For Hermione, coming of age has as much to do with her journey to learning to read critically and think critically about authority figures as it does her physical passage from childhood to adulthood. In Goblet of Fire, Hermione learns about the existence of house-elves at Hogwarts, which impresses upon her that books don't tell an objective version of the truth--her favorite book, Hogwarts: A History, says nothing about the school's house-elves. This, combined with the way in which Harry, Ron, and Hermione learn to handle the outrageous articles written by sensationalist journalist Rita Skeeter, impresses upon them the importance of being skeptical of what they read, reading between the lines, and understanding that books and newspapers don't always express a complete truth and thus should be questioned.
Hermione begins her fourth year at Hogwarts already aware that rules and official texts aren't always true or correct--discovering that Sirius Black, James Potter, and Peter Pettigrew were unregistered Animagi (wizards who can transform into animals at will) impressed upon her that just because a rule exists, it doesn't mean that everyone will follow it. However, she arrives at school still trusting books and other print media to tell a complete version of the truth. When Hermione discovers that house-elves work at Hogwarts without pay, she realizes that her favorite reference text on the school, Hogwarts: A History, doesn't mention this at all. After having this realization, Hermione darkly suggests that the book should be called "A Highly Biased and Selective History of Hogwarts, Which Glosses Over the Nastier Aspects of the School." This becomes an earth-shattering moment for Hermione in which she's forced to understand that a book she once took as ultimate truth actually just represents one author's biased thoughts and beliefs about the school. In other words, she learns that she must think critically about what she reads and, most importantly, evaluate the source and the context of what she reads in addition to the text itself.
This new way of reading critically becomes especially useful when the journalist Rita Skeeter arrives at Hogwarts to cover the Triwizard Tournament. Harry first learns about Rita Skeeter and her reputation the day after the Quidditch World Cup, when Skeeter's article about the mayhem caused by Death Eaters runs in the Daily Prophet. It's telling, first of all, that Mr. Weasley reads what she wrote in the paper (that Ministry officials refused to comment on rumors about dead bodies) and comments that, by mentioning rumors about bodies, Skeeter effectively creates the rumors. In actuality there were no bodies and, as far as Mr. Weasley knows, no rumors either until after the article runs. This suggests that Skeeter is aware that people like Hermione, who know how to think critically, are outliers in the Wizarding world. She understands that the truth of what she writes matters much less than the fact that her writing is published in an important news publication, which people then believe they should take seriously.
When Rita Skeeter covers the Triwizard Tournament, she does the exact same thing writing about Harry. To make things more dramatic, she uses her Quick Quotes Quill, which takes notes for her during interviews and embellishes what people say, turning their words into dramatic articles that only barely allude to the truth. After Skeeter's first interview with Harry--which was supposed to supplement an article about the Triwizard Tournament and all the Champions but instead focused entirely on Harry and misspelled the other Champions' names--Harry refuses to speak to her again, and Dumbledore bans her from the school grounds. However, Skeeter continues to publish article after article suggesting that Harry and Hermione are romantically involved, that Harry is mentally unstable, and outing Hagrid as being a half-giant. Though Harry and Ron don't have the same earth-shattering experience that Hermione does to introduce them to the concept of reading critically, because they know that what Skeeter writes isn't true and yet observe many others taking Skeeter's writing seriously, they also come to many of the same conclusions regarding the importance of carefully evaluating news sources for ulterior motives or dramatic embellishment.
When, in the aftermath of the disastrous third task, Harry comes face to face with Cornelius Fudge who refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned, Harry truly starts to understand the far more sinister power of Skeeter's writing and of the news media as a whole. Thanks to months of news coverage that makes Harry seem mentally unstable and therefore unbelievable and untrustworthy, Fudge refuses to listen to Harry when he says that Voldemort has returned to his body and will promptly begin a second rise to power. Fudge's refusal to evaluate what Harry says, especially in light of the mysterious and troubling events that have taken place over the last year, means that Fudge is at a distinct disadvantage when it inevitably comes to fighting Voldemort in the future. Harry, Ron, and Hermione, on the other hand, are in a much better position to organize and make a meaningful impact in the fight against evil, given that they have the skills to think critically and know to evaluate what they read, whether they're reading books, newspapers, or any other form of print media. Though this divide between unthinking belief and critical analysis doesn't resolve until much later in the series, the fact that the novel ends not with Voldemort's rise but with the question of whether or not Harry's story of Voldemort's rise will be believed suggests that the best thing a person can do to prepare themselves to be an effective member of society is to learn to think critically and carefully evaluate one's sources.
