I’m pretty certain that of all the founders, I would have liked Helga Hufflepuff the best. I mean, when I was younger and reading the books for the first time, I pictured her being comically round, like the girl who turns into a blueberry in Willy Wonka round, or Aunt Marge when she blows up like a balloon round. I think I pictured her with a bit of a potato nose too. I’m not sure if there’s anything in the books about her looking like that, or even what she looks like at all, but my vision of her was this caricature of a person really. Where the other founders—and houses—seemed to have very defining characteristics, Hufflepuff always seemed so… blah. It’s the house you go when no other house wants you, basically.
Or is it?
I mean, obviously Salazar Slytherin couldn’t have been alone in only wanting pureblood students. If he represented any significant portion of the wizarding population, then this is a major problem. And I see this whole pureblood thing as an issue that’s probably progressed over time. When Hogwarts was founded, it was probably a bigger issue than when Harry is going to school—and when Harry is going to school a bunch of neo-Nazi pureblood enthusiasts rise up and infiltrate the government. So with that perspective, here’s a hypothetical scenario.
The four greatest witches and wizards of the day decide to create a school for young witches and wizards. Salazar Slytherin, being the most radical of the four, says only purebloods should be allowed in. Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here, and I don’t want to be racist (magic-ist?), but probably none of the founders were muggleborns. Muggleborns then, without a school to help them learn about their abilities or any real aid from the somewhat unsympathetic and very isolated wizarding community, were probably not going to become great witches or wizards, or even get anywhere close to great. In fact, that Slytherin would even suggest making Hogwarts a pureblood-only school suggests that ALL the founders were purebloods. But the other three founders presumably have half-blood friends, a rogue family member here or there who has married a muggle, and so they object to Slytherin’s proposal.
Alright. But we know Slytherin hated one type of person above all else: muggleborns. He would have then proposed that they draw the line there. Halfbloods, quarter-bloods, eight-bloods, fine. But muggleborns? No. No child with muggle parents could possibly be allowed in the finest school for witches and wizards to ever grace the face of British soil.
And here’s where it gets interesting.
Would Rowena Ravenclaw and Godric Gryffindor have let him draw that line? These are very upper-class, sophisticated folk. They might not even know a single muggleborn.
Now, you’re probably asking, where’s she going with this?
In point of fact, I’d like to turn now to the sorting hat’s songs.
Said Slytherin, “We’ll teach just those
Whose ancestry’s purest.”
Said Ravenclaw, “We’ll teach those whose
Intelligence is surest”
Said Gryffindor, “We’ll teach all those
With brave deeds to their name.”
Said Hufflepuff, “I’ll teach the lot
And treat them just the same.”
A pretty clear comparison can be drawn here between admission into Hogwarts and immigration. Some countries say we only want you if you’re talented, you can only come here if you want to be educated, keep out unless you can financially afford to go through our immigration process. This is a lot like the founders deciding who can come to Hogwarts. Helga Hufflepuff is essentially an idealized version of “the American melting pot” (which is itself an idealized version of truth, I realize).
This sentiment is reinforced
You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil
For Hufflepuff, hard workers were
Most worthy of admission;
All the other founders’ willingness to admit you comes with caveats. Yeah, yeah, muggleborns, you can come in… but only if you’re brilliant and/or have slain a dragon with your bare hands. Hufflepuff is the only one who says, no, these are all magical children, and we are gonna let them all in so they can all have a fair shot at success. Everybody is on a level playing field, and we’re not going to give some people unfair advantages just because of the family they were born into, or the brains or courage they were born with. If they’re willing to work hard, they are going to be welcome. Hufflepuff is THE ONLY ONE to stand up for absolute equality, and personally, I think this makes her very ahead of her time, and smarter even than Ravenclaw in my book. And to do it when her colleagues thought she was crazy, and when she didn’t have the support of much of the wizarding community? Braver than Gryffindor by far! And hers is the admission strategy that sticks! Her ambition totally trounces Slytherin’s in the end.
Helga Hufflepuff is BEYOND hardworking in turning her dream of magical equality into reality. Her loyalty is not simply to her friends, her allies, her loyalty is to her beliefs and to her entire community. And that one word, so often overlooked in the sorting hat’s song: just. Helga Hufflepuff believes in fairness, in treating all people with respect and giving everybody equality of opportunity, not handing out favors to people because you arbitrarily decided that they were better than everybody else. Helga Hufflepuff is the greatest thing that ever happened to the wizarding community; without her, so many young witches and wizards would never even be given a chance to prove themselves, to expand their horizons, to become great. The other founders were, of course, exemplary people, but Helga Hufflepuff rose so far beyond her colleagues, so far beyond petty politics and self-deceptive belief in her own superiority. Hufflepuffs ought to be so goddamn proud of their house, because theirs is the house of doing what you know to be right no matter how hard it is, and no matter how many people tell you that you can’t.