The Year of the Basilisk:
Something thing that seems clear to just about every reader is that Book 3 and Book 4 are set up as two parts of a closely integrated internal story arc.
Book 1 and Book 2 also show signs of being two halves of a single tale, although Rowling tacitly denies it. And, for the record; on my first reading, Book 5 had much of the same feel of being the first part of another internal 2-part sequence. I was inclined to regard it as only half of the story, expecting the other half to be given us in HBP.
Well. Silly me. Instead, after GoF Rowling appears to have started each book with a blank slate and a checklist, and gone roaring off in an entirely different direction. Even when she tells publicly us she is doing otherwise. Raise your hand anyone who feels that HBP and DHs really did read like two halves of the same story — as she claimed they were.
Not you either, eh? And yet that’s exactly what Rowling told us it was going to be. I guess she must have “changed her mind” in yet another of those off-the-map abandonments of her original intentions, because that is absolutely not what she gave us.
To be honest, OotP really did read like it could be a reasonable continuation of the story up to that point, although there had been a major shift in the ambiance and presentation of it. But HBP seems to have come out of nowhere, ignoring almost every issue raised and flagged as important in OotP, and DHs came out of an entirely different nowhere ignoring, or blatantly contradicting just about everything established about every issue or character that figured in HBP — including the growing maturity of the audience. It’s like Rowling was trying to rewrite the 5th book three different times. And got farther afield with each attempt.
In OotP, the real action was out in the ww and more or less in the hands of Albus Dumbledore, rather than Harry Potter. Much the same can be said for HBP. We never got the story of Dumbledore’s own activities over the course of either of these books. And it was only assumed that whatever bits of the information were necessary to solving the underlying problem would eventually turn up in the final one.
Instead, we were palmed off with the “mystery” of young Albus’ activities 100 years earlier. None of which had anything to do with solving the current problem. In fact, all it did was try to distract us from it.
And yet Rowling had already demonstrated that she can tie her books together neatly. She’d done it for us over the whole first half of the series.
For all that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone appears to be a self-contained adventure, at the end of the story there are a number of only lightly concealed loose ends left dangling, and these particular loose ends somehow all manage to be picked up, all too readily, in Chamber of Secrets.
Not that CoS didn’t start with a bit of a lurch, on its own. This wasn’t immediately obvious, since like PS/SS it shares the exuberant “Let’s pretend!” quality of so many classic children’s books. But whereas in PS/SS Rowling took just enough time to set the basic situation up and ease us into it, in CoS we get dumped right into the first stages of an adventure that is already in progress, with no real explanation for what is going on. And the introduction to the situation at hand that we are initially given fails to ever quite add up or sort itself out. Looking back, I think there was a great deal of missed opportunity here.
In retrospect, the worst of my problems with CoS is that you have to do way too many backbends to get to the starting point. What precisely was this “plot” that Dobby allegedly overheard that had him trying to stop Harry’s mail and keep him out of the Wizarding world? It really can’t have been a plot specifically against Ginny Weasley. Was Dobby even aware that someone named Ginny Weasley existed?
It isn’t even likely to have been a plot against Arthur. What does Dobby care about the Weasleys? These are people his masters despise. Even if Dobby dislikes and disapproves of his masters, it doesn’t automatically follow that he is going to like or wish to support just anyone his masters dislike. And what the hell has Harry Potter to do with any of it?
“Oh, because,” really just doesn’t fly.
And yet we never really get that gap in the underlying motivations plugged. Admittedly, this is a continuing problem all through the series and it only got worse after the editors abandoned their post, but it was already fully in play here. The characters’ actions and events are all reasoned backwards. People do things in chapter 2 because Rowling wants them at a certain point in chapter 14, without giving them any motivation or justification to be there. Or, not one that actually works. And the ones which she pastes on are usually the shallowest and shoddiest she can get away with.
In this case, the real question is why is Dobby at #4 at all? I mean, yes, sure, we are going to need him later, and need to know who he is. But the justification we’re given for why he’s there now doesn’t work. Frankly, I thought the whole business with the pudding was stupid, but I’m just a boring old grown-up, so you can ignore my opinions on that. I guess the kids reading the book may have enjoyed it, since a grand “splat!” generally plays very well as a punchline in kid logic. But it really doesn’t seem to be the best return for the effort to me, and it doesn’t contribute anything worth having to the rest of the adventure.
I’ve stated elsewhere that I think Rowling is far too ready to dispense with plausibility in favor of broad comedy, and I don’t think that this example made the book stronger. The Dursleys’ over-the-top reaction of locking Harry in his room and starving him (and Hedwig!) was perfectly in keeping with the exaggerations of the first book, but I’m not convinced it made for good plotting. And the whole thing could have been inspired by something less obtrusive and pointless. Dragging the Ministry’s oversight into the situation at this stage of the series only added confusion, since by the time she really needed to deploy Ministry interference Rowling had changed all the rules. It would have made a lot more sense for any Ministry notice to have been sparked by some bit of accidental magic that Harry actually did (and for doing which he already had a long history) which would have given away the fact that he was not supposed to be doing magic at home, and would made a nice contrast to the situation when Harry blew up his aunt the following summer and the Ministry swept it all under the rug.
That said, I will admit that the Weasley rescue was fun and set us up nicely for Ron and Harry stealing the car later. But Harry could have been locked in after the Dursleys discovered that his own Ministry of Magic wanted him kept under control, and been rescued via the flying Anglia anyway.
This same sort of problem applies when Dobby finally shows up with Lucius Malfoy at the final confrontation. The true reason he is there is to collect his reward, and to make it sure that everyone knows who his master is, and who was behind that year’s uproar. But it isn’t ever explained why he is there inside the story. I understand that in the original Bloomsbury edition, he was simply there without even the excuse of being in the middle of polishing Lucius’s shoes. That was an addition on the part of the editorial team at Scholastic, and at least sort-of makes a believable excuse for it.
Now if this book hadn’t been aimed quite so solidly at the kiddie end of the market, and Rowling had chosen to amp up the mystery/suspense element of the story, we might have had Harry catch a glimpse of Dobby at #4, and not know who (or what) he was. In fact, amid a number of odd events, which Harry knew that he wasn’t responsible for, Harry might have caught a glimpse of Dobby more than once.
