Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Choices

By J.K. Rowling

Choices

"Harry Potter says he's not going back to school —"

"Dobby...please..."

"Say it, sir —"

"I can't —"

Dobby gave him a tragic look.

"Then Dobby must do it, sir, for Harry Potter's own good."

The pudding fell to the floor with a heart-stopping crash. Cream splattered the windows and walls as the dish shattered. With a crack like a whip, Dobby vanished. (2.89-95)

Obviously, Dobby has a really misguided notion of what is for "Harry Potter's own good." By letting Harry take the blame for the destroyed dessert, Dobby gets poor Harry locked up in his bedroom by the Dursleys – there are even bars on the windows! Even though Dobby acts with the best of intentions, by not giving Harry any choices about his protection, he makes everything much worse. Dobby's actions underline one of the major themes of the Harry Potter series: the importance of free will and personal choice.

My name was down for Eton, you know. I can't tell you how glad I am I came here instead. Of course, Mother was slightly disappointed, but since I made her read Lockhart's books I think she has begun to see how useful it'll be to have a fully trained wizard in the family. (6.67)

This passage of dialogue comes from Justin Finch-Fletchley, a Muggle-born Hufflepuff second year. He seems like a nice enough kid, if a little too trusting of Professor Lockhart. (By the way, Eton is a very expensive, old, and established boys' school in Britain. So, Justin must be pretty highly placed in terms of social class.) Not only does this passage go to show that Professor Lockhart's reputation has spread far and wide; it also indicates that the kids at Hogwarts come from lots of different backgrounds. It's hard to imagine that Justin's mother was "slightly disappointed" at Justin's choice to go to Hogwarts instead of Eton – how could you not be insanely excited that your son is going to be a wizard? Why do you think Justin's mother values Eton over Hogwarts? What might Eton mean to her or to her family, that she's excited about Justin going there? Can you imagine a reason not to attend Hogwarts?

"All right, Harry? I'm – I'm Colin Creevey," [a mousy-haired Gryffindor first year] said breathlessly, taking a tentative step forward. "I'm in Gryffindor, too. D'you think – would it be all right if – can I have a picture?" he said, raising the camera hopefully.

"A picture?" Harry repeated blankly.

"So I can prove I've met you," said Colin Creevey eagerly, edging further forward. "I know all about you. Everyone's told me. About how you survived when You-Know-Who tried to kill you, and how he disappeared and everything and how you've still got a lightning scar on your forehead [...] It's amazing here, isn't it? I never knew all the odd stuff I could do was magic till I got the letter from Hogwarts. My dad's a milkman, he couldn't believe it either." (6.84-86)

Colin Creevey is Harry's one-person cheering squad in Book 2. He's so admiring of Harry that it gets a little embarrassing. Yet we find Colin interesting for two other reasons. First, like Justin Finch-Fletchley in the same chapter, he's a Muggle-born. Yet his father's a milkman, so he comes from a lower social class than Eton-bound Justin. Still, Colin and Justin's Muggle social backgrounds don't seem at all relevant at Hogwarts. In fact, Hogwarts seems more diverse in terms of social class than most Muggle private schools. Second, Colin's enthusiasm about Hogwarts and all the neat stuff he can do with magic keeps the wonder going from Book 1 to Book 2. In Book 1, everything at Hogwarts is new to Harry and he keeps discovering new things around every corner. By Book 2, there are still strange things for Harry to find (like the Mandrakes or Fawkes, the phoenix), but Hogwarts itself is starting to appear familiar. Colin's response reminds us how marvelous the wizarding world still is.

Angelina, Alicia, and Katie had come over, too. There were no girls on the Slytherin team, who stood shoulder to shoulder, facing the Gryffindors, leering to a man. (7.61)

Angelina, Alicia, and Katie are the three Gryffindor Quidditch team Chasers. Rowling's depictions of the Slytherins are uniformly awful: Here, all the guys on the team are "leering" at the three Gryffindor women. This is a description of a bunch of random, nameless guys whom we never see again, but because they're Slytherins, Rowling still takes care to emphasize that they are "leering" – an adjective with a negative connotation. We find this passage striking (even though it's so brief) because it points out something we've always wondered about the world of Harry Potter: Do you get sorted into Slytherin because you're a jerk already, or do you become a jerk because you have been sorted into Slytherin? By being sorted into a house where everyone (especially the Gryffindors) expects you to be a dangerous Dark wizard probably has a damaging psychological effect on the kids who are placed there. J.K. Rowling always emphasizes the various bad traits of her Slytherin characters, so it's hard to imagine their better qualities. Why does Rowling choose to portray the Slytherins in such dark terms, as opposed to the Gryffindors? How do you think a Slytherin would tell the story of the Harry Potter novels?

