Or: Why Does Slytherin Still Exist?
I finished reading the Harry Potter novels at the age of thirty.
I read the first four books as they were released, starting the first one when I was twelve. By the time the fifth one (The Order of the Phoenix) was released, I had lost interest and started to feel as if I was no longer in the target audience of the books. I imagined that I had outgrown them, that Harry and I were no longer as close-in-age as we had been when they first began. Kurt Vonnegut and Chuck Palahniuk made more sense to me, as a high-schooler who thought he was too good for Harry Potter.
The thing is, I always knew I would eventually return to Harry Potter. For my teenage years and the entirety of my twenties, I intentionally avoided all Harry Potter spoilers.
Or, at least, I tried to. Many spoilers did slip through.
The list of spoilers I encountered before I finally returned to the fifth book included:
- Dumbledore dies.
- Dobby dies.
- Snape is a good guy who redeems himself in some major gesture at the end
- Ron and Hermione get married; so do Harry and Ron’s sister Ginny
- Harry lives.
- Voldemort dies
- The Malfoys weren’t that bad and Draco, in particular, redeems himself
While knowing these sweeping themes, I knew none of the details. I wondered what, exactly, will Snape do to save the day? How will Malfoy redeem himself? How will Voldemort die? How will Harry live? Is it true that all the children end up growing old and marrying each other?
Then I finished reading the Harry Potter books
During the summer of 2016, I read the last three books in the series. After finishing the seventh book, I was left with a series of questions. Many questions. Baffling questions.
- What’s up with Hagrid’s parentage?
- Why did Sirius Black die in such a lackluster way?
- Was there sexual tension in the tent when Harry and Hermione lived there for months?
- There was sexual tension between Sirius and Lupin, right?
- Did Lupin start that new relationship out of mourning Sirius’s death?
- Why are all the character names so on-the-nose?
- Why do readers talk about Malfoy and Snape as if they redeemed themselves when, at no point that I noticed in the books, is there any redemptive act performed by either of them?
But above all, two questions lingered. Questions that I could not let go:
- How do the finances and admissions process for Hogwarts work?
- Why does the Slytherin House still exist at Hogwarts?
One of these has a relatively simple answer. The other one becomes a lot more complicated the more you think about it.
How do the finances and admissions work?
Frankly, I can’t find anything on the internet to explain how the admissions works. It appears it’s based solely on nepotism and that there are no genuine competitors to Hogwarts in Great Britain. So, that answers that.
Finances is an even simpler answer: it’s all free. Somehow.
Rowling has apparently emphasized this repeatedly. And while I think her internet presence can be rather wild, I will take this at face value and believe that Hogwarts is free. (Update: her internet presence has become completely unhinged and toxic in the years since I first wrote this, as she seems to be an unhinged, toxic person. Anyway, back to the fan theory.)
So yeah, back to Hogwarts: apparently a wizarding education at a premise private school in the northern reaches of the United Kingdom—which apparently would cost around $300,000, all told—is entirely expensed by the school, with small exceptions like robes, owls, wands and broomsticks.
It’s also important to note that the finances of Hogwarts are apparently entirely managed by the Ministry of Magic, if that’s how tuition is covered.
We will return to this momentarily. But first:
Why Does the Slytherin House Still Exist?
This is the other question that troubled me. It hadn’t troubled me as I read the first four books, but upon reading the fifth, I found myself increasingly confused by the presence of this house.
Early on, my understanding had been that Slytherins value cunning and power and intelligence. Because of these character traits and value sets, they have a higher likelihood of “going bad”.
In the first book, Hagrid tells Harry that: “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.” (In the film, it’s Ron who whispers this detail after an encounter with Draco Malfoy.)
Then I returned to Harry Potter as an adult. An adult who thought he knew, mostly, how the books end and who thought he knew and remembered what motivated the characters.
The division of the Hogwarts Houses
My impression was, loosely, that the houses were divided like this:
- Gryffindor: courage and simplicity
- Ravenclaw: intellectual pursuits
- Slytherin: ambition, power, and cunning
- Hufflepuff: the leftovers
But now, jumping back in, it seemed that the house ideals and the narrative were either entirely different than how I remembered them. Slytherin’s ideals were not what I recalled. They didn’t value cunning and sharp tongues and leadership.
