.” I want a salamander! It’s so freaking cool.
C: Isn’t there something about salamanders and fire?
S: It’s fire-dwelling.
C: If it dwells in fire, does that make it not reptilian cruelty to stuff it full of fireworks?
S: It’s a good question. I think not, because it’s not like feeding an owl a firework. Salamanders are supposed to create and put out flames and are in some cases fire themselves. There are some versions of their origins saying they’re used by glassblowers to keep their furnaces stoked. This probably comes from real salamanders sleeping among logs, which are tossed on the fire, and the salamander would wake up and scurry out, which made it look like they came from the fire. I think it’s probably not animal cruelty, putting a fire in his tummy won’t do much. Which is cool, because it’s a “spectacular display of tangerine stars,” and it “escapes into the fire with an accompanying explosion.”
By the time Halloween comes around, Harry’s a little bummed about going to the Deathday Party since everyone else is going to the feast. Hagrid’s vast pumpkins have been carved into lanterns large enough for 3 men to sit in, and the rumor is that Dumbledore booked a troupe of dancing skeletons. Where do you book these dancing skeletons? How do you book a troupe of them?
C: I don’t know. Do they have something to do with the Ghost Post?
S: I’m starting to think there is a whole undead economy underlying the wizarding one that we are only getting glimpses of.
They head toward the dungeons, which are awful black, blue, ghostly and cold. Why is the music so awful?
C: Do you lose parts of your hearing when you’re a ghost? None of those people listened to that when they were alive.
S: It’s a weird juxtaposition between mourning and celebration, since you’re celebrating the fact that you’re mourning, so they come up with the most depressing, maudlin ceremony possible. But yeah, I’d think they’d still enjoy music, not this awful musical saws nonsense.
The food – oh, god, the food. They serve rotten fish, burnt cakes, maggoty haggis, moldy cheese… this is wrong! Apparently they let it rot to give it stronger flavor in the hopes that they pick up some of the flavor.
I kept thinking about – have you ever seen the movie Corpse Bride?
C: No, I am not a fan of Tim Burton. His stuff is not for me.
S: I’m not a fan of him either, to be honest. The fact that I saw Corpse Bride as a fluke, and of the other stuff of his I’ve seen I haven’t liked much. But Corpse Bride I liked. It was smart, funny and charming. One of the things I liked was that Victor, the protagonist, gets dragged down into the world of the dead even though he’s still alive. And the dead people are so vivacious and alive and have no hangups. They throw parties with jazz and bright colors, and when Victor says he’ll marry the Corpse Bride they throw this massive party, they’re dancing and singing in the streets and make this massive cake. And it’s contrasted with another wedding happening ‘above stairs,’ as they say, that is very restrained, formal, has a tiny cake, no one is happy, there’s no color or life. It’s socially acceptable, and below everyone is having a good ol’ time. I loved that contrast, the idea that the people who were dead are the ones who were living. It’s an interesting contrast to this, where the ghosts here are – I don’t know what they are. I don’t have words for it.
C: Imagine how shocked and dismayed Republicans would be to find out that the afterlife is an orgy.
S: Seriously, if you ever watch any Tim Burton movie, watch that one. It has some great funny moments, but the afterworld in that movie is amazing. But this is also the first mention of Moaning Myrtle, who Hermione dislikes, because it’s very hard to “have a pee” with Moaning Myrtle wailing at you.
C: I love that.
S: Me too! I know it’s a small thing, but characters in books don’t usually talk about peeing. It’s implied. In the Thursday Next books where Thursday goes into the Bookworld, and finds there aren’t functioning bathrooms or toilets because no one in the narrative uses the toilet during the course of the story so it doesn’t need to exist. That’s what this made me think of. I don’t know why that stuck with me. I’ve read too many weird books and I’m starting to think it has addled my brain.
C: Think back to when we were 12. I don’t know that I would have, even with my best friends, been like, “Oh, it’s difficult to go in there and pee.” She says it so casually. And it’s a small thing, and maybe it’s odd to think of it this way, but it’s a nice testament to how comfortable they all are with each other, that Hermione is all, “Come into the girls’ bathroom, it doesn’t matter, but you can’t pee in here because she whines all day.”
S: Yeah! Ugh, Peeves is here. Why did they invite Peeves? Although I guess they couldn’t NOT invite Peeves. Peeves heard them talking about Moaning Myrtle, so of course he has to summon her to hear all the terrible things they were saying about her.
C: Peeves is such a dick.
S: He is. So, Moaning Myrtle.
C: She is the worst. She is the female embodiment of Albus.
S: Which explains that scene later on, that weird kinky orgy scene in the bathroom with all the adults and Moaning Myrtle, and she’s like, “Hmmm, two Potters and two Malfoys, what couldn’t I do with that?”
C: Which – this, the book version of Moaning Myrtle, I don’t know if I see that. The movie version, she was weirder and creepier.
S: And hornier. So definitely a movie-ism.
Book Myrtle is depressed and moody, and stuck forever at 13. As much as I hate Peeves, this is hilarious. Moaning Myrtle: “You think I don’t know what people call me behind my back? Fat Myrtle! Ugly Myrtle! Miserable, moaning, moping Myrtle!” Peeves: “You forgot pimply.”
She flees, and Peeves follows, pelting her with moldy peanuts, yelling, “Pimply! Pimply!”
C: It would have been dreadful to become a ghost at 13 or 14.
S: Poor Nearly Headless Nick, he’s about to give his speech but then the jocks show up and ruin his party. A bunch of headless horsemen, and it seems like Mr. Properly-Decapitated Podmore is such a dudebro of a ghost.
C: How does a horse become a ghost??
S: Horses die! Are they magical horses?
C: Do horses have the kind of consciousness that enables them to fear death and then choose to remain behind as a ghost for all eternity?
S: Could a wizard request that their favorite horse come with them into the ghostly afterlife?
C: But what if the horse isn’t dead? Does he wait until it dies?
S: These questions need answers. And part of the charming nature of this is that you don’t get answers, and J.K. Rowling does fun things with her ghost world that most don’t. Ghosts are supposed to be scary and haunting you for nefarious reasons, and she goes with ghosts that just sort of hang out and keep doing what they’ve been doing, because they didn’t want to die. It’s again one of those things she’s de-fanged for the purpose of the book.
But poor Sir Nicholas. Sir Patrick is just chortling and teasing him. Poor Harry tries: “I think Nick’s very – frightening – and, er…”Nearly Headless Nick is trying to give his speech, but the others have started a game of Head Hockey, and between a speech and Head Hockey, what are you gonna watch?
C: Think of the fact that these people have been dead for literally hundreds of years. How many times do you think they’ve seen the exact same shtick from the Headless Huntsmen whatever the hell they call themselves?
