Chapter 7: Mudbloods and Murmurs
Harry is glad to reach the weekend, after spending a lot of time avoiding Professor Lockhart and Colin Creevey. He, Ron, and Hermione are planning to visit Hagrid. But Oliver Wood, Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, wakes Harry up early, eager to begin training. Colin Creevey follows Harry down the stairs with a photo of Harry and Lockhart, asking for Harry’s signature, which Harry refuses to give him. When Colin learns that Harry is on his way to the Quidditch field, he questions Harry about the sport the whole way there. Harry explains that he plays the position of Seeker. His job is to catch the Golden Snitch. Creevey takes a seat in the stands to watch.
Wood gives a speech about new tactics, which the players are too sleepy to understand. He is tormented by their loss the previous year, when Harry was unconscious in the hospital for the final match. Harry goes out onto the field, finding Ron and Hermione sitting in the stands. While the Gryffindor Quidditch team begins to practice, soaring around on their broomsticks, Colin snaps pictures noisily below. The Slytherin team shows up, to Wood’s outrage, as he booked the field. They have a note from Snape with his permission to train their new Seeker, Draco Malfoy. Lucius Malfoy gifted brand new top-of-the-line broomsticks (Nimbus 2001) to the Slytherin team.
Ron and Hermione come over to see what’s happening. Draco makes fun of Ron and George Weasley’s old broomsticks. Hermione defends the Gryffindor members for getting on the team based on talent, instead of buying their way in like Draco. Draco retorts, “No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood.” His words cause an instant uproar. Ron points his wand at Malfoy. A loud bang echoes in the stadium, and a jet of green light shoots out of the wrong end of Ron’s wand, hitting him in the stomach, and knocking him backward. Ron starts belching slugs. The Slytherin team laughs at him. Harry and Hermione help Ron to Hagrid’s cottage nearby. Colin wants Harry to pose Ron for a picture along the way, but Harry brushes Colin aside angrily.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione reach Hagrid’s cottage, and hide in the bushes when they see Gilderoy Lockhart emerge, boasting loudly to Hagrid. Hagrid is happy to see them. He was grumpy when he thought they were Lockhart returning. He fetches a basin for Ron, unperturbed by his slug problem. Hagrid makes them tea, and his boarhound Fang slobbers on them, while he criticizes Lockhart. He doesn’t believe Lockhart’s stories, and says that Dumbledore hired Lockhart because he was the only one who would take the Dark Arts job.
They discuss Malfoy’s insult. Mudblood is a foul name for someone who is Muggle-born, with non-magic parents. Ron explains that “There are some wizards, like Malfoy’s family, who think they’re better than everyone else because they’re what people call pure-blood...the rest of us know that it doesn’t make any difference at all. Look at Neville Longbottom—He’s pureblood and can hardly stand a cauldron the right way up.” Hagrid points out that Hermione can do anything. Ron says, “It’s a disgusting thing to call someone. Dirty Blood, see. Common blood. It’s ridiculous. Most wizards these days are half-blood anyway. If we hadn’t married Muggles we’d have died out.”
Hagrid says he doesn’t blame Ron for trying to curse Draco, but it’s probably for the best that it didn’t work, because Lucius Malfoy would have gotten him into trouble. While they eat very sticky treacle fudge, Hagrid teases Harry about giving out signed photographs. He reassures Harry that he told Lockhart that Harry didn’t need to do it, because he’s more famous than Lockhart without even trying.
Hagrid leads Harry and Hermione to the vegetable patch behind his house, where he is growing a dozen enormous pumpkins. He confesses that he’s been giving them “a bit of help.” Harry notices Hagrid’s flowery pink umbrella and thinks that Hagrid conceals his old school wand inside. Hagrid isn’t supposed to use magic. He was expelled from Hogwarts in his third year. Harry doesn’t know why. Hagrid mentions a visit from Ginny Weasley yesterday, and implies that she was hoping to run into Harry at his house.