No, the Slytherins I was reading about upon returning to Harry Potter as an adult valued something else, above all: bloodlines.
Here’s the Sorting Hat in the fifth book:
Said Slytherin, ‘We’ll teach just those
Whose ancestry is purest.’
I got to this part and couldn’t understand it. What had happened to the Slytherin house I thought I knew? Had I imagined that they had some set of moral code beyond being, well, Wizard Aryans?
But the Sorting Hat wasn’t done. It turned out that wasn’t a slip of the Hat’s tongue but a defining characteristic:
Took only pure-blood wizards
Of great cunning, just like him…
Okay, so now we have the lines “ancestry is purest” and “pure-blood wizards…” Yikes. Is that it?
Nope. According to Mr. Hat, everything fell apart, largely because of Slytherin’s ideologies.
And for a while it seemed the school
Must meet an early end,
What with duelling and with fighting
And the clash of friend on friend
And at last there came a morning
When old Slytherin departed
And though the fighting then died out
He left us quite downhearted.
And never since the founders four
Were whittled down to three
Have the houses been united
As they once were meant to be.
Soooo… it turns out that, over a thousand years ago, Hogwarts nearly collapsed shortly after its founding because one of its own founders was too obsessed with bloodlines and ancestry.
This is almost certainly not a shock to you as I’m assuming that, if you’re reading this, then you’ve read the Harry Potter books.
But what the hell? Was this Rowling retconning? Or did I completely misremember the entire Hogwarts vibe? I knew that Slytherins went bad, but I thought the whole bloodlines thing was the result of them going bad.
I went back and re-read the Hat’s opening speech in the first book. Here’s how it described the bad house:
And power-hungry Slytherin
Loved those of great ambition.
So, what happened? Was the Sorting Hat getting more honest with age or is it slipping into some kind of revisionist history?
As I read the fifth, sixth, and seventh books, it appeared that, yes, what the Sorting Hat said at the beginning of The Order of the Phoenix was true. The Slytherin house cared more about bloodlines and purity than it did about hunger and determination.
This didn’t seem like just a new piece of information. It struck me as two entirely different sets of ideals. If one is ambitious and driven, is that not often the direct opposite of being protective of status and lineage?
So what the hell happened?
People Love Debating Whether or Not Slytherins Are Racist
Turns out I’m not the first person to wander into this and try to figure it out. I started googling things like “slytherin nazis” and “why does the slytherin house exist” and “are slytherins evil” and “did the tolerance of slytherins normalize racism and allow for the ascent of the alt right”.
My googling revealed to me that is some well-trod territory. So well-trod, in fact, that I didn’t know what I could possibly add to it.
I found various good articles, like:
- The Harry Potter Series Makes a Mess of Its Commentary on Racism
- Argument: Actually, Slytherins are good
- J.K. ROWLING CLARIFIES: RACISM IS FOR SLYTHERINS
So I won’t add to it. I won’t jump into that wing of the debate. What I will say is that, whether a direct parallel should be made in terms of Slytherins = Nazis or Slytherins = Racists, there’s no doubt that Slytherins = Danger.
Whether or not you think the basic tenets of Slytherin are the equivalent of racism, there’s little doubt that Slytherins are a major liability for Hogwarts. Having Slytherins around results in trouble, chaos, rebellion, and death. Their untrustworthy, self-serving, and believe themselves to be genetically superior to the rest of the student body and alumni. (Also, it’s really hard to give the “they’re not racist” argument any credit when they keep mentioning bloodlines, but whatever.)
