All about Ilvermorny: American wizarding school history unveiled

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Ilvermorny crest

To all North Americans who have dreamed of going to Hogwarts: Our moment has arrived.

At long last, J.K Rowling has released details about the origins of Ilvermorny, the American wizarding school, in a story posted on Pottermore Tuesday.

The school stands “at the highest peak of Mount Greylock” in Massachusetts, where it was started in its founders’ small cottage and eventually grew into a castle protected by enchantments.

The driving force behind Ilvermorny was Isolt Sayre, an Irish-born witch who fled to America aboard the Mayflower in 1620 to escape the controlling, pureblood-crazy aunt who raised her.

Isolt’s aunt had not allowed her to go to Hogwarts, but had shared plenty of stories about the school. So in Massachusetts, when Isolt, her Muggle husband, James Steward, and their two young adopted wizard sons, Chadwick and Webster Boot, dreamed of a way to educate the two Boot boys, they based the fledgling Ilvermorny in large part on what they knew about Hogwarts.

Presenting: The houses

Each of the four family members named an Ilvermorny house – and, the story says, “much of their own characters leaked into the houses they had so light-heartedly named” after their favorite magical creatures. The houses are:

  • Thunderbird: Named by Chadwick, “an intelligent but often temperamental boy,” whose favorite creature was a bird “that can create storms as it flies.” Some say Thunderbird house represents the soul and favors adventurers.
  • Wampus: Named by Webster, who was “argumentative but fiercely loyal” and favored a “magical panther-like creature that was fast, strong and almost impossible to kill.” Some say Wampus represents the body and favors warriors.
  • Horned Serpent: Isolt named this house after a river serpent with a jewel in its forehead, which others feared but Isolt became close to (and she couldn’t explain it, but she swore she could understand what it was saying). Isolt may never have gone to Hogwarts, but she dreamed of being in Ravenclaw. Some say Horned Serpent represents the mind and favors scholars.
  • Pukwudgie: As a No-Maj, James didn’t personally know much about magical creatures, so he named his house after the grumbling, goblin-like creature that had helped Isolt learn about the North American wilderness during her early days on the continent. Some say Pukwudgie represents the heart and favors healers.

If you’re dying to know which house you’d be in (and if you’ve read this far, why wouldn’t you?), Pottermore has you covered there, too, with a brand new Ilvermorny sorting ceremony.

(And if these house names sound familiar — yes, they are the same names an astute Reddit user found in Pottermore’s source code a few months ago.)

Other things we gleaned

There is so, so much more to Ilvermorny’s story than what’s in this summary, so read the whole thing at least as many times as you’ve read the Potter series to really soak in all the details.

Here’s a few tidbits – some major, some minor – that stood out at first glance:

The Slytherin connection: Isolt is a pureblood related to the Irish witch Morrigan on her father’s side…and the Gaunts on her mother’s side. Yes, those Gaunts: The last descendants of Salazar Slytherin, a line that ultimately ended with Lord Voldemort.

Isolt’s parents and the Ilvermorny founder herself escaped the pureblood-mania others in the family – including her aunt and guardian – were known for. However, she seems to have inherited her ancestor’s ability to understand Parseltongue, had an affinity for serpents and unwittingly took one of Slytherin’s prized possessions with her to the New World. (Thank goodness Voldemort never sought that one out for a horcrux, especially given what it became.)

Lest any Slytherins out there are starting to think their house’s founder was being denigrated throughout the story, though, note this passage:

“This…seemed testament to the fact that Slytherin’s [artifact], like his scattered descendants, encompassed both noble and ignoble. The very best of him seemed to have migrated to America.”

A Muggle founder: Isolt’s husband, a No-Maj named James, was Ilvermorny’s co-founder, the school’s co-headmaster for many years and remained a beloved figure in the wizarding community. But even though a No-Maj played such a huge role in starting the continent’s premiere wizarding academy, the American wizarding community eventually took extreme measures to conceal themselves from the non-magical population. Of course, that is a completely different story stemming from an unfortunate event in the late 18th century, long after James’s time…but it just adds to the complicated American wizarding world we’ll soon see in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Connection to Harry’s class: Of course this would come back to Harry. One of Isolt and James’s adopted sons eventually went back to Britain, and his descendants attended Hogwarts. Could one, perchance, be Terry Boot, a Ravenclaw and Dumbledore’s Army member in Harry’s year?

‘No equivalence’ between houses: While Isolt dreamed of being in Ravenclaw, and her Horned Serpent house is believed to represent the mind and favor scholars, Rowling also says there aren’t equivalents between the Ilvermorny and Hogwarts houses:

And she wants you to stop hating on Hufflepuff. (You know, the house our new hero, Newt Scamander, was in.) The Queen has spoken.

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About Amanda Keim-Morrison

Amanda Keim-Morrison brings updates about J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world to Nerdvana. She's a former East Valley Tribune reporter and State Press editor; she now lives in Minnesota, where she's been a writer, web producer and editor and currently works on the tech side of several news sites. Amanda is a Ravenclaw at Hogwarts, a Horned Serpent at Ilvermorny and has a white stallion for a Patronus.