This essay was written in October 2004, between the publications of Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince. At that point in Potter fandom history, speculation was rampant about who would end up with whom. Friendships were actually broken over arguments of whether Harry would end up with Hermione or with Ginny. This essay became something of a legend in that war of conflicting opinions. It is still one of the most often accessed essays in our collection.
NOTE: All page references refer to the UK paperback followed by the US paperback (hardback for Order of the Phoenix). Thus ‘GF130/145’ would be Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, page 130 UK and 145 US.
[Ed. note: chapter references are given in brackets.]
Many readers (and non-readers) of the Harry Potter series have wondered if Harry might one day develop a romantic interest in his close female friend Hermione. When asked this question in an online chat May 4, 2000, J.K. Rowling responded, “as for Harry & Hermione—d’you really think they’re suited?”
This form of rhetorical question is normally used to imply a negative answer. But we—rabid fans of the series—will not simply accept the implied denial, but will eagerly seek through the published books to answer the question for ourselves. Are Harry and Hermione suited to each other romantically? And if not, why not?
We are fortunate enough to have many, many pages of interactions between the two characters and many thoughts and observations of Harry’s about Hermione in which to find the answer. And the answer is clear—they are not suited to each other romantically. Proceeding from the least important reason to the most important reason, here is why:
Why Harry and Hermione are Not Suited
5. Harry doesn’t find Hermione attractive.
Yes, indeed—physical attraction is shallow and superficial. But we have learned—in literature and in real life—to expect it as part of the beginning of a romantic relationship. We often see physical admiration used as an early clue in fictional love stories.
Harry is Not Attracted to Hermione’s Looks:
Harry’s first impression of Hermione is not a positive one: She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth (SS79/105) [PS6]. That is not fatal—plenty of romances have started off with an ironically bad first impression. But it is notable that Harry’s mental description of his friend is still almost identical when she is introduced in the beginning of Book Four—One, with very bushy brown hair and rather large front teeth, was Harry’s and Ron’s friend, Hermione Granger (GF51/54) [GF5]—and Book Five—there was a loud twittering noise, followed by an even louder shriek, and his vision was completely obscured by a large quantity of very bushy hair (OP60/62) [OP4]. By the beginning of Book Five, of course, Hermione has lost the “rather large front teeth,” but her “large quantity of very bushy hair” is emphasized even more, by having it cover Harry’s face, blinding him and possibly hindering his ability to breathe—‘Let him breathe, Hermione,’ said Ron, grinning.
However, Harry gets a second chance to have a first impression of Hermione’s appearance, when he fails to recognize her at the Yule Ball in Book Four. He calls her a pretty girl in blue robes (GF359/413) [GF23]. This is, of course, positive, but considering the time (three hours), effort, and magic (Sleekeazy’s Potion) Hermione has used to improve her appearance that night, it is a disappointingly tepid reaction. Compare it, for instance, to Harry’s reaction that same night to Parvati, who looked very pretty indeed in robes of shocking pink, with her long dark hair braided with gold, and gold bracelets glimmering at her wrists (GF358/412) [GF23]. Or to Padma, who was looking just as pretty as Parvati in robes of bright turquoise and whose dark eyes lingered on Ron’s frayed lace (GF359/412) [GF23]. Or to Fleur, who was looking stunning in robes of silver-grey satin (GF359/412) [GF23]. (bold mine)
So Hermione was the least pretty of the pretty girls Harry noticed that night. We don’t hear what Harry thought of Cho’s appearance, but we can guess from his other thoughts that he felt attracted to her—his first impression of Cho was extremely pretty (PA192/259) [PA13].
When Harry sees that the “pretty girl in blue” is actually his friend Hermione, his jaw drops in surprise. And he is not alone. Harry sees that Parvati was gazing at Hermione with unflattering disbelief. She wasn’t the only one, either. Pansy Parkinson gaped at her (GF360/414) [GF23]. The text is clearly saying that both Parvati and Pansy gaped at Hermione in “unflattering” surprise that she could look as attractive as she does. And Harry does as well—his jaw drops in surprise that Hermione can look “pretty.” Though only, I’m afraid, when she didn’t look like Hermione at all. Harry’s description of Hermione details all the ways—hair, clothes, posture, smile—in which she looks different from her normal self.
The reader looks eagerly to see if Hermione’s Yule Ball transformation has changed Harry’s rather negative view of her appearance, or spurred him to recognize that she is growing into an attractive young woman. Unfortunately, the answer is that it has not. Harry notes that Hermione is back to normal—Hermione’s hair was bushy again (GF377/433) [GF24]—and never seems to notice her as a girl throughout the remaining six months of Book Four or the ten months of Book Five. During that same time period, however, Harry reacts with attraction and admiration to Fleur twice (GF429/506 [GF26] and 628/725 [GF37]), to Cho many times (OP170/187 [OP10], 310/347 [OP16], 403/456 [OP21], 491/556 [OP25], and 603/684 [OP30], for instance), and even to Parvati once more (OP640/725) [OP31].
So Harry has plenty of time and energy to notice and be attracted to girls (especially if they have long, shiny hair). He simply hasn’t responded to Hermione this way. I’m not arguing that Harry thinks Hermione is ugly—we have his word that he doesn’t (OP505/572) [OP26], and I’m sure he is telling the truth. It is simply that he doesn’t fancy her. In fact, he says almost exactly this, just after the “But I don’t think you’re ugly” exchange:
“Well, wouldn’t it have been easier if she’d just asked me if I liked her better than you?”
“Then I could’ve just told her I fancy her…’
The clearly implied continuation in this sentence is and I don’t fancy you.
Harry is Not Attracted to Hermione’s Voice:
At once, Hermione Granger’s voice seemed to fill his head, shrill and panicky.
It is no surprise that Harry remembers Hermione’s voice that way, because it is frequently described as “shrill” in the five books (SS116/156 [PS9], CS123/163 [CS10], PA167/225 [PA11], PA187/253 [PA13], PA217/294 [PA15], GF190/214 [GF14], OP609/691, and OP660/749). Hermione is also regularly described as speaking bossily, huffily, sniffily, loftily, etc., as well as shrieking, snapping, hissing, squealing, shrieking, and wailing. In Book Five, Hermione took advantage of their silence to maintain an uninterrupted flow of dire warnings, all uttered under her breath in a vehement hiss that caused Seamus to waste five whole minutes checking his cauldron for leaks (OP582/660) [OP29]. Overall, the tone of Hermione’s dialogue tags and physical descriptions is very suitable for a semi-comic sidekick, and very unsuitable for the hero’s future romantic interest.
The fact that Harry has never been attracted to Hermione goes a long way toward explaining his striking lack of jealousy about—or even interest in – her relations with other males. We see Ron express his disapproval of Hermione’s Book Two crush on Gilderoy Lockhart six times (CS75/95 [CS6], CS124/164 [CS10], CS131/174 [CS10], CS171/228 [CS13], CS177/237 [CS13], and GF208/236 [GF15]), but Harrynever. Harry is steadfastly indifferent to (GF368/423 [GF23], OP407/461 [OP21])—or helpfully supportive of (GF480/553) [GF28]—Hermione’s possible relationship with Viktor Krum. Harry also seems to be aware of Ron’s unacknowledged feelings for Hermione as well (GF376/432 [GF23], GF385/444 [GF24], GF445/513 [GF27], GF629/725 [GF37], OP296/331 [OP16], OP358/404 [OP19], OP407/461 [OP21]) and his only detectable response is mild amusement. All this is contrary to our expectations for romantic foreshadowing—we are accustomed to seeing heroes feel some aversion to seeing their future love interest involved with another man, even if that aversion is subconscious, well-camouflaged, or given a different cover-up reason. Harry’s repeated attitude of cheerful indifference is startling if Hermione is intended to be his future love.
Of course all this could change. It is conceivable that Harry could become attracted to Hermione at some point in the final two books, or even that he could fall in love with her without a preliminary attraction stage. But canon makes it clear that Harry is not attracted to Hermione now. She does not seem to be his type.
4. Hermione’s way of talking annoys Harry.
Harry is Bored by Hermione’s Long Speeches:
There is no doubt that Hermione Granger is a talker. When she is nervous or excited she babbles, and the books are littered with long monologues from her. Harry notices and dislikes this trait in their very first meeting:
‘Are you sure that’s a real spell?’ said the girl. ‘Well, it’s not very good, is it? . . . —I’m Hermione Granger, by the way, who are you?’
She said all this very fast.
This first impression of garrulity is hammered home the next few times Hermione is mentioned: Harry tried hard not to listen to her (SS86/115) [PS7], she bored them all stupid (SS108/144) [PS9], hissing at them like an angry goose (SS116/155) [PS9], Hermione was now refusing to speak to Harry and Ron, but she was such a bossy know-it-all that they saw this as an added bonus (SS121/164) [PS10].
As we would expect, Harry becomes more tolerant of this trait of Hermione’s after she becomes his friend, but he never ceases to be annoyed by it. We explicitly see Harry react negatively to Hermione’s talkativeness in every book. For instance: Hermione, sounding as usual as though she had swallowed the textbook (CS72/92) [CS6], Hermione irritated the rest by fussing (PA233/317) [PA16], Harry shook his head and applied himself to his scrambled eggs (when Hermione is ranting about house-elves) (GF210/238) [GF15], “Hermione,” Harry said through gritted teeth, “will you shut up for a bit, please? I’m trying to concentrate” (GF296/338) [GF20], Harry had never expected the day to be a restful one, but he had not reckoned on Hermione’s almost continual attempts to dissuade him from what he was planning to do (OP581/660) [OP29], He had been regretting this ever since; Hermione would not let the subject drop and kept reverting to it when Harry least expected it (OP600/681) [OP30].
