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Complete, detailed, and amazing Reader's Guides
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Chapter Sixteen:
The Chamber of Secrets

"A girl has been snatched by the monster, Lockhart. Taken into the Chamber of Secrets itself. Your moment has come at last."

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NOTES | CHARACTERS | SETTINGS | TIMELINE / CALENDAR
EXCEPTIONAL CHARACTER MOMENTS
SPELLS | LINKS & RESOURCES | MEMORABLE LINES | STRICTLY BRITISH

Synopsis by William Silvester
Notes and links by Steve Vander Ark and Michele L. Worley

US hardcover edition: pages 283 - 305
UK paperback edition: pages 305 - 328
Timeframe: Monday 25 May - Friday 29 May, 1993 [Y13]

In which the students learn that exams will be held as usual, Ginny acts strangely, Harry and Ron visit Hermione in hospital, find she has the answer to the Chamber's secret (a basilisk), eavesdrop on the teachers, and learn Ginny has been taken by the monster. Lockhart attempts to flee, but Harry and Ron force him to accompany them to the Chamber via Moaning Myrtle's bathroom to rescue Ginny. They unlock the secret of the entrance. Lockhart attempts to escape by using Ron's broken wand, but it backfires and blocks the tunnel. Harry goes on alone.

The Chamber of Secrets, CS16, by Mary GrandPré

Interesting facts and notes about the text of this chapter:

Ten minutes into the class, Professor McGonagall told them that their exams would start on the first of June, one week from today.

This remark allows us to assign dates to the events of the previous chapter and subsequent chapters, because it indicates that "today" - the day of McGonagall's speech to her second-year Transfiguration students - is the 25th of May.


There was a loud bang behind Harry as Neville Longbottom's wand slipped, vanishing one of the legs on his desk...

Neville, a rather ineffective second year, has managed to Vanish something. The class will not study Vanishing spells until their fifth year, and even at that level they are difficult to master. This could be simply an example of uncontrolled magic in a moment of stress. It could also be a clue that Neville is not the low-power wizard ("almost a Squib") that everyone makes him out to be.

Harry looked down at the pair of white rabbits he was supposed to be turning into slippers.

Another example of sympathetic magic. White rabbits look like slippers, which will make the transformation much eaiser to do. Neville Longbottom even owns a pair of fluffy bunny slippers.

Three days before their first exam, Professor McGonagall made another announcement at breakfast.

Since the first exam is scheduled for the first of June, that dates the day on which Ginny was taken into the Chamber of Secrets as 29 May.

...we will be able to revive those people who have been Petrified... Ron, however, was looking happier than he'd looked in days.

This is an early indication of Ron's developing fondness for Hermione.

"I've got to tell you something," Ginny mumbled, carefully not looking at Harry.

Because if she thought about the fact that Harry was there, she wouldn't be able to talk. Rowling uses this character quirk of Ginny's to good effect. The fact that she doesn't talk around Harry means that she never reveals what's going on until now, late in the story. The Ginny Weasley of books five and six would have sat Harry down and said "Listen, this is something you need to know!" and made sure he understood.

"Well, er, if you must know, Ginny, er, walked in on me the other day when I was - well, never mind - the point is, she spotted me doing something and I, um, I asked her not to mention it to anybody. I must say, I did think she'd keep her word. It's nothing, really, I'd just rather -"

Harry had never seen Percy look so uncomfortable.

"What were you doing, Percy?" said Ron, grinning. "Go on, tell us, we won't laugh."

What a delightful exchange. I've always loved this bit, especially the way Jim Dale reads that line of Ron's: "What were you doing, Percy?" Remember that Percy has been acting strangely all year, so this makes us suspect him all the more. What has Percy been doing? Kissing Penelope Clearwater, as we learn later.

and to his delight it did, midmorning, when they were being led to History of Magic by Gilderoy Lockhart.

