Since my first reading nearly a decade ago, my life has been changed by Harry Potter. With my wavy hair, bookish tendencies, and a classroom presence that veered wildly between brown-noser and arrogant know-it-all, I, like many Millennial women, found my first real literary role model in Hermione Granger. The series may have been named after Harry, but anyone with half a brain knew that Hermione was the real hero of the story. She was brilliant and brave and a supportive friend, whereas Harry was, well, a little reckless and dumb. If Hermione had been the protagonist, Voldemort probably would have been defeated about three books earlier, with a much lower body count.
Yes, Hermione was something special, and for the most part the series respected and celebrated her. Yet there’s one passage that has bothered me since I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a nine-year-old. The trio is on a quest to find the Sorcerer’s Stone before any baddies can get their hands on it, and Ron is unconscious after having sacrificed himself in a giant game of chess. Hermione, in her typical brilliant glory, has saved the gang from being poisoned and they’re approaching the final chamber where the stone is hidden. There’s only enough potion to allow one of them to enter the room, and it’s decided that Harry should be the one to go. So far, so good, right?
And then this happens:
Hermione's lip trembled, and she suddenly dashed at Harry and threw her arms around him. "Hermione!" "Harry - you're a great wizard, you know." "I'm not as good as you," said Harry, very embarrassed, as she let go of him. "Me!" said Hermione. "Books! And cleverness! There are more important things — friendship and bravery and — oh Harry — be careful!"
I am now a 27-year-old women, and this passage makes my blood boil just as much as it did when I first read it.
Let me break down my anger for you.
Hermione is a young witch who has to put up with a lot of crap over the course of the series. She’s treated like a second-class citizen because she’s Muggle-born, she’s mocked for being too smart by her classmates and the occasional mean professor. Even Harry and Ron, her closest friends at Hogwarts, constantly give her a hard time. And yet, despite all of this nonsense, she continually puts her life at risk for people who honestly don’t really deserve her. She doesn’t need to constantly bail Harry and Ron out of trouble. In fact, she doesn’t need to get involved with them at all. Voldemort isn’t her villain to fight, and she could live a quiet life if she really wanted to. But she doesn’t, because she’s Hermione-freakin’-Granger and she has to stand up for the abused and downtrodden (see her passion for the lives of house elves). So she aligns herself with Harry and, later, the Order of the Phoenix and saves the entire wizarding world multiple times.
So why, then, does J.K. Rowling make a point to try to downplay Hermione’s importance in this quote?
I know, I know — this was very early in the series, and Hermione hadn’t yet blossomed into the glorious witch goddess we would come to know and love. But even in the first book, she was important, not just to the plot but to a ton of young readers who saw themselves in this spunky little bookworm. Watching her act as though she was second best to Harry, Harry, who can’t even remember not to leave his invisibility cloak in the tower for god’s sake, was infuriating. Hermione Granger doesn’t play second fiddle to anyone, and she should never act like her gifts are something to apologize for. Not only that, but the traits she attributes to Harry? She’s showcased those in spades.
Am I overreacting? Of course I am; I’m a 27-year-old woman harping on a single passage from a children’s fantasy novel that came out in 1997. Every word of this story is an overreaction. But that doesn’t change the fact that watching Hermione belittle herself in Sorcerer’s Stone was hard to read as a little girl, and it’s still hard to stomach as an adult. Rowling has written strong, funny, amazing women throughout the Harry Potter series, which makes this quote so frustrating. Hermione may have gotten the respect she deserved in the end, but she deserved better than that passage. And the little girls reading that deserved better, too.