However, by this time, I believe that Dobby had been ordered to watch Harry and to tell his master when Harry was going to be in Diagon Alley to buy his school supplies. (And Dobby would have let himself be glimpsed. You do not see an Elf unless he wants you to) In that case, Harry would even have caught a glimpse of Dobby at the Weasleys’ (since Dobby would still be watching him) and we could let the twins’ explain what a House Elf is then.
It might have made for a satisfactory mystery/suspense element if we just plain didn’t know what Dobby was all about, and Dobby hadn’t come forth to wibble about the terrible “plot”, moan about his horrible masters, and make it clear that he was actually on Harry’s side until after the rogue bludger incident. But none of this would have been conducive to the slapstick comedy that Rowling preferred at this point in her project.
As it is, we are left with a cartload of questions.
For example; just what is up with Dobby’s involvement with Harry Potter over the summer holidays?
By almost anyone’s standards, the first chapter of CoS gives us an amazing glimpse of tangled motives, non-communication, and mysterious cross-purposes regarding Dobby’s interference with, and warnings to Harry Potter.
In the first place, almost the minute that school is out, he takes up his post to stop the kid’s mail. This is a kid he has never met. How did he even find out where Harry lived?
Never mind that, there are other matters even more worthy of confusion here.
He steals the boy’s mail. He stops — and intercepts — Harry’s mail for several weeks before he finally reveals himself to deliver his warning.
Just how actively can he have been hovering around Privet Drive monitoring the mail, and still all the while be holding down his “day job” without this activity being discovered by his Masters? Or is that even an issue? For that matter, what if it’s a clue? In the mystery/suspense scenario given above, it would have been a clue. His masters would have ordered him to be there. (In point of fact, I think that Lucius did.)
And what about that warning, in and of itself?
The actual content of the warning seems pretty clearly to have been Dobby’s own axe to grind. But as things stand, from all we have been told about the multiple constraints on the actions of House Elves getting that message delivered must have taken some maneuvering on Dobby’s part.
Dobby is supposed to have known of the Malfoy/Riddle plot, at least to the extent that it involved Tom Riddle rather than the current iteration of Lord Voldemort — and how would Dobby know that? (Backstory? Fugeddaboutit!) but Dobby does not have the authority to contact Harry on his own initiative. And for that matter, from this end of the series, it is clear that Lucius Malfoy was not plotting with Tom Riddle about turning the Diary loose. He did that without orders (indeed, against orders) off his own bat.
Lucius Malfoy has authority to burn in his own household, but if he was spearheading the plot, he would not willingly have given Harry Potter the slightest hint that anything was up.
It was the Weasley twins who suggested that it was Draco who sent Dobby to try to warn Harry off from returning to Hogwarts. Harry certainly accepts that explanation but at first glance this sounds a bit overly fortuitous to me. And the warning itself never overtly came from any of the Malfoys.
Upon consideration, however, that explanation would just about answer (if you squint, in the dark, with the light behind it). Although I am no longer convinced of it, myself.
Lucius Malfoy is not about to share important plans regarding his more Byzantine intrigues with a whiny 12-year-old. But Draco, as the son of the house, does at least have the authority to send Dobby on errands.
So, just how cunning is Dobby?
Because he is clearly pulling the wool over somebody’s eyes. Quite possibly everybody’s eyes. Certainly over Harry’s.
With the very best of motives, of course.
Dobby clearly seems to ascribe to the “Harry Potter is the savior of the Wizarding World” persuasion, regardless of who his employers are. In fact, from everything he has ever said on the subject, his working and living conditions in the Malfoy household were discernibly worse during the last years of Voldemort’s rise than they have been since that point. An improvement that he publicly credits as being due to Harry Potter.
But why would it be? The Malfoy’s House Elf is the Malfoy’s House Elf. We’ve heard nothing about any sort of oversight regarding the treatment of House Elves by their own Masters. Either by Voldemort or the Ministry. Regardless of who might be in power at the time.
If anything, the major change at Malfoy Manor in the last years of Voldemort’s first rise would have been Lucius Malfoy’s marriage to Narcissa Black (whose family’s House Elves seem to have been devoted to their Masters) and the birth of Draco. And we cannot even be sure of the date of that change for we have no information on just when Lucius married, although it would have been before the autumn of ’79, since his son was born in June of 1980.
For that matter, we don’t know who Lucius’s mother’s family was or just when she died, either. Draco has never mentioned a grandmother.
All we have is a lot of soft soap from Dobby expounding upon his gratitude to Harry Potter.
Dobby, by his own admission, also claims to have been aware of Lucius’s plans regarding Harry Potter “for months”, i.e., some time before the school year of book 1 had ended. But there would appear to be no way that he could contact the boy or give him any kind of warning within the boundaries of his “contract” with the Malfoy family, even now. To do any such thing is betraying his Masters’ secrets.
So, could Dobby have seized the opportunity to lead a conversation to the point that Draco ordered him to keep Potter from returning to Hogwarts?
That’s about the only solution that fits the twins’ explanation, or at least the only one that meets all the requirements according to any information we were ever given on the subject. And we are not likely to get any more.
It would certainly have been easy enough to accomplish. All Dobby would have needed to do would have been to ask young “master Draco” in all faux-innocence if he had met the great Harry Potter at Hogwarts, and, after enduring the ensuing tirade, to have timidly asked whether master Draco “is wanting Dobby to keep Harry Potter from returning to Hogwarts?” Servants have been manipulating masters for a looong time, after all.
But I no longer buy that explanation.
Dobby was hovering around Privet Drive for much too long and for too much of the time not to have been there under real orders.
From Lucius Malfoy.
Because I believe my explanation in the mystery/suspense extrapolation above was right. Dobby had been ordered to watch Harry.
And, now we’re back to the $64,000 question: Just what exactly was this mysterious “plot” that had Dobby’s pillowslip all in a twist? Explain to me just why on earth Dobby would suddenly be desperately trying to warn Harry away from Hogwarts over a threat to Ginny Weasley, who Dobby has probably never heard of, and Harry has never properly met?
