The Sorting Hat is a sentient Hogwarts artifact that magically determines which of the four school Houses each new student belongs most to. These four Houses are Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin.
During the opening banquet at the beginning of each school year, the first-year students are lined up and their names read aloud alphabetically. Each then takes a seat on a stool and the hat is placed on her or his head. The hat is battered and old; it's patched, frayed, and extremely dirty. In order to speak and sing, a tear along the brim opens like a mouth. It speaks to the wearer inside of the hat with a small, quiet voice, using Legilimency to interpret their thoughts and respond to them. After a moment of consideration, the hat announces its choice aloud for all to hear, and the student joins the selected house. The moment of consideration varies in length, from over five minutes (known as "hatstall") to less than a second.
The Sorting Hat was sewn roughly one thousand years ago and began as a normal hat belonging to Godric Gryffindor. When Gryffindor, along with Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff, wondered how they would continue to sort the students when the four were dead, Gryffindor pulled his hat from his head and, along with the other founders, enchanted it with their combined intelligence.
The Sorting Hat, now animated, was able to sort and divide the students into the Hogwarts Houses, and continued to do so for a millennium, passed down to each new Headmaster or Headmistress of the school.
Godric Gryffindor's Sword, one of the founder's only other known relics, can be magically pulled out of the hat by any Gryffindor considered worthy, no matter how secure the sword's location. It is unknown why this is possible, but is linked to loyalty of the highest regard in relation to Hogwarts. There are two known instances of this happening within the seven years of Harry's adventures, once when Harry was in the Chamber of Secrets, and once when Neville refused to join Voldemort during the Battle of Hogwarts.
The hat continues to carry out its duty each September at the beginning of the start-of-term feast, when it is placed on a three-legged (sometimes four-legged) stool at the front of the Great Hall.
The Sorting Hat's songs
Before sorting the students each year, the hat recites a new introductory song. These songs vary in length and content though they generally introduce the hat and its role in sorting new students. Ron Weasley expressed the opinion that the Hat spends the entire school year making up its next song.
They also occasionally warn of danger to come, as in its 1995 song, though it is not known how the Hat is aware of upcoming events. It was suggested that the Hat picks up some of its information from Albus Dumbledore, though it is not known whether it would have done so before such an influential figure in the wider wizarding world was in office.
Oh you may not think I'm pretty,
A thousand years or more ago
In times of old, when I was new,
Good Hufflepuff, she took the rest
The Sorting Hat and Students
The Sorting Hat appeared to have a difficult time in the sorting of Harry Potter. It suggested that Harry would have great fame and glory by joining Slytherin House, but Harry requested specifically to be spared that fate. Instead, based upon this choice, the Hat placed him in Gryffindor, where both his parents had also been Sorted. When Harry spoke to the Hat in his second year, it repeated its earlier declarations - that Harry would have done well in Slytherin. This is thought to be due to the fragment of Voldemort's soul which lived inside Harry during his sorting; the hat would have registered its potential as well as Harry's.
In the next year at Hogwarts, the Hat also played a critical role in Harry's success against the Basilisk. Fawkes had brought the Sorting Hat to Harry's aid in the Chamber of Secrets.This provided him with Godric Gryffindor's Sword, which Harry used to slay Slytherin's Basilisk. The sword and hat together are the only two known relics of that wizard.
Almost two decades after the Battle of Hogwarts, Albus Severus Potter expressed worry over his own Sorting. He indicated that the Sorting Hat might put him in the Slytherin House, and that its judgement may be faulty after being repaired. However, as the hat is said to be old and patched from its first appearance, it would seem this worry is needless.
- "Ah, right, then. Hmm, right. Okay. GRYFFINDOR!"
- —Hermione sorted into Gryffindor house[src]
The Sorting Hat also appeared to have had a disagreement in the sorting of Hermione Granger, as her expansive intelligence made her well suited for Ravenclaw. However, it can be argued that Hermione saw a greater challenge in herself in becoming bold and courageous, some of the traits of Gryffindor House. This can be clearly seen when Hermione doubts books and cleverness as the traits of a great witch and instead shows that friendship and bravery are more important.
- "Ah, another Weasley. Well, I know just what to do with you. GRYFFINDOR!"
- —Ron sorted into Gryffindor house[src]
It was not hard for the Sorting Hat to place Ron Weasley, as all the Weasley family have been placed into Gryffindor House. Ron was afraid that he would be the only Weasley not to make it into Gryffindor.
The moment the Sorting Hat was placed on Draco Malfoy, the hat instantaneously declared Draco would become Slytherin. In addition to being selfish and cunning, Malfoy is a pure-blood, like most Slytherins. Almost all of his family was sorted into that house, including his parents Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, and his aunt Bellatrix Lestrange.
