fbpx

Madam Puddifoot’s: Oh, or, This Changes Everything

Many readers (myself included) were disappointed to not see any real progress in the R/Hr dynamic in OotP, as there definitely was “something going on” in GoF (JKR words, not mine). After all, Harry got his first kiss (okay, it wasn’t that great of a kiss); But Ron and Hermione seem to be locked in a holding pattern of teenage angst. Or so I thought. There’s actually a lot of R/Hr going on OotP and by the end, things are beginning to look quite promising for the proverbially mismatched pair.

Introduction

What I am going to attempt to do in this essay is

1) Describe a pattern of interaction between Ron and Hermione in OotP (some of these behaviors are ever evolving ones – they pre-date GOF and OotP)
2) Demonstrate that a pair of seemingly inconsequential actions significantly alters this pattern.
3) Detail the changes in the way Hermione and Ron interact after this action and show how these changes are indicative of a more mature romantic relationship.

Part One: Scripts and Established Patterns of Interaction

Basically, JKR establishes a pattern for how Ron and Hermione interact with each other. These patterns are “scripts”. I will lay them out here. If you’re not interested in what “scripts” are and want to focus on how they relate to the R/HR dynamic, skip this section.

JKR seems to delight in creating patterns and complex plot arcs. But she is also the master of using scripts to suit her purposes. I’m not talking about scripts in the movie sense, but scripts in the sense of set conversations. We all have scripts – think about what you say when you meet someone for the first time – the script works like this: Greeting, Introductions, Acknowledgement (Good Morning. I am Karen. I’m Bob. Nice to meet you. Likewise.). Scripts are communication shortcuts. They have predictable outcomes. You often know how the conversation is going to end before it’s done. If you’ve ever had the same old fight with someone and not really gotten anywhere, you’re likely using the same script as you did the last time you fought – different words, yes, but the same argument. And I would imagine it was really frustrating, not getting anywhere (or it least it was for me the last 12 times that happened).

Before I continue, let me make clear that I am not saying that JKR is a lazy/poor/insert derogatory adjective of your choice here author for using scripts in her books. Like all she does, it’s not the material she uses that distinguishes her, but what she chooses to do with it.

JKR uses scripts to set up particular patterns of behavior; I am going to describe this in detail below. She sets up her characters to interact with each other in a particular way. They follow a particular script – a set of unspoken rules. As long as they continue to do so, the status quo doesn’t change; everything is normal. When characters stop following their usual scripts, something significant is going on – it’s the signal that the relationship is changing.

As this essay focuses on R/Hr interactions, lets have a look at they way JKR sets up their relationship and take a look at the types of scripts she’s given them.

 

The most remarked about feature of Ron and Hermione’s relationship with each other are their rather infamous rows. JKR often has them communicate with each other via argument. Contrary to popular belief, however, this is not the only way the two communicate. Even after GOF, Ron and Hermione do have conversations that do not involve shouting, red faces, anger, tears or storming off to bed. In fact, they have what are arguably fights that don’t involve any of the above. We just seem to recall the really big fights a lot easier and unfortunately tend to categorize their relationship as only one of static bickering/fighting. And then many R/HR critics apply this over-simplification to the R/Hr relationship as a whole and use it to indicate that the two don’t have a mature communication system compatible with a healthy romantic relationship.

 

Having said that, I’m going to be slightly hypocritical and depend rather heavily upon the argument dynamic. Why? Because the argument scripts JKR has established are the best indicator of character/relationship change. It’s more obvious that their relationship has changed if they go from fighting over something the same way over and over again, to either fighting differently about it or no longer fighting over that something at all. And this is what’s going on just beneath the surface in OotP.

 

Ron and Hermione’s argument interactions come in eight different flavors (think physics not ice cream). Some of these are carry-overs from GOF (marked with *) some are new (marked +). I am intentionally leaving the whole “what do about Harry” argument out of this, as Harry is often involved in these arguments and his responses tend to “out shout” what Ron and Hermione are arguing about. As for the rest, they are in no particular order or significance:

 

1) S.P.E.W.*
2) Prefect Responsibilities +
3) Ron being/acting less than ideal (insensitive, stupid, pathetic)*+
4) Hermione being/acting less than ideal (insensitive, overbearing)*+
5) Ron’s conflict avoidance +
6) Vicky*
7) Hermione standing up for Ron +

Argument Script Summaries

(Note: The Incidents are listed in chronological order because time matters not just in magic, but also in indicating change).

