Probably the reason why a generation of Potterheads exist to this day is because the lore of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World is very immersive. Take, for example, the history of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. If you’ve only watched the films or read the original seven books, you might be missing out on the extensive lore the Harry Potter universe has to offer.
In this article, we tackle the lore behind the school and the four Hogwarts founders who went on to establish the four houses: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. Everything you need to know about the Hogwarts Houses of the Harry Potter universe – all laid out into one comprehensive article.
History of Hogwarts
Before we can talk about the Hogwarts Houses, we need to first discuss about how Hogwarts came to be. It was first established in the 10th century (around 990 A.D.) by four of the greatest wizards and witches of the time: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin.
Around this time, Muggles were already beginning to hunt down witches, so the Hogwarts founders wanted a place where students can safely learn magic without revealing their existence. As a result, they built the castle somewhere in the Scottish Highlands and used magic to make it unplottable. To Muggles who happen to stumble upon its location, they will only find an old and abandoned castle.
Children in Great Britain and Ireland who are born with magical powers are automatically enrolled at birth, regardless of whether they have magical or non-magical parents. At the age of eleven, they receive their letters of acceptance; children with known wizarding parentage receive their letter by owl post, while those Muggle-born receive a visit from a Hogwarts staff member.
The four founders each represented a personality trait they wanted to bring out from their students. Thus, they sorted their students into four of their own houses, choosing students based on the traits they want from their students. Eventually, they decided to enchant the Sorting Hat to help read students’ minds and ensure that students would continue to be sorted based on their preferences even after they are long gone.
Eventually, however, there was a feud between Gryffindor and Slytherin. Gryffindor, as well as Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, believed that all magical children should be given a chance to learn magic, regardless of whether or not they come from wizarding families. Slytherin, on the other hand, believed that they should only accept students with pure-blood wizarding heritage, and that children of any other blood purity were unworthy. Slytherin eventually left the school, but not before leaving his basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets in the hopes that, one day, his heir would return and unleash it to purge the school of Muggle-borns.
While we see that students from different houses in the same year level can take the same classes, a student’s house says a lot about their traits as a person and the people they surround themselves with. While inter-house friendships and relationships are possible, the fact that a person is surrounded by people with similar personalities and attitudes can affect how they turn out growing up.
Each of the four houses have their own common rooms, dormitories, and a separate table in the Great Hall. Each house has a teacher who serves as Head of House, as well as a house ghost that serves no known purpose apart from being a house mascot.
House rivalry is common, especially between Slytherin and Gryffindor. Throughout the year, students can earn or lose points for their home depending on their academic performance, behavior, and Quidditch matches.
The most well-known house in the series, Gryffindor is the house dedicated to the brave and the chivalrous. Most of the Harry Potter protagonists – namely Harry, Hermione, Ron, Neville, and Dumbledore himself – hail from this house, so it’s no surprise that it’s mostly associated as the “good” house. House Gryffindor is recognized by their sigil, a lion over a red and gold background. Because of their colors, Gryffindors are associated with the element of fire, which is fitting given their tendencies to be willful and temperamental like fire.
Their common room is the Gryffindor Tower, the entrance of which is on the 7th floor. The entrance is guarded by a portrait of the Fat Lady, who does not allow students to enter unless they say the password. Their house ghost is Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, more commonly known as Nearly Headless Nick.
Notable members include:
- Harry Potter
- Ron Weasley
- Hermione Granger
- Albus Dumbledore
- Sirius Black
Gryffindor House Symbol
House Gryffindor’s symbol is a lion with red and gold tones. Lions are the king of animals known for their power, aggressiveness, strength, and courage. Lions are often associated with traits like bravery, leadership, courage, and impulsiveness – traits that Godric Gryffindor wanted in his students. Gryffindor believed Hogwarts should teach witches and wizards that were brave and courageous, hence why students from Gryffindor exemplify said trait the most.
To quote the Sorting Hat:
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve, and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart;
Gryffindors are most known for their bravery, which is the main quality Gryffindor treasured above all. Bravery means standing up for one’s beliefs regardless of the odds. Gryffindor students are daring, seeking glory for the sake of glory and not the rewards they expect to receive from their actions. Most Gryffindors are athletic, and while this gives them the prejudice of being more brawny than brainy, this isn’t true if you look at Gryffindors like Hermione Granger.
Most Gryffindors have a good moral compass, which means that they may sometimes choose to do what’s morally right rather than what is lawfully right. This means that Gryffindors can still get in trouble if their beliefs clash with the law.
