Long ago, when Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was first built, the four founders chose to divide the students accepted to the school into four individual houses, each named for the founder who served as its head. These houses serve as the living and learning communities of the students, as we share a common room, dormitories, and at times, classes. Thus these houses became a sort of fraternity among the students within them, a fellowship of students who share similar traits and values. Naturally, over time however, these houses began to develop stereotypes. And it is those stereotypes which I write of today.
Slytherin, the house of Salazar. It is with this house and its stereotypes I intend to start, as it is by far the house with the most negative connotations. Resourcefulness, cunning, ambition, determination, self-preservation, fraternity, and cleverness. These are the traits for which Slytherin is known- all positive, and yet, the reputation which hovers over the house is less than positive. Perhaps this traces back to the founder, Salazar Slytherin.
The rumour is that Salazar Slytherin highly valued pureblood-students, believing that only those whose ancestry was purest were worthy of attending the world’s greatest school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But what if, Salazar Slytherin, said to be one of “the four most brilliant witches and wizards of the time” and a very close friend of Godric Gryffindor, had more pure reasons for his actions and ideology? It is said that Salazar’s reasoning for his distaste for students from muggle families was that they were untrustworthy. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was founded around 990 AD. A quick glance through A History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot tells us the witch hunts didn’t increase in frequency until the 14th century. But through a little research, it can be discovered that those suspected of witchcraft have been punished with disciplines as severe as death throughout all of European history, with witches being burnt even in 968 AD. What does that mean? Salazar Slytherin was well aware that Mugglekind were likely to react negatively to witches and wizards, moreso if they were to discover a school of these sorts. Couldn’t you imagine it? A young witch or wizard from a muggle family- a muggle family terrified or filled with hatred for their child- who they then pressured for the information of where that school is? Or if that student was threatened for information about the school and what they learn there by their muggle contacts? Would that not be disastrous in those dangerous times?
Moving on with Salazar’s reputation, it was said that he built a secret chamber and placed a huge monster within, in order to one day return to the school and purge it of all the muggleborn and halfblood students. One has to wonder though, what is to say that this big nasty creature Salazar was rumoured to have hidden in the castle, wasn’t for the sake of purging the school of muggleborn students… But was in fact, a means of protecting the school from witch hunting, angry muggles? It would only make sense, if you were afraid of your school being overtaken by intruders that you would work to have some sort of… security system. So, Salazaar built a safe room, a secret chamber for students to hide in, while the creature he could control could take care of any hostile beings who sought to harm those within Hogwarts’ walls.
So, what if ‘power hungry’ Salazar was simply… ambitious? There isn’t a witch or wizard in the halls of Hogwarts who knows what Salazar was /really/ like. Sure, there are paintings… But ultimately, we have nothing to go on but hearsay tainted by the years and by rumours from the mouths of those jealous of his ambition and cunning. What if the founder of Slytherin, was a legitimately good wizard with a bad reputation that seeped into the foundation of his house and tainted it for centuries after? And what if the house of Slytherin isn’t what it seems either?
When the word ‘Slytherin’ is mentioned, what tends to come to mind? Usually someone chirps out something about all the evil wizards in the world have come from Slytherin. A fact that simply isn’t true. Gellert Grindelwald for instance, didn’t even attend Hogwarts, and we all know just how evil he was. What about Peter Pettigrew? World thinks he’s dead and he ends up being Voldemort’s servant? Wasn’t he a Gryffindor? What about the fact that Slytherin was the house of Merlin the Great?
That’s right! MERLIN! /THE/ MERLIN. One of the first Slytherins, by my count, thus likely under Salazar himself before the founder left. Merlin was a Slytherin, part of King Arthur’s court, expert user of charms, and founder of the Order of Merlin, an organisation which originally promoted muggle rights and created rules against using magic on them and now is an award coveted by nearly every witch and wizard of worth! This is a wizard whose name we use as an exclamation, a household name…. And he came from Slytherin.
And still the negative stereotypes exist. “Slytherins are pureblood elitists. Only purebloods are allowed in Slytherin.” Yes, some members of our house have had less than favourable views on halfbloods or muggleborn students, but it is not true of all of us. Some of Slytherins’ most famous members were halfblood, such as Severus Snape or (loathe as he was to admit it) Tom Riddle. Nevermind our former Headmaster, Oreyn B. Fox and current Headmistress Aoife O’Keeffe- both halfblood, both very much Slytherin.
Then there are the rumours: “All Slytherins turn evil. All Slytherins are bullies. They’re selfish and only aim to benefit themselves.” It’s true, bullies and dark wizards have come from Slytherin, but that is not an accurate descriptor for the entirety of the house. It wasn’t true of Merlin the Great. It wasn’t true of Kamila Bullstrod, the former Headgirl who grew from a bully to someone anyone in the school could come to for advice or help. Or Head Boys Adam Fletcher, Archibald Colquhoun, Caryxander Mordushku, or Elliott Reid. To degrade the House of Slytherin to nothing more than evil waiting to pounce is to insult Slytherins such as these, who worked hard, pursuing their ambitions to make the world, or Hogwarts itself, a better place. It is an insult to the memory of the Slytherins who won the House Cup six years in a row, proving that ambition and cunning is just as useful as bravery or wit.
You say Slytherin are evil. We say Slytherins hold grudges forever, regardless of if it was them or their loved ones who were hurt. We’re a bit vengeful and petty, yes, but only when wronged first We are excellent liars when the situation calls for it, but never to the ones we hold dearest. Slytherins hate being told what to do, but will follow the rules to avoid trouble, even going so far as to kiss up to professors. We are cunning and resourceful, using both traits to achieve our goals and avoid failure, but that doesn’t mean we are willing to do whatever it takes. Fraternity is a trait of Slytherin and we will be loyal to a fault to those we care for. All of which are positive traits.
Slytherin exhibits brotherhood and loyalty. We put our house before anyone else because our housemates are our family. We’re proud to be Slytherin, no matter what is said about us. Slytherin are strong, noble, and we know where we stand in the world, and where we want to stand. We are resourceful, cunning, determined and clever. Ambition goes along with it but it isn’t enough without talent and passion. We’re ruthless, self-preserving, and maybe a little selfish, but these things shouldn’t be a concern unless you get on our bad side.
You don’t have to be a bully or evil to get into Slytherin, you just need ambition, skill, and a lust for something more. You need a sense of bravery, and pride because you will be judged from the moment the Sorting Hat calls out your house. You need to be able to rise above all of that though, and prove that like Merlin, you are more than just some evil bully. You need a strong sense of self and the will to stand for what you truly believe in no matter what. They may call it stubbornness or ruthlessness, but being aware and connected to who you truly are, not letting others pressure you into their own beliefs is key. Especially given our reputation. It may be intimidating to be labelled as the things Slytherins are labelled as when you’re only eleven years old, but that is why building your identity outside of that and never giving in to what they expect you to be is essential.
Slytherins were never evil. We have as much a choice about that as any other house, as great a chance to be heroes as a Gryffindor or a Hufflepuff, as much a chance to take the House Cup as a Ravenclaw. We’re the students who should be voted Most Likely to Become Minister of Magic. Like all houses, we are misunderstood and stereotyped.
Slytherins, this is your year to break the stereotypes.