Unless that threat — in its original form — wasn’t to Ginny Weasley at all.
I think that, despite Pharnabazus’s excellent canpon-compliant extrapolation, and Rowling’s determined lack of acknowledgement, it is far more likely to have been Harry who was originally intended to be given the Riddle Diary.
It was Harry who was supposed to be possessed by the Diary’s revenant. It was Harry who was supposed to open the Chamber of Secrets; Harry who was to set the Basilisk loose on the School; and it was Harry who was supposed to exchange his life for that of young Tom Riddle.
Nothing else to this point makes such complete sense.
And, now that we know something about Horcruxes, that prospect raises considerable curiosity over what on earth would have happened if Lucius had succeeded in passing the diary to Harry. Given that Harry already had custody of another one of the set! Would the two fragments have reacted to one another?
Well, from what we were shown in canon, they did not react at all. Harry’s scar didn’t even give a twitch over the young Tom Riddle. I now wonder whether that was an oversight on Rowling’s part. Or an attempt at a clue that didn’t quite come off, since it doesn’t seem to lead us anywhere.
On the other end of the equation we have the question: why would Lucius Malfoy choose that particular moment to suddenly deploy the Riddle Diary in the first place? Followed by the question of what, and who, did Dobby actually overhear, when he claims to have known about the plot “for months”?
Or was he referring to Lucius’s orders to him?
Lucius knew exactly what year Potter was going to be starting Hogwarts. Why should he feel that it would be any easier to approach the boy at the beginning of his second year, rather than his first, or his third, or any other year? He has presumably had some of Tom Riddle’s personal effects in safekeeping ever since the Dark Lord’s defeat. He may know, from Snape, that Dumbledore does not believe that Voldemort is dead (although that really doesn’t seem likely). Lucius does not have the authority to make free use of his Master’s personal property. Why does he suddenly decide to do it?
What happened off-stage during Harry’s first year?
In the wake of the release of the Black family tapestry sketch, I thought we may have finally been given a clue on that issue.
I still think so, even though most of the dates in the last couple of lines on that tapestry turn out to be useless, and others have been modified for the films. But let’s explore this alleyway a bit further, in any case.
We were told in the course of HBP that Lucius’s father, Abraxus Malfoy died in an outbreak of dragon-pox.
Any disease with a name like dragon-pox is liable to be a virulent epidemic. Abraxus Malfoy will not be the only person to have caught it.
From the tapestry — in its original form — we could see that no fewer than four members of the Black family (i.e., every member of the oldest two surviving generations, apart from Callidora Longbottom) died in 1991–1992. i.e., the year that Harry and Draco were in their first year at Hogwarts.
In an outbreak of dragon-pox?
Well, we will probably never be told as much. But it makes as much sense as any other suggestion. And good deal more than some.
And, if we remember, Draco, who was very loudly smug about people whose parents didn’t want them at home for Christmas break in Year 1, didn't go home for Christmas himself in Year 2.
Because his grandfather was ill with a highly infectious disease?
This reading throws the timeline off, so I certainly won’t insist on it. But there's no telling what was going on at Malfoy Manor between Christmas of Year 1 and the end of the school year in June.
So if Abraxus Malfoy died, early in 1992 in an outbreak of dragon-pox, then the spring and summer before the opening of CoS would be the point at which Lucius Malfoy was finally off his father’s leash, and had succeeded him as the Head of the Malfoy family. He might have been discussing his future plans as soon as his father was underground. We don’t know with whom. With his wife, if no one else.
Which raises the question of what he thought that he was playing at by deploying the Diary off his own bat.
How much did Tom tell Lucius about that diary? And when did he do so. Under what circumstances?
We have since been told in HBP that Lucius wasn’t given the Diary until shortly before Voldemort’s defeat, in 1981.
So, what was the situation in 1981?
Tom had already launched his major campaign against the established wizarding government and the whole country was on the brink of anarchy. The average wizard-in-the-street was convinced that Tom was winning. The Ministry was in disarray. Pettigrew, who had been wavering for the past year, finally put down his chips on Voldemort’s side of the board. In the public perception, the last bastion of resistance was probably Albus Dumbledore, and Hogwarts.
Throw a Basilisk into the equation on Albus’s turf and what have we got?
Tom nearly closed down the school the last time that Basilisk got out.
I do think that by the time Tom was told about the Prophecy, he had been trying for decades to figure out a way in which he could manage to murder Albus Dumbledore and use his death to create his final Horcrux. And he still hadn’t managed to come up with one that came with an acceptable level of risk.
But with a child of Prophecy on offer, he didn’t need Albus’s death for his final Horcrux any more. He could see him dead at long distance, by proxy. And with the school closed, and Albus gone, he could take the castle.
He has always wanted that castle.
He originally also wanted the Sword of Gryffindor, but it’s clear that he finally gave that part of his “grand design” up. After all, by the time he did take the castle and the Sword was right there for Snape to hand over, it doesn’t sound like he could have been less interested.
But I’m not convinced that back in ’81 he necessarily wanted the school.
In ’81 he wasn’t so likely to have been content to be pulling strings from behind the scenes and pretending that someone else was running things.
I also still think that Snape was originally sent into Hogwarts to serve as an assassin. But clearly there was a bit more to the mission than just killing Dumbledore. Since Tom did pass the Diary to Lucius at exactly the same time that he ordered Snape into Hogwarts, the two acts are unlikely to have been unconnected.
I now believe that Lucius was supposed to hang onto the Diary until Tom had settled the threat of the Potter child, and then, when he was given the signal, he was to pass the Diary to Snape inside the school — who was in turn to deploy it, the Chamber would be opened, Albus was to be murdered under cover of the uproar created by the Basilisk. Possibly even by the Basilisk.
Well, it didn’t work out that way, did it?
But that does not mean that Lucius necessarily knew about the Basilisk. He knew that the Chamber would be opened. And he knew about a monster, since that is all a part of the legend. But I very much doubt that Tom told him what the monster was. Lucius (unlike Bellatrix) certainly didn’t know about the Horcrux, or he would have hardly risked it the way he did.