This is the morning of May 29. It's a school day, since there are classes, and since Lockhart is leading them from their first class of the day to their second, we can deduce that the schedule that day is Defense Against the Dark Arts followed by History of Magic.

We can make a few deductions here about the days of the week as well. Discarding the "real" 1993 as our guide, since Rowling clearly hasn't tried to match up the days and dates, let's see if we can work anything out from what we're given. We know that exams start on the first of June, and in books three and five the start of exams is a Monday. If we place June 1 on a Monday in Harry Potter's 1993, we can work back a little. (Yes, I'm aware of the fact that June 1 is also a Monday in book three, but work with me here...)

We know that Ginny was taken into the Chamber three days before that, so we can place that event on Friday, May 29. Also on that Friday, the Gryffindor second years have Defense Against the Dark Arts right after breakfast, followed by History of Magic before lunch. Harry defeats the Basilisk and destroys the diary horcrux on that Friday night.

making Ron drop his books in surprise.

An example of Rowling's visual sense of humor. The book dropping gag happens over and over in the series. Typically, it's McGonagall who drops them, however.

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.

When asked why Professor McGonagall started crying at this, JKR said "She found it very touching that Harry and Ron were missing Hermione so badly (or so she thought). Under that gruff exterior, Professor McGonagall is a bit of an old softy, really." (Sch2)

Yes, Potter, of course you may visit Miss Granger.

So let me get this straight. When the fear of attack is so high that students are being escorted everywhere they go by teachers, that Prefects and teachers patrol the school all night, that students are not even let out of the common room at night to go to the bathroom without an escort, McGonagall, the strictest of all the teachers, lets two 12 year olds wander around alone because she's such a softy? On the other hand, they aren't exactly wandering very far. The first floor is home to the Defense Against the Darks Arts classroom, where they started, the History of Magic Classroom, where they were headed, the Hospital Wing, and McGonagall's office. Probably they're within a a few meters of the Hospital Wing at this point anyway.


It was a page torn from a very old library book.

Hermione tore a page from a very old library book? And wrote on it? First of all, I don't think Hermione would have done this. Second, why didn't Madam Pince's library book spells kick in at this point? Dumbledore related in incident when he absent-mindedly doodled on a page of a library book and was attacked. My guess is that that the page was either torn out already or, even more likely, that she used magic to make a copy.

Instead, echoing through the corridors came Professor McGonagall's voice, magically magnified.

Presumably, this is a Sonorus spell in operation.

There was an ugly sort of wardrobe to his left, full of the teachers' cloaks.

Next school year, Lupin will use this wardrobe to contain a Boggart for use with his third year Defense Against the Dark Arts class.

listening to the rumbling of hundreds of people moving overhead

The staff room is on the main floor. All the classrooms are located above them.

Snape gripped the back of a chair very hard and said, "How can you be sure?"

Do we see a hint here of another side of Snape? We view the entire story through Harry's eyes, after all, and almost never is Snape seen in a positive light. Is the grip on the back of the chair motivated by shock and honest concern over the fate of a student? I'd like to think so.

Professor Flitwick burst into tears.

Flitwick is a tenderhearted fellow. If the rumor of his being a duelling champion is true, however, he's no pushover.

And the witch who banished the Bandon Banshee had a harelip.

This is the original text of this passage. It has since been changed from 'harelip' to 'hairy chin,' presumably so as not to offend people with a harelip. Now women with hairy chins are out of luck, of course.

Harry reached his wand just in time. Lockhart had barely raised his, when Harry bellowed, "Expelliarmus!"

Think about this for a moment. Lockhart is planning to draw his wand and attack. Harry has no clue. In that split second, Harry completely gets the drop on an adult, fully trained wizard. His skills are already becoming evident even at this young age. Three years from now he'll be training his classmates how to use this spell and later, duelling with Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries.

