"Sometimes magic isn't the best solution ..."
So, if you’re like me, and I assume you are, you’ve got some questions about wizard plumbing.
We know Hogwarts has bathrooms, and that those bathrooms have toilets, and that the halls of Hogwarts are lined with pipes. This is all spelled out for us in Chamber of Secrets, with Myrtle’s haunted toilet and the basilisk traveling through the pipes. (I guess they’re really giant pipes?) We also have the dragon egg scene in the Prefects’ bathroom in Goblet of Fire and the Sectumsempra showdown between Draco and Harry in the bathroom in Half-Blood Prince.
But then we also have the scene from Goblet of Fire in which Dumbledore makes reference to what is presumably the Room of Requirement, saying, “Only this morning, for instance, I took a wrong turning on the way to the bathroom and found myself in a beautifully proportioned room I have never seen before, containing a really rather magnificent collection of chamber pots. When I went back to investigate more closely, I discovered that the room had vanished. But I must keep an eye out for it. Possibly it is only accessible at five-thirty in the morning. Or it may only appear at the quarter moon—or when the seeker has an exceptionally full bladder.”
If we assume that this was indeed the Room of Requirement, then we must also assume that the room turned into exactly what Dumbledore required: a lovely space filled with chamber pots. Not, as one might expect, a regular bathroom with a nice toilet—which we know is possible, because the Room “…sprouted a pretty good bathroom once girls started turning up” in Deathly Hallows.
Chamber pots were commonly used prior to indoor plumbing. Indoor flush toilets arrived on the scene in the 19th century, but chamber pots did not entirely fade from fashion until the middle of the 20th century. Pottermore has revealed that “Hogwarts’ plumbing became more elaborate in the eighteenth century,” so it is reasonable to suggest that Dumbledore used a chamber pot for approximately the first 70 years of his life. So, probably in a nostalgic mood on that morning in 1994—the morning of the Triwizard Tournament Yule Ball—perhaps thinking about past Christmases, and how few of them he was able to spend with his family intact, he apparently wished for chamber pots instead of a toilet.
That all checks out, to a certain degree, but that still leaves a startling piece of Pottermore-canon to unpack. In that same article that reveals that Hogwarts’ plumbing advances mimicked those of Muggles’, it is revealed that prior to that development, wizards “…simply relieved themselves wherever they stood, and vanished the evidence.” If you weren’t already aware of this, take a moment to let that sink in.
Personally, I choose to believe this was not unanimously believed to be a polite practice. Sure, in an emergency, why not, I guess? In an emergency, it’s a pretty terrific option to have. If there hadn’t been a room full of chamber pots that morning, it probably would have come in handy for Dumbledore. But I can’t imagine living in a society where I can never know for certain whether people in my company are currently “relieving themselves.” I think we can all agree that, in this case—perhaps almost exclusively in this one circumstance—magic isn’t the best solution.
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Music: "Winter Chimes" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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