The Pitfalls of Being an Insufferable Know-it-all
All characters belong to J. K. Rowling.
I know people have always thought me bossy. I know people have often thought me opinionated. I know that I am sometimes hard-headed and forthright, and I know these traits are not always appreciated or easily tolerated. Ron taught me that lesson at the age of eleven and I've never forgotten it.
I've never felt the need to change, however. It isn't as if I consider myself as a person who needs a lot friends...
I'm not ashamed to take an idea and run with it. I'm not afraid to stand up for what I believe in and I'll not be cowed by those who call me an interfering busybody, or a pious do-gooder, behind my back. Or sometimes even to my face. I can't help it if I feel strongly about certain issues that affect people and world we live in. I can't help it if I fight tenaciously for what I believe in. All I hope is I've learned to find the balance between informed advocacy and the single-minded, uninformed crusades of my formative years. Whisper quietly: S.P.E.W.
Despite recognising the importance of less haste and more consideration of the facts, on both sides of an argument, many, I've no doubt, still curl their lip at me and write me off as nothing more than a trouble-maker. My boss once muttered that the only thing status quo means to me is a seventies rock band.
I suppose I've gained enough self-awareness over time to concede this to them freely. The point, I feel, is that society needs a few trouble-makers like me. No doubt someone would read this and decree me insufferably self-important. Perhaps they're right—I'm not going to begrudge anyone their opinion, after all.
I have caused a certain amount of trouble over the last few years, it is true. I expect certain persons within the Ministry, and even the wider Wizarding world, rue the day I was given a position within the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. I hasten to add, however, I am not alone in my beliefs. I have been joined by many supporting voices in my career—would never have achieved half as much were it not so.
House-elf reform was, of course, always at the top of my list. This time, instead of making unfounded assumptions and patronising the creatures, I headed a small team which undertook a thorough consultation process with the elves. The results of which were controversial, but we fought hard to get them acknowledged. House-elves now receive the same rights as any employee in the Wizarding world. Some even live independently to their place of work—a scheme which, I'm happy to say, was pioneered solely by the Headmistress at Hogwarts. There is now a thriving elf community growing on the fringe of the castle and the village of Hogsmeade.
The work was much and varied during this period of my life. It was not, by any means, always as exciting and stimulating. There was much that was mundane and procedural in-between the larger projects but, in hindsight, still rewarding in its own way.
My next major undertaking for the department caused just as many waves as the House-elf reform, although in my defence, this was not what I set out to do. My decision to develop an extensive ecological survey of the magical flora and fauna of the British isles was only meant as an updating to previous studies which, to my mind, had become out-of-date and were partially incomplete in the first place. The Ministry were happy with this new project of mine. What trouble could I possibly cause whilst compiling habitats and mapping plant and animal species? They were probably surprised by how dry and old-fashioned it sounded.
For my own part, I thought it would an indispensable study to help us understand the natural environment we live in. It's all very well to work within somewhere which professes to 'control' and 'regulate' Magical creatures, when, actually, we had no proper idea of what, and how much of it, was out there. And the Ministry had given even less attention to the study of flora; there being very little need for regulation in this area.
Mostly, I was enthused because I knew it would be no easy undertaking. It was a project that would need the assistance and co-operation of many people. It's true to say it took a bit of persuasive prowess on my part to round up a team unafraid of working with me. My... and I hate to use the word, bossy reputation preceded me even then. I managed to find some willing Herbologists, specialists from within my department, and elsewhere in the Ministry, and anyone else who was eager to take part in collating the data. I say eager, but... honestly, I think the pay had more to do with it.
We could not, of course, record every single organism that existed, but we devised a comprehensive sample that covered the country. We also had some tailored charms to aide our survey—to ensure it was as rigorous as we could manage.
