Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Life as a Hufflepuff



"Mum, can I not go to Hogwarts please?"

That was the first question that I asked my mum six years ago, when she found out that I have received the Hogwarts acceptance letter. I could still remember the look of horror on her face, as if I had just uttered the stupidest sentence imaginable. While my neighbors were overjoyed at receiving the letter, I could only anticipate in fear the future that awaited me at Hogwarts.

Unlike me, however, my mum was not entirely happy with my question.

"What do you mean 'can you not go to Hogwarts?' Do you know how hard it is to get into Hogwarts? One of the top wizarding schools in the world? Where do you want to go then, huh? The Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts? Or that god knows what Merge School of Under-Water Spellage? What you're gonna do after school then? Try to sell your talents on the streets Diagon Alley? Or live the rest of your life trying to catch a fish? You’re going to Hogwarts, young man, if that’s the last thing I will do,” she exclaimed, and that was the end of our discussion.

It was never easy talking to my mum. I understand that she's concerned about my future, but sometimes I wished that she would consider my feelings as well. Or least ask me why I didn’t wanted to go to Hogwarts. My dad, on the other hand, knew better. Lowering his copy of the Daily Prophet and looking through his glasses, he gave me a concerned look and asked, "Is it because you're afraid that you'll end up in Hufflepuff?"

Straight on the point. I nodded reluctantly, my eyes afraid to meet his.

My dad gave a long deep sigh, as if he has been dreading this moment for the longest time since. It would not be surprising though, considering how our family has been Hufflepuffs for generations and how that fact alone always gets us ridiculed by others through snide comments or in my case, blatant teasing by others.

Sissy, weak, little badger, huffy puffy and yellow mustard were among the few colourful words that I had to endure while growing up in the small village of ours. Coming from generations of Hufflepuff seemed to make you a natural target of bullying when you’re growing up. My father knew of this, of course, since he was the one that I normally confided in whenever I got picked on. And he would always urge me to patient, to not give in to my emotions just because others got better of theirs. But deep down inside, I guessed he knew that I hated the fact that my roots were strongly intertwined with the house of Hufflepuff.

"Son... being a Hufflepuff is not as bad as your friend painted it to be. What’s important is what you choose to believe in," he began, before launching into one of one of his many long speeches. My mind lost him at the believing part, as it usually did. Despite my love and respect of him, no amount of talk would get me to change my mind. In my heart, the house of Hufflepuff was already the worst house of all. And to be sorted into the house of Hufflepuff was akin to a curse laid upon you. That was my belief.

But no matter how much I protested, I still found myself sitting on a carriage of the Hogwarts Express, trapped among boisterous enthusiastic first years who were excited about which house will they be sorted into. For people like me, who hails from a family that were rooted for generations in a same house, the question rarely arose. It’s the same with my father’s friend’s family, whom I heard all of them has been in Gryffindor for generations. I could only mull the inevitability of the fate that awaited me as the train raced along tracks.

True enough, as I sat on the chair that day, my head hidden under the Sorting Hat, the name that was shouted out was none other than Hufflepuff. It was not as if that I did not try though. For the whole duration that I was sitting on the chair, only one thought raced through my mind.

“Not Hufflepuff, please, not Hufflepuff please,” I kept whispering to myself. The Sorting Hat seemed to have heard my thoughts too, as it proceeded to comment about my thoughts.

“Why not Hufflepuff eh? I think you would make a fine Hufflepuff,” it claimed, before shouting out that name at the top of its lungs, if it had any. And that was how my life as part of the yellow badgers began.

Life as a Hufflepuff was never easy. First year especially. It was hellish. The first advice that we got from our seniors was to never walk alone. As a Hufflepuff freshman, you are a giant bullseye for bullies. Gryffindors who wanted to show their bravado, Ravenclaws who were eager to display their wits and the Slytherins who enjoyed picking on others will all swoop down on lonely Hufflepuffs, as we were considered to be the weakest among the four. This idea is so entrenched in the school that even some of the Hufflepuffs too believed that.

