The Sorting of Regulus Black

Using the Hogwarts Houses as a basis for character analysis is pretty much my favorite hobby. I guess I’m just weird like that. And while I spend a lot of time thinking about what Houses characters from other stories might be in, I also have a lot of thoughts about the Harry Potter characters themselves, especially those that break House stereotypes. I’ve written about why Luna Lovegood belongs in Ravenclaw and how Peter Pettigrew – one of the most cowardly characters – ended up a Gryffindor. I’ve talked about the ways in which Dumbledore shows traits of all four houses, and I’ve got a growing list in my head of characters I think were probably given the same Gryffindor or Slytherin choice as Harry: Albus Severus Potter, Barty Crouch Sr., Rufus Scrimgeour, and Regulus Black.

Unlike his brother, Sirius, Regulus Black was not a rebel – at least, not at first. He was a Slytherin, like his parents and his cousins, and he later went on to become a Death Eater.  He is characterized only through secondhand information from those who knew him and never appears in the story or the flashbacks, but based on Sirius and Kreacher’s descriptions, we can get some idea of his personality.

Dumbledore describes Voldemort’s school friends, and by extension the Death Eaters, as “the weak seeking protection, the ambitious seeking some shared glory, and the thuggish gravitating towards a leader who could show them more refined forms of cruelty” – and that’s a pattern that proves fairly true. Regulus, who was certainly courageous and is never described as being particularly cruel, almost certainly joined out of ambition. He seems to have been eager for his parents’ approval and eager to do great things, but without much discernment or ability to think for himself about who to follow. Ambition is a Slytherin trait, and Voldemort was an expert at tapping into Slytherins’ personal ambitions in order to win their support.

Along with ambition, Slytherins are also supposed to be cunning, which is something Regulus definitely demonstrates. Nobody really knew until decades after his death how he had died or why – not even Voldemort or his own family. He came up with his plan in secret and made sure that it stayed that way, revealing himself only in a hidden note that was set up to not be found until after Voldemort discovered what he had done. That sort of careful planning fits well in Slytherin house. Then again, he planned carefully and executed flawlessly a plan that he knew would result in his own death, and he went through with it because he believed it was the right thing to do. Is that really a Slytherin move, or is it more Gryffindor?

Slytherins are supposed to be “brave … but not foolish” and have strong self-preservation instincts. They put themselves and their own safety first, along with sometimes that of their loved ones. It is Gryffindors who are known for showing selfless courage. They are willing to put themselves at risk, stand up for what they believe in, and lay down their own lives for their cause. A Slytherin who had second thoughts about working for Voldemort might have tried to disappear, changed sides, become a spy, or simply ignored their conscience, but few would have thrown their own lives away in the hopes of making it easier for someone else to defeat him. That’s Gryffindor courage, even if it’s Slytherin ambition that got him there in the first place. The star Regulus is named for is even located in the constellation Leo, and is nicknamed “the lion’s heart” – surely not a coincidence!

But Regulus was not a Gryffindor. Why not? Because Sirius was. Not only did the two brothers not get along, but Sirius was the elder, and his parents did not take it well when he was sorted into Gryffindor. Having seen how furious they were could easily have increased Regulus’ determination to be the “good” son and restore the family honor, leading him to choose Slytherin in much the same way that Harry chose Gryffindor. You could even say that Regulus Black is one of Harry’s foils, a Dark Side character with a huge self-sacrificial streak and a ton of Gryffindor bravery to contrast with Harry’s own secret: that he was almost put in Slytherin house.


Thoughts on the Crimes of Grindelwald Trailer

One of the first things I noticed watching the new Crimes of Grindelwald trailer was how heavily Hogwarts and Dumbledore feature into it. The very first shots show the familiar castle from  distance, before going inside and introducing the younger Dumbledore. But even aside from the little glimpses of the school and future headmaster, traces of their presence appear throughout the trailer. For instance:

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The Deluminator: this one was hard to get a screencap of, but the Deluminator was one-of-a-kind, invented by Dumbledore himself. It only occasionally appears in the Harry Potter books, up until Deathly Hallows, when it’s revealed that he left it to Ron in his will and that its powers go considerably beyond simply turning off the lights. Its first appearance, however, is in the very first chapter of Sorcerer’s Stone, when Dumbledore arrives at Privet Drive to drop off baby Harry. The scene in the trailer is highly reminiscent of the Sorcerer’s Stone movie, complete with lantern-shaped streetlights.

