Our theme for the month of September is Alphabet Soup. Each writer was assigned a letter and will title their post “___ is for ___.”
Those cunning folk use any means to achieve their ends.
Yesterday, I dragged myself begrudgingly out of bed and went to the dog park because I couldn’t be bothered to take Juno on a walk. I finally got around to buying plane tickets for two trips that are happening in less than a month. I arrived at work at noon and tried my best to look busy until 2:30 when I got a call from a defendant cancelling his appointment with me. At three, two hours before I had intended, I packed up and left. When I got home, I took a nap until five. Then I ordered a pizza. Then I played Dungeons and Dragons.
Power-hungry Slytherin loved those of great ambition.
There hasn’t been a plan I’ve made that I haven’t secretly wished would fall through. I literally adopted a dog to convince myself to wake up on time. My kitchen sink has been nearly unusable for two days and, aside from playing with some Drano, I haven’t done much to fix it. My greatest achievement in the past week has been getting my deck of Magic Cards into protective sleeves.
My niece was in a Harry-Potter-themed classroom last year and at some point was sorted into Gryffindor. After that, she came to me and asked, in much the same way as I imagine children ask their parents how babies are made, “How did you get sorted into Slytherin?” My answer at the time was something like, “Because even things you don’t like can surprise you,” and I felt like a good aunt. But the answer, I hope, is more complicated.
In the fall of 2011, I feverishly refreshed my browser as I waited for an email welcoming me to Pottermore, the at-the-time invite-only exclusive fansite for a continued Harry Potter experience. I had told myself I would be happy to be sorted into Ravenclaw, would settle for Hufflepuff, and would probably cry if I got Gryffindor, because that felt so Basic. I’m not sure I even had a contingency plan for Slytherin, so when the little hat on the screen showed me that big green snake and welcomed me to my new House, I had to take a breather for a few days.
Eventually, I embraced my new Hogwarts Home in the way that only supernerds can. I loved defying people’s expectations, being the mysterious bad girl, reminding everyone who would listen that Merlin was a Slytherin (and, obviously, taking all of this very seriously).
Most of the time, I don’t think about my sorting. But every once in a while, when waking up from a stupidly long nap in the middle of a weekday, I wonder at it a bit. How was I sorted into the same house as a man who believed he had so much left to accomplish in his life that he killed innumerable people to give himself immortality? How was I sorted into the same house as a man who collected famous students like vintage postage stamps? How was I not sorted into the same house as the kid who accidentally blasted away his own eyebrows, or the girl who tattled on her friends because she felt compelled to obey authority?
I love turning the ordinary into The Sacred, so it comes naturally to me to look at the opaque algorithm of Pottermore.com’s sorting ritual as something divinely inspired. So I sit with words like “ambition” and “pure blood” and “real friends” and roll them over like clay in my hands, imagining ways they could apply to me, a social worker fighting burnout and mild anemia.
Ambition requires imagination, but it is not satisfied with daydreams. Maybe the obnoxious habit I have of trying to solve problems instead of just listening to them counts as ambition. Maybe my tendency to tear down and rebuild inefficient systems of organization, for instance with The Great Google Calendar Restructuring of 2018, is as ambitious as it is neurotic. Maybe the See-A-Need-Fill-A-Need mentality that has worn me out so early in my life has its foundations in an inability to sit still rather than a masochistic desire to exhaust my body and mind.
You know who else was a Slytherin and a pureblood? Andromeda Tonks, cousin to Sirius Black, mother to Nymphadora, wife to Ted, the muggle. Being a pureblood and obsessing over pure blood are separate things. The Weasleys are purebloods. Hell, Neville Longbottom was a pureblood. The world is a safer, kinder place to purebloods, but some of them don’t take that boon and sit on it. Being pureblood is a prerequisite to being a Blood Traitor, and there are few greater positions of power than that in the Wizarding world.
Loyalty to your in-group doesn’t have to be destructive; it just needs to be paired with an expanded concept of who is in that group. Giving people you know the benefit of the doubt only becomes a problem when the people you know all look and think the same way you do. And if you’re doing “ambition” and “blood-traitor” bits right, you’re constantly expanding that in-group, so the part about “make your real friends” comes both naturally and progressively.
I don’t look like Severus Snape, scribbling corrections in my textbooks and dreaming up new inventions to solve my problems. I don’t act like Delores Umbridge, cozying up to people in power in the hopes they’ll pull me up there with them. I hope I don’t end up like Draco Malfoy, willing to blindly do unspeakable things for someone I care because of a stupid promise I now have to keep.
But I am nevertheless a Slytherin, and I am figuring out every day what that means. In between naps, of course.
Mary Margaret is a 2013 English, history, and secondary education grad who went rogue and became a Social Worker in Pennsylvania’s Child Welfare system. Specifically, she works as a caseworker in the Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network finding families for children and educating the masses about foster care, adoption, and permanency planning. She made it over the grad-school hurdle with gold stars and warm fuzzies and is on to the next big adventure: the unknown of adulthood. Her major writing dream right now is to finish her science fiction novel that explores the concurrent futures of child welfare and artificial intelligence.