S: Good point. Maybe they’ll just take any distraction. But anyway, the trio gives up. They literally give up the ghost.
S: They head upstairs thinking maybe they can snag some food before the feast is over, and then the kinky voice is back.
S: Harry is trying to follow it, and it says it smells blood…
C: “SO hungry….for your love….” What blood did it smell?
S: We’re about to see. Harry is in full on panic mode because he thinks it’s about to kill, so he’s running and the other two are following. They end up in a deserted passage, and then they see something shining on the wall ahead. Foot-high words have been daubed on the wall, which I guess is supposed to have been painted on with blood.
C: Doesn’t Ginny sacrifice a chicken or something?
C: That’s disturbing!
S: It’s a plot point they ignore in the movie, because one of the things Hermione finds out later is that the monster’s mortal enemy is the cry of the rooster. So one of the first thing he has Ginny do is start killing the school roosters. Hagrid mentions it later, that he thinks it might be a Blood Sucking Bugbear that keeps killing them. But there’s a very specific reason why that’s happening.
C: These books are so well constructed.
S: They are! As someone who loves mysteries and ideally wants to write a mystery one day, looking at the way she constructs her clues and weaves them in, seemingly unimportant mentions, is brilliant. The message on the wall: “The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware.”
It’s not just that – there’s a large puddle of water on the floor, and above that is Mrs. Norris, hanging by her tail from a torch bracket, stiff as a board. This is disturbing. And then everyone comes because the feast is over. And Draco, being the sensitive and well mannered child that he is, knows exactly what to say in this situation. “Enemies of the heir beware? You’ll be next, Mudbloods!”
C: So here’s something I wonder. If, for example, instead of saying things like that about Mudbloods, he was saying things like that about black or gay people, would there be such a rush in the fandom community to soften him and pair him up with people, and make him misunderstood, and it’s all his father’s fault – which granted, a lot of it is. But the fact that he does this for a group of people that don’t exist in the real world – does that make his actions less despicable to people than they would be otherwise?
S: I think so. I think it’s easier for them to excuse. Let’s say he was saying this about Jewish people.
C: He’d get elected president.
S: Because we are so shallow, because a handsome young man played Draco in the movies, everyone will try to excuse him because he is good looking, and they like to romanticize the character. If you find Tom Felton attractive, you like to think, “Oh, Draco!” But just the character? I get that Draco is perpetuating what he’s learned at home, but he gets plenty of opportunities to learn and change.
C; I think he’s not evil, but that doesn’t make him good.
S: No, he’s just thrilled with this. “His usually bloodless face flushed, he grinned at the sight of the hanging, immobile cat.” You know what I thought was interesting about this – the last note I made on this chapter – this is an interesting way to parallel serial killer and psychopathic behavior in children. They say violent psychopathy in children often manifests itself in violence against small animals. All of this starts with Mrs. Norris. Granted, she’s not dead or necessarily hurt, but we see a slow escalation through this book as the attacks get worse. It felt to me like the escalation of a young psychopath.
C: I guess that’s what it is, since it’s Tom Riddle.
S: Interesting psychological parallel. So yay, we’re all going to die at the hands of a rooster murderer and would-be cat killer. Hooray!
Chapter 9: The Writing on the Wall
C: So Filch should have been sacked at this point. He runs in, “My cat, my cat, what’s happened to Mrs. Norris?” His popping eyes fell on Harry. “You!” he screeched. “You! You murdered my cat! You killed her! I’ll kill you!” Okay, you’re gone.
S: He just threatened a child with murder. At least he didn’t attack him.
C: Only because he can’t!
S: Seems like he’s only a couple of steps away from putting his hands around his neck to choke him. I feel like it’s important that she set up in the previous chapter that Filch has the flu, he’s sick and strung out – he already freaked out about mud on the floor, then the Squib thing, now this – Filch is unhinged in general, but this is more than usual. He loves that damn cat, and part of this might be him being exhausted and strung out. It doesn’t excuse threatening children with murder, so the next time you have the flu, threatening a child that you’ll kill them is not okay. But it’s useful.
So Lockhart does the one useful thing he will ever do in this book. Dumbledore and teachers arrive, and Lockhart offers his office for Dumbledore to use. That’s it, people. Nothing else useful after that.
As they enter the room Harry sees several portrait Lockharts “dodging out of sight, their hair in rollers.”
C: I know, I love that.
S: You know they have face masks.
C: Pore minimizers.
S: Dumbledore starts examining Mrs. Norris. I love this description. Professor McGonagall is examining her too. “Snape loomed behind them, half in shadow, wearing a most peculiar expression. It was almost as though he were trying not to smile.”
C: He probably hates Mrs. Norris.
S: He probably thinks this whole thing is fucking hilarious. They can all tell, it seems, that she’s not dead.
C: Speaking of other people who are not evil but also are not nice – Snape.
S: I get that it’s useful misdirection, since they want us to continue suspecting him, but it’s also just as much about Snape thinking, “I’ve always hated that idiot man and his cat.” Reading this, I actually wrote the sentence “Dear God, Lockhart is our president.”
“It was definitely a curse that killed her. Probably the Transmogrifian Torture, I’ve seen it used many times. So unlucky I wasn’t there. I know the very countercurse that could have saved her.”
Poor Filch is sobbing over his cat. Lockhart is nattering on, and then Dumbledore says okay, the cat’s not dead. She’s been Petrified, but he doesn’t know how. Filch is of course convinced Harry did it. “You saw what he wrote on the wall. And he knows I’m a Squib.” Harry: “I don’t even know what that is!”
C: Isn’t Harry also a Mudblood?
S: No, he’s half-blood. But technically, why would he care about pure blood? He himself isn’t. It’s a nice Hitler parallel that we get to later.
C: It’s the same thing. Voldemort wasn’t pureblood either.
S: Exactly. She has fun with that later, when Harry starts talking back and takes shots at the fact that Voldemort isn’t pureblood. But moral consistency is not a strong trait of tyrants.
Snape is looking to make the best use of this situation. He says Harry and the others could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he’s fishing. He knows something’s off. Then he tries to take advantage of it – well, if you’re not telling the truth, then maybe Harry shouldn’t be allowed to play Quidditch. Which, fuck you, Snape .
C: McGonagall is like, Please.
S: “I see no reason to stop the boy playing Quidditch. The cat wasn’t hit over the head with a broomstick!”
C: I love McGonagall.
S: Dumbledore says they can revive the cat with Mandrake potion. Great moment with Lockhart and Snape here:
“I’ll make it,” Lockhart butted in. “Must have done it a hundred times. I can whip up a Mandrake Restorative Draught in my sleep.”
