What is Hogwarts?

wiseGEEK Writer

Hogwarts is the school of witchcraft and wizardry invented by J.K. Rowling in the Harry Potter books. Most of the action of the novels takes place in Hogwarts, which, aside from the magical instruction, is similar in structure to most European boarding schools.

Harry Potter studies potion making at Hogwarts.
Harry Potter studies potion making at Hogwarts.

The Hogwarts school year runs from September through June. Students may stay at the school during Christmas and Easter breaks, but must usually go home during the summer. The school in Books One through Six is under the leadership, for the most part, of Albus Dumbledore.

Harry Potter attends Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry, in the Harry Potter novels.
Harry Potter attends Hogwarts, the school of witchcraft and wizardry, in the Harry Potter novels.

Readers find in the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that there are actually many schools for magical instruction, yet Hogwarts appears to be the pre-eminent school in the UK. Rival schools include Beauxbatons, probably located in France, and Durmstrang, likely located in Bulgaria.

Hogwarts may be located in England or Scotland, but where it is located is of little consequence to muggles, or non-magic folk, since it is unplottable. This is a magical device used to render a location secret and make it impossible for anyone to place it on a map. Rowling’s love of Scotland, however, suggests that it may be the location.

As in many modern boarding schools, students at Hogwarts live in one of four school houses: Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. The houses are meant to represent some of the characteristics that individuals belonging to each house possess.

Gryffindors are brave, Ravenclaws are smart, Hufflepuffs are fair players, and Slytherins have a reputation as crafty, power seeking, and occasionally evil. Students are sorted into houses at the Sorting Ceremony in their first year. Sorting involves wearing the Sorting Hat, which makes decisions regarding the person’s best fit with the different houses.

Each house earns points, which are then calculated at the end of the year to pick the winning house of the year. The end of the term celebration concludes with the presentation of the house cup. In all but the fourth and sixth books, Gryffindor has won the house championship. Mention of the championship does not take place in Books Six and Four because of the deaths of Albus Dumbledore and Cedric Diggory.

Every house has its own dormitory and common room, located in separate parts of the castle. There is much detail about Gryffindor’s dormitories and common rooms. In addition, Book Two has a small description of the Slytherin common room. Since the main characters of the novels, Harry, Ron and Hermione are all Gryffindors, descriptions of the common rooms of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw have not been provided.

Heads of Houses, usually teachers, oversee the students of Hogwarts. Since the sixth book suggests that Professor McGonagall may take over as headmistress of Hogwarts, it is unclear who will now head Gryffindor. Many believe it will be Hagrid. Also, Professor Snape’s exit from the school leaves an opening for a new Head of House for Slytherin, and many believe that Professor Slughorn will come to occupy this place.

Students begin their studies at Hogwarts when they are eleven, and finish when they are 17 or 18, and have reached adulthood. Hogwarts offers seven years of education. The most important years, from a graduation standpoint, are years five and seven, since these are the years students take O.W.L.s, or the Ordinary Wizarding Levels, and N.E.W.T.s, the Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests.

Some courses are required for all students during their first few years. These include Charms, Transfiguration, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Astronomy, and History of Magic. After the second year, students at Hogwarts can choose electives. Once O.W.L.s are taken, students are directed toward career paths and further electives that can help them pursue later careers as witches and wizards.

The novels refer frequently to the book Hogwarts: A History, which explains the founding of the school, and its various enchantments. Hermione quotes from the history at length. She appears to be the only student who has read the book. Of importance is the founding of the school in 993.

The four founders of Hogwarts began in harmony, but later quarreled about the wisdom of accepting students who were not from pure-blood wizarding families. Slytherin left Hogwarts after this argument, since the other three founders did not share his prejudice about wizards who come from muggle backgrounds. Some concern about separating the students into houses has been expressed in Books Four through Six. Such separation may prevent students from uniting against the common enemy of Voldemort.

Dumbledore is the headmaster of Hogwarts.
Dumbledore is the headmaster of Hogwarts.

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