Unfortunately, Gryffindor students’ tendencies towards bravery and chivalry can sometimes be their flaw or the reason for their excessive reactions. While most of the Gryffindor protagonists are generally good, you have students like Peter Pettigrew (who are only brave when in the company of fellow brave people) and Percy Weasley (who focuses more in his self-interests).
This bravery and belief that they are always in the right gives them a high opinion of themselves, making them arrogant, self-righteous, and breaking the rules so often that they believe they are above the law. In James Potters’ youth, he believed he had the right to bully Severus Snape because others laughed and egged him on, even if he most likely knew deep inside that what he was doing was wrong.
Some Gryffindors’ recklessness drives them to take unnecessary risks, even at the expense of others. They also have the negative view that if someone is rude or mean to them, it gives them just cause to do the same. And with their self-righteous beliefs, they think that if someone deserves to be treated badly, they will do so.
Or perhaps in Slytherin
You’ll make your real friends,
Those cunning folks use any means
To achieve their ends.
House Slytherin gets a bad rep due to its students, Salazar Slytherin’s history, and the fact that Voldemort and most of his Death Eaters hail from the same house, but not all Slytherins are evil. While most of the Harry Potter antagonists are from Slytherin (Voldemort, Bellatrix, Draco Malfoy) there are still some Slytherins (Slughorn and (arguably) Severus Snape) who do not fit the evil mold. Ultimately, House Slytherin is mostly understood.
Unlike Gryffindors that are loud and unyielding, Slytherins are calmer and more adept. Because while Gryffindors try to change their situations to their favor, Slytherins are more flexible and try to make the best of the situation they’re in.
Slytherin students are represented by a serpent, since Salazar Slytherin and his family were Parselmouths who could talk to snakes. Their colors are green and silver, which matches both the color of snakes and the color aesthetic of living in the dungeons with a window revealing the bottom of Hogwarts’ lake. Just like the way Slytherins polarize with Gryffindors, their element, water, is also the polar opposite. Like water, Slytherins are fluid and adaptable, going with the flow and offering little resistance to what is seen as the easier path.
When Harry and Ron break into the Slytherin common room in the dungeons in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry describes the common room negatively. But Harry, a Gryffindor through and through, might have misunderstood what was considered homey and beautiful to true Slytherins. After all, one fan theory about the Slytherin common room argues that parents of pureblood children would have never allowed their children to live in cold and dreary conditions Harry described. But since none of the Slytherins were reported to complain (and Draco doesn’t mention it once to Harry and Ron in disguise), it can be inferred that Harry doesn’t see the beauty of the Slytherin common room that other Slytherins can. And if you read in between the lines of Harry’s own experience, you can tell that the Slytherin common room uses Gothic architecture. A small detail, but one that shows how easy it is for Slytherins to be misunderstood.
The Slytherin ghost is the Bloody Baron, the scariest and most menacing of all the Hogwarts ghosts and the only one that can tame the resident poltergeist, Peeves. While his real name is unknown, he was later revealed in the series to be a suitor of Rowena Ravenclaw’s daughter, Helena. When he was tasked to bring Rowena’s runaway daughter home and she refused him, the Bloody Baron killed her in anger before killing himself out of guilt.
While Salazar Slytherin preferred cunning students who come from pureblood families, over the years, the Sorting Hat would send half-blood students like Severus Snape, Dolores Umbridge, and Tom Riddle to Slytherin because they had strong traits that Slytherin would have liked. Slytherin’s house has produced the most number of dark wizards and has the highest number of purebloods, which is why they get a negative reputation for being a breeding ground for dark witches and wizards.
Slytherin House Symbol
House Slytherin’s symbol would definitely be a serpent due to Salazar Slytherin’s Parselmouth ability, a trait unique to him and his descendants. While a snake can be a symbol of defiance, cleverness, and carefulness, because of biblical connotations, snakes get a bad rap for being evil and sly. In the Bible, the devil is portrayed as a snake, so it’s no surprise that one look at Slytherin’s symbol and you might immediately think negatively of the house.
While it’s true that there are plenty of snakes that are venomous, you have to remember that a snake will not attack unless provoked, such as when presented with a serious threat. After all, a lion can be deadly and take down any animal beneath it in the food chain, but no one blinks an eye. But when a snake takes down an animal twice its size, people are quick to call a snake deadly and avoid it at all costs.