Some other good examples of Hermione’s monologues include CS159/213, [CS12] GF198/224 [GF14], GF209/238 [GF15], GF422/486 [GF26], and OP61/62 [OP4]. Harry’s dislike of this behavior is shown not only in his negative reactions to Hermione, but in his reaction to other characters with speechmaking tendencies, such as Percy (GF53/56 [GF5], 369/425 [GF23]), Ernie Macmillan (OP237/262 [OP13], 307/344 [OP16]), and Lockhart (CS72/91 [CS6], 77/99 [CS6], 92/120 [CS7], 123/163 [CS10]).
Harry Doesn’t Like it When Hermione Shows Off:
Besides being bored and annoyed when Hermione goes into monologue mode, Harry is also displeased when her talkativeness takes the form of showing off her knowledge. He is first made uncomfortable by this trait of Hermione’s in the first Potions class (SS102/137) [PS8], when she is standing up and waving her hand while he’s trying to answer Snape’s questions. Again, this is repeated in later books. In Book Two we have Hermione’s hand narrowly missed Harry’s glasses as it shot up again (CS72/92) [CS6]. In Book Three we see Trying to answer a question with Hermione next to him, bobbing up and down on the balls of her feet with her hand in the air, was very off-putting (PA101/133) [PA7]. In Book Five we see that Hermionehas not grown out of this endearing-to-the-reader but annoying-to-Harry trait: Hermione’s hand shot into the air. Behind her back, Malfoy did a buck-toothed imitation of her jumping up and down in eagerness to answer a question (OP233/258) [OP13].
It is easy to understand why Harry finds this behavior off-putting. Harry usually has more attention than he wants (GF254/290 [GF18], OP305/342 [OP16]). He does not fully understand the insecurities that drive Hermione and Ron to show off (though he does display some sympathy with Ron’s hair-ruffling in OP621/704 [OP31]). Harry, of course, accepts this flaw in his two best friends, but it seems that in a girlfriend he would prefer someone with a modest attitude more like his own.
Harry is Annoyed by Hermione’s Argumentativeness:
The other aspect of Hermione’s talkative nature that particularly bugs Harry is her argumentativeness. Again and again in the five books, Harry reacts with annoyance to the frequent bickering between Ron and Hermione. We see him tell them to shut up: SS116/156 [PS9], SS117/157 [PS9], SS171/234 [PS14], OP212/235 [OP12], OP228/252 [OP13]. And we also see how much he dislikes it:
- “What d’you think, Sirius?” Harry said loudly, and Ron and Hermione stopped bickering to listen. (GF460/531) [GF27]
- Harry got so tired of Ron and Hermione sniping at each other over their homework in the Common Room that he took Sirius’s food up to the Owlery that evening on his own.(GF468/539) [GF28]
- Unwilling to go back to Gryffindor Tower and listen to Ron and Hermione snarling at each other, Harry watched Hagrid digging until. (GF469/540) [GF28]
- Harry was too used to their bickering to bother trying to reconcile them; he felt it was a better use of his time to eat his way steadily through his steak and kidney pie, then a large plateful of his favourite treacle tart.(OP190/210) [OP11]
- “That’s the bell,’ said Harry dully, because Ron and Hermione were bickering too loudly to hear it. They did not stop arguing all the way down to Snape’s dungeon (OP208/231) [OP12]
- …Serve them right, he thought, why can’t they give it a rest… bickering all the time… it’s enough to drive anyone up the wall… (OP213/235) [OP12]
- They argued all the way back to the common room, but Harry was not listening to them. (OP351/396) [OP18]
One might hypothesize that Hermione would not be so argumentative if she were away from Ron, but canon suggests otherwise. Hermione frequently argues with people besides Ron. Furthermore, Hermione argues with other people (including Harry) far more often than Ron does, indicating that she, not Ron, may be the primary cause of the frequent bickering we see between the two of them.
We see Hermione arguing with Harry many times, including arguing about turning in the Marauder’s Map (PA147/198) [PA10], about their actions while using the Time Turner (PA291/398 [PA21], 296/405, 298/408), about working on his egg (GF342/392 [GF22], 354/407 [GF23]), about obeying Sirius (GF497/573) [GF29], about contacting Sirius (GF255/290 [GF18], OP250/278 [OP13], and OP579/657 [OP29]), about using the Invisibility Cloak (GF279/318) [GF19], about Sirius’s motives and character (OP144/158 [OP9], 334/377 [OP18]), about Luna (OP236/262) [OP13], about going to Dumbledore (OP250/277) [OP13], about his Defense Against the Dark Arts abilities (OP292/327) [OP15], about Occlumency lessons (OP519/589 [OP26], 600/681 [OP30]), about Hagrid (OP617/700 [OP30], 631/715 [OP31]), and about going to the Department of Mysteries (OP645/732) [OP32].
We also see Hermione arguing with Professor Trelawney about Grims (PA82/106 [PA6], 220/298 [PA15]), with Lavender about her bunny (PA112/148) [PA8], with Professor Snape about the Defense Against the Dark Arts class (PA128/170) [PA9], with Mr. Weasley, Percy, and George about house-elves (GF124/139 [GF9], 126/141 [GF9], 137/154 [GF10], 210/239 [GF15]), with Draco Malfoy about Hagrid (PA216/293 [PA15] and GF175/197 [GF13]), and even with Winky the house-elf (GF331/379 [GF21], 467/537 [GF28]). In Book Five, she argues with Umbridge (OP218/241 [OP12] and 283/317 [OP15]), Luna (OP236/262 [OP13] and 308/345 [OP16]), Sirius (OP331/372) [OP17], Hagrid (OP388/439) [OP20], Parvati (OP528/599) [OP27], Fred and George (OP229/253 [OP13], 552/627 [OP28], 579/657 [OP29]), and, of course, Harry.
We do see Ron arguing with people as well: Malfoy (SS163/223 [PS13], GF150/168 [GF11]), Percy (CS119/157) [CS9], his mother (GF139/156) [GF10], Fred and George (GF492/567) [GF29]. He tries to argue with Cho about the Tutshill Tornadoes (OP208/230) [OP12] and has very brief exchanges with Luna (OP181/200 [OP11], 671/762 [OP33]) and Zacharias Smith (OP306/343) [OP16]. But Ron argues with other people much less often than Hermione does. And he certainly argues with Harry much less often than Hermione does. The closest to arguments I can find Ron having with Harry are when Ron snaps at Harry’s advice that he should ask for a new wand (CS74/95) [CS6], their three stiff interchanges during the Goblet of Fire fight (GF251/286 [GF17], 273/312 [GF18], 294/335 [GF19]), a very brief exchange about the leprechaun gold (GF474/545) [GF28], the time Ron takes Hermione’s side about Harry’s Defense Against the Dark Arts skills (OP292/327) [OP15], and a spat over whether Harry getting banned from Quidditch is Ron’s fault (OP371/419) [OP19]. Only the last two are full-fledged bickers, of the sort that Ron and Hermione or Harry and Hermione have.
I think it is perfectly clear in canon that Hermione is more argumentative than Ron is and far more argumentative than the average person—possibly the most argumentative character in these books. So when we see Harry react with annoyance and avoidance to Ron’s and Hermione’s frequent spats, when we see him say that he doesn’t know what he wants to happen between Cho and him, except that he couldn’t stand any more rows (OP603/684) [OP30], it has to make us question whether Hermione is the right romantic partner for Harry. Some people like arguing, and some people don’t. Hermione does. Harry doesn’t
It is not that a talkative, argumentative female is unsuitable for a relationship. This type of woman, on the contrary, is extremely common as a love interest, especially in romantic comedies. A “mouthy broad,” if you will pardon the archaic term, is seen as a romantic and sexual challenge for the man who can match her in verbal sparring. This, in fact, is the pattern than many people see taking shape between Hermione and Ron.
Ron, from early in Book One, is nettled and infuriated by Hermione’s talkativeness and argumentativeness, and cannot resist responding to her verbal challenges, even at times when he is supposedly “not talking to her” (SS115/154 [PS9], SS115/155 [PS9], PA175/236 [PA12], PA203/275 [PA14]). Harry can ignore or avoid Hermione to escape her arguments, but Ron consistently rises to her bait. In the classic comedic tradition, he finds the challenge irresistible, leading to Ron and Hermione—as Harry puts it—”always having a go at each other” (OP21/235) [OP12]. Being talkative himself, and from a large family of verbally aggressive people, Ron is not put off by Hermione’s talking style the way Harry is. Like Hermione, Ron is surprised and offended in Book Five when Harry says their arguments are annoying (OP212/235) [OP12]. Like Hermione, Ron gets so wrapped up in their bickering that he becomes oblivious to their surroundings and Harry has to shush him (SS116/156 [PS9] and 117/157 [PS9], GF460/531 [GF27]) or he is surprised by a teacher (GF446/514) [GF27]. And, like Hermione, Ron can frequently be seen enjoying their contests of verbal one-upmanship. He has the quick wit and comic timing to match Hermione in her verbal aggressiveness, to tease her, to play Benedict to her Beatrice. Ron enjoys it, at least part of the time. Harry, obviously, doesn’t.