Admittedly, it took months; months of long hours and hard work. We went out in teams to record what we found within our assigned areas (I don't think it was a coincidence my team was the smallest). Back at the Ministry, a colleague and I had set up a large, charmed map made up of several layers. Every time a data-set was completed, it would be spelled into the map to be analysed in detail. As we neared completion, a full picture began to unfold before us, but I'd honestly never considered I wouldn't like what I saw. Examining the results we had now, and comparing them with what historical information we already had, threw up some alarming questions.
'She's off,' someone muttered sotto voce when I demanded to see all the teams to investigate whether any corners were cut, or whether any methodological failing might account for the unexpected results, because I would certainly not allow for shoddy workmanship. I found no such issues; it seemed we could be confident in our findings.
The concepts of conservation and preservation were ideas, naturally, not unfamiliar to me. In this instance, however, I'm afraid the effects of my tenure in the Wizarding world was showing. Muggles, I knew, had long developed these processes, but for witches and wizards, the relevance wasn't fully acknowledged—properly considered, even. There had, in the past, been some indication of certain endangered species within the country, but the crude criteria we had was based on the fact these species were naturally rare, anywhere in the world one might go.
Why, for example, were Augureys apparently in decline nationwide? Why had Jobberknoll numbers dropped by over a quarter in the last twenty years? How could we account for the fact that areas of the Cheviot hills, known for its extensive monkshood population, were now showing signs that this particular habitat was close to being endangered? These were just a sample of curious facts that were presented to us, and we looked at each point in depth for an explanation to use in the final report.
Was it a natural predator causing these issues? Was it simply down to nature that Jobberknoll numbers were falling? We investigated this first, but couldn't prove this theory, finding no sign that some foreign species was forcing out the indigenous population. We turned next to the Muggles. Were they unknowingly interfering with Magical habitats? Observations recorded during the survey suggested that sometimes this was true. Muggle buildings had been known to encroach upon and damage the environment, but in many cases this was simply not evidenced.
Neville—Neville Longbottom—had been assisting me with the findings of the Herbologists (he was one to always offer his help to me freely) and suggested to me an observation that had been slowly simmering in my own mind as we studied the map.
'Hermione,' he said. 'Do you know what these habitats—these plants and animals that are declining—have in common?'
'They all have properties important to potion-making,' I answered.
It made sense. Why else was it that Cornish pixies were thriving, but the number and location of known fairy spots was changing? Pixies are useless in potions, but fairy wings are highly prized. What is the main importance of a Jobberknoll to a witch or wizard? Is it that its feathers are essential to truth serums and Memory potions? Monkshood, I knew, in diluted form, was a key component of Pepperup Potion and most pain remedies. And Augurey feathers were also highly prized components.
Was it that we were depleting our own resources? Resources that we'd taken for granted for far too long? We had to seriously consider it as a possibility and I dove into this eagerly, firing off instructions while my colleagues stared back at me with clenched jaws and patented long-suffering. I could only wonder why they weren't so enthusiastic—we were approaching new ground, for Merlin's sake!
I knew there were already statutory rules and regulations in place to control the harvesting of creatures for potion-making. But I also knew as well as anyone they only applied to certain cases. Unicorns, for example. Neville explained rules were even more vague for the collection of plants.
As much as others might like to claim, most derogatorily, that I 'know it all', the reality is that I don't. And in all honesty, I knew very little about the potion-making industry at this time. My understanding was that it was a complex one, structured largely around private companies, responsible for such household names as Mrs Scower and Skele-gro, independent apothecaries, and freelance potioneers. That was it, in a nutshell.
I put out a few feelers at the Ministry, no doubt to the inconvenience of many, I'm sure. It was surely not unreasonable to think such a far-reaching industry wouldn't be subject to regulation and I hoped to learn more regarding this. But when the Ministry told me that, beyond ensuring the international restrictions on the trading of protected species for use in potions were upheld, that was as far as they felt their influence needed to go, I started to think I might have been too generous in my assessment of the Ministry's competency. Surprising how often this happens.