There was this one time when a freshman girl from our house had the unfortunate experience of getting herself separated from the rest of us. We were climbing the grand staircase, heading to our next class, when one of the stairs decided to move all of a sudden, leaving her behind after we have all crossed. We immediately went back for her. And when we found her, four second years had already surrounded her. That was how fast us Hufflepuffs get picked upon.

Two of them were from Gryffindor, the other two were from Slytherin. They were arguing about who found the girl first, and who had the right to bully the girl. The girl, on the other hand, was sobbing in the middle of all four of them, unsure of what to do.

When I tried to move forward to help the girl, a friend of mind pulled me back. It was his words that stung me the most that day.

“What are you trying to do?” he asked rather anxiously, in a whisper, perhaps not wanting the four second years there to hear us. I told him matter of factly that I was going to rescue the girl, and immediately a cloud of dread formed over his face.

“But we are Hufflepuffs, we are not supposed to get into fights like this,” he tried to reason. I almost wanted to punch him for saying that. But thankfully, a few prefects who were walking nearby saw what was happening, and managed to prevent the situation from getting any worse. They deducted the points of the four second years for roaming the halls without permission, and then escorted the rest of us first years back to our class.

In a way, my first year in Hogwarts had turned out to be everything as I feared. The fear of wandering the hallways alone. The endless, torturous experience of being labelled as a “puffie”.

I too, became that friend of mine eventually. I was too afraid to fight back, choosing to endure the torment rather than stand my ground. My bed and the library became my refuge, as I isolated myself from the rest of the school. I hated every part of school, my house even more. My life in Hogwarts during that period was reduced to a mere routine of attending class, eating, bathing and then spending the rest of the day either on my bed or in the library.

It was not surprising that eventually every waking hour became a torture. I had almost no friends, as I lost myself in my own cage of self-pity. I grew jealous of the Gryffindors for not caring what others thought of them, the Ravenclaws for their wits to make the best out of any situation and the Slytherins for their cunning ability to just survive. There was not a day where I did not hate the name of Hufflepuff. In fact, I blamed everything on Hufflepuff. The hatred engulfed me.

My story may have remained the same until graduation, had it not been for my parents’ trip. During the winter break in my second year, they decided to pay a visit to our relatives in France, leaving me alone in school. I had pleaded to follow, but according to them it was an “official” business, and kids like me should stay out of it.

I remembered being as bored as a Flobberworm, hating my fate even more. Spending a whole winter in Hufflepuff’s common room was certainly not how I envisioned spending my winter that year. So when a few seniors suggested a “study trip” to the Muggle world, I immediately said yes. Labelled as the weird guy in my year, they were surprised that I agreed, but nevertheless were happy to finally bring me out.

We went to London, staying over at one of the senior houses, whose parents were Muggles themselves. The senior, with his sister, brought us to many places that the Muggles enjoyed going to. I rarely ventured into the Muggle world, so the whole experience itself was eye-opening to me. It was the first time that I tried out the Muggle transportation network, which felt totally strange and weird.

There was the museum, the cafes and the palace, in which the Queen resided. We were told that the Queen was well aware of the existence of the Ministry of Magic as well as the wizarding community, a secret that has been passed on for generations along the monarchical line. I remember my father saying something about that, but I have never quite believed him. But out of all the places that we visited, one stood out from the rest of it. The Brent Cross Shopping Center. Something like Diagon Alley, my senior said, where all shops are housed into one giant building.

As the rest decided to visit the more interesting places, such a shops which sold Muggle clothes or theatres that conjured moving pictures onto a big screen, I wandered off into a bookstore. Another senior followed me, a Quidditch player if I am not mistaken. She said she was always fascinated with the Muggle sports called football, in which she explained that while not as exciting as Quidditch, was still exciting. While she wandered off to find her books, I explored the numerous shelves of books on my own too.

The bookstore was huge, bigger than any bookstore that I have seen before. I guessed perhaps Muggles did not have the compacting spell to shrink down the space. There were books about almost everything, every topic. Some even had words that I have never seen before. Engineering, computers, science. Books with complicated diagrams and non-moving pictures. I was utterly fascinated.

