After reading the first Harry Potter book way back in March, I only got around to The Chamber of Secrets at the beginning of May. I’m trying to read one book every month but the pandemic-related anxiety and burnout has meddled with those plans a bit.

Book cover image of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

Here are some of the thoughts I had while reading the second book:

  • Dobby’s self-harm every time he says something against the Malfoys or breaks their rules was so much more noticeable during this reading. As a kid, Chamber of Secrets used to be my least favourite book of the series and I found Dobby mildly annoying – that is, before discovering his character arc in The Deathly Hallows and all the subsequent fan discussions about him. I felt terrible for Dobby this time around, especially for his lack of self-worth which was born out of abuse and enslavement. He’s brave enough to break the shackles of his slavery to come warn Harry even though he’s going to have to punish himself. He can’t believe Harry treats him as an equal i.e. gives him some basic respect and decency. I couldn’t help but imagine his life at the Malfoys – full of trauma and abuse – and its impact on Dobby’s mental health and sense of self. Much like Harry, he seems to have come out of his abuse with empathy and kindness for others (however misguided that sometimes may be). Harry, although annoyed by Dobby, realised that while he was having a horrid time at the Dursleys, Dobby has it much worse – even without knowing the full details of Dobby’s enslavement and what that entails. Most importantly, while Harry is able to leave the Dursleys when he goes to Hogwarts and will eventually be able to leave them altogether, Dobby has to remain with the family until he dies.
  • Dobby reminds me of all those children of refugees, migrants and poor people in general who can’t even imagine a different life – who are so grateful for the tiniest bit of kindness and attention. This may be reflected in adult attitudes too, though I wonder if you grow more cynical about other people the older you are
  • Later in the book, Dobby says that house elves had it much worse during Voldemort’s reign. But it’s not like him being defeated actually improves their lives much – albeit Dobby acknowledges other house elves largely lead better lives than he does. The magical world is very witch/wizard supremacist.
  • What a silly rule that using magic in the presence of Muggles is a serious offense. What if it’s to save them or yourself? There may be many reasons why you need to use magic. According to the history, witches and wizards decided to hide themselves to escape persecution. But after centuries of this, I think it might be time to engage in some cross-cultural relationships.
  • According to the Weasley twins, a lot of wizards think Muggle tricks like using a hairpin to unlock a door is useless. I wonder if locked doors which are charmed against magical spells can be undone with Muggle tricks. Another example of magical folks overlooking Muggle culture to their own detriment.
  • Muggle-baiting involves things like shrinking keys sold to Muggles so they eventually don’t find them. Arthur’s department tries to stamp this out which the wizard supremacists hate, as evidenced by Lucius Malfoy’s constant sneers about the department. At what stage did fear of Muggle persecution turn towards hatred and derision of them, which in turn, led to the wizard supremacist structure of the magical world? This idea not just impacts Muggles and Muggle-borns but also all magical creatures who aren’t witches and wizards.
  • When Draco calls Hermione a Mudblood, it causes an uproar among everyone except Harry and Hermione who have no idea what the word means. They do realise it’s something terrible based on the reactions. There are such different contexts of taboo and insults even in the real world. Slurs against African Americans, for example, or even in India words like ghaati – where different social and cultural contexts means that what’s insulting or terrible to some people may be something somebody else doesn’t understand at all.  In Trevor Noah’s biography, he talks about how one of his friends is called Hitler. Every country thinks their history is the most important – especially Western countries – but not everyone follows the same rules. In India, things like the swastika, Mein Kampf aren’t seen as taboo. What is taboo is both inconsequential in certain contexts but also belies the ignorance of cultural norms and customs with Muggles and magical folk.
  • Ron’s detention involves helping Filch clean the trophies in the trophy room without magic. Why??? Why is Filch doing this? Why is there no magical assistance for him?! Even Filch’s office is dingy and windowless – what sort of unending punishment does he have to endure as a part of his job?!
  • The Kwikspell correspondence course for Squibs that Filch has subscribed to – its recommendations make it sound like a learning disability than an inability to do magic. Is this just the result of poor pedagogy in Hogwarts which doesn’t make room for different learning needs? Why aren’t there schools or classes for Squibs, if so? Or is Kwikspell running a giant scam?
  • The attacks on Muggleborns in Hogwarts are reminiscent of white fascists attacking mosques, synagogues, gay nightclubs, cinemas in Western countries and Hindu nationalists targeting Muslim communities and businesses in India/Delhi.
  • After the latest attack on Hermione/Penelope, Lee Jordan suggests chucking all the Slytherins out because it’s the heir of Slytherin, it’s Slytherin’s monster, and none of the Slytherins have been murdered. His assertion is met with cheers. That reminds me of rampant Islamaphobia in the world + COVID-19 racism against east Asians and North East Indians. It’s so easy to demonise an entire group of people for the actions of an individual/handful. Even when you think you’re one of the good guys, you can fall prey to bigotry.
  • Is it so easy to suspect Hagrid not just because of his alleged past transgression but also because of his half-giant status? Some groups of people are treated with more suspicion and prejudice – ex-convicts (although Hagrid was a juvenile), werewolves (Lupin has to resign when Snape reveals he’s a werewolf and parents don’t trust him around their children), men from certain communities, Muslims, black men. Even gay men in certain historical and current geographical contexts.
  • Much like fascists and other insecure horrible ghouls, Voldemort has created his own nonsensical narrative about himself and others in his head. He hates his father for leaving his mother after finding out she was a witch. That’s not what happened. Merope love-potioned Tom Riddle into a marriage and he left when he was no longer enchanted. Even Voldemort’s glorious Slytherin family wasn’t so glorious after all; Merope and her family were reduced to abject poverty and Merope’s father and brother were horrible. It’s just like a fascist to hark back to imagined historical glories and slights.
  • Tom Riddle was probably the most brilliant student Hogwarts had ever seen according to Dumbledore. Maybe until Hermione came along. It’s almost like being from a Muggle background can mean you’re valuable and have skills too, Voldemort!