Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Education

By J.K. Rowling

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We have received intelligence that a Hover Charm was used at your place of residence this evening at twelve minutes past nine.

As you know, underage wizards are not permitted to perform spells outside school, and further spellwork on your part may lead to expulsion from said school (Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, 1875, Paragraph C). (2.103-104)

This Ministry notice to Harry scolding him for a Hover Charm that he didn't even cast (it was Dobby!) seems terribly unfair. It's the first definite evidence we get that the Ministry of Magic is not the world's most competent governing body. After all, how can you send someone an official warning without even knowing for sure if that person is the one who broke the law?

All three of Mrs. Weasley's sons were taller than she was, but they cowered as her rage broke over them.

"Beds empty! No note! Car gone – could have crashed – out of my mind with worry – did you care? – never, as long as I've lived – you wait until your father gets home, we never had trouble like this from Bill or Charlie or Percy – [...] You could have died, you could have been seen, you could have lost your father his job —"

It seemed to go on for hours. Mrs. Weasley had shouted herself hoarse before she turned on Harry, who backed away.

"I'm very pleased to see you, Harry, dear," she said. "Come in and have some breakfast." (3.105-110)

The Burrow is the first wizarding house Harry has ever seen, so it's filled with things that are still new to him. It's not just the house itself that is new; this is also Harry's first experience of family life that isn't completely abusive and hostile to him. Mrs. Weasley yells at her kids, sure, but they have scared her to death. She shrieks because she worries. She also welcomes Harry with open arms. Harry is learning what a loving family looks like. No wonder he gets so attached to all of the Weasleys and not just Ron.

"This is what you have to do," [Ron] said. He raised the gnome above his head ("Gerroff me!") and started to swing it in great circles like a lasso. Seeing the shocked look on Harry's face, Ron added, "It doesn't hurt them – you've just got to make them really dizzy so they can't find their way back to the gnomeholes."

He let go of the gnome's ankles: It flew twenty feet into the air and landed with a thud in the field over the hedge [...]

"See, [the gnomes] are not too bright," said George, seizing five or six gnomes at once. "The moment they know the de-gnoming's going on they storm up to have a look. You'd think they'd have learned by now to just stay put."

Soon, the crowd of gnomes in the field started walking away in a straggling line, their little shoulders hunched. (3.141-149)

The Harry Potter series is set in a school, so of course it's about education. It also focuses on Harry (and the reader) learning more about the larger wizarding world. The Burrow isn't just a house where wizards live; it's also a magical place in its own right, filled with creatures like these (cute) gnomes and the ghoul in the attic. These scenes teach both Harry and us how different the day-to-day life of wizards truly is. By making Harry unfamiliar with wizarding culture, Rowling has a plot-level reason to explain cool details like the gnomes. All of this stuff is as new to Harry as it is to us, so of course he's curious and wants to know more – which is great, because we want to know more, too.

"I hope my son will amount to more than a thief or a plunderer, Borgin," said Mr. Malfoy coldly, and Mr. Borgin said quickly, "No offense, sir, no offense meant —"

"Though if his grades don't pick up," said Mr. Malfoy, more coldly still, "that may indeed be all he is fit for —"

"It's not my fault," retorted Draco. "The teachers all have favorites, that Hermione Granger "

"I would have thought you'd be ashamed that a girl of no wizard family beat you in every exam," snapped Mr. Malfoy. (4.83-86)

Obviously, this scene between Draco and Lucius Malfoy underlines the Malfoys' bigotry. Lucius is outraged that Draco's scores aren't as good as the marks of "a girl of no wizard family." Beyond that, though, we have here an extremely negative example of parenting (clearly). Lucius publicly shames Draco for his grades rather than, say, doing anything to help him improve. He offers Draco a racing broom – so he's willing to spoil Draco – but he doesn't encourage Draco to work for the broom. So Lucius gives Draco things that he hasn't earned but then mocks him for poor grades without assisting him to improve. This is very bad parenting technique – a lesson for us all to bear in mind!

Mrs. Weasley's yells, a hundred times louder than usual, made the plates and spoons rattle on the table, and echoed deafeningly off the stone walls. People throughout the hall were swiveling around to see who had received the Howler, and Ron sank so low in his chair that only his crimson forehead could be seen.


Ron and Harry both felt really cool, arriving at school in a flying car, but Mrs. Weasley's Howler – and the news that Mr. Weasley is facing an investigation at work because of the whole Misuse of Muggle Artifacts thing – suddenly makes them realize that they were taking a huge risk that freaks out Ron's parents. Harry feels guilty for abusing the Weasleys' trust and Ron feels mortified. A Howler seems like a really humiliating thing to receive in the middle of a full dining hall, though. Does this seem like effective parental discipline? Or does it seem like overkill? If you had kids, would you be willing to send Howlers to their schools? Would your parents Howler you if they had the chance? What might their Howlers say?

"I don't really understand Quidditch," said Colin breathlessly. "Is it true there are four balls? And two of them fly around trying to knock people off their brooms?"