As I ventured deeper into the store, one book caught my attention. Prodded against the display shelf, with the shape of a mind on its cover. Written neatly inside the shape of the mind was the words ‘Social Psychology: How we react in everyday situations’. I was curious. The introduction asked its readers if they ever wondered how their own thinking shaped the world around them, and how others affect our own life. The authors promised that by the end of the book, we would have a better idea of how people function, and how our everyday thoughts have the possibility to affect our lives.

When I stood at the checkout counter together with the senior from Quidditch, a book where eleven guys stood in two rows on the cover in her hands, the book about social psychology was in mine too.

“What’s psychology, by the way?” she asked, when she saw my book. I told her that I had no idea, but speculated that it might be related to how we think in our daily lives.

She gave an uninterested “Uh-huh,” before turning her attention back to her surroundings. We stood there in silence, waiting for our turn. I tapped my feet, looked around, feeling uneasy over the silence. I took a peek at the senior, her brown hair running down just past her shoulders. Her complexion was fair and smooth, and it was a known fact that guys adored her, even those who were not from Hufflepuff. She was adored for her beauty, as well as her skills in Quidditch. And yet I don’t know her name.

“So, what’s your name anyway?” I finally blurted out. I tried to sound casual, but inside of me, my heart was thumping away. When was the last time when I actually hung out so close to a girl anyway, I wondered?

“Shirley,” came the answer, as she turned and looked at me. “What’s yours?” she asked in return, before giving me a friendly smile. The cutest smile that I’ve ever seen. One that made my knees weak.

Back at Hogwarts, the snow had already fell. Almost everything was blanketed in white. Only a few students remained, most of them back back for the Christmas celebrations. With only the fireplace and a warm mug of hot chocolate to accompany me, I brought out the book and flipped to its first page.

I was still amazed by the book, of the fact that Muggles actually devoted their time and energy to study how normal people think. It’s a far cry from what we had in Hogwarts, which on certain occasions bored me to death. Who really needs Study of Ancient Runes anyway? And I was naturally curious. Do Muggles really think differently than Wizards and Witches, or are we really just the same? In the comfort of the common room that winter, I lost myself in the book.

And it turned out that the book would be the turning point in my life as a Hufflepuff.

The book taught me a lot of things. I was surprised at how Muggles are in a way so good at understanding how humans work. I learned about many new concepts, terms that sounded alien to us wizards and witches. Self-fulling prophecy, stereotypes, reciprocal determinism and self-efficacy. Complicated words, for someone who has never read about anything Muggle related before. I had to re-read some chapters several times. It was tough.

But eventually I reached the end of the book, the week after Christmas. I felt a strange sense of fulfilment after the book, and something stirred inside me. The book said a lot of things, but its main message was essentially what my father has been saying all along. That we are who we choose to believe in. We are who we think we are. What house we belong too doesn’t matter.

As the term break came to an end, I decided to adopt a new perspective in life. You see, when it comes to being a Hufflepuff, there’s generally two different types of Hufflepuff that you can find. I used to be in the first type. The ones who lament the fate that we were sorted into the weakest house out of the four. The ones who submit themselves to the general “stereotype” of the Hufflepuff. Weak, timid and unable to fit in. The ones who gave up the moment they were sorted into Hufflepuff. Me.

Wallowing in my self-pity, I had chosen to not see the second face of the Hufflepuff. The reason why Hufflepuff was one of the four founding houses. Those who are loyal, patient, just and dedicated. The ones who instead of being cowed down by what others throw at them, rises stronger than the rest. It is without question that the Hufflepuffs, despite what others may view us, remains as one of the most bonded houses of all. The seniors took good care of the juniors. Whenever one of us got sick or injured, people volunteered willingly for care duties.

We believed that no one gets left behind. It was the reason why we went back to look for the girl so many years ago. Hufflepuffs believed in fairness for all. The prefects themselves who saved us that night were from Hufflepuff too, as I later came to realize. If all Hufflepuffs were as weak as they said, the prefects would have walked away straight. But they still came to investigate, and still helped us, not knowing that we came from the same house then.