When they return to Hogwarts, Professor McGonagall discovers them in the entrance hall. She tells Ron and Harry that they will do their detentions that evening. Ron will be polishing silver with Mr. Filch, without the use of magic. Harry will be helping Prof. Lockhart answer his fan mail. Lockhart requested Harry particularly.
That evening Harry visits Lockhart’s office, which is covered in framed photographs of Lockhart. Harry addresses envelopes for hours, barely listening to Lockhart prattle on. Then he hears “a voice to chill the bone marrow, a voice of breath-taking ice-cold venom.” It says: “Come...come to me...Let me rip you...Let me tear you...Let me kill you…” When Harry jumps and yells “What?” Lockhart is puzzled and then astonished when Harry refers to the voice. He didn’t hear it. He wonders if Harry is getting sleepy, and realizes that they have been there for four hours.
Harry goes back to the dormitory and waits for Ron, who finally arrives, complaining about his detention, in which he had a slug attack all over a Special Award for Services to the School. Harry tells Ron about the voice. Neither of them can figure it out.
Ch. 8: The Deathday Party
October arrives, and with it a spate of colds. Percy notices that his sister Ginny is looking pale, and so makes her take Madam Pomfrey’s Pepperup potion. One stormy Saturday afternoon a few days before Halloween, as Harry is returning from Quidditch practice, muddy and dripping wet, he comes across Nearly Headless Nick. Both Harry and Nick are preoccupied with their troubles. Harry is worried about a report from Fred and George that the Slytherins' new broomsticks are extremely fast. Nick is upset because Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore has disqualified him from the Headless Hunt. They are interrupted by Mrs. Norris, the cat who spies on students for Argus Filch, Hogwarts’ caretaker. Nick warns Harry that Filch is in a bad mood since he’s had to clean up students’ mess of frog brains all morning. Before Harry can flee, Filch appears, sees the mud that Harry has tracked in, and demands that Harry follow him to his office.
Filch decides to make an example of Harry, saying, “it’s only a bit of mud to you, boy, but to me it’s an extra hour of scrubbing!” Just as Filch is about to hand down Harry’s sentence, Peeves the school poltergeist bangs on the ceiling. While Harry waits for Filch to return from chasing Peeves, he notices a large fancy envelope on Filch’s desk. He picks it up and reads, “Kwikspell: A Correspondence Course in Beginner’s Magic.” Intrigued, he reads the parchment inside. When Filch returns, he notices that the letter isn’t where he left it. Sputtering, Filch asks Harry if he read it. Harry lies “No” quickly. Harry is alarmed at Filch’s appearance, assuming that he is furious. Filch, flustered, stutters through shock that Harry read his private correspondence, then claims that it’s not his, it’s a friend’s. Then he lets Harry go, telling him not to breathe a word.
Harry finds out that Nearly Headless Nick persuaded Peeves to crash a valuable cabinet over Filch’s office as a distraction. Grateful, Harry tells Nick that he wishes he could do something to help him with his Headless Hunt problem. Excited, Nick replies that there is something Harry can do: attend his deathday party on Halloween, and mention to Sir Patrick how frightening and impressive Harry finds Nick. He invites Hermione and Ron too. Harry agrees to come to the party. After changing his clothes, Harry joins Hermione and Ron in the common room. Hermione is excited about the deathday party. Ron, grumpy with his homework, thinks a deathday party sounds depressing. While it rains outside, the students are cozy in front of a glowing fire. Fred and George try to feed a firework to a fire-dwelling salamander. Harry is about to tell Ron and Hermione about Filch and the Kwikspell course, when he is distracted by the spectacle of Percy bellowing at Fred and George while the sparking salamander whirls around the room, fireworks exploding from its mouth before it finally escapes into the fire.