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Thestrals: these skeletal flying horses are creepy, but they turn out to be gentle creatures. The Ministry of Magic gives them a XXXX rating, meaning that they are dangerous and should only be approached by an expert. However, Hogwarts has a herd of tamed thestrals that live in the Forbidden Forest and pull the school’s carriages. It’s highly likely that whoever is riding in that carriage got it – and the thestrals – from Hogwarts.

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This brief glance at Dumbledore and Newt caught my attention because it reminded me a little bit of this:


The similarities are obvious. Both pairs have a sort of mentor/student relationship: Dumbledore was Newt’s teacher at Hogwarts and “Graves” presented himself as a mentor and protector for Credence. Their voices are soft, whispering, and what they are talking about is private. Grindelwald is asking Credence to find the obscurial, and Dumbledore is asking Newt to fight Grindelwald for him. They even show similar body language: standing close together, heads tilted toward each other, as if sharing a secret. But there’s one huge difference: Newt and Dumbledore are looking each other in the eye. That changes the whole dynamic. Not that Dumbledore was ever 100% open with anyone about everything he knew, but the shot of him with Newt implies a level of trust and respect for each other that is not present with Grindelwald and Credence.

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Finally, there’s this. The sign of the Deathly Hallows. The obvious link here is with Grindelwald, but remember, Dumbledore was after the Hallows, too. However, aside from the wand, none of the Deathly Hallows should come into play at this point in the timeline. Only the Potters know about the cloak, while the ring is passed down from the Peverells to the Gaunts. Dumbledore does not find them until many years later, as an old man, and Grindelwald never achieves his goal of uniting the Hallows.

Sorting Hat Saturday: A Wrinkle in Time

Meg: Ravenclaw. Meg is the perfect example of a gifted child whose grades do not reflect her abilities. Although her mother refuses to tell her what her IQ is, it’s implied to be pretty high. However, Ravenclaw isn’t purely about intelligence any more than it’s about grades or test scores. Ravenclaws are the researchers and experimenters of the world, hungry for knowledge and filled with a love of learning. Meg displays those qualities in ways that have nothing to do with school. As a child she loved playing number games with her father (which resulted in her learning “far too many shortcuts” and having trouble showing her work at school). On their journey through the universe, she constantly attempts to make sense of the strange things around them, looking at everything with an open mind and yet not without thinking critically about it all. Once Charles Wallace is taken over by IT, Meg is the one who figures out most of what needs figuring out, like how to use her faults to resist IT’s temptation and how to use Mrs. Who’s glasses to rescue her father. She has to be very brave, as well, but her journey is mostly about finding answers and seeking understanding, and it is her intelligence, self-knowledge, and emotional strength that enable her to succeed.

Charles Wallace: Ravenclaw. Is there any question here? Not only is Charles Wallace a child genius whose mind “breaks out of the ordinary mold” entirely, and who understands the mysteries of the universe more thoroughly than even the greatest adult minds, but he’s also far more comfortable with his outsider status and high level of intelligence than Meg. His fatal flaw is his pride, but it’s not the ambitious pride of a Slytherin; he’s simply used to being the smartest person around and doesn’t anticipate a situation where his mind literally isn’t strong enough to do what he wants it to.

Calvin: Hufflepuff. While Calvin is certainly intelligent, he’s driven by his heart more than his mind. He’s a team player who fits in well at school and yet is kind and warm towards the unpopular Murray kids. He seems to be at his happiest when he is helping or protecting others and is more than willing to take on his friends’ mission as his own despite having no personal stake in it.

Mrs. Murray: Ravenclaw. Meg and Charles Wallace’s mom is defined by her immense capacity for belief and understanding. Not only is she a brilliant scientist in her own right, she’s open-minded toward the weirdness happening all around her. She’s willing to believe and accept that her youngest child is an unusually gifted genius while still allowing him to be a five-year-old as well. Not only that, but she’s able to keep faith that her husband is still out there and be open-minded about the crazy project he was working on when he disappeared. Keeping in mind that Mrs. Murray herself hasn’t seen anything weirder than Mrs. Whatsit dressed in stolen bedsheets, it’s pretty incredible that she doesn’t think her whole family has gone insane.

Mr. Murray: Ravenclaw. While we don’t know a huge amount about Meg’s father, who is gone for most of the book, we do know he was a scientist and a very intelligent man. He must have been open-minded to believe that tesseracts could be possible and dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge in order to test out such a dangerous experiment himself. While he’s one of the less-developed characters, everything about him points to Ravenclaw.

What Makes Half-Blood Prince So Important?

