It was 2013 and I just had completed Pottermore’s Sorting Experience. ‘Congratulations on being sorted into Slytherin,’ the page read – but I didn’t feel there was anything worth celebrating. I had very recently hurt somebody close to me, so in my eyes, the Sorting Hat might as well have said: ‘You’re a bad person, and everything you feared about yourself is true.’ Embarrassing as it is to admit now, I cried.
Why did I have such a strong reaction to being sorted with the serpents? Merlin aside, and before the events of Cursed Child, Slytherin alumni don’t have the best of reputations. ‘There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin,’ Hagrid famously said – but just because nearly all bad wizards are Slytherins doesn’t mean all Slytherins are bad wizards. Severus Snape, Horace Slughorn, and Regulus Black were all Slytherin heroes in their own way, and the ‘evil house’ is full of great traits such as resourcefulness, determination, cleverness, and – in the words of Albus Dumbledore – ‘a certain disregard for the rules’.
Maud is a 17-year-old Potter fan who felt ‘insecure’ when she was sorted into Slytherin six years ago, at the same age Harry was when he muttered ‘not Slytherin’ in front of the Great Hall. ‘I thought I would be a Ravenclaw,” Maud says now, ‘When I first found out I was a Slytherin, it was a mixture of feeling insecure – comparing myself to the most famous Slytherins and asking myself if I was a bully like them – and pride in being an ambitious, hard-working person.’ Nearly all of the bullies in the books are Slytherins, and the house has a negative reputation for valuing self-preservation above all else. ‘They were always made out to be monsters, so being grouped with that was a little saddening,’ says Maud. She and I are not the only people who felt sad after being sorted.
‘When my Slytherin result popped up, my stomach sank,’ says 39-year-old Sharann, who had also assumed she was a Ravenclaw. ‘I felt like deleting my account and starting over. I am not a particularly ambitious person in the traditional sense, I was raised in poverty, and since Draco is really the main Slytherin we see throughout the books, I just felt out of place.’ Draco Malfoy also meant that 19-year-old Stephanie Adams was ‘confused and upset’ by her result. “He was one of my least favourite characters,” she says, ‘and I didn’t want to be sorted in the same house he was in, as I saw it as a kind of “bad” house.’
Unsurprisingly, the Harry Potter books are very much told from Harry Potter’s perspective, so it makes sense that the Boy Who Lived doesn’t see many redeeming qualities in the house of his enemies. Outside of the books, J.K. Rowling has given a fuller picture of Slytherins and their traits. In an interview with Leaky Cauldron in 2007, Rowling clarified that some Slytherins were among the reinforcements Horace Slughorn bought to the Battle of Hogwarts. ‘They’re not all bad,’ she said at the time, ‘A part of the final battle that made me smile was Slughorn galloping back with the Slytherins.’
‘They’d gone off to get reinforcements first … But yes, they came back, they came back to fight. I’m sure that many people would say “Well, that’s common sense, isn’t it? Isn’t that smart, to get out, get more people and come back with them?”’
Slytherins are brave, then, they are just more calculated (and some might say cleverer) than wand-happy Gryffindors. Reading more about Slytherin helped Sharann come to terms with her house. ‘I even looked up the Sorting Hat songs,’ she says. ‘Cunning isn’t so bad, I’m crafty and I think humour does fall into that type of person.’ ‘And while I’m not ambitious to get that fancy car or big house, I’m ambitious in having fun, and helping people have a good time and be cheery. I just needed to realise that ambition isn’t always about material goods.’
Joff is a 40-year-old who was sorted into Slytherin three years ago and was initially ‘surprised and a little disappointed’. However, he now says he is ‘proud’ of his house. ‘I changed my mind when I saw the welcome letter (on Pottermore),’ he says. ‘I’ve seen it said that Slytherins are achievement-oriented and that resonates with me. I always push myself to succeed in anything I do.’ Stephanie came to terms with being a Slytherin when she realised that the house she initially wanted to be in – brave and true Gryffindor – wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
'Being brave can sometimes mean that you are, in a way, stupid,’ she says. ‘A Gryffindor would die for their friend, while a Slytherin would find a way for both of them to survive. I think that is a smarter way to protect your friends, because you can protect them over and over… I’m proud to be a Slytherin now!’ Maud says being a Slytherin makes her “feel like a leader”.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Ron Weasley declared that he would’ve ‘got the train straight back home’ if he was sorted into Slytherin. But it is words from the last book, not the first, that we must remember. A sentiment that was explored in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. ‘Albus Severus,’ a grown Harry told his son quietly, so that nobody but Ginny could hear, ‘you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew.’