Bathrooms are mis-used in the Harry Potter books too often to be ignored. They are a sanctuary, an escape, a place to brew potion and a space to transform; a hotbed of clues and a site for a fight. If Harry Potter were a superhero, the bathroom is where he would suit up.
Harry goes off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to learn magic, but a chunky slice of his education takes place outside the classroom, in non-traditional spaces and places. Especially in bathrooms. And on trains. Because there is very little privacy available to our boarding school heroes, who must conjure and conspire out of sight and out of mind. The walls have ears, probably. The portraits on the walls have eyes, ears and a hotline to the headmaster.
At Hogwarts, on Hallowe’en – in Book One – the humble bathroom declares its significance! A teary-eyed Hermione hides out in a Ladies’. An inconsiderate Troll crashes her safe space. Harry and Ron come to her aid. Ron successfully casts the Wingardium Leviosa spell. The Troll is defeated and the Trio united. In a bathroom, in their first term, Harry, Ron and Hermione seal their friendship. For always.
The Chamberpot of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the ultimate bathroom book. A heavy portion of the story takes place in Moaning Myrtle’s. The second-floor Ladies’ bathroom is where the ghost of Myrtle lurks, where she died, where the Trio plan, make and take Polyjuice Potion and – drum roll – here lieth the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. Harry finds the Tom Riddle Diary chez Myrtle, his first Horcrux. Even the venomous Basilisk submits to the bathroom theme and navigates the school via the plumbing.
“I hope Ron’s not in another girls’ toilet…”
– Percy Weasley, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Curiously, Dumbledore has a bathroom blind spot. He fails to locate the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets at the scene of Myrtle Warren’s demise. And he fails to recognise the Room of Requirement as anything special while relieving himself therein; a lost-lamented-lavatory anecdote Dumbledore shares in Goblet of Fire.
Moaning Myrtle, meanwhile, likes to watch boys bathe. Perhaps this is why Harry washes just once the entire series. In Book Four, Myrtle spies on handsome hunk Cedric Diggory in the fifth floor Prefects’ Bathroom, and later joins a sudsy Harry. The perks of being a dead wallflower.
Now Wash Your Hands
In Book Five, the Weasley Twins stuff Graham Montague into the broken Vanishing Cabinet. The mouthy Slytherin turns up some time later in a fourth floor lavatory.
In Book Six, Harry and Dumbledore visit Horace Slughorn in the charming village of Budleigh Babberton. The headmaster excuses himself to use the ground floor bathroom, mostly to let Slughorn get a whiff of Harry. Albus is delighted to find a magazine with knitting patterns.
In the Three Broomsticks pub, Gryffindor’s Chaser Katie Bell goes to the Ladies’, gets Imperius’d by Imperius’d landlady Madam Rosmerta and takes possession of a cursed Opal Necklace. In yet another Hogwarts’ bathroom interview, bog-dweller Moaning Myrtle reveals she’s been comforting a sad, sensitive boy, who turns out to be the compromised Draco Malfoy. At Slughorn’s Christmas party, Harry employs the needs-the-lav excuse to slip away and spy on Draco and Snape. Elsewhere on the sixth floor, but still in Book Six, the Boys’ bathroom is the setting for Draco and Harry’s showdown duel. Draco tries an Unforgivable Curse. Harry lashes out with Sectumsempra. Draco ends up a bloody mess. Snape magics him back together and, still in the bathroom, binds Harry to eternal detention.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series, Harry collapses in the first floor bathroom of 12 Grimmauld Place when he experiences Voldy-vision. The Ministry of Magic’s main entrance (and exit) is a subterranean public lavatory in London’s Whitehall district. At Hogwarts, the Room of Requirement comes good with bathrooms once again, when it acts as billet to Dumbledore’s Army. Finally, Ron and Hermione return to the Chamber of Secrets only after Ron mimics Parseltongue in the second-floor Ladies’.
Number One’s, Number Two’s
Nearly every floor option, from minus-one up to seven, is gifted with a bathroom reference. Elegant variation or something more meaningful?
- Basement: entrance to the Ministry of Magic (DH)
- Ground floor: Slughorn’s house / the Ladies’ in the Three Broomsticks (HBP)
- First floor: the Ladies’ with the Troll (PS) / 12 Grimmauld Place (DH)
- Second floor: Moaning Myrtle’s (first visit in CoS)
- Third floor: you’ll just have to hold it
- Fourth floor: Montague’s return (OotP)
- Fifth floor: Prefects’ Bathroom (GoF)
- Sixth floor: the Boys’ where Harry and Draco duel (HBP)
- Seventh floor: Room of Requirement (GoF/DH)
Prisoner of Azkaban, the third book, is the least W.C. of the series. And there are no third floor lavatories in the Harry Potter world. Coincidence or conspiracy? The third book is the only one with no Voldemort, no You-Know-Who. A case, per Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, of U-No-Poo.