Between the darker tone and heavier themes of Order of the Phoenix and the all-out epic conclusion to the series in Deathly Hallows, it’s easy to overlook Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It seems lighter, softer, tamer, and far less significant. The movie was rated PG, while all the others from Goblet of Fire onward were PG-13. Its plot spends a great deal of time focusing on teenage romantic drama and day-to-day life at Hogwarts, while Voldemort himself never appears except in flashbacks and in the looming threat of danger that remains in the background until the end. It’s certainly not the most exciting Harry Potter book, and I’ll admit it’s not my personal favorite. But it does have a significant role to play.

Order of the Phoenix is about loss of innocence. Not that Harry has ever been totally innocent, at least not in the “sheltered and naïve” sense of the word. But in Order of the Phoenix, he has seen his parents’ killer return from the dead and murder one of his classmates, barely escaped with his own life, and attempted to warn his fellow wizards, only to be mocked, ridiculed, and viewed as either delusional or a liar by almost everyone. He sees the most trusted adults in his life fighting in secret to protect the wizarding world from a threat it won’t acknowledge exists, and at school, he does the same with his friends, forming a Defense Against the Dark Arts study group that grows into a full-blown resistance movement. Meanwhile, his dreams are haunted by that night in the graveyard and by visions of what Voldemort is doing, leading him and his friends into a battle against the Death Eaters where Harry loses one of his father figures and has to withstand being possessed by Voldemort. Harry has certainly endued hardships before, but this is different.

Order of the Phoenix is about loss of innocence, and Deathly Hallows is a high-stakes war story. In contrast, Half-Blood Prince is a last chance for Harry and his friends to just be teenagers. The world believes them now; the adults in power are doing their best to defeat Voldemort; Harry has heard the prophecy and knows he will have to face him someday, but that might be years in the future; and in the meantime, he has tests to pass, Quidditch games to win, and a growing crush on Ginny to deal with.

That doesn’t mean it’s filler, though. I would argue that Harry needs the chance to be a teenager before he sets off on his quest to defeat Voldemort. He needs to understand and experience the normal life he’s giving up in order to be the Chosen One. More importantly, he’s fighting to allow others – perhaps not his classmates, who mostly get drawn into the war along with him, but the younger students and the next generation – to live in a safer world where they will be able to live normal lives, and where teenagers will not have to fight in wars against Dark Wizards. Those moments “out of someone else’s life” that he spends with Ginny matter more than they seem to at first. Ron, Hermione, and to an extent all the children of Hogwarts are also given one last peaceful year before the full-fledged war portrayed in Deathly Hallows.

I said that Order of the Phoenix is a loss-of-innocence story, but so is Half-Blood Prince – not for Harry himself, but for Draco Malfoy. Like Harry, Malfoy has never been entirely innocent – he’s a vicious, mean-spirited bully – but in his own way, he’s incredibly sheltered and naïve. He doesn’t seem to have had an independent thought in his life and has never been through any real hardship. In Half-Blood Prince, he’s recruited to work for Voldemort and given a special mission to kill Dumbledore, which does not go according to plan. He becomes increasingly sullen and withdrawn as the year goes on, before finding himself unable to commit murder when the opportunity finally arises. In the same way that Harry transformed from child hero to pariah to resistance leader, Draco goes from playground bully to Death Eater to a conflicted young man incapable of either true good or true evil. Their stories are parallels that come to opposite conclusions, which makes sense since they are foil characters.

Finally, Half-Blood Prince sets the stage for Deathly Hallows. In Harry’s private lessons with Dumbledore, they explore flashback memories of Voldemort’s past, which allow them to figure out what kind of Dark Magic he used to make himself immortal and how to reverse it. His journey in Deathly Hallows revolves mostly around this, ending with the revelation that Harry himself must die in order for Voldemort to die – and, of course, the further twist that he doesn’t die at all. Dumbledore’s death at the end puts Harry in a position of having to face Voldemort alone, without his most powerful protector, while Snape’s actions seem to establish his role as a villain rather than an ambiguous character in Deathly Hallows, thus subtly setting the stage for the revelation of his true loyalty.

While the threat of Voldemort is present only in the background, it’s still there, and it casts its shadow over the whole story. Students are pulled out of school by parents who are afraid the school is not safe. Shops in Diagon Alley close down when the shop owners go missing. Bridges mysteriously collapse, morally-lacking opportunists sell bogus protective charms, and thanks to Polyjuice Potion and the Imperius Curse, you can never be quite sure who might not be who they seem. The war against Voldemort is raging in the background, a student is plotting to kill the Headmaster, Harry is learning and preparing to eventually fulfill the prophecy, and by the end it’s clear that he will have to do so sooner rather than later. All of this leads directly into Deathly Hallows, which in turn builds up to the Battle of Hogwarts and the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort.