"Yes," said Harry heavily, resigned to explaining the complicated rules of Quidditch. "They're called Bludgers. There are two Beaters on each team who carry clubs to beat the Bludgers away from their side. Fred and George Weasley are the Gryffindor Beaters." (7.22-23)

Moments like this one between first year Colin Creevey and Harry remind us that this is the second book of the series. For her potential new readers, J.K. Rowling has to include some exposition of all of the things she's set up in Book 1, things like the wizarding world's moving photographs or Quidditch. Of course, later on in the series, Rowling can assume that her readers are familiar enough with Harry's world not to need instruction in Quidditch. By Book 2, though, it's still early days in the Harry Potter series and all of these things we take for granted now aren't as widely known or established as they will be by Book 7. With his endless questions, Colin becomes an excellent tool for Rowling to instruct her new readers in the basic rules of Hogwarts and Harry's life, since he's (a) obsessed with Harry, and (b) a first year, so, busily absorbing the amazing world around him. Colin is both a character and a mechanism of the narrative.

History of Magic was the dullest subject on their schedule. Professor Binns, who taught it, was their only ghost teacher, and the most exciting thing that ever happened in his classes was his entering the room through the blackboard. Ancient and shriveled, many people said he hadn't noticed he was dead. He had simply got up to teach one day and left his body behind him in front of the staffroom fire; his routine had not varied in the slightest since. (9.83)

There's something ironic about a dead man teaching history, since history is all about the past and the activities of long-dead people. We have to wonder a little at the wisdom of Professor Dumbledore leaving such a deadly dull instructor in charge of a subject that's actually really important. Not only is the history of the four founding wizards and witches essential to the plot of Book 2, but wouldn't it have been helpful for Harry to know about Grindelwald before Book 7?

"Dangerous?" said Harry, laughing. "Come off it, how could it be dangerous?"

"You'd be surprised, said Ron, who was looking apprehensively at the book. "Some of the books the Ministry's confiscated – Dad's told me – there was one that burned your eyes out. And everyone who read Sonnets of a Sorcerer spoke in limericks for the rest of their lives. And some old witch in Bath had a book that you could never stop reading! You just had to wander around with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed." (13.33-34)

Muggle-born wizards and witches obviously are just as good (or in Hermione's case, better) than purebloods. Still, Book 2 does show evidence of real cultural differences between people who have been raised in the wizard world and those who have been brought up in the Muggle world. Harry is a great example. As a kid brought up by the Dursleys, he has no idea why being a Parselmouth would make him terrifying to other wizards. Here, he has none of the caution around an unknown book that comes naturally to Ron. So Harry has none of the prejudices that purebloods have about their world, but he's also still learning a basic level of caution and understanding as he integrates with other wizards. As an early part of the Harry Potter series, Book 2 shows us that Harry is still in the middle of a process of adapting to the unfamiliar dangers and differences of the wizarding world. He doesn't think about this new, empty book as a danger because he hasn't been raised by a magical family, but his experiences with Tom Riddle's diary give him a quick education in taking bewitched objects very, very seriously.

"Ginny!" said Mr. Weasley, flabbergasted. "Haven't I taught you anything? What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain. Why didn't you show the diary to me, or to your mother? A suspicious object like that, it was clearly full of Dark Magic —"

"I d-didn't know," sobbed Ginny. "I found it inside one of the books Mum got me. I th-thought someone had just left it there and forgotten about it." (18.21-22)

This is certainly a useful lesson to have: only trust thinking things if you can tell where their brains are. Wizarding lessons are definitely different from ours. At the same time, we find this rule completely puzzling. Why would a visible or invisible brain case make a difference to trustworthiness? What does Mr. Weasley's lesson mean? How might this lesson apply to another book we come across in the series, the Half-Blood Prince's advanced potions textbook in Book 6?

"This is called a telephone number," [Harry] told Ron, scribbling it twice, tearing the parchment in two, and handing it to them. "I told your dad how to use a telephone last summer – he'll know. Call me at the Dursleys', okay? I can't stand another two months with only Dudley to talk to…"

"Your aunt and uncle will be proud, though, won't they?" said Hermione as they got off the train and joined the crowd thronging toward the enchanted barrier. "When they hear what you did this year?"

"Proud?" said Harry. "Are you crazy? All those times I could've died, and I didn't manage it? They'll be furious…" (18.143-145)

How can Harry say things like this about his home life and yet continue to get sent back to the Dursleys? He's joking, yes, but – not really. Still, we also find it amazing that Hermione, one of Harry's best friends, doesn't seem aware of how bad things are at Harry's aunt and uncle's house. It's naive of her to think they'll suddenly grow some pride in their nephew, when they haven't all of these years. What long-term effects does Harry's treatment at the Dursleys have on his character? Why do you think J.K. Rowling chose to give Harry this kind of Muggle home life? How would the novels be different if his aunt and uncle loved him as they are supposed to?

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