The Sorting of Neville Longbottom

The Sorting Hat takes your choice into account, but it doesn’t always give you what you want. Harry was able to choose Gryffindor over Slytherin, but Neville was put in Gryffindor despite his preference for Hufflepuff.

In Neville’s case, the Hat was determined to place him in Gryffindor: Neville, intimidated by that house’s reputation for bravery, requested a placing in Hufflepuff. Their silent wrangling resulted in triumph for the Hat. – Pottermore

It’s easy to imagine Neville as a Hufflepuff. Even aside from the fact that Helga Hufflepuff took all the students the other founders rejected, and would have accepted him regardless, he’s a pretty good embodiment of Hufflepuff traits. He is down-to-earth, humble, and generous. He’s hard-working and always seems to try his best despite not doing very well in his classes. He certainly values fairness and justice, and he’s less-inclined to break the rules than some of his Gryffindor peers. Meanwhile, he spends the first six books as a timid, awkward, easily-overlooked kid who seems utterly out-of-place in Gryffindor. While he does show some signs of bravery, such as standing up to the trio in Sorcerer’s Stone and joining Dumbledore’s Army in Order of the Phoenix, it’s hard to say at that point that Neville is defined by his bravery. It’s not until Deathly Hallows, a full seven years after the sorting ceremony, that his true heroism begins to show.

So why, then, did the hat refuse to put him in Hufflepuff when it’s honored similar requests before? His preference was different from Harry’s in one very important way. While Harry asked not to be a Slytherin because he knew of their reputation for dark magic and evil, Neville was just intimidated by Gryffindor, not repulsed by it. He didn’t think he was good enough for Gryffindor and thought he would have to settle for Hufflepuff in order to avoid embarrassing himself. Putting Harry in Slytherin would have meant dismissing his values and denying him a choice. Putting Neville in Gryffindor, on the other hand, was a vote of confidence.

In many cases where a character doesn’t quite live up to what their house is supposed to stand for, I think we can assume the hat was trying to give them a chance for growth. For instance, Peter Pettigrew is a cowardly Gryffindor, but he was almost certainly placed there because the hat saw his admiration of his more heroic friends and hoped he could become more like them. Gilderoy Lockhart is an incompetent Ravenclaw, but his skill as a writer indicates intelligence and creativity that could have been put to better use. On a more positive note, Hermione grows from a stuck-up know-it-all to a courageous young woman as a result of her time in Gryffindor. It’s as if the sorting hat can see not just a person’s potential but where they’ll have the best chance of reaching their full potential as well.

Neville didn’t truly want to be a Hufflepuff or value Hufflepuff work ethic and fairness over Gryffindor bravery. He simply wasn’t ready yet to accept his own potential, and as a Hufflepuff, might never have embraced it. Being placed there would only have confirmed his fears of inadequacy, while being sorted into Gryffindor gave him a chance to grow in confidence and courage.

Or, in other words, the Sorting Hat takes your choice into account if you want it for the right reasons. It takes your choice into account if your value system doesn’t match up to a house you’re suited for, if you have a deep personal reason for what you want, or if your choice will give you a chance to grow into a better person. It doesn’t take your choice into account if your choice would limit you. Neville did value bravery and heroism and was simply afraid he’d never be capable of them, so by putting him in Gryffindor, the hat made sure that he would.

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More Thoughts on Daphne Greengrass

A few minutes ago, I posted a poem from Daphne Greengrass’s point of view. Since she’s really kind of a blank slate of a character, I thought it was worth explaining a bit of my thought process.

Sometimes I like to imagine what a “good Slytherin” from Harry’s generation might have looked like. Not a Draco Malfoy type who turns out to be less evil than he’d like to be, but more of a Professor Slughorn: someone consciously choosing to “live within the light” despite their housemates’ decision to do the opposite. The problem is that all Harry’s Slytherin classmates are so unpleasant, and unlike the adult characters, they all seem to be unquestioningly pro-Voldemort. So when my mind drifts down that route, I have only a few very minor characters to choose from. My ideas usually center around Daphne and Astoria Greengrass.

The two sisters make only one appearance each in the actual Harry Potter books, but Astoria has a major off-screen role in Cursed Child as Scorpius Malfoy’s deceased mother, and is given most of the credit for what a decent person he’s grown up to be. Daphne is there in the background throughout the series as a member of Pansy Parkinson’s giggling gang of Slytherin girls. Neither of them plays any role in the conflict between Harry and Voldemort, so it’s hard to say what they would have thought or who they would have supported. At the very least, they weren’t actively working for Voldemort, and it’s not too much of a stretch to think they might have privately disagreed with their fellow Slytherins who were.

