Every child starting his or her first year at Hogwarts gets sorted into one of the four Houses. This sorting is supposedly based on the virtues that define the student: bravery, daring, nerve and chivalry for Gryffindor; hard work, patience, loyalty and fair play for Hufflepuff; intelligence, knowledge and wit for Ravenclaw; and ambition, cunning and resourcefulness for Slytherin.
But realistically, we all know that sorting 11-year-olds based on those criteria would never work. Most 11-year-olds have never had the chance to show a lot of bravery or cunning (at least, one hopes not). And what if the student is ambitious and intelligent? Or brave and hard working? These qualities are hardly mutually exclusive. Even in the books, Harry’s sorting could have gone either way – Gryffindor or Slytherin. The hat only chose him for Gryffindor because he asked it to. And wouldn’t Hermione be a better fit for Ravenclaw than Gryffindor?
I don’t think Sorting works the way it was initially explained in The Philosopher’s Stone – i.e., “the Sorting Hat puts you in the house that seems to suit your personality best.” Again and again throughout the series, Dumbledore reminds us that “it is our choices, far more than our abilities, that show who we truly are.” I have a theory, and this theory states that ALL new Hogwarts students choose their houses. The Sorting Hat’s only purpose is to find out where they truly want to be. No one ever ends up in a house they didn’t prefer.
So what house you belong to isn’t based on who you already are, but who you want to become. That’s why families often stay in the same House for generations. Harry picked Gryffindor because he wanted to be brave and strong like his father. Sirius picked Gryffindor because he didn’t want to be like his family. People who grow up to be Death Eaters tend to pick Slytherin because they want to become powerful and feared someday. Some people grow up to be the person they wanted to be, like Harry, Hermione and Ron. Others, like Peter Pettigrew (can you believe that guy was a Gryffindor?), don’t. Snape is a more positive example.
And this is why I can confidently say I am a Ravenclaw. Because even if I’m not as intelligent and wise as I’d like to think I am, or as utterly awesome as Luna Lovegood, that’s who I would like to someday become.