Saturday, February 26, 2011

Harry Potter: Our Choices

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry is struggling with doubts about whether he has been placed into the correct House at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

This warrants an explanation of the Hogwarts Houses. Each Hogwarts student is a member of one of four Houses: Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. The House becomes something like the student's family while the student is at Hogwarts. Each House has its own common room and dormitories, and the Houses compete throughout the school year for the honor of winning the annual House Cup. Upon arrival at Hogwarts for the first time, students are sorted into their Houses by the Sorting Hat: each student places the Sorting Hat, a large floppy pointed hat, upon his or her head, and waits for the hat to call out the name of the appropriate House.

Each House is associated with a particular character quality: Hufflepuff with loyalty, Gryffindor with courage, Ravenclaw with thinking, and Slytherin with craftiness. Unfortunately, Slytherin has seemed to attract witches and wizards who have gone over to the dark side and become evil.

Harry does not want to be placed in Slytherin. When he places the Sorting Hat on his head upon arrival at Hogwarts for his first year, the Sorting Hat whispers that Harry would do well in Slytherin, but Harry keeps murmuring, "Not Slytherin, not Slytherin," and the Sorting Hat then places him in Gryffindor.

Harry has lingering doubts, however, that perhaps he should have been placed in Slytherin after all. His doubts are increased in his second year at Hogwarts when he learns that he is a Parselmouth, that is, a person who can speak Parsletongue, the language of snakes. This is an extremely unusual ability, most often associated with dark wizards.

Harry eventually expresses his doubts to the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Professor Dumbledore. Professor Dumbledore explains to Harry that, when Harry survived a fierce attack by the powerful evil wizard Voldemort at age one, an attack in which Harry's parents died, some of Voldemort's powers had been transferred to Harry, including the ability to communicate in snake language.

Professor Dumbledore further explains that this does not make Harry an evil wizard. I quote the conversation between Harry and Professor Dumbledore, from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, pages 332-333, below.

"You can speak Parseltongue, Harry," said Dumbledore calmly, "because Lord Voldemort - who is the remaining ancestor of Salazar Slytherin - can speak Parseltongue. Unless I'm much mistaken, he transferred some of his own powers to you the night he gave you that scar. Not something he intended to do, I'm sure."

"Voldemort put a bit of himself in me?" Harry said, thunderstruck.

"It certainly seems so."

"So I should be in Slytherin," Harry said, looking desperately into Dumbledore's face. "The Sorting Hat could see Slytherin's power in me, and it -"

"Put you in Gryffindor," said Dumbledore calmly. "Listen to me, Harry. You happen to have many qualities Slaazar Slytherin prized in his hand-picked students. His own very rare gift, Parseltongue - resourcefulness - determination - a certain disregard for rules," he added, his mustache quivering again. "Yet the Sorting Hat placed you in Gryffindor. You know why that was. Think."

"It only put me in Gryffindor," said Harry in a defeated voice, "because I asked not to go in Slytherin. . . ."

"Exactly," said Dumbledore, beaming once more. "Which makes you very different from Tom Riddle [the Hogwarts student who became Lord Voldemort]. It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

That final sentence is very important: It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

What makes a person evil? Choosing to do evil again and again over a period of time.

What makes a person good? Choosing to do good again and again over a period of time.

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