hufflepuff, the Hat calls. yellow and black cheer and your housemates welcome you with open arms and grins on their faces, and you sit by a boy that’s a year ahead of you and grins when you look shyly at him.
(the rest of the Hall applauds politely, and you can see them forgetting you, putting you out of mind, writing you off as “one of them.”)
you watch the rest of the sorting, cheer wildly when another ‘Puff is Sorted with you, and you follow your Prefect when they show you your dorm and explain to you, that first night, that this is the house where they value patience and loyalty, fair play and hard work.
the first class you have, the other House sends you pitying looks and indulgent, condescending smiles, and before the day is over, after a careless comment overheard from one of the seventh-year ravenclaws, you know what the rest of Hogwarts- the rest of the wizarding world- thinks of you.
a week in, you think, fine. hard work and fair play and patience and loyalty? those aren’t exclusive to kindness and weakness.
it takes you a month to establish yourself where you want to be. a kind word here, a small gesture there, just the right amount of smiling admiringly at a pureblood there, and you’ve become friends with a good amount of people in each house.
(the boy from the first night corners you, one day, and says, i know what you’re doing. he grins, fierce and bright, and all edges and sharp corners. he says, let me help, and we can accomplish twice as much.
the year goes by quickly, and by the end of it, you’re known as the person to go to whenever someone needs something done, anything, everything. your teachers know you’re the reliable one, the one that can always be counted on to follow the rules and do the right thing.
second year goes by too quickly, and the boy- john- joins the quidditch team, so you do too, and you hear rumors that Harry Potter’s gone and done it again (he’s done something, but you never hear quite what, somehow, and have to read about it in the Daily Prophet, because everyone exaggerates), and you focus your efforts on widening your circle of friends.
(you widen the circle of people that you do things for, and you start to test their loyalty. little things become bigger things, and soon, you know just who to ask to obtain this potion ingredient, that bit of homework- and they all still think you’re the one doing things for them.)
third year and fourth year blur together- you’re building power, and john’s doing the same while also taking tests and starting to decide what he wants to do with his life, and your teachers look fondly at you when you ask them for help with this spell or that plant, and they don’t know that you’re storing everything in your mind- patience and hard work, that’s all that’s happening here. how many people would be able to play this game for four years, much less do it without cheating or lying?
(because you haven’t lied, you haven’t done anything untruthful, and you don’t cheat, because when a hufflepuff is taken seriously, it’ll be because they were a hufflepuff, not someone who was Sorted wrong.)
fifth year is when it starts to fall apart, bit by bit. the tension in the school is mounting, has been, ever since the Tournament, and you remember the way you sat in the Astronomy Tower for hours when Cedric died and how john found you and the way that you resented the pitying glances that were sent your way, and the talk of how Cedric was just a ‘Puff, and he couldn’t be expected to hold his own, and how you hexed the person that told you that it wasn’t your own fault that your house was useless, because Cedric was dead because of fair play.
(which is stronger, you wonder. fair play or loyalty?
loyalty, you decide the next year when Death Eaters take over the school.)
in your sixth year, john is killed because he is a muggleborn. he wasn’t your closest friend, no, but he was the one that shared a secret with you. he was a strong, steady presence, and he was supposed to help you- or you were supposed to help him- prove that the world’s perception of ‘Puffs is wrong.
the new teachers, if they can even be called that, despise your house and look down on it, but, you find, that is an advantage in these days. you are as clumsy, as inefficient, as stereotypical as you can be, and you take their wrath (take it, because you know what you’re doing, know exactly how much the blood quills and cruciatuses will hurt, but it’s you and not someone else), and you stay walking the halls of Hogwarts even when most of the other students realize that to stay alive for the battle that will come when Harry returns they must hide in the Room of Requirement.
after all, you weren’t sorted into the smart, clever house that knew what to do to survive, or the house that knew when to be brave and when to hide in order to be alive to be brave later, or even the house that could safely walk the halls and talk to the teachers without fear of retribution.
