On their first day at Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry first years are lines up in the great hall and are forced to don a tatty old singing hat that will sort them into their houses.
The four houses are (for those of you who have been living under a rock for the past decade):
Gryffindor- home to the brave, chivalrous and godlike.
Slytherin- home to the cunning, ambitious and mostly rascist and evil.
Ravenclaw- home to those who are intelligent, but not brave or evil enough to get into Slytherin or Gryffindor.
Hufflepuff- the rest. (Great news kids! We’ve peered into your innermost soul, your darkest fears and your brightest ambitions and have decided to label you… Miscellaneous!)
It is generally accepted that the sorting hat possesses some mind reading (or legilimency in the Harry Potter Universe) abilities- but the closer you look at this theory, the more cracks start to appear. First there is evidence of the sorting hat going wrong.
————AFTER THIS POINT THERE WILL BE MASSIVE SPOILERS BE WARNED—————————–
Petter ‘Wormtail’ Pettigrew was sorted into Gryffindor- yet he certainly didn’t the fit the phsycological profile needed. He was cowardly, disloyal, and grew up to betray his friends to save his own skin. Another missorted Gryffindor is Percy Weasley who craved power from an early age and was always shown as being very ambitious clearly more suited to the cunning and power-hungry Slytherins. Hermione Granger, one of the ‘big three’ is also unsuited for Gryfinndor (nobody seems to get wrongly sorted into any other houses) seeing as her intelligence and skill for thinking outside of the box places her firmly in the Ravenclaw camp.
So if the sorting hat can’t see your soul how is it sorting, how come so many students appear to be sorted correctly?
Well, imagine it’s your first day at school and you get sorted into Gryffindor.
Even if you have been brought up as a traditional pureblood you’re going to get beaten up if you start mouthing off about ‘blood traitors’ or ‘mudblood scum’. So you keep quiet. Gradually you notice that the muggleborns are roughly as good at magic as you and don’t seem to be as scummy as you used to believe. Perhaps you even make friends with some of them. You learn that the way to become popular is to start doing sports and foolhardy acts of bravery so you pull a few pranks, fight a few duels and enjoy the attention you get.
By the end if the year you are a true Gryffindor.
On the other hand if you are sorted into Slytherin.
You are immediately asked who your family are and how ‘pureblood’ you are. Some of the older students tell you about all the great wizards that have been in Slytherin. They also tell you about the ‘mudbloods’ who are destroying wizardkind. You don’t stand up for those kids when they get teased your housemates w
ould make life hell for you if you did.You notice that some of the kids in your house seem to have more money and power than others and that they aren’t above sharing it with their friends. You start to hang around these kids and do what they do.
By the end of the year you are a true Slytherin. The fact is the houses shape the student’s personalities not the other way round. But even if the hat could sense your soul, the system would still be flawed. As Dumbledore said “we sort too soon.”
The sorting hat is based on the idea that if you’ll always be the same but that simple isn’t true. Throughout the books we see characters change and differ from the house personality.
James Potter was a bully when he was fifteen.
Dumbledore went a bit off the rails as a teenager.
Neville Longbottem used to be a loser.
As for Severus Snape- he completely changed.
He grew up as Lily’s best friend, then became a Death-Eater, then became a bitter, spiteful teacher, then died hero. When he put the sorting hat on his head -aged just eleven- did the sorting hat peer into his innermost soul and see his potential to be brave, clever and kind and wonder about where to put him?
Or was it just a hat that knew he was from a Slytherin family and so yelled out “Slytherin!” almost immediately.