When Halloween arrives, Harry regrets his promise to go to the deathday party, because he will miss the Halloween feast. The Great Hall has been decorated with live bats; Hagrid’s huge pumpkins have been turned into lanterns; and rumor has it there will be dancing skeletons. Hermione insists that Harry keep his promise, so they go down to the dungeon. The dungeon is filled with hundreds of ghosts, mostly dancing to musical saws played by an orchestra. Hermione tries to avoid Moaning Myrtle, a ghost who haunts one of the toilets in the girls' bathroom on the first floor. She explains that Myrtle keeps having tantrums and flooding the bathroom, so it’s been out of order all year. They approach the food table eagerly, but are horrified to find rotten food. Harry watches a ghost walk through the table with his mouth held open, saying he can almost taste the food. Peeves the Poltergeist instigates Moaning Myrtle to think that Hermione was making fun of her. Myrtle flees from the dungeon sobbing.
Nearly Headless Nick starts to make a speech, when a dozen ghost horses, each ridden by a headless horseman, burst through the dungeon wall, to applause. Sir Patrick is at the front of the pack, holding his head under his arm, with which he blows a horn. He makes a show of holding his head over the crowd, causing laughter, then strides over to Nick, who welcomes him stiffly. When Sir Patrick spots Harry, Ron, and Hermione, he gives a huge, fake jump of astonishment, causing his head to fall off again, and the crowd to laugh again. When Nick is unamused, Sir Patrick points out that he’s still upset that they won’t let him join the hunt, “But I mean to say—look at the fellow—.” Nick gives Harry a meaningful look, so Harry says that Nick is very frightening. Sir Patrick replies, “I bet he asked you to say that.” Nick tries again to make his speech, but he loses the crowd’s attention as they turn to watch Sir Patrick and the rest of the Headless Hunt play a game of Head Hockey.
The three living guests of the party are cold and hungry, so they leave, hoping to catch the end of the feast. As they hurry up a passageway towards the steps to the entrance hall, Harry again hears the murderous voice that he first heard in Lockhart’s office, saying “...rip...tear...kill...so hungry...for so long...kill...time to kill…” It grows fainter, sounding like it is moving upward. He runs up the stairs into the entrance hall, and then up another flight to the first floor, following the voice. Ron and Hermione follow, confused. Harry hears “...I smell blood...I SMELL BLOOD!” He shouts at his friends that it’s going to kill someone, and runs up the next flight of stairs three at a time. He hurtles around the third floor, with Ron and Hermione following, until they reach the last deserted passage. There they discover foot-high words written on the wall: “THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED. ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE.” They see something hanging under the words. When they edge nearer to see it, Harry almost slips on a large puddle of water on the floor, but his friends catch him. Mrs. Norris is hanging by her tail, stiff and eyes wide. Ron says they should get out of there. Harry wonders if they should help. Ron argues that they don’t want to be found there. But it’s too late. The feast ends, and the students arrive in the corridor from both ends. They fall silent when they see Mrs. Norris. Harry, Ron, and Hermione stand alone in the middle of the corridor. Then Draco Malfoy shouts through the quiet: “Enemies of the Heir, beware! You’ll be next, Mudbloods!” and grins at the sight of the hanging cat.
Chapter 9: The Writing on the Wall
When Argus Filch sees what happened to Mrs. Norris, he blames Harry Potter: “You’ve murdered my cat! You’ve killed her! I’ll kill you!” Dumbledore interrupts Filch, arriving on the scene with several other teachers. He detaches Mrs. Norris, and asks Argus, Harry, Ron, and Hermione to follow him. Lockhart offers his nearby office as a meeting place. Professors McGonagall and Snape join them. After examining Mrs. Norris carefully, Dumbledore tells Filch that she’s not dead, but has been petrified. Filch blames Harry again. Dumbledore replies that no second year could have done it; the Dark magic required is too advanced. Filch maintains that it must be Harry, because of the message on the wall: Harry knows he is a Squib. Harry replies that he didn’t touch Mrs. Norris, and that he doesn’t know what a Squib is.