“Excuse me,” said Snape icily, “but I believe I am the Potions master at this school.”
C: I love that Snape calls him on his shit when all the other Professors are trying to stay professional and just kind of grin and bear it. He’s like, no, I’m not having that. And Lockhart has no response.
S: Snape has no patience for his bullshit. I enjoy that. Harry goes back with Ron and Hermione, and asks if he should have told about the voice, and they say, nope! Nope. Hearing voices is not good no matter where you are, apparently.
C: Yes, you should.
S: We might have solved this whole thing a lot sooner. “Hearing voices is never a good sign, even in the wizarding world.” Well, what is it a sign of? Mental illness? Being controlled? Either way I feel like these are things people need to know about.
C: I can understand him not wanting to say anything in front of Snape, but go talk to Dumbledore. You trust him.
S: They’re trying to puzzle out the message, but it rings a bell for Ron. Now Harry gets clarification on what a Squib is – born to wizarding parents but with no magic power. Opposite of a Muggle-born wizard. So why is it important for us to learn about Squibs in this book at this point?
At first I thought it was useful for setting up motive. Since Filch is already nervous around Harry, he therefore jumps to blame Harry for all of this. But it’s also more intro to the prejudices of this world. This is the prejudice book – we meet multiple incarnations of that in this book. This is the first time we’ve met House-elves, our standard bearers for prejudice in this world, and now we’ve met Mudbloods, and now Squibs. Which also speaks to the issue of whether or not Mudblood is a valid concept. Which, given that Squibs exist, clearly it isn’t.
C: I think it’s interesting that Ron is the first person to say that the whole blood thing is nonsense. Maybe it’s just him being a 12-year-old boy, but he finds it hilarious that Filch is a Squib.
S: Ron is a pureblood himself, and comes from a pureblood family without a lot of money or social standing. If anyone was going to latch onto the blood thing to make themselves feel important it could conceivably be Ron. But no, he says everyone knows there is nothing to it, and the only thing Filch is bitter is because he can’t do magic.
So it’s midnight, and they’ve got to get to bed before Snape comes along to frame them for something else. Harry sees Filch trying to scrub the message off but it won’t disappear. I don’t know how it stays, but…
C: Eh. Dark Magic.
S: The answer to everything.
When Filch wasn’t guarding the corridor he was skulking through the halls, lunging out at unsuspecting students and trying to put them in detention for things like “breathing loudly” and “looking happy.”
Damn those students! The nerve!
Ginny seems very upset by all of this. According to Ron, she was a great cat lover. Great bit of misdirection that gives just enough explanation as to why she might be upset without leaving you wondering.
C: I would think everyone should be upset. It’s very upsetting.
S: Knowing what you know puts this conversation in context. Ginny is already upset, and Ron tells her, “Stuff like this doesn’t often happen at Hogwarts. They’ll catch the maniac who did it and have him out of here in no time. I just hope he’s got time to petrify Filch before he’s expelled.”
I can see why that would upset her further.
C: At this point does she know that it’s her? Or does she just suspect?
S: I think she knows – or else she has started putting it together.
C: Kids, go to your teachers when you’re in trouble! Especially when you have teachers like Dumbledore and McGonagall.
S: Yes, if you are losing time, please talk to someone. That’s a bad thing to have happen.
S: Hermione is buried in books more than usual, and Harry is finding people are avoiding him more than usual. They try to find Hermione in the library, but she’s pissed off because all copies of Hogwarts: A History are checked out with a 2 week waiting list, and she left her copy at home.
C: I can’t believe she didn’t get there first.
S: Me either. “I wish I hadn’t left my copy at home, but I couldn’t fit it in my trunk with all the Lockhart books.” Well, fuck you, Lockhart, you’ve ruined everyone’s year. The book is checked out because everyone wants to read about the Chamber of Secrets. So Hermione does perhaps one of the most revolutionary things ever.
C: I love this.
S: They go to History of Magic, Professor Binns is reading his notes. He’d been reading for half an hour when something happened that had never happened before: Hermione put up her hand.
C: I think we’ve mentioned that you and I had a teacher in high school who was the embodiment of Professor Binns.
S: Yes we did. I do still remember that slightly stunned look on his face whenever anyone actually engaged with the subject material.
Hermione is asking if Professor Binns will tell them about the Chamber of Secrets, and everyone hops to.
C: “This isn’t history!”
S: “Please, sir, don’t legends always have a basis in fact?” Professor Binns was looking at her with such amazement Harry was sure no student had ever interrupted him before, alive or dead. He peered at Hermione as if he had never seen a student properly before.” “But the whole class was now hanging on Professor Binns’s every word. He looked dimly at them all, every face turned to his. Harry could tell he was completely thrown by such an unusual show of interest.”
C: “Well, Miss Grant, I suppose I will answer your question.”
S: We get the basic story. We know Hogwarts was founded years ago by the 4 greatest wizards of the age: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin. They built the school and they worked in harmony for a long time, then disagreements started springing up. Particularly between Slytherin and everybody else, because Slytherin is the worst. He wanted to “be more selective” about the students being admitted. He was all about the all-magic families and he did not want students of Muggle parentage. Of course, it came down to a fight between Gryffindor and Slytherin, as it always does, and Slytherin left the school.
C: After getting his ass beat.
S: The story goes that Slytherin built a hidden chamber in the castle of which the other founders were ignorant. Slytherin “sealed the Chamber of Secrets so that no one would be able to open it until his own true heir arrived at the school. The heir alone would be able to unseal the chamber, unleash the horror within and use it to purge the school of all who were unworthy to study magic.”
Even if you take this story purely symbolically, it’s still amazing. It speaks to what we’ve been talking about this entire time, with the racism embedded in Slytherin house. It lives there, buried in the legacy, but every so often it surfaces. It’s a great metaphor for this flaw buried deep in the system that Slytherin himself introduced, and it’s been there the entire time. Every so often someone who believes as Slytherin did, embraces his beliefs wholeheartedly, comes along and sets it loose.
Am I being too literary – y?
C: No. It’s disturbing.
S: The school has been searched many times, but whatever was supposedly in the chamber was a monster the heir could control. Everyone raises all sorts of points, like, “If it can only be opened by the heir, no one else could find it,” and “You’d probably have to use dark magic to open it,” and I love that Dean Thomas is pretty bang-on: “Maybe you’ve got to be related to Slytherin.” Not exactly, but close enough. There are a lot of clues here as to why it hasn’t been found, how it’s opened, and what would have to make you special to open it.
C: “Nonsense, O’Flaherty!”
S: Oh, Professor Binns, you racist. He went for the most Irish name he could think of.