"Training for the ballet, Potter?" yelled Malfoy as Harry was forced to do a stupid kind of twirl in midair to dodge the Bludger, and he fled, the Bludger trailing a few feet behind him; and then, glaring back at Malfoy in hatred, he saw it – the Golden Snitch. It was hovering inches above Malfoy's left ear – and Malfoy, busy laughing at Harry, hadn't seen it. (10.79)

Draco manages to buy his way on the Slytherin team as Seeker. Yet it's not clear how much he's playing Quidditch because he loves the sport, and how much he's doing it because he desperately wants to beat Harry at something. Here, he doesn't notice the Golden Snitch right over his shoulder because he's too busy laughing at Harry. A surprising amount of Draco's life seems to revolve around Harry: He's jealous of him, and he hates him, so he seems to be distracted by him quite often. What do you think Draco does in his spare time, when he's not harassing Harry? What does he want in life? Do we get any kind of depth for his character in Book 2? How does he change from Book 2 to the later novels of the series?

Harry swung his wand high, but Malfoy had already started on "two"; his spell hit Harry so hard he felt as though he'd been hit over the head with a saucepan. He stumbled, but everything still seemed to be working, and wasting no time, Harry pointed his wand straight at Malfoy and shouted, "Rictusempra!"

A jet of silver light hit Malfoy in the stomach and he doubled up, wheezing.

"I said Disarm only!" Lockhart shouted in alarm over the heads of the battling crowd, as Malfoy sank to his knees; Harry had hit him with a Tickling Charm, and he could barely move for laughing. (11.77-79)

Obviously, Professor Snape's choice to pair Harry with Draco is intended to punish Harry for existing. Still, why do you think Professor Lockhart chooses to start this Dueling Club? What does he hope to get out of it? Why teach a bunch of students to hex each other? Why do you think Professor Dumbledore agreed to Professor Lockhart's request? What is the purpose of a duel?

The pages of the diary began to blow as though caught in a high wind, stopping halfway through the month of June. Mouth hanging open, Harry saw the little square for June thirteenth seemed to have turned into a minuscule television screen. His hands trembling slightly, he raised the book to press his eye against the little window, and before he knew what was happening, he was tilting forward; the window was widening, he felt his body leave his bed, and he was pitched headfirst through the opening in the page, into a whirl of color and shadow. (13.138)

Later in the series, we get to see Pensieve memories, which present events from a third-person perspective and in a relatively objective way. We know from the example of Professor Slughorn's altered memory in Book 6 that it is very difficult to lie using a Pensieve. Riddle's diary, on the other hand, gives a highly subjective view of the events at Hogwarts fifty years before. Riddle frames the whole memory with his own narrative – which turns out to be an utter lie. So, when Harry chooses to look into Riddle's diary, he believes that what he is seeing is objective truth, but it is in fact a sophisticated manipulation. How else does Voldemort try to trick Harry later on in the series? How do his later strategies seem similar to (or different from) the deception he pulls with the diary in Book 2?

"The voice!" said Harry, looking over his shoulder. "I just heard it again – didn't you?"

Ron shook his head, wide-eyed. Hermione, however, clapped a hand to her forehead.

"Harry – I think I've just understood something! I've got to go to the library!"

And she sprinted away, up the stairs.