Tom would have told him that the unprepossessing little Muggle Diary was a weapon. And he does appear to have filled him in on the fact that by deploying the Diary, they would open the Chamber of Secrets. I also think that the information that Draco was spouting about Slytherin’s monster killing a Muggle-born student was information that Tom had given to Lucius at the same time he had handed over the Diary.
Lucius knew there was a monster. He probably did not know that the monster was a Basilisk. And I am beginning to suspect that what Dobby may have overheard was Lucius’s attempts to convince Narcissa to send Draco to Durmstrang for his education. There is no way that Draco would have been spreading the information that the Chamber had been opened once before around the Slytherin common room without having heard of it from Lucius. That isn’t something that is widely known, not even among Slytherins. Not even among Death Eaters. Even the Hogwarts staff (with the exception of Albus) seems to have remained ignorant of the fact. And Albus didn’t tell anyone what he had figured out.
Lucius clearly also seems to have been told that a Muggle-born child had been killed the last time the Chamber was opened. Draco was spreading that story around as well.
And I expect that Tom may have told Lucius that by deploying the Diary they would be able to get rid of Dumbledore. Who Lucius thinks is probably the very worst Headmaster that Hogwarts could possibly have.
Well. Fast-forward to 1992 and Lucius Malfoy is out from under his father’s thumb and ready to launch his own bid to be the master of wizarding Britain. He hasn’t any objection to getting rid of Dumbledore either, has he?
Only why get rid of Dumbledore? Or, rather, why get rid of Dumbledore first?
It’s perfectly obvious over the next two books that Lucius, with an additional decades’ worth of maturity behind him, since his DE days, wants to control the Ministry, and to take command of the remnants of Riddle’s organization. But Albus Dumbledore has no official part in either of those.
But he is an interfering old coot that an inconveniently high percentage of the wizarding constituency tend to look to, and having him out of the picture would open up a power vacuum that someone else might manage to step into.
And, even better, thanks to his departed Master, removing Dumbledore can be accomplished without going head-to-head with the Ministry itself.
He knows that the Diary is a form of weapon. Check.
He knows that by the means of the Diary, the Chamber of Secrets will be opened and Slytherin’s monster be set loose on the school. Check.
He knows, or suspects that the Diary will have a seriously negative impact upon any child who is given it. We can’t be sure that Tom filled him in on that, but he may well have. At any rate Lucius certainly doesn’t risk giving the Diary to his own child. He may not know that the child involved will be required to die. But if he does he doesn’t care. He’s rather more concerned that the child involved will be blamed.
By the end of Year 1 he also knows, through both Draco and Snape, something of the failure of Voldemort’s attempt to return. The story was not effectively kept under wraps. The whole castle was buzzing with it. So Draco would have given his father at least a garbled account. Lucius would have questioned Snape as to what had actually gone on.
He may even have been told something of the adventure of the Philosophers’ Stone and Dumbledore’s attempts to protect the Stone, and of the attempt to forestall and capture the thief a good deal earlier in the year, under the cover of Snape passing information to one of the school’s Governors. But the suspected thief was not identified as Voldemort before the end of the year when the news got out after Harry stormed the Labyrinth.
Snape, who has probably been passing selected information back and forth throughout the years of Voldemort’s absence, had his cover to maintain, and part of that required that he pretend to remain ignorant of who they were dealing with. But Malfoy might have been filled in on the public version, and perhaps rather more than that, once the adventure was over. Snape’s story would have been much the same as the one he gave Voldemort three years later, that he had not known that it was Voldemort who had been attempting to steal the Stone, he had thought that Quirrell had been acting on his own account.
At the end of the year however it is generally known in select circles that Harry has faced the Dark Lord again and survived. And that Voldemort had been attempting to return. And failed.
And that the attempt failed may have given Malfoy the green light.
There is a great deal of reason to believe that Malfoy was not overjoyed when Voldemort made his return at the end of GoF. Hearing of his Master’s failure to capture the Stone may have led Malfoy into a false confidence that Voldemort would simply not be coming back. Ever.
Leaving the way clear for him.
We should also remember that rather disturbing comment of Snape’s, early in Book 6, that a certain number of Voldemort’s followers believed that Harry Potter’s victory over the Dark Lord was an indication that Potter himself was a powerful Dark wizard. One whose standard they could possibly rally around again. Malfoy was apparently one of the ones who had wondered about this.
And when Draco returned from Hogwarts it was with the unwelcome news that he had managed — in complete contradiction to all his father’s recommendations — to have alienated Potter.
If Potter is a fledgeling powerful Dark wizard, and Draco has made an enemy of him, he is now a threat, rather than a potential ally and resource. Lucius does not like having his family threatened.
And, in the meantime Malfoy is also suddenly feeling pressure from Ministry raids on the homes of suspected Dark wizards.
Which finally strikes me as being very odd timing.
The war had been over for a decade. There had no doubt been a considerable flurry of searches on suspected DE homes at the time. But the Dark Arts, in themselves, are not illegal. They are not even universally disapproved of socially. Why is the Ministry suddenly making raids on “suspected Dark wizards’” homes now?
Pharnabazus makes an excellent argument that this sudden upsurge in investigations of suspected Dark wizards may have been an indication of the timing of Barty Crouch Sr’s removal as the Head of the DMLE and Amelia Bones (who knew nothing about any of Crouch’s “gentlemen’s agreements” with persons like Abraxus Malfoy) sweeping in like a new broom with a public demonstration that she was “doing something”.
Except that Crouch wasn’t removed from his post for any lack of action. By all accounts he was removed because he made the Wizengamot uncomfortable with his attempt to keep on fighting a war that they were complacent about having already won.
So why are there suddenly raids on the homes of “suspected Dark wizards”? And who is behind them?
If it had been Malfoy Manor itself which had been searched I’d say that Crouch had taken Abraxus’s death as a go ahead to send Lucius a message that all bets were now off. He’d accepted Lucius’s Imperius defense for Abraxus’s sake, and in consideration of keeping his own son’s involvement in the DE movement under wraps. Well, that was no inducement any more, and Crouch had no reason to trust to Lucius’s good behavior once off his father’s leash.
