Earlier this year, J.K. Rowling released details on new wizarding schools around the world—and today, we finally got details on Ilvermorny, North America’s school of magic, via a new piece by Rowling posted on Pottermore. Here are a few things we learned about the school.
1. IT’S LOCATED IN MASSACHUSETTS.
Theorists had posited that Ilvermorny was located in Canada or on a ship sailing the Great Lakes, among other theories. Now, though, we know that it’s actually located “at the highest peak of Mount Greylock,” which is itself the highest point in Massachusetts. There, “it is concealed from non-magic gaze by a variety of powerful enchantments, which sometimes manifest in a wreath of misty cloud.”
2. ONE OF ITS FOUNDERS WAS A DESCENDANT OF SALAZAR SLYTHERIN.
Isolt Sayre, born in Ireland around 1603, had a tough childhood: When she was just 5, her Muggle-friendly parents were killed at the family home—named Ilvermorny—in a fire. Isolt was raised by her mother’s estranged sister, Gormlaith Gaunt (ya know, the family that would eventually include Voldemort) and it wasn’t until she was older that Isolt realized Gormlaith had murdered her parents so that she could be raised “in the belief that as a descendant of both Morrigan and Salazar Slytherin she ought to associate only with pure-bloods.” Isolt was not allowed to attend Hogwarts and was held captive with Dark Magic.
3. IT WAS CREATED BY THREE MAGICAL PEOPLE AND ONE NO-MAJ.
Eventually, Isolt broke free and fled, taking only “a gold brooch in the shape of a Gordian Knot that had once belonged to her mother.” She went first to England, but when she realized Gormlaith was hot on her trail, she disguised herself as a boy named Elias Story and hopped on a trip to America on the Mayflower. In the New World, Isolt “vanished into the surrounding mountains, leaving her erstwhile shipmates to suppose that ‘Elias Story’ had died of the harsh winter, like so many others.” (This echoes the life of the real Elias Story, who was on the Mayflower and died during the first winter at Plymouth Colony.)
Not long after, Isolt rescued a Pukwudgie—“a short, grey-faced, large-eared creature distantly related to the European goblin,” according to Rowling—from a Hidebehind, which can “contort itself to hide behind almost any object, concealing itself perfectly from hunters and victims alike.” Though Pukwudgies were not fans of humans, this one—who Isolt named William—begrudgingly pledged himself to her service, grumbling all the while.
Next, Isolt and William came upon a Horned Serpent, which Isolt discovered she could speak to—and understand. (“Until I am part of your family, your family is doomed,” it told her.) Then, she rescued two boys whose parents were killed by the same Hidebehind that had attacked William, and nursed them both back to health. (Due to William’s protests about rescuing the boys, she released him from her service.) The boys, Chadwick and Webster Boot, both turned out to be magical people.
When Isolt returned to bury Chadwick and Webster's parents, she found a No-Maj had beat her to it. As she watched, James Steward (also a real person, who arrived in the New World in 1621 on the Fortune) picked up one of the wands—which had been broken in the confrontation with the Hidebehind—and waved it, and “it rebelled. James was sent flying backwards across the clearing, hit a tree and was knocked out cold.” Isolt nursed him back to health, intending to Obliviate him when he was well. Instead, they fell in love and got married, and raised the Boot boys as their own; Isolt taught them magic and told them tales of Hogwarts. She named their cottage Ilvermorny, after the home in Ireland that Gormlaith had destroyed.
Though both boys wanted to go to Hogwarts badly, Isolt thought it was too dangerous—so "she promised them that when they reached eleven years old, she would somehow find them wands ... and they would start a school of magic right there in the cottage." That is exactly what she did, and over the years, Isolt's magical mini-school took on more students. Ilvermorny eventually grew into a granite castle guarded by Pukwudgies. (Though they typically hated humans, William, who returned to help Isolt when Gormlaith finally tracked her down in America, decided that "wizards were too dim to protect themselves." He and his family "negotiated a hefty retainer in gold for acting as the school’s private security/maintenance service.") Because one of its founders was a No-Maj, “Ilvermorny has the reputation of being one of the most democratic, least elitist of all the great wizarding schools.”
4. LIKE HOGWARTS, IT HAS FOUR HOUSES.
They are Horned Serpent, Pukwudgie, Wampus, and Thunderbird. As Rowling writes:
“The idea of naming the houses after themselves, as the founders, was swiftly abandoned, because Webster felt a house called ‘Webster Boot’ had no chance of ever winning anything, and instead, each chose their favourite magical beast. For Chadwick, an intelligent but often temperamental boy, it was the Thunderbird that can create storms as it flies. For argumentative but fiercely loyal Webster, it was the Wampus, a magical panther-like creature that was fast, strong and almost impossible to kill. For Isolt, it was, of course, the Horned Serpent that she still visited and with which she felt a strange sense of kinship. “When asked what his favourite creature was, James was at a loss. The only No-Maj in the family was unable to consort with the magical creatures the others had begun to know well. Finally, he named the Pukwudgie, because the stories his wife told of curmudgeonly William always made him laugh.”
The creatures, which play roles in the story of Ilvermorny’s creation, draw from Native American legends (Rowling has drawn from these legends liberally for her new writings before this, leading to complaints of cultural appropriation).
5. UNLIKE HOGWARTS, THERE’S NO SORTING HAT.
Ilvermorny students wear robes of blue (Isolt’s favorite color) and cranberry (because it was James’s favorite pie). The sorting ceremony looks very different from the one at Hogwarts. Instead of donning a hat, new students line the walls of a circular room until, one by one, they are called to stand on a symbol of a Gordian Knot on the floor. Then, the carvings choose the student:
“If the Horned Serpent wants the student, the crystal set into its forehead will light up. If the Wampus wants the student, it roars. The Thunderbird signifies its approval by beating its wings, and the Pukwudgie will raise its arrow into the air.”
What happens if more than one carving wants the student in its house? As Harry Potter once found out, the student gets to choose.