So do you remember me bitching about how I could never understand how the Chamber of Secrets was where it was, with modern-day plumbing? I FOUND THE ANSWER!
C: Oooh, do tell.
S: Leave it to Pottermore. Some really interesting stuff here about the Chamber of Secrets.
Everyone was trying to put their mark on the school, constructed their houses, chose the location of their common rooms, but
Slytherin went further, and built what was in effect a personal, secret headquarters within the school, accessible only by himself or by those he allowed to enter.
Perhaps, when he first constructed the Chamber, Slytherin wanted no more than a place in which to instruct his students in spells of which the other three founders may have disapproved (disagreements sprung up early around the teaching of the Dark Arts). However, it is clear by the very decoration of the Chamber that by the time Slytherin finished it he had developed grandiose ideas of his own importance to the school. No other founder left behind them a gigantic statue of themselves or draped the school in emblems of their own personal powers (the snakes carved around the Chamber of Secrets being a reference to Slytherin’s powers as a Parselmouth).
So of course he set it up where only a Parselmouth could enter.
The existence of the Chamber was known to Slytherin’s descendants and those with whom they chose to share the information. Thus the rumour stayed alive through the centuries.
But this is what I found the most interesting, and thank goodness for this because this plot hole has bugged me forever:
There is clear evidence that the Chamber was opened more than once between the death of Slytherin and the entrance of Tom Riddle in the twentieth century. When first created, the Chamber was accessed through a concealed trapdoor and a series of magical tunnels. However, when Hogwarts’ plumbing became more elaborate in the eighteenth century (this was a rare instance of wizards copying Muggles, because hitherto they simply relieved themselves wherever they stood, and vanished the evidence), the entrance to the Chamber was threatened, being located on the site of a proposed bathroom. The presence in school at the time of a student called Corvinus Gaunt – direct descendant of Slytherin, and antecedent of Tom Riddle – explains how the simple trapdoor was secretly protected, so that those who knew how could still access the entrance to the Chamber even after newfangled plumbing had been placed on top of it.
It also says:
Whispers that a monster lived in the depths of the castle were also prevalent for centuries. Again, this is because those who could hear and speak to it were not always as discreet as they might have been: the Gaunt family could not resist boasting of their knowledge. As nobody else could hear the creature sliding beneath floorboards or, latterly, through the plumbing, they did not have many believers, and none, until Riddle dared unleash the monster on the castle.
So that’s interesting to me that a lot more people knew how to access it, but nobody really had the guts to do it until Tom Riddle came along.
C: That’s interesting. So it would seem like you had a lot of wizards who maybe weren’t the greatest people, but were also not murderous genocidal maniacs?
S: Right. In the words of Saturday Night Live, they were “Complicit.”
C: I don’t watch SNL, so.
S: You missed it! They did a great spoof perfume ad with Scarlett Johannson playing Ivanka Trump, where she was marketing a new scent called Complicit. All about how she could use her influence but she doesn’t.
Again, this symbolic of the racism in Slytherin house. There are a lot of people perfectly aware of what’s going on, and they understand what this is. They don’t do anything with it, but they do nothing to stop it, and they keep it protected. They know it exists, they know the monster is in there, they’re not going to use it, but they won’t do anything about it. They’re happy that it exists and that they have this knowledge of this evil thing that exists, that only they know about, that’s part of their heritage and legacy. They like it!
C: So does Draco know what was going on?
S: No. As we find out later, he knows there is a chamber and that it’s been opened before, but that’s all his dad will say. He’s limited in his knowledge because of Mr. Malfoy. Whether or not that’s because he doesn’t trust Draco to keep his mouth shut, or because he knows perfectly well exactly how complicit he is in this situation and doesn’t want to risk Draco knowing too much, I don’t know.
Also, I found something online you will appreciate, thinking about the history of secret chambers and tunnels – there is something called ley tunnels.
C: Oh dear.
S: OH YEAH. The idea that there are all these secret chambers and tunnels that connect and they parallel ley lines. Well, a lot of these cathedrals and Middle Age buildings were connected via cellars and tunnels, and they would follow the same patterns because you’re connecting the same buildings. But I thought you’d appreciate that!
C: I feel like people could get up to a lot in ley tunnels.
S: It also sounds like you’re just putting a French spin on it. “Would you like to join me in….le tunnel? What could we get up to in….le tunnel?”
C: Let’s have a thought experiment. If Draco knew what the chamber was, or even if one of the people who gets petrified actually was killed – he knows what’s going on and doesn’t necessarily know who’s opened it, but that there’s a chamber and a monster – how does he feel about that?
S: I actually think that at this point, Draco is being completely honest about how he feels. He actually thinks this is cool. At this point, he’s too young to appreciate what he has. There’s something to be said for Ray Bradbury’s perspective – that children are, in a lot of ways, tiny psychopaths. Because your emotions and morality aren’t fully developed, children can be astonishingly cold-blooded, violent, and vicious toward each other. I think at this point Draco is fully on board with the Mudblood business. He might be a little scared but would keep it to himself. At this point, he’s so young and fully embracing an identity that makes him feel powerful, gives him prestige and ties him in to his family – “This is what we believe, this is who we are” – it’s only as he gets older that you see him torn between his family’s beliefs and wants and what he wants to do, and what seems to be what he has grown to love about the school and the people in it.
It’s another reason I like how much 2 and 6 mirror each other. They’re Draco stories. You see the change – in 2, he’s fully on board with this. This is awesome, my family’s going to win. But when you get to 6 you see the logical outcome of those attitudes, and you see him thinking maybe this isn’t the best idea.
C: Maybe Neo-Nazis aren’t cool!
S: Maybe sometimes voting for the guy who says he’ll deport the bad hombres means your husband gets deported too! And then you’re all, ‘Wait, I thought he was only going to deport the bad ones!’
C: People are so fucking stupid.
S: You get the initial rush of fervor and fanaticism –
C: Patriotic zeal?
S: Yeah. Then that cools, you see it for what it is, and you’re thinking, “Oh shit, I was being an idiot.” And for people like this – and Draco is no different, which is why people over-romanticizing him is kind of silly – he’s no different from anyone else that does this sort of thing in that he doesn’t feel the need to change his beliefs or behavior until it affects him personally. He’s fine now, he’s on top of the world. His family is safe and they have a great position. And if Voldemort had never come back, he might never have changed. But Voldemort does come back. His family falls out of favor and is in danger. Now they’re being actively targeted by the guy who they’re professing to follow. NOW Draco says, “Oh shit, this affects me too.”
So like most morally undeveloped people, he was short-sighted. He only saw his ideals in the sense of how awesome they were until they meant bad things for him. At which point, he suddenly finds his morals much more flexible.