Only, from what Lucius has to say to Borgin, the manor hasn’t been searched yet. And he is getting as many inconvenient items out of it before it might be as possible. Including the Dark Lord’s Diary.
And isn’t there someone else who is a possibility for being behind these sudden raids that is being overlooked here?
Cornelius Fudge is the Minister for Magic after all. And he has since shown himself to be both very jealous of any threats to his position, and to be at least vestigially in Albus Dumbledore’s confidence.
Voldemort was back, and his followers were just an owl away. And Albus could hardly keep QuirrellMort out of the Owlery.
Could Albus have dropped a hint in Fudge’s ear that they might possibly see an increase in Dark Arts activity in the near future? Did Fudge grab the hint and run with it? Is that what all those owls to Albus over the previous year were about?
And what would Crouch have had to say about Fudge interfering in his Department’s authority? Might the ensuing bitchfight have been what gave the Wizengamot the crowbar they needed to pry Crouch loose and set him to giving grief to wizards abroad instead?
I rather doubt that we are ever going to be told one way or the other. But it might certainly have given Lucius the kind of heads-up that he needed in order to to let him know that he ought to put a certain amount of his attention towards tethering Fudge.
Of course it is just possible that Pharnabazus is right and Lucius was discussing the possibility of deploying the Dark Lord’s weapon to one of the Weasley children, to his own advantage, with his wife. Weasley is the fellow behind this wretched Muggle Protection Act. And he is taking part in these annoying raids. But he is too far down the chain of command to be the cause of them.
Pharnabazus does offer a fairly convincing interpretation, but I am not altogether prepared to put a down payment on it. Yet. For one thing it overlooks a couple of questions of my own.
One, of course is to wonder whether Lucius even knew that Arthur Weasley had a daughter. I’m not altogether convinced he did. He may have been a school Governor, but the girl wasn’t in school yet.
Admittedly, Dobby does seem to have been most likely to have overheard a discussion if it was between Lucius and Narcissa. For it is clear that Dobby had to have HEARD Malfoy discussing the matter with someone. At the very least, his wife. It may also have been during this period that Lucius was proposing to send Draco off to Durmstrang so he would be out of the way of any harm (even though we do not hear about this proposal from Draco until a couple of years later in GoF), telling her just enough of his reasons for Dobby to have at least figured out that this was a plot against Harry Potter.
If so, Narcissa isn’t admitting to remembering anything to do with such a discussion at any point that we’ve encountered her since.
But from where Dobby was standing; I still think he understood that it was the great Harry Potter who was being threatened.
I mean, really. Think about it. Why would Dobby have gone gibbering in a panic to Harry Potter over a threat to the life of Ginny Weasley? I ask it again; had Dobby ever even heard of Ginny Weasley? Malfoy had probably done some fuming over Arthur, but is unlikely to have gone into detail on individual members of the man’s family. Once he returned from his first year, Draco may well have groused about the other Weasleys in addition to Harry. But he knows nothing in particular about Ginny. At that point Draco may not even know she exists, either.
So, once more with feeling; why was Dobby lurking around Privet drive?
Well, if Lucius had come up with the bright idea of palming the Diary off to Harry Potter, he would need to know where the kid was, wouldn’t he? He would need to know when the boy set off for Diagon Alley, so he would have the opportunity to intercept him.
I think that not only was Dobby lurking around Privet Drive on Lucius’s orders, he went on lurking, invisibly, around the Burrow for the rest of the summer. (And continued tailing them all to King’s Cross Station where he got the bright idea to block the barrier to the platform.)
Somebody had to have told Lucius Malfoy what day Potter was going to be in Diagon Alley, didn’t they? Do you really think that he ran Harry and the Weasleys down in Flourish & Blotts by chance? Regardless of which child he initially intended to give the book to. You really don’t get the impression that he was in the habit of toting that book around with him all the time, do you? (Particularly not after the retcon in DHs that has all Horcruxes acting like the One Ring.)
And if this is where Lucius was coming from, we sat and watched his plot all go pear-shaped before our very eyes when Muggle-loving Arthur Weasley, instead of going for his wand when taunted — like any self-respecting wizard — threw a punch instead, dragged Lucius into a fist fight in public (in a bookstore which was packed for a celebrity book signing, just to add insult to injury) and so enraged Lucius that he planted the diary on Arthur’s daughter (and the apple of his eye, I suspect) instead. Thus furthering his own private agenda to score off of a rival above all else.
Lucius tends to do stupid things as soon as he gets angry.
Or maybe not.
Now that we’ve got Dobby tailing Harry on Lucius’s orders, it opens up another possibility. You do not see a House Elf unless he lets you. Especially when he is taking active measures not to be seen.
It makes a lot less sense for Lucius to be playing parlor tricks and tucking the Diary into Ginny’s 2nd hand textbook by slight-of-hand than it would for him to have given the Diary to Dobby and told him to see that it got into the bundle of Harry’s books.
Dobby would have taken any opportunity that was offered to be able to disobey that order.
So when Lockhart presented Harry with a complete (autographed!) set of his books for school, and Harry dumped the stack into Ginny’s new cauldron, along with her books, and Ron’s books, and the cauldron went flying when Lucius and Arthur got into a fist fight, I think Dobby may have made sure that the Diary got into a book in that cauldron that was anyone’s book but Harry’s.
Dumbledore’s statements on the subject in HBP strongly indicate that Voldemort did not learn of the loss of the Diary and of the Basilisk until well after he was already committed to co-opting Lucius’s plot to take over the Ministry and needed Malfoy alive and well for the sake of his influence upon Fudge, and Fudge’s staff.
Or at least one has to suppose that’s the only reason that Lucius Malfoy wasn’t executed, then and there when Tom did discover it. Not considering just what that Diary was. But Lucius has to have known that the next time he put a foot wrong, he was for it.