But, then again, what kind of conflict would that have led to with friends and classmates, relatives, future in-laws, etc. who were all either Death Eaters or at least in support of Voldemort? How could you be a decent, “live within the light” sort of person and be able to tolerate being constantly surrounded by evil? Hence, the poem I wrote.

You can read it here: https://hogwartspensieve.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/hate-a-poem-about-daphne-greengrass/

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.

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.

 

Albus Severus Potter

I  talk a lot about name meanings in Harry Potter, but I don’t usually focus much on the next generation kids, because most of their names are so obvious – particularly Harry’s children. However, it occurred to me earlier today that Albus Severus Potter, as portrayed in Cursed Child, actually has a lot in common with both of his namesakes.

Like Severus Snape, he …

  • Is a Slytherin
  • Has a childhood friendship with a girl named after a flower, which ends during their time at Hogwarts, at least partially because she does not approve of the people he chooses to be friends with
  • Is easily misled by someone with a connection to Voldemort
  • Plays a role in the fulfillment of a prophecy relating to Voldemort
  • Is a somewhat morally ambiguous character who ultimately chooses the side of good

Like Albus Dumbledore, he …

  • Is a misfit in his own family and does not always get along with them
  • Has a brother and sister who are closer to each other than to him
  • Makes friends with an unpopular classmate
  • Trusts a charming stranger with plans for world domination and gets sucked into their scheme, but later helps to stop them
  • Distrusts the Ministry of Magic, working behind their back even though they have the same goals
  • Wants to be seen as his own person, not his father’s son (for very different reasons)
  • Is highly ambitious, but craves recognition and respect rather than power

However, unlike Snape, he never truly gets involved with the Dark Side and is only tricked into helping with someone else’s evil scheme. He also never stops being a good person and is not cruel to others in the way that Snape was. He is able to reconcile with his family, whereas Dumbledore’s parents and sister died young and his brother never fully forgave him. He has a lot in common with them, but his story has a happier ending.

Sorting Hat Saturday: “Mad Eye” Moody

Continuing the project I started last week of sorting adult Harry Potter characters whose houses are unknown, this week I’m looking at Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody. He was definitely a difficult one, both because he’s so secretive and because he embodies traits of every single house. He’s brave, he’s loyal, he’s intelligent, and he’s cunning. But which house does he fit into best?

Not Hufflepuff. That’s my first thought. While it’s true that he’s hard-working, as well as being loyal to Dumbledore and the Order, he’s so distrustful and paranoid that it’s almost impossible to imagine him among the team players of Hufflepuff. Ravenclaw is also unlikely. While Moody has a brilliant mind and is – like many Ravenclaws – a bit eccentric, he doesn’t seem to value knowledge for its own sake. He’s far too practical for that.

Gryffindor might be the logical choice. And yet, I’m not sure that’s a good fit, either. Moody’s bravery is different from Harry’s or Lily’s or even Dumbledore’s. In Order of the Phoenix, the portrait of a former Hogwarts Headmaster tells Harry, “We Slytherins are brave, yes, but not foolish … Given the choice, we would always choose to save our own skins.” There’s not a lot of evidence of that, though, in the characters’ actions. Many of the Slytherin characters are just cowards, no bravery involved at all, but then you’ve got Regulus Black sacrificing his life for a chance to bring Voldemort down – not exactly saving his own skin. I suppose Snape would describe himself as “brave but not foolish”, but I think it might be an even better description of Moody. For an Order member and an Auror, bravery is pretty much in the job description. But he is not “foolish” – ie. reckless and self-sacrificing in the way Gryffindors tend to be. In fact, he’s kind of paranoid about his own survival. He drinks only from his own flask because he’s afraid of being poisoned, and he trusts nobody, not even his fellow Order members.

What about the other Slytherin traits? He can be ruthless at times, for example suggesting that the Ministry take Karkaroff’s information and then send him back to Azkaban. And he’s cunning, too: while it’s the fake Moody who claims, “It was once my job to think as Dark Wizards do”, the comment seems fairly accurate and is taken in stride by those who know the real Moody well. Having been in the same House as many dark wizards at Hogwarts would only have helped him there. He’s clever and strategic enough not only to lay a false trail as to when Harry will be moved from Privet Drive, but also to realize that they still need to be prepared for battle. Besides, there’s the fact that his house was undisclosed in his Ministry file. That’s definitely something a Slytherin would do; a Hogwarts House gives valuable insight that could easily be used against you, or provide an element of surprise when the enemy doesn’t know exactly what to expect.

Dumbledore seems to trust Moody a great deal. Would he really place that kind of trust in a Slytherin? I think so, under the right circumstances. If Moody was a Slytherin, and if he went to Hogwarts during Voldemort’s rise to power (which he must have), he clearly chose not to associate with his future Death Eater peers, perhaps even gravitating toward Dumbledore as a teacher and role model. Dumbledore did not hesitate to trust Snape, and I strongly suspect that Mundungus Fletcher was also a graduate of Slytherin, so there’s no reason other members of the Order could not be as well.

