When Harry is a first year, Professor McGonagall recommends Harry as seeker and gifts him a Nimbus 2000, breaking the house rule according to which first years are not allowed to have brooms. The idea is probably that flying (and especially Quidditch) is too dangerous, and first years shouldn't dodge Bludgers or fly unsupervised. It's allowed to fly under the supervision of Madame Hooch, on school brooms. Harry was good, but my impression was that he wasn't as good as Quidditch prodigy Viktor Krum, to justify making him the youngest seeker in 100 years.

When Harry enters Hogwarts, Slytherin house is on a winning streak for both the House and the Quidditch Cup. The Seeker is extremely important to the outcome of the game, so could it be that Minerva was desperate enough to change tactics and use a young, lightweight seeker, giving an unfair advantage to the Gryffindor team?

Later, in Harry's third year Professor McGonagall says to Harry:

"...Potter- do try and win, won't you? Or we'll be out of the running for the eighth year in a row, as Professor Snape was kind enough to remind me only last night…" ~Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Chapter 12: The Patronus

In sixth year Harry uses a spell of unknown origin that almost kills another student, refusing to tell the source that spell come from and if there's more such things he learned. Yet McGanagall has no intention to suspend Harry from the team.

Same with the House Cup. In first year Dumbledore awards exactly enough points so Gryffindor would win. How that's fair? It's not as if other houses were given the chance to fight Voldemort or had the cloak of invisibility.

There is a conversation in Philosopher's Stone when the trio discusses Dumbledore:

"D'you think he meant you to do it?" said Ron. "Sending you your father's cloak and everything?" "Well, " Hermione exploded, "if he did -- I mean to say that's terrible -- you could have been killed." "No, it isn't," said Harry thoughtfully. "He's a funny man, Dumbledore. I think he sort of wanted to give me a chance. I think he knows more or less everything that goes on here, you know. I reckon he had a pretty good idea we were going to try, and instead of stopping us, he just taught us enough to help. I don't think it was an accident he let me find out how the mirror worked. It's almost like he thought I had the right to face Voldemort if I could...." "Yeah, Dumbledore's off his rocker, all right," said Ron proudly. ~Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - Chapter 17: The Man with Two Faces

So if Dumbledore was leading Harry and did everything to ensure he'd fight Voldemort and that he would be ready, how it is fair to award points for it?

Between Snape openly favouring the Slytherins and Dumbledore and McGonagall bending the rules and cheating do other houses even stand a chance to win?

  • 6
    Don't forget in Book 6 when Snape is going to deduct a small number of points from Gryffindor which will give them negative points, and McGonngal awards something like 200pts on the spot so Snape can have something to deduct from :)
    – NKCampbell
    Jul 12, 2016 at 18:54
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    You seem to have answered your own question. "Yes" :) Bloody Gryffindor tossers. Jul 12, 2016 at 18:58
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    Was Harry as good as Viktor Krum? Probably not, but there was never a direct comparison, so who can say? He could have been the best Seeker (or player) Hogwarts had seen in a while nonetheless, though, since Krum attended Durmstrang.
    – Adamant
    Jul 12, 2016 at 19:30
  • @Himarm not quite fair on the most horrible toad of them all, she banned one of the weasleys for being held back (because he would have attacked if he could have), but Harry definitely attacked Malfoy, hitting him with the hand still holding the Snitch, because he insulted his dead mother (which is pretty reasonable, I'm not saying it's not!)
    – Au101
    Jul 12, 2016 at 21:59
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    Can McGonagall really said to be unfair when she awarded Harry and Ron a mere 10 points for defeating a fully-grown mountain troll in their first year? Jul 14, 2016 at 0:10

3 Answers 3


They at least show favoritism

They did indeed show favoritism, but not all the examples you mention are cheating.

As you mentioned, Dumbledore awarded Gryffindor just enough points to push them ahead of Slytherin:

The din was deafening. Those who could add up while yelling themselves hoarse knew that Gryffindor now had four hundred and seventy-two points—exactly the same as Slytherin. They had tied for the house cup -- if only Dumbledore had given Harry just one more point .

Dumbledore raised his hand. The room gradually fell silent. "There are all kinds of courage," said Dumbledore, smiling.

"It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom."

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Ten points is really a rather small reward. While one could make a good argument for awarding lots of points based on saving the world, it seems clear that the precise number of points was calculated to put Gryffindor in first place.

McGonagall also is highly biased against Slytherin, and particularly does not want to see Snape win any accolades, as evidenced in the first quote in the question.

Her attitude when awarding points at the end of Order of the Phoenix makes this quite plain.

