Awhile back, JK Rowling made some comments to the effect that Hermione should have ended up with Harry instead of Ron. This was nearly a month ago, back when I thought I was the kind of person who didn’t really have thoughts about this particular subject. For the record, my inner monologue in recent idle moments has since set me straight.
So she wishes she’d written it differently. Fine. But she didn’t write it differently. Setting aside the argument that perhaps not all of these characters should marry the person they’re dating at seventeen, she didn’t spend ten years and thousands of pages carefully setting up a romance between Hermione and Harry. She invested in Hermione and Ron, and in the ways their very different personalities complemented each other. She gave Harry other loves. She created a canon, and she can add to that canon at any time—but she can’t change it. Not unless she wants to write the alternate history of the wizarding world (in which case, may I request further exploration of Neville Longbottom as the possible alternate Boy Who Lived?). Until then, we’re living by the When Harry Met Sally philosophy of fictional canon: You can’t take it back; it’s already out there!
(There’s also the issue of how to deal with other pronouncements that appear outside the books, but don’t contradict them. To bring up another Harry Potter example, are we obligated to officially consider Dumbledore’s sexual orientation if it’s never referenced in the series? I personally consider these kinds of things non-canon, but not a cause for philosophical rage. We’ll call them apocryphal.)
But let’s get specific. Say it’s all different: Harry and Hermione pine pine pine, battle battle battle, kill Voldemort, and ultimately fall in love. What’s the benefit, aside from to the wizarding gene pool? Does it make things more interesting or illuminate the situation in any way? As a reader, I assume that a Harry/Hermione relationship would come with a completely different set of problems and character issues than Ron/Hermione, and maybe that would have been fascinating. It’s also the wizarding equivalent of the captain of the football team and the most popular girl in school, and anyway, Ron and Hermione are pretty damn interesting as it is: the unglamorous but loyal best friend falls for the smartest, bravest girl in school; she knows every way he falls short, and loves him anyway. Rowling said in the interview (with Emma Watson, incidentally, who agreed) that she didn’t believe Ron is the type of man who could make Hermione happy long-term. I think that’s realistic—but I also think that, in a sense, that’s the point! Not that Hermione should settle, but that she finds and cultivates love with somebody who isn’t her perfect match, in the way that grown-up humans do. After all the wizard-fighting is over, that’s an interesting story.
Also, if Ron doesn’t get Hermione’s love, what does he get? He’s the third-in-command best friend who isn’t a genius, isn’t going to be an Auror, and doesn’t have any money. (This is, again, setting aside the idea that Ron goes off to a wizarding state university on scholarship, plays backup Keeper but ultimately kind of warms the bench, and settles down to a job at the Ministry and a nice non-Hogwarts girl who likes hand-knitted sweaters at Christmas.) I think this kind of statement underestimates how much we’re all rooting for Ron. After all, he’s so often our stand-in: how many of us are the hero, and then how many of us are the occasionally courageous screw-up best friend? Ron spends seven years chasing acceptance; his gaining the love of the girl of his dreams is the end of an arc that’s nearly as important to many Potter fan as who takes the Battle of Hogwarts.
A week after Rowling’s comments set certain quadrants of the Internet on fire, she recanted—sort of—saying that Ron and Hermione would be “all right with a bit of counseling” (which, please tell me there’s a magical MFT program somewhere, and that it has a funny animal-acronym name), which makes me think she was just speaking off the cuff. Again, fine. It’s a free world, and she can say what she wants. But unless she writes it down, binds it up, and sends it out to bookstores everywhere, I don’t have to like it.