Snape points out that they might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that the circumstances are suspicious. He asks why they weren’t at the feast. Harry, Hermione, and Ron explain about the deathday party. Then Snape wants to know why they didn’t join the feast afterward: why did they go up to the third-floor corridor? Harry thinks that the truth would sound too far-fetched, so he lies, saying that they were tired and wanted to go to bed. Snape is skeptical that they would skip supper. He suggests to Dumbledore that Harry be taken off the Gryffindor Quidditch team until he is completely honest. McGonagall protests. Dumbledore says “innocent until proven guilty,” infuriating Snape and Filch. Dumbledore promises that they will be able to cure Mrs. Norris with potion made from Mandrakes, once they are fully grown. Lockhart, who has been interjecting with hyperbolic self-aggrandizing comments, offers to make the Mandrake potion. Snape objects, noting that he is the Potions master at Hogwarts.
After they’re dismissed, Harry, Ron, and Hermione talk in an empty classroom. Harry asks his friends if he should have told the teachers the truth about the voice he heard. Ron says no: “hearing voices no one can hear isn’t a good sign, even in the wizarding world.” Ron also remembers that someone, maybe his older brother Bill, told him a story about a secret chamber in Hogwarts. When Harry asks what a Squib is, Ron stifles a snigger and adds “Well—it’s not funny really—but as it’s Filch,” then explains that a Squib is someone born into a wizarding family who doesn’t have magic powers, and that Squibs are quite unusual. Ron realizes, with a “satisfied smile” that if Filch is a Squib, that explains why he hates students.
The attack on Mrs. Norris becomes the talk of the school. Filch paces the spot of the attack, and attempts to scrub the message off of the wall, without success. Ginny Weasley is especially disturbed. Hermione spends even more time than usual reading.
On the way to the library to meet Ron, Harry encounters Justin Finch-Fletchly, who abruptly runs away to avoid him. Ron is measuring his History of Magic homework, because Professor Binns has assigned a three-foot-long composition, and is frustrated that his is too short, while Hermione’s is extra-long. Hermione emerges from the shelves, irritated to find that all of the copies of “Hogwarts, a History” have been checked out, and there’s a waiting list. She says she wants it for the same reason everyone else does: to read up on the Chamber of Secrets. Ron tries to talk Hermione into letting him read her composition, but she refuses.
Ron, Hermione, and Harry attend History of Magic next, the dullest subject on their schedule. It is taught by their only ghost teacher, Professor Binns. Hermione puts up her hand in class, amazing Binns. She asks if he can tell them anything about the Chamber of Secrets. He refuses, saying that he deals with facts, not myths and legends, and then goes on with his lesson. Hermione raises her hand again, to say: “Please, sir, don’t legends always have a basis in fact?” He agrees, begrudgingly. Completely thrown by the students’ show of interest, Binns gives in, and tells the story.
Hogwarts was founded over a thousand years ago by the greatest witches of the age: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin. “They built this castle together, far from prying Muggle eyes, for it was an age when magic was feared by common people, and witches and wizards suffered much persecution.” They worked in harmony for a few years, inviting children with magical abilities to the castle to be educated. Then a rift developed between Salazar Slytherin and the others when he wanted to limit admissions to Hogwarts to children of magical families, as he distrusted students of Muggle parentage. After a serious argument on the subject, Slytherin left the school. That’s a far as the facts go. The legend of the Chamber of Secrets says that Salazar Slytherin built a hidden chamber in the castle and sealed it so that it could only be opened by his own true heir. The heir alone would be able to unleash the “horror within” (a monster) to purge the school of everyone unworthy of studying magic.
Binns says that the castle has been searched many times by the most learned witches and wizards, and that no chamber has been found—it does not exist. The students argue with Binns, but he is unpersuaded. He returns to his lesson, and the students return to their usual torpor.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione fight their way through the crowded corridors to drop off their bags before dinner. Ron and Hermione agree that they’re glad that the Sorting Hat didn’t place them in Slytherin house, after learning that Salazar Slytherin started the pure-blood prejudice. Harry is uneasy because the Sorting Hat had seriously considered putting him in Slytherin last year, saying: “You could be great, you know, it’s all here in your head, and Slytherin would help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that…” Harry knew about Slytherin’s reputation for turning out Dark wizards, so had desperately thought “Not Slytherin!” to which the hat replied “Oh, well, if you’re sure” and placed him in Gryffindor. Harry has never told anyone about this.
