Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
by J.K. Rowling
House: Gryffindor, 6th Year, Prefect
I have often said that Hermione is a bit like me when I was younger. I think I was seen by other people as a right little know-it-all, but I hope that it is clear that underneath Hermione's swottiness there is a lot of insecurity and a great fear of failure.
– J.K. Rowling (source)
Hermione insecure? Hermione afraid of failure? Impossible! She's the smartest and the most cool, calm, and collected…wait. OK, maybe she's not necessarily cool, calm, and collected in Book 6, but her intelligence certainly does not diminish. This witch has both swottiness and wisdom; that is, she is both studious and wise, and as she continues to grow up she begins to learn the differences between the two and when to use them. But the key to Hermione in Book 6 is the growing up part – she's not immune to the trials and tribulations that come with forging an identity and with learning what to do when you have a crush on someone.
Harry describes Hermione to Professor Slughorn as the best student in his year, a compliment that we know to be true and that Hermione finds infinitely flattering. This witch has a mind like a steel trap, she knows how to zero in on the heart of the matter, she asks good questions, and she knows her way around a library. Where would Harry be if he didn't have Hermione in his life? She's the one who researches his theories, she's the one who digs up the dirt. In fact, she's the one who begins to uncover who the Half-Blood Prince might be.
Hermione and Honesty
We see Hermione struggle with honesty and integrity quite a lot during her sixth year at Hogwarts. Typically, she is the model of morality. She is the Gryffindor prefect, charged with the duty of looking out for and monitoring her fellow housemates. She is responsible and law-abiding. And yet, we wonder if she ever gets tired of living up to this image and to these duties.
She spends a large part of her time chastising Harry for his continued use of the Half-Blood Prince's textbook. Despite the fact that Harry seems to be finding some valuable spells and notes in the textbook, Hermione considers his behavior to be cheating. And she lets him know: "The only person who did not find these charms amusing was Hermione, who maintained a rigidly disapproving expression throughout and refused to talk at all if Harry had used the Muffliato spell on anyone in the vicinity" (12.4). We have to admit that we too are a little surprised at Harry's willingness to use another person's work. We totally support Hermione's disapproval of Harry.
However, Hermione also shows herself to be a bit of a hypocrite, for she Confounds Cormac McLaggen during the Gryffindor Quidditch tryouts in order to help Ron secure the position of Keeper on the team. Hermione uses her magic, one might argue, in a dishonest way. In this light, we begin to understand that Hermione is not perfect and is just learning and growing up like everyone else.
Hermione and Love
Hermione certainly knows what it means to be compassionate. She founded and runs a society called the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (S.P.E.W.) in the hopes of protecting house elves who are enslaved by their wizards. Never without a Daily Prophet newspaper, Hermione is always trying to understand what is going on in the world outside of Hogwarts. She is extremely aware of the world around her.
But, in spite of all of her wisdom, Hermione is not quite sure what to do with her feelings for Ron. Upon watching him kiss Lavender after the Gryffindor Quidditch victory, she quickly slips out of the common room. Harry runs after her:
He found her in the first unlocked classroom he tried. She was sitting on the teacher's desk, alone except for a small ring of twittering yellow birds circling her head, which she had clearly just conjured out of midair. Harry could not help admiring her spellwork at a time like this. (14.196)
She is clearly troubled, she is clearly sad, and her emotions soon after result in making the yellow birds attack Ron's head. Hehehe. In other words, she demonstrates a violent streak. We get to see the depth and full color of Hermione's emotions, and it is her ability to love that makes them so deep and so colorful.
Why Hermione's Wisdom Is The Best
In spite of her momentary and understandable displays of weakness, Hermione's brand of wisdom and intuition remains unrivaled. After she gets over her moral disapproval of Harry's use of the Half-Blood Prince's textbook, she zeroes in on why exactly this textbook might prove dangerous: "'Because it's probably not Ministry of Magic-approved,' said Hermione. 'And also,' she added, as Harry and Ron rolled their eyes, 'because I'm starting to think this Prince character was a bit dodgy'" (21.5).
Had Harry listened to her at this point, Dumbledore might have certain valuable information on hand regarding Snape. Hermione's wisdom is best when it comes to her via a gut instinct, and we see that gut instinct in action right in this very moment.
The second way in which Hermione flexes her wisdom muscle is in helping Harry figure out how to secure the Horcrux memory from Professor Slughorn, a task that Harry avoids carrying out. Because of Hermione's good counsel and because of her constant urging, Harry does eventually secure that memory, and with it, one of these most essential pieces of information about Voldemort:
"I've already told you, you need to persuade Slughorn," said Hermione. "It's not a question of tricking him or bewitching him, or Dumbledore could have done it in a second. Instead of messing around outside the Room of Requirement […] you should go and find Slughorn and start appealing to his better nature." (21.86)
The War and Hermione
It is easy to forget to consider what this war might mean to Hermione. Voldemort and the Death Eaters are intent on "purifying" the Wizarding community by means of eliminating any wizard or witch who is not a pureblood. Being Muggle-born, Hermione is at the bottom of the Wizarding food chain. She must endure countless sneers about her background and about her family. This war affects her and her family greatly.
Born to dentist parents who aren't so enthusiastic about her desire to be a witch, Hermione must fight for her education and knows it to be a great privilege. Though Rowling has told us time and time again that Hermione shares little in common with her literary namesake, Hermione of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, we would argue that Hermione does share qualities of incredible bravery and wisdom in the face of death.