"What does she understand?" said Harry distractedly, still looking around, trying to tell where the voice had come from. (14.47-51)

We've already wondered why Professor Dumbledore – who was present in Riddle's memory and must have some thoughts about Hagrid's expulsion and the Chamber of Secrets – doesn't just share his suspicions with Professor McGonagall when Justin Finch-Fletchley is first Petrified. Here, though, Hermione is doing it, too. She's clearly gotten an idea about the monster in the Chamber of Secrets, so why doesn't she stop and explain? If you had figured out something important about a monster attacking your school, wouldn't you take a few minutes to fill in your friends before bolting to the library? Is this an example of J.K. Rowling just looking for new ways to build suspense? Or can you think of a real reason why Hermione keeps her sudden inspiration secret?

"Bad business, Hagrid," said Fudge in rather clipped tones. "Very bad business. Had to come. Four attacks on Muggle-borns. Things've gone far enough. Ministry's got to act."

"I never," said Hagrid, looking imploringly at Dumbledore. "You know I never, Professor Dumbledore, sir —"

"I want it understood, Cornelius, that Hagrid has my full confidence," said Dumbledore, frowning at Fudge.

"Look, Albus," said Fudge, uncomfortably. "Hagrid's record's against him. The Ministry's got to do something – the school governors have been in touch —" (14.108-111)

This scene in Book 2 between Cornelius Fudge, Hagrid, and Professor Dumbledore happens long before Cornelius Fudge goes power-mad and paranoid in Book 5. Still, we can already see signs of the kind of leader he's going to be. He wants to seem decisive, so he acts without clear evidence (and under pressure from the school governors) to arrest a man and send him straight to Azkaban, the wizard prison. Fudge is willing to lock Hagrid up without trial, a definite indication that the wizarding justice system is not all it should be in Britain. How do Fudge's choices in Book 2 foreshadow what's going to happen to him in the later Harry Potter novels? What flaws does Fudge show in this scene that continue on through the series? What makes Fudge a bad model of leadership?

[Professor Lockhart] didn't seem to notice that the other teachers were looking at him with something remarkably like hatred. Snape stepped forward.

"Just the man," he said. "The very man. A girl has been snatched by the monster, Lockhart. Taken into the Chamber of Secrets itself. Your moment has come at last.

Lockhart blanched. […]

"We'll leave it you, then, Gilderoy," said Professor McGonagall. Tonight will be an excellent time to do it. We'll make sure everyone's out of your way. You'll be able to tackle the monster all by yourself. A free rein at last."

Lockhart gazed desperately around him, but nobody came to the rescue. He didn't look remotely handsome anymore. His lip was trembling, and in the absence of his usual toothy grin, he looked weak-chinned and feeble. (16.114-124)

Throughout the book, we've remarked on the way Lockhart never, ever seems to notice how much people around him hate him. Sure, some girls are taken in by his good looks, but for the most part, he alienates everyone by being an obvious fool. Yet his bragging, insincerity, and lack of sensitivity for the people around him all come back to haunt him in this scene, now that the other Hogwarts professors are in such a good position to call his bluff. Professor Lockhart's fate is like a cautionary tale about the importance of choosing honesty and sincerity over self-importance and bragging. The problem with exaggerating your own abilities is that you might one day be asked to prove it – and you don't want to look like Professor Lockhart does here when that day comes.

"Professor," [Harry] started again after a moment. "The Sorting Hat told me I'd – I'd have done well in Slytherin. Everyone thought I was Slytherin's heir for a while…because I can speak Parseltongue…"

"You can speak Parseltongue, Harry," said Dumbledore calmly, "because Lord Voldemort – who is the last remaining descendant of Salazar Slytherin – can speak Parseltongue. Unless I'm much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I'm sure…"

"Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?" Harry said, thunderstruck. […] "It only put me in Gryffindor," said Harry in a defeated voice, "because I asked not to go in Slytherin…"

"Exactly," said Dumbledore, beaming once more. "Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." (18.54-61)

In this discussion between Harry and Professor Dumbledore, Harry's choice between Gryffindor and Slytherin seems to mean the same thing as a choice between good and evil. Harry chooses to align himself with Gryffindor, so he is not a Slytherin. What if you don't know what you're choosing when you're Sorted, though? Do you think it would be possible to be placed in the wrong Hogwarts House? What would happen if you became a totally different person from 11 to 17 (which, after all, isn't that unusual)? Could you outgrow your Hogwarts House?