Many males are attracted to a strong, talkative, argumentative female like Hermione. But Harry is not one of them.
3. Harry responds to Hermione more as a mother than as a girlfriend.
Hermione—bless her—is a very nurturing and caring person. We see her ladling out food onto Harry’s and Ron’s plates. We see her making schedules for them and chastising them for breaking rules and trying to reconcile them when they get into a fight. Like a mother, she worries when they are in danger, rushes to them when they are hurt, reprimands them for their bad language, and praises them for their successes.
Hermione is also a very bossy person. She has strong opinions and high morals, thinks she always knows best, and doesn’t hesitate to tell others what to do. This comes out unmistakably in her first meeting with the boys. Hermione orders Ron to do his spell, criticizes them for fighting, tells them to put their robes on, etc. Soon she is ordering Harry not to fly after Malfoy and the Remembrall and not to duel with Malfoy, and criticizing Ron’s attempts at Wingardium Leviosa.
This bossiness and motherliness is an essential part of Hermione’s nature. It remains pronounced even as she “lightens up” over the course of the five books we have seen so far. In Book Five, Sirius, Ron, and Harry explicitly compare her to Molly Weasley, and we see her just as opinionated and domineering as ever. She is described as speaking “bossily” at the DA meeting (OP347/392) [OP18], she is an authoritarian Prefect who tells off first years for “giggling too loudly” before exams (OP632/716) [OP31], she gives Ron and Harry extremely annoying (and bossy) talking planners (OP443/502 [OP23], 477/541 [OP24]), she continues to threaten to “tattle-tale” (in this case on Fred and George—OP230/254 [OP13]), and we see her nagging Harry unmercifully about such things as his plan to speak to Sirius and his failure to practice Occlumency.
Nor has Hermione stopped her habit of physically pushing the boys – and especially Harry—around. In Book Five, we see several examples of Hermione touching Harry and Ron either bossily or protectively. Here are just two of them: “Get over here,” muttered Hermione, tugging at Harry’s wrist and pulling him back into a recess (OP651/738) [OP32], “Harry, stop it, come away—” She grabbed his arm and pulled, but he resisted (OP683/774) [OP34]. Others occur at OP221/245 [OP12], 323/363 [OP17], 388/438 [OP20], and 697/791 [OP35]. These are no different from her earlier behavior such as Hermione prodded Ron in the back to make him hurry (PA69/88) [PA5] or Hermione seized it, pulled the door open, and pushed Harry hard in the back, forcing him inside (GF327/375) [GF21].
There is nothing wrong with being bossy. The problem is that Harry, as he is described in canon, reacts badly to people who try to dominate him. Harry grew up being ordered about by people—the Dursleys—who exerted authority over him without love, or even good intentions. As a result of this (or possibly because he was born that way), Harry is strikingly insubordinate and independent, strong-willed, and defiant to authority figures such as Professor Snape, Professor Grubbly-Plank, and Professor Umbridge. Compared to the other students around him, Harry says words like “sir” and “ma’am” less often, interrupts adults more often, and shows more anger when being ordered around by authority figures. And, particularly in regard to girls, at the Yule Ball he clearly dislikes Parvati’s behavior of steering Harry so forcefully that he felt as though he were a show dog she was putting through its paces (GF361/415) [GF23].
Even though Harry knows that Hermione loves him and has his best interests at heart, he finds her bossiness hard to bear. Even when he knows she is right and complies with her demands, he does so with open resentment. Examples of this behavior include CS160/213 [CS12], PA298/408 [PA21], GF255/291 [GF18], and OP250/278. But more often, Harry reacts in other, even more negative, ways. His characteristic response to Hermione when she is trying to boss him is to ignore and avoid her. If that doesn’t work, he either lies to her and deceives her, or—as a last resort—treats her to a display of his rather frightening temper. Here are some examples of each:
Harry Ignores and Avoids Hermione:
Harry’s first line of defense against Hermione’s interfering ways is to act as if he doesn’t hear her, and to avoid her as much as possible. We see many example of this when he first meets her (bold mine):
- No one was talking much except Hermione Granger, who was whispering very fast about all the spells she’d learnt and wondering which one she’d need. Harry tried hard not to listen to her. (SS86/115) [PS7]
- ‘No!’ shouted Hermione Granger. ‘Madam Hooch told us not to move – you’ll get us all into trouble.’Harry ignored her. (SS110/148) [PS9]
- Harry couldn’t believe anyone could be so interfering.‘Come on,’ he said to Ron. He pushed open the portrait of the Fat Lady and climbed through the hole. (SS115/155) [PS9]
After Harry becomes friends with Hermione, he can’t ignore her quite so blatantly, but he can still avoid her and rudely disregard her advice. He can also feel relief when Hermione is not around, or is too busy to nag him:
- “No!” said Hermione quickly. “Harry isn’t supposed to leave the castle, Ron—”“Yeah, let’s go,” said Harry, sitting up, “and I can ask him how come he never mentioned Black when he told me all about my parents!” (PA160/216) [PA11]
- “Ron,” said Hermione, in an I-don’t-think-you’re-being-very-sensitive sort of voice, “Harry doesn’t want to play Quidditch right now… . He’s worried, and he’s tired. . . . We all need to go to bed…”“Yeah, I want to play Quidditch,” said Harry suddenly. “Hang on, I’ll get my Firebolt.” (GF134/150) [GF10]
- “Harry,” Hermione began, in a pacifying sort of voice.“I’m going to bed,” said Harry shortly. “See you in the morning.”(GF200/227) [GF14]
- ‘Harry, no!’ Hermione whispered in a warning voice, tugging at his sleeve, but Harry jerked his arm out of her reach. (OP221/245) [OP12]
- Harry did not even attempt to follow what he was saying today; he doodled idly on his parchment ignoring Hermione’s frequent glares and nudges, until a particularly painful poke in the ribs made him look up angrily. (OP316/355) [OP17]
- It appeared that Hermione had gone to bed early, leaving Crookshanks curled in a nearby chair and an assortment of knobbly knitted elf hats lying on a table by the fire. Harry was rather grateful that she was not around, because he did not much want to discuss his scar hurting and have her urge him to go to Dumbledore, too. (OP340/383) [OP18]
- Harry received two more ‘D’s in Potions; he was still on tenterhooks that Hagrid might get the sack; and he couldn’t stop himself dwelling on the dream in which he had been Voldemort—though he didn’t bring it up with Ron and Hermione again; he didn’t want another telling-off from Hermione. (OP519/589) [OP26]
- For the first time ever, she was at least as inattentive to Professor Binns in History of Magic as Harry and Ron were, keeping up a stream of whispered admonitions that Harry tried very hard to ignore.(OP581/660) [OP29]
- When the bell rang, he hurried out of the dungeon without a backwards glance, and made sure that he found himself a seat between Neville and Seamus for lunch so that Hermione could not start nagging him again about using Umbridge’s office. (OP582/661) [OP29]
- This suited Harry very well; he was quite busy and tense enough without extra classes with Snape, and to his relief Hermione was much too preoccupied these days to badger him about Occlumency (OP622/706) [OP31]
Harry Lies and Sneaks to Avoid Hermione’s Nagging:
When Hermione is in her bossy mode and avoiding and ignoring her is not enough, Harry resorts to lying and sneaking around to avoid her wrath. This is normal behavior from a child to a parent – it is common for teenagers to deceive their parents, with the justification that their parents are unreasonable and it is the only way they can get freedom, or that they are only trying to spare their parents pain. This is not common behavior with a friend or a girlfriend/boyfriend.
We see Harry begin to do this to Hermione during the Cat/Rat fight, when he sneaks behind Hermione’s back to go into Hogsmeade:
Harry looked around to check that Hermione was well out of earshot.
“Okay,” he said. “But I’m taking the Invisibility Cloak this time.”
– Hermione kept shooting suspicious looks down the table at him, but he avoided her eye and was careful to let her see him walking back up the marble staircase in the entrance hall as everybody else proceeded to the front doors.
“‘Bye!” Harry called to Ron. “See you when you get back!”
The new behavior continues in Book Four. Harry lies to Hermione twice (GF385/443 [GF24] and 389/448 [GF24]) to avoid her nagging about working on his egg clue. He also lies to Hermione about missing Ron when she is trying to force them to talk to each other (GF278/316) [GF19].
And in Book Five, the pattern of Harry lying to and deceiving Hermione intensifies far beyond what we saw in the first four books. We see occasions when Harry is explicitly said in the text to be lying when Hermione is questioning him or nagging him: OP62/64, 441/499, 600/681. We also see occasions when the reader knows Harry is lying, because what he says is untrue:
‘But why haven’t you got Occlumency lessons any more?’ said Hermione, frowning.
‘I’ve told you,’ Harry muttered. ‘Snape reckons I can carry on by myself now I’ve got the basics.’
‘So you’ve stopped having funny dreams?’ said Hermione sceptically.
‘Pretty much,’ said Harry, not looking at her.
We know, of course, that Snape did not say this, and that Harry is having the dreams almost continually at this point.
‘What’s wrong, Harry?’
‘What?’ he said quickly. ‘Nothing.’
He seized his copy of Defensive Magical Theory and pretended to be looking something up in the index. Crookshanks gave him up as a bad job and slunk away under Hermione’s chair.