I was informed that certain influence was wielded by a professional body, of which the majority of professionals within the industry sought membership. This was the loftily named 'Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers' and only rang a very vague bell with me.
Clearly, however, it was to this place I was going to have to aim my next questions, in order to understand what might be happening and how solutions could be reached. I did not merely want to publish an incriminating report without evidence or consensus. That would surely be to set myself up for a fall. Expect some would like to see that, actually.
The survey was put on hold while we considered this new tangent. I say 'we', by this time, most of my help had dispersed back to their original duties. I didn't mind; I preferred working independently and I daresay this preference accounted for my 'below expectations' grade for 'team-working skills' during my most recent performance appraisal at that time.
I planned a visit to the Society, then, and went alone. Accustomed as I was, even then, to obstruction and dispute, I never anticipated to face it in this situation. After all, it seemed clear to me it was in everyone's interest to conserve our natural resources, and so, rather naively, I assumed co-operation between both sides would be a given. I was wrong. It was this presumption that left me a little unprepared when I was actually faced with complete dismissal.
Furthermore, I failed to adequately research just who and what I would be dealing with. Patience has never been a strong suit of mine; not when I have the bit between my teeth. I sought the address to the Society and took myself off there as soon as I was able, with little or no other consideration. I think one of my colleagues in the know might have been good enough to mention the finer details I was so obviously without. Who am I to begrudge them their little laughs?
The Society is in Edinburgh, housed in an impressive, if forbidding, grey stone building with a gold plate on the wall denoting the building's purpose. I marched inside and immediately found myself in a deep red, carpeted entrance hall. There was no one present behind the high wooden desk and I stood by patiently, hearing someone pottering about in the room beyond. I gazed around my surroundings, taking in the curious stares of several portraits that hung high on the walls, but there was something else that quickly took my attention.
There was a small, marble staircase that led from the entrance hall into the building proper, and placed above the archway at the top of the stairs was a series of large wooden plaques, recording the name of each presiding officer of the Society since its founding, several hundred years ago. Any sense of my professionalism and sophistication that I liked to imagine myself as having, evaporated entirely as I read the printed gold name of the most recent president. In an instant, I felt like a little girl again—green and out of her depth.
I managed to restore my equilibrium by consoling myself it was highly unlikely I'd be treated to an audience with Severus Snape himself, though I wished fervently I'd known of his role beforehand. I'd heard along the grapevine that he was now a professional brewer, but beyond that nothing else of note. I scowled to myself; dealing with that man, as I easily recalled, required serious preparation.
'Albert!' shouted one of the portraits suddenly—a cursory glance at his frame revealed him to be one Libatius Borage. 'There's a girl here to see you!'
I tried not to feel too much umbrage at being decreed a "girl".
'Albert' shuffled out and revealed himself to be a stooped, old man. 'I do apologise for keeping you,' he said in a quiet voice. 'What may I do for you, Miss…?'
I drew myself up and outlined my capacity as a researcher at the Ministry, explaining that I was looking to put some questions to a resident potioneer. He was obliging; he went back into his little room to use the Floo and several minutes later, he returned saying the Director would be willing to talk to me. I was pleased not to have been fobbed off, though I feel it was my position within the Ministry that bought me my audience someone fairly high up. Still, I was satisfied.
I passed through the archway and followed a curved passageway to the right, which I saw with a quick peek skirted a rather large council chamber full of wooden benches and other fine furnishings.
I soon reached a door, upon it written 'Mr Theobald Ridley — Director'. Immediately, however, when I clapped eyes on this man, I felt he would not be as genial as the wizened old Albert at the front desk.
He was a short man with a prodigious amount of facial hair, and he sat impassively whilst I outlined the basic premise of our work on the ecological survey. I showed him how we had cause for concern and asked him, given that the Society is a professional body, what their policies were for practising potioneers and apothecaries in terms of the collection and cultivation of biological components.