It’s amazing how reading a single book can changed a person so much. Needless to say, reading Muggle books became one of my favorite pastime. The bookstore at Brent Cross became my new favourite hangout.

Of course, despite what I chose to believe, Hogwarts was still the same. Hufflepuffs was still the favorite bullying target for the other houses. But instead of just whining about the situation and blaming Hufflepuff for the torment that we have to endure regularly, I chose instead to focus on the good. The silver lining. I started to appreciate more the meals that we have together as a house, and the regular outings and activities that the seniors organized during the weekends.

Even the regular visits by Professor Sprout to our common room was no longer viewed as an intrusion into our privacy by a lonely professor. It now was a visit by a professor who cared about her student’s wellbeing. A professor who cared to brew us potions when we were busy studying for exams. What changed was merely how I interpreted the action. I realized that my dad has indeed been right all along. That the world is what we choose to believe in.

As the third year rolled in, I began to step out more from the shell that I had imposed on myself. I started to go out more, enjoy myself more. I began to enjoy classes more as well, in addition to signing up for various clubs around the school. The Defense against the Dark Arts Interest Group was one, the Theatre Club was another.

I began to get myself more involved in school acitvities, at one point even volunteering to help Professor Sprout with her weekly class preparations. Who knew taking care of plants was so much work, especially with those pesky mandrakes? And as I was helping several first year students with their Flying lessons, the then Hufflepuff Captain, Shirley Green, walked up to me and offered me a place as a seeker in the Quidditch team. And she was that same senior who stood together with me during my first visit to Brent Cross.

“Never knew you could fly so well for someone who reads about brains,” she commented, before telling me that her team needed a seeker and asked me to try out for it.

Somehow it was amazing to see how a simple change in perspective affected everything around me. From the opportunities that presented itself to the way others treated me. People started to talk to me more often, commenting that I was no longer as sulky as I used to. Even my dad noticed the change in me.

“Something’s different about you,” he said one morning during one summer break. He eyed me through his glasses and frowned, deep in thought. I stood there awkwardly, wondering what he had to say.

“You’ve got a girlfriend back in school, am I right?” was his guess. He gave me a wink after that, before going back to his copy of the Daily Prophet.

Perhaps the most unforgettable moment of my Hogwarts years, since reading the book two years ago, was the first Hufflepuff Quidditch team meeting that took place in my fourth year. I could still remember the details of that meeting. Seated together in an empty classroom, all of us waited eagerly for our then captain’s plans for the year. Practice schedule, new addition to the team and what not. The sun shone through the open windows, while a slight breeze carried the voices of the noisy students below us.

My thoughts drifted to the numerous possibilities that awaited me this year, to the upcoming OWLS, but they were cut short by Shirley’s voice as she trotted into the classroom.

“I have announcement to make,” she said, as she put her books on the table. Her tone was serious though there was still a hint of smile on her face. We wondered what announcement it could be, as Shirley was usually the cheerful type, her occasionally serious bout limited to only Quidditch trainings. Her sentence lingered in the silence of the room as we waited for her announcement.

“I have decided to no longer be the captain this year,” she finally said, to some gasp and murmur in the classroom. Why not, I could feel all of us wanted to ask. She was only sixth year, the age where most Quidditch Captains are. Sensing our curiousity and reaction, she calmly told us that she has decided to quit the captain duties and to focus on other more important concerns at the time being. She assured us that she’ll still be playing Quidditch, just that she will no longer be captaining it.

The next question, naturally, was who to replace her. Before anyone could ask the question however, Shirley’s finger was already pointing at me.

“Him. He would be the new captain.” And to my surprise, my teammates me cheered to the news, even though I thought that there were more experienced players on the team than me.

In my fifth year, Professor Sprout nominated me to be the house prefect. Fair, loyal and kind. Those were the reasons given for the nomination. I was honoured and humbled by the professor’s faith in me. Looking at how far I have gone since my first year, I cannot help but to feel amazed. I continued to visit the bookstore at Brent Cross, soaking up the Muggle culture that it offered. I was happy, in a way.