‘I saw Cho earlier,’ said Hermione tentatively. ‘She looked really miserable, too… have you two had a row again?’
‘Wha—oh, yeah, we have,’ said Harry, seizing gratefully on the excuse.
We know that it is the Pensieve vision, not “nothing” or Cho, that is bothering Harry.
‘You are trying to block your mind, aren’t you?’ said Hermione, looking beadily at Harry. ‘You are keeping going with your Occlumency?’
‘Of course I am,’ said Harry, trying to sound as though this question was insulting, but not quite meeting her eye. The truth was he was so intensely curious about what was hidden in that room full of dusty orbs, that he was quite keen for the dreams to continue.
Harry is not trying to block his mind—quite the contrary.
Besides these episodes of outright lying, Harry also resorts to tricks such as deliberately dropping a fork, pretending to cough, pretending to read, and other ploys to deceive Hermioneor hide things from her (OP205/227 [OP12], 278/310 [OP15], 295/331 [OP16], 575/652 [OP29]). This is new behavior in Book Five.
As a Last Resort, Harry Explodes Angrily at Hermione:
Because Harry does not like arguments and open conflict, he usually won’t openly defy Hermione’s bossing until he’s at the end of his rope, or until something of utmost importance is at stake. At these times, Harry’s anger can be frightening. We first see this happen at the end of Book One:
You’re mad!’ said Ron.
‘You can’t!’ said Hermione. ‘After what McGonagall and Snape have said? You’ll be expelled!’
‘SO WHAT?’ Harry shouted. ‘Don’t you understand?’ [snip long, angry speech] “I’m going through that trapdoor tonight and nothing you two say is going to stop me! Voldemort killed my parents, remember?”
He glared at them.
‘You’re right, Harry,’ said Hermione in a small voice.
We see this behavior quite a few times in Book Five, most notably when Harry is desperate to go to the Department of Mysteries after Sirius, and Hermione tries to stop him.
When Harry unleashes his pent-up anger on Hermione, she is generally cowed, crying (OP64/66) [OP4], looking frightened (OP71/74 [OP4], 646/733 [OP32]), looking stricken (OP293/328) [OP15], stepping back in alarm (OP647/734) [OP32], etc. While this behavior is admittedly not typical of a son to a mother, it is just as unequal—at these times, Harry switches from being dominated by Hermione to dominating her. What is missing is the sort of equal give-and-take arguments we see between Hermione and Ron. Harry dislike of arguing prevents him from letting Hermione know that she is bothering him on a normal basis, and when he does explode, she has a hard time holding her own against him. A frank and equal exchange of views between Harry and Hermione is a rare thing indeed.
Harry’s negative response to Hermione’s bossy nature is contrasted in these books with Ron’s more mixed response. We have already seen how Hermione’s arguments spur Ron to argue back to her rather than to avoid her as Harry does. Having grown up with a dominating but loving mother in a loud and argumentative family, Ron doesn’t resent authority figures as much as Harry does and has no particular aversion to rows. He freely tells Hermione “don’t nag” or “skip the lecture” from the first book onward (SS163/222 [PS13], CS66/84 [CS5], CS70/89 [CS6]), cutting her off before she builds up steam (strikingly reminiscent of George’s advice about handling Molly in OP100/107). Ron seems to enjoy a good spirited argument, as often as not.
And Ron has other tools in his arsenal, as well. He is particularly adept at teasing Hermione, and derailing her momentum with a shrewd thrust at a vulnerable point (PA85/111 [PA6], GF207/236 [GF15], GF418/481 [GF26], OP335/378 [OP18], among many other instances). Ron is also able to divert Hermione with a compliment (OP207/229) [OP12], a joke (GF324/371) [GF21], or a change in subject (OP257/286) [OP14]. Ron also has an advantage over Harry in that he seems to have more time and energy to spare for dealing with Hermione. He remembers her exact marks (PA314/430 [PA22], OP628/713) [OP31], quotes her own words back at her (GF175/198) [GF13], talks to other people about her (PA180/244 [PA12], GF348/399 [GF22]), and generally notices things about her before Harry does (CS75/95 [CS6], PA76/98 [PA6], PA98/129 [PA7], PA98/130 [PA7], PA181/244 [PA12], PA217/294 [PA15], GF161/182 [GF12], GF171/194 [GF13], GF175/198 [GF13], GF352/405 [GF23], OP201/223 [OP12], OP230/255 [OP13], OP334/376 [OP18], OP444/503 [OP23]).
In fact, Ron is so much more adept at dealing with Hermione’s dominating side than Harry is that we often see Harry depending on Ron to shield him from Hermione’s forcefulness. We see Ron step in to “protect” Harry numerous times (SS115/154 [PS9], SS115/155 [PS9], CS66/84 [CS5], PA148/198 [PA10], PA203/275 [PA14], GF202/230 [GF15], GF343/393 [GF22], GF354/407 [GF23], OP61/62 [OP4], OP582/660 [OP29], OP588/667 [OP29], OP754/856 [OP38], and more). And we see Harry needing Ron to screen him from the worst of Hermione’s enthusiasm. Here are some examples of that:
She said all this very fast.
Harry looked at Ron, and was relieved to see by his stunned face that he hadn’t learned all the set books by heart either.
Harry’s very first reaction to Hermione’s first words to him is to look to Ron for reassurance.
“…Harry, you’re secretary, so you might want to write down everything I’m saying now, as a record of our first meeting.”
There was a pause in which Hermione beamed at the pair of them, and Harry sat, torn between exasperation at Hermione and amusement at the look on Ron’s face.
Hermione, by herself, only exasperates Harry at times like these. But Harry’s amusement at watching Ron’s more colorful reaction to Hermione’s bossiness (and probably his anticipation of what Ron will say to her) gives him comfort and helps him tolerate it. However, when Ron is missing, we see the following:
“—They wouldn’t even look twice at him if he couldn’t do that Wonky-Faint thing—”
“Wronski Feint”, said Harry, through gritted teeth. Quite apart from liking to get Quidditch terms correct, it caused him another pang to imagine Ron’s expression if he could have heard Hermione talking about Wonky-Faints.
When Ron is not around, Harry lacks the amusement and feels only the annoyance. He needs Ron to help him enjoy Hermione’s company. And he wants Ron to protect him when Hermione is dragging him off to see the house-elves:
“I know what this is about,” said Harry.
He nudged Ron and pointed to the painting just behind Hermione. It showed a gigantic silver fruit bowl.
“Hermione!” said Ron, cottoning on. “You’re trying to rope us into that spew stuff again!”
Harry nudges Ron to protest for him, rather than protesting himself. He seems to feel that Ron is better at it than he is.
Harry stared at her. Then he turned to Ron, ready to exchange the exasperated looks they sometimes shared when Hermione elaborated on far-fetched schemes like SPEW. To Harry’s consternation, however, Ron did not look exasperated.
Here, Harry does not necessarily expect Ron to jump in and argue against Hermione; he simply wants the silent comfort of knowing that Ron feels the same as he does. Denied this, he feels “consternation.”
Ron is so effective at this shielding function that the majority of arguments between Harry and Hermione take place when Ron is not around. For instance, during the estrangement between Ron and Harry in early Book Four, we see many snippy exchanges between Harry and Hermione (GF255/290 [GF18], 278/316 [GF19], 278/317 [GF19], 279/318 [GF19], 281/320 [GF19], 296/338 [GF20], 302/345 [GF20]). The same is true when Harry and Hermione are working together to rescue Sirius and Buckbeak (PA291/398 [PA21], 296/405 [PA21], 298/408 [PA21]), when they are in the woods after visiting Grawp withHagrid (OP617/700) [OP30], and after the centaurs have taken Umbridge (OP669/759) [OP33]. When Ron is around, he usually steps in and engages Hermione himself. When he is not around, Harry has to do it.
In Book Five, however, Ron drops his protective role to a certain extent, often either siding with Hermione (OP214/237 [OP12], 292/326 [OP15], 296/331 [OP16]) or remaining neutral (OP580/658 [OP29], 588/667 [OP29]) or nearly silent (OP646/733) [OP32]. It is beyond the scope of this essay to examine the cause of this change in Ron’s behavior, but the effect on Harry is striking. This, I believe, is the main reason we see so many more examples of Harry avoiding and deceiving Hermione in Book Five than we do in the earlier books. We also see Harry begin to avoid and deceive Ron much more than he did in earlier books. Harry can no longer depend on Ron to deflect Hermione’s nagging away from Harry and onto himself and he even has reason to believe that Ron will “tell on him” to Hermione, as he does about the bad dreams (OP600/681) [OP30]. Harry knows that Ron and Hermione talk about him (OP63/64 [OP4], 110/119 [OP6], 213/237 [OP12], 320/360 [OP17], 478/542 [OP24]) and he assumes that to tell things to either of them will result in Hermione nagging him (OP519/589 [OP26], 600/681 [OP30]).
The problem with Harry’s response to Hermione’s bossy side—as opposed to Ron’s response—is that is unequal in nature, more resembling a rebellious teenager’s response to a protective parent than an equal friendship or love relationship. In contrast, Ron and Hermione argue with each other and tease each other mutually. Theirs is a stormy relationship, but an equal one.