Sorting Hat Saturday: The Lion King

Simba: Gryffindor. While he’s a little hesitant and unsure of himself, Simba’s whole story is about finding courage, something he has no shortage of as a cub but has to re-learn as an adult. Young Simba is adventurous and fearless, while the older Simba has a lot to be afraid of but learns to put that aside and do the right thing anyway.

Nala: Hufflepuff. While she’s just as brave as Simba, Nala’s defining trait is her loyalty. She is loyal to the pride and stays even when Scar takes over and things go horribly wrong. Although she loves Simba deeply, she’s horrified to find him avoiding his own duties and does her best to convince him to return and take his place as king. A Gryffindor in her place might be plotting rebellion, but she’s too humble to think that she could do so herself, as ready as she is to support Simba when he returns to claim his rightful place. She has strong opinions about what the right thing to do is and who should be in charge, but those ideas are rooted in her Hufflepuff loyalty and work ethic.

Mufasa: Gryffindor. Brave, noble, selfless, and an actual lion – what else could he be?

Scar: Slytherin. Ambition? Check. Cunning? Check. Self-preservation? Check. Willing to “use any means to achieve [his] ends”? Oh, definitely. Scar is more of a Slytherin than half the actual Slytherin characters in Harry Potter.

The hyenas: Slytherin. The hyenas are slapstick comic relief villains and thus are too silly to be cunning or manipulative in the way Scar is. You could argue that they’re ambitious, though, playing their part in Scar’s evil plans in hopes that they will stand to benefit. Mostly, though, they’re selfish and slippery, doing whatever seems most likely to benefit them at the moment. They’re the Crabbes and Goyles of the Lion King world: while they’re not evil masterminds plotting world domination, and wouldn’t be capable of doing so, they put themselves first and therefore are drawn to the biggest and most powerful allies – who they’re also willing to turn on in an instant.

Timon & Pumba: Slytherin. Yes, they do look like Hufflepuffs at first glance, but think about it. Why do they save Simba’s life? Not because he’s another living creature and it’s the right thing to do, but because they think a lion friend could turn out to be useful. When he saves them from another lion, they’re proven right. Their “Hakuna Matata” attitude – namely, that problems are someone else’s to deal with – is hardly that of the Hufflepuffs, who, like the Gryffindors, nearly all stayed to fight in the Battle of Hogwarts. While they do ultimately care enough for Simba to help him defeat Scar, they make it clear that they don’t understand why he would want to do so. They are good friends to each other, and eventually to Simba, but they don’t have a Hufflepuff’s sense of loyalty to something greater and certainly not any work ethic. While they’re not that ambitious and are too comical to be truly cunning, they look out for themselves (and each other) first, prioritizing their own wellbeing and survival above any greater sense of purpose – a Slytherin trait, and the same reason I put the hyenas in Slytherin. In a movie mostly filled with noble Gryffindors and duty-driven Hufflepuffs, they’re outliers among the heroes.

Rafiki: Ravenclaw, of the Luna Lovegood variety. Behind his weird mannerisms, he is wise, perceptive, and a bit mystical. He believes in things he can’t see and speaks with the dead as if they’re still alive – and while he seems crazy, he’s also right. It’s his knowledge and advice that help Simba realize he has to return to Pride Rock.

Zazu: Hufflepuff. He reminds me a bit of Bahgeera from The Jungle Book, who I put in Ravenclaw; they are both sensible, no-nonsense mentors who the young Gryffindor heroes rebel against. However, Zazu is defined by his loyalty first and foremost. He is loyal to Mufasa and endures everything from Simba’s childish antics to Scar’s cruelty while remaining steadfastly devoted to his king; it’s not until a much more mature, grown-up Simba defeats Scar and takes the throne that the bird’s loyalty shifts from Mufasa to the new king. He believes in hard work and devotion to duty and is endlessly frustrated by young Simba’s flighty independence and disgusted by Scar’s selfish tyranny. He may be stern and serious rather than warm and fuzzy, but the things he values most definitely point to Hufflepuff.

Sorting Hat Saturday: The Jungle Book

Because apparently I’m on a roll with kids’ movie-themed Sorting Hat Saturdays, here are the Jungle Book characters. This is based on the animated movie, not the live action one:

Mowgli: Gryffindor. He’s very, very brave. He’s not afraid of trying to survive on his own in the jungle and refuses to leave even with an evil tiger after him. When he finally confronts Shere Khan, he doesn’t allow himself to be intimidated and is very much ready to fight for his life.