Lockhart was blasted backward, falling over his trunk

Is it supposed to do that? It would appear that Harry's spellwork is still a bit unfocused, or perhaps he's somewhat overexcited.

"Shouldn't have let Professor Snape teach us that one," said Harry furiously

Not only has Expelliarmus saved the boys' memories on this occasion, but it will also turn out to be one of the most useful spells they know in the years to come. A year from now, they will turn it on Snape himself to save Sirius Black and Remus Lupin (PA19), and the following year it will save Harry's own life in his duel with Voldemort (GF34).

Harry begins his classes with Dumbledore's Army with this spell. Zacharias Smith sneers at it, but Harry says "I've used it against [Voldemort]...It saves my life last June." It's a spell to remove the wand from a person's hand, thereby defeating him by rendering him incapable of fighting. It is a defensive rather than offensive spell, as befits a school which teachers Defense against the Dark Arts.

They marched Lockhart out of his office and down the nearest stairs, along the dark corridor where the messages shone on the wall, to the door of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.

This is a minor inconsistency. Moaning Myrtle's bathroom is on the second floor, according to chapter eight. Lockhart's office is also on the second floor, according to chapter six. Lockhart and the boys shouldn't be going up or down any staircases at all.

My whole body sort of seized up, and then I was floating away...And then I came back again. I was determined to haunt Olive Hornby, you see.

This is the closest we get in the series to a description of what it is like to die. In book five, Nick tells Harry that a wizard becomes a ghost by making a choice. He says he can't tell Harry what it's like to die. He says, "I was afraid of death. I chose to remain behind." What Myrtle is describing here, then, is an incomplete form of death. Someone who dies completely is said by Nick to have "gone on."

In Myrtle's case, it would seem that her determination to make her tormetors pay constituted the choice to remain.

"Harry," said Ron. "Say something. Something in Parseltongue."

On one hand, it seems ludicrous that in a thousand years, no one has worked out how to get into the Chamber of Secrets, then a twelve year old boy manages it. The fact that a wizard would need to speak Parseltongue to get into the entrance, however, greatly limits the number of people who would even have a chance to get inside.

So far, we only know of a few Parselmouths in the series. Harry and Tom Riddle are, as well as the Gaunt family. Aside from them, we suspect that Dumbledore is a Parselmouth because he seemed to understand what the Gaunts were saying. Historically, we know that Herpo the Foul was a Parselmouth. He was also the one to first breed a Basilisk.

White-faced and wandless

To be fair, any wizard would be terrified to do what they're asking Lockhart to do: face a murderous magical beast without a wand.

 

Characters introduced in this chapter:

Characters returning in this chapter:

Characters mentioned in this chapter:

Settings and locations introduced or returning in this chapter:

Settings and locations mentioned in this chapter:

Exceptional character moments:

  • Oliver Wood, whose first and only notion of "good news" under these circumstances would be the resumption of the Quidditch season.

  • All four Heads of House turning on Lockhart.

  • Lockhart, packing his bags at the first threat of being forced to live up to his self-created reputation.

  • Myrtle's delight at someone asking her how she died.

Spells and Potions:

Links and Resources:

Memorable lines:

  • "We're still getting exams?"

  • "That," said Ron fervently, was the best story you've ever come up with."

  • No afternoon ever lasted as long as that one, nor had Gryffindor Tower ever been so crowded, yet so quiet.

  • "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, it's been a lot of work, Harry. It's not all book-signings and publicity photos, you know. You want fame, you have to be prepared for a long hard slog."

Strictly British:

Timelines/Calendar:

McGonagall's speech to her second-year Transfiguration students takes place one week to the day before the first of June, and is therefore the 25th of May. That allows us to assign a date to the boys' meeting with Aragog in the previous chapter. Her second announcement at breakfast "three days before their first exam" allows us to work out the dating of subsequent events. If exams start on Monday as they do in other books, we see that the events of this chapter cover Monday through Friday, the last week of May.

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