Exactly ten years ago today I was sitting in the back of a crowded movie theater waiting for magic to happen. As a teenager, I was already deeply entrenched in the Harry Potter pandemonium. The first book arrived in Scholastic catalogs and book fairs when I was in elementary school, and I prided my little, insufferable overachieving self on finishing the latest installments in the the series as soon as they came out to get bonus reading points at school.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was an event that every child looked forward to, the culmination of our carefully spent hours poring over pages and devouring J.K. Rowling’s words finally being brought to life on the big screen. Would Hogwarts be the magical world we’d been escaping to for the past few years? Would the mythical beasts and spells and potions and charms all remain intact while making the leap to movies? Would the characters we’d grown so invested in match our expectations?
For young girls, the personification of Hermione Granger on screen was especially noteworthy. As the prominent female role in the story, she was never designated as a sidekick, never belittled as a love interest, always had the better tricks up her sleeves and never backed down when she knew she was right —even when she had a pack of insipid boys telling her how annoying she could be. She was familiar and inspirational, a muse with terrible hair and a magic wand, and when the first film hit theaters, Emma Watson embodied her to perfection.
As we continued to get older, the films continued to grow with us. By the the time the third adventure, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, hit theaters, something very important clicked: Hermione was not just crucial to the story, a companion to our hero Harry to help in his journey toward defeating He Who Must Not be Named. She was running the whole damn show.
It should be apparent three movies in that Harry Potter, the person, is kind of terrible. Don’t deny it. He’s a mediocre wizard who’s constantly embroiling himself in challenges far beyond his expertise. Harry talks a big game, and has the best of intentions — who else in the wizarding world is trying to take down Voldemort besides this kid? — but he lacks the skills necessary to complete any of his goals without a volley from Hermione. Or at lease a pep talk from Ron. Though it’s ultimately Harry’s courage and convictions, yes, that lead him to achieving goals like defeating a basilisk, how would he ever have figured out how to open the Chamber of Secrets, let alone know where to find it? It’s Hermione’s brilliance and grace under pressure that constantly save the day. Her nose may be constantly stuck in massive tomes like “A History of Hogwarts,” but when the gang needs something obscure like a polyjuice potion, who else are they going to turn to for help? That’s right, their girl Hermione.
By Azkaban, Hermione had long since shifted from being the know-it-all to being the girl who knows it all, a very significant distinction. Her expertise and sheer knowledge are more powerful than anything coming out of her wand, something Professor McGonagall recognizes when she gives Hermione a Time-Turner — the sole device that makes success possible in the film. Far too little emphasis is put on how significant an act this is for Hermione and the wizarding world in general. The time-traveling devices can only be obtained with special permission by the Ministry of Magic to be used in special situations; allowing a 13-year-old witch to complete more coursework at Hogwarts apparently counts. There’s a great potential they see in the still-developing mind of Hermione Granger that leads them to allow her an incredible resource (and literal time) with which to cultivate it.
Hermione further displays that she deserved the Time-Turner when she uses it for more than stocking her course load. Her ingenuity, as always, is what allows Harry and his cohorts to advance to the next level of their plans in defeating Voldemort. When Sirius Black and Buckbeak the Hippogriff are both sentenced to death, a confused-at-first Harry and time-traveling expert Hermione use the device to go back and free them — Sirius from being kissed by a Dementor, and Buckbeak from a falling axe.
Hermione shows restraint and maturity by giving the Time-Turner back at the end of the school year because she no longer finds any need to take a massive workload. A profound gesture. If anyone else in the world were presented with a personal time machine, you and I included, there is no way it would ever leave the house. This is her placing the Gobstopper on Willy Wonka’s desk.
While Harry is the focus of the story, reconnecting with the people who would later form the Order of the Phoenix and bringing justice to his godfather Sirius, too little credit is given to Hermione as the genuine hero of the story. Yes, Harry has many admirable attributes that lead him to success in all of his adventures — courage, honesty, loyalty, belief in a better world for himself and his loved ones — but in reality it’s (as he admits) a lot of dumb luck and help that get him to the finish line. Sirius tells Harry that he’s just like his father when he rescues him from certain un-death by Dementor; where’s Hermione’s nod for temporarily changing the course of time to save his life?
Of course, further cementing Hermione’s badassery in Azkaban is the pivotal scene in which she punches Draco Malfoy square in the face for making fun of Hagrid’s sorrow over Buckbeak’s impending execution — a situation created by Malfoy’s whining idiocy. She’s ready to cast a spell on the school’s resident douche, but restrains herself for a more Muggle-like approach to dealing with bullies. And it’s wonderful. Hermione is now seen as a physical threat as well as a mental powerhouse. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and it’s during Azkaban that those trying to mess with her at Hogwarts and outside the school’s walls should start to take notice.
It’s Hermione’s actions during this third adventure that set her up as Harry’s go-to for help throughout the rest of the series. Without Hermione, Harry would have barely made it out of the Tri-Wizard tournament alive (R.I.P. Cedric Diggory), as her wealth of knowledge allowed him to study up on the rules and weird components of the event in record time when he was thrust in at the last minute. Her understanding of horcruxes allows Harry to seek out the final pieces of Voldemort and finally defeat their tormentor. Her maturity and strength allows her to become a leader of an army of children in a deadly war, and an invaluable member of a secret society tasked with bringing down an evil organization when she’s still just a teenager herself.
And perhaps in the most insanely poised and brutal move out of the entire series, she takes her own parents to another location and wipes their memories clean of any memory of their daughter, just in case she doesn’t make it out alive. The lesson? No one should mess with Hermione.
By the time we’ve reached Prisoner of Azkaban, it’s clear that Harry Potter is the Boy Who Lived. But it’s also apparent that Hermione Granger is the girl who enabled him to keep doing so.