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In an update on Pottermore, J.K. Rowling has given some further information about the history of the Chamber of Secrets. In it, she makes clear that the secret of the Chamber was passed down the generations of Slytherin descendants. They definitely knew the Chamber was there; they weren't just passing on rumours.

The existence of the Chamber was known to Slytherin’s descendants and those with whom they chose to share the information. Thus the rumour stayed alive through the centuries.

Some of those descendents did open the Chamber (in the sense of going inside it, not in the sense of releasing the Basilisk).

There is clear evidence that the Chamber was opened more than once between the death of Slytherin and the entrance of Tom Riddle in the twentieth century.

A specific line of Slytherin descendants - the Gaunts - were Parselmouths. They not only knew that the Basilisk existed but actually heard its snake-like voice moving around the castle. They also boasted freely about this.

Whispers that a monster lived in the depths of the castle were also prevalent for centuries. Again, this is because those who could hear and speak to it were not always as discreet as they might have been: the Gaunt family could not resist boasting of their knowledge. As nobody else could hear the creature sliding beneath floorboards or, latterly, through the plumbing, they did not have many believers, and none, until Riddle dared unleash the monster on the castle.

One of the Gaunts was involved in hiding the Chamber when the girls bathroom was built on top of the entrance.

The presence in school at the time of a student called Corvinus Gaunt – direct descendant of Slytherin, and antecedent of Tom Riddle – explains how the simple trapdoor was secretly protected, so that those who knew how could still access the entrance to the Chamber even after newfangled plumbing had been placed on top of it.

Given all this, why did it take until Riddle's day for the Chamber to be properly opened again?

Successive generations of Gaunts:

  • Knew for sure about the existence of the Chamber and how to open it
  • Could speak Parseltongue and control the Basilisk
  • Were probably in many cases rabid blood purists who believed themselves to be superior to Muggle-borns

Successive generations of Gaunts seem to have had both the ability and the inclination to fully open the Chamber of Secrets and release the Basilisk. Why then did none of them actually do it?

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    I think it has something to do with self-confidence and control. Many were able to release the Basilisk, l but to control it, so that it does not turn on the one who released it - is a different matter. Tom Riddle was confident that he could control the monster. – TimSparrow Jun 2 '17 at 11:27
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    Too much to lose? Tom Riddle, as a penniless orphan, did not need to be concerned that being caught would lead to the disgrace of the Gaunt name. – Harry Johnston Jun 2 '17 at 11:28
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    @HarryJohnston True, but he was also terrified of having to leave Hogwarts (his one true home). So he had a lot to lose if caught as well. – The Dark Lord Jun 2 '17 at 11:37
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    Answers to other questions (e.g. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/13004/…) debate about what really means being the "true heir" of Slytherin... – Teem Porary Jun 2 '17 at 12:57
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    Given the state of the most recent Gaunts (the result of so much in-breeding) I think we can safely say that the more modern generations were extremely unlikely to even know about it. Perhaps the Chamber/basilisk were charmed to only obey someone sufficiently like Slytherin himself, both in power and temperament. – DavidS Jun 2 '17 at 13:15
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I feel that the Gaunts we were introduced to, were quite arrogant and ignorant. They were just filled with ego of being a Slytherin descendent and never did anything that would live up to the family name.

I believe that till a time, the descendants of Slytherin would pass the knowledge of the Chamber and other things (that got lost, eventually). I also think they would work to make Slytherin's name better - since he left the school and honestly, that is not a good impression. With time, they got busy dealing with the set image of their house.

By the time we come to the Gaunts that we met, there were only rumours of the Chamber since they had no idea that such a chamber existed. Further, these Gaunts were not capable enough to match the earlier generations or Salazar himself. They were Parselmouth and carried this as a badge to show their ancestry. Hence, when they were busy just bloating about and had no real talent (Morfin could barely read or write anything), the chambers slowly became just a story.

When Tom Marvolo Riddle takes charge, he feels himself special since - he is a wizard and then he finds that he is a descendent of Salazar. Instead of taking knowledge from generations before him, he must have studied himself about Slytherin and legends associated to him. He took the Hermione way and then experimented. He did have the talent and the zeal to push further than the boundaries, thus, he succeeded.

  • You make a good point in your last paragraph so I've +1ed you. You might want to edit your post to make the comparisons between Riddle and the other Gaunts sharper and to clear up the English a little. There's no evidence, for instance, that the Gaunts were trying to improve the Slytherin reputation, so that distracts a little from your main point about Riddle's upbringing - which is a good one! – The Dark Lord Jun 6 '17 at 9:47
  • I wanted to bring out the difference between the earlier generations and the Gaunts we were introduced to... ofcourse, there is no evidence exactly to back up what I say... only Jo can help there. – Shruti Joshi Jun 7 '17 at 2:59
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Another direction to think in:

Consider that Slytherins ≠ evil. It could be that the Gaunts who went through Hogwarts were your typical pureblood Slytherins who were more focused on cunning and getting ahead in politics than murder.

Focused on the prestige of knowing where the chamber was and being able to elevate them socially based on that. With being Parseltounge speakers, they would almost be the equivalent of royalty in Slytherin (being direct descendants n'such).

Possibly think of this too: People start Hogwarts at age 11, when they are children. They spend a great portion of time here and it probably becomes a home away from home. They grow up feeling safe here (hopefully). Being so young, I don't think many have the idea or drive to start murdering people in a place you consider home (even if there are pesky Gryffindors who annoy you).

Tom just happened to be a special exception since he had a case of the Dark Lord Syndrome (i.e. I'll become immortal, rule the world and kill those who stand in my way/aren't worthy).

  • Slytherins = evil. Finally someone on the internet understands me. – Hermione Granger Oct 9 '18 at 21:21
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This is related to Is Tom Marvolo Riddle the only one who opened the Chamber of Secrets after Salazar Slytherin?

The answer there claims that the Gaunts did open the Chamber of Secrets, but for one reason or another they apparently didn't use the Basilisk to kill anyone. As for why none of them killed anyone with the Basilisk, we can only speculate. We know that they enjoyed the companionship of snakes, so perhaps they wanted to protect the Basilisk from the certain destruction that awaited it if it's presence at Hogwarts was known. Perhaps the Gaunts were steeped in family tradition that prevented any of them from thinking the time was theirs. Perhaps they were protecting the House of Slytherin from the near certain closure of the school. But alas, we don't know their story.

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    @HermioneGranger Sorry I didn't mean to overwrite (and hence reject) your edit I was fixing the space at the end of "Secrets" which was causing the bold to go on for longer than it should have done. – TheLethalCarrot Jul 25 '18 at 14:57

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