“So that’s fifty each for Potter, the two Weasleys, Longbottom, and Miss Granger,” said Professor McGonagall, and a shower of rubies fell down into the bottom bulb of Gryffindor’s hourglass as she spoke. “Oh — and fifty for Miss Lovegood, I suppose,” she added, and a number of sapphires fell into Ravenclaw’s glass.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Notice how Luna, a Ravenclaw, is merely an afterthought.

It is worth noting that in all cases in which points were awarded, McGonagall and Dumbledore had very good reason to award points. It is also true, however, that they specifically seized upon these ambiguous instances to put Gryffindor ahead of Slytherin.

That said, there is at least one thing mentioned in the question that was not favoritism or cheating.

  • Not suspending Harry from Quidditch after his use of Sectumsempra.

    This was self-defense, to start with. Malfoy had been about to use the Cruciatus Curse on Harry:

    There was a loud bang and the bin behind Harry exploded; Harry attempted a Leg-Locker Curse that backfired off the wall behind Malfoy's ear and smashed the cistern beneath Moaning Myrtle, who screamed loudly; water poured everywhere and Harry slipped as Malfoy, his face contorted, cried, "Cruci —"

    "SECTUMSEMPRA!" bellowed Harry from the floor, waving his wand wildly.

    Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

    Second, Harry had no idea what the spell did, beside that it was offensive, and so was guilty of recklessness in a possibly lethal situation at worst.

    And while McGonagall did not suspend Harry in that case, Snape did.

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    Harry was suspended from the quidditch 6th year by snape. Ginny wins it flying as seaker and harry and her make out. OP is confusing Harry getting suspended by umbridge in year 5. while he got suspended for sectumsempra in year 6.
    – Himarm
    Jul 12, 2016 at 19:37
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    she really didnt have a chance too since snape already had, though technically hes not suspended from the team, hes just in detention during the match
    – Himarm
    Jul 12, 2016 at 19:42
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    I'm pretty sure you can have multiples of five in the awarding and deduction of points, in fact, off the top of my head, after the incident with the troll in PS Hermione is docked 5 and the boys are awarded 5. This is a minor nitpick, though
    – Au101
    Jul 12, 2016 at 21:48
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    @Adamant I've upvoted your answer and I don't have a problem with it, but I think that's a little unfair, that's not the only time five points are given out in the books, for example, Lupin gives out five points to everyone to tackle the Boggart in PoA, I wouldn't ... yeah, I just wouldn't double down on the multiples of ten point myself, I'm not really sure about that. However who gives out 45 points? or 55 points? You give out round numbers, don't you? You don't give 15, you give 10 or 20, but you might give out 5 for something more trivial.
    – Au101
    Jul 12, 2016 at 21:56
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    @Au101 - It's not unfair, it's just true. As JKR says here, "Oh dear, maths." Her lack of maths skills has been noted by her and many others, particularly with respect to dates and ages in the series. See: Montague.
    – Adamant
    Jul 12, 2016 at 21:59

Not really.

Firstly, a nitpick. Gryffindor didn't win the Quidditch Cup that year. It's not entirely clear but from the following quotes I'd infer that Slytherin won it alongside the House Cup (before Dumbledore awarded Gryffindor the extra points, that is).

"The points are all in and Slytherin won, of course - you missed the last Quidditch match, we were steamrollered by Ravenclaw without you - but the food'll be good."
(Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 17, The Man With Two Faces)

"Gryffindor haven't won for seven years now. OK, so we've had the worst luck in the world - injuries - then the tournament being called off last year..."
(Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 8, Flight of the Fat Lady)

Now it seems that Quidditch scores contribute to the totals for the House Cup. Harry expresses dismay that the points he loses for being out of bed wipe out those he won for Quidditch. So having a good Quidditch team certainly helps with regards to winning the House Cup. But, when it comes to the Quidditch scoring system itself, remember that this is basically a sport which is invented in such a way as to make Harry a hero. Even the best of Chasers is unlikely to win their team more than 50 or 60 points in a game. The Seeker gets 150 points and almost always wins the match just by pulling off their signature move. So, in that sense, the entire House Cup wasn't fair to begin with because it gives a disproportionate reward to Quidditch Seekers over and above everyone else. This was true of all the houses.

McGonagall isn't in my view guilty of showing favouritism in allowing Harry onto the team. He is uncommonly good, the sort of Quidditch player that Hogwarts hadn't seen for many generations.

"Are you serious, Professor?"
"Absolutely," said Professor McGonagall crisply. "The boy's a natural. I've never seen anything like it...He caught that thing in his hand after a fifty-foot dive...Didn't even scratch himself. Charlie Weasley couldn't have done it."
(Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 9, The Midnight Duel)

True, she does bend the rule about first years not having brooms. But that rule is surely there to ensure the safety of first-years and make sure that they don't cause a danger to themselves or others until they have completed their Flying Lessons. Harry has obviously just demonstrated that he is not only able to fly competently but that he's one of the most talented flyers that Hogwarts has ever seen. There's no reason to prevent him joining the Gryffindor team. As is the case with Muggle sports, if you're good enough then you're old enough.

