Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Chapter Twelve: The Polyjuice Potion
As frightened as Harry feels as he is brought to speak with Dumbledore, he still is deeply impressed by Dumbledore's office. He spies the Sorting Hat, and while waiting for Dumbledore to emerge from the back room, he tries it on. The hat repeats what it told him last year, that he would have done well in Slytherin. Desperate, Harry tears the hat off his head. His attention falls next on a sickly bird perched near the door, and before he can observe it for long, the bid bursts into flames and is gone. Harry yells, and moments later is reassured by Dumbledore that the bird, Fawkes, is a phoenix, and the time had come for his burning and rebirth. During this explanation, Dumbledore also mentions that phoenixes are excellent pets because they are faithful, can carry heavy loads, and can heal injuries with their tears. At this moment, Hagrid bursts into the room proclaiming Harry's innocence, and Dumbledore impatiently informs Hagrid that he does not think Harry is responsible for petrifying the students. Hagrid leaves, and Dumbledore then asks Harry if there is anything that Harry wants to tell him. Harry considers all of the things currently pressing on his mind, and then answers no.
The school is still frightened about the Heir, and Fred and George humor the situation by walking in front of Harry in the halls and crying out, "Make way for the Heir of Slytherin, seriously evil wizard coming through " Harry appreciates this humor, because it reassures him that at least the twins think that the idea of him being the Heir is laughable.
Soon the term ends, and on Christmas day Ron, Hermione, and Harry open their presents and plan for their Polyjuice Potion adventure later that night. The feast is exquisite, as always, and afterwards Hermione instructs Harry and Ron to leave two sleeping-potion-filled cakes in easy places for Malfoy's large, hulking friends Crabbe and Goyle to find, and then to hide them in a closet and pluck out a few of their hairs to add to the potion. Ron and Harry do this, and within minutes the cakes have been eaten, the sleeping bodies hidden, the hairs plucked. Soon they are back in the bathroom with Hermione. Hermione already has her hair, it turns out, because the day she was paired to duel with Millicent, one of the hairs of the large Slytherin girl wound up on Hermione's robes. The three friends add their hairs to their respective potions and drink them, and soon Harry is a replica of Goyle, Ron of Crabbe. Hermione refuses to come out of her stall, so Harry and Ron set off alone.
Unfortunately, they don't know where the Slytherin common room is, so they wander around, accidentally asking a Ravenclaw girl, and suddenly they run into Percy, who is emerging from a side room. They regard him warily and he regards them back, just as warily, and finally Ron and Harry are saved by the approach of Malfoy. Malfoy leads them through corridors, to a black stone wall whose password is "pure blood," which opens into the Slytherin common room. Malfoy is pleased with himself for obtaining a copy of the Daily Prophet, a wizard newspaper, and he shows Ron and Harry an article about Ron's father being fined for bewitching a Muggle car. Ron is furious, but tries to conceal it. Malfoy then speaks of the last attack by the Heir, and how a girl was killed, and then how he hopes that this time Hermione will be killed. Then he says wistfully that he wished he knew who the heir was, so that he could help him, and finally he reveals information about a hidden chamber under his family's drawing room floor, in which dark wizarding paraphernalia is kept. Ron and Harry are a blank audience to all of this, but Malfoy doesn't seem to notice that they are any slower than the real Crabbe and Goyle. After some time the spell begins to end, and Ron and Harry dash out of the room and back to Hermione, who is still in the stall. Moaning Myrtle is in delighted humor, and the reason turns out to be because the hair in the potion turned Hermione into a cat. Ron and Harry persuade her to go to the hospital wing, while Myrtle gloats in her toilet.
Dumbledore's information about the phoenix foreshadows Fawkes' role in the Chamber of Secrets. When Harry is brought to Dumbledore and given the freedom to confide, he lies that nothing is on his mind. Here we have another glimpse of his desire to be free of special treatment by adults, teachers or anyone. We see the string of worries cross his mind before he answers that he has nothing to tell the headmaster, revealing that even at the sacrifice of having Dumbledore in his confidence and on his side, Harry does not wish to be singled out. This is not unusual for him; recall during the Quidditch match against Slytherin that Harry preferred to face the Rogue Bludger on his own and allow himself the freedom to pursue the Snitch, than to ensure his own safety by having Fred and George hovering about him throughout the game. Perhaps as a side effect of having so much attention heaped on him for a triumph he does not remember, he wants to achieve goals and untangle fears by himself, without the assistance so willingly lent to him.
The Polyjuice Potion about which Hermione is so optimistic seems to have every possible reason to go awry. Yet, somehow all the steps seem to work, until Hermione refuses to emerge from the bathroom stall. The fact that the potion turns her into a cat does not hinder the eavesdropping plan, although it does disclose certain basic personality traits: Hermione will never fail to read directions correctly or recall a spell at the appropriate moment, but she does not possess some of the more practical skills and assumptions that Harry does. She concocts the potion without a hitch, but it does not occur to her that the hair she found on her could be anyone's other that Millicent's, whereas Harry and Ron tend to think outside the lines more, acknowledging more uncertainty and potential for error.
While Ron and Harry do not find out who the Heir of Slytherin is, the entire event is significant as it reveals to Ron the location of the secret vault under the Malfoy Manor, and furthermore it shows in full color the snobbery of the Slytherins, and it hints at a certain inbred stupidity that exists among the members of the house. Crabbe and Goyle are incomparably stupid, eating the cake Hermione left near the staircase, speaking-or not speaking-with such denseness that Malfoy is able to mistake the clueless, disguised Ron and Harry for the equally clueless real Crabbe and Goyle. Ron notes that only when bewildered does Harry looks exactly like Goyle. The two clearly were not admitted to Hogwarts on account of their wits. The password to the Slytherin common room is "pure blood," the unchanging house philosophy, as opposed to the Gryffindor word, always quirky and often changing. The Slytherins succeed in wizardry by connections through blood and exclusion, yielding a snobbery evident in Malfoy and his two daft acolytes. Nobody connected with Slytherin House is, as far as we can see, redeemable; Snape, Malfoy, Millicent, Crabbe and Goyle are all extremely unappealing, and lacking in rudimentary kindness, fairness, and goodness. It is no surprise that Voldemort was produced from this house; although he was cleverer than Malfoy, he was equally low and creepy.
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