Is Rita Skeeter Secretly a Genius?
I will not hesitate to admit that Rita Skeeter is one of my least favorite Harry Potter characters. Her complete lack of scruples, her habit of stirring up drama, and the condescending way she speaks to Harry always leave me fuming. After taking a second look at Rita Skeeter recently, however, I realized that underneath her shallow, gossipy nature, Rita Skeeter is actually incredibly smart. And not just street smart. We all know that Rita has an uncanny knack for knowing how to dig up a good story. No, Rita Skeeter may actually be a genius at doing magic.
Let’s start with her status as an Animagus. Rita Skeeter is an unregistered Animagus, capable of turning into a beetle. The only other characters that we know of in the series who are Animagi are Professor McGonagall, Sirius Black, James Potter, and Peter Pettigrew. Becoming an Animagus is an incredibly difficult bit of magic, and all of these characters except Peter are described as unusually talented witches and wizards. Peter Pettigrew was only able to become an Animagus with extensive help from his more talented friends. Unlike the Marauders, who were able to help each other out to perform this magic, Rita Skeeter managed to do it completely on her own.
But I suspect that this isn’t the only complicated piece of magic Rita Skeeter has performed. Part of what makes Rita so vicious is her Quick-Quotes Quill, which basically writes her article for her, taking complete liberties with facts and quotes. Now, we’ve seen other enchanted quills in the series. There are quills that self-ink, quills that check spelling, and even quills that answer questions automatically. As Ron demonstrates to hilarious effect, however, the charms on these quills wear off fairly quickly. The Quick-Quotes Quill is more sophisticated than that. It does not only write facts, but it also creates fiction. It has voice, character, imagination, and a strong sense of what its readers will enjoy. In fact, it has all of the gifts that Rita herself has, which is what convinces me that Rita was the one who invented this quill. We do not see anyone else who ever uses one, and you would expect there to be libel laws against this kind of journalism if the quills were widely in circulation. Rita Skeeter asks Harry’s permission before using the quill, but she probably expects that none of her interviewees have ever heard of it before since she was the one who invented it. Creating a quill that perfectly channels her own voice and journalistic skills must have taken significant magical abilities.
When it comes to finding a good story, Rita Skeeter will go to any lengths to get the truth out of people. We know that Rita used Veritaserum in order to question Bathilda Bagshot for her biography on Dumbledore, but we also know from Snape that the Ministry of Magic has strict guidelines on the use of Veritaserum. Rita Skeeter may have stolen the Veritaserum that she used, or she may also have brewed it herself in order to avoid being caught. Veritaserum is a precise and difficult potion to make, taking about a month to brew. It is clearly not a potion that an average wizard could make, or people would be using it all the time.
Nobody has ever questioned that Rita Skeeter is sly and cunning, but most people don’t give her credit for being an incredibly talented witch. We already know that Rita is an Animagus, but could she also be an inventor, a potioneer… even a secret genius?