Where McGonagall arguably is culpable is in buying Harry a top-of-the-range Nimbus 2000. This was not strictly necessary. However, in a competition where a player's father can buy the entire team top broomsticks (as Lucius Malfoy does a year later), I'd argue that it's not really a big deal. Professor Flitwick was the Head of another house and he didn't make any objections.

"Potter's been sent a broomstick, Professor," said Malfoy quickly.
"Yes, yes, that's right," said Professor Flitwick, beaming at Harry. "Professor McGonagall told me all about the special circumstances, Potter. And what model is it?"
(Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 10, Hallowe'en)

As for the House Cup, the entire scoring system is all over the place.

Yes, Heads of Houses are biased as hell. McGonagall is nowhere near as bad as Snape in this regard, when you consider how he docked points for this sort of thing:

"Five more points from Gryffindor for being an insufferable know-it-all."
(Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 9, Grim Defeat)

Indeed, if Snape takes points away from Gryffindor for no reason, McGonagall if anything seems curiously unwilling to reward her own House. Consider how she gives out a mere ten points to Ron and Harry - two first years who defeat a fully-grown mountain troll without any help from teachers or other students, saving Hermione's life in the process.

"Well, I still say you were lucky, but not many first-years could have taken on a fully-grown mountain troll. You each win Gryffindor five points."
(Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 10, Hallowe'en)

This is surely a very measly reward for such a huge achievement! My conclusion would be that inter-House bias certainly does play a role in the rewarding and docking of points. Therefore, what happened at the end of The Philosopher's Stone doesn't seem to be too far out of the ordinary.

It is unfair, true. It hardly seems just for the diligent Slytherin students who'd been receiving five or ten points for their efforts on homework during the entire school year. Their efforts are overridden entirely by the points Harry, Ron, Hermione and Neville get right at the end of the year. Dumbledore obviously awarded the points in such a way that Gryffindor would very narrowly win. This is hardly fair.

Yet we shouldn't underestimate the trio's achievement either. They thwart the return of Lord Voldemort into eternal life. This is something that any grown-up wizard would be immensely proud of. Dumbledore is hardly overreacting by giving them the House Cup. If anything, they deserve a lot more. I wouldn't say Dumbledore cheated. I'd say he manipulated the system to justly reward the extraordinary (historic, really) efforts of some young Gryffindors by giving them something he knew they'd appreciate - recognition by the rest of the school and the end-of-year prize. As Headmaster, he was well within his rights to give them this.

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    I think McGonagall probably gave them very few points for taking on the troll because they disobeyed orders to go back to their dorms, and at the end of the day they could have been killed, and they almost were. Other than that good answer, I wasn't aware quidditch points contributed to the overall house points. Jul 18, 2016 at 15:41
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    @Mike.C.Ford, I think McGonagall gave them so few points because inflation. ;) No, really. All the points values (deductions and awards) seem to get bigger as the series progresses. Rowling finding her feet, I'd say. I only recall one time ever that points are deducted singly (rather than in increments of five): Harry's first Potions lesson.
    – Wildcard
    Jul 18, 2016 at 17:15
  • @Wildcard. I agree. The rewards and punishments seem to go up as you get older and go through the years. Jul 18, 2016 at 18:09
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    +1 for ...in such a way as to make Harry a hero. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks Quditich has some pretty stupid rules, all of which exist to make Harry look cool Jul 19, 2016 at 12:58
  • 1
    The real question is why anyone cares about the points after the first year or two when the realize how arbitrary they are. It's like they're on Whose Line or something. "Welcome to Hogwarts, the school where everything's made up and the points don't matter."
    – Cadence
    May 16, 2018 at 23:54

As a bit of a bonus to what the other answers contain, remember that at this point of the tale, it is necessary to establish that there no friendship between Snape and the rest of the Hogwarts staff, and especially between Dumbledore and Snape. There is a campaign of misdirection going on against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and this includes misdirecting those who are loyal to him.

Granted, Snape probably would not have gotten on with McGonagall, and his relationship with Dumbledore would never have been close, but to keep up the charade they also work to ensure that during time when this ruse needs most earnestly to be effective, they are throwing little digs at Snape's prestige and dignity. All of the Death Eaters who are still loose (Lucius Malfoy et al.) see and hear of this and this helps Snape gain their trust (in most cases; Bellatrix was an exception).

Later this pays off. When Voldemort uses his Legilimency to dip into Snape's head, he sees Snape's hatred for Harry (which is mostly genuine), as well as memories of the slights against him by those to whom Harry is close. Seeing only dislike for his own enemies, Voldemort digs no deeper and never learns that he is being fooled by the biggest Occlumens ever.

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