Dumbledore Should Have Been in Slytherin
Why did the Sorting Hat insist on putting Dumbledore in Gryffindor when he so clearly belongs in Slytherin? It’s just because he’s supposed to be a hero, I think, that we’re told he’s a Gryffindor. That’s not to say he belongs in Slytherin because he’s a bad guy or even because he’s complex and morally gray. But how would you describe Dumbledore? Regardless of whether you think he’s good or bad, you’d probably say he’s clever, calculating, patient, persistent, resourceful, manipulative, a shrewd judge of character, and someone who uses his considerable power to shape the world around him. Whether you believe he’s good or evil or something in between, Slytherin is definitely where Dumbledore belongs.
Think about what Dumbledore was like in his youth – brilliant and gifted and therefore arrogant and ambitious. By the end of his time at Hogwarts, Dumbledore knew that he could reshape the whole wizarding world and felt that he deserved the power to do so. He was already obsessed with the Deathly Hallows when he met Grindelwald; their relationship only fueled his existing ambitions. They spent many months plotting world domination together as equal partners. It took the tragedy of his sister’s death, potentially at Dumbledore’s own hands, to finally make Dumbledore question where his ambitions were taking him. And even then, he never fully abandoned his quest for the Deathly Hallows.
Dumbledore learned that he could not trust himself with the kind of great power he and Grindelwald sought. But he still wielded his immense influence over the rest of the wizarding world with great skill. As the Sorting Hat sings, “Those cunning folk use any means to achieve their ends” (SS 86), a line that definitely applies to Dumbledore if it applies to anyone. His ends might have been something greater than himself, but his careful nature, meticulous planning, and skillful manipulations of many people on the way to those ends make him a Slytherin. Much of the plot that unfolds over seven books is entirely his design. Only he sees the full picture, and the pieces of his puzzle are left to work it out for themselves.
Dumbledore gives Newt Scamander information on Frank the Thunderbird, knowing Newt’s efforts to set him free will likely lead him to Grindelwald. There is strong evidence that Dumbledore planned the events of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in order to give Harry a chance to face Voldemort. He gave the Defense Against the Dark Arts job to Lockhart in order to expose his misdeeds. He brought Remus to Hogwarts when Sirius escaped Azkaban so he could keep an eye on him. He persuaded Slughorn to come to Hogwarts so he could use Harry to extract his crucial memory. Am I forgetting anything? Probably. There are too many examples of Dumbledore’s manipulations to count.
But Dumbledore did say to Harry that “it is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” (CoS 331). He might exhibit Slytherin qualities, but his choices certainly put him in Gryffindor, right? Well, let’s look at his choices. In his youth, he chooses his ambitions over his family. Then he chooses not to confront Grindelwald for decades – whether he can’t or won’t we don’t yet fully know – and sends Newt to do it instead though Newt doesn’t want to be involved.
In the Potter series, Dumbledore doesn’t make all the right choices, but he makes the most pragmatic choices, the ones most likely to lead to the desired outcome. He leaves Harry with the Dursleys not because it’s the right thing to do but because it is the only option that guarantees that Harry will be safe from Voldemort until he comes of age. He distances himself from Harry when Voldemort returns because only then can he guarantee Voldemort won’t try to possess him. He withholds the important information that Harry is a Horcrux and that he will not actually be killed by Voldemort because he needs Harry to freely choose to walk to his own death.
Dumbledore is one of the most cunning and resourceful characters in the series. He patiently and carefully executes his elaborate designs against Voldemort. He guides and manipulates others to fulfill his plans. He even has careful plans in place for after his death. His great ambition is to achieve peace in the wizarding world, and he uses any and all means to get what he wants. That sounds like a Slytherin to me.
Does it make you uncomfortable to think of Dumbledore as a Slytherin? He valued bravery, you might argue, and justice and honor, as Gryffindors do. But I take issue with the idea that Gryffindor is the only House that values or exhibits courage. If the Sorting system requires that Dumbledore be placed in Gryffindor because he’s a noble person and that’s where noble people are supposed to go, then the system is flawed. Imagine how much more interesting the story would’ve been if Dumbledore had been Sorted based on his actual personality and qualities and put in Slytherin where he belongs.