Do you disagree at all?
C: No, not at all.
S: I mean, I get why people like Draco, but you can’t have any illusions about who he is.
C: Like I said earlier, I don’t think he’s evil. By the last book or two he clearly doesn’t want to be a Death Eater. He starts off pretty gleeful but he has enough humanity to eventually realize this is bad and I don’t want to do it. Give him credit for that because he certainly didn’t learn that from his parents. But he’s still not awesome.
S: He’s not. But again, another reason these books are so good – not everybody is, or is expected to change fully and stop being bad by the time it’s over. I think that’s why people fight so angrily over Draco and Snape, because literature has taught us that morally ambiguous characters eventually come around, show their true colors, they change. But you know? People like Snape and Draco change a little, but not a lot. I mean, by the time it was over, I’m pretty sure Snape still didn’t give two shits about Harry.
C: What we see of them in Cursed Child is not the outcome I would expect from the end of Book 7.
S: No, that’s all a bunch of people trying to redeem characters they found physically attractive. But, you know, Cursed Child is shit. I will never stop saying that.
C: It is pretty bad.
S: I know it won some theater awards recently, but I would like to point out that it was the actors who won the awards, not the shitty play.
C: I’m looking forward to the later books, when we get into stuff like this more.
S: One more thing before we go on – I’m hitting this now because Book 2 is to my mind one of the more heavily laden with Christian symbolism. This book hammers hard on it. But when I say that, please understand – I know a lot of you dislike reading these books as religious parables, and that’s not what I’m doing. I don’t believe J.K. Rowling meant to write it that way. But these elements echo in Biblical and medieval literature and themes. It’s powerful stuff, that’s why it’s stuck around so long.
C: It’s basically just like Star Wars. George Lucas’s attempt to teach morality to people in a world where organized religion – not that you’d get this from watching the news – was less and less important in the lives of everyday people. So here’s the Dark Side, that’s when you’re selfish and you’re mean and you hurt people. Don’t do that, stick to the light side, make good choices. It’s all in there.
S: This is definitely a book about morality, and it uses a lot of Christian symbolism to teach that morality. But that’s not to say that it is trying to teach a Christian morality. There is a lot of symbolism here that comes through from Genesis to Revelation, like in Revelation where Satan is cast to earth from heaven. There is also a point where it talks about Satan being cast into an abyss, and would remain in the abyss for a thousand years and then would come forth again to battle. And many times in Revelation he’s described as “the great serpent.” There’s also parallels to Revelation, talking about a wild beast that only one could control. So there’s some parallels, and I feel like there’s a lot of abyss symbolism in the Chamber of Secrets, what is in it, and the notion of something that has been waiting for years to be called forth for a confrontation.
And when we get to that confrontation, there is SO MUCH MORE. So I’m setting the stage now, so when I get on my soapbox again ya’ll won’t be all like, “Ahhhhhhh stop with the Bible stuff.”
Back in the book, Harry is having inner turmoil knowing the Sorting Hat tried to put him in Slytherin. Colin comes by and says something that makes Harry think people are saying he’s Slytherin‘s heir. He was on the scene, and he’s Harry so he’s an easy target.
They find themselves at the scene and look around. They find a few things – scorch marks on the floor, and at the windowpane, a bunch of spiders trying to get through the window. Like 20 of them.
S: The movie version is one thing. The way she describes it is way creepier. And POOR RON. OMG. This is funny, but at the same time, horrifying. Ron is terrified of spiders because when he was 3, Fred turned his teddy bear into a giant spider because he broke Fred‘s toy broomstick.
C: So does that mean Fred has a warning from the Ministry for being an underage wizard doing magic outside of school?
S: Possibly but I doubt it. If Ron was 3, Fred would be what – 6? 7?
C: He’d be precocious and talented to do magic at 6 without a wand.
S: What I think is that this was like what Harry did when he was younger – lost control and couldn’t control what he did because he was upset. If we assume Fred is 6 or 7, Ron breaks his toy and he gets really mad, then Ron‘s teddy bear spontaneously turns into something that terrifies him – WHILE HE WAS HOLDING IT! If you can imagine being 3 years old, holding your bear, and all of a sudden it’s a giant fricking spider crawling in your arms OH MY GOD.
C: For me it would be cockroaches, and it could happen now and I would die.
S: I can see why Ron is so frightened. Scarred for life, people!
They see the water is gone, and realize it was coming from a bathroom. A girls’ bathroom that is out of order. Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. The most depressing bathroom Harry has ever set foot in.
C: It is a terrible bathroom! Do some upkeep, Hogwarts. God.
S: I guess even Filch doesn’t want to be around Moaning Myrtle. They’re trying to ask if she saw anything but it turns into a disaster because she’s howling about her feelings being hurt.
C: I have a question, sort of on topic, sort of not. “The floor was damp and reflected the dull light given off by the stubs of a few candles burning low in their holders.” Is Hogwarts lit completely by candles, candelabras, and torches?
S: I think so. That, and natural light from the windows. Are they magically maintained? Why are they on in a bathroom where no one goes? The ins and outs of operating Hogwarts are interesting. Maybe the house-elves do it.
C: That sounds like something wizards would make them do.
S: Moaning Myrtle said Peeves made her so upset that she came here to try to kill herself, and she realized he was already dead.
C: I wasn’t crazy about that. I know it’s not a joke, but she’s such an overdramatic joke of a character. I just didn’t like it.
S: I get where the line comes from, and you’re not supposed to take her seriously. But it is a hard thing to make a joke about.
They run into Percy on the way out, who is like, “WHOA WHAT WERE THE THREE OF YOU DOING IN THE GIRLS BATHROOM?” Which leads me to believe that Percy has more of a suspicious mind than anyone else.
C: OH, it’s been too long since we’ve mentioned a porn parody.
S: I’m sure all sorts of scenarios are running through Percy‘s mind right now. “Ron, you’re only 12!” “An expression of complete shock on his face.” He starts to bustle them along. “Don’t you care what this looks like? Coming back here while everyone’s at dinner?”
C: “Well, it’s our orgy bathroom, Percy. Come on.”
S: Of course he’s also thinking about the situation. Ron: “We didn’t do anything to the cat.” Percy: “That’s what I told Ginny, but she still seems to think you’re going to be expelled. I’ve never seen her so upset crying her eyes out.” Yeah.
Ron and Percy get into it, since Ron suggests he doesn’t really care about Ginny as much as being prefect. So Percy takes 5 points from Gryffindor, which I’m sure he’s been itching to do all summer.
C: In Percy‘s defense, I’m sure he is worried about Ginny.
