If you've ever had a poke around on Pottermore, you'll know the Harry Potter's Sorting Hat quiz has been around for a little while, but it seems to have seen a resurgence as of late with YouTubers, magazines, and those of us bored at the office. Just the other day, I squished around a friend’s computer screen with a bunch of other people as she took the test and answered arbitrary questions about rivers, Hogwarts classes, and how you’d react if a Muggle found out you were secretly magical. (The option for freak out and do nothing wasn’t available, so we went with “yes, then walk away” because she’s bad with confrontation.)
It’s come up loads in conversation recently and people have really been passionate about it: the Gryffindors generally gloated about being in “the best house,” the Ravenclaws settled, most Slytherins were furious and somebody had the gall to tell me, a Hufflepuff, that I was in “the sh*t house.” Hard not to take that one personally TBH, though I see their point. Our mascot sucks. Literally out of all the magical creatures in the Potter universe, J.K. gave us a badger.
Seeing the way that people IRL took the sorting to heart made me think back on the books, where the sorting had actual consequences for the characters. It’s not a stretch to say that the house the characters were in changed the course of their lives. For the most part, all the close formative friendships the characters made were with people of their own house and followed them into adulthood — the Weasleys, Lupin, Sirius Black, and James and Lily Potter all stuck together.
While every now and again a character would co-mingle and have dalliances outside their Hogwarts house, it usually never ended well. (See: Cho Chang and Cedric Diggory, Tonks and Lupin, Snape and Lily.)
After thinking about it way more than I should have, I’ve decided I’m not a fan of the Hogwarts house system anymore. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s terrible.
Stay with me Potterheads, I love the books too. But the idea of the Sorting Hat and the concept of the houses really rubs me the wrong way now. The characters are sorted into the houses because somehow, a magical relic was able to somehow look into children’s hearts and determine what qualities defined them.
Brave? Gryffindor. Smart? Ravenclaw. Ambitious (or potentially evil)? Slytherin. And while I’ve always been a little fuzzy on what Hufflepuff’s was, Pottermore filled me in and apparently they "value hard work, patience, loyalty, and fair play".
If you boil down the house system to its basics, it’s a system that shoves children — people still getting to grips with the world — into boxes that will define them for the rest of their lives. We can have the whole nature versus nurture debate, but at the end of the day the house system tells Ron, Hermione, and the other children that they should take pride in and value a narrow set of personality traits for the rest of their lives.
And while occasionally it’ll falter on people like Harry who could slot into a couple of other houses, nobody can be in more than one. At the end of the day, when Harry asks the hat to put him in Gryffindor and not Slytherin or Ravenclaw, he’s not just asking to be sorted into a house with the rest of his new friends. He’s choosing bravery over ambition and cleverness, which also defines the way the rest of the Potter universe will see him from now on. Harry might also be very ambitious and smart, but he’ll go down on a chocolate frog card as that brave wizard from Gryffindor.
I honestly think the characters really deserved better than that.
Maybe it’s because I’m in my mid-twenties now and I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of person I want to be, but all I know is that I want to be better: I want to stand up for myself more, to learn more about the world, be kick ass at my job, and always be there for the people I love. I don’t think I’m unique in wanting that, I think most people I know do.
But all those things I want stem from traits the different houses embody. And becoming an adult — becoming a good, decent human being — means learning to develop all of them. Hogwarts and the Sorting Hat let its students down on day one by telling them: this is what you are now, rather than giving them a chance to discover who they are. And to steal a line from Dirty Dancing, nobody puts my Hogwarts babies in a corner.
It had a knock-on effect on me as a reader growing up as well, because the houses gave me this two dimensional lens through which I saw the wizarding world. When Molly Weasley faced off against Bellatrix Lestrange, I only saw her Gryffindor courage — not her fierce Hufflepuff loyalty to her family which was equally as important.
The things we remember the characters most for in the books come from a mixture of traits that go beyond what a hat once told them. With hindsight, I’m able to see that Snape could easily have been in Hufflepuff for his undying devotion to Lily Potter and Dumbledore — that heartbreaking line “always” pretty much sums that up.
Hermione, the “cleverest witch in the school,” obviously could have gone into Ravenclaw and Dumbledore should really have been in Slytherin, as prior to the books his ambition got the best of him and cost him the life of his sister Ariana when he teamed up with Grindelwald. Everywhere you look, the Harry Potter characters strain to become more than their house motto.
Now buckle up because that’s not my only gripe with the sorting hat system. For a series so filled with love and friendship, the house system is just this glaring paradox at the centre of it that keeps people apart.
Even before our favourite trio arrive in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry is already being told by Hagrid that “there’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad that wasn’t in Slytherin” — something that encourages him to distance himself from Salazar’s house before he’s even gone there. And, for the record, even that’s not true: Peter Pettigrew was Gryffindor and Barty Crouch Jr. was Ravenclaw.
But the implications that come with the house system had already done their damage. I literally can’t think of a single person that Harry was friends with in Slytherin and I dearly, dearly wish that Rowling had introduced one, just to prove me wrong.
The real world and the wizarding world spends so long trying to tell us who we should be, that we spend a long time striving towards that and not becoming who we are. And especially in the real world, we go around drawing these imaginary lines in the sand that are tearing us apart right now. I love Harry Potter but I genuinely love the Percy Jackson series more because while it's not perfect, it teaches its readers that you can be more than what the universe has determined you are; especially if you work together.
I hope the next smash hit children’s series continues breaking those walls down. That even in a fictional world, it makes a point of bringing people together and not further apart.
But hey, maybe I’m just salty because I got Hufflepuff.