The Burrow: Are Hufflepuffs Duffers?

by Robbie Fischer

According to the “Sorting Hat” on the official Harry Potter website, I am a Hufflepuff. I don’t know what factors went into the Sorting Hat’s decision, but I’m not agonizing about it. I know I’m pretty brave, and I’m pretty smart, and I have a good deal of ambition (and I’m no angel, either), so it’s not as if I couldn’t have made the grade in any of the other Hogwarts Houses. But if Hufflepuff is where I belong, so be it.

Still, knowing that I’m a Hufflepuff, I do feel a need. A need to explain to myself, and to all of you, that Hufflepuffs aren’t really the “bunch of duffers” they are so often portrayed as being.

Some passages in the Harry Potter books may give you the idea that Hufflepuff is a house full of mediocrities. They don’t often get any glory (remember, Cedric Diggory was one of the few who got them any). They don’t stand out, collectively, as being powerful or brilliant or valiant or genteel. The best things said about them is that they are loyal, hardworking, and friendly. At other times you get the sense that Hufflepuff House gets whatever is left over after the other Houses have had their pick.

Taking the positives with the negatives, it’s hard to say what exactly Hufflepuff House stands for. I suppose that’s appropriate, because it would be way-overgeneralizing to ascribe the same character to everyone in the same house. Not everyone in Slytherin will be equally nasty, and not everyone in Gryffindor is equally noble or brave (as we have seen in the cases of Percy and Neville). They aren’t all clones. They may share certain characteristics but not in the same proportions.

But what are the characteristics of Hufflepuff, really? Or is it simply a House of negative characteristics, of people who aren’t particularly clever or brave or blood-pure, a catch-all for “the lot” or “the rest”? Do the sometimes-listed attributes of friendship and labor really describe what the Sorting Hat looks for in their heads, or do they simply come about of necessity because Hufflepuffs have to work harder and pull together, simply to keep up with the rest of the school?

Well, I’m at a bit of a loss. I guess everybody is, and even the Sorting Hat can’t keep its own story straight. Sure, a lot of people say they would rather quit school than be a Hufflepuff, but consider the following specimens of Hufflepuff quality:

First, of course, Cedric Diggory. I think the fact that he was practically the ideal young man explains a lot of why his death was so cruel. The first thing anyone noticed about him was that he was tall, quiet, and handsome. Some resentfully added that he was an empty-headed pretty-boy. But actually he seems to have been pretty sharp, getting top grades, tying with Harry for the win of the Triwizard Cup, and becoming a prefect. He was also, evidently, a quidditch player and team captain of rare talent, who remains at this writing the only known Seeker to have bested Harry Potter. And besides that he was a decent, humble, affectionate soul whose sense of fairplay sometimes worked to his disadvantage–who seemed tenderly in love with Cho Chang–who seemed truly embarrassed by his father’s arrogance, deeply loved by his parents, liked by so many people, and showing promise of being a good friend to Harry if he had lived. I don’t think there was anything mediocre about Cedric. He was an awesome person, and the fact that his head wasn’t turned by ambition or the desire to show off only makes his memory more precious.

Second, take Zacharias Smith–who, for quite the opposite reasons, explodes a lot of the misconceptions people bear towards Hufflepuff House. He is also, apparently, a pretty strong quidditch player, possibly the star of his house team. He, too, led Hufflepuff to a victory over Gryffindor. Besides that, though, he couldn’t be more different from Cedric Diggory. Smith is aggressive, suspicious, the type of person who questions everything and gets on a lot of people’s nerves. Though not essentially a bad person, he is somewhat unlikeable. But no one questions his intelligence or prowess as a wizard, and at the end of the day it wasn’t Zacharias who turned sneak. If he had been sorted into Slytherin, Smith might have turned out to be a real nightmare of a person. But as a Hufflepuff, he stands a chance of proving his courage against the forces of evil, right alongside the bravest of the Gryffindors. If they don’t stuff him in a vanishing cabinet first.

Next, you have Susan Bones. We don’t know much about her, and I think most of the excitement about her before the Fifth Book was due to Chris Columbus’ daughter playing her in the first two movies. What excites ME about Susan is that she takes after her Auntie, Madam Bones of the Department of Magical Law. From the thin evidence we have so far, Susan seems to have a very insightful, inquisitive, orderly mind. She is also the first person outside Harry’s immediate circle of friends to realize what his life must be like.

OK, then there are Ernie, Justin, and Hannah, who admittedly aren’t so exceptional. Ernie is fairly smart but somewhat pompous and at times indecisive. Justin is a little slow on the uptake. And Hannah pitches a hissy-fit at the drop of a hat. But hey, not everyone in Gryffindor is a great hero either, and not every Ravenclaw is a big genius. Likewise you can’t expect greatness of every single Hufflepuff, either. They’re just average people, but by golly, they’re part of Dumbledore’s Army. And they might be Harry’s best friends outside of Gryffindor.

And finally, let us not forget Professor Sprout. She has a magical (!) touch with things that grow. Some of them are quite dangerous, and in many ways her job is very risky and challenging. Sprout seems to be one of the better teachers at Hogwarts, though. And she has a good rapport with students from houses other than her own. Maybe she looks a little dumpy and eccentric, but she carries a lot of authority and carries it lightly. She can brew a mandrake restorative draft, console the family of a dead student, deal with teething tentaculas, AND look daggers at Gilderoy Lockhart, which means she’s no fool.

Hufflepuff does not need your pity. It is an honorable house, and I am honored to be an honorary partaker of such a distinguished tradition.