Notable members include:
- Tom Riddle
- Severus Snape
- Draco Malfoy
- Horace Slughorn
- Bellatrix Lestrange
Like their symbol, Slytherin students have the cunning, patience, and ability to analyze a situation and see how they can make the best out of it. As much as possible, a Slytherin will want to maximize their gain while making the least amount of losses. While a Slytherin will often look out for themselves, they can put their self-preservation aside for those they care about. Narcissa Malfoy is a good example of this. While she supports the idea of blood purity and Voldemort’s cause in the war, she abandoned his side to protect her family, especially her son.
While a lot of Slytherin students’ traits are put into a bad light, when given the right opportunity, these traits can prove to be helpful even for a person with good intentions. Salazar Slytherin valued cunning and ambition as his traits. Cunning allows Slytherins to think outside the box to find different ways to achieve their means without having to get into trouble. And ambition – the drive to improve one’s position in life – is not necessarily a bad thing to want.
Slytherins are also known to be resourceful. While Gryffindors can use force and strength to gain the upper hand, a Slytherin knows how to use what they have to get the best possible result. Sometimes, this may include using ways not a lot of people notice (such as the way Draco successfully snuck Death Eaters into Hogwarts) or expanding one’s network of people (such as Horace Slughorn giving special treatment to students that he believes will provide him with perks in the future).
On the other hand, however, the Slytherins’ negative reputation is based on some truths. It is true that a lot of Slytherins are, if not Death Eaters, purebloods obsessed with blood purity. While there’s nothing illegal with choosing to mingle with fellow pureblood wizards and witches and looking down on those with lower blood purity, it is morally questionable. In fact, while not all Slytherins are Death Eaters, the fact that a lot of them share blood purity ideals is what helped Voldemort rise to power in the first place. Technically speaking, Dolores Umbridge isn’t a Death Eater, but her lawfully evil ways sought to imprison and eradicate Muggle-born magical people.
Most Slytherins also have high senses of self-preservation. While some can be noble enough to set it aside for people they love, there are those who will always choose to save themselves over others even for those they love or feel affection for. While Horace Slughorn is one of the best examples we see of a Slytherin who doesn’t fit the mold of an evil Slytherin, he chose to save himself and live on the run rather than side with either the Death Eaters or the Order of the Phoenix.
Dubbed as the good house even by J.K. Rowling herself, Hufflepuffs are often underestimated the same way Slytherins are misunderstood. When we’re introduced to the four houses, the Sorting Hat says this about House Hufflepuff:
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;
Some interpretations on the four Hogwarts founders believe that Helga Hufflepuff took on students that weren’t brave enough for Gryffindor, ambitious enough for Slytherin, or smart enough for Ravenclaw. But if you read deeper into what it means to be a Hufflepuff, you realize that a Hufflepuff can be brave, ambitious, smart, or a combination of the three, except a Hufflepuff will value loyalty and hard work over any of the other traits.
Outside of Gryffindor, a lot of Harry’s friends also come from Hufflepuff. Their element is earth, which requires toiling before anyone can reap the fruits of their labor. This is fitting, considering that their house mascot is the badger.
The Hufflepuff common room is next to the kitchens. Unlike the Slytherins whose underground common room has a view of the lake, the feeling of entering the Hufflepuff common room is like truly living underground similar to the way badgers do. The Hufflepuff ghost is the Fat Friar.
Notable members include:
- Cedric Diggory
- Newton Scamander
- Nymphadora Tonks
- Pomona Sprout
- Ernie Macmillan
Hufflepuff House Symbol
Hufflepuff’s symbol is the badger and its colors are yellow and black. Often underestimated and seen as the underdog due to their humility and size, don’t let that fool you. Like badgers, Hufflepuffs can take on threats much larger than them during times of peril.
To survive, badgers must burrow their homes deep underground. This requires hard work and the willingness to get dirty to get the job done. It’s in badgers’ nature to be protective of family, and can be fiercely dangerous when unwanted intruders enter their home or threaten their own, and can cause significant damage when provoked.
The fact that a badger perfectly reflects the house’s students says a lot about what kind of students Helga Hufflepuff wanted in her house. Hufflepuffs can have the high intelligence of Ravenclaw, the bravery of Gryffindor, and the cunning of Slytherin, but they prefer a quiet and peaceful life on their own or with those they love.
Hufflepuffs are humble people. You rarely hear of a Hufflepuff bragging about their accomplishments as they are modest about them; to a Hufflepuff, a good job done is its own reward. They are benevolent, which means they do what they think is right not because they want glory or recognition (as Gryffindors do) or for selfish reasons (as Slytherins do), but simply because it is the morally right thing to do.
