Obscure Potterings: Chamber (Pot) of Secrets

J. K. Rowling gives us a peek into the history of the Chamber of Secrets, including an odd and intriguing aside concerning historical wizard world bathroom practices.

In the annals of Pottermore, J. K. Rowling offers a brief exploration of the Chamber of Secrets and tidbits about creator Salazar Slytherin’s intentions and design. She delves into how such an elaborate construction was built in secret and able to remain hidden — and how despite this, its legend persisted.

The Chamber’s lasting reputation owes its existence to the loose-tongued braggarts and family members with whom Salazar Slytherin shared knowledge of his super special secret lair. And then those guys shared the secret with others in Slytherin House, and so on, and some of them surely went so far as to spread the word among the rest of Hogwarts. Even if everyone else found it stuff and nonsense, how would the tale have made it to non-Slytherins otherwise? But hey, if your founder built something as impressive as a secret underground tunnel room — housing a giant monster only his descendants could control, no less – you too would gloat about your house legacy.

And then, tucked inside this otherwise straightforward probe into Hogwarts history, there is this weird little detail about how wizards used to answer the call of nature.

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.

Whoa, back up a minute there. That’s um…super gross. What a bizarre little detail! Granted, this is more sanitary than dumping sewage into the public water supply, as in humanity’s squalid past, and definitely more considerate than emptying chamber pots out the window into the streets below.

This slightly vulgar peek into the historical lack of wizard toilet humility raises questions. Does this mean that pre-plumbing, wizards and witches just whipped it out, wherever and whenever? I suppose the robes kept everybody modest but that’s a pretty liberal practice, bordering on Roman hedonism – or lack of self-control. And where did it all go? Does vanishing something make it literally cease to be, or is there some sort of hellish sewage dimension?

I realize I’m overthinking this. But why include this at all? J.K. is having a bit of a giggle, surely, but it also speaks to the level of detail that she injects into her stories. This is the sort of minutiae that makes the Potterverse so layered and vivid, because she’s thinking it down to the smallest, oddest element. Read the full exposition on the Chamber of Secrets here.