According to Albus Dumbledore, the Sorting Hat declared Tom Riddle a Slytherin almost instantly after it touched his head. He had many of the qualities associated with the Slytherin house, and he was the last surviving descendant of Salazar Slytherin.
The Sorting Hat took a long time to decide upon where to put Neville Longbottom. During his sorting Neville Longbottom argued with the hat, saying he was best in Hufflepuff. The Hat argued otherwise, and declared Neville to do greatly in Gryffindor. Neville was intimidated by Gryffindor's reputation, however his persistance did not work and the hat successfully sorted him into Gryffindor.  Considering the bravery Neville showed in his seventh year, and standing up to Draco, Harry, Ron, and Hermione in his first year, this choice is not regretted.
During the Battle of Hogwarts, Neville was able to draw Gryffindor's sword from the Hat, despite Voldemort attempting to destroy it and then used it to behead the snake Nagini.
Minerva McGonagall was what is considered a Hatstall, meaning the Sorting Hat took over five minutes to decide where to put her. Hatstalls are very rare. The Sorting Hat considered sorting Minerva McGonagall into Ravenclaw before choosing Gryffindor. Later, she became a teacher at Hogwarts and head of her old house. It is her job to place the Sorting Hat on the heads of new students.
The Sorting Hat considered Sorting Filius Flitwick into Gryffindor before choosing Ravenclaw. Later, he became a teacher at Hogwarts and head of his house, and joked with Minerva McGonagall about the fact that they had the opposite experiences and if things had gone another way, they could have had each others' jobs.
The Sorting Hat considered Sorting Gilderoy Lockhart in Slytherin, but, in the end, decided to place him in Ravenclaw.
The Sorting Hat needed more than five minutes to decide if Peter Pettigrew should be Sorted into Slytherin or Gryffindor. He was, thus, a true Hatstall. It chose Gryffindor. This decision was considered a mistake by many, though the Sorting Hat itself never considered it a mistake afterwards.
Personality and traits
Though it's a hat, the Sorting Hat is sentient and has its own personality. At the beginning of every term, the hat sings a new song (which Ron Weasley speculated it spent the rest of the year thinking up) describing each of the four houses of Hogwarts. Despite its use in the purposes of "sorting," the Hat has been known to urge students to maintain a united front in the face of adversity and danger. Its songs can be used in warning of troubles to come, and ultimately the hat represents the unity of the four houses under the Hogwarts school.
The Sorting Hat on Pottermore
The Sorting Hat on Pottermore uses a set of question to determine the house of a user. The questions vary in style and do not necessarily have four answers (one for each house). There are 27 questions in all, and each user can be asked a maximum of 7, or 8 if the hat can not decide between houses and asks your opinion. Generally, a set of a few questions can be given to a user for each question, there are, of course, occasional exceptions to the order.
Which of the following would you most hate people to call you?
After you have died, what would you most like people to do when they hear your name?
- Miss you, but smile
- Ask for more stories about your adventures
- Think with admiration of your achievements
- I don’t care what people think of me after I’m dead; it’s what they think of me while I’m alive that counts
Given the choice, would you rather invent a potion that would guarantee you:
How would you like to be known to history?
- The Wise
- The Good
- The Great
- The Bold
You enter an enchanted garden. What would you be most curious to examine first?
- The silver leafed tree bearing golden apples
- The fat red toadstools that appear to be talking to each other
- The bubbling pool, in the depths of which something luminous is swirling
- The statue of an old wizard with a strangely twinkling eye
What kind of instrument most pleases your ear?
- The violin
- The trumpet
- The piano
- The drum
Four boxes are placed before you. Which would you try and open
- The small tortoiseshell box, embellished with gold, inside which some small creature seems to be squeaking.
- The gleaming jet black box with a silver lock and key, marked with a mysterious rune that you know to be the mark of Merlin.
- The ornate golden casket, standing on clawed feet, whose inscription warns that both secret knowledge and unbearable temptation lie within.
- The small pewter box, unassuming and plain, with a scratched message upon it that reads ‘I open only for the worthy.’
Four goblets are placed before you. Which would you choose to drink?
- The foaming, frothing, silvery liquid that sparkles as though containing ground diamonds.
- The smooth, thick, richly purple drink that gives off a delicious smell of chocolate and plums.
- The golden liquid so bright that it hurts the eye, and which makes sunspots dance all around the room.
- The mysterious black liquid that gleams like ink, and gives off fumes that make you see strange visions.