To this day, I assert I was not being antagonistic in any way. I was merely stating the facts as I knew them, but he took significant offence.
'If I understand you correctly, you're accusing potioneers for this supposed decline in certain species?'
I tried to explain that I was only trying to establish a cause. That this was just one other avenue to explore when others had been exhausted.
'What proof do you have?' he blustered defensively.
I was a bit taken aback by his indignation. I had not imagined he would take it so personally. I pressed that I was only looking rule out culpability, but he overrode anything else I wanted to say, puffing himself up impressively.
'I assure you, Miss Granger, we are well aware of our responsibilities and you may see our Code of Practice for further elucidation. We, patently, do not advocate such malpractice! Unless you have any evidence to support your accusations, I suggest you direct your energies elsewhere!'
It was obvious I'd taken the wrong tack here; quite obvious, as I was summarily shown the way out till I stood on the pavement clutching my folders uselessly.
I had wanted to refute the idea I was bandying accusations around—to explain I was only looking for advice, but Ridley had marched off, muttering to himself about young upstarts, and a litany of other apparent ills I was responsible for. I wasn't too disheartened—I'd met his type many times before. I just hadn't quite learned to deal with them yet.
I returned to the Ministry, keeping my failure to myself (no one bothered asking) and for the next few days studied as much information I could get about the potion-making industry, as it was then. Albert had been kind enough to give me a few publications pertaining to the Society, and from them I could see they promoted efficiency and care for those involved in the collection of plants. And it seemed they took a firm stance about using only 'freely given' elements from Magical creatures, too.
Admittedly, I could understand it was not the Society's role to make rules regarding this area, but I felt it was their responsibility to set an example, considering the size of their membership. And. actually, on the face of it, I could not find any reason to suppose the Society did not take its responsibilities entirely seriously.
By now, however, my superiors were urging me to brief them on the findings of the survey. I was frustrated by this, knowing that when they understood the significance of what we'd found, they would inevitably start interfering and escalating matters.
In the hope of mitigating this, I wanted to be able to present to them a clear direction we could take. So, I decided to write to Snape himself, asking simply for his assistance. I was a bit cautious about appealing to him directly, especially if Ridley had his ear. Nevertheless, I though it'd be worth a try. I ensured to adopt as unbiased a tone as possible, stating that I had proof to disturbing declining numbers of certain species and wanted some advice. I left out any references to causes, mentioning only a desire to act to reverse such trends. I ended my letter by writing that it was surely of huge importance to potioneers that we co-operate in order to sustain the biodiversity in the country.
It was my opinion he'd be hard pressed to dismiss me completely.
With this done, I turned my attention to researching some of the private manufacturers of potions. It seemed logical that it could be from this quarter that a more… damaging approach to the capturing of, for example, Jobberknolls for their feathers, might be tolerated. It was hardly something a company would admit lightly, I knew, and so it would take rather more stealth and subtlety on my part. Such investigative work, however, would be subject to the agreement of my superiors and I decided I would put it to them during the briefing they'd scheduled.
If only I could have anticipated the laughter...
And unfortunately, if I'd hoped to have something clearer to give to them when I discussed the results, instead of an array of unconfirmed theories and suppositions, I was very much disappointed.
Only a day later, my missive to Mr Severus Snape, C/O The Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers was returned unopened. Indignation flared within me as I ripped open an accompanying note from Albert.
According to the old man, Mr Snape was "currently leading an expedition in the fjords of Norway to carry out research for the Society". Albert was basically telling me their esteemed leader was not expected to return for some time, and therefore, my letter would not reach him.
And pointedly, there was no offer to provide a forwarding address.
It's fair to say I wasn't amused. Especially when, a few days later, Ridley sent in a complaint about me to the department.
Everyone else thought it was hilarious.
AN: Only time will tell how wise it is for me to have two stories on the go. Thanks for reading; let me know what you think.