In previous posts, I’ve discussed the Sorting of students at Hogwarts and the ramifications their houses have on their futures. I’ve also admitted that my own placement in said Houses has changed over the years, chiefly because my assessment of what’s really important to me (i.e., how I want to be perceived) has shifted. Last but not least, the idea that you can actually choose which House you go into sort of throws into doubt the whole magical and more-knowledgeable-than-thou air of the Sorting Hat in the first place.
Here though, I want to talk about a very specific thing, and that is the importance of the Slytherin trait of self-interest to the winning of the Second Wizarding War.
We all know the basics, right? Gryffindor is the house of the brave, Ravenclaw of the intelligent, Hufflepuff the hardworking and Slytherin the rich, obnoxious and/or bigoted. In the Battle of Hogwarts, the Slytherins were supposedly evacuated en masse, and didn’t stay behind to help defend their school or the ‘right side’. What defines them is their selfishness, their cunning and their penchant for supporting the wrong authority figures. If anyone won the Battle of Hogwarts, it was the selfless Gryffindors and their staunch allies. Slytherin didn’t do anything—besides start the war in the first place.
I don’t want to take away from the sacrifice of the ‘light’ soldiers, but I believe that much of their effort would have been for naught, if two Slytherins hadn’t done what they did to win the war.
First of all—Severus Snape. If he hadn’t passed on those Harry-is-a-Horcrux memories, would Harry have gone out to face death in the manner that he did? Probably not. He might have continued fighting, surprised when the destruction of the known Horcruxes didn’t have the expected effect. He might possibly have killed Voldemort once, but surely the Dark Lord would have sprung back and AK’d him before Harry knew what was happening. Without Snape’s revelations, Harry would not have walked out unarmed and unsupported to face death and end one more of Voldemort’s connections to life.
Second—this gallant sacrifice on Harry’s part would have, once again, been for nothing if Narcissa Malfoy had not, for whatever reason, declared him ‘dead’. While I think Voldemort was an idiot to send Narcissa and not, say, an unreservedly faithful follower like Bellatrix, this was a stroke of luck for Harry. Narcissa’s desire to get back into the castle and get to Draco outweighed any interest she might have had in figuring out what went wrong with the Dark Lord’s curse, and this lie provided her a deadly revenge on the man-snake who had been terrorizing her family all year long.
Again, if Narcissa had not done what she did, I don’t think Harry would have left that clearing alive.
Why did these people act as they did? Certainly there was bravery involved, but what defines both Snape and Narcissa’s behaviour here is self-interest, the domain of Slytherin house. Slytherins fight not for ideals or abstract concepts, apparently, can follow the dictates of their selfish desires to good ends. Snape, a great example of a tenacious Slytherin, joined Dumbledore’s side because of his love of, not freedom or humanity in general, but Lily. His desire to serve against Voldemort was born of a selfish exchange: so long as Lily was safe, he would fight for Dumbledore. Even after she died, it was in her memory that he fought on, as well evidenced by the gravelly ‘Always’.
Narcissa wants to do nothing but get back to her son. Not for her the politics of the war or the questions of right and wrong thrown up by it: what matters is the preservation of those she loves, and all the rest can go to hell.
I think, with the Slytherins, Rowling proved that you don’t always need sweeping ideals or larger-than-life courage to be a hero. Sometimes, devotion to purely selfish interests does do good. As the Sorting Hat said, ‘Those cunning folk use any means/To achieve their ends’. Not all of those ends, nor the means, are evil.
And in some ways, this makes Slytherin house the most realistic of them all.