 

1. S.P.E.W. Hermione sees the use of house elves as an enormous injustice; she wants to fix it whether the house elves want the situation fixed or not. Ron thinks Hermione should take into consideration what the elves think/feel/want. He also doesn’t think its right to trick them into becoming free. Both of them are right in their own way.

 

Incidents:
1) Hermione hasn’t given up on S.P.E.W. (76).
2) â€œYou’re trying to trick the house elves” (255).
3) Hermione refuses to talk to Ron after he makes disparaging remarks about her hats (256).
4) Hermione scowls, but does not say anything to Ron’s slight on Kreature (333).

 

Results/Implications of Arguments
Hermione does refuse to speak to Ron for an entire morning because of his remarks. But by the middle of the book neither is bringing up S.P.E.W. Hermione may still be leaving out the hats and Ron may still not like it (and remove the rubbish), but neither says anything.

 

2. Prefect Responsibilities. Hermione has a noble idea of what being a prefect means. She is determined to set a good example and do her job with all her usual overachieving tendencies. Ron, caught off guard by the whole being made prefect thing and with his usual measure of insecurity and doubt, doesn’t seem to quite know what to do. Hermione attempts to scold Ron into what he should be doing.

 

Incidents:
1) â€œYou’re not suppose to abuse your position.” Hermione chides Ron for wanting to get Crabbe and Goyle (189).
2) â€œYou can’t call them midgets…” Whether or not the first years are small, obnoxious, etc., Hermione tells Ron off for calling them names (215).
3) â€œYou – are – a – prefect,” snarled Hermione. After Ron suggests trying firewhiskey at the Hog’s Head (337).

 

Results and Implications:
Many take Hermione’s comments to Ron as a sign that she doesn’t think he’s a good prefect. Some even use them to signify that Ron isn’t a good prefect. In regards to the first two, it is after all his first day and there is no indication that Hermione is displeased with Ron’s performance as a prefect later. And Ron isn’t the only guy who wants to try something a bit stronger than firewhiskey – Dean and Seamus contemplate celebrating the end of exams with the same. And the text doesn’t even give her a response to Ron’s take on the onerous prefect duties around Christmas – he’s less than enthusiastic, but considering, it’s pretty understandable (451).

 

3. Ron being/acting less than ideal (insensitive, stupid, pathetic). Ron doesn’t always act the way Hermione may think he should (not that Hermione is trying to change Ron, more that she knows he has a lot more maturity than he actually shows). Ron, though we may love him, doesn’t always know when to keep his mouth shut.

 

Incidents:
1) Hermione and Ron have a spat at the dinner table during the Welcome feast – Ron’s being insensitive toward Nearly Headless Nick and a pig for talking with his mouth full (210).
2) â€œYou are so tactless!” Hermione tells Ron off for interrupting Harry and Cho’s conversation by attacking her Quidditch team. They end up â€œbickering too loudly to hear it [the bell]” (231).
3) â€œIts obvious Umbridge is here to spy on us.” Hermione, who, peeved at Umbridge, takes her temper out on Ron, who in this case has done nothing to inspire her venom. Harry nips the argument in the bud with a weary â€œDon’t start arguing again” (252).
4) Oh don’t be pathetic, Ron” Hermione when Ron reacts to Voldemort’s name.
5) â€œOh for heaven’s sake, Ron” post-naming Voldemort moment (333).
6) Hermione rolls her eyes at Ron’s reaction to Ginny and Michael dating as he’s acting the overprotective brother (349).
7) Post-Harry’s first kiss discussion, Part One: Hermione is disgusted by Ron’s locker room approach to the whole kiss issue. Ron wants to know how Hermione would know Harry wasn’t a good kisser. Hermione calls Ron â€œthe most insensitive wart I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet.” Ron’s indignant. Both boys are confused. Hermione tries to spell out Cho’s feelings for them, then jumps on Ron for having the â€œemotional range of a teaspoon” (457-9).
8) â€œRon, be quiet” Ron and Voldemort again (589).
Ron talking with his mouth full again (848).

