In the epilogue to the Potter series, Harry sees his middle child Albus onto the Hogwarts Express for his first year at the wizarding school. Albus, it turns out, is beset by fears that he will be Sorted into Slytherin House, though Harry can’t understand why. He tells Albus that it is perfectly fine to be a Slytherin, but that the Sorting Hat will take his decision into account if it matters that much to him.
Albus Potter goes to Hogwarts. He is Sorted into Slytherin House. And no one can seem to figure out the reason, Albus included.
But I think that answer is actually pretty simple.
[This piece contains spoilers for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child]
Albus’s time at Hogwarts is fraught to be sure, though this is less down to his being a Slytherin and more due to his lack of interest in and aptitude for the majority of coursework assigned, and the culture that the school encourages. In addition, his best friend is the son of his father’s schoolyard enemy—Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco. Rumored to be the secret “son of Voldemort,” this friendship with Scorpius doesn’t go very far in making Albus a popular kid. By the end of all this, the duo have a series of adventures that do far more (short term) damage than his father’s generation ever got up to. They steal a newly-found Time-Turner and try to change the past, to save Cedric Diggory from his terrible fate at the end of the Triwizard Tournament.
This goes about as wrong as one could expect.
In fact, more than one alternate future is created in their error, erasing multiple versions of themselves in the process. In one of these newly minted futures, Albus is in Gryffindor when he goes to school. The reason why is shockingly mundane: His cousin bet that he couldn’t get into the House if his life depended on it. So Albus proved him wrong, likely by just telling the Sorting Hat to put him in Gryffindor. Honestly, it makes the whole prospect of Sorting kind of a let-down, but more importantly, it forces us to ask: What Hogwarts House should Albus Potter actually be in, and why was he Sorted into Slytherin?
And I think the answer to the first part of that question is probably… no House at all.
Are there parts of Albus that align with Slytherin House? Of course. He’s a bit prickly on the outside, and determined when it counts. When he elects to care about something, his plans are never moderate in their execution. But the core attributes of Slytherin House? Cunning and ambition? Not so much. He’s a little cunning when given the chance, but it’s not a core aspect of his personality. And ambition is antithetical to his whole vibe.
What about the other Houses? The closest he comes is likely Hufflepuff, being very loyal to the people who matter most to him. But hard work doesn’t seem to be his thing either—Albus doesn’t show much talent for magic, and it prevents him from being fully invested in learning it. He’s not interested in plowing through until he attains the skills he needs, getting slowly better over time; he decides he’s a loser, and that’s the end of it. He’s got some Gryffindor bravery when the chips fall, but he doesn’t normally go blustering into trouble, or crave the spotlight. (I say normally because the Time-Turner escapade is a clear exception to this, hence Scorpius’s surprise when his buddy suggests the plot to save Cedric.) And Ravenclaw is right out, owing to a lack of curiosity about his own wizarding abilities. He’s not an eager student, which is central to Ravenclaw philosophy.
Albus Potter fits nowhere at Hogwarts. This is the whole reason why he doesn’t enjoy his time at school. He perceives that he is lacking something fundamental that would propel him forward, that would help him excel and feel comfortable within the castle walls. This isn’t a new phenomenon; some people just don’t take to schooling, or specific methods of learning. Some people find their joy and curiosity later on in life, or they never do. It’s not a failure of character, it simply is. A lot of factors inform how much someone takes to certain modes of education. Albus Potter isn’t a bad kid, but Hogwarts doesn’t have what he needs. Still, he has to be Sorted, so he goes to Slytherin.
Don’t forget, Albus Potter doesn’t wanted to be Sorted into Slytherin. He’s scared enough that he worries over it and asks about it and requires reassurance on that front. I’m sure that some people (perhaps even a few of Albus’s family members) believed that this was precisely the reason why he ended up there; it’s like carrying a bowl full of soup and spilling it because you’re so determined not to do that. Albus ended up in Slytherin because he couldn’t stop thinking about ending up in Slytherin, and so the Sorting Hat couldn’t grasp anything other than his thoughts about being in Slytherin. Whoops.
But something else happened between his fearful admission to his father on the platform and his arrival at school. While Albus was on his way to be Sorted, he met his best friend. He met Scorpius Malfoy on the train and decided to sit with him and get to know him and share candy with him, despite the protests of his cousin Rose and the whispers about Scorpius all over the train. Albus knows what it’s like to feel out of place, and when he sees Scorpius, it all melts together. Here is someone who feels alone, like he does. Here’s someone who needs a friend. Here’s a boy who also struggles with expectations and legacy. Here is a kid who is nerdy and awkward and totally in tune with Albus’s own brand of nerdy awkwardness. They have one train car all to themselves. They make each other laugh. They eat and ask questions and press through the strangeness of being a Potter and a Malfoy who actually want to speak to one another.
The Sorting goes alphabetically by last name, and M obviously comes before P. Scorpius is first and ends up in Slytherin probably because he expects that there’s no other option for him. (Also, Scorpius is an ambitious kid, even if that ambition is buried at the tips of his toes.) Albus is Sorted after him. And though he may not realize it, he’s already made his choice:
He has to be with his friend.
Okay, Albus just met Scorpius on the train. They don’t know each other that well. So am I actually suggesting that the first glimmer of their friendship swept Albus up so entirely that he subconsciously decided to follow the boy into a House that he was terrified to be a part of just hours before?
Yeah. That’s exactly what I’m saying.
Some bonds take time to form, but there are special ones that snap together like Lego bricks and then refuse to come apart. They always take you by surprise. The relationship between Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy ends up defining both of them. This is even truer for them than it was for their parents’s generation, and that’s saying a lot. Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy need each other, and they recognize that truth instantly, though they don’t yet know what it means going forward. It’s hardly surprising that something deemed as important as the Sorting would be decided by this. Without a cousin daring Albus to pick Gryffindor out of spite, it’s the only thing that matters in that moment. I want to be wherever he is.
If we need further evidence of this, we could argue that Albus’s dad did the very same thing, years beforehand. Sure, Harry knew that his parents were Gryffindors, and he gets a bad association with Slytherin after meeting Draco Malfoy twice. But more importantly, he makes friends with Ron on the train, and knowing nothing about the wizarding world, it’s understandable that he’d want to stick by the first person who was kind to him. Ron tells Harry that he’s already as good as Sorted, since the whole Weasley family is Gryffindor. He didn’t forget that when McGonagall put the hat on his head—Harry hoped he’d end up where Ron was.
It’s an element of Sorting that never really makes it into the narrative. Your background thoughts and feelings, your preferences and prejudices, they must make it into the hat’s decision whether they’re clear requests or not. How many families maintain a Sorting line because their children are terrified to be anything different? How many kids make a last second decision out of curiosity? How many really want the Sorting Hat to make a choice without their input?
How many just need to be with a friendly face?
Though the Sorting ends up plaguing Albus Potter all through school as the only member of his family to set foot in Slytherin, he’s there for a reason. And that reason has nothing to do with lineage or attributes or inclination. He just wanted to spend all of his time with Scorpius Malfoy. So he did.
And in the end, he was much better off for it than anyone was willing to admit.