Yet it was probably not simply out of anger over the loss of one of his precious Horcruxes (just possibly the most precious of them all, because the most usefull) that Voldemort put Lucius in charge of the raid on the DoM, a mission for which Lucius’s skills are clearly not best suited.
And then lumbered him with Bellatrix for good measure.
Either Malfoy wanted that assignment (to show up Bellatrix?), or somebody had some other axe to grind.
Because Malfoy is just not the kind of person you put in charge of a raid. He’s far better utilized behind the scenes, where his authority isn’t going to get openly challenged.
For the record, even though he will eagerly punish followers who disappoint him, and ultimately escalated into killing the ones who gave him bad news, I do NOT believe that in Year 5 Voldemort was in the habit of casually Crucioing just ANY of his followers, arbitrarily. There are some that he knew were much too valuable to give any cause to reconsider their alliance, and thus put him to the trouble of having to kill them before he was finished with them (an act for which he showed a great deal of reluctance until the series went completely off the rails in DHs). But he will certainly torture OTHER, more expendable of their fellows in their presence as a reminder that he COULD. Draco has a point. Until Voldemort discovered the truth about the Diary, Lucius Malfoy was probably EVERY bit as important as Draco boasted that he was. (Except for the rather telling fact that Lucius did NOT have a seat on the Wizengamot.)
Or at least he was important then. He certainly wasn’t afterwards.
And when the raid started going pear-shaped, you almost have to wonder whether Lucius let himself be captured on purpose.
Leaving us at a point where we have another loose end dangling.
Dobby and the rogue Bludger.
Upon whose authority was Dobby lurking about Hogwarts and messing with that Bludger?
As to Dobby himself; now that we have a little more information to reason from, it is beginning to look like Viktor Krum wasn’t our only “good Slytherin” surrogate in the series after all. Because it seems to me as if Dobby was a very sharp little operator, and not in the style favored by Gryffindor House. And if House Elves have anything like House affiliations, he was definitely a Slytherin.
The speech patterns of House Elves invite the reader to conclude that their reasoning powers are extremely primitive and that they are fundamentally rather stupid. My own contention is that they reason from an entirely different set of cultural assumptions and according to a whole different system of symbols from that of any human, rendering much of their reasoning unintelligible to human observers.
For another thing, it is obvious that they shade the truth without any hesitation, and they have been manipulating humans for centuries. Dobby’s bit of wordplay at the end of CoS that the Dark Lord, before he became the Dark Lord, could be named freely, is surprisingly sophisticated when stacked up against what most wizards appear to believe about the intelligence of House Elves, and of their reasoning capabilities.
We have also been given what may be a hint when Dumbledore informs Harry that since Harry was not Kreachur’s Master when he fire-called #12 and asked for Sirius that Kreachur could lie to him outright without feeling any need to punish himself for having done so. Harry was not his Master. (Ironically, by the time that conversation with Albus takes place, Harry is.)
It rather belatedly occurred to me that Harry was not Dobby’s Master, either.
If Dobby used his Master’s orders to send him to Harry Potter, for all that his warnings were absolutely sincere and absolutely not what his Master intended, and for all that they were unquestionably intended to keep Harry safe, it does not automatically follow that everything, or indeed anything, that was stated in, or along with those warnings was necessarily true.
Or, not necessarily true in quite the way that Dobby implied.
One thing that is obvious, is that from the moment he first revealed himself in Privet Drive, he made a determined and unremitting effort to play upon Harry’s sympathies. He also made a point of laying on the flattery with a trowel (probably a good survival strategy with the Malfoys). For all that I doubt that Dobby fully understood most human motivations, he certainly knew more than he let on.
I think that, from somewhere, Dobby had grocked that most humans believe in the principle of reciprocation. (*hem! hem!* Slytherins and their interlocking networks of favors and obligations anyone?) Also that he had long ago looked around at his own working conditions and circumstances, compared it with that of some of the other Elves of other families he knows (one of whom I suspect had a tendency to be quite untactfully smug about how much her Master trusted her), and figured “well, bugger this for a lark”. And decided that even if it meant his own death, he wanted to be free of these Masters.
But he had not been able to annoy them to the point of freeing him, rather than killing him. And, of the two, he really would have preferred to be freed.
But, now, perhaps if he can really be of service to the “Great Harry Potter”, maybe the great Harry Potter will somehow be able to help him.
At the very least, Dobby figured that Harry Potter, dead, would be unable to help anyone.
And about the only thing really necessary to follow this line of reasoning through to its conclusion is to assume that what in fact did happen through Dobby’s interference was pretty much what was meant to happen.
Stopping the kid’s mail — which was not in his orders — did have Harry thinking that his friends had forgotten him, making him a little more receptive when Dobby decided to show himself. Maneuvering a warning letter from the MoM about underage magic was a clear alert that the matter was important. Blocking the barrier in King’s Cross Station raised such a stink that even though the boy did eventually manage to make it to school despite the interference, it managed to fly under the radar and Dobby was not blamed for it.
But there is no clear reason why Lucius would have sent Dobby to Hogwarts in the middle of the term. No reason at all. He had already given the Diary to a Hogwarts-bound child, and from Draco’s letters home, he would know that the Chamber had been opened at Halloween.
So what excuse did Dobby have to be there?
Well, this time I do think the matter may be down to Draco. One wonders if, in preparation for the Gryffindor-Slytherin match, Malfoy’s first match against Potter; young Malfoy might not have written home asking his mother or father to send Dobby to him, or have simply taken it upon himself to call Dobby to him, since he had a task for him.
Namely a straightforward attempt to nobble the competition with a rogue bludger — giving Dobby a perfect opportunity to pass Harry another warning and an infodump in the hospital wing afterwards, with further hints of what was going on. After all; Dobby had no business at Hogwarts unless he was actually sent or summoned there by a member of the Malfoy family. And putting Harry in the hospital wing would give every appearance of faithfully executing Draco’s orders.
And it is clear to the reader at least, that by that time whatever Dobby might have to say, it was going to be totally irrelevant to the major plot related to the Diary, which was already in development. The only thing served by that visitation was a reminder that; “Hey kid! There are no coincidences. There is a dangerous plot in progress, and I’m on your side!”