you were sorted into the house that talks of patience (patience, when you’re being insulted, and patience when you spend three nights in a row feeling a blood quill etch words upon your skin because you know that while you’re distracting a teacher, another student is going through their office for information), and hard work (and it’s hard work to get up in the mornings, sometimes, when you know that all that awaits you that day is pain; it’s hard work to keep up the facade of a student when you’re falling behind on your work; and some days, the only thing keeping the smile on your face is years of practice in doing things that you feel like you can’t, years of hard work), and loyalty (and the thing that keeps you here is loyalty, to your housemates, and the children- because you’re not a child, haven’t been since john died, and loyalty to your world).
you’re using the few favors you have left to claim from years of hard work to ensure that first years that are marked for pain, for torture, escape the castle safely, and sometimes, when no one can see you, you look as the ceiling in the darkness of night and think, Potter, you’d better hurry.
the year winds on, slowly, and you grow thinner and lines that have no place on your face take up residence there, and scars begin to fill your skin. you’ve abandoned fair play altogether, because there’s a time to be fair and to not hurl minor hexes and jinxes at a teacher’s back or their shoes, and there’s a time to do so with extreme prejudice, and that time is wartime, that time is now.
then, Potter returns.
he’s changed, from what you can remember, and so have his companions. they’ve matured, but so have you, and all you can think about is the fact that there will be fighting, and not just the kind that you and the other students have engaged in throughout this whole year.
there’s a battle, and then, with the dead strewn around you, Voldemort calls for Potter, and the other houses react loudly and visibly, and Hufflepuff stays, quietly and calmly, and you know in your bones that this, this is what you were meant to do, to keep these not-children, not-adults alive so that they could fight, and you feel, deep inside of you in a place that’s been closed off since first year, a warmth.
you close your eyes and then you’re awake and standing in a courtyard watching Neville- Neville, who was one of the few who showed you kindness, who didn’t underestimate you or brush you aside, who could’ve been yellow and black in another world- cut the head off of a snake and you hear pandemonium break out and you’re drawing your wand and-
you run, and as you shoot spells, you think of the hard work you’ve put into helping these people survive, the patience you’ve had to cultivate as you put long-term plans into play, and, most of all, the loyalty that kept you here, kept you fighting and fierce and sharp and all angles and no softness allowed in this harsh world, just like john’s smile when he told you he wanted to change the world, just like you, once upon a time.
(you die in a flash of green light, quick and fierce and thrown from a wand that’s broken a moment later as your closest friend, a slytherin that had donned a spare pare of your robes days ago so that they could pretend to go home, but instead help more freely here, because who notices another ‘Puff? who notices one more dark head bent down to avoid conflict?
you die as you lived, quick and bright and wanting to leave an impact on the world, and in the second before the green light hits your chest, you think to yourself, this doesn’t feel meaningless, and you die knowing that you accomplished what you
wanted needed to.)
they come to your funeral, those who knew you, and they look at each other and say, you knew them too, and they look at each other and see different houses and different blood types and they all feel something, deep inside, where loyalty and hard work and patience rest in everyone, no matter how it’s been trampled and twisted, and they leave your funeral thinking of that.
Hogwarts grows again, becomes a school that teaches normal magical subjects instead of torture and how to hide your weaknesses and how to draw attention from others and how to smuggle food and drink and books and people, just as it should be.
when they tell stories, everyone knows your story, because everyone’s parents had known you in some way, met you, been defended by you, spared torture by you, seen their sibling smuggled out of the castle by you, and they tell their children that Hufflepuff is the house of those who value loyalty and patience and hard work, and, sometimes, most times, but not all, fair play, but when you cross those who they give their loyalty to, you had best be on your guard, because no one, no one, has heard the war cry of a Hufflepuff and survived to tell the tale.