 

Results and Implications:
These (and the one’s regarding Hermione) are the most personally directed arguments. They are the one’s Harry tends to call them onto the carpet for. The Voldemort comments are slightly hypocritical as Hermione has just started to say his name recently, but are not really malicious. And I think that Hermione is just going to have to accept that Ron talks with his mouthful – its likely something he learned at the dinner table at the Burrow. But some of her other comments come close to being personal attacks. The post-Harry’s first kiss sequence is probably one of the closest times Ron and Hermione get into another Yule Brawl type argument. One may wonder if Hermione is so ticked off at Ron being immature about Harry’s kiss, because she is unsure of the reaction he had to the kiss she gave him before the Quidditch game. Even after her scathing insults, Ron actually doesn’t escalate the argument beyond wanting Hermione to clarify the not so nice things she’s said about him. He may be slightly clueless, but he seems to genuinely want to understand what’s going on (More on this later).

 

4. Hermione being/acting less than ideal (insensitive, overbearing). Turn-about is fair play, and Hermione doesn’t always act in the most mature, sensitive manner either. She tends to get a bit uptight and a little pushy. Ron tries to keep her in check.

 

Incidents:
1) Ron tells Hermione to lighten up when she’s concerned about Sirius having come to King’s Cross (183).
2) â€œYou walked out of divination” when Hermione tells Harry he can’t skive off Divination (364-5).
3) â€œSirius is right,” he said, “you do sound just like my mother.” Hermione bit her lip and did not answer (378). Ron lumps Hermione into the mollycoddling mold of his mother after Hermione speaks of doubts about the DA after hearing Sirius thinks it’s a good idea.
4) Hermione disputes Ron’s disarming record after the first DA meeting (396).
5) Ron silences Hermione with a look when she is trying to go on about France during Hagrid’s tale (426).
6) â€œGive it a rest, okay? He can make up his own mind.” (667) 7) After an entire day of Hermione harassing Harry about his plan to contact Sirius.
Ron makes hushing noises when Hermione brings up Sirius (856).

 

Results and Implications:
Ron is beginning to call Hermione on some of her little hypocrises and points out that her persistence is not always appropriate. Whether she agrees or not, by the end Hermione is listening to Ron’s advice (especially regarding Sirius) and heeding it without trying to prove she’s right.

 

5. Ron’s conflict avoidance. Ron doesn’t seem to have an irresistible urge to avoid fighting with Hermione. But he does try to avoid conflict with the Twins and Harry every chance he can get.

 

Interactions:
1) Ron refuses to get involved in the Hermione vs. the Twins’ WWW product testing debate (226).
2) Hermione tells Fred and George off for testing their products on first years and then turns on Ron for not coming with her. She goes to bed in a huff (253-5).
3) Hermione tries to pass off the DA as her and Ron’s idea. Ron gives her an alarmed, threatening look (330).
4) Hermione appeals to Ron (like Mrs. Weasley to her husband) to help her persuade Harry to not break into Umbridge’s office to talk to Sirius (658).
5) â€œHe’s got a point.” Ron sides with Harry over Hermione regarding Harry’s vision of Sirius’s capture (732-735).

 

Results and Implications
This is a new sort of Ron. In regards to Fred and George, Ron doesn’t have enough self-esteem or guts to stand up to his older brothers and they certainly enjoy pulling him down every chance they can get. But the trend toward not arguing with Harry even when Harry is wrong or over-reacting is dangerous. After GOF we see a change in the trio’s overall dynamic – we have the CAPSLOCK!Harry, Mollycoddling Hermione and Desperate-to-stay-out-of-it Ron. Hermione can try to keep Harry slightly controlled, but she can’t do it without Ron’s help. Ron, who is still smarting from the fight he and Harry had in GOF and the shock that Harry barely escaped from Lord Voldemort, doesn’t want to push Harry. He wants to avoid a break at all costs. This doesn’t mean he values Hermione less or Harry more. In the end, both Ron and Hermione need to find a middle ground in the way they regard Harry.

