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"The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats in the Great Hall, you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony because, while you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts."
—The importance of the Sorting Ceremony[src]

The Sorting ceremony was a yearly ritual performed at the beginning of each school year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Sorting was held in the Great Hall, before the start of term feast, after students had arrived at school, often via the Hogwarts Express.[2]

The ceremony's purpose was to assign first years to one of the four school Houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin. It was done through the use of the famous Hogwarts Sorting Hat. The Sorting Hat's decision was final.

Background

In the early years of Hogwarts, prospective students were chosen or assigned personally by the four founders themselves. However, they realised that they would have to find an alternative once they had died and so Godric Gryffindor came up with the idea of the Sorting Hat, which he and the other three enchanted with their combined prowess to review and assign future generations long after they were dead, and thus the Sorting ceremony was born.[3]

Ceremony description

"The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes in front of the rest of the school."
—Description of the Ceremony[src]

The Sorting Hat was placed upon a stool at the head of the Great Hall, whereupon it sung a song of its own composition about the four founders of Hogwarts and the qualities sought by their respective Houses (this song was different every year). The Sorting Hat also could also give warnings to the students whenever it detected a need, likely based on information learned in the the headmaster's office, where it was kept for the remainder of the year. New students were then summoned to the stool one by one in alphabetical order by last name, where they were sat upon the stool and the Hat placed on their head. While the Hat was on the student’s head a sort of back-and-forth conversation may have went on in their minds.

Decision of the Hat

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Harry Potter being sorted into Gryffindor in 1991

The decision of the Sorting Hat was generally considered to be final, although its decision can be influenced somewhat by the desires of the wearer. However, there are only two people who definitely know this. When Harry Potter was being sorted in his First year the hat told him he would do well in Slytherin, but Harry asked to be placed elsewhere. Harry later told his son Albus Potter about the hat's ability to take the wearer's request into consideration.[4][5]

It is possible that Sirius Black also asked to be placed in Gryffindor, since he decided to break the tradition of his family being in Slytherin after consulting James Potter. It is also possible that Hermione Granger asked to be placed in Gryffindor. She stated that before deciding on Gryffindor, the Sorting Hat seriously considered putting her in Ravenclaw.[6] It is known that Hermione particularly wanted to be in Gryffindor (though she wouldn't have minded Ravenclaw).

Very rarely a “Hatstall” occurs in which the Sorting Hat takes a long time to decide where to place a student. Only two true Hatstalls were known to Harry Potter. Minerva McGonagall (between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor), and once with Peter Pettigrew (between Gryffindor and Slytherin).[7]

Sorting Hat's song

The Sorting Hat's introductory song changed every year, presumably because, according to Ron Weasley, the Hat had nothing to do between Sortings except compose a new song.

Behind the scenes

Waitingstudents

McGonagall waiting students to lead them to the Great Hall

  • In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the students aren't sorted in alphabetical order for dramatic effect. The hat's song is also omitted.
  • When Harry was watching Snape's memories in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, he sees his father quote a part of the song the hat sang the year Harry was Sorted, although its songs supposedly change every year. However, it is possible that it sometimes reuses songs or, at the very least, some lines or verses.
  • In the film, Harry speaks aloud his desire to be a Gryffindor rather than a Slytherin, and presumably everyone hears him. This is contrary to the novel, in which Harry finds he does not need to speak because the Hat can hear his deepest thoughts and desires. This is probably for the ease of the movie-watchers. It is also very likely that Harry was just whispering and we as movie viewers can hear him louder than he actually is. Also in the film, the Sorting Hat announces all of its deliberations to the entire hall, while in the novel, only the wearer can hear the deliberations and the Hat only announces the chosen House publicly.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, during the Sorting of Lily Evans, for an unknown reason the Headmaster's chair is empty at the staff table.
  • The secrecy of the nature of the Sorting is uncertain. In Philosopher's Stone, the ceremony appears to be an entirely secretive affair to new first-years, as neither Ron, who had five older brothers attend Hogwarts before him, nor Hermione, who had read the entirety of Hogwarts: A History, knew what the ceremony was like. In contrast, Harry openly mentions the Sorting Hat to his son Albus in Deathly Hallows, who appeared to have prior knowledge of it.
  • Harry only attended three Sorting ceremonies, including his own, during his time at Hogwarts, due to a combination of circumstances. In his second year, he and Ron were being interrogated after flying the car to Hogwarts. In his third year, he and Hermione were talking to Professor McGonagall about Harry's Dementor attack and Hermione's timetable, respectively. In his sixth year, he was attacked by Draco Malfoy on the train and arrived at the school late, and he, Ron and Hermione did not return to Hogwarts for what would have been their seventh year.
  • Naturally the Deputy Head would read aloud the names during the Sorting, however in the 1993-1994 school year, Professor Flitwick presumably read aloud the names due to Professor McGonagall's absence.
  • The sorting hat didn’t appear in J. K. Rowling’s early plans for Hogwarts.[3]

Appearances

Notes and references

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