Once every century, the Flutterby bush produces flowers that adapt their scent to attract the unwary. If it lured you, it would smell of:
- A crackling log fire
- The sea
- Fresh parchment
A troll has gone berserk in the Headmaster’s study at Hogwarts. It is about to smash, crush and tear several irreplaceable items and treasures, including a cure for dragon pox, which the Headmaster has nearly perfected; student records going back 1000 years and a mysterious handwritten book full of strange runes, believed to have belonged to Merlin. In which order would you rescue these objects from the troll’s club, if you could? Select order:
- Merlin’s Book/Student Records/Dragon Pox Cure
Which would you rather be:
Which of the following do you find most difficult to deal with?
- Being ignored
What are you most looking forward to learning at Hogwarts?
- Apparition and Disapparition (being able to materialise and dematerialise at will)
- Transfiguration (turning one object into another object)
- Flying on a broomstick
- Hexes and jinxes
- All about magical creatures, and how to befriend/care for them
- Secrets about the castle
- Every area of magic I can
If you could have any power, which would you choose?
- The power to read minds
- The power of invisibility
- The power of superhuman strength
- The power to speak to animals
- The power to change the past
- The power to change your appearance at will
Which of the following would you most like to study?
One of your house mates has cheated in a Hogwarts exam by using a Self-Spelling Quill. Now he has come top of the class in Charms, beating you into second place. Professor Flitwick is suspicious of what happened. He draws you to one side after his lesson and asks you whether or not your classmate used a forbidden quill. What do you do?
- Lie and say you don’t know (but hope that somebody else tells Professor Flitwick the truth).
- Tell Professor Flitwick that he ought to ask your classmate (and resolve to tell your classmate that if he doesn’t tell the truth, you will).
- Tell Professor Flitwick the truth. If your classmate is prepared to win by cheating, he deserves to be found out. Also, as you are both in the same house, any points he loses will be regained by you, for coming first in his place.
- You would not wait to be asked to tell Professor Flitwick the truth. If you knew that somebody was using a forbidden quill, you would tell the teacher before the exam started.
You and two friends need to cross a bridge guarded by a river troll who insists on fighting one of you before he will let all of you pass. Do you:
- Attempt to confuse the troll into letting all three of you pass without fighting?
- Suggest drawing lots to decide which of you will fight?
- Suggest that all three of you should fight (without telling the troll)?
- Volunteer to fight?
Which road tempts you most?
- The wide, sunny, grassy lane
- The narrow, dark, lantern-lit alley
- The twisting, leaf-strewn path through woods
- The cobbled street lined with ancient buildings
Which nightmare would frighten you most?
- Standing on top of something very high and realising suddenly that there are no hand- or footholds, nor any barrier to stop you falling
- An eye at the keyhole of the dark, windowless room in which you are locked
- Waking up to find that neither your friends nor your family have any idea who you are.
- Being forced to speak in such a silly voice that hardly anyone can understand you, and everyone laughs at you
Late at night, walking alone down the street, you hear a peculiar cry that you believe to have a magical source. Do you:
- Proceed with caution, keeping one hand on your concealed wand and an eye out for any disturbance?
- Draw your wand and try to discover the source of the noise?
- Draw your wand and stand your ground?
- Withdraw into the shadows to await developments, while mentally reviewing the most appropriate defensive and offensive spells, should trouble occur?
A Muggle confronts you and says that they are sure you are a witch or wizard. Do you:
- Ask what makes them think so?
- Agree, and ask whether they’d like a free sample of a jinx?
- Agree, and walk away, leaving them to wonder whether you are bluffing?
- Tell them that you are worried about their mental health, and offer to call a doctor.
Dawn or dusk?
Moon or stars?
Forest or river?
Black or white?
Heads or tails?
Left or right?
QUESTION 8: (in case of a hat stall)
Which House would you rather belong to?
- In an interview, when asked about the Sorting Hat, Rowling stated that it had never been wrong and asked for theories, though no specific character was mentioned. In exclusive content released for Pottermore, however, she was a bit more shrewd, stating that it "has made remarkably few errors of judgement over the many centuries it has been at work." She also stated that in those cases where students did not exhibit the qualities traditionally associated with their house, or were noted for those associated with others, "the Hat steadfastly backs its original decision."
- According to J. K. Rowling, Sorting Hat wasn't her first idea of how new Hogwarts student shall be sorted into Houses. She wrote:
- "The Sorting Hat does not appear in my earliest plans for Hogwarts. I debated several different methods for sorting students (because I knew on early from that there would be four houses, all with very different qualities). The first was an elaborate Heath Robinson-ish machine that did all kind of magical things before reaching a decision, but I did not like it: it felt at once too complicated, and too easy. Next I placed four statues of the four founders in the Entrance Hall, which came alive and selected students from the throng in front of them while the school watched. This was better, but still not quite right. Finally, I wrote a list of the ways in which people can be chosen: eeny-meeny-miny-mo, short straws, chosen by team captains, names out of a hat - names out of a talking hat - putting on a hat - the Sorting Hat!"