Bagheera: Ravenclaw. He values brains over brawn and logic over emotion, and while his own actions are shaped by his affection for Mowgli, he also knows that a human child doesn’t really belong in the jungle and will be safer with his own people. He has good insights into others and always seems to know what they will do. He almost looks like a goal-oriented Slytherin, but he’s not very ambitious and is more intelligent and practical than cunning, so I would lean more toward Ravenclaw overall.

Baloo: Gryffindor. He’s not necessarily very good at his attempted acts of heroism, but it’s not for lack of courage. He wants to do the right thing and isn’t afraid to risk danger to help others. He is eager to help Mowgli learn to survive in the jungle and loves him like a son, but is willing to let him go for his own good, which requires its own form of bravery. In the fight with Shere Khan, his willingness to risk his own life for Mowgli’s sake requires the same sort of courage that defines the noblest of Gryffindor characters. I did consider Hufflepuff based on his loyalty and his “bare necessities” philosophy of life, but I’d say that overall he is defined more by his bravery.

King Louie: Slytherin. He’s an orangutan who thinks that using fire will make him human and is willing to kidnap a human child to gain it. He has the ruthless ambition thing down. There are a lot of Slytherin characters in The Jungle Book, but King Louie is probably the one who fits the best. He’s also the least obvious, though, in that he’s not really a straightforward villain and – unlike Kaa and Shere Khan – doesn’t really have malicious intentions toward Mowgli.

Kaa: Slytherin. He’s literally a sneaky snake. What more can be said?

Shere Khan: Slytherin. He’s not brave – in fact, he’s defeated by his own fear of fire – but he is good at appearing fearless and intimidating. He’s intelligent, but not in a Ravenclaw “books and cleverness” kind of way. He’s very good at being sneaky and manipulative.

The Vultures: Hufflepuff or Slytherin. They work as a team and value friendship and community. They even get a little song about the importance of friendship. They are loyal to each other and eager to welcome Mowgli into their group. However, they’re so terrified of Shere Khan that they abandon Mowgli when the tiger shows up. They do come back and help him in the end, but they do it with Slytherin methods, coming up with a plan for Mowgli in which the human boy, rather than the vultures, plays the most dangerous part.

Sorting Hat Saturday: Finding Nemo

One of the funny things about being a teacher is how often it makes me think back on my own childhood. Yesterday in afterschool, they showed Finding Nemo – a movie I loved when I was eight but haven’t seen or thought about in years – and now I can’t stop thinking about it! Of course, one thing I’ve acquired since I was eight is a tendency to compulsively sort characters from other stories into Hogwarts houses, so here I go:

Marlin: Gryffindor. While Nemo believes his father to be cowardly and afraid of the ocean, he’s afraid for Nemo, not for himself – and he learned the hard way to be cautious. When his son is taken by a scuba diver, he immediately abandons his cautious nature and risks everything to try to find him.

Nemo: Gryffindor. Like father, like son. Nemo is eager for adventure, becoming increasingly frustrated by his father’s overprotectiveness. He swims out into the open ocean to prove he’s not afraid, is willing to go along with Gill’s dangerous escape plan even though he’s the one put most at risk by it, and swims into a fishing net to try to save Dory, who he’s just met. He’s nothing if not brave.

Dory: Hufflepuff. As much as she reminds me of Luna Lovegood, she’s not a Ravenclaw. She’s defined not by her eccentric mind but by her caring nature and persistent optimism. She puts everything she has into helping Marlin even though she has nothing to gain from it, does her best to comfort him and keep him going even as he becomes more cynical, and believes that things are bound to get better if you “just keep swimming”.

Gill: Slytherin. Gill is a strategist first and foremost. The other tank fish look at Nemo and see a scared and lonely child, but Gill sees a fish small enough to swim through the filter that keeps the tank clean, and he immediately starts piecing together a plan to escape. He later regrets risking Nemo’s life and then risks his own life to help Nemo escape alone, but it’s not uncommon for Slytherins to treat those they care about very differently from those they only see as pawns. (See also: Severus Snape, Narcissa Malfoy, Professor Slughorn)

Nigel: Ravenclaw. A pelican who frequently visits a dentist’s office to watch root canal procedures? A sea-bird who is captivated by the story of a clownfish father trying to find his son and puts the pieces together to realize he knows who the son is? A member of a fish-eating species who has fish friends and carries them in his beak without being tempted to eat them? Well, according to Pottermore, “[Ravenclaws] are the most individual – some might even call them eccentrics, but geniuses are often out of step with ordinary folk”.