As a kid, I was a bit of a… okay, a massive geek. While I am in no way saying my level of intellect is close to Hermione’s, or that I was the cleverest person in my year group at school, I loved to learn and threw myself into every experience, just like Hermione would. I always did my homework, raised my hand in lessons, joined the debate team, got to the national finals of a children’s literature quiz and even won a prize for making the most effort in all of my classes. Very reminiscent of Hermione collecting up Gryffindor house points!
To begin with I didn’t feel ashamed – I adored trying new things and broadening my horizons. However, as I grew up, I started to realise it wasn’t cool to be so enthusiastic. The social side of school was rather difficult, and like Hermione, I didn’t have the easiest time making friends. When reading the Harry Potter books, I could always empathise with the way she managed to get on the wrong side of her peers – including those closest to her. After all, it was Ron that called her ‘a nightmare’ with no friends back in Philosopher’s Stone. To be honest, I am pretty sure similar words were said about me.
It wasn’t just my classmates that found me to be annoying, it was also some of my teachers. There was one that suggested at a parents’ evening that it might be a good idea if I just put my hand up less. That was a devastating blow to my confidence. Not only did it seem like my peers thought I was too much, now my teachers did too. Every time I re-read the moment where Snape called Hermione an ‘insufferable know-it-all', I felt it deeply. It transported me right back to that humiliating time where I felt that I had to make myself smaller and hide a big part of my personality.
Nevertheless, despite connecting with the tougher elements of Hermione’s experience while at school, I could always turn to the stories and to her character for comfort. It was great to find a character that had similar difficulties to me, but it was even better to find one which I could draw strength and inspiration from. I admired the way she handled those situations – and especially the way she kept going.
Hermione kept on learning as much as she possibly could and had confidence in her abilities. She never allowed the people who called her a know-it-all or exasperating to stop her. From the moment she burst into Harry and Ron’s train carriage on the Hogwarts Express, she was unapologetically herself. In fact, if she had allowed the nastiness of others to influence her, then the wizarding world would probably have been a very different place.
There were so many times that Hermione was the hero of the story and came to the rescue. In her very first year at Hogwarts, she was the one that figured out the mystery of Nicolas Flamel. In her second, she solved the puzzle of the Basilisk – long before Harry and Ron. In her third, she was allowed to use incredibly complex magic to travel in time so she could cram in more studying. Hermione was the one who really helped Harry get ready for the Triwizard Tournament. The formation of Dumbledore’s Army was her idea. And out of the golden trio, she was the one that managed to be the most prepared for the Horcrux hunt. What makes her more brilliant, is that these are merely a handful of examples of the fantastic things she did – they barely scratch the surface. If Hermione had let the critics get to her and squashed her talents, where would Harry and Ron have got to?
That’s not to say Hermione always brushed everything off easily – she still showed vulnerability which only made her seem more relatable. Sometimes the animosity she faced did get to her. The most memorable incident being when she hid in the girls’ bathroom in Philosopher’s Stone. As a child, that was often described as ‘sensitive’, that more human side of her was reassuring. She proved to me that it’s how you move forward from hurtful things that matter, there’s no shame or harm in admitting something has caused you pain, but nothing good comes from allowing anyone to keep you down for too long.
This attitude is something that I still try to mimic as an adult. No longer am I the kid who felt as though they needed to curb their personality to suit those around them. I fully embrace my nerdy side and I don’t care if people don’t appreciate that part of me. I still enjoy learning and I won’t pretend to be less intelligent to stroke the ego of others. Luckily, I have found that as I have grown up and moved on from the confines of school, people actually like that part of me – which I didn’t believe was possible as a teenager.
I am also sure that I’m not the only one to take these lessons from this character. There will be plenty of other geeky folk that found it a struggle to find their place and fit in. Yet, Hermione will always be there to show that you should never be ashamed to embrace who you are. That is why the cleverest witch of her age continues to be my hero today.