 

6. Vicky. Many of Ron and Hermione’s rows in GOF involved Viktor (not the person, but the concept, the competition). At the end of GOF, we are treated to a moment of reconciliation. Ron gets past his flaming jealousy of Viktor Krum and finally asks his idol for his autograph. Hermione is pleased. Of course, Ron’s jealousy is not quite spent, but it is a bit better controlled.

 

Incidents:
1) â€œYeah, what did Vicky say?” Ron finds out that Hermione has been corresponding with Krum as a pen pal. Ron is upset. Hermione glosses over the situation (331-2).
2) Post-Harry’s first kiss discussion, Part Two: Writing to Viktor (460-1). Hermione makes a show of writing a really long letter to Krum. Ron doesn’t rise and take the bait (though he’s not entirely silent about it).

 

Results and Implications:
In the first instance, Hermione likely never meant to tell Ron (or Harry) she was still writing to Krum, but when it slips, she pretends to be bored with Ron’s jealous response, then tries to placate him by saying Krum’s only a pen pal (i.e. a platonic friend), but when this doesn’t work quickly diverts the conversation. Hermione seems hesitant to start a row here and she knows that the topic of Viktor will only rile Ron. And she has other fish to fry in this conversation, namely persuading Harry to do the whole DA thing.

 

In the second instance, she does, however, intentionally use that knowledge (that Ron will be jealous of Krum) in the post-Harry’s first kiss discussion. I think Hermione knows exactly what she is doing here and acts intentionally. She knows that Cho is hanging back to talk to Harry and that “something” is likely to happen – she seems too composed at the beginning of the scene, too comfortable with the idea that Harry’s been with Cho for her to not have had some idea of it ahead of time. She intentionally makes a production of writing a really long letter to Viktor while Harry’s off with Cho. She knows Ron’s eventually going to ask (that trailing letter is a bit obvious). She’s trying to get Ron’s attention and the Krum button is usually Ron’s hot button. But uncharacteristically Ron doesn’t rise. There’s no argument (some huffing and puffing from Ron though). Ron’s sudden measure of maturity thwarts Hermione’s attempt to get some confirmation of Ron’s current feelings. Boys can be so clueless sometimes. More on this strange outcome later.

 

7. Hermione stands up for Ron. These are not argument interactions between R/Hr but between Hermione and others. They mirror Ron’s actions of standing up for Hermione that we see in the other books – with Malfoy and the Mudblood curse in COS; Snape’s know-it-all comment in POA; when Malfoy hits Hermione with the tooth curse in GOF. This is something new. We get a glimmer of it in GOF when Hermione tries to explain Ron’s behavior after Harry’s name is pulled from the Goblet.

 

Incidents:
1) Hermione blushing once she’s discovered it’s Ron, not Harry, that’s prefect [“I… well… wow! Well done, Ron! That’s really –” (162)].
2) Hermione stands up to the Twins regarding Ron’s prefect badge. â€œDon’t pay any attention to them, Ron…” (165).
3) â€œTell me, how does it feel being second best to Weasley, Potter?” he asked. “Shut up Malloy,” said Hermione sharply (194).
4) â€œWell, it was only your first one.” Hermione tries to console Ron about his first Quidditch practice (294).
5) â€œWhere have you been?” Hermione asks Ron after the infamous first Quidditch match (418).

 

Results and Implications:
These interactions show the other side of the R/Hr dynamic. Both are fiercely protective of the other in front of others. They may have a go at each other, but they fight anyone else who might do the same. And when others try to bring Ron down (Ron really becomes a public target for the first time in OotP), Hermione responds with a measure of fierce pride (especially towards the Twins and Malfoy). When Quidditch doesn’t go the way Ron expects it to, Hermione overlooks her anti-Quidditch feelings and reaches out to Ron. She shows a genuine concern for his welfare and happiness even when she doesn’t understand or agree with it. She stands up to his insecurities (which are more formidable than 10 Fred and Georges and a dozen Malfoys any day).

