If years of following along with Harry, Ron and Hermione taught us anything, it’s that sharp wit and a quick intellect count for quite a lot at Hogwarts. And if our introduction to the life and times of Newt Scamander is any indication, it seems smarts have always been on trend in the wizarding world.
From bookish wits to street smarts to emotional insight, the wizarding world is rife with characters who’ve made their mark as thinkers, and looked really cool doing so.
The brightest witch of her age more than earned her reputation as the brains of the trio. Her first encounter with Harry and Ron found her performing spellwork while casually mentioning that she’d read every page of every textbook she could lay hands on. It was a powerful indicator of what lay in Hermione’s future.
No matter how many times Ron had a dig at Hermione’s light reading habits, or Parvati and Lavender giggled at her or Malfoy mocked her, she remained a steadfastly dedicated student - even when Severus Snape called her an ‘insufferable know-it-all’. And in the end, that won her fans in many places, from Remus Lupin to Horace Slughorn to Viktor Krum. Hermione’s intellect and passion set her apart from the crowd and gave legions of bright young girls a hero to call their own. Oh, and all of those smarts of hers kept Harry and Ron alive through encounters with three-headed dogs, murderous plants, bloody great serpents, Death Eaters and Erumpent horns, among other things.
Revered by many as the greatest sorcerer who ever lived, Albus Dumbledore was an icon and a legend in his own time. But for all his talents, all his renown, he remained dedicated to his position as headmaster at Hogwarts rather than chasing acclaim or the title of Minister for Magic. Of course this, Dumbledore said, meant he was capable of great error (‘In fact, being forgive me – rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger’). He learnt the hard way that he ought not to seek power, but that he should instead put all of his efforts into lifting others up.
Through dedication to this path, he educated countless students, saved Severus Snape from a life of darkness, set Newt Scamander on a path to adventure and propelled Harry Potter toward his destiny. Were Albus Dumbledore not a man of great emotional and rational intelligence as well as academic prowess, the very course of wizarding history would have taken quite a different shape.
After agreeing to be a ‘double-agent’ for Dumbledore, Snape was devastated when Lord Voldemort murdered the woman who he seemed to care about more than anyone, Lily Potter. After the death, Snape vowed to protect her son under any cost.
As such, the most brilliant Potions student Hogwarts had ever seen was forced to use the survival instincts he honed as an unpopular student to remain under Voldemort’s thumb, without ever revealing his new allegiance. It was a masquerade he managed to maintain until he drew his final breath, a masterful performance that kept Lily’s son safe, just long enough. And indeed, combative as their relationship was, Snape was responsible for Harry’s survival quite as often as Hermione and Dumbledore. Snape’s triumph wasn’t one of book learning, it was an act of intellectual cunning and instinct that precious few could have managed.
When Newt Scamander’s suitcase burst open in New York to reveal an entire menagerie of magical creatures, he didn’t recover his feathery, furry and scaly friends through force or coercion, he used his understanding of their natures to find them and guide them back into his travelling habit of a suitcase. Likewise, he used his unique knowledge to help Tina solve the mystery of the Obscurus and reveal and capture notorious Dark wizard, Gellert Grindelwald. As Newt prepares to embark on a new adventure in Crimes of Grindelwald, we think we can trust this thinking man to continue forward with logic as his primary weapon. He’ll certainly need it.
Not many in the wizarding world can claim to have stumped or stalled the Sorting Hat, but Minerva McGonagall, head of Gryffindor house during Harry Potter’s Hogwarts tenure, can. The formidable Transfiguration professor spent more than five minutes under the Hat during her sorting and was nearly placed in Ravenclaw, where dwell the quick-witted and clever. Though she ultimately became a Gryffindor, there’s no question that Minerva was a witch of prodigious knowledge. Her name even stems from the Roman goddess of wisdom and schools, as well as art, war and commerce – talk about your well-rounded deities.
Thanks to McGonagall’s skilful tutelage, a great many students mastered complex magic and the even more complex act of dancing at the Yule Ball without bringing shame to Hogwarts. This is one Deputy Headmistress whose rare smile every Muggle has dreamed of earning.
Of course, as is often in the case in the wizarding world, intelligence alone isn’t a guarantee of kindness or character. Hermione, Newt and all the rest were often matched up against antagonists of equal, if not greater, intelligence. The difference, to borrow a phrase from Dumbledore, comes down to choices more than abilities. And all of those heroes who used their wits for good won space in our hearts and minds – and made being smart a little bit cooler than ever before.
You can learn more about the heroes of the wizarding world who used their wits in times of war here.