Despite her best attempts to keep her greedy little niffler paws in it, the Harry Potter universe has grown beyond the machinations of the great J.K. Rowling. We’re eternally grateful she blessed us with the story, but the fans have since taken it and made it their own. From fanfiction and fanart to quidditch clubs and book clubs, at this point more young people probably know their Hogwarts house than their social security number.
It’s a sense of community, of belonging. It’s an easy way to find like-minded people and bond, even over great distances. It’s an easy way to get to know yourself and your friends.
But there’s one thing that hasn’t yet wriggled its way out of the grasp of the illustrious JKR: Slytherin House.
Slytherins are the villains of the Harry Potter universe, obviously. They were created as a plot device, a simple us-vs-them, good-vs-bad for her children’s story. Rowling has said in interviews that members of Slytherin House are based on people she had no fondness for. There were a few Slytherins who ended up on the right side, but usually not without a few evil detours along the way. It makes sense. Slytherins do indeed embody most of your traditionally villainous qualities: cunning, ambition, pride, elitism, and “a certain disregard for the rules.”
But as Harry Potter has grown and morphed and been adopted by every reader and fanfiction writer on the planet, Slytherin House has become the home of many, many non-villainous young people just trying to fit in. But thanks to Rowling, there’s still a stigma attached. To self-identify as Slytherin is to accept your evil nature. To be proud of it, even.
Now, of course I’m exaggerating, but the internet is full of questions like, “Does being a Slytherin make me a bad person?” and the straight-up, “Are Slytherins evil?” To tell people that you’re ambitious and cunning is to tell people you’re a bad person. There’s no getting around that. Both words have negative connotations and have a villainous record much older than Harry Potter. But as Dumbledore said (ironically, in a slight against Slytherin), “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
As any good writer could tell you, character traits are not inherently good or bad. Quite often, the same character trait can (and should) manifest itself as both a strength and a weakness. A brave Gryffindor may very well defeat the dark lord, but he’ll also take a lot of dumb and unnecessary risks along the way.
Slytherin doesn’t get this benefit of the doubt, and an ambitious Slytherin is only seen joining up with the evil dictator to gain power, never writing the next great wizarding novel or discovering the cure for cancer—both of which require an abundance of ambition. In fact, every major Slytherin quality can be flipped to make a truly quality person and a wildly interesting protagonist. Someone who’s cunning can think through problems quickly and find the most advantageous solution. Someone who’s proud is secure in who they are and doesn’t have to waste time on frivolous emotional detours.
Slytherins are loyal, motivated, smart, tenacious, resourceful, adroit, reliable, and so many more positive qualities that are simply extensions of the negative ones Rowling assigned them.
Slytherins would make great counselors, getting to the heart of problems quickly and finding the best solution. They’d be amazing hostage negotiators, able to manipulate everyone so that tensions never escalate. They’d excel in the fields of science, politics, cinema, engineering—anything that requires quick thinking, thick skin, and resolve to keep going. Slytherins also, arguably, make the best companions, because they’re loyal, they look out for their own, and they don’t go thoughtlessly rushing into unpleasant situations.
I won’t say Slytherins are misunderstood, because Slytherin traits can easily be twisted to evil ends. But to be a Slytherin is not to be a bad person. Find yourself a Slytherin and you may just find the best friend, advocate, and ally you’ve ever had.