S: It’s possible to care about more than one thing at once. They’re all worried about Ginny but for all the wrong reasons.
C: I wonder if they ever actually asked Ginny, or if they just made assumptions.
S: I think they just assumed.
C: Listen to women!
S: Yes, even if they’re little ones. Oh, god. That just gave me a strong and very unpleasant echo of abused children and how people ignore the signs and don’t listen to them. Damn.
C: Well, way to kill the mood.
S: Fuck you, brain. Why would you do that?
C: There’s no segue from that. Move on.
S: Yep. They’re trying to do their homework. Ron is in a bad mood and ignites his parchment, and even Hermione is done with homework. She’s been thinking about this nonstop. Of course, Ron ‘s thought is that it has to be –
S: And Hermione is like, eh, not so much. Again, this thing that Ron says about handing down the key to the Chamber for centuries, father to son, is interesting and kind of true to an extent. Clearly Hermione has been on this all day. They think they have to prove it’s Draco, to which Hermione says there might be a way. because she’s been considering possibilities here.
C: Of course she has! She’s Hermione.
S: Hermione: “We need to get in the common room and ask them questions without them realizing it’s us.” For that, Polyjuice Potion – which Snape mentioned in class, and if you morons had been paying attention you would have heard it too. Ron: “Do you think we’ve got nothing better to do during Potions than listen to Snape?” Isn’t that what Potions is for?
C: One would think….
S: Hermione thinks Draco must be boasting about this nonstop. She pays damn good attention in class – she remembers it’s in a book called Moste Potente Potions, which is likely in the Restricted Section and you’d need a note to get it. And there’s only one way to get that – you go to the one teacher who will fall for it.
This blows my mind, because I didn’t even catch what Hermione says here until I read this to my husband the first time. “I think that if we made it sound as if we were just interested in the theory, we might stand a chance.”
And then I thought of Book 6, when Tom Riddle goes to his Potions teacher and says he’s interested in the theory of something. That’s how he gets his info on Horcruxes.
C: That’s Slughorn?
S: Yeah. And I didn’t catch that was exactly the strategy Hermione came up with in Book 2. Ron: “Come on. No teacher is going to fall for that.”
C: It’s interesting – Slughorn is different from Lockhart in a lot of ways, in that he’s actually competent on his own, but Slughorn has that club of students he thinks will go on to do great things that can benefit him. So they’re really not that different. It’s the same kind of ego that flattery will work on.
S: Flattery works on both in this case. Riddle uses flattery the way Hermione does to get Lockhart to sign. It is different, and in Slughorn’s defense – although this might make it worse – he does seem to know that when they’re talking about the theory, they’re not really talking about theory. He understands that. And that’s why he tries to bury it for so long. He tells Harry later, “I think I may have done great damage that day.” He knew at the time that he shouldn’t have the conversation, but he didn’t want to address that thought. It’s a different kind of situation, but the outcome is the same, and the message is clear – that flattery and your ego can be a weakness.
It’s brilliant. But yes, there is one teacher we know of that is that stupid. Which leads me to say, I think we should undertake this strategy. If we could just get Trump to sign something – we know he doesn’t read what he signs – we could get him to resign and he’d never know it.
C: Yeah, just hide it in a bunch of legalese.
S: Or we could ask for his autograph! He’d totally sign it. I’m starting to think this is a valid strategy that we need to implement as soon as possible.
C: You need to suggest that to someone in Washington, D.C.
S: Because our president is as literate as a garden slug. I guarantee you he won’t read it, and probably wouldn’t know half of the words on the page.
C: Ugh. I’m not even going to go there. That’s a totally different tangent.
S: What did I say? You can tell if people are good or bad based on their relationship to books!
C: It’s true. Some of the time. Then you have people like Jonathan Franzen.
S: Fuck Jonathan Franzen, with his “hard little clitoris of discernment.” What the fuck does that even mean?
C: He is so awful. I don’t know.
S: It means that he has never seen a clitoris in his life.
C: He’s just the worst.
Ch. 10: The Rogue Bludger
C: I have so many problems with this. I would think it would be pretty clear that the Bludger was not acting correctly when it’s literally pulling turns in midair to follow no one but Harry and Madam Hooch is just like, meh. There’s no indication that she even knows anything is wrong.
S: It’s worse in the movie, with no one doing anything, and then in the end fucking Hermione pulls out a Finite Incantatem, and it explodes.
Really? Ya’ll are having a second year old clean up a mess you can’t? If that Bludger had been tampered with, which would apparently take a powerful charm since they’re already heavily Charmed to do what they have to in the game, that’s pretty impressive. An adult needed to step up there. We’re not even there yet, and it’s annoying.
But we’re having a nice drama class in Defense Against the Dark Arts , because all Lockhart does is reenact passages from his books. Which – poor Harry is forced to find his thespian skills. But I have to say, I know the plot of Wanderings with Werewolves. Because we now know, not only did Lockhart travel and possibly seduce Jacob Black, but he also encountered the Cullens. Because Harry has been forced to play a Transylvanian villager, a yeti with a head cold, and “a vampire who had been unable to eat anything but lettuce since Lockhart had dealt with him.” We found the vegan vamps, people!
C: I love this. “Nice loud howl, Harry! Exactly!” Wait, it’s even worse than I thought. Harry is acting like this werewolf. “And then – if you’ll believe it – I pounced – like this – slammed him to the floor.” So did Lockhart actually pin him to the floor?
S: Yeah, he totally did. “slammed him to the floor – thus.”
C: And all the girls in the class are like, “Why can’t it be me? Harry gets all the luck.”
S: I can’t imagine what the rest of the class is thinking watching this. It’s so ridiculous and weird.
Now Hermione knows what she has to do, and she turns on the flattery. It’s in the Restricted Section, I need a teacher to sign for it. “I’m sure it would help me understand what you say in Gadding with Ghouls about slow-acting venoms.” How does anyone trap a ghoul with a tea strainer?
C: And what is a ghoul?
S: I don’t know but there’s one in the attic at the burrow.
C: It can’t be that evil and that scary, so why do we need to trap it anyway?
S: No one knows. It’s very confusing. Lockhart: “Well, I’m sure no one will object to me giving the best student of the year a little help.” With his giant peacock quill that he’s not at all compensating with. And then bragging about being asked to join the National Squad for Quidditch.
C: Yeah, right. Do we think that Lockhart ever played at all?
S: I don’t think he ever got on a broom. Listening to him sounds like a State of the Union address. “I was so awesome! And I could have done this! And I won at this. And I was the best at this.” FUCK YOU.
Harry: “I don’t believe it, he didn’t even look at the book we wanted.” Ron: “That’s because he’s a brainless git!” Yes.