After all, Dobby had his own axe to grind.
Which brings us to a minor side trip related to the Dueling Club, which had nothing to do with Dobby.
In Book 1 it had eventually been established that there was some form of connection between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. But given Harry’s conduct during the crisis, as well as Voldemort’s demonstrated continued implacable hostility toward the boy, Dumbledore was not further inclined to regard Harry with suspicion.
Until, that is, Harry turned up in the wrong place at the wrong time the night that Salazar’s Chamber was opened the following year, and wild suspicions started flying all over again, this time over the “Heir of Slytherin”.
Dumbledore knows kids, or he certainly ought to; and while he did not really think that Harry was responsible for the attack on Mrs. Norris, he could tell that the boy was holding some kind of information back. There was also still the uncomfortable recollection of that as yet unexamined connection with the entity that had possessed Quirrell — as well as the consideration that the second Fawkes-cored wand had chosen him. And for all his suspicions, Dumbledore was probably not absolutely sure of what had taken place when Voldemort had tried to kill the boy the first time.
Dumbledore is a Legilimens himself, but he doesn’t seem to pry into people’s heads any more than he can avoid, and he usually wants to establish all of his facts openly in front of witnesses before taking any kind of action. He must have been very concerned over just how far all of these connections went.
By that time Dumbledore had also had some 50 years to mull over what must have really taken place the year that the Chamber of Secrets was opened the first time and it is altogether too likely that he had already long figured out that somehow a Basilisk had been making free of the school that year. There were other *attacks* before Myrtle’s death. And a non-fatal Basilisk attack results in petrification. So we are clearly dealing with a monster which is a stone-turner. There are very few monsters in folklore or mythology which are stone-turners.
It has also now been solidly established that it was not ever openly known at Hogwarts that Tom Riddle was a Parselmouth during the years that he was a student there. But Dumbledore was aware of it, because Riddle had boasted to him of it before he started Hogwarts. In fact, even before the release of HBP, where my suspicions were confirmed, I strongly suspected that this information absolutely was not generally known, or, due to the association between Parseltongue and Salazar Slytherin alone Tom would have come under immediate suspicion at the time, and all the indications are that he never did.
Dumbledore knows Voldemort’s origins; he has long since worked it out that if “Lord” Voldemort is Tom Riddle — and he knows that Riddle is a Parselmouth — and he also knows that one of the classic stone-turning monsters (a very short list) is the Basilisk, which is a variety of snake, that the uproar during the Hogwarts academic year of 1942–’43; the year that the 2nd-year student named Myrtle was killed and young Rubeus Hagrid was expelled had almost certainly been orchestrated by Riddle, who had been controlling and directing a Basilisk.
And now over 50 years later, there has been another obvious Basilisk attack and Potter is acting suspiciously, and Dumbledore really does not want to have to believe that Riddle is now acting through Potter.
In addition; Dumbledore suddenly has Lucius Malfoy very much underfoot, and that is even more suspicious. Dumbledore flatly refuses to believe that Potter is dancing to Malfoy’s tune.
But a Basilisk is a snake, and Riddle is a Parselmouth, and Potter has some sort of a connection to Riddle, and may be a Horcrux, to boot.
Is Potter a Parselmouth as well?
Could Potter simply have overheard the Basilisk as it moved through the walls? That might explain the boy’s skittishness. It must have seemed worth establishing that much at least.
Very much as I believe that in PS/SS Dumbledore enlisted Snape and Filch’s help in setting up the Mirror of Erised demonstration wherein he had them herd Harry into the room where the Mirror was set up so he could observe how the boy would respond when confronted with it, and later explained to Harry Potter the trick of how the Mirror worked. I think that in CoS he took Snape far enough into his confidence to pass on his suspicion that Potter may have acquired the gift of Parseltongue when Voldemort first tried to kill him and that it might be useful to establish whether this was the case.
Snape, being Snape, agreed that this might be useful indeed and, as Harry exceeded expectations in PS/SS by diving into the Labyrinth to save the Stone, Snape exceeded expectations by making sure that Dumbledore’s hypothesis was verified publicly, dramatically, and with the maximum negative impact upon Potter.
Even though he prefers to establish his suspicions openly and before witnesses himself, Dumbledore was Not Pleased.
But Dumbledore, who liked to congratulate himself on the way the cosmic balance tends to reestablish itself, chalked it down to experience, and he got a certain degree of not-so-private amusement when he was able to sit back and watch what goes around, come around and bite Snape in the aftermath of Dumbledore’s having been forced to engineer Sirius Black’s escape from the school the following year. Snape could have readily avoided making an ass of himself in public by exercising a little open-mindedness and moderation. But open-mindedness and moderation are lessons that Snape is thoroughly determined not to learn (much like Harry, when you come right down to it).
And, in the end, the evidence of Fawkes and Godric’s sword was inarguable and assures us that by the end of CoS, we can safely say that Harry himself has never since, and never did ever come under personal suspicion from Albus Dumbledore, even if Dumbledore did have heavy reservations regarding Riddle’s ability to connect through Potter.
Harry had amply proved himself, and Harry’s own intentions, at least, had Dumbledore’s complete confidence.
What seems likely however, is that no one in the series has ever been in Dumbledore’s complete confidence. And most of Dumbledore’s actions over the course of the series have served only to demonstrate his conviction that the truth is something to be approached with extreme caution. But, as the poster of yet another original theory pointed out, if Snape had been taken into that confidence since CoS concerning the connection between Harry and the enemy, which was certainly the case by the time of OotP, it would give us yet another possible reason for Snape’s continuing hatred of Harry Potter.
Bringing us to the final show-down: just what could possibly be up with Dobby’s clearly unrequested appearance in Dumbledore’s office, in his Master’s train at the end of the tale other than a gritty resolve to be “in at the kill” so he could engineer the final resolution of his year-long campaign? All of that pointing and head-thumping was clearly intended to make sure that Lucius Malfoy would be blamed for exactly what was most blameworthy in his part of the affair.
And I am convinced that Dobby pulled off a complete scam of his own under cover of the shambles of the Diary plot.