Sorting Hat Saturday: Hogwarts Graduates

For most of the Harry Potter characters, even the adults, it’s very obvious which Hogwarts house they were in when they were younger. For a few, however, we never find out, and while J.K. Rowling has given insight into some of these on Pottermore, others remain mysteries. So here are my thoughts:

It would be easy to assume that Aberforth Dumbledore was a Gryffindor to match his brother Albus, and he does have the bravery and impulsiveness associated with Gryffindor. However, he expresses a feeling of being overlooked and overshadowed by his brother, which likely would have grown stronger if he were in a different house, perhaps one that did not get as much respect. He is also extremely loyal, particularly to Arianna, and seems far more grounded than Albus, who was always full of brilliant ideas and big dreams. He does not mind working hard without any personal gain or ambition, first as Arianna’s caretaker and later at the Hog’s Head pub. While many others might have taken advantage of a famous relative to become famous themselves, Aberforth seems to shy away from the spotlight and prefer a simple life. Therefore, I think there’s a strong argument to be made for putting him in Hufflepuff.

Barty Crouch Sr. has all the traits of a textbook Slytherin. He is ruthless, ambitious, and willing to sacrifice others to preserve his reputation. However, he is also strongly opposed to dark magic, and Slytherin’s reputation as the darkest house would likely keep him away. I think the hat would have tried to persuade him, as it did with Harry, that Slytherin would be the best fit, but eventually given in and put him elsewhere. Where, you ask? I could see him as a very misguided version of either Gryffindor or Hufflepuff. On the one hand, he strongly values justice and law, in a very rigid way. He wants to see wrongdoers punished, and he’s dedicated his life to making sure they are. On the other hand, he’s not truly fair. He throws people in Azkaban without trials and secretly arranges to save his own Death Eater son despite publically disowning him at the trial. It takes a lot of bravery to stand up against evil, and he certainly makes a lot of enemies by doing so. Gryffindor might not be out of the question for him either.

Barty Crouch Jr., on the other hand, could only have been a Slytherin. He shared his father’s ruthless ambition but not his aversion to dark magic. Besides that, though, he was a master of trickery and disguise. He almost singlehandedly brought Voldemort back from the dead by manipulating a school competition, not by any means an easy task to pull off. He also managed to fool Dumbledore not once but twice: the first time as a young boy who Dumbledore seems to think may have been innocent of the crimes he was convicted of, and the second time disguising himself as one of Dumbledore’s old friends and colleagues, then spending a year teaching at Hogwarts undetected. The younger Barty Crouch was Slytherin to the core, which – come to think of it – was likely one of the factors playing into his strained relationship with his father. Not to mention that it might have given the elder Mr. Crouch a reason to believe that his son – who he’d certainly raised to hate dark magic and had previously been proud of – was in fact guilty, rather than simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Amelia Bones is surely a Hufflepuff like her niece. As one of the Wizengamot members presiding over Harry’s trial in Order of the Phoenix, she stands out among her peers as being level-headed and open to hearing Harry’s side of the story. She is there to hold a fair hearing, not simply to ensure Harry is expelled from school, which sets her apart from Fudge and Umbridge. This devotion to justice is exactly what made her a good Head of Magical Law Enforcement, and – unfortunately – a target for Voldemort. Names in Harry Potter often carry clues about the character as well, and Amelia comes from a Germanic root that means “work” – perfect for a hard-working Hufflepuff!

Rufus Scrimgeour might look like a Gryffindor at first sight, and he’s certainly brave. You’d have to be to spend most of your life as an Auror. However, my instincts are saying Slytherin. Scrimgeour does not crave power for its own sake, but he’s certainly convinced that he knows best how to fight Voldemort, and his methods are those of a Slytherin. His campaigns are, in fact, more about public perception than actual warfare. He wants the magical world to believe he’s accomplishing something, and if that means trying to bribe the Chosen One into being a Ministry puppet and sending a man who is almost certainly not a Death Eater to Azkaban, then so be it.

Mr. Ollivander is definitely a Ravenclaw, with his deep knowledge and understanding of wandlore. Harry mentions a couple of times that he is not entirely sure if he likes or trusts Mr. Ollivander, who seems more fascinated than horrified by the idea of Voldemort’s power. However, this is not because Ollivander is secretly a Voldemort sympathizer or because he craves that sort of power for himself. It’s an intellectual fascination. Ollivander has devoted his life to studying wands and magic, and Voldemort is an intriguing case study, if also a horrible person.