They pass Colin Creevy, who says “Harry—a boy in my class has been saying you’re—” and then gets swept away by the crowd. When Hermione wonders what he meant, Harry guesses that other students think that Harry is Slytherin’s heir. Ron asks Hermione if she thinks there really is a Chamber of Secrets. She replies that she doesn’t know, but the fact that Dumbledore couldn’t cure Mrs. Norris might mean that she was attacked by something inhuman. They find themselves at the end of the corridor where the attack occurred, so decide to search for clues. Harry discovers scorch marks on the floor. Hermione notices spiders hurrying to get outside through a small crack in a windowpane. Ron is frightened of spiders because of a traumatic childhood experience when his brother Fred turned his teddy bear into a spider.
Harry reminds them of the water on the floor the night of the attack, and wonders where it came from. Ron says it was level with the door to the girl’s bathroom. When Ron is hesitant to enter, Hermione says it’s ok to go in–No one will be in there, as it’s Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. Moaning Myrtle is floating above the tank of the toilet in the end stall. They ask her if she saw anyone near her bathroom on Halloween night when Mrs. Norris was attacked. Myrtle replies that she wasn’t paying attention because Peeves upset her so much that she came in there to kill herself, but couldn’t, because she’s already dead. Then she dives, sobbing, into the toilet.
Percy is shocked to discover them in the girl’s bathroom. Ron explains that they’re looking for clues. Percy bustles them out of the bathroom, saying “Don’t you care what this looks like? Coming back while everyone’s at dinner—” Ron argues with his brother that they never laid a finger on the cat. Percy says that’s what he told Ginny, but she’s very upset. Ron replies that Percy doesn’t care about Ginny, he’s just worried about messing up his chances to be Head Boy. Percy takes five points from Gryffindor, and threatens to write their mother if Ron does any more detective work.
In the common room that night, both Ron and Hermione are preoccupied and unable to study. Hermione wonders “who’d want to frighten all the Squibs and Muggle-born out of Hogwarts?” Ron thinks that Draco Malfoy is the Heir of Slytherin, but Hermione is skeptical. Ron points out that Draco said “You’ll be next, Mudbloods!” when he saw the writing on the wall, and that all of his family has been in Slytherin house. The Malfoys could have had the key to the Chamber for centuries and handed it down through the generations.
Hermione agrees that it’s possible that Draco is the heir. Harry wonders how they can prove it. Hermione says there’s a way, but it would be difficult, and they would be breaking fifty school rules in the process. She proposes that they make Polyjuice potion, which they just learned about in Snape’s Potions class. With the Polyjuice potion, they can transform themselves into three Slytherin students to get into the Slytherin common room and ask Malfoy questions. Ron is worried that they will get stuck looking like Slytherins. Hermione, impatient, assures them that it wears off after a while. She says that getting the recipe will be difficult, as the book is likely to be in the restricted section of the library, which requires a note of permission from a teacher. She suggests that they pretend to be interested in the theory in the book. Ron says that no teacher will fall for that, “they’d have to be really thick…”
Ron’s feelings towards Hermione develop subtly throughout the book. Ron is jealous of Hermione’s crush on Lockhart. He is shocked when her face becomes hairy after the accident with the Polyjuice potion. He defends her against Draco. He is so upset when she is petrified that he’s willing to face his fear of spiders to save her, and is especially relieved when she is revived.
In the conflict of Hermine vs. Draco, Hermione claims that he had to buy his way onto the Quidditch team, because he has no talent. Draco replies, “No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood” exhibiting entitlement, disgust, and pureblood supremacism. Their contrast represents status based on blood vs. merit.
When Harry is in Lockhart’s office, he hears a horrifying disembodied voice. “It was a voice, a voice to chill the bone marrow, a voice of breathtaking, ice-cold venom.” There are clues within the writing that the monster is a snake, as snakes are cold-blooded, venomous creatures.