So they go get the book, which one assumes Madam Pince unchains from the Restricted Section. I have to wonder, are there due dates on these books? Are they allowed to have them out as long as they want? I was surprised they were able to take it out of the library.
C: And Hermione keeps it for at least a month.
S: I always thought it would be like the reference books they never let you check out.
C: That would make more sense, with an evil book.
S: Nope, just take it and run.
C: Hogwarts is the worst.
S: They’re back in the barricaded, out of order bathrooms. And clearly this should have been in the restricted section, because some of these potions – there’s a man who seems to have been turned inside out. EW. Why would you want to do that?
C: It doesn’t sound very pleasant.
S: Hermione finds the potion and is looking at what she needs for it. I googled a few of the ingredients, and none were super interesting – leeches, used for healing, skin grafts and restoring injuries; fluxweed, from the mustard family commonly used for healing. But I did find one I thought you would find incredibly entertaining – the ingredient powdered horn of bicorn. Bicorn comes paired with this other beast Chichevache. They are fabulous beasts that appear in European satirical works of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Bicorn was described as a part panther, part cow creature with a human like face. Take a moment to try to imagine that.
C: Part cow, part panther? What part is the cow?
S: No idea. But it has the reputation of devouring kind-hearted and devoted husbands, and is thus plump and well fed, whereas the Chichevache devours obedient wives and is therefore always hungry and thin. FUCK THIS MISOGYNIST LORE, RIGHT HERE.
C: I would think that would be reversed, if anything.
S: Clearly a man wrote this. I don’t think there’s any question of that.
C: Jonathan Franzen?
S: I think Chaucer uses it in The Clerk’s Tale of The Canterbury Tales. I just had to bring it up because I thought it was funny. And then boomslang skin, which is a large, venomous snake.
So they’ve got to figure out where to get all of this stuff, and they’ve got to get a bit of who they’re turning into pay attention Albus and Scorpius. They’re going to have to steal a lot of this, and Ron is starting to back out a bit. “What are we going to do? Break into Snape’s private stores? I don’t know if it’s a good idea.”
And I love that Hermione is full on committed to this. She’s basically saying, if you’re going to chicken out, fine. “I don’t want to break rules!” But I think this is more important, and this is a big deal. I love that Hermione is taking a page out of Harry‘s book. Last book, it was Harry who gave the big speech – “Who cares if we get in trouble!” And now Hermione is all, I don’t care about rules!
C: Is there a point in any of the books where Ron gets to be like, I don’t care, let’s do this?
S: I think so. I’m blanking out on what it is, though. But this is important to Hermione . She’s Muggle-born. This touches her personally.
This potion will take a month to make. Ron: “Malfoy could attack half the Muggle-borns in the school by then….but it’s the best plan we’ve got so full steam ahead, I say!” Because Hermione is giving him a dangerous look.
C: Always skating on thin ice.
S: Ron to Harry: “It would be a lot less hassle if you could just knock Malfoy off his broom tomorrow.” Well, that would be a nice thought. It’s Gryffindor versus Slytherin. Poor Oliver is stressed beyond belief. “Slytherin has got better people than us, but we’ve got better people on our brooms, and we’re going to make them rue the day they let that little bit of slime Malfoy buy his way onto the team. It’ll be down to you, Harry, to show them that a Seeker has to have something more than a rich father. Get to that Snitch before Malfoy, or die trying, because we’ve got to win today.”
The game starts. Malfoy is not very creative with his insults. “Scarhead?” What the fuck is that? Has the fine art of schoolyard insults been so watered down at this point that we’re just being obvious?
C: When he’s going around using racial slurs, there’s really nowhere to go but down from here.
S: And he doesn’t have anything racial to throw at Harry, so he doesn’t have anything to work with. It’s like Louis C.K. says, “I’m a straight white male! You can’t even insult me!” If you’ve never watched his segment on being white – he says that white people are not better, but that being white is clearly better because people treat you better. But if you’re white and you don’t admit that it’s better, then you’re a total asshole, because you have so many advantages. “Look at me, I’m a white straight man. You can’t even insult me. What can you say? Cracker? Oh, shouldn’t have said that, ruined my day. Took me back to owning land and people.”
C: The funny thing is, that may or may not be true, but boy can white people get their dander up. Especially white dudes, when it comes to insults.
S: Always insult their masculinity. It makes them the maddest. It’s the most direct route to getting yelled at and called a bitch. Now, amid Malfoy’s bad insults, Harry is getting distracted by a Bludger that keeps veering toward him, very nearly misses him, and then keeps coming.
Fred and George are partnering up to keep it away from Harry and they’re tag-teaming him on either side, but it’s challenging. Which I wish had been in the movie – in the movie, he’s handling this on his own, but in the book they’re like, okay, we gotta guard our seeker.
C: It’s one Bludger. Can’t Harry cover one side of himself, the other cover the other side, and let the other one go back to help the rest of the team?
S: I don’t know. It is causing problems, as Oliver says guys, what are you doing, that Bludger stopped Angelina from scoring. And George is like, yeah, we were trying to stop the other Bludger from murdering Harry.
The thing I was curious about is that they call a time out and meet up on the ground. Does the Bludger stop for time out?
C: I wondered that too!
S: Doesn’t it follow him? Or does it just hang out waiting for him to come back up? Harry decides what you said – let me deal with the Bludger and you guys focus on the rest of the team. Which everyone thinks is a lousy idea. George to Oliver: “This is your fault. ‘Get the Snitch or die trying.’ What a stupid thing to tell him!”
C: And can I say that I love that Fred and George , who we know are competitive and risk-takers, are like, no, this is not okay.
S: Although, if there are any rappers in the Wizarding World, they’ve got their slogan right here. “Get the Snitch or die trying.”
So Wood gives in. Fine, let Harry deal with the Bludger. Now it’s raining, and Harry is trying to avoid this thing. Draco tries another insult that falls flat: “Training for the ballet, Potter?” You’re a Slytherin!
C: He clearly knows nothing about the rigors it takes to be in a ballet. You have to be a strong, badass person to do that.
S: While he’s busy trying to think of another lame insult, Harry sees the Snitch right by Draco‘s head. He’s debating whether or not to go for it, and he waits too long. The Bludger smashes into him and destroys his elbow. That description is so painful, it hurts to read it. And Harry being very brave and very stupid, is still hanging on to his broom, with “one thought in his numb brain: Get to Malfoy.”
And somehow, he snatches the Snitch with the hand that still works, hits the ground.
And I love this line: “He focused on the Snitch clasped firmly in his good hand. “Aha,” he said vaguely. “We won.”
And then he faints, and wakes to the horrible glitter of teeth. “Oh no, not you!”
