As a proud Hufflepuff, I believe that one of the greatest mysteries that has yet to be answered in the Harry Potter series is why the spiteful and obnoxious Zacharias Smith was sorted into the house known for its kindness and loyalty. After much thought, I have narrowed all of the possibilities into three theories.
1. Zacharias Smith is a relative of Hepzibah Smith, who is a direct descendant of Helga Hufflepuff.
Even though Smith is one of the most common surnames in Britain, one could argue that there is no such thing as coincidence in Rowling’s books. However, if this Smith family is the same as that of Hepzibah Smith, it still raises the question of how much the Sorting Hat values ancestry when sorting students. This is debatable in and of itself because we have examples of entire families being sorted into one house (the Weasleys), families being divided (the Patils), and even some cases like the Black family where all but one are in a particular house.
But if Zacharias is a descendant of Helga Hufflepuff then this might not matter – being related to the founder could have made him a shoe-in to Hufflepuff. While we can’t be sure of his ancestry, if we were to assume that the Smith family had a long line of Hufflepuffs in their family history (even if we are uncertain that Helga herself was a part of the family tree), Zacharias could have just asked the Sorting Hat to be put in Hufflepuff like the rest of his family. We know that asking the Sorting Hat doesn’t always guarantee you a spot in that particular house (since Neville asked to be in Hufflepuff), but Harry was successful in choosing to be in Gryffindor. Maybe Zacharias was successful in choosing to be in Hufflepuff, with his motivation possibly being that he is part of a family of Hufflepuffs or even related to its founder.
Plausible Theory? YES
2. Zacharias Smith has Hufflepuff traits after all
As much as I wanted to try and redeem Zacharias and prove that he might be suited for Hufflepuff, I noticed that almost the opposite was true. Though possessing characteristics of a certain house is the way that most students are sorted, this is not true for Zacharias Smith because he is almost the opposite of an ideal Hufflepuff. Thinking back to all of Zacharias’s “shining” moments, I decided that it was nearly impossible to prove that he belongs in Hufflepuff because of his character and that it would be better to disprove this theory altogether.
“You might belong in Hufflepuff,
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil;”
– Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
As shown in the quote above, Hufflepuff house values much that Zacharias seems to lack. In Order of the Phoenix, Zacharias is very rude and insensitive to Harry when asking for details on the death of Cedric Diggory and in questioning Harry’s choice of teaching the disarming spell to the DA (341, 392). He even got into an argument with Ron at the Hog’s Head when he criticized Harry and insulted Ron, leading Ron to later call him a “wart” (347). His actions are contrary to Hufflepuff house’s trademark kindness. In addition, Zacharias’s disloyalty is revealed when he chooses to Hogwarts early at the end of Half-Blood Prince, didn’t bother to attend Dumbledore’s funeral, and all of this to put himself out of risk of any further danger (633). Here he is behaving as far from a true Hufflepuff as you can get. Finally, in Deathly Hallows, everything that Zacharias was taught (but apparently did not retain) in Dumbledore’s Army training sessions is overshadowed by his selfishness and cowardice. Not only does he run from Hogwarts before the battle, leaving his friends and teachers behind to fight, but he also pushes the younger students out of the way so that he can run to safety. Zacharias Smith is almost an anti-Hufflepuff, so this possibility is out.
Plausible Theory? NO
3. Hufflepuff Takes “The Lot”
“Said Slytherin, ‘We’ll teach just those
Whose ancestry is 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.’”
– Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
There’s always the fact that Hufflepuff house is supposed to take “the lot” if no other house seems to be a good fit for a student. This seems plausible for our friend Zacharias because he doesn’t appear to match the ideal characteristics of a Ravenclaw, a Slytherin, or even a Gryffindor.
While he could internally possess the traits of a Ravenclaw, Zacharias has not outwardly expressed any interest in knowledge, logic, self-expression, or anything that represents Ravenclaw house. He was almost being illogical by believing that Harry was an inadequate teacher when he knew that Harry had escaped Voldemort multiple times by then (Order of the Phoenix). Because we don’t have any evidence that implies Zacharias would be a good fit for Ravenclaw (and we almost have some evidence against it), he would not be well-suited in this particular house. As for Slytherin, cowardice is not an actual trait of Slytherin house, though many of its students that we see within the books possess that trait. We can’t sort him into Slytherin if the only thing that we know for sure that he identifies with within the house is merely a stereotype. Gryffindor can be eliminated very quickly because even though he is proud, he lacks the fundamental quality of every Gryffindor – bravery. Perhaps the Sorting Hat was honoring Helga Hufflepuff’s philosophy that she would take the students who did not fit in anywhere else because from what we know about Zacharias, he’s as much of a misfit in the other houses as he is in Hufflepuff.
Plausible Theory? YES
Since there is no chance that Zacharias Smith is in Hufflepuff house by his personality, there is the possibility that he was sorted there because he had Hufflepuff ancestry, asked the Sorting Hat, or maybe was so unfit for the other houses that Helga Hufflepuff’s tradition of acceptance was the Sorting Hat’s reason for his placement. What do you think is more likely? Does the Sorting Hat give more weight to what house your family was in? If you’re related to a Hogwarts founder, are you immediately sorted into their house? Which theory do you think is most likely? Let me know in the comments below!