- —J. K. Rowling's thought.[src]
Behind the scenes
- It seems that the Sorting Hat tends to place students based on qualities they value rather than qualities they personify. This is never more apparent than with Peter Pettigrew, who was Sorted into Gryffindor but ultimately turned out to be quite cowardly, self-serving and corruptible. He was probably placed there because at the time, he admired strong, brave individuals like James Potter and Sirius Black. Though it is possible Pettigrew was placed in Gryffindor because he aspired to these qualities.
- The Sorting Hat can detect nascent qualities in a student and place them in the House that will challenge them the most and put their character to the test. Case in point, Neville Longbottom is Sorted into Gryffindor because the Hat sensed that he was capable of demonstrating bravery and leadership during his time at Hogwarts. However, these qualities do not fully surface until he learns to believe in himself.
- The Hat also appeared to take each student's wishes into account. Just because someone is placed in a certain House does not mean that they can not possess characteristics of other Houses. Dumbledore claimed that choices can show just as much, if not more, about who someone is as their abilities. Harry Potter, for instance, embodies many of the traits that are appreciated by Salazar Slytherin. He is clever, resourceful and cunning, yet the Sorting Hat made him a Gryffindor because he didn't feel like he belonged there. However, the hat denied Neville from being in Hufflepuff even though he begged for it.
- Another prime example of this happening is Severus Snape. At one point, Albus Dumbledore said that his loyal, courageous nature was much more befitted to Gryffindor. However, as a child, Snape's ambition, social-climbing behaviour and secret inclination towards sadism made him an obvious Slytherin when he first came to Hogwarts.
- In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the Sorting Hat appears to speak so all the students can hear, whereas in the book the Sorting Hat speaks so only the wearer can hear.
- In the first two Harry Potter films, it is voiced by actor Leslie Phillips.
- Songs are only featured in books 1, 4, and 5, and are omitted entirely from the films.
- Harry was not physically present for the Sorting Hat's songs in books two, three, six and seven. Harry was, however, present for the song and Sorting ceremony in the third movie.
- In the American edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry saw that "there were only three people left to be sorted," but then Professor McGonagall read off four more names (Dean Thomas, Lisa Turpin, Ron Weasley and Blaise Zabini). Dean Thomas did not appear in the British edition. It is possible, however, that Harry did not see one of the first-years ahead of him.
- The Sorting Hat bears a certain resemblance to The Archchancellor's Hat from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Sourcery
- A LEGO version of the Sorting Hat was released, entitled 4701 Sorting Hat. It featured a dial with the four house symbols on it that could be spun to land on one and sort the figures.
- One of the possible choices on the W.O.M.B.A.T. aptitude test was that the hat was stolen and substituted by delinquent students in 1325, and the whereabouts of the real hat remain unknown.
- One can purchase a copy of the Sorting Hat at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
- Prior to creating the Sorting Hat, Rowling considered using a Magical Gateway, founder statues, a Ghost Court, or a Selection Committee.
- Just before the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Sorting Hat makes an appearance and delivers a final safety spiel, in the manner of one of his Sorting songs:
- "Your journey is about to start, but safely you must go,
- And so the Hogwarts Sorting Hat tells all you need to know.
- These benches are not safe for you if you are still too small.
- You must be more than goblin-sized, 48 inches tall.
- Now rid yourself of objects that might poke or scratch or fall.
- Take jewelry, cell phones, all loose change and stow them, one and all.
- To keep your treasures safe and sound, Smart Lockers are supplied.
- Gringotts-made and wizard-proofed, for all you need to hide.
- And now, a warning; do not ride if flying makes you queasy.
- If pregnant or else sore in back or neck, then leave, it's easy!
- You've traveled far, you’re very near, the waiting’s been long,
- But smoking, drinking, or eating while in line are very wrong.
- Now thank you all for listening. My safety lesson's done.
- We hope you live to tell the tale, and most of all, have fun!"
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (First appearance)
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (film)
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (video game) (Voice only)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (film)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (video game)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (film)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (film)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (video game) (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (film)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (video game) (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (video game)
- LEGO Harry Potter: Building the Magical World
- LEGO Harry Potter: Characters of the Magical World
- LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4
- LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Harry Potter: Spells
- Harry Potter LEGO Sets
- Harry Potter Trading Card Game
- Harry Potter for Kinect
- Harry Potter: The Character Vault
- Harry Potter: The Creature Vault (mentioned only)
- Godric Gryffindor's Sword
- Helga Hufflepuff's Cup
- Rowena Ravenclaw's Diadem
- Salazar Slytherin's Locket