Like a great many people who did most of their growing up in the early 2000s, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I devoured every single book practically on release, read them over and over, and spent endless hours imagining myself in the rich world the books created. This obsession continued throughout high school, during which J.K. Rowling announced the online companion for her books, a website names Pottermore. On it, fans of the books could live the books out online, interacting firsthand with the stories. Naturally, I jumped at the chance and created an account as soon as I could. I made it through the first few chapters, walked through dragon alley, got my wand, made it to the great hall to sit under the sorting hat… and was promptly placed in Hufflepuff. For a moment I was incredibly disappointed.
After all, Hufflepuff’s popular reputation isn’t the best. They’re known as something of a house of losers, whose one redeeming member, Cedric Diggory, was unceremoniously killed off in the fourth book. Whether it’s Harry defeating the Hufflepuff quidditch team in under 5 minutes in the first novel, the house’s consistent place at the very bottom of the house cup standings, or Harry himself asserting that Hufflepuff hasn’t had any significant glory “in centuries,” the characters of the book all give us the distinct impression that Hufflepuff is now and always has been a house for everyone who wasn’t brave, smart, or ambitious enough to get into any of the other houses.
What, though, is the house actually about? For this I turn to the sorting hat, who we can assume, given that it has the crucial job of actually, has a pretty good idea of what each house is about. What does he have to say about Hufflepuff? Throughout the series, the hat sang three times, extolling the virtues, or each house, and had this to say in Harry’s first year:
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
where they are just and loyal.
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true,
and unafraid of toil
The second time we hear the sorting hat sing, it tells us that “For Hufflepuff, hard workers were worthy of admission.” The third and last time we hear the hat sing, it tells us about the house’s founder: “Said Hufflepuff, ‘I’ll teach the lot, and treat them just the same.’” In other words, the essence of Hufflepuff house is to be hard working, loyal, just, determined, and good at heart.
How, then, did we go wrong? After all, there’s nothing in these descriptions of Hufflepuff house the preclude them from producing great wizards and witches. If anything, I would expect a house devoted to hard work to be just as successful as one that bravery. I think some of this can be attributed to the descriptions of the other houses. When ranged against ambition, intelligence, and bravery, hard work and goodness seem a pretty poor lot to get sorted into. But to make the mistake that is to make the same mistake anyone who claims Hermione should have been sorted into Ravenclaw is making. The sorting hat put Hermione in Gryffindor instead or Ravenclaw despite her brilliance and love of knowledge because at her core she values and adheres to the principles of bravery, as she tells us herself toward the end of The Sorcerer’s Stone when she says “Books! And Cleverness! There are far more important things, like friendship and bravery.” A similar thing is true for Hufflepuffs. They can be, and very often are, brave and clever and ambitious, but at their core they are devoted to working hard and being good. And in thinking about this, I echo J.K. Rowling’s own daughter: “we should all want to be Hufflepuffs.” Perhaps if we did, the world would be a better place.