- An old Pottermore article revealing the pre-18th century bathroom habits of wizards has resurfaced.
- In a tweet, the “Harry Potter” site reminded fans that Hogwarts “didn’t always have bathrooms.”
- “Before adopting Muggle plumbing methods in the eighteenth century, witches and wizards simply relieved themselves wherever they stood, and vanished the evidence,” a tweet read.
- We have questions.
- Where does vanished excrement go? What do younger witches and wizards do? Do witches and wizards just leave their robes on? How does this work if the Chamber of Secrets was built in a bathroom centuries earlier?
Pottermore, the digital site dedicated to articles and news from “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, resurfaced a trivia fact about the wizarding world that most people wish they could unlearn as quickly as possible.
“Hogwarts didn’t always have bathrooms,” the Pottermore tweet read. “Before adopting Muggle plumbing methods in the eighteenth century, witches and wizards simply relieved themselves wherever they stood, and vanished the evidence.”
If you, like us, read this tweet shortly after it was shared on Friday (and hadn’t previously encountered this old Pottermore article), then you spend the better part of your day mulling over its implications. We did the extra work for you and have outlined every question this not-so-fun fact has raised, starting with the most philosophical quandary of all.
Where does vanished excrement go?
For those familiar with the books, you’ll know that Professor McGonagall is asked this general question in Rowling’s seventh novel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” The Ravenclaw common room requires its would-be entrants to correctly answer a question before they can go inside.
“Where do Vanished objects go?” the door knocker asks McGonagall.
“Into non-being, which is to say, everything,” she replies.
So if you vanish away the contents of a toilet (well, in the case there’s no toilet but you understand the hypothetical here) does that matter just go … into everything? Like your food? Or eyes? Or Transfiguration homework? McGonagall’s answer invokes a sort of molecular science, as if you vanish an object by breaking it into teeny minuscule pieces and scattering them into the universe.
Applying pseudo-scientific theory to fictional magic might be silly but Pottermore has provided us with this hypothetical scenario and therefore logic has to follow. We didn’t ask for this!
What do younger witches and wizards do?
As a lot of folks on Twitter pointed out, the Vanishing spell isn’t taught until fifth year. So what did the younger students do? Was there a prefect on bathroom duty in the hallways?
And how about the youngsters still at home?
Potty training seems bad enough for muggle parents with young toddlers, but to have magical kids “relieve themselves” wherever they stand and need to vanish it for them sounds like a Wizard-parents’ nightmare. And again, the impracticality of this is staggering. What if they need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night? Or at school? Or while out in public?
Do the witches and wizards just … leave their robes on?
In the books, Hogwarts students wear school robes at all times. The Muggle clothing like jeans and sweaters was only adopted for the movies, since black wizard robes are a rather monotonous visual.
But we can’t stop imagining teenage wizards just crouching down in the hallway and…going to the bathroom on the floor? The Pottermore tweet says “wherever they stood” but good gracious we don’t want to think about people doing this while standing.
Tangentially, why wouldn’t they just vanish the contents of their bowels while said contents are still inside their body?
How does this work if the Chamber of Secrets was built in a bathroom centuries earlier?
Well this answer is actually where the trivia question originated. As Pottermore tweeted, the site’s original Chamber of Secrets article says the hidden room was originally accessed by trap door. The “new” Hogwarts plumbing (again, this wasn’t installed in the eighteenth century, long after outhouses were invented) “threatened” the entrance but another Slytherin wizard sorted it out.
Here’s that section in the Pottermore article:
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. When first created, the Chamber was accessed through a concealed trapdoor and a series of magical tunnels.
However, when Hogwarts’ plumbing became more elaborate in the eighteenth century (this was a rare instance of wizards copying Muggles, because hitherto they simply relieved themselves wherever they stood, and vanished the evidence), the entrance to the Chamber was threatened, being located on the site of a proposed bathroom.
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.
Why did it take so long for Hogwarts to get on board with a private place for people to relieve themselves?
“During the 11th-century castle-building boom, chamber pots were supplemented with toilets that were, for the first time, actually integrated into the architecture,” a Smithsonian article on the history of toilets says.
If you’re a “Game of Thrones” fan, the article helpfully points out that the “bathroom” Tywin Lannister is in during the fourth season finale is a perfect example of this architecture. Surely the Hogwarts professors would have been able to retro-fit the castle with one of these?
What about muggle-borns? What did they do when they got to Hogwarts?
Even before the 18th century plumbing, muggle-born witches and wizards would have grown up with an alternative way of going to the bathroom. One reply to the Pottermore tweets shows a group of “Harry Potter” fans posturing this very good point.
Going from whatever method of bathroom you had to the ol’ “relieve yourself in the hallway” gambit must have been tricky.
Can we please delete this Pottermore fact and go back to not knowing this?
In the decade since Rowling’s last published “Harry Potter” book there have been many, many revelations about the wizarding world that fans wish had been left unsaid. Sometimes these facts have been sad but innocuous, like Hagrid being unable to ever produce a Patronus. But others, like Rowling’s reveal that Dumbledore is gay (only to disappoint fans by withholding meaningful representation of his sexuality) are more serious.
This is clearly an example of the former. Innocuous? Sure. But resulting in a lot of eyebrow-raising among fans? Definitely. If only we all had time-turners and could zoom back to the past when we didn’t know this, much like the time Moaning Myrtle once zoomed into the Great Lake with the contents of a toilet.
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