The Sorting Hat was the supreme authority of who got sorted where at Hogwarts; it was very rarely wrong. But that’s not to say that there weren’t exceptions. Of course, even in trickier scenarios, there was always wisdom and logic behind the Sorting Hat’s decision – a trait or a hidden depth in a student that nobody else could sense. Even so, here are some of the Hogwarts students who definitely gave the Sorting Hat a hard decision to make.
Hermione Granger was a notably difficult choice for the Sorting Hat, nearly resulting in the super-rare Hatstall: a situation where the Hat spends more than five minutes deciding on a student’s house. For Hermione, the Hat spent around four minutes deliberating if she was a Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. Not surprising, really. Ravenclaw values wit, and Hermione’s brains were bountiful. Take her Boggart: Professor McGonagall telling her she’d failed her exams was her worst fear! So why did Hermione, once dubbed the ‘brightest witch of her age’, end up in Gryffindor?
It seemed that the Hat saw past Hermione’s academic prowess and noted the intense fire in her instead. Hermione’s bravery was maybe more understated than Harry’s, but when you think about it, Hermione rarely faltered in times of danger. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in particular, Hermione withstood torture, stress and tirelessly handled the emotionally draining camping trip searching for Horcruxes. She was even brave enough to modify her parents’ memories and identities so they’d forget her and not get hurt: a clever move, but more so a gallant one. Hermione’s smarts were admirable, but as she said herself once, ‘Books! And cleverness! There are more important things – friendship and bravery…’
Being Harry Potter’s best friend certainly needed heaps of bravery – hence the Sorting Hat not messing around in sorting Ron into Gryffindor, the house of his parents, brothers and sister. But the Hat specifically states that Gryffindors usually have ‘daring, nerve and chivalry’. Meanwhile, Ron could barely handle a spider, and he arguably embodied many Hufflepuff-esque qualities. Hufflepuffs are just and loyal and true, just like Ron. If Ron had had the work ethic (Hufflepuffs are notoriously hard workers) he might have had a shot there.
But Ron, ultimately, is more Gryffindor-ish, with his braver moments often coming out in bursts, such as risking his life in a life-size game of wizard chess as a first year, flying a Ford Anglia to Hogwarts and barely hesitating once when it came to joining Harry on dangerous missions. Although Ron had a tendency to falter, such as leaving the trio behind during their camping trip in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, something inside brought him back: a little help from Albus Dumbledore, and maybe a little Gryffindor spirit.
Neville didn’t even want to be placed in Gryffindor. He was intimidated by the house’s reputation for bravery and actually wanted to be sorted into Hufflepuff instead. Makes sense, right? After all, Neville’s early years didn’t exactly scream Gryffindor: he was often forgetful, bumbling or getting caught up a Full Body-Bind curse. And like a Hufflepuff, he was more kind, gentle and hard-working – even if he didn’t always get the hard work right.
In the end, though, Neville was perplexed to be chosen for the former, but there was wisdom in the Hat’s decision: a wisdom that stemmed from the fact that Neville had always been brave, but just in a different way. For it’s easy to be brave if you’re naturally inclined to bravery; if you were born to play the hero. But real courage, real bravery, means being scared – it means confronting your fear and overcoming it. And, as we saw in Deathly Hallows, this was exactly what happened: Neville stood up to Lord Voldemort and slayed his snake Nagini, playing a vital part in saving the entire wizarding world.
Harry Potter came very close to being sorted into Slytherin before he persuaded the Hat to sort him into Gryffindor. Yet the spectre of Slytherin haunted him for some time afterwards, becoming particularly potent in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when he was rumoured to be the heir of Slytherin. Speaking to a snake in front of his fellow students certainly didn’t help.
But was Harry ever really that close to Slytherin, or did the Sorting Hat merely sense a spark of Lord Voldemort inside him? After all, years later, Harry would discover that the reason he had so many links to Voldemort, such as being a Parselmouth, was due to his being an unintentional Horcrux. There was also the fact that Harry could access the sword of Gryffindor, which – according to Albus Dumbledore – only a ‘true Gryffindor’ could wield. But Harry did share some Slytherin traits: he was ambitious and cunning, always sneaking around after hours and cooking up plans with Ron and Hermione. His green eyes even match the house. It is curious to think what the Sorting Hat would have deduced without Voldemort’s involvement in Harry’s life.
Peter Pettigrew was perhaps the Sorting Hat’s most controversial choice – and caused one of the few true Hatstalls. Torn between Slytherin or Gryffindor, the Hat took an exceptional amount of time before deciding on the latter – a decision typically construed as a catastrophic error. For although Pettigrew blended in with his fellow Gryffindors, his nature seemed to bend towards Slytherin – especially when, in later years, he stealthily staged his own death. Not very brave, but undeniably cunning: classic attributes of a Slytherin.
According to J.K. Rowling, the Sorting Hat is notoriously stubborn and won’t concede to having made a mistake. It defended its decision by highlighting Pettigrew’s death, when a brief moment of mercy for Harry Potter apparently caused his silver hand – gifted to him by Lord Voldemort – to turn on him. But given the ambiguous nature of Pettigrew’s demise, this defence is seen as dubious at best.