It has always been obvious that House Elves are the ones to do the laundry in the households that bind them. They also fold it and put it away, they pick up the clothes that people leave strewn about, wash, and tend them. It certainly isn’t just their own hands that they are supposed to be ironing.
If House Elves are laundry elves. They can handle human clothing all day long without endangering their binding to their houses and families. And in order to free one you have to not just hand him an article of clothing, you have to give him that article, as a gift, for his own. And make him take it.
And Lucius Malfoy did nothing of the kind.
Malfoy threw a dirty sock (someone else’s dirty sock!) away. Dobby caught it and made a totally bogus pronouncement that; “Master has given Dobby a sock!”
It is perhaps indicative of Lucius Malfoy’s inability to keep a cool head in a crisis that he didn’t immediately snap; “I did nothing of the sort, and you know it. Now go home and iron your hands!” Instead he basically turned on Harry and snarled; “Look what you made me do!”
And Dobby escaped.
But I am no longer convinced that Dobby was ever properly free.
Four years later he is still trying to throw himself in the fire when he speaks poorly of the Malfoys. Nor does he ever settle down to dish the dirt about their past activities. And, for that matter, how was he able to pop directly into the cellar of the manor in DHs. Don’t you think the Malfoys (in common with everybody else) would have had some kind of Apparation barrier for Elves that were not theirs? I think that when Albus hired Dobby, Albus was fully aware that what he was doing was harboring and giving protection to a runaway slave.
Which I suppose adds a certain additional degree of poignancy to Dobby’s eventual epitaph.
But, no, we just cannot depend upon House Elves adopting their Masters’ political biases. They have more choice than that. And they do not all suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. In fact half of the ones we’ve met so far emphatically do not.
And Kreachur was not the first Elf we watched betray a hated Master.
Resourcefulness, determination, a certain “disregard for rules”. Check, check, and double-check. Traditional Slytherin qualities, all.
And while we are on the subject; for a House Elf to decide that he not only wanted to be free, but that, once free, he wanted to be paid for his work, strikes me as ambition on a level that even Salazar would admire.
Okay, just for fun let’s kick around another possibility: it’s old enough to have long gray whiskers on it and I don’t take this one very seriously. But it’s fun.
What if, knowing only that the diary was a weapon, Lucius started writing in it HIMSELF? And got into a dialogue with young Riddle (in this variant the Diary revenant would have been of the young Riddle. Not the 45-year-old version masquerading as a 16-year-old, which I now believe to be the case). Malfoy is no naive 11-year-old. Plus, he is a man unlikely to pour out his soul over anything to anyone. So he was able to resist being taken over by Adolescent!Riddle. But he did fill Tom in on something about his glorious future. In return, maybe Tom filled him in on the Chamber and how he could open the Chamber and be released from the book.
They hatched the plot together, and Lucius only needed to get the diary into the hands of any child (other than Draco) bound for Hogwarts. This version about plays, and makes it very clear that the plot did concern Tom Riddle rather than Voldemort, just as Dobby claimed, but this makes it unclear just how Dobby could have “heard” anything about the plot, unless Lucius discussed it with his wife.
In any case, after hearing about the Quirrell debacle through his usual channels, I suspect that Lucius’s long-term intention was to supplant Voldemort, in his absence. Supposing that, after the aforementioned “correspondence” with young Tom, he realized that he had a multi-purpose tool here that could go either of two ways, with little risk to himself.
He agreed to do what he could to release the revenant from the book. Once the Diary revenant was released, Lucius intended to contact Diary!Tom (he certainly kept a close enough eye on the school during the kids’ second year to learn whether the revenant had been released or not) and continue to feed him the glorious story of what he had done over the past 50 years. Then regroup the Death Eaters in Voldemort’s name, under the revenant’s titular leadership.
But, in actuality, Lucius may have thought that he would to be able to keep a 16-year-old Riddle under his own influence and be the real guiding spirit behind the revived Death Eater movement, ultimately dispensing with their young “Master”. If this was the case, he would have been wiser to have refreshed his memory on what happens to people who underestimate Tom Riddle.
Or he may have thought that the minute things started looking dicey, he would send Diary!Riddle off to Albania and let whichever variant would, win, and reap his reward for attempting to restore his Master.
But I still contend that since the real Voldemort had tried to capture the Philosopher’s Stone the previous year and failed, and the Stone was now destroyed, Lucius may have thought that there was no way that the original Voldemort could ever return, and that the way was now clear for him to set himself up as the new Dark Lord of British wizardry. And to reduce resistance he would need to depose Albus Dumbledore from his position of power, seeing all of Albus’s offices filled with people he could direct. Everything in Lucius’s behavior between CoS and the end of GoF would support this reading a good deal more readily than any sort of “loyal follower” one.
Which would make the rather mild rebuke Voldemort gave him in the graveyard all the more mystifying. Until you stop and think, and realize that with his organization in shambles after his 13-year absence, Voldemort needed Lucius and his resources a good deal more than Lucius needed him. And Voldemort really wasn’t altogether stupid. There is a good deal of evidence in favor of the reading that Voldemort’s true intent, from the point of his return, was to use Lucius and Lucius’s resources, use them up, and dispense with him before his ambitions grew to be too much of a problem.
In the meantime, following this scenario, the plots that Dobby claims to have overheard would have been Lucius and whoever else he was planning to stage his coup with. Because in this case Lucius would certainly have been aiming to make use of Voldemort’s old network and would likely have had partners in the endeavor.
But in any case, I do rather think the Basilisk’s re-entry into the proceedings took Lucius by surprise, for even if he had been in correspondence with young Riddle the year before, Riddle would have been very cagey about just what Salazar’s monster actually was and what it could do. But, once it was in play, Lucius grabbed the ball and ran with it, using its attacks as a crowbar to pry Dumbledore out of the school and to frame Hagrid for the dangerous goings-on all over again.
And, regardless; my primary contention still applies. Stone and Chamber do not read like two separate, unrelated adventures, they read like Plan A and Plan B of the Dark Lord’s first campaign to restore himself.
(The Dark that Failed?)