My Time as a Harry Potter House Counselor

I sometimes worry about how much of my memory and brain power is irrevocably tied up in Harry Potter house philosophizing. Most of that is the result of a brief period of time where I acted as an informal HP house counselor. It was 2011, I was running a fairly popular Hufflepuff fan tumblr, and Pottermore beta testing had begun.

Before Pottermore came out, the aspect that fans were the most excited about was having an Official Sorting Hat. HP fans love to debate which house they would end up in, and many were either unsure of their house or just wanted official confirmation of the house they already identified with. Everyone was very excited about this, and the day that beta testing began, plenty of fans stayed up until the early morning hours, frantically refreshing, searching for that feather. In the time just preceding Pottermore’s debut, I ran a poll on my tumblr. What would you do (as a self-identified Hufflepuff) if you were sorted into another house? A good amount said they would accept their new house, almost as many said they would continue to identify as Hufflepuff even while playing as another house, but the most popular choice was this: “IDENTITY CRISIS.”

I was about to find out that was not much of an exaggeration. For people who didn’t grow up with Harry Potter, it may seem silly to have so much invested in a kind of literary horoscope, but for many fans this was an identity they had carried for many years, across transitions in their lives, and one that ended up packed with a lot of meaning. When I first chose Hufflepuff over Ravenclaw for myself, I felt like it was turning point in the things I chose to value and put time into, so I put a lot of stock into that.

I soon began to receive asks on my tumblr of people lamenting that they were sorted into the wrong houses. Mostly from self-proclaimed Hufflepuffs who had been sorted differently, but a few from people who had been sorted into Hufflepuff when they identified as a different house. I ended up having this weird pseudo-counseling sessions with people over this. I developed very strong opinions on the Pottermore sorting method (namely that I don’t think it’s the ultimate sorting strategy, and it may just be skewed to help keep the houses fairly even). But since many people writing to me believed that this was the final sorting, I got a little more creative with reassurance.

It occurred to me that for HP fans, sorting is a lifelong process that may change over time. For Hogwarts students, it happens once and basically doesn’t come up again once you graduate. So the sorting ends up having more weight in the fandom than in the books. I also started to wonder about how the series becomes more critical of the house system by the end, including having the sorting hat critique it. What does it say that the fans hold onto these divisions so tightly even when the books suggest we shouldn’t?

What ended up happening was that I gave people two strategies for coping with being missorted: 1) Pottermore sorting is not perfect, and you are free to disregard it if you feel it was a mistake. And/or 2) Sorting into houses allows people to nurture the qualities they most value. But maybe you’ve already nurtured all your Hufflepuff qualities enough. Maybe this is an opportunity to develop your Gryffindor/Slytherin/Ravenclaw attributes that you’ve been neglecting, and allow yourself to be a more well-rounded person. (Besides, everyone is welcome in the Hufflepuff common room.)

I don’t run that tumblr anymore, and those questions petered off after the majority of people had gone through the sorting process, but for a little while, I did informal HP house counseling in my spare time. And, hey, if you’re going through a sorting crisis, feel free to contact me. Might as well put those skills to use, because I’m pretty sure there will always be a portion of my brain devoted to contemplating the sorting hat.

 

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