In any discussion of the houses present in Harry Potter, it would be remiss to forget the Dursleys.' It is the first house we are introduced to, after all.

At first glance, Number Four, Privet Drive, is a small, almost dull house—it doesn't stand out from its neighbours—it is quite ordinary, and yet still spotless and well-kept. In a word—it is ordinary.

But that is the outside—that is only the façade, the mask the Dursleys show to the world.

Inside the house, the cleanliness continues.

Why is everything so clean? When things are clean, they have nothing to hide. Everything is as it appears.

But this isn't quite true, as you'll find if you look more closely. Because another thing the Dursley's house abounds in is locks. Locks—on the door to the cupboard under the stairs. Locks on the door to the second bedroom, and bars on the window. The first thing that comes to mind, of course, is a prison—a prison hidden behind an ordinary exterior—yet the meaning of these locks is twofold. They are not only a prison to keep things in, they are also a wall to keep secrets from the outside world.

In the very first book, when Mr. Dursley is trying to stop the owls from coming in, he eventually decides to board up the entire house. This, of course, will do more than a little to damage their façade, but the choice is between that, and letting the owls in.

The Dursleys' house is a prison—but it is not a prison only for Harry. It is the prison the Dursleys' made for themselves, boarding themselves in to hide from the world.

The Dursley's house is also small, like the small-minded Dursleys themselves, and the way that the Dursley's problems, which they think are so important, are nothing compared to those out in the world, that the Durslys ignore out of willful ignorance. (And now I am wondering if, secretly, everyone thought of the Dursleys as 'that weird family.' It would be kind of ironic. They try so hard to be ordinary, and yet they so obviously have something going on…)

Next: Hogwarts. Unlike the Dursleys' house, Hogwarts is enormous. It is a castle as well, full of strange and wondrous things. What does Hogwarts stand for? The Wizarding world. It looks so amazing, it is full of magic, but when you travel inside, you find at once—it doesn't make any sense. The staircases move, there are doors pretending to be walls, walls pretending to be doors, and secret passages. Just as, though the Wizarding world is amazing, it doesn't make any sense, and for the life of them, they can't agree or work together.

Not only that—even in Hogwarts, there are secrets. These, unlike the Dursleys' are harder to find—hidden by age and design. But all too often, these secrets are dangerous. They are dangerous because they have been hidden, and not dealt with—just as the dangers in the Wizarding World have not been dealt with, but only hidden away and forgotten, to rise up once more.

The next house is the Burrow. The Burrow has, like Hogwarts, a rambling feel, though it is undoubtedly smaller. It is interesting that the only two houses in the series to be felt of as a home, in some way, to Harry, would have this in common.

The Lovegoods' house is just as eccentric as the family, but the first impression you get—a tower in the middle of nowhere—is one of isolation.

You don't know much about the Malfoy house, but it is most certainly very old. How does this reflect on Draco Malfoy? Simply, that he has everything he could ever want, but none of it is really his. None of it is because of him, or what he has done. This is in direct contrast to Harry—as everything famous about him is because of who he is and what he has done. And Draco wants that. He wants that recognition—but he doesn't know how to get it, or perhaps even that that's what he wants—and so he goes for whatever recognition he can get.

Snape's house. It's dark, forbidding, grim—but inside, you find something most unusual. Books.

Why books? Books symbolize knowledge, as well as stories—things that Snape has in plenty. In fact, one of the key points about Snape is his secrets, and his secrets are hidden in his books. But why books? Why not locks, as in the Dursleys', or hidden rooms, as in Hogwarts? Perhaps because locks implies keeping it in—being afraid, and secret rooms and passages symbolize lying to yourself. Snape does neither of those things. His secrets are all known to him, and all important to him.

But aside from that, having books in Snape's house is unexpected—in fact, Snape's house itself is unexpected—just as Snape is never what you expect he will be.

Lastly, the orphanage in which Tom Riddle stayed. From the outside, it looks cold, dreary, gloomy—and inside, it is cold, dreary, and gloomy. Tom has a room all to himself, but this is only because the other boys are afraid of him. He is in the same place as Harry—being feared by those he lives with—but unlike Harry, who the Dursleys' try to keep in with a vengeance, Tom is put aside—almost forgotten. There is no personal force behind his room—no one spent hours trying to put bars on his window. No, Tom Riddle was given a room—any room, and left there.