Hufflepuffs appreciate hard work. While Slytherins and Gryffindors can resort to cheating, bending the rules, or finding loopholes in their favor, Hufflepuffs choose to do things the right way even if it means hard work.
However, their traits also come with a negative side. They aren’t very competitive, which can hurt them in scenarios where they will really have to compete. While there’s points in being dedicated and hard working, Hufflepuffs work hard, but they don’t work well – this means more efficient ways of getting the job done sometimes go over their heads. And when Hufflepuffs always choose to take the slow route, they end up falling behind.
Oddly enough, for a house called “Ravenclaw,” its symbol and attributes are more associated with eagles rather than ravens. The last of the houses in this list, Ravenclaw is home to the wise and intelligent students who can think outside the box. As the Sorting Hat says:
Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
if you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;
Like Gryffindors, the Ravenclaw common room is in a tower. But unlike all the other houses, there is no one password Ravenclaw students can memorize because their password is solving a riddle.
Their ghost is the Grey Lady, later revealed to be Helena Ravenclaw, the daughter of Rowena Ravenclaw. She and the Slytherin ghost, the Bloody Baron, are connected through history. She also plays a small but significant role in the Harry Potter series. Having stole and hidden her mother’s diadem before her death, a student named Tom Riddle (who would later go on to be known as Lord Voldemort) would convince her to tell him of its location. This would become a horcrux he would hide within Hogwarts, which Harry later finds and destroys.
Like the eagle that soars up into the sky, the Ravenclaws’ element is air. While some interpret this as Ravenclaws being haughty and having their heads in the clouds, this also means that Ravenclaws can soar into new heights because wisdom can take a person places.
Notable members include:
- Luna Lovegood
- Cho Chang
- Quirinus Quirrell
- Filius Flitwick
- Sybill Trelawney
Ravenclaw House Symbol
Ravenclaw’s colors are the majestic blue and bronze combination and the house’s symbol is the eagle. The eagle is known as the king of birds which signify magnificence, power, and nobility. It also signifies wisdom, ideas, and ingenuity.
Ravenclaws are best known for their intelligence not just in a traditional academic sense, but in one’s ability to think outside the box. One of the best examples of Ravenclaws in the series is Harry’s friend Luna Lovegood, a girl that others ridicule as being weird and believing in creatures that most do not believe exists, but really is a very observant girl who keeps an open mind on every possibility.
Because their intelligence expands beyond the traditional definition, it’s possible for Ravenclaws to be very creative and unpredictable. Fillius Flitwick, the Head of House of Ravenclaw, is shown to be very skilled in charms. And while someone like Hermione who believes in textbook academics will roll her eyes at subjects like Divination, Ravenclaws like Professor Trelawney has proven that seeing the future can be a real thing.
Their intelligence and thirst for knowledge provides them with a wide pool of information, so while Gryffindors, Slytherins, and Hufflepuffs have a disadvantage of not knowing a lot of facts, Ravenclaws work in such a way that they use their vast knowledge as one of their resources for getting help. And because one’s intelligence is their own, they rarely need others to teach them and require little help to get things done efficiently.
While intelligence is a good thing, however, intelligence without traits like morals, kindness, and concern can be a bad thing. In the Harry Potter series, you’ll notice that Ravenclaws rarely go out of their way to befriend people outside of their house. This might be because they find it easier to learn with themselves or other fellow Ravenclaws.
Because of their intelligence, some Ravenclaws tend to be arrogant or condescending about those who do aren’t as smart as they are. And intelligence without morals and a high amount of arrogance can be even more dangerous. Gilderoy Lockhart was a Ravenclaw, and while he wasn’t brave enough to go on adventures, he was skilled enough in memory charms to steal stories of adventures from other people and pass them off as his own for the fame and money.
If you notice that some positive or negative traits tend to overlap with each house, that’s because not all house traits are exclusive to one house. While it’s not confirmed, a lot of fans like myself believe that students aren’t sorted by what traits they have (because it would be very two-dimensional to think that people can be sorted by only having exclusive traits), but by the traits they value the most.
And while certain houses have certain traits, it’s never a good idea to judge a person based on their Harry Potter Hogwarts houses because their traits are much more complex than just saying someone is smart or someone is hardworking. But it just goes to show how much thought was put into the book if something like the school’s house system is an entirely long and complex system on its own.