 

So, what’s the big so what? Ron and Hermione fight/argue/disagree a lot in the first half of OotP- enough to get Harry peeved at them more than once (although it doesn’t take much to peeve Harry lately). We don’t see the spirited rows from GOF – which actually could be a good thing – those arguments tended to be more hurtful than helpful. But in OotP, Ron and Hermione rehash some of the same old arguments as always and come up with new things to fight about. If you examine the scripts chronologically you can see the arguments (even the new ones) are changing. Ron and Hermione are moving out of the static argument phase towards, well, I can only speculate (and not so objectively). But these changes aren’t organic, it’s not a natural evolution, it’s not just time and maturity kicking in. Something’s happened. Something’s catalyzed the changes we are seeing in their arguments. Something’s happened that practically puts a damper onto Ron and Hermione’s fights during the second half of OotP. (Well, two very small seemingly inconsequential somethings actually.)

 

Part Two: Oh, or This Changes Everything

 

From the Yule Brawl to the middle of OotP, both Ron and Hermione are tiptoeing around the whole are-we-more-than-friends issue. Why? Because if either of them have read the signals incorrectly (Hermione’s next time quote and Ron’s jealousy) the potential price is pretty high. If both don’t feel the same way (and once it’s out in the open, or spoken, you can’t take it back), their friendship will be irreparably altered (yes, they can still be friends, but there would likely always be that little bit of awkwardness knowing that your feelings aren’t mutual). Both Ron and Hermione know their friendship affects Harry. Harry’s already demonstrated that he’s irritated at his two friends, especially when they’re “fighting” (Ron and Hermione don’t seem to see their arguments the same way Harry does. They are actually upset when he blows up at them). Harry needs his two best friends to both be there for him to survive. The trio needs to stay united. Stepping beyond friendship could risk that.

 

As neither Ron nor Hermione step forward to resolve the tension, the two are left to fall back onto their more comfortable, more normal pattern of behavior — fighting with each other. Until —

 

“Good luck, Ron,” said Hermione, standing on tiptoe and kissing him on the cheek. “and you Harry -”
Ron seemed to come to himself slightly as they walked back across the Great Hall. He touched the spot on his face where Hermione had kissed him, looking puzzled, as though he was not quite sure what had just happened (OotP 404).

Two things stand out about this event. First is Harry’s response, or lack thereof. When Hermione kisses him at the end of GOF he remarks on it being something “she had never done before” (734). Although Ron seems to register that this good luck kiss is unusual Hermione behavior, Harry has no comment. It’s as if he is not surprised, that it wasn’t an unusual thing to happen, or even unexpected. But it is.

Now yes, Hermione has kissed Harry before – at the station at the end of GOF (734). But these kisses contain completely different messages. Harry’s kiss is platonic; Ron’s kiss is not. Why? It’s the intent behind the kiss that distinguishes them and also the feelings of the receiver. Hermione knows Harry has no feelings for her whatsoever in GOF (how many times does he have to deny it?). It’s likely also that she’s already begun to see the whole Cho thing start (think back to the Quidditch World cup). So it’s safe to kiss Harry. He won’t misconstrue the kiss as anything more than a friendly goodbye. But with Ron, Hermione has seen signs of jealousy, experienced an increase in tension; on some level she knows something is there (it’s “the what” and “is it worth it” that holds her back). This kiss isn’t a safe kiss among friends. This is why this one is a non-platonic signal — and Ron gets it.

 

After the good luck kiss, Ron’s behavior towards Hermione changes. He doesn’t retaliate when Hermione calls him an “insensitive wart” or tells him he’s got the “emotional range of a teaspoon” (OotP 459). He doesn’t even rise to the Krum letter, though he is reasonably confused at her attitude. After all she was the one who kissed him. He can’t quite reconcile how she could say those extremely mean and personal things to him and have kissed him, too. He even asks her directly for help.

 

“You should write a book,” Ron told Hermione as he cut up his potatoes, “translating mad things girls do so that boys understand them” (573).

