Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Lies and Deceit

By J.K. Rowling

Lies and Deceit

"Now, we should aim to get in a few good compliments at dinner. Petunia, any ideas?"

"Vernon tells me you're a wonderful golfer, Mr. Mason...Do tell me where you bought your dress, Mrs. Mason..."

"Perfect...Dudley?"

"How about – 'We had to write an essay about our hero at school, Mr. Mason, and I wrote about you.'" (1.52-55)

One of the weird things about the Dursleys isn't just that they are so obsessed with being normal; it's that they're so bad at it. Aunt Petunia's compliments seem insincere but at least not crazy. As for Dudley, though – who wouldn't see through his claim that he's going to write a school essay about Mr. Mason? This is why we feel that the depiction of the Dursleys in the early novels of the series are almost cartoonish in their exaggeration. It's later on that we get a more realistic sense of how small-minded, fearful, and difficult they are.

"Friends who don't even write to Harry Potter?" said Dobby slyly.

"I expect they've just been – wait a minute," said Harry, frowning. "How do you know my friends haven't been writing to me?"

Dobby shuffled his feet.

"Harry Potter mustn't be angry with Dobby. Dobby did it for the best —" (2.72-75)

Dobby is the first in a long line of people – most notably, Professor Dumbledore later in the series – who keep things from Harry "for his own good." Here, Dobby is stopping Harry's friends' letters to make Harry think that he has nothing to go back to at Hogwarts. It doesn't work to keep Harry from going to school, of course. Still, do you think that it ever works to try and hide information from people "for their own good"? Are there times when it is necessary to keep secrets to prevent others from being hurt or offended? Do you think Dobby's deception here is justified?

Fred and George climbed catlike through the window into Harry's room. You had to hand it to them, thought Harry, as George took an ordinary hairpin from his pocket and started to pick the lock.

"A lot of wizards think it's a waste of time, knowing this sort of Muggle trick," said Fred, "but we feel they're skills worth learning, even if they are a bit slow." (3.23-24)

The fact that Fred and George know how to use Muggle lock-picking techniques at thirteen years old demonstrates in about three sentences that they are born troublemakers. They're using their powers of deception for good. They may be pranksters happily breaking into Harry's house, but they're hearts are also in the right place.

"Harry, Harry, Harry," said Lockhart, reaching out and grasping [Harry's] shoulder. "I understand. Natural to want a bit more once you've had that first taste – and I blame myself for giving you that, because it was bound to go to your head – but see here, young man, you can't start flying cars to try and get yourself noticed. Just calm down, all right? Plenty of time for all that when you're older. Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking! 'It's all right for him, he's an internationally famous wizard already!' But when I was twelve, I was just as much of a nobody as you are now. In fact, I'd say I was even more of a nobody! I mean, a few people have heard of you, haven't they? All that business with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!" He glanced at the lightning scar on Harry's forehead. "I know, I know – it's not quite as good as winning Witch Weekly's Most-Charming-Smile Award five times in a row, as I have – but it's a start, Harry, it's a start." (6.43)

Compared to the Defense Against the Dark Arts instructors we get later on in the series, Professor Lockhart seems vain and stupid, but mostly harmless. Still, it's definitely a bad sign about his character that he actually bothers to interrupt class to pull out one of his twelve-year-old students and assure that student that some day he'll be lucky enough to be as famous as Professor Lockhart himself. Professor Lockhart is absurdly jealous of Harry, which, again, given that he's about three times Harry's age, is pretty pathetic.

"That will do," [Professor Binns] said sharply. "[The Chamber of Secrets] is a myth! It does not exist! There is not a shred of evidence that Slytherin ever built so much as a secret broom cupboard! I regret telling you such a foolish story! We will return, if you please, to history, to solid, believable, verifiable fact!" (9.116)

First of all, it's sad that Professor Binns seems to think that anything interesting has to be fake, while "solid, believable, verifiable" fact has to be boring. Why can't things be both true and interesting in his class? Second of all, what do you think of Professor Binns's claim that history is "solid"? Doesn't history depend on who's telling it? Yes, history is based on research into contemporary documents and "verifiable fact." At the same time, the way you put together a historical narrative can really influence the impressions people get about who was right, who was wrong, and why things happened the way they did. For example, if it was Slytherin's followers telling us about the Chamber of Secrets, they would probably make it sound like the other three founders were being unreasonable and prejudiced against Slytherin's teachings when they drove him out of the castle. So, we think Professor Binns has too much faith in the power of history to be objective – and since the Chamber of Secrets does turn out to exist, we think J.K. Rowling is also being critical of his idea of "solid, believable" fact.