Nick and Harry are both frustrated by issues of class and status. Nick is excluded from the Headless Hunt, and has a lower position in ghost society, based on circumstances out of his control. This is enforced by Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore, an insufferable gatekeeper. Harry is frustrated because despite getting up earlier than everyone else and practicing in inclement weather, his team can’t keep up with the speed of the Slytherin team, because they have expensive broomsticks, and so an unfair advantage.
Filch is disgruntled because he has to clean up after thoughtless Hogwarts students. Harry discovers that Filch wants to study magic, like Hogwarts students. Hence, the Qwickspell course. It is revealed later that he is a “Squib,” someone born into a wizard family who doesn’t have any magical powers. They are treated as second-class citizens in the wizarding world. This is the reason for his bitterness, and his sadism towards students. When Harry discovers Flich’s secret desire, it embarrasses him, and saves Harry from punishment, though he doesn’t know why until later. It’s ironic when Nick asks Harry to vouch for how frightening he is, right after he kindly helps Harry escape Filch, by instigating Peeves. Like Dobby, Peeves the Poltergeist is a trickster figure, inciting random disruption. Sir Patrick, Harry Potter, and Filch all struggle with both class and the expectations of masculinity.
Seasons create a structure for the book. Because it’s October, Harry and Filch contend with the mud that results from rain. October also provides the perfect pretext for the death day party. Autumn is traditionally a liminal season, a transition from summer to winter, from life to death. Halloween has pagan roots and is a mainstay of Gothic literature. At the deathday party, the three friends find a combination of hospitality and grossness. Moaning Myrtle is introduced, who is key to the plot. This episode raises unanswered questions about ghosts in the world of Harry Potter: Why do some ghosts stick around the human world, but Harry Potter’s parents do not? There is a light-hearted quality to the death day party. It’s more like Dia de Los Muertos celebration than a horror show.
Then, in contrast, Harry experiences a truly horrifying voice, a predator who wants to kill but can’t be seen. Because Harry can understand Parseltongue (which is rare), he is able to hear the basilisk. This in turn causes suspicion in his fellow wizards. Harry’s difference isolates him. Ron is sensitive to common opinion as he often shares it himself—sniggering at Filch, telling Harry that hearing voices looks bad. He represents the average wizard. His instinct is to run when they find Mrs. Noris. Harry’s instinct is always to help.
Draco Malfoy represents the upper-class pureblood wizard. His family used to have more status, and is trying to hold on to it. He is sadistic, happy at the sight of the hanging cat, and tries to scare the Muggle-born out of Hogwarts. His father Lucius Malfoy has facilitated this moment, so Ron is not too far off to suspect Draco. But Draco Malfoy is a red herring in the plot, not Slytherin’s heir.
Hogwarts was founded in a time when “magic was feared by common people, and witches and wizards suffered much persecution.” It was built in isolation for the protection of a persecuted minority. Salazar Slytherin distrusted Muggles. This is the origin of the Chamber of Secrets. It is a protectionist desire, analogous to ethnonationalism, to protect an in-group from an out-group. Salazar Slytherin left the school when the other four founders disagreed, but placed the beast in the Chamber for his heir so that his pureblood ideology could regain power one day through ethnic cleansing. Harry has self-doubt about his identity. He is worried that he has inherited evil. The book overall considers a conflict between two models of human nature: essentialist identity and constructed identity.
Hermione represents rationality amid prejudice. She is good at suspending judgment, collecting empirical information, and coming up with hypotheses. She notices the spiders fleeing. And she reasons that because Dumbledore couldn’t cure Mrs. Norris, the cat must have been attacked by something inhuman.
Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom is a transgressive space. The rules are represented by Percy Wesley. He is shocked to find Ron and Harry in a girls' bathroom. Much has been made by psychoanalytic theorists about setting the Chamber of Secrets in a bathroom. It is also a plot point that alarmed some Christian parents groups who reviewed the book.