Poor Harry, Colin’s taking pictures, Lockhart is trying to fix his arm, Harry is like, “Can’t I just go to the hospital wing?” Even Oliver thinks he should, but no one stops him in time! Lockhart tries to do a spell.
C: “Ah,” said Lockhart. “Yes. Well, that can sometimes happen. But the point is the bones are no longer broken. That’s the thing to bear in mind. So, Harry, just toddle up to the hospital wing. Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger, won’t you escort him? And Madam Pomfrey can …er… tidy you up a bit.”
S: Now that I’ve completely fucked you over. Which, I didn’t want you to go before, but I’m okay with you going now, because I’VE REMOVED ALL THE BONES FROM YOUR ARM.
C: Madam Pomfrey wasn’t at all pleased. “You should have come straight to me!” she raged.
S: Yeah, I’d be pissed too. I liked the actress they got to play Pomfrey, even though she didn’t get much to do in the rest of the season. She’s great yelling about Skele-Gro.
Ron asks Hermione how she can stick up for Lockhart now: “If Harry had wanted deboning he would have asked.”
C: Anyone can make a mistake!
S: But I feel like there’s a gap between ‘mistake’ and bone removal.
C: I wonder was that a spell? Did he say the words wrong, and it’s actually a totally different spell? Or is this him not saying the words correctly?
S: I don’t know. Peskipiksi pesternomi was a real spell, but Lockhart just messed it up. In the movie he uses something like Brachiarm immendo. Which, if you needed a spell to do that, that would be legit. I don’t know if it’s just that Lockhart is bad at things? The only thing he’s good at is modifying memories. He seems to be a very odd wizard. He’s great at marketing himself, but other than that he really can’t do shit.
C: Pretty much.
S: Poor Harry has to drink Skele-Gro to regrow his bones throughout the night.
C: Can you imagine your arm is suddenly nothing but a flap of skin?
S: And all the muscles and veins in there without structure? Ugh. The team comes in and they start having a good party, but Pomfrey kicks them out.
And hours later, he wakes to someone sponging his forehead in the dark.
C: Aw, Dobby!
S: I know that I said last time that I thought the car was the magical aid Harry got, on the monomyth. Then I thought about it – what am I saying? It’s Dobby. Dobby is a mixed bag – he helps Harry a lot – but it just so happens that he endangers him a lot. We are definitely on the Road of Trials now – the series of tests and tasks the person must undergo to achieve transformation. That’s where we are right now, thanks to Dobby. Because now Harry finds out that Dobby is the reason he missed the train. “Dobby had to iron his hands afterward,” but he didn’t care because he thought Harry was safe. He was so shocked when he heard Harry got back to school that he let his masters’ dinner burn and got flogged for it.
Do we ever comprehend exactly how much Dobby loves Harry? He’s willing to give up anything –
C: His life!
S: He does, later on! It’s almost inexplicable how much Dobby cares about him. I don’t know if Harry ever fully grasps how much this poor little house-elf cares about him. We learn more about the clothes – that he can only wear the towel and never be given clothes, or else he’d be free to leave forever. And then we go into : “Harry Potter must go home! I thought my Bludger would be enough!” Harry: “YOUR BLUDGER?”
“Not kill you, sir, never kill you! Dobby wants to save Harry Potter’s life! Better to be sent home grievously injured than remain here!”
Great moment in movie 7. “Dobby only meant to maim or seriously injure!”
Dobby talks about what it was like when Voldemort was at the height of his powers.
“Harry Potter survived, and the Dark Lord’s powers were broken, and it was a new dawn. Harry Potter shone like a beacon of hope for those of us who thought the dark days would never end. And now at Hogwarts, terrible things are to happen. Perhaps are happening already, and Dobby cannot let Harry Potter stay here now that history is to repeat itself – now that the Chamber of Secrets is to be opened once more.”
Then he cracks his water jug over his head.
C: Poor Dobby.
S: Well, at least we know that the Chamber of Secrets exists, was opened before, but Dobby can’t say who is opening it this time. Harry is freaking out: “One of my best friends is Muggle-born, she’ll be first in line!” Dobby: Oh, you’re so noble for wanting to protect your friends, but I still can’t tell you!
And he Apparates away because there are footsteps coming: Dumbledore in a wooly nightgown and nightcap, and McGonagall carrying a statue that has a bunch of grapes, because he was trying to sneak up to see Harry. Colin was sneaking up to see Harry with grapes. I don’t know if I want to make a joke about why he was taking a bunch of grapes up to see Harry, or just say that this kid is so sweet that he wanted to visit Harry and took him a snack.
C: I think he’s just sweet.
S: Poor Colin has been petrified. We’re escalating – we went from a cat to Colin. And the only reason we found him, may I point out, is because Dumbledore was on his way downstairs to get some hot chocolate. What do you want to bet he wanted to go chat with the elves?
C: Possibly that, but he also might have been patrolling the halls.
S: Good point. Well, Colin had his camera in front of his face, and McGonagall thinks maybe he took a picture of his attacker, but the camera is melted on the inside. Dumbledore knows what this means: “The Chamber of Secrets has been opened again.” And the question is not who – but how.
C: Dun dun dun.
S: Clearly Dumbledore doesn’t think for a second that anyone other than Voldemort is behind this. He’s just thinking that the only real question is the logistics. But does that then mean that he knows what’s in the Chamber? Were people petrified in the past? I thought in the past it was just that Myrtle got killed. There’s no way for him to link petrification to the Basilisk… I guess he doesn’t know what’s in there. I guess he sees the pattern – that and the fact that somebody wrote it on the wall, I guess that tipped him off.
I’m overthinking it. Dumbledore‘s over here like, “Yeah, I know because they wrote it.” Kind of like that thing stupid Delphi wrote on the wall. “How do you know she’s Voldemort’s daughter?” “She wrote it.” “AHA!”
So there we go. The Chamber of Secrets has indeed been opened again. And that’s where we stop!
C: So stressful.
S: This concludes our book discussion for this week! Until next time, when we come back to Chamber of Secrets, I am Professor Seraphine –
C: I am Professor Creed –
S: And we’ll see you next time on Advanced Muggle Studies!
Intro music: “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens, performed by Kevin McLeod
Holley, Peter. “Trump supporter thought president would only deport ‘bad hombres.’ Instead, her husband is being deported.” 25 March 2016. The Washington Post.
Scocca, Tom. “Here is a Good, Correct Reading of What’s Bad About Jonathan Franzen.” 1 September 2015. Gawker.
The Harry Potter Wiki: “Argus Filch,” “Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington.”
Pottermore: “The Chamber of Secrets.”
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.