Reading, Critical Thinking, and Truth ThemeTracker
Reading, Critical Thinking, and Truth Quotes in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry laughed but didn't voice the amazement he felt at hearing about other Wizarding schools. He supposed, now that he saw representatives of so many nationalities in the campsite, that he had been stupid never to realize that Hogwarts couldn't be the only one.
"I don't get it," said Ron, frowning. "I mean...it's still only a shape in the sky..."
"Ron, You-Know-Who and his followers sent the Dark Mark into the air whenever they killed," said Mr. Weasley. "The terror it inspired...you have no idea, you're too young. Just picture coming home and finding the Dark Mark hovering over your house, and knowing what you're about to find inside..." Mr. Weasley winced. "Everyone's worst fear...the very worst..."
"Oh really," said Mr. Weasley in exasperation, handing the paper to Percy. "Nobody was hurt. What was I supposed to say? Rumors that several bodies were removed from the woods...well, there certainly will be rumors now that she's printed that."
"Now, according to the Ministry of Magic, I'm supposed to teach you countercurses and leave it at that. I'm not supposed to show you what illegal Dark curses look like until you're in the sixth year. You're not supposed to be old enough to deal with it till then. But Professor Dumbledore's got a higher opinion of your nerves, he reckons you can cope, and I say, the sooner you know what you're up against, the better."
He heard Ron come up into the dormitory a short while later, but he did not speak to him. For a long time, Harry lay staring up at the dark canopy of his bed. The dormitory was completely silent, and, had he been less preoccupied, Harry would have realized that the absence of Neville's usual snores meant that he was not the only one lying awake.
"It's all in Hogwarts: A History. Though, of course, that book's not entirely reliable. A Revised History of Hogwarts would be a more accurate title. Or A Highly Biased and Selective History of Hogwarts, Which Glosses Over the Nastier Aspects of the School."
"What are you on about?" said Ron, though Harry thought he knew what was coming.
"House-elves!" said Hermione, her eyes flashing. "Not once, in over a thousand pages, does Hogwarts: A History mention that we are all colluding in the oppression of a hundred slaves!"
"Testing...my name is Rita Skeeter, Daily Prophet reporter."
Harry looked down quickly at the quill. The moment Rita Skeeter had spoken, the green quill had started to scribble, skidding across the parchment:
Attractive blonde Rita Skeeter, forty-three, whose savage quill has punctured many inflated reputations--
"--and reading between the lines of that Skeeter woman's article last month, Moody was attacked the night before he started at Hogwarts. Yes, I know she says it was another false alarm," Sirius said hastily, seeing Harry about to speak, "but I don't think so, somehow. I think someone tried to stop him from getting to Hogwarts. I think someone knew their job would be a lot more difficult with him around. And no one's going to look into it too closely; Mad-Eye's heard intruders a bit too often."
"But what's it matter if his mother was a giantess?" said Harry.
"Well...no one who knows him will care, 'cos they'll know he's not dangerous," said Ron slowly. "But...Harry, they're just vicious, giants. It's like Hagrid said, they're like trolls...they just like killing, everyone knows that."
"What did you bring her for?"
"Fleur didn't turn up, I couldn't leave her," Harry panted.
"Harry, you prat," said Ron, "you didn't take that song thing seriously, did you? Dumbledore wouldn't have let any of us drown!"
"The song said--"
"It was only to make sure you got back inside the time limit!" said Ron. "I hope you didn't waste time down there acting the hero!"
Harry felt both stupid and annoyed. It was all very well for Ron; he'd been asleep, he hadn't felt how eerie it was down in the lake, surrounded by spear-carrying merpeople who'd looked more than capable of murder.
"For heaven's sake, Dumbledore--the boy was full of some crackpot story at the end of last year too--his tales are getting taller, and you're still swallowing them--the boy can talk to snakes, Dumbledore, and you think he's trustworthy?"
"You fool!" Professor McGonagall cried. "Cedric Diggory! Mr. Crouch! These deaths were not the random work of a lunatic!"
"The Ministry of Magic," Dumbledore continued, "does not wish me to tell you this. It is possible that some of your parents will be horrified that I have done so--either because they will not believe that Lord Voldemort has returned, or because they think I should not tell you so, young as you are. It is my belief, however, that the truth is generally preferable to lies, and that any attempt to pretend that Cedric died as a result of an accident, or some sort of blunder of his own, is an insult to his memory."