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This is the first of a three-part question on the basilisk plot in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Out of all the Harry Potter books, Chamber of Secrets is the most problematic for me as far as continuity and plot goes. I have issues with the whole basilisk plot. I have a set of three questions regarding Chamber of Secrets that I'm looking for CANON COMPLIANT explanations for. By "canon compliant", I mean within the spirit of canon, answers directly from the book(s), or quotes from J.K. Rowling.¹

  • In Chamber of Secrets the basilisk moves about the castle through the plumbing. However, if Hogwarts was built 1000+ years ago, that would precede indoor plumbing. How can this be explained, that the castle has original indoor plumbing? How could the Founders have anticipated this innovation?
  • The basilisk is described as very large: "as thick as an oak trunk" (CoS - page 318 - US Hardcover) and "able to grow up to fifty feet long" (FBAWTFT - page 3 - Scholastic) Would a snake this large be able to feasibly fit through standard-sized pipes used for indoor plumbing, even pipes sized to accommodate Hogwarts?
  • At the point indoor plumbing was installed in Hogwarts, how is it that the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets wasn't obvious and easily discovered by those installing the indoor plumbing?
  • How could sinks be installed above the entrance, complete with a faucet marked with a serpent, indicating the entrance, without anyone knowing the significance of the serpent on the faucet?

How could Hogwarts have feasibly accommodated a basilisk 800-1000+ years ago, presumably without indoor plumbing?

¹ I find the Harry Potter Wiki to be inconsistent and oftentimes incorrect. I am not looking for any answer(s) sourced from the HP Wiki unless Wiki itself backs that precise fact with explicit canon quote. Just an FYI.

Question Two - How Was the Legend of the Basilisk Established?

Question Three - How Did Tom Riddle Find Out About the Existence/Location of the Chamber of Secrets?

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Indoor plumbing has been around way longer than 1000 years. –  jwodder Mar 13 '12 at 0:45
I don't believe there's any mention of the basilisk moving around the school prior to the first opening of the chamber of secrets, which was only about 50 years or so earlier (I'm still kinda sketchy on exact timelines). –  morganpdx Mar 13 '12 at 0:48
I thought "Canon compliant" meant "What Slytherincess said"... o_0 This does not bode well =P –  Manishearth Mar 13 '12 at 3:26
@Manishearth - That's because she's obviously the Heir of JKR :) –  DVK Mar 13 '12 at 10:38
@Manishearth -- I am the Heir of DVK! His HP score is higher than mine :) –  Slytherincess Mar 14 '12 at 1:34
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4 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The Chamber was NOT designed for indoor plumbing. If you recall, once they fell through the pipe, they were walking in the tunnel, with no pipes mentioned. The Chamber was not a "place where plumbing goes". It was more of a catacombs/hidden chambers, under the lake (presumably as per Ron's guess - "Under the lake, probably" was the exact quote), which was a part of architecture and castles since Well Before Hogwarts (e.g. Romans).

The plumbing was merely an easier way to get from the castle proper to the catacombs - and more likely than not, existed in some primitive form in original Hogwarts (e.g. a water spring for hand washing) even if not a bathroom.

The trickier question was whether the entrance from the bathroom dated from Slytherin's time, as it looked to be more modern. But for a wizard of Slytherin's accomplishments, making a spell creating an entrance which would "conform" itself to the current surroundings of the room was surely NOT out of the question - heck, they created Room of Requirement! A mimicking entrance is incomparably simpler!

Now, a much more difficult question is, if the Serpent used the same pipe that Harry and Ron fell through, how was it able to climb UP? It sounded like an extremely steep, nearly vertical incline.

As far as fitting into plumbing - no canon answer. But THIS! IS! HOGWARTS! </King_Leonidas>. The stairways reconfigure themselves. Why not plumbing?

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I sort of assumed that the Basilisk climbed up the pipe sort of like arboreal tree snakes are able to maneuver themselves up and through trees. My biggest issue comes from the size of the creature! –  Meg Coates Mar 13 '12 at 16:14
"Look at the SIZE of that thing!" - SW. –  DVK Mar 13 '12 at 16:28
I don't think a snake would have any problem climbing up even a completely vertical pipe. This spring I saw a 4,5 meter long snake go straight up 2,5 meters against a wall like it was nothing. In a pipe the snake would be able to support itself in any direction it wanted, making the task of climbing easier. –  Aifos Nov 11 '12 at 2:17
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Seeing it is a magical creature in a magic castle I would assume both are capable of conforming to the need at hand:

  1. squeeze itself into smaller spaces
  2. the pipes could stretch with a simple spell to accommodate larger "items". The pipes wouldn't know that it was a snake instead of what they are used to carrying...

Just my two cents.

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I'd like to add a detail to DVK's answer.

Remember that the Chamber of Secret (and most importantly the basilisk) was a vengeance device. Slytherin didn't plan any movement mean for the Basilisk because when he left Hogwart, I guess the basilisk was still an egg. He designed this room as a tool for the use of a future heir of his. I strongly think that the basilisk was not put there as a "splinter cell" murderer, but as a war weapon.

Riddle did release the basilisk once, but before that the basilisk was probably in a magic sleep state, thus not needing to move.

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You could mention this at scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/16691/… . –  b_jonas May 5 '13 at 12:46
An interesting theory. I'm trying to remember if JKR said anything about whether the Basilisk was alive during Slytherin's time. I'll have to check what she said about the Chamber of Secrets. b_jonas has a great idea as to where you can leave this info in a second question, too. :) –  Slytherincess May 5 '13 at 14:57
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As stated above, indoor piping is not something new, it was found Ancient Carthago. Now, Hogwarts is a magical castle so it wouldn't be surprising if it looked very different in the 1990's than it did 1000 years ago.

The tunnel is mostly sinuous so the Basilisk would have no problem slythering up, but because the no other pipe is large enough for the Basilisk (Harry noticied as the slided toward the chamber) the there has to be a secret door for the basilsk to get access to the indoor piping network, for instance on a wall opposite to the entrance of the bathroom, a network that would have been exclusively designed by Salazar for the Basilisk. The chamber would be the "ammuntion storage" the piping network the barrel of the gun, and the Basilisk the bullet.

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