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The Sorting Hat opens its mouth, and weeks and months and YEARS of great chat follow. “Karen, you are such a Slytherin!” “As if, Karen! I am totally a Gryffindor. I’m basically Hermione Granger.” “Then again, Karen, you’re pretty smart. You could be a Ravenclaw.” You know what I mean. You’ve heard it before. You are Karen. (We are all Karen.)
Identification of your own character traits is tricky. Moreover, it’s hard to say “I’m brave” or “I’m smart” or “I’m destined for greatness” without sounding like an arsehole. And of course you want to be all three, don’t you – who’s to say whether that’s what you’re actually like? This was initially my problem with people trying to sort themselves into Hogwarts houses. “Nobody knows themselves! You flatter your friends because you know they want to be thought of one way or another!” Then I realised something much worse was afoot.
NO ONE EVER BLOODY WANTED TO BE IN HUFFLEPUFF.
We were told that Hufflepuff is where you go if you are just and loyal: “those patient Hufflepuffs are true, and unafraid of toil.” Hard work is important; hard workers are “most worthy of admission.” But to get into Hufflepuff, you also had to be neglected by Slytherin and Ravenclaw and Gryffindor. If you didn’t have a defining strong character trait that one of them would prize, ah well, you could just be diligent and cheerful in the face of your mediocrity. Whenever we watched the Sorting, every now and then the hat yelled “HUFFLEPUFF!” and we didn’t care because we were too busy wondering who the new little Gryffindors and Slytherins would be. This was almost subliminal; we’d heard it before we even got on the bloody train. Hagrid tells Harry “everyone says Hufflepuff are a lot o’ duffers,” and Harry says: “I bet I’m in Hufflepuff.” Collective shudder.
I always wanted to be in Gryffindor, which I figure is pretty standard. Principally for the gossip. Imagine sitting in the common room taking bets with your mates over who Hermione would go for! (Those odds! I can’t even.) Gryffindor also had great parties. But I was a shy kid, and Gryffindors weren’t shy. I thought I was a Slytherin for a while, but then I realised I had mistaken ambition for a propensity to be an arsehole sometimes. These are not the same thing (sometimes they overlap: see Kevin Rudd/Uncle Scar). It wasn’t enough that I really enjoyed saying the word “snaaaaaaake”. I just wasn’t particularly resourceful.
Ravenclaw seemed like a good-enough fit, because I liked learning and was marginally quick-witted. Other people thought I was smart, and maintaining that perception was important to me. Older men were my preferred audience – Professor Flitwick seemed chill: he and I could have had a laugh. The common room probably had some great books. But then being a Ravenclaw just got too stressful. Having to be the smart one. Hanging out with intellectuals all the time. Talking smart all the time. Being challenged. Having to defend your position impeccably. Imagine if you were having an off day and you had to answer a fucking riddle between the fridge and your bed! NO NO NO NO. Definitely don’t belong here.
Man, I thought, it would be great if there were a house that valued people even if they weren’t set for greatness, or daring and willing to take risks, or particularly intelligent. For just caring about being good to the people around them. And – wait for it – THERE IS ONE AND IT’S BEEN THERE THE WHOLE TIME. The Hufflepuffs are probably all sitting in the common room being supportive of each other (either that or cacking themselves laughing about how ‘badger’ is slang for vagina). Down as a clown for that.
How we think about Hufflepuffs reflects the way we want ourselves to have some glossy quality that all of society can celebrate: you’re either indispensable or dispensable; you’re worth very little until you’re worth a lot. We like celebrating other people and we want it to be easy. And if they have some sexy quality, it is easy. Hufflepuff values – justice, hard work, patience, loyalty – are important, and it’s not hard for us to agree on that at the outset. But we can also get distracted and compromise or relegate them, which we kind of do when we look first for ambition or intelligence or bravery and lump everyone else together as ‘the rest’. It’s not that Gryffindors or Ravenclaws or Slytherins don’t care about justice or loyalty. It’s more that you put bravery to the point of foolhardiness, cleverness and all-consuming ambition together and you get Rogernomics.
I told some of my friends I was going public as a Hufflepuff: coming out of the common room, as it were. Some said, “Think about how well you did in fifth-form German! You’re a Ravenclaw!” Some said, “Get off the grass, you’re a Muggle.” Some said, “Are you writing an opinion for Salient instead of that 40 per cent essay you are already late handing in?” To all I say, QUIET: I’ve already put the hat on and am concentrating on thinking very loudly “Hufflepuff, please put me in Hufflepuff.”
Hilary Grace Beattie is an anagram of “great, hairy celibate”.