Harry’s and Hermione’s relationship is unequal in another way. Hermione worries about Harry, thinks about Harry, supports Harry, and helps Harry far more than Harry worries about her, thinks about her, supports her, or helps her. While this is perfectly normal and healthy in a parent-child type of relationship—and perfectly acceptable for a hero-sidekick type of relationship—it would be disturbing and unsatisfying in a love relationship. Harry’s disinterest in Hermione’s needs and activities is striking. In Book Three, he didn’t have time to fathom the mystery of Hermione’s impossible schedule (PA181/244) [PA12]. He displays little or no interest in Hermione’s relationship with Krum, her investigation of Rita Skeeter, her efforts to free house-elves, her family, her dormitory mates, her feelings for Gilderoy Lockhart, or any other interest she has besides supporting him. This is perfectly understandable in the context of Harry’s life, but the fact is that Hermione gives, and Harry takes. Hermione worries about Harry, and Harry doesn’t worry about Hermione. Their relationship is very unequal.
Ron, in contrast, displays a consistent and vigorous interest in Hermione’s life. He is, of course, intensely interested in Hermione’s feelings for both Gilderoy Lockhart and Viktor Krum. He is curious about what Hermione’s secret doings in the library are (GF325/373) [GF21], and he expresses frustration at her secrecy (OP334/377 [OP18], OP484/548 [OP25]). He is curious enough about her heavy course schedule in Book Three that he actively investigates it (PA180/244) [PA12]. He asks her questions about her preparations for the Yule Ball (GF357/411) [GF23], her smaller teeth (GF352/405) [GF23], her planned skiing trip (OP399/451 [OP21], 440/498 [OP23]), her reasons for taking Muggle Studies (PA47/57) [PA4], her reasons for dropping Muggle Studies (PA314/430) [PA22], her Christmas present for Kreacher (OP444/503) [OP23], her reason for setting out knitted hats (OP230/255) [OP13], her Ancient Runes exam (OP631/715) [OP31], her SPEW badges (GF197/224) [GF14], her letter (OP407/460) [OP21], and many other things. We see Ron “mother” Hermione almost as much as she mothers him. In Book Four, he worries that her campaign against Rita Skeeter will backfire on her (GF392/451 [GF24], 445/513 [GF27], 470/542 [GF28]), and he notices and comments upon her eating habits (GF161/182 [GF12], 171/194 [GF13], 175/198 [GF13]). Sometimes his concern for her is almost Molly-like:
- “You don’t reckon Malfoy did something to her?” Ron asked anxiously as they hurried upstairs toward Gryffindor Tower. (PA217/295) [PA15]
- “You know what, Hermione?” said Ron, looking down at the enormous Arithmancy book Hermione had been using as a pillow. “I reckon you’re cracking up. You’re trying to do too much.” (PA218/295) [PA15].
- With that, Hermione seized her school bag and dashed out of the Great Hall.“Oi!” Ron called after her, “We’ve got our History of Magic exam in ten minutes! Blimey,” he said, turning back to Harry, “she must really hate that Skeeter woman to risk missing the start of an exam” (GF533/614) [GF31].
- Ron was just telling her that she ought to eat a decent meal or she would not sleep that night (OP626/710) [OP31].
Again, the relationship between Ron and Hermione may be stormy, but it is equal. They try to boss each other around. They tease each other. They worry about each other. They show interest in each other’s non-Harry-related lives.
In contrast, both Ron and Hermione pay far more attention to Harry than Harry does to them. Both of them support him in his endeavors far more than he supports them in theirs, and they worry about him constantly. The difference is extreme. When Harry’s hand is hurt, Hermione and Ron wait up for him with murtlap essence (OP290/324) [OP15]; when Hermione’s hand is hurt, Harry says “You’d better get up to the hospital wing,” finishes his breakfast, and then goes off to class (GF470/542) [GF28]. When Harry is in danger from Sirius Black in Book Three, Hermione worries and frets about his safety and tries to keep him from visiting Hagrid, Hogsmeade, etc.; when Hermione is in danger from the Heir of Slytherin in Book Two,Harry… thinks about his own problems. I am hard put to think of a single time—besides one sentence (PA185/251) [PA12]—when Harry advises Hermione about a problem she has, or nags her to keep safe, or does any of the things that Hermione—and Ron—routinely do for Harry. The vast majority of the time, Harry is being supported, not supporting his friends.
This is not a problem in the structure of the story. Harry is the hero, and he needs all the help and aid his two best friends can give him. It is not a character flaw, either. Harry’s problems truly are much worse than Hermione’s or Ron’s. But it is a problem if you try to imagine Harry involved in a love relationship with either of his two best friends. His hero role combined with their sidekick/supporter role makes for a very unequal relationship. Sometimes his relationship with Hermione comes across as parent-child and sometimes as hero-supporter, but either way, it is very unequal, and it is hard to imagine their roles changing drastically enough to permit an equal love relationship. It is difficult to morph from a sidekick into the heroine.
2. Harry and Hermione don’t have fun and laugh together (unless Ron is with them).
Hermione is Harry’s friend, and he loves her very much. In the books, he clearly expresses the qualities that he likes and admires about her:
- It was really lucky that Harry now had Hermione as a friend. He didn’t know how he’d have gotten through all his homework without her, what with all the last-minute Quidditch practice Wood was making them do. She had also lent him Quidditch through the Ages, which turned out to be a very interesting read. (SS133/181) [PS11]
- Hermione had become a bit more relaxed about breaking rules since Harry and Ron had saved her from the mountain troll, and she was much nicer about it. (SS133/181) [PS11]
- “Lucky you pay attention in Herbology, Hermione” (SS202/278) [PS16]
- —Hermione, the cleverest witch in Harry’s year, had Muggle parents, knew perfectly well how to use a telephone, and would probably have had enough sense not to say that she went to Hogwarts. (PA9/5) [PA1]
- Harry was sure that, criminal or not, Ron and Hermione would want to help him now—(PA29/32) [PA3]
- Both Ron and Hermione had decided to remain at Hogwarts, and though Ron said it was because he couldn’t stand two weeks with Percy, and Hermione insisted she needed to use the library, Harry wasn’t fooled; they were doing it to keep him company, and he was very grateful. (PA141/189) [PA10]
- —Harry told Hermione exactly what had happened after he had left the Gryffindor table the night before. To his immense relief, Hermione accepted his story without question. (GF254/289) [GF18]
- —Harry was full of admiration for the way she was handling the situation[Rita Skeeter article]. (GF277/316) [GF19]
- Harry frankly marveled at the fact that Hermione could research magical methods of eavesdropping as well as everything else they had to do. (GF476/548) [GF28]
- It was the first time she had ever said Voldemort’s name, and it was this, more than anything else, that calmed Harry. (OP293/328) [OP15]
- Harry felt a surge of pride in Hermione’s jinxing ability. (OP541/613) [OP27]
- Even through his anger and impatience Harry recognized Hermione’s offer to accompany him into Umbridge’s office as a sign of solidarity and loyalty. (OP650/737) [OP32]
It is perfectly clear. Harry loves and admires Hermione because she is smart, brave, talented, quick thinking, sensible, hard working, generous, and loyal. He knows he can trust her and depend on her to support him. Those are admirable qualities indeed, but they are not all Harry wants in a friend. Harry also clearly expresses the areas in which Hermione falls short in the qualities he most values in a friend:
“Miss him?” said Harry. I don’t miss him.”
But this was a downright lie. Harry liked Hermione very much, but she just wasn’t the same as Ron. There was much less laughter and a lot more hanging around in the library when Hermione was your best friend. Harry still hadn’t mastered Summoning Charms, he seemed to have developed something of a block about them, and Hermione insisted that learning the theory would help. They consequently spent a lot of time poring over books during their lunchtimes.
Harry misses Ron because he is fun. Ron’s humor and playfulness entertain Harry and cheer him up. Hermione, for all her other wonderful qualities, can’t do this for Harry. She doesn’t lighten up his dark moods, distract him from his troubles, or engage him in the giggly, giddy companionship that is such a large part of many friendships. On the contrary, her serious, earnest attitude makes things worse for him. Harry does not enjoy poring over books and sitting in the library, and it does not even help him learn the Summoning Charm. He pines for laughter and fun.
Harry’s Fun Times are Not Associated With Hermione:
In fact, if we look at the times in the book when Harry is described as being the most entertained or having the most fun, we notice that, more often than not, Hermione is not even present:
- Once the holidays had started, Ron and Harry were having too good a time to think much about Flamel. (SS146/199) [PS12]—Hermione has gone home for Christmas, and Harry is with Ron.
- It had been Harry’s best Christmas day ever.(SS150/204) [PS12]—Harry is with Ron, Fred, George, and Percy.
- The end of the summer vacation came too quickly for Harry’s liking. He was looking forward to getting back to Hogwarts, but his month at the Burrow had been the happiest of his life. (CS53/65) [CS5]—Harry is with Ron and the other Weasleys.
- They looked at each other and started to laugh; for a long time, they couldn’t stop. It was though they had been plunged into a fabulous dream.(CS57/71) [CS5]—Harry is with Ron in the Flying Ford Anglia.
- “Right,” said Harry, and feeling happier than he had in ages, he and the rest of the team led the way, still in their scarlet robes, out of the stadium and back up to the castle. It felt as though they had already won the Quidditch Cup; the party went on all day and well into the night. (PA195/264) [PA13]—Harry is with Ron and the other Gryffindors (Hermione does not join them).
