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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Taylor Swift Playlist: Gryffindor

Instead of a Sorting Hat Saturday where I sort characters from other stories into Hogwarts houses, this week, I’m celebrating the release of reputation with a Taylor Swift playlist for every Hogwarts house. Here’s the first one. The songs are in chronological order.

Our Song

This song is all about reckless young love, summed up in images like a slamming screen door, a distinctive laugh, and a secret late-night phone call. It takes some bravery to jump headfirst into that.

Fearless

Different people react to love differently, and I think for Gryffindors, it’s definitely a source of courage. This song is about the ways a first taste of love can be terrifying (“My hands shake, I’m not usually this way”) and at the same time, empowering. All the things that would normally matter seem insignificant: “I don’t know why, but with you I’d dance / In a storm in my best dress, fearless”.

Change

Bravery in love is all well and good, but Gryffindor stands for a lot more than that. It’s all about having the courage to stand up for what you believe in. Gryffindors are not afraid to “fight for what [they’ve] worked for all these years”, trusting that their efforts truly can change things.

Dear John

There’s courage in being able to rise above an unpleasant situation, and that’s what Taylor Swift explores in this song: “But I took your matches before fire could catch me, so don’t look now / I’m shining like fireworks over your sad, empty town”.

Long Live

This song more than any other reminds me of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Although they face difficult times together, those trials have brought them closer together. “Long live all the mountains we moved / I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you” is actually a pretty good description of the way their friendship grows in the face of hardship.

State of Grace

“This love is brave and wild,” Taylor Swift sings in this song from Red. Unlike some of her early “fearless in love” songs, this doesn’t mean that being in love makes the narrator feel fearless or emboldened. It means love is a “worthwhile fight”. Imagery like “mosaic broken hearts” and of course the titular “state of grace” paint a picture of a love that isn’t easy, but is worth it.

Red

This is another song that takes a more mature look at the passion that comes with love. It’s still “faster than the wind, passionate as sin”, but it’s also prone to ending in heartbreak. Love is dangerous, and there’s something brave about embracing it anyway.

Welcome to New York

This song reminds me of moving away for college for the first time, and not just because of lines like “when we first dropped our bags on apartment floors”. The image of people looking for “something more / searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before” rings true with anyone who’s stepped outside their comfort zone. In a way, it’s kind of a counterpoint to “Never Grow Up”, an earlier song that idealizes the safety of childhood.

I Know Places

Let’s just run away together, okay? That seems to be the message of this song, where the singer claims, “I know places we won’t be found”. Even though the song is about running away and hiding from something, it doesn’t feel desperate or afraid. It feels as giddy and liberating as “Fearless”. (Of course, the more recent song “Getaway Car” portrays a very different view of running away together.)

King of My Heart

There’s courage in opening yourself up to love after a series of heartbreaks. While the imagery in this song evokes much earlier ones, with its royal titles and fanciful dreams, there’s a wariness about it that is not present in “Love Story” or even “White Horse”. In fact, it starts off with “I’m perfectly fine / I live on my own / I made up my mind I’m better off being alone” and takes a while to get to the gooey romantic lines like “all at once, you are the one I have been waiting for”.

Foil Houses

It occurred to me a while back that, as much as Gryffindor and Slytherin are sometimes portrayed as two sides of the same coin, Slytherin is just as much a foil to Hufflepuff as it is to Gryffindor. After all, ambition and work ethic go hand-in-hand. Both houses are more practical and focused on the real world, whereas Gryffindors and Ravenclaws tend to be more abstract and idealistic. And while Slytherins tend to be ruthless and harsh, whereas Hufflepuffs are kind and selfless, that’s certainly not universal. Zacharias Smith is far from selfless, and there’s nothing harsh or ruthless about Professor Slughorn. Both houses are even defined by their loyalties – or, rather, Hufflepuffs are defined by their loyalty, while Slytherins are the opposite: not necessarily disloyal, but very selectively loyal, fighting amongst themselves to prove themselves to Voldemort or betraying their side for a single person.

Couldn’t we also say, though, that Slytherin is a foil to Ravenclaw? Both houses value intelligence. However, with Ravenclaws it’s creativity, wisdom, and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake that is valued. Slytherins, on the other hand, are sly and cunning, using their minds as weapons and their knowledge as a tool to help them get what they want. When I did my Divergent Sorting Hat Saturday posts, I found that most Erudite characters fit into Slytherin, even though their Faction aligns more closely with Ravenclaw at first glance. Even the mascots each reflect the other house’s traits if you know your heraldry: the snake was a symbol of wisdom, while the eagle represented power.

Is it fair to say that Ravenclaw and Slytherin represent two ways of valuing intelligence, that Hufflepuff and Slytherin represent two types of hard work and loyalty, and that Gryffindor and Slytherin represent two ways of taking action for what you think is important?

I talk a lot on this blog about how Slytherin doesn’t have to mean evil. I’ve sorted a lot of positive characters there (and a lot of negative ones into other houses). But within the series itself, looking at the contrast between the different houses, does it make sense to say that Slytherin is the “dark side” to all three “good” houses? I would say so.