Sadly, most the changes that I’ve seen were mostly within or around me. While I may have changed in outlook, Hogwarts certainly has not. I still see first years grimacing whenever the Sorting Hat shouted Hufflepuff. We were still known as the weak house, with very few being proud of the fact that they were sorted into Hufflepuff. The stigma still persisted. The crisis that plagued our school each year, from the opening of the Chamber of Secrets to the Azkaban escape did little to help, with some accusing us of being cowards.

“I hate being sorted into this house,” I remembered one first year saying, after the sorting ceremony one year. I was the prefect in charge of leading them to the common room. He was frowning, his arms folded across his chest. Most of his classmates in line seemed to agree with him, nodding their heads. I looked at his face, and was reminded of myself so many years ago, when I asked my mum about not coming to Hogwarts.

I knelt down, and brought my eyes to his level.

“Listen, I know that what a lot of you are thinking,” I began. I could feel the eyes of all the first years staring at me. I gulped. But somehow I felt that I needed to say it. So I opened my mouth and let the words come naturally.

“Look, I’m sure you have many ideas about being in Hufflepuff, not many of them good ones. I used to be like one of you, hating the fact that you are sorted in what you think is the weakest house in Hogwarts. But I tell you this. Anyone could love Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and even Slytherin. But loving Hufflepuff takes a lot insight and perspective. It takes character. It takes wisdom.”

I looked at each of the first years after the sentence. By now some the second years and third years were also here, listening in. There were seniors from other houses watching as well. I took another deep breath before continuing, acutely aware of the impact my little speech here would have. I wondered if I have made a right choice in voicing out my thoughts in a crowded area. But still, I continued.

“Being a Hufflepuff is not about being weak. It’s about finding strength in being weak. We may be viewed and labelled as the house of the least, the last, the weakest, but it is through this stereotype that has made us stronger. It is the pressure from the other houses that make Hufflepuff the most bonded house in the whole of Hogwarts, a house where we look out for each other and help each other. It is through the unfairness that we face that we believe in justice for all, and it is through the trials that we stay true and loyal to each other. Yes, Hufflepuffians may be weak alone, but it is through numbers that we find our strength. Need I remind you that Hufflepuff produced the least amount of Death Eaters during the reign of Voldermort?”

Gasps. Nervous whispers. Wide eyed stares. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that name. But over the course of the years, despite all the barrages of negative traits thrown at us, this simple fact was often overlooked. The hall was quiet now, with most of the students either back at their rooms, or crowding around me. I looked around again, this time registering more familiar faces. Professor Dumbledore and Professor Sprout was here too, looking from a nearby staircase. My heart gave a nervous jump.

“Being a Hufflepuff is not a sign of weakness. In fact, you all should be proud. Because only the best, the most patient and the toughest can survive here.”

“Tell you what,” I continued, an idea forming in my mind, “A year. Give me a year to prove to you that a Hufflepuff can be a good champion for Hogwarts as any of the houses.” After that small speech of mine, the first years looked much more at ease as the rest of us made way back to the common room. Inside my heart however, I could feel a slow fire burning up. Perhaps this could be the conclusive end to the journey that I was looking for.

A year.

As I clutched the paper containing my name, I was reminded of the promise that I made. The feeling of walking into the room was unlike any other. The anxiety that I felt dwarfed even the biggest Quidditch match that I have ever played. My close friends watched me as I took a step past the magical barrier. Taking one deep breath, I told myself that this is what I have always wanted to do. To show the world once and for all that Hufflepuffs are not weak. That we could carry the title of Hogwarts champion as well as the other houses.

I stole one last glance at Shirley, who was standing outside of the circle with my friends. She gave me that smile of hers, that smile that assured me that everything will be okay in the end. Or at least if everything fails, she will still be there for me. I smiled back to her, before turning my attention back to the burning goblet before me. It gave an eerie glow of blue, its flames licking the side of the cup.

“Here goes nothing,” I said to myself, and threw the paper into it. Somehow the my father and the Sorting Hat was right after all, as the flame rose above the goblet, signifying that it has received my name. This match will be for the Hufflepuffs too, I thought to myself.

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