When it hit the shelves: July 2, 1998
What happens in the book: After a summer spent with the Dursleys, Harry is excited to return to Hogwarts. An unexpected visitor, the house elf Dobby, tries in vain to prevent Harry from returning to Hogwarts by getting him to illegally perform magic outside of the school.
The Ministry of Magic blames Harry anyway, and the Dursleys confiscate Harry's books and wand. Uncle Vernon puts bars on Harry's windows, imprisoning him in his room. Fred and George Weasley, Ron's brothers, rescue Harry from 4 Privet Drive with their father's flying car. Harry spends the remainder of the summer at the Weasleys' cramped but cozy home.
When Harry returns to Hogwarts, he realizes he has developed a cult following. Fellow student Colin Creevy constantly takes pictures of him; Ginny Weasley, Ron's sister, seems to have developed a crush on Harry; and professor Gilderoy Lockhart, a pompous wizard, boasts about Harry's accomplishments and their nonexistent rapport.
The trouble begins when someone opens the Chamber of Secrets, hidden under the dungeons of Hogwarts. The Chamber is home to a Basilisk, a snake-like monster that attacks Muggle-born students, turning them into stone. Browsing through the restricted section in the library archives, Ron, Hermione and Harry learn that the Chamber was built by Salazar Slytherin and can be opened only by his pure-blood heir. Harry fears that he himself may be Slytherin's heir since he can speak the snake language, Parseltongue.
Ginny disappears and Ron, Hermione and Harry try to find her. Soon Harry and Ginny are trapped in the Chamber of Secrets with the Basilisk. Fawkes, Dumbledore's faithful phoenix, delivers the Sorting Hat to Harry, who draws the sword of Gryffindor from it. With the sword, Harry blinds and maims the Basilisk, which manages to bite Harry at the last minute. Dying from the Basilisk's poison, Harry is revived by Fawkes' rejuvenating tears.
It turns out that Ginny had opened the Chamber of Secrets under the guidance of Voldemort, who controlled her through his enchanted diary. Gilderoy Lockhart is revealed as a fraud. Dobby is Lucius Malfoy's elf and was trying his best to protect Harry from harm. Dumbledore puts to rest any suspicion that Harry is Slytherin's heir and makes his famous comment: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." Harry could not have wielded the sword of Gryffindor if he did not truly belong to that house.
Ginny Weasley: Ron's little sister, who develops a crush on Harry
Colin Creevy: A year junior to Harry, follows him around and photographs him endlessly
Gilderoy Lockhart: A wizard who is more enthusiastic about perpetuating his own legend than teaching
The Magic Gadgets:
Floo Powder: Used by wizards for travel and communication via fireplaces
Howler: Red letter usually sent to express anger from the sender. When a howler is opened, the sender's voice yells at the recipient before it self-destructs
Tom Riddle's Diary: Enchanted with dark magic and used to control Ginny, it is destroyed by Harry and is later revealed to be one of Voldemort's Horcruxes