Headmasters and Headmistresses of Hogwarts should be above the petty squabbling between the four houses, but are they really?

Being raised to a higher level and becoming (supposedly) neutral is a common trope both in real life and (more on-topically) in fiction. In the Wheel of Time series, "the Amyrlin Seat is of all Ajahs and of none", but except in one case, she's still raised from one Ajah or another, and sometimes retains her Ajah prejudices even though she's not supposed to. In the Night Watch series, by contrast, although Inquisitors stand above the conflict between the Watches, they are always still either Light or Dark.

So what about in Hogwarts? Snape was always shameless in his support of Slytherin, and I doubt he would have been any different as headmaster. Dumbledore arguably displayed partiality towards Gryffindor in his awarding of points at the end of book 1. What other evidence is there of Headmasters/mistresses being biased in favour of one House rather than another?

  • Snape was responsible for Slytherin as McGonagall was for Gryffindor. So I think it is ok to favour "their" students. Though Dumbledore shouldn't favor Gryffindor, but I think he only does it as he knows that only Harry can stop Voldemort.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 10:30
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    @Thomas But Snape wasn't Head of Slytherin during his year as Headmaster!
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 10:33
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    Voting to close...j/k good morning. +1 I could give lots of examples of this. But I've gotten maybe five hours of sleep in the past five days so there's no way I can do it now. Snape interfering in the duel instruction by inserting Draco. McGonigal putting the entire slytherin house in the dungeon. Gryffindor mattered, Slytherin was evil, and huffandpuff and I'll blow your house down didn't matter. So of course they picked sides.
    – JMFB
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 10:48
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    @randal'thor Good point, but this was during Voldemorts short return, who was also in Slytherin. So I would asume this was in favor of his "boss".
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 10:52
  • I can't think of much evidence of this, but I am a teacher in England and bias is quite an interesting thing. You shouldn't show it or give in to it, yet there are countless things that can encourage you to take a bias towards a child or a group of children lol! So I'm sure the headmasters felt some bias but hopefully never played on it.
    – ThruGog
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 9:35

2 Answers 2


One example that certainly requires no speculation is Dolores Umbridge who was—nominally and, as far as day-to-day effects on students are concerned, also in practice—Headmaster for a good deal of the Order of the Phoenix.

There are many instances of her favouring Slytherin over the other houses, and in particular discriminating against Gryffindor, mainly because that’s Harry’s house. We know that Slytherin was Umbridge’s old house, so while she was never head of her house, she was favouring her own house.

Examples of favouritism include the selection of members for her Inquisitorial Squad (exclusively Slytherins if the Wikia article is to be trusted); and acts of discrimination include her ‘lifetime’ Quidditch ban of Harry and the Weasley twins after their little, hem-hem, tiff on the Quidditch pitch (even if only one of the twins was actually, erm, tiffing), while never at any point in the books (that I can recall, at least) meting out any punishment whatsoever to a single Slytherin student.

  • Another good example! I'd completely forgotten about her, and what house she was in, but her being a Slytherin fits so well with both her bigotry and her favouritism in the Inquisitorial Squad. Minor point: Harry and both Fred and George got banned.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 20:53
  • Ah yes! That would be why I couldn’t remember offhand which of them it was. Editing! Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 20:56
  • Only one of them (Fred?) actually beat up Malfoy though; the other was just banned on the basis of 'intent'. Also, shouldn't you change 'ahem' to 'hem-hem' given the context? ;-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 20:57
  • @randal'thor Jinx! (Was just typing that into the answer as you commented—but yes, hem-hem it is!) Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 20:57
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    You might add that the Slytherin Quiddich team was authorized immediately, whereas the other teams needed to pass some review. On which Dumbledore intervened. Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 8:36

One example we have that does require a bit of speculation (based on other facts) deals with Phineas Nigellus (Black).

Through the interactions the various characters have with the portrait of Phineas, we see fairly quickly that he held to the sterotypical Slytherin beliefs. And though we don't know how he treated muggle-borns as Headmaster, since his family still holds him in high regard, I think it is safe to assume he didn't treat them well.

Phineas Nigellus: "Headmaster! They are camping in the Forest of Dean! The Mudblood —" Severus Snape: "Do not use that word!" (Deathly Hallows)

"You know, Minister, I disagree with Dumbledore on many counts ... but you cannot deny he's got style ..." —Phineas Nigellus's portrait to Cornelius Fudge (Order of the Phoenix)

He also was very "loyal" to his house.

"Let it be known that Slytherin did its part!" (Deathly Hallows)

He also hated teaching, and was the least popular headmaster ever

"You know, this is precisely why I loathed being a teacher! Young people are so infernally convinced that they are absolutely right about everything."

Again, we have no direct evidence (at least that I've been able to find), but these items would lead me to speculate that Phineas definately had some bias towards his old house, and probably treated them well enough while alienating himself from the other three houses.

Now, a thought concerning the House Heads. We know Mcgonagall didn't (often) show any favoritism (excepting when she allows Harry time to practice for Quidditch to beat Slytherin, and when she distrusted Slytherins at the end of Deathly Hallows. Granted, I think the school supported her in this, so just call her the champion of the people). And we have to be told (once in the books, and once out) that the heads of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw are Professor Sprout and Flitwick respectively. We don't see Ravenclaw getting any sort of benefit from Flitwick, and it's hard to conclude anything about Hufflepuff.

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    Hello, hello! ;-) Phineas Nigellus is a good example, but not all the last section is right: McGonagall did show some favouritism (for instance, giving Harry extra time to prepare for Quidditch so they could win the Quidditch cup), and the head of Hufflepuff is Prof Flitwick, not Madame Hooch.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 20:40
  • @randal'thor I think you mean Ravenclaw, but now I'm wondering where I heard that about Madame Hooch.... I'll have to fix that.
    – Aggie Kidd
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 20:42
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    Oops, yes, Ravenclaw. Too late to edit my comment!
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 20:45
  • @randal'thor As an update for information, there is very little information on Madam Hooch... No idea what house she was a part of. But, interestingly, she was at Hogwarts when Phineas was (harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Rolanda_Hooch)
    – Aggie Kidd
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 20:49
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    :-o How can she be that old?! (The Wikia isn't always reliable...)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 20:56

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