So, you’ve imagined entering the Great Hall, having the sorting hat dropped onto your head, and your house announced to peals of applause. What’s it like getting sorted into a house in real life? Those who are lucky enough to have attended a tony old British boarding school, or a private (“prep”) school with aspirations toward grandiosity, know allll about it.
That Ron, Harry, and Hermione are all in Gryffindor tells you three things:
JK Rowling didn’t want to write pages and pages of exposition on how they got from one common room to another (also partly why she invented the Marauder’s Map).
Couples who house together, stay together (0/10 simulations show Ron and Hem getting together if they were in different houses).
Some houses are better than others. (Sorry.)
I’m not saying Gryffindor is the *best* house; I’m saying that in Sorcerer’s Stone, 80% of important characters are sorted into Gryffindor, and 100% of characters with hair the color of a soulless moon get sorted into Slytherin. Even Harry, a total naif who didn’t know that magic existed two days ago, knows enough to mutter “not Slytherin” to the sorting hat, and even though that’s not technically a house preference, I’ll accept it. His son Albus is likewise packing it prior to his first day at Hogwarts, lest he get sorted into the wrong house (womp). The point is, houses matter. Everyone has opinions on all the houses. Sometimes these opinions make no sense at all, but it’s something we all think about.
Like the Hogwarts Big Four, the houses at my high school (7-12) were institutional beasts whose tall banners hung in the auditorium and whose traditions long preceded your arrival. We were led to believe the houses were all very important.
Sadly, the sorting ceremony did not involve:
A sentient hat that looks like a OTK boot
Out-loud remarks about the inner workings of each student (“some courage, mostly not an idiot”)
The witch-hunty, McCarthyist feel of the Hogwarts sorting ceremony (let’s be honest, Slytherin sortings basically functioned as a stop-and-frisk of potential villains)
John Williams’ score or this guy’s voice (the man not the lion):
There was also a near-zero chance that someone would look at you, after being sorted, and think, “Well I’m afraid we can’t be friends now.”
Incoming grade sevens were assigned to their houses in morning homeroom by a sheet of paper read aloud without ceremony, although if you already had a sibling at the school, you already knew you would be plonked into their house. After seeing the list, you might say, “Hurrah, Kurrajong!” and high-five all your housemates, or, alternately, curl up into a ball at the thought of having to wear a grass-green polo shirt and hang out with Goyle at every carnival for the next six years. In real life, as in Hogwarts, there are no re-sortings.
The stakes were moderate: I didn’t go to a boarding school, so we didn’t have house common rooms or dorm-room hijinks with Amortentia-laced chocolates, but four times a year we would ditch our ties and blazers, and convene in our house colors to battle it out for the House Trophy. If you’re wondering what that looked like at a middling Anglican private school in Canberra, Australia, picture the Triwizard Cup, only with way more skin and fewer untimely deaths.
House points™ came from individual and team wins in the swimming carnival, athletics carnival, cross-country carnival, and Bishops Cup (mixed sports) and counted toward the House Trophy, determined late in the school year. This meant that where a trot past the entire student body in your togs to compete in the 50-meter freestyle was already embarrassing, now you had to worry that you had the fate of your house riding on your (half-naked) back. And thanks to the solid branding of house colors, anyone could take note of your red swimming cap and feel spurred to yell, “GO, BORONIA!!!” at your sodden butt.
(Fun story: One year I wore bike shorts over my swimmers (bc thighs), and when I dove off the blocks in my sky-blue swim cap, they were swept down to my knees by the wash. I was in lane one, right by where all the houses were lined up, poolside, afloat in a torrent of house chants as I tried to pull my pants back up while swimming.)
It also meant that the best opportunity you had to flirt freely—helping spray each other’s hair blue, say, or painting letters on each other’s faces in colored zinc—had limited prospects. If the person you liked was in your house, great! Maybe you could talk them into making a cheer pyramid, really get into their shoulder blades with your knee in a way that said you meant it. If they weren’t, you could spend all day fretting that Heather Frances was sashaying her white Banksia pom poms a little too close to your betrothed over on the opposite side of the 100-meter track.
If you have ever picked through the notable members of your Hogwarts house, thinking about the dominance of the Weasley family in Gryffindor, or the mark of the Crabbes on Slytherin, you probably figured out that the whole lineage thing makes things a tidge unfair.