- But Harry didn’t care, he wouldn’t have cared if Karkaroff had given him zero; Ron’s indignation on his behalf was worth about a hundred points to him. He didn’t tell Ron this, of course, but his heart felt lighter than air as he turned to leave the enclosure.(GF315/360) [GF20]—Harry is with Ron after they are reconciled.
- Harry helped himself to food; he had almost forgotten what it felt like to be properly hungry, and sat down with Ron and Hermione. He couldn’t believe how happy he felt; he had Ron back on his side, he’d gotten through the first task, and he wouldn’t have to face the second one for three months. (GF318/365) [GF21]—Harry is with Ron, Hermione, and the other Gryffindors.
- Fred, George, and Ginny came to sit next to them too, and Harry was having such a good time he felt almost as though he were back at the Burrow; he had forgotten to worry about that evening’s task, and not until Hermione turned up, halfway through lunch, did he remember that she had had a brainwave about Rita Skeeter.(GF537/618) [GF31]—Harry is with Ron and the other Weasleys.
- How could he have dreamed of returning to Privet Drive for Christmas? Sirius’s delight at having the house full again, and especially at having Harry back, was infectious. (OP443/501) [OP23]—Harry is with Sirius, Ron, Hermione, and the Weasleys.
We also see Harry eagerly anticipating fun times in which Hermione will not be involved:
Ron, meanwhile, was going home to the Burrow. Harry endured several days of jealousy before Ron said, in response to Harry asking how Ron was going to get home for Christmas, “But you’re coming too! Didn’t I say? Mum wrote and told me to invite you weeks ago!”
Hermione rolled her eyes, but Harry’s spirits soared: The thought of Christmas at the Burrow was truly wonderful, only slightly marred by Harry’s guilty feeling that he would not be able to spend the holiday with Sirius. He wondered whether he could possibly persuade Mrs. Weasley to invite his godfather for the festivities too.
Harry wishes desperately to enjoy himself with Ron, the rest of the Weasleys, and possibly Sirius. Hermione is planning to go skiing and will not be present.
- Harry felt exhausted. He just wanted this to be over so that he could go and sleep. Then tomorrow, he and Ron were going to go down to the Quidditch pitch—he was going to have a fly on Ron’s broom and savor their freedom from studying. (OP639/724) [OP31] The companion Harry looks forward to spending his relaxing, celebratory time with is Ron.
One searches the books in vain for Harry and Hermione enjoying these kinds of pleasurable times without Ron’s presence. Such scenes between Harry and Ron are ludicrously easy to find. Besides the ones listed above as Harry’s best times, there are many others. Scenes with Ron and Hermione having fun without Harry are also surprisingly easy to find, considering that we are usually limited to Harry’s point of view. The most obvious of these is looking as though they’d had the time of their lives (PA118/157) [PA8], but there are other times when they seem to be having fun, as well. Some examples are SS159/217 [PS13], CS84/109 [CS7], CS148/197 [CS11], PA46-47 [PA3]/55-57 [PA4], PA142/190 [PA10], GF622/717 [GF37], OP13/8 [OP1], and OP351/396 [OP18]. We also see Hermione having fun with Mrs. Weasley and Ginny (PA56/69 [PA5], OP265/295 [OP14]). But for Harry and Hermione alone, the best I can find is their shared glee at Malfoy’s downfall in Book One (SS176/241) [PS14] and a bit of shaky laughter over their Grawp predicament in Book Five (OP611/694) [OP30]. Hermione does propose once that she and Harry could knit elf hats together, but Harry, not perceiving this as enjoyable, declines (OP250/278) [OP13].
There is a reason why Harry has both Ron and Hermione as best friends. Together, they have the qualities he needs. Ron keeps him happy and Hermione keeps him safe. Ron gives him intuition and Hermione gives him logic. Hermione gives him access to her prodigious store of knowledge and Ron gives him access to his boisterous, loving family. Ideally, when Harry finds his true love interest, she (I am assuming a “she” at this point) will combine the best qualities of both Ron and Hermione.
Hermione Doesn’t Laugh at Harry’s Jokes:
Why is it that Harry and Hermione don’t have much fun together? A big reason is their very different approaches toward humor. Again and again in the books, we see Hermione’s seriousness contrasted with others’ fun-loving playfulness:
- Everyone fell about laughing except Hermione, who leapt up and performed the counter-curse. (SS159/217) [PS13]
- Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas, who were sitting in front, were shaking with silent laughter. Hermione, on the other hand, was listening to Lockhart with rapt attention and gave a start when he mentioned her name. (CS78/100) [CS6]
- “I didn’t mean to,” said Harry, while Ron roared with laughter. “I just—lost control.”“It’s not funny, Ron,” said Hermione sharply. “Honestly, I’m amazed Harry wasn’t expelled.” (PA47/56) [PA4]
- “Are you planning to eat or sleep at all this year, Hermione?” asked Harry, while Ron sniggered. Hermione ignored them. (PA47/57) [PA4]
- It didn’t help that Ron kept breaking into silent giggles and Hermione kept tutting. (PA219/297) [PA15]
- Ron and Ginny both laughed, although Hermione didn’t. (GF52/54) [GF5]
- Fred and George were cheering, Ginny was laughing, and Hermione was hovering near the hedge, apparently torn between amusement and anxiety. (GF57/60) [GF5]
- “Maybe he’ll believe I’m not enjoying myself once I’ve got my neck broken or—”“That’s not funny,” said Hermione quietly. “That’s not funny at all.” She looked extremely anxious. (GF255/290) [GF18]
- Ginny laughed; Hermione looked as though she did not know whether to smile or not and compromised by taking an extra large gulp of Butterbeer and choking on it. (OP155/170) [OP9]
- Most of the people watching were laughing; Hermione, however, squared her shoulders and marched directly over to where Fred and George now stood with clipboards, closely observing the unconscious first-years. (OP228/253) [OP13]
- ‘Wow, I wonder what it’d be like to have a difficult life?’ said Harry sarcastically. Ron laughed, but Hermione frowned. (OP235/261) [OP13]
- Ron laughed but Hermione looked upset.(OP271/303) [OP14]
- They all laughed except Hermione, who ploughed on, ‘So, after “E” it’s “A” for “Acceptable”, and that’s the last pass grade, isn’t it?’ (OP278/311) [OP15]
- Ron sniggered, breaking off when Hermione caught his eye. (OP404/457) [OP21]
- Fred, George and Ron laughed; Hermione, however, looked reproachful. (OP446/505) [OP23]
- ‘I just wish the door would open, I’m sick of standing staring at it—’“That’s not funny,’ said Hermione sharply. (OP489/554) [OP25]
- Harry laughed just as Hermione came running up behind them. He stopped laughing at once, in case it annoyed her. (OP633/718) [OP31]
In some of these instances, it is understandable—even admirable—that Hermione doesn’t laugh. It is good, for instance, that she doesn’t laugh at Neville’s Leg-Locker hopping. At other times, this reader at least gets annoyed with her. Harry’s quip that he wonders what it’d be like to have a difficult life is funny. Hermione could take a moment away from reminding Harry to be careful and appreciate his humor. At any rate, the collective effect of this repeated motif is that Hermione is placed in opposition to humor. Hermione is a very serious person. She is a worrier, and something of a pessimist. She is earnest, single-minded, anxious, and intense.
It is not that Hermione doesn’t have a sense of humor—she certainly does have one. She laughs quite a few times in the books, and makes jokes as well. But she is not a light-hearted person. And neither is Harry. Harry longs for humor and good times, but he can’t provide them for himself. He needs someone else—such as Ron or Fred and George—to get him started. Hermione also has more fun if someone else—Ron, Ginny, or Mrs. Weasley—gets her started, but she doesn’t seem to need fun times as badly or value them as much as Harry does.
Another reason Harry and Hermione don’t have much fun alone together is that Hermione has a very limited appreciation of Harry’s particular brand of dark, sardonic humor. The majority of Harry’s jokes are made about himself in tense situations. Again and again, Hermione either misses the joke completely, or responds with “that’s not funny.” Besides the four examples listed above (PA47/57 [PA4], GF255/290 [GF18], OP235/261 [OP13], OP489/554 [OP25]), we also see Hermione failing to appreciate Harry’s jokes at GF303/347 [GF20], GF354/407 [GF23], GF418/482 [GF26], and GF422/487 [GF26]. In comparison to the above, we see Hermione actually laughing at one of Harry’s jokes just four times in five books (GF341/391 [GF22], OP175/194 [OP10], OP355/401 [OP19], and OP611/694 [OP30]). Only the last is a characteristic Harry quip-in-the-face-of-danger. The other three are insult humor against Snape, Malfoy, and Warrington. This is the type of joke that Hermioneusually makes herself, and consistently enjoys.
Hermione, characteristically, prefers to remain serious and earnest in tense times. She likes to concentrate unwaveringly on problems with no breaks for pleasure. Harry, characteristically, prefers to lighten the tension with a sarcastic quip. He performs better and stays saner if he allows himself to relax and forget about his trouble for a while. Neither style is better or more admirable. The problem is that Hermione’s style makes Harry unhappy. Harry’s life is unhappy enough already; the last thing he needs is a girlfriend who discourages him from laughing and having fun. For Harry, the laughs and pleasures he finds in, for instance, the Weasley household, are like air to a drowning man. He needs those times desperately. And—after the childhood he suffered through—he deserves them.
