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 âsomething going onâ in GoF (JKR words, not mine). After all, Harry got his first kiss (okay, it wasnât that great of a kiss); But Ron and Hermione seem to be locked in a holding pattern of teenage angst. Or so I thought. Thereâs 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.
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 âscriptsâ. I will lay them out here. If youâre not interested in what âscriptsâ 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. Iâm 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. Iâm 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 itâs done. If youâve ever had the same old fight with someone and not really gotten anywhere, youâre 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, itâs 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 doesnât change; everything is normal. When characters stop following their usual scripts, something significant is going on – itâs 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 sheâs given them.
The most remarked about feature of Ron and Hermioneâs 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 donât 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 donât have a mature communication system compatible with a healthy romantic relationship.
Having said that, Iâm 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. Itâs 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 whatâs going on just beneath the surface in OotP.
Ron and Hermioneâs 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 âwhat do about Harryâ argument out of this, as Harry is often involved in these arguments and his responses tend to âout shoutâ what Ron and Hermione are arguing about. As for the rest, they are in no particular order or significance:
2) Prefect Responsibilities +
3) Ron being/acting less than ideal (insensitive, stupid, pathetic)*+
4) Hermione being/acting less than ideal (insensitive, overbearing)*+
5) Ronâs conflict avoidance +
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 doesnât think its right to trick them into becoming free. Both of them are right in their own way.
1) Hermione hasnât given up on S.P.E.W. (76).
2) âYouâre trying to trick the house elvesâ (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 Ronâs 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, doesnât seem to quite know what to do. Hermione attempts to scold Ron into what he should be doing.
1) âYouâre not suppose to abuse your position.â Hermione chides Ron for wanting to get Crabbe and Goyle (189).
2) âYou canât call them midgetsâ¦â Whether or not the first years are small, obnoxious, etc., Hermione tells Ron off for calling them names (215).
3) âYou – are – a – prefect,â snarled Hermione. After Ron suggests trying firewhiskey at the Hogâs Head (337).
Results and Implications:
Many take Hermioneâs comments to Ron as a sign that she doesnât think heâs a good prefect. Some even use them to signify that Ron isnât 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 Ronâs performance as a prefect later. And Ron isnât 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 doesnât even give her a response to Ronâs take on the onerous prefect duties around Christmas – heâs less than enthusiastic, but considering, itâs pretty understandable (451).
3. Ron being/acting less than ideal (insensitive, stupid, pathetic). Ron doesnât 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, doesnât always know when to keep his mouth shut.
1) Hermione and Ron have a spat at the dinner table during the Welcome feast – Ronâs being insensitive toward Nearly Headless Nick and a pig for talking with his mouth full (210).
2) âYou are so tactless!â Hermione tells Ron off for interrupting Harry and Choâs conversation by attacking her Quidditch team. They end up âbickering too loudly to hear it [the bell]â (231).
3) âIts obvious Umbridge is here to spy on us.â 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 âDonât start arguing againâ (252).
4) Oh donât be pathetic, Ron” Hermione when Ron reacts to Voldemortâs name.
5) âOh for heavenâs sake, Ronâ post-naming Voldemort moment (333).
6) Hermione rolls her eyes at Ronâs reaction to Ginny and Michael dating as heâs acting the overprotective brother (349).
7) Post-Harryâs first kiss discussion, Part One: Hermione is disgusted by Ronâs locker room approach to the whole kiss issue. Ron wants to know how Hermione would know Harry wasnât a good kisser. Hermione calls Ron âthe most insensitive wart Iâve ever had the misfortune to meet.â Ronâs indignant. Both boys are confused. Hermione tries to spell out Choâs feelings for them, then jumps on Ron for having the âemotional range of a teaspoonâ (457-9).
8) âRon, be quietâ Ron and Voldemort again (589).
Ron talking with his mouth full again (848).
Results and Implications:
These (and the oneâs regarding Hermione) are the most personally directed arguments. They are the oneâs 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-Harryâs 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 Harryâs 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 doesnât escalate the argument beyond wanting Hermione to clarify the not so nice things sheâs said about him. He may be slightly clueless, but he seems to genuinely want to understand whatâs going on (More on this later).
4. Hermione being/acting less than ideal (insensitive, overbearing). Turn-about is fair play, and Hermione doesnât 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.
1) Ron tells Hermione to lighten up when sheâs concerned about Sirius having come to Kingâs Cross (183).
2) âYou walked out of divinationâ when Hermione tells Harry he canât skive off Divination (364-5).
3) âSirius is right,â he said, “you do sound just like my mother.â 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 itâs a good idea.
4) Hermione disputes Ronâs 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 Hagridâs tale (426).
6) âGive it a rest, okay? He can make up his own mind.â (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 Ronâs advice (especially regarding Sirius) and heeding it without trying to prove sheâs right.
5. Ronâs conflict avoidance. Ron doesnât 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.
1) Ron refuses to get involved in the Hermione vs. the Twinsâ 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 Ronâs 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 Umbridgeâs office to talk to Sirius (658).
5) âHeâs got a point.â Ron sides with Harry over Hermione regarding Harryâs vision of Siriusâs capture (732-735).
Results and Implications
This is a new sort of Ron. In regards to Fred and George, Ron doesnât 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 trioâs 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 canât do it without Ronâs 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, doesnât want to push Harry. He wants to avoid a break at all costs. This doesnât 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 Hermioneâs 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, Ronâs jealousy is not quite spent, but it is a bit better controlled.
1) âYeah, what did Vicky say?â 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-Harryâs first kiss discussion, Part Two: Writing to Viktor (460-1). Hermione makes a show of writing a really long letter to Krum. Ron doesnât rise and take the bait (though heâs 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 Ronâs jealous response, then tries to placate him by saying Krumâs only a pen pal (i.e. a platonic friend), but when this doesnât 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-Harryâs 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 âsomethingâ is likely to happen – she seems too composed at the beginning of the scene, too comfortable with the idea that Harryâs 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 Harryâs off with Cho. She knows Ronâs eventually going to ask (that trailing letter is a bit obvious). Sheâs trying to get Ronâs attention and the Krum button is usually Ronâs hot button. But uncharacteristically Ron doesnât rise. Thereâs no argument (some huffing and puffing from Ron though). Ronâs sudden measure of maturity thwarts Hermioneâs attempt to get some confirmation of Ronâs 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 Ronâs actions of standing up for Hermione that we see in the other books – with Malfoy and the Mudblood curse in COS; Snapeâs 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 Ronâs behavior after Harryâs name is pulled from the Goblet.
1) Hermione blushing once sheâs discovered it’s Ron, not Harry, thatâs prefect [âIâ¦ wellâ¦ wow! Well done, Ron! Thatâs really –â (162)].
2) Hermione stands up to the Twins regarding Ronâs prefect badge. âDonât pay any attention to them, Ronâ¦â (165).
3) âTell me, how does it feel being second best to Weasley, Potter?â he asked. âShut up Malloy,â said Hermione sharply (194).
4) âWell, it was only your first one.” Hermione tries to console Ron about his first Quidditch practice (294).
5) âWhere have you been?â 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 doesnât 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 doesnât 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 doesnât take much to peeve Harry lately). We donât 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 arenât organic, it’s not a natural evolution, it’s not just time and maturity kicking in. Somethingâs happened. Somethingâs catalyzed the