So, Harry [...] Tomorrow's the first Quidditch match of the season, I believe? Gryffindor against Slytherin, is it not? I hear you're a useful player. I was a Seeker, too. I was asked to try for the National Squad, but preferred to dedicate my life to the eradication of the Dark Forces. Still, if ever you feel the need for a little private training, don't hesitate to ask. Always happy to pass on my expertise to less able players. (10.15)

The thing that's odd about Professor Lockhart is less that he's willing to lie to make himself look better and more that he is so bad at it. How does anyone not see through this guy? Mrs. Weasley is a woman of the world, and yet she still seems really taken with Lockhart, and even after hearing this little speech to Harry, Hermione's crush continues on. Does Professor Lockhart remind you of anyone you know? What do you think drives his compulsive need to make himself look good all the time? Does Professor Lockhart believe that he is truly as great as he claims to be?

"It means," said Dumbledore, "that the Chamber of Secrets is indeed open again."

Madam Pomfrey clapped a hand to her mouth. Professor McGonagall stared at Dumbledore.

"But, Albus...surely...who?"

"The question is not who," said Dumbledore, his eyes on Colin. "The question is, how."

And from what Harry could see of Professor McGonagall's shadowy face, she didn't understand this any better than he did. (10.175-179)

Professor Dumbledore obviously means well. We still have to wonder, though: why doesn't he just tell the people around him what he knows? It would save them all a lot of trouble, especially in the later novels. Oh, of course, it preserves the suspense of the books that he's not totally open about his suspicions ever, but it would be nice if he explained himself once in a while, and avoided these totally obscure and incomprehensible hints. Why do you think Professor Dumbledore doesn't just tell Professor McGonagall what he thinks has happened to Colin Creevey? Why must he be so mysterious all the time? What reasons does he give in the later novels for keeping secrets? What do you think his motivations are in not explaining everything he knows up front to his colleagues?

"Dreadful thing, Dumbledore," said Malfoy lazily, taking out a long roll of parchment, "but the governors feel it's time for you to step aside. This is an Order of Suspension – you'll find all twelve signatures on it. I'm afraid we feel you're losing your touch. How many attacks have there been now? Two more this afternoon, wasn't it? At this rate, there'll be no Muggle-borns left at Hogwarts, and we all know what an awful loss that would be to the school." (14.124)

Lucius Malfoy is the single biggest opportunist in all of the Harry Potter novels. He's great at seizing chances to twist things to his advantage. These attacks on the Muggle-borns give him an apparently righteous reason to get rid of one of Voldemort's biggest enemies, Professor Dumbledore. Lucius is also remarkably good at saying the opposite of what he means and yet, making his true feelings perfectly clear. Obviously, he does not care at all if "there'll be no Muggle-borns left at Hogwarts." He's a callous, evil bastard, but he does have style and skill with language. How does Rowling show that Lucius is not to be trusted? Do we have any sense of his motivations beyond being an enemy to all things good?

"We haven't seen [Hermione] for ages, Professor," Harry went on hurriedly, treading on Ron's foot, "and we thought we'd sneak down to the hospital wing, you know, and tell her the Mandrakes are nearly ready and, er, not to worry —"

Professor McGonagall was still staring at him, and for a moment, Harry thought she was going to explode, but when she spoke, it was in a strangely croaky voice.

"Of course," she said, and Harry, amazed, saw a tear glistening in her beady eye. "Of course, I realize that this has all been hardest on the friends of those who have been…I quite understand. Yes, Potter, of course you may visit Miss Granger. I will inform Professor Binns where you've gone. Tell Madam Pomfrey I have given my permission." (16.59-61)

Remember how the Sorting Hat confirms that Harry would've done well in Slytherin? Here's a great example. He can be sneaky when he needs to be. Harry expertly manipulates Professor McGonagall's good nature and her care for her students. It's really a pretty impressive piece of lying. So, much of Book 2 is about the ways in which Harry is or isn't Slytherin. Why is his skill with manipulation not Slytherin here? What makes his lying to Professor McGonagall OK?

"Books can be misleading," said Lockhart delicately.

"You wrote them!" Harry shouted.

"My dear boy," said Lockhart, straightening up and frowning at Harry. "Do use your common sense. My books wouldn't have sold half as well if people didn't think I'd done all those things. No one wants to read about some ugly old Armenian warlock, even if he did save a village from werewolves. He'd look dreadful on the front cover. No dress sense at all. And the witch who banished the Bandon Banshee had a hairy chin. I mean, come on —" (16.151-153)

Professor Lockhart is obviously a self-serving jerk. Still, he is also pointing out something that might be kind of true: people probably wouldn't make "some ugly old" warlock a celebrity the way Professor Lockhart has become a celebrity. Looks definitely do matter in marketing a person's image to the public. Professor Lockhart is a fraud, but he gets adoring fan mail because he is so handsome. What do you think is the link between celebrity and good looks? Does the public necessarily care what a hero looks like, if he or she has done genuinely great deeds? Can you be hideous and a hero in the public eye?