Again, there is nothing wrong with being a serious person, not given to laughing easily. Some people need such a partner. Ron, for instance, is plenty lighthearted and fun loving all by himself, and would probably benefit from someone who can rein in his playful spirit and force him to see the serious side of life. In fact, he does benefit from this already—Ron and Hermione balance each other admirably in their efforts to support Harry.
But Harry—because of his background, his situation, and his personality—desperately needs someone who will lift his spirits and add humor and pleasure to his life. Rowling is not coy about this. Besides Harry’s statement that Hermione just wasn’t the same as Ron, we see Harry directly affirm the importance of humor in his value system (bold mine):
This moral is strongly reinforced by thematic elements in the books: the need for happy memories to generate a Patronus to fight Dementors, the use of laughter to fight Boggarts, and the use of pranks to fight Umbridge. In J. K. Rowling’s world, humor, like love, is a powerful force for good.
Harry also directly describes his vision for a good romantic relationship as having fun together:
Granted, it would be possible for Harry to find the humor and fun he needs with someone besides his love interest. But canon suggests otherwise. This time it is Ron—not to be depended on in matters of logical deduction, but reliably accurate in intuiting Harry’s emotional needs—who makes the observation:
“You’re well out of it, mate,” said Ron forcefully. “I mean, she’s quite good-looking and all that, but you want someone a bit more cheerful.”
In my opinion, Ron is absolutely correct. Harry does need someone cheerful, even lighthearted, as a girlfriend. And Hermione—worrying, crusading, frequently crying, not-laughing Hermione—is not that person.
1. Hermione is too rational and not tactful or intuitive enough to deal sensitively with Harry’s dark moods.
One thing almost every reader of the Harry Potter books notices is that Hermione frequently offers Harry perfectly correct advice. And Harry hardly ever follows it. Why is that?
Well, one reason, of course, is that the plots would be quite boring if Harry always did the sensible thing. But the reason within the book world is that Hermione predisposes Harry not to follow her advice by her way of giving it. Even though you would think Harry would have noticed by now that Hermione’s advice is generally well worth listening to, Hermione’s manner of giving it consistently offends, annoys, or even enrages him, causing him to block out and disregard her words.
In addition, we see quite a few occasions when Harry does not choose to confide things—particularly his feelings—to Hermione, though he confides them to others such as Lupin, Dumbledore, and—on one occasion—Ginny. Again, the reason is that Hermione’s manner and personal style doesn’t encourage Harry to confide in her. Hermione is a far better talker than a listener. She lacks patience, gentleness, and intuitive perception of Harry’s feelings. She is tactless. Ron shares some of these same traits, and Harry does not confide his feelings to Ron very often either. This is an obvious “hole” in the support network that Harry has now, one that would be an ideal role for Harry’s eventual love interest to fill. Harry needs someone he feels comfortable sharing his feelings with.
Harry Ignores Hermione’s Advice, But Listens to Others:
For illustration, let us look at times in the book when Harry failed to follow Hermione’s advice, but accepted that same advice from others. For instance, in Book Three, Hermione was adamantly opposed to Harry visiting Hogsmeade and constantly advised him against it. Harry paid no attention to her. However, when Remus Lupin gave him the same advice (PA213/290) [PA14], Harry immediately accepts that he was wrong to visit Hogsmeade. Similarly, in Book Four Hermione repeatedly badgers Harry to work on his egg, to the point that he lies to her and tells her that he has. However, when Hagrid expresses his desire for Harry to win the tournament, Harry changes his behavior:
Lying to Hagrid wasn’t quite like lying to anyone else. Harry went back to the castle later that afternoon with Ron and Hermione, unable to banish the image of the happy expression on Hagrid’s whiskery face as he had imagined Harry winning the tournament. The incomprehensible egg weighed more heavily than ever on Harry’s conscience that evening, and by the time he had got into bed, he had made up his mind – it was time to shelve his pride and see if Cedric’s hint was worth anything.
We see the same thing many times in the books. Harry doesn’t believe Hermione’s position that they should be nice to Kreacher until Dumbledore tells him the same thing (OP733/832) [OP37]. Harry ignores Hermione’s insistent nagging when he plans to talk to Sirius in Umbridge’s fire, but McGonagall vouching for him to Umbridge makes him reconsider his intention (OP587/666) [OP29].
It doesn’t take much thought to understand why Harry ignores Hermione’s advice, and listens to people such as Lupin and Hagrid. Hermione falls into the classic parental mistake of nagging too early and too often. Most parents learn from experience that if you do this, your children will get used to it and simply tune you out. For instance, in the case of the egg, Hermione first reminds Harry of how far he has to go only hours after Harry completes the first task, pouring cold water on Ron’s buoyant optimism and Harry’s euphoria:
“There’s no way any of the other tasks are going to be that dangerous, how could they?” Ron went on as he carried Pigwidgeon to the window. “You know what? I reckon you could win this tournament, Harry, I’m serious.”
Harry knew that Ron was only saying this to make up for his behavior of the last few weeks, but he appreciated it all the same. Hermione, however, leaned against the Owlery wall, folded her arms, and frowned at Ron.
“Harry’s got a long way to go before he finishes this tournament,” she said seriously. “If that was the first task, I hate to think what’s coming next.”
“Right little ray of sunshine, aren’t you?” said Ron. “You and Professor Trelawney should get together sometime.”
I have to agree with Ron here. Harry needs some time to relax and enjoy his win, and Hermione’s pessimistic attitude is not very inspiring. Hermione continues to remind Harry about the egg, speaking “severely” (GF342/392) [GF22], interrupting a joke of Harry’s (GF354/407) [GF23], advising him to skip Hogsmeade (GF385/443) [GF24], etc. She emphasizes the negative side—Harry’s danger, the amount of work he needs to do, the consequences if he fails (“you’re going to look a real idiot“—GF342/393) [GF22]. Harry tunes her out and lies to her. Hagrid, in stark contrast, expresses warm confidence in Harry and emphasizes the positive side—that Harry might win. And—importantly—he doesn’t nag, but speaks only once. No one who has ever raised a teenager will be surprised that Hagrid’s method succeeds while Hermione’s fails.
Here and elsewhere, Hermione ignores some basic rules of human communication—wait for the right moment, listen before speaking, validate the other person’s emotions, etc. Look, for instance, at Hermione’s Book Five efforts to convince Harry that his vision of Sirius might be a trap:
“You—this isn’t a criticism, Harry! But you do… sort of… I mean – don’t you think you’ve got sort of a – a – saving-people thing?” she said.
Hermione is dealing with a desperately upset person in a tearing hurry, and she introduces the possibility of a trap by describing it as a flaw of Harry’s! This is guaranteed to enrage him, and of course it does. There were, oh, so many more tactful ways of making this suggestion. Anything would have been better than this. Harry is almost forced to reject her idea because otherwise he’s admitting that he has a “saving-people thing.”
Next, she reminds Harry of his failings:
“—If you’d done Occlumency properly, you’d never have seen this—”
Hermione doesn’t mean to criticize Harry for his past failures here, but this can’t help but feel like an “I told you so” to Harry, after all the nagging she has done on the subject. Harry, in his impatient frenzy, naturally feels like she is attacking him rather than supporting him, and he goes into full capital-letter roaring mode. Now, of course Rowling is having Hermione commit these unintentional tactless blunders to add drama and interest to the scene. But it is perfectly in character for Hermione to be tactless and handle Harry’s feelings badly. She has a long history of hurting people’s feelings with her logical critiques from Lavender’s bunny (PA112/148) [PA8] to Ron’s dead rat (PA187/252) [PA13] to Winky’s feelings for Mr. Crouch (331/379) to Luna’s father’s stories (OP308/345) [OP16]. Her tactlessness seriously offends the centaurs in the Forest (OP666/756) [OP33] and the Hogwarts house-elves (GF468/539 [GF28], OP342/385 [OP18]). These traits are a basic part of Hermione’s character.
Finally, after Ginny and Luna come in, Hermione says what Harry desperately needs to hear:
“—If we find he’s not there, then I swear I won’t try to stop you. I’ll come, I’ll d – do whatever it takes to try to save him.”
If she had said this earlier, Harry would have been a lot more willing to listen to her objections.
Harry Hides His Feelings From Hermione, But Confides Them to Others:
We can see more examples of how Hermione’s personality makes it hard for her to deal with Harry when it comes to the times Harry confides in someone else after failing to confide inHermione. A clear example takes place in Book Four, when Harry refuses to tell Hermione anything about how badly he feels, how much he misses Ron, etc.:
Hermione was furious with the pair of them; she went from one to the other, trying to force them to talk to each other, but Harry was adamant. He would talk to Ron again only ifRon admitted that Harry hadn’t put his name in the Goblet of Fire and apologized for calling him a liar.
“I didn’t start this,” Harry said stubbornly. “It’s his problem.”
“You miss him!” Hermione said impatiently. “And I know he misses you -”
“Miss him?” said Harry. I don’t miss him—”
But this was a downright lie.
It is not surprising that Harry does not confide his feelings to someone who is “furious” at him, trying to “force” him to talk to Ron, and telling him “impatiently” what his own feelings are. But Harry is desperate for someone to confide in. He needs, very badly, to talk. Harry looks forward to seeing Sirius: “The prospect of talking face-to-face with Sirius was all that sustained Harry over the next fortnight” (GF275/313) [GF18]. And when he does see him, Sirius effortlessly elicits Harry’s confidences:
“Never mind me, how are you?” said Sirius seriously.
“I’m—” For a second, Harry tried to say “fine”—but he couldn’t do it. Before he could stop himself, he was talking more than he’d talked in days —about how no one believed he hadn’t entered the tournament of his own free will, how Rita Skeeter had lied about him in the Daily Prophet, how he couldn’t walk down a corridor without being sneered at—and about Ron, Ron not believing him, Ron’s jealousy…
Why is Harry’s reaction to Sirius so different from his reaction to Hermione? Well, Sirius isn’t speaking angrily to him, or badgering him about anything. But it is more than that. Sirius is practicing impeccable listening skills:
Sirius looked at him, eyes full of concern…He let Harry talk himself into silence without interruption.
Sirius simply listens. He doesn’t judge Harry, or tell him what he’s doing wrong, or try to force him to do anything. He only listens, and looks at Harry with compassion. Even though his time is limited, and he has things of utmost importance to tell Harry, Sirius understands Harry enough to know that he needs to talk first. If Hermione truly understood Harry, if she had the perception and patience and tact that Sirius has, Harry would have talked to her, and it would have helped him a lot and brought the two of them closer.
But Hermione does not have those qualities. As early as their walk around the lake, the morning after Harry’s name was drawn from the Goblet, Hermione’s poor listening skills make it likely that Harry won’t confide in her (GF254-256 [GF16]/289-291 [GF18]). She infuriates Harry by seeming to blame him for Ron’s jealousy, so that she has to quickly disclaim “Oh, I know it’s not your fault.” She speaks “shortly” to Harry, making him so angry that he frightens owls in a nearby tree. She cuts him off when he tries to rant about Ron. And then she goes straight into telling him what he ought to do, interrupting him, speaking to him “sternly,” battering him with her relentless logic until he pettishly agrees to write to Sirius. No doubt it is a good thing for Harry to write to Sirius. But Harry’s feelings are important, too. Couldn’t Hermione have waited even an hour to let Harry express his unhappiness? Harry needs someone in his life who will listen to him and empathize with him, and Hermione does not seem to want the job.
A similar thing happens in Book Five, when Harry learns about his father’s shortcomings in Snape’s Pensieve. Harry immediately decides that he doesn’t want to tell Ron and Hermione what he has seen (OP573/650) [OP28]. He lies to Hermione about why his lessons have stopped, and gratefully seizes on the excuse of his spat with Cho to explain why he is so upset (OP575/652) [OP29].
Harry is desperately unhappy; he feels as though the memory of it was eating him from inside (OP575/653) [OP29]. But he continues to hide his feelings from Ron and Hermione. This is very reminiscent of Book Three, when Harry refused to tell Ron and Hermione that he could hear his parents when he was near Dementors (PA137-8 [PA7]/183-4 [PA10]). On that subject, it was Remus Lupin’s calm listening skills that succeeded in breaking Harry’s reserve (PA140/187) [PA10]. Here, Ginny is the one who uses good listening techniques to find out what is wrong with Harry:
Harry looked at it a moment, then, to his horror, he felt a lump rise in this throat.
“Are you OK, Harry?” Ginny asked quietly.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Harry said gruffly. The lump in his throat was painful. He did not understand why an Easter egg should have made him feel like this.
“You seem really down lately,” Ginny persisted. “You know, I’m sure if you just talked to Cho—”
“It’s not Cho I want to talk to,” said Harry brusquely.
“Who is it, then?” asked Ginny, watching him closely.
He glanced around to make quite sure nobody was listening. Madam Pince was several shelves away, stamping out a pile of books for a frantic-looking Hannah Abbott.
“I wish I could talk to Sirius,” he muttered. “But I know I can’t.”
Ginny continued to watch him thoughtfully.
Ginny employs several good listening techniques here. First, she waits for the opportune moment, when Harry is feeling emotional about his Easter egg. She speaks quietly. She watches Harry closely, gauging his emotions, And, most of all, she does a good bit of remaining silent. She lets him stutter and look around the room without saying something. Even after he speaks, she continues to watch him thoughtfully. These are the same techniques that Sirius used, the same techniques that Remus Lupin used, the same techniques that Dumbledore uses with Harry. Silence, patience, gentleness, watching him with a compassionate expression—these are the way to get Harry to talk. Ginny does not ask why Harry wants to see Sirius, or criticize him in any way, or tell him what he should do. She lets him tell her just as much as he wants to tell her, without pestering him for more.
Soon after, we see Hermione’s very different reaction to the same information (OP579/657) [OP29]: “What?” Hermione said sharply and “Don’t be so ridiculous.” She speaks patronizingly, with an air of explaining something very simple to someone very obtuse, and calls the idea “insane.” She spends all the next day in almost continual attempts to dissuade him (OP581/660) [OP29] and an uninterrupted flow of dire warnings (OP582/660) [OP29] without even asking Harry why he wants to talk to Sirius, or offering another option for communicating with him, or doing anything positive or constructive.
Honestly—which girl would you find it easier to confide in?
Yes, it is quite true that Hermione and her dire warnings and her frank criticisms and her impeccable logic have an important place in Harry’s life. Rowling herself has said “She is the most brilliant of the three and they need her. Harry needs her badly.” (Ann Treneman, “J.K. Rowling: the Interview,” June 30, 2000) Harry would be much better off if he could bring himself to listen to Hermione more often. But Harry needs more than wise advice and clever plans and powerful spells. He also needs someone he can tell his feelings to without being snapped at or nagged or laughed at. He needs a mediator—someone who can offer him advice (maybe even Hermione’s advice) in a way that doesn’t offend him or make him automatically resist it.
Hermione’s role as Harry’s friend is already set—she is his taskmaster and his prickly voice of caution, literally the voice in his head that nags at him and gives him warnings when he is being reckless or disobedient (OP343/387 [OP18], 601/682 [OP30]). She is a source of knowledge and clever plans, an asset any hero would be glad to have. But the pattern of their emotional relationship is already set with bossiness and annoyance. It is wildly unlikely that Hermione will change her way of behaving in a way that encourages Harry to confide his closely held emotions to her and receive emotional nurturing.
And—if she did—would that even be a good thing? Everyone needs someone in his or her life to play the part that Hermione plays for Harry. For many people it is their mother, but Harry doesn’t have one of those. He needs Hermione. But Hermione can’t play correcting mentor and accepting confidante. The two roles are incompatible.
Moreover, Harry needs someone who is exceptionally gentle and empathetic and perceptive in the confidante role. Not everyone needs this. Ron, for instance, wears his emotions on his sleeve and tells his secrets with very little encouragement. As with his spider phobia (CS117/154) [CS9] or his Potions mark (OP278/310) [OP15], Ron bursts out with information even whenHermione is laughing at him or nagging him. Ron is an optimistic, playful person who quickly bounces back from his brief dark moods and often laughs just moments after he was angry—he does not need to be cheered or patiently encouraged.
But Harry is different. Harry has demons and black pits in his mind that neither Ron nor Hermione can truly understand. Harry is brooding and reserved and introverted, and frequently hides his feelings. He needs help to get out of black moods. He needs an exceptionally sensitive and tactful confidante. And this confidante should not look at Harry as though worried about his sanity when he tells her a secret, causing him to turn away and stop talking (PA298/407) [PA21]. This person should not respond to Harry’s fear of being the Heir of Slytherin by telling him he very well could be, causing him to lie awake for hours worrying (CS147/196) [CS11]. This person should not endanger Harry’s trust by turning him in to authority figures behind his back (PA172/232) [PA11] or sharply tell him he’s lying when he tries to keep Sirius safe (GF202/229) [GF15] or treat him like an ‘overemotional toddler’ (OP504/572) [OP26] or show open approval when he is punished by authority figures (CS91/119 [CS7], OP285/319 [OP14]).
I hope Harry will find that person. I hope very much that person will be his girlfriend. But we already know from their current interactions that Hermione cannot be that person.
There is an old saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In my opinion, the relationship between Harry and Hermione isn’t broken. Hermione performs an essential role in Harry’s life and gives him support he desperately needs, both as a motherless boy and as the target of a deadly villain. But Hermione isn’t a superwoman. She can’t be Harry’s mother-surrogate and his sister-surrogate and his friend and his sidekick and his girlfriend. The demands of the different roles are incompatible. Harry will need to add more supporters to help him in his fight, not simply expect his first two supporters to meet his every need. And the ‘girlfriend’ role is a natural one to add functions that Harry is mostly missing now.
Harry needs someone he is sexually attracted to. He needs someone who will talk cheerfully to him, rather than lecturing and arguing. He needs someone he doesn’t resent for her bossiness and he isn’t tempted to avoid and deceive. He needs someone to play with—someone who will laugh at his tension-relieving quips and make him laugh in return. And he desperately needs an emotional confidante who will be gentle and sensitive with his abuse-scarred heart.
Rowling has said that we have enough clues by now to guess whether Harry and Hermione will end up together as girlfriend and boyfriend (WBD). She has encouraged us to decide whether or not they are really suited. They are suited—very suited as friends, but not at all as romantic partners. Harry does not need for Hermione to drastically change her personality and become what he needs in a girlfriend; he needs her to stay exactly as she is and continue to be his good friend. And from all the clues Rowling has given us—Harry’s romantic disinterest in Hermione, his complete apathy as to her romantic admirers, and his response to her talkative, bossy, serious, logical nature—that is exactly what will happen.