The question remains unanswered:
- If Slytherins have a high rate of “going bad”, AND
- Everyone who followed Voldemort during the First Wizarding War was, without exception, a Slytherin, AND
- Slytherin himself quit Hogwarts a thousand years ago because he was too obsessed with bloodlines, AND
- Their entire ethos rests on the concept of pure bloodlines, which seems antithetical to every other aspect of Hogwarts and hateful to a major element of Hogwarts’ student body, AND
- There are many students whose lives are literally in danger because of this anti-Muggle violent sentiment housed within one fourth of the school…
Why does the Slytherin House still exist? Why does the wise, benevolent, Albus Dumbledore, of all people, tolerate their blood-fueled antics? Particularly after the First Wizarding War—which lasted eleven years and resulted in a bunch of murdered and imprisoned wizards, including the Potters and the Longbottoms and various other parents of active or future students—why did they deem it a good idea to keep the Slytherins around?
The answer is simple: the money.
He needs their money.
Hogwarts is Only Free Because Rich Slytherins Fund It
Why is Dumbledore really so tolerant of Snape? Why are the Malfoys forgiven after the Battle of Hogwarts? Why does that Slughorn blowhard steamroll his way into the sixth book and have his bullshit Slytherin-only mixers?
More importantly, why does Hogwarts continue to allow former Death Eaters to continue sending their children to Hogwarts? Why is Dumbledore cool with this? He just shrugs and says “well, Crabbe and Goyle and Malfoy did try to kill everyone within the last decade but sure, yeah, send their children here! I believe in redemption!”
It’s not because Dumbledore is a wise, compassionate man who understands nuance and sees the good in all people. I also don’t think it’s because of his undying belief in redemption for all wizards. It’s because Dumbledore doesn’t know how else to keep teaching and feeding all these damn wizard children.
We know that Hogwarts is free, but where is all this money coming from? From the Slytherins, of course. The old-money aristocrats of the wizarding world, keeping the lights on and the wands aflutter.
There’s no explanation anywhere else of how the lights are kept on other than “the Ministry of Magic funds it”. Uh, ok, but who funds the Ministry? What exorbitant amounts of tithing is going to this non-governmental agency that is then being turned around and funneled to that moneypit wizard school? The books (and Rowling’s tweets) offer no genuine explanation of how this education is delivered, of how this castle stays afloat.
And there’s no reason that the violent, hateful Slytherin House should be allowed to exist… other than to keep Hogwarts out of the red.
Which brings me to the real kicker. The second layer of this fan theory:
Draco Malfoy Hates Ron Weasley Because He’s Sick of Subsidizing Ron’s Education
Think about it. The Malfoys have money AND they use birth control. Lucius and Narcissa (yikes, these on-the-nose names), have a meaningful fortune and a single child. The Weasleys, meanwhile, have seven children and live in a ramshackle house with one income.
Both families know that their children will be admitted to their alma mater, where they’ll learn the wizarding ways and go on to great successes. The difference is that the Malfoys are being wined-and-dined by Dumbledore and Slughorn and the rest of the Major Gifts Department while the Weasleys skate on in, clothed in hand-me-down robes.
This isn’t to say Malfoy is right to hate Weasley. No, Malfoy is a Sorcerer Nazi or something. He’s a bad guy. While Ron is a good guy.
But it does make a lot more sense when one realizes why he’s so obsessed with who is worth knowing and who isn’t: he knows they’re all there for free, but that free means different things to different wizarding families. There’s never a Christmas season during which the Malfoy family is able to dodge the annual fundraising campaigns. Never an alumni networking event that Lucius is able to weasel his way out of, while never a golf tourney that Weasley pulls his weight at.
So there you have it:
The Slytherin House only exists because its alumni keep Hogwarts out of financial ruin, which in turn allows the tuition to be free, which in turn makes Draco Malfoy resent Ron Weasley.
I don’t expect Rowling to clear this one up and, even if she does, I’ll be happy to invoke Death of the Author to invalidate anything she may say on the subject.
Enjoy this read? Check out more Fan Theories by D. F. Lovett or buy the bestselling Top 10 Games You Can Play In Your Head, By Yourself.
I think Hogwarts made their money by receiving subsidies from the shops that sold all the paraphernalia used by the kids at school. The teachers obviously sold their research and mandrake roots on the side. Ticket sales for sporting events were probably not cheap. Any dragons that died could be used for a couple of tons of potion making material sold on the dark web.
You know, this makes sense to me. It’s also not too different than college sports in the United States – unpaid students serve as the commodity while the school profits.