So why is Hermione so hostile towards Ron? At the time they’re discussing Harry and Cho’s kiss (anybody else think it’s odd that the kiss takes up no space at all while Ron and Hermione’s discussion of it covers almost four pages? Perhaps Harry getting kissed isn’t quite as important as his friends’ responses to it), Hermione hasn’t received any non-platonic signals from Ron. Her shortness (and we haven’t seen her this hostile to Ron since the Yule Brawl) is a manifestation of her frustration. She doesn’t know his reaction to her signal and is likely a little nervous that Ron might be as flippant about her kiss as he is towards Harry and Cho’s. She seems uncomfortable with the “locker room” feel of his comments. Ron is treating her as one of the guys and she doesn’t seem comfortable with his responses. So what does she do? She lashes out at him, almost as if to say not only are you not being sensitive toward Harry and Cho, but you’re also not being sensitive to me and my feelings. She’s pulled out their old Yule Brawl script; only Ron isn’t playing this time.

So, although Ron has moved forward and stopped reverting to the same old patterns, Hermione is still stuck in the whole argument script until Ron finally sends her a signal of his own.

 

On the way downstairs they met Hermione. “Thanks for the book Harry!” she said happily. “I’ve been wanting that New Theory of Numerology for ages! And that perfume is really unusual, Ron.”
“No problem,” said Ron. “Who’s that for…?”
 (OotP 503).

On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much going on here. Hermione’s response is not a big, bright thank you, there’s no hugging, no overt display of affection going on. But there is something a little too casual about their exchange on the stairs. As if neither one is trying to make a big deal of it, as if they’re both trying to keep the whole thing low key. It isn’t a lack of interest, as some have suggested, but of realization. Ron has done something unusual – just as Hermione has done something unusual in giving Ron that good luck kiss. Again, Harry’s complete lack of surprise or comment is perhaps telling. Perfume is not a usual gift for Hermione. It’s certainly not what Ron usually buys Hermione. And yet Harry doesn’t even raise an eyebrow about it. It’s almost as if he expects it, just as the good luck kiss is just to be expected.

Hermione, having finally gotten her signal that Ron has something other than platonic feelings for her, begins to change her behavior towards Ron. She, too, moves away from the argument scripts that seem to be the trademark of their relationship. She no longer attacks Ron. She may still think Ron is not altogether got it together, but she no longer throws his deficiencies in his face.

 

In the middle of OotP, Ron and Hermione have traded non-platonic signals. Each reacts with a distinct change in behavior, a rapid shift away from their usual modes (scripts) of interaction (just look at the differences in conflict in the Part One lists. Notice what happens after pages 459 and 503). Keep in mind that Hermione’s signal to Ron is the good luck kiss. Ron’s behavior (not Hermione’s), begins to change after this. Ron’s signal to Hermione is the perfume and her behavior towards Ron – and only Ron – begins to change from here on out.

 

Note, too, that both Ron and Hermione have stopped trying to use each other’s hot buttons in their arguments. Hermione’s hot button is the whole spew thing. Ron’s is Vicky. What happens after the exchange of non-platonic signals is that they both stop using the hot buttons on each other. Yes, at Christmas they talk about Kreature, but Ron isn’t attacking her like he usually does. He doesn’t ask her to give up S.P.E.W.; he doesn’t tell her she’s wasting her time. He stops using that button. And after Christmas, Hermione does not bring Krum up again. These are notable changes in their behavior.

 

By the end of OotP, there is no open declaration between Ron and Hermione, no final resolution of their doubts, but there seems to be a sense of greater surety that the attraction is mutual. Some of the tension is resolved, so they argue a lot less and seem to get along a lot better. Sure they will still disagree (especially regarding Snape and the whole homework issue), but they seem to have found something beyond yelling to get their point across.

 

We can see that Ron and Hermione are behaving differently, that they aren’t embroiled in their typical arguments, caught up in their usual game of verbal one-ups-manship. Has something else happened? We can’t know. What goes on privately between Ron and Hermione is – well not something we’re privy to. And we may never really be privy to it. Because of the limits imposed by JKR’s narrative style, we can’t see those events, but we can see their repercussions. This is the subtle play of subtext. A kiss and a bottle of perfume – two requited signals – propel Ron and Hermione to step out of their comfortable, friends-only zone towards something that could possibly be much more.

 

So for those us who were looking for Ron and Hermione to grow romantically in OotP and didn’t see it the first time, not all hope is lost. Their relationship is progressing just beneath the surface. Something has happened in OotP. They’ve stopped attacking each other and started listening. They are just a little less frustrated and a little more sure. With a few more prods in the right direction – well – anything could happen.