If Hufflepuffs Had Time Travel …

If I handed you a time machine, good for one and only one round trip to the past, what would you go back in time to do? This week’s Sorting Hat Saturday made me think about how those impulses fit into the Hogwarts house system, and that got me thinking about time travel in the Harry Potter series itself, and how characters from different houses would use it. Here’s what I came up with:

Gryffindor: to right a wrong. This is the easiest; Harry and Hermione travel back in time in Prisoner of Azkaban to save an innocent man condemned to a fate worse than death. Their use of the time turner is all about righting a wrong. They barely knew Sirius and had spent the year thinking he was a murderer, but they put themselves at risk to help him escape. It’s the Gryffindors who think about traveling back in time to prevent tragedies, whether that means stopping a war or just saving one person’s life.

Hufflepuff: to help others. I know, that sounds a lot like what I said for Gryffindor. But the approach is different. Gryffindors would be more likely to risk paradoxes to follow their heart, whereas Hufflepuffs would change things for the better in subtler ways, with more focus on the people they’re helping rather than the gut instinct to fix things.

Ravenclaw: to learn the truth. The past is full of unanswered questions, and a Ravenclaw might choose to observe and discover rather than change the past. Much like real-world historians, they would believe that understanding the past is important to make good choices in the future. If they did decide to change things, they would be careful, thinking about the bigger picture and making sure that their actions didn’t cause a paradox.

Slytherin: to get what they want. That sounds harsher than I mean it. A lot of people, given the option to change the past, would probably think of something that benefits them. Maybe they would buy a winning lottery ticket with numbers they memorized in the future, or leave a note to their younger self with advice to help them succeed. Maybe “what they want” is to prove a point, like Albus in Cursed Child. Maybe it’s to see a loved one they’ve lost again. Or maybe it’s world domination. My point is, Slytherins would see time travel as a way to achieve their own goals, with anything coming in second.

The Hogwarts Pensieve Sorting Hat

The Hogwarts Express leaves on September 1, and in honor of that, I’m going to finally release something I’ve been working on for weeks: my own Sorting Hat quiz.

Yes, I know. There are a thousand sorting quizzes out there, not to mention an official one on Pottermore. But I just had to try my hand at making one of my own. This isn’t one of those “what’s your favorite color/animal/character?” quizzes. All the thought I’ve been putting into my Sorting Hat Saturday posts and theories about the Hogwarts founders has gone into the quiz as well. I ask questions like:

How do you react to unexpected challenges?

  • Take a step back, look at the facts, and brainstorm solutions
  • Go with my first instinct and tackle the problem head-on
  • Come up with a strategy based on the situation
  • Give it my best effort using tried and true methods
  • Try to make it work to my advantage

And:

You just made your house’s quidditch team. Which of the following is most important to you?

  • Winning at all costs
  • Playing fair and doing my best
  • Fighting as hard as we can in each match
  • Having a good time and keeping in mind that it’s just a game
  • Coming up with a good strategy
  • Becoming team captain in a few years. This is just the beginning …

Nothing’s quite like a magical mind-reading hat, but I think I did a pretty good job and I hope you’ll agree.

Edit: Well, I was trying to embed it, but that didn’t work, so here’s a link

Four Founders, Four Visions

Said Slytherin, “We’ll teach just those
Whose ancestry is purest.”
Said Ravenclaw, “We’ll teach those whose
Intelligence is surest.”
Said Gryffindor, “We’ll teach all those
With brave deeds to their name.”
Said Hufflepuff, “I’ll teach the lot,
And treat them just the same.”

Maybe it’s just me, but these seem like odd things for a school’s founders to say. Hufflepuff, sure, she valued fairness and wanted to educate everyone. And Ravenclaw’s vision was different from Hufflepuff’s, but there are plenty of private schools that have academic criteria for the students they accept. But Slytherin’s obsession with ancestry seems out of place, and ambition – cited in the Goblet of Fire song – seems more like the sort of thing you demonstrate to get into an exclusive university, not a secondary school. And as for brave deeds, how many eleven-year-olds have done anything very brave? Modern-day Gryffindor certainly selects for potential, rather than choosing only kids who already have “brave deeds to their name”.

It’s almost as if the four founders had very different ideas about what kind of school Hogwarts was going to be.

Remember, Hogwarts was founded 1,000 years ago, in the early middle ages. Even muggle education did not look a thing like it does today, and was not widely available to ordinary people. Magical education was nonexistent in Britain. Ravenclaw may very well have seen Hogwarts as an elite school for the most intelligent students of magic, rather than a public institution where nearly every witch and wizard in Britain would be educated.

Slytherin, on the other hand, might have seen Hogwarts as a place to train magical leaders, since he valued ambition and cunning in his students. In a time period where positions of power were inherited, his obsession with ancestry actually makes a certain amount of sense; he was probably looking to form his own magical aristocracy. Although, of course, sending a basilisk to kill the muggle-borns was uncalled for.

And Gryffindor? A school for the bravest students may seem odd by modern standards,  but the middle ages were a bloody time, when the unforgivable curses were not yet illegal and most wizards’ duels ended in death. Gryffindor may have wanted to take the most courageous young witches and wizards and teach them combative magic, in order to turn them into warriors and protectors, essentially the knights of the magical world.

None of those attitudes would be out of place in their era, but it’s Hufflepuff’s vision for Hogwarts that survives in the present day. Hogwarts takes any student with magical abilities, and they are all given access to the same education. No one, from muggle-borns to werewolves to students who don’t quite fit into any of the houses, is turned away. I think it’s fair to say that, without her belief in fairness and acceptance, Hogwarts wouldn’t be what it is today.