Better than a flying motorbike, brooms, a flying car, the Floo network, Portkeys or Apparition, the train carries Harry to a succession of magical places.
The Hogwarts Express, above all, is the perfect vehicle for introductions and hijinks. On the London-to-Hogsmeade line, Harry meets Fred and George, Ron, Scabbers, Hermione, Neville, Crabbe and Goyle, Lupin, a Dementor and Luna. Curiously, all the student Horcrux-destroyers gather in Harry’s compartment on the first journey to school: Harry himself, Ron, Hermione, Crabbe and Neville. (Dumbledore and Voldemort, the adult Horcrux-whackers, neglect to attend.)
On the train, Harry also discovers fast food favourites such as Bertie Bott’s Every Flavoured Beans and Pumpkin Pasties. If his journeys to/from school were more than twice a year he might not have stayed skinny. In Year Five, Harry is abandoned by his besties who opt for the Prefects’ carriage. In Year Six, he abandons them to sup with Professor Slughorn. Food, whether snacks with Ron, chocolate with Lupin, or something more formal with Horace Slughorn, are essential to every excursion.
“Think my name’s funny, do you?”
On the Hogwarts Express, in the Trio’s first year, the rift with Malfoy begins. This, we discover, echoes the Severus/James feud, which also started on their first train ride as revealed in Order of the Phoenix. Harry and Draco’s first fight is prevented by Ron’s rat Scabbers, who bites Goyle. (Peter Pettigrew’s revenge on a Death Eater’s son?) In later books, also on the Hogwarts Express, Dumbledore’s Army hexes Draco-and-Co. senseless and Draco rearranges Harry’s nose with his boot. Petrificus Totalus’d and hidden under his invisibility cloak, Harry is found and fixed by Tonks, the trainee Auror.
What must it have taken to convince magic-is-might families such as the Malfoys and the Blacks to travel on this Muggle invention? King’s Cross station opened in 1852 but the station’s platforms were only numbered in 1972, suggesting Platform 9 3/4 was inaugurated in the last three decades of the 20th century. This perhaps explains Molly Weasley’s Book One uncertainty about the platform number: she herself would have traveled to school from a different platform and, despite many trips with many children, has not adjusted to the new-fangled numbering.
The Hogwarts Express is, above all, a place for the Trio to catch-up, to swap information, and to ask the questions that define the term and year ahead — such as, in Prisoner of Azkaban, why does Sirius Black want to kill Harry? Muggle concerns and landscape are left behind and the country outside gets wilder as Hogwarts draws closer. The one time Harry and Ron miss the train, in Book Two, they get hard chiding and a Howler. Dumbledore was never more disappointed.
In Book Four, Hermione reveals the secret of Rita Skeeter, unregistered Animagus, on the journey home, and Harry presents Fred and George with the seed money for Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. In Book Seven, Luna is abducted from the Hogwarts Express, off-page. Observe the train as a little Hogwarts, with all the intrigue and adventure!
Earlier in Book Seven, Death Eaters swarm outside Grimmauld Place in anticipation of Harry’s departure for the train. Little do they know the Chosen One stopped being a Hogwarts student months prior. But after the Battle of Hogwarts… does Harry take the Hogwarts Express back to London one last time? Or is Hermione, who returns to school to complete her education, the only one of the Trio to board the train after Year Six?
Harry Potter in the Underworld
Harry takes other trains.
On his 11th birthday, Harry Potter travels to London with Hagrid and takes the Underground (London’s subterranean train system) for his first visit to Diagon Alley. Meanwhile at Gringott’s, access to the underground vaults is via train tracks, although the actual vehicle is a goblin-driven cart. Harry takes an ordinary train back to Little Whinging, solo.
In Book Five, Harry travels from Grimmauld Place by Underground with Mr Weasley for his first visit to the Ministry of Magic. He takes the Underground again, with Mad-eye Moody of all people, to visit Arthur in the wizard hospital – Harry’s first visit to St Mungo’s. Ask any commuter, taking the Underground is a descent into real-life hell.
Finally, in Deathly Hallows, Harry has a deathly hello-and-goodbye with dead Dumbledore in a spectral King’s Cross. If Harry chooses not to return, to stay dead, what then?
“We are in King’s Cross, you say? I think that if you decided not to go back, you would be able to… let’s say… board a train.”
“And where would it take me?”
“On,” said Dumbledore simply.
You are reading an article from The Rowling Library Magazine Issue 51 (March 2021).
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