‘And are you tempted to join him?’
‘No,’ said Snape, his black eyes on Fleur and Roger’s retreating figures. ‘I am not such a coward.’
‘No,’ agreed Dumbledore. ‘You are a braver man by far than Igor Karkaroff. You know, I sometimes think we Sort too soon …’
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Dumbledore said it himself to Snape when he highlights how brave he has been, perhaps suggesting Snape could’ve been a Gryffindor in another lifetime. And it is true that there are certain Hogwarts students who turned out to be very different people than first impressions let on. The Sorting Hat uses a degree of Legilimency when it decides a student’s Hogwarts house, but surely it can’t know everything when looking into someone’s head. Peoples’ heads are complicated! Especially when they are so young.
The best example to consider is Peter Pettigrew – who was sorted into Gryffindor and ended up befriending James Potter, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. But even when we dip into an old memory – Peter seems out of place, always following the others around, more of a parasite than a friend. And yet he was in the house of chivalry, where ‘dwell the brave at heart’? You could argue that he was brave in the sense he betrayed his friends and took Lord Voldemort’s side. But that feels determined more so than chivalrous... the trait more naturally attributed to a Slytherin.
This is not to say all ‘bad’ wizards and witches should immediately go to Slytherin, though. Although the likes of Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters were usually to be found in that house - is that because Tom Riddle, a cunning Slytherin, simply led the others astray? Even though founder Salazar Slytherin permeated his house with so much of himself and his own views – he was still only one person – and there are so many Slytherins that didn’t share his mindset. Even Draco Malfoy, who was taught to embody the values of Salazar in his youth, showed a more compassionate and softer side in his later years – and his son, Scorpius, was notably kind and hyper-intelligent – far more a Hufflepuff or a Ravenclaw on paper than a Slytherin. Is this an instance of the Sorting Hat simply assuming the son of Draco Malfoy would be just like him? Because it more feels like Scorpius represents a different side of Draco that got lost, due to all the pure-blood standards Lucius Malfoy was stamping into him as a child.
So, does a person’s influences affect which Hogwarts house they go to? Look at Regulus Black, Sirius’s brother – who showed great bravery towards the end of his life, making a choice to defy Lord Voldemort. Regulus started off just like many Black family members, as a Slytherin, and later on, as a Death Eater. But did the Sorting Hat foresee this – or did the Sorting Hat inadvertently end up carving this path out for him? Why did the Sorting Hat not see the same bravery in Regulus as he did in Sirius, who was placed in Gryffindor despite the odds? Had Regulus’s family simply instilled too many of Salazar’s values into him already, whereas Sirius seemed to have a far clearer viewpoint at a young age? But if the hat had seen the bravery in Regulus that he later showed – this could’ve ended up re-shaping Regulus’s life. Who knows – Regulus might’ve made different friends and never ended up a Death Eater. Look what the Sorting Hat did for Neville – it saw a fire in him that Neville was yet to see himself.
It’s true that the Sorting Hat seems to see things in people others can’t – but at the end of the day, it is still just a hat with an opinion. And although it was right most of the time, even sentient objects can make mistakes.
First things first, there have been a couple of occasions when the Sorting Hat has possibly made a mistake. The most obvious example would be Peter Pettigrew – who rather than demonstrating courage and chivalry, was weak with a real knack for self-preservation. You could say he probably should have been in Slytherin, but that is quite insulting to the many excellent students who are members of that house. However, out of all the witches and wizards who have passed through the corridors of Hogwarts, that is just one example of where the Sorting Hat may have made a mistake. He was the exception – not the rule. On the whole, the Sorting Hat has got it spot on.
Also, you need to remember that the Sorting Hat is one of the cleverest magical objects to exist within the wizarding world. It contains the intelligence of all four of the Hogwarts founders. Not only can it speak, but it can also use Legilimency to look inside the mind of the person who is wearing it to determine their capabilities. It can even respond to what the wearer is thinking and take their choices into consideration. This is what it did with Harry, changing its initial idea of placing him in Slytherin to Gryffindor. This is important because it shows that the Sorting Hat considers who you want to be too. It doesn’t just pluck a house out of nowhere, but really gets to grips with the person as a whole before making its decision.
And while it is true that people can grow and change as they get older, and their personalities can evolve – you could say that the core of who you are and want to be remains the same. This is what the Sorting Hat looks for – even if the house it settles on doesn’t seem like the clearest choice at the time. It considers the different ways you can belong to a Hogwarts house, that don’t necessarily conform to the stereotypes, and judges which one you would make the best contribution to.
The perfect example of this would be Neville Longbottom. There is the belief that Neville would have done better in Hufflepuff and that he didn’t have the necessary traits to belong in Gryffindor. Yet, that proved not to be the case, and the Sorting Hat knew that from Neville’s very first day at Hogwarts.
When we first met Neville as a nervous first-year, he didn’t scream bold and daring Gryffindor. Nevertheless, by the end of the schoolyear he had already begun to demonstrate a courageous side – which only continued to grow. From the first time he stood up to Harry, Ron and Hermione in Philosopher’s Stone (which Dumbledore even said took a great deal of strength) to running the DA and keeping up the resistance during Harry’s absence in Deathly Hallows, he more than proved that he belonged there. In fact, he even pulled sword of Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat – which could only be done by a true member of that house.
Ultimately, for the many centuries that the Sorting Hat has been doing its job, it has got more right than it has wrong. Its mistakes are few and far between – and it really knows how to spot the true nature or potential of budding witch or wizard. As it is filled with the intelligence of the four founders, it knows exactly what capabilities they want in their houses, and it considers the entire person before making its decision.
So, what do you think? Do you think the students of Hogwarts are sorted into their houses too soon? Or do you still think there isn’t a clear-cut answer?