This was certainly true at my school, where Karri was ruled by favorable eugenics for my entire tenure, winning multiple house trophies on the rippling backs of the Lucas and Madigan families, who excelled at running all the track distances (100m to 1500m) without pants on. Karri’s dominance bred a certain amount of resentment, making it a sort of Slytherin stand-in.
By the same token, a single family with a penchant for shin splints or asthma could thwart the best efforts of that house to medal for a decade at a time, as was the case with poor Banksia and Kurrajong—the Hufflepuffs of Radford, if Hufflepuff didn’t have Cedric Diggory. Of course, then there were the wildcards or “Neville Longbottoms” of each house: weak prospects who emerged on the far side of puberty a potent force of beefcake, there to bring balance to the universe just in time to graduate.
Was there any familial intrigue like Harry’s near-brush with Slytherin, or Sirius Black’s winding up in Gryffindor? I *do* recall the odd student opting out of their given house, and in retrospect, what a controversy! Rejecting their familial destiny! In this way, my school’s sorting process was exactly like the Pottermore test, after which 25% of takers reject their sorting like a bad organ transplant.
In retrospect, the house carnival system set up strong but stupid houses to triumph over smart but weak houses, excepting the Bishop’s Cup, in which the houses battled it out in Ravenclaw-friendly “sports” like chess, badminton, and frisbee golf. There were also a trivial number of points on offer at each carnival for the house that showed the best “house spirit.” *weak cheer*
If you’ve ever fantasized about having Filius Flitwick as your house head, you understand the way in which teachers help shape the house experience. My house head was Mr. Fraser, a geography teacher best known for having long hair and being lead singer in a Dire Straits cover band. His main concern was not winning, but filling as many events as we could with competitors, no matter how hapless. The result was that my house, Wandoo, was omnipresent at every carnival and taken about as seriously as ol’ Prof. Lockhart.
Over on the dark side of the field, Karri seemed to nab not only the most flinty, athletic students, but the cool teachers with sculpted calves. It’s easy to hate on the Snapes of the world when they’re not on your side, but I do wonder what it must have been like to enjoy mentoring from a truly badass house head.
House Captains and Prefects
In Hogwarts, the prefects are the student leaders of each house; at my school, prefects were elected outside the house system, and I wasn’t chosen, so sucks to that. I *was* elected house captain, owing to the fact that the vastly more athletic Sarah Thew was a prefect and therefore ineligible for the position. (Hoping that a superior competitor is ineligible has been my most winning strategy in life generally.)
My male counterpart, Ewan, was likewise not exceptional enough to be a prefect; we perfectly embodied Wandoo’s non-threatening reputation, each soft enough and weak enough to fly under the radar of other houses. Our chief duties were to come up with a house “theme” for each carnival, and to award house “colours” (enamel lapel pins) to the members of our house who participated the most over the year. Look, we weren’t defeating a noseless, mouth-breathing force for evil, but if you think I didn’t list “House Captain” on my LinkedIn profile up until very recently, you don’t know how little there is to recommend me.
I’m kind of into the backstories of Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. You get a coat of arms, a cool story, a founder… it’s all-around good branding.
In contrast, the houses at my school were named after native species of plants: Wandoo is a type of eucalyptus tree. Jarrah is also a type of eucalyptus tree. So is Karri. It’s like if all the Hogwarts houses were named after slightly different sub-species of badger, but instead of a badger’s frosty white stripe, the key identifying feature for the house coat-of-arms was a pile of leaves. Some of the houses weren’t even named after trees—they were named after bushes. Try getting into the game-day mindset by staring at a painting of wattle.
It made it hard to get invested in the house banners, is what I’m saying.
Despite its thematic proximity to Slytherin, Karri members were involved in zero death cults, I am sorry to report.
On Making You Who You Are
Beyond landing me a job slicing meat in a supermarket deli(^), it’s hard to argue that my school house had any great bearing on my life, unlike the selection of Harry et al. for Gryffindor. Sure, Wandoo’s general haplessness impressed upon me a humility, but then again my entire teen existence was one long embarrassment, how could I possibly emerge with a Karri-esque ego?
I’ve gotten way more mileage out of my Hogwarts house (Ravenclaw) than I have out of my school house, probably because the sorting methodology was a little more robust (excellent n scores, JK). I guess I’m what I’m saying is it just isn’t the same without a sentient hat.
Did you get sorted into houses in school? Did it define your entire destiny thereon?