If you want to read about politics, or history, or resistance movements, there are endless nonfiction resources available. And yet, at this particular moment, I find myself turning to fiction. Specifically, I find my mind drifting back to Harry Potter. Not only is it fiction, it is fiction written for children; what could it possibly have to offer adults looking to resist a corrupt and unhinged government? Despite the simplicity of its good vs. evil binary, Harry Potter has a some surprisingly helpful insights to offer for those looking to face down evil in the real world. And it’s really all thanks to one character: Hermione Granger.
Hermione is the backbone of the series. Without her, there would have been nothing beyond book one, since Harry and Ron would likely both be dead. Hermione is the support system that keeps the other characters alive and on track; she is a stickler for the rules and often the sole voice of reason. And yet, she is also the strongest example of effective resistance and rebellion in the series. Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the lessons she has taught me about fighting back against the forces of darkness:
1. When in doubt, go to the library.
Knowledge is the first line of defense. Understanding the present situation in all of its nuance is important, but so is understanding the past, as well as subjects that might seem unrelated at first; knowledge leads to knowledge in a never ending chain of connection. Hermione’s solution to nearly every difficulty is the library — as an important first step, not as an ultimate solution. Were it not for her frequent “light” reading and thorough study of Hogwarts, A History (and every other giant tome she can get her hands on), Harry and Ron would not have survived their first year at Hogwarts and the nascent resistance movement against Voldemort and the Death Eaters may have been delayed to the point of no return.
In Chamber of Secrets, it is Hermione’s intrepid research that reveals the truth about the chamber and also saves another student’s life. It is also her superior attention to studying potions that enables her to produce the advanced Polyjuice Potion — in a restroom, with no specialized space or tools. It is her dedication to learning that earns her the use of the time turner and the ability to right the wrongs of older, “wiser” wizards in Prisoner of Azkhaban. Hermione uses knowledge like a weapon and it is this weaponized learning that ultimately saves the day again and again.
2. Be an advocate for the voiceless.
Hermione was a Social Justice Warrior before it became the internet insult du jour. SPEW (Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare) is a case study for advocacy on behalf of the voiceless. Hermione was laughed at, belittled, ignored, and even gaslit (“but they LIKE being unpaid, abused servants”) as she fought the immoral status quo that literally enslaved an entire race of creatures. She very rarely made a tangible difference. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Similarly, as a talented and outspoken “mudblood,” she advocated for those like her that many in the magical world despised as impure and inferior. Hermione never let herself be treated as a second-class witch.
3. Let people underestimate you. (Hell, encourage it.)
Despite frequently standing up for herself and others and maintaining a reputation for her well-earned expertise, Hermione was often underestimated. Often shrugged off as a bossy know-it-all, her classmates, friends, and even some teachers frequently failed to see her power and her potential. Snape, especially, often wrote off her abilities, or sneered at her enthusiasm, when she was by far the most knowledgeable and hardworking of his students.
A moment that gets far too little attention is a case in point. When Hermione decides to drop out of Hogwarts and travel with Harry and Ron to find the horcruxes, she wipes herself from her parents’ memories, voluntarily turning herself into an orphan for the sake of a larger cause. Harry and Ron are too busy being angsty and forlorn to realize just what she gave up to help them, underestimating her dedication to their mission and allowing the bulk of the emotional and domestic labor to fall on her during much of their travels (and often throughout most of their adventures in general). Her perceived weakness — one would assume as a girl, but also as someone who is not “pure” — is one of the reasons she is singled out for torture by Bellatrix. But she survives and gives nothing away to one of the most sadistic characters she could possibly confront.
Being underestimated allows Hermione to find her own sources of inner strength, and it gives her the added element of surprise when she comes to the rescue YET AGAIN. She is nearly always working behind the scenes and carrying her own story, unlike Ron or even Nevillle (excepting his resistance work in book 7), who only tend to exist in relation to Harry and the narrow confines of the hero plot. While no one would want to feel unappreciated, the ability to slip under the radar when no one expects as much from you can be a surprising advantage.
4. Do the work.
Hermione does the work. She creates SPEW; she crafts, sustains, and protects Dumbledore’s Army; she makes the Polyjuice Potion; she earns the time turner; she thwarts Rita Skeeter. She shows up and she gets shit done.
5. Have an open heart and mind — but don’t trust blindly.
Dumbledore’s Army and the cursed sign-up sheet is a primary example of the delicate balance of reaching out while acknowledging the danger of doing so. Hermione wanted to give everyone a chance to join that wanted one, but she wasn’t playing around — as Marietta Edgecombe learned the hard way. Starting or joining a movement makes you vulnerable and only you can decide if the exchange is worthwhile. Also, don’t be a SNEAK.
6. Support experience and help create leaders.
Harry would have been thrust into the spotlight no matter what; such is the fate of a prophesied hero. But it is thanks to Hermione that he was actually up to the task and had the support system he needed to rally a real resistance movement from the ground up.
True leaders are not concerned with consolidating powers for themselves. The goal of a true leader is to create other leaders, people with whom to share responsibility and carry the torch forward. Hermione made Harry into a leader, sometimes even against his inclination. She, more than anyone, knew the value of a symbol as the head of Dumbledore’s Army and the resistance against the Death Eaters in general.
7. Understand the limitations of nonviolent resistance.
Or, in other words, punch Nazis. There can be no doubt that Death Eater = magical Nazi. Draco Malfoy in Prizoner of Azkhaban is a Death Eater-in-training. Hermione hits him in the face. Hermione strikes a Nazi and shows us that, sometimes, nonviolence has its limits, even for the coolest heads.
This, dear readers, is a brief list of lessons I’ve taken away from a children’s story about wizards and a badass young woman who will forever be an inspiration to me, fictional or no. Inspiration and motivation can be found anywhere, it’s all about what you do with it.