I was sorted as a Ravenclaw, according to a very reliable internet test that had an immense chum bucket at the bottom of the screen. And so, that evening, my sister pulled the Santa hat from the tree and had each of us sit in a chair, placed the hat on each person’s head, and announced to the room what the Sort-of Hat had decided. My Someone ended up in Gryffindor, even though everyone knows that he’s a Hufflepuff. My niece was a Hufflepuff and my nephew a Slytherin, and that seemed reliable enough, so we went with the infallibility of the internet quiz and took our Hogwarts Houses to heart, and watched the 6th movie with this new information in mind.
I was happy enough with my sort– one of my best friends is a Ravenclaw. But I felt unnaturally enraged that my Someone was cast in the same house as Harry Potter when he clearly belonged elsewhere. I started making backhanded compliments about Gryffindor, which turned into questioning of the validity of the Sorting Hat, which turned into me feeling a little out of place. A real Slytherin move. So I backed off. My Someone sort of shrugged. He was happy to be wherever. Which everyone knows is Hufflepuff through and through.
My sister and brother-in-law surprised us Christmas morning with tickets to a family vacation to Universal. The previous week’s sorting would come full circle. My sister had sewn Harry Potter masks with beads that match our house colors. I looked enviously at my Someone’s yellow and red beads, then tried on my Ravenclaw mask and tried to fit in. The test said what it said, it must be true.
In line for Gringott’s, I made my confession to my sister and Someone.
“I just don’t know if I feel like a Ravenclaw here,” I said, giving the side eye to a robed figure in front of us. “Here, I feel more like a Gryffindor.” I felt ashamed. I felt like I was calling out the injustice of a system that wasn’t unjust at all. I felt like a sore loser. Then my sister perked up.
“Actually, I feel more like a Slytherin here.” We both faced my Someone.
“I feel more like a Hufflepuff,” he admitted, “Or, at least I like their stuff more.”
We made a pact before going inside to defeat the Dark Lord to tell the Sorting Hat our true hearts. Afterward, I walked down Diagon Alley and rode the train at 9 3/4 with the pride of a Gryffindor. This place was magical. But somewhere between the Butterbeer and lunch, I started to have my doubts again. I envied the cute little badger and mustard yellow robes of Hufflepuff. Maybe I wasn’t a Gryffindor, either.
My Someone gets all the luck.
When we got home, I talked to my favorite Ravenclaw about my situation. I was so turned around by the time the trip was over, I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to be if I had a choice. I ventured into a more fantastic solution.
“Maybe,” I said, “I don’t feel part of any House because I’m outside of the Houses. Maybe I’m actually a magical creature? Like, maybe I’m a mermaid or a Hippogryph or something?” I did not tell her my tendency to request being the dog when I played house with my friends as a kid. I hoped to have a more unbiased opinion on the matter. One in my favor.
“Maybe,” she said, “you don’t feel like you’re a part of any of the Hogwarts Houses because you’re actually part of Ilvermorny? The American School of Magic?”
The thought had occurred to me. But not fitting in felt better as a magical creature than as another stupid American.
For the last two months, I have lived and breathed Harry Potter. I’ve watched all of the movies with my niece and nephew. I’ve gone to Harry Potter World. Even my dreams have become iterations of Potions class mixed with defeating Lord Voldemort. Maybe I needed to take a step back, take a breather. Truthfully, the whole experience at Universal, while very fun, had been a bit of a let down. Not because the Butterbeer wasn’t on point, or the magic wands were malfunctioning, but because it wasn’t real. When I said this to my Someone, he commiserated,
“Nothing can quite compare to the imagination,” he said.
But that wasn’t it, I complained. “It’s not because this isn’t what I imagined, it’s because it isn’t real. Even if every storefront wasn’t a facade, even if the wizards wandering around didn’t have nametags, even if there wasn’t a back door for staff only, the problem is, this makes me long for the real thing, and it doesn’t exist.”
It was petulent, but he nodded. It wasn’t the first time I’d attached myself instrinsically to a fiction. He was often the one pulling me out, kicking and screaming and despondent to the real world around me. Naturally, instead of confronting what was really bothering me, I put on my headphones, hopped on the treadmill, and fell head first into another fictional book to take my mind off my out-of-sorts House dilemma. I nearly fell off halfway through the first mile when the author said–
Here’s a thing I believe about people my age: we are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.
—Sourdough by Robin Sloan
I paused the book and turned up the speed. I tried to outrun what I heard. Panting, I hopped off.
It wasn’t about style or feeling or character traits. I wanted someone other than a crappy internet site– someone with real authority– to look at me squarely and say,
“You belong here. With us. Together. Definitely.”
And I needed it to be realer than real.
Being post religion, or at least trying to shed myself of the baggage of Only One Way and Absolute Truth, the world gets wider, richer, with far more possibilities and people to explore. But it also gets murkier. Especially when I’m looking for the One True Person to tell me I’m In. It’s a trade off, really. Security for Uncertainty, and it all seems like personal preference.
Or, maybe with a little more noticing, I can have both. Like bouncing along in a late evening shuttle bus from a hotel to an amusement park, florescent lights flickering, show tunes punching through small crappy speakers. And I look up, and I see the family who, against outside odds of fighting and manipulation and rivalry, have chosen each other. Who decided to drive 3 1/2 hours in a minivan together to do weird, fantasy family stuff. Who made sure that I had vegan and gluten free food. Who said, “You are invited, you belong here.” Who made Hogwarts print masks so that we all matched. I remember the inside of these sort of shuttles as a kid– I remember early morning shuffles to airports. Then, as an 8-year-old, it didn’t feel like this– like belonging. I was scared of being out of line, of making someone angry, of getting made fun of. Here, on the chosen side, it seems so long as we are all choosing the same bus, everything else sorts itself out.
It’s no wonder to me that you write such interesting, evocative and compelling lyrics. You do the same with your prose, of course. As a matter of belonging, I’m glad to sharing space on this planet with you and your Someone. If you don’t belong, no one does.
Howard, you are my favorite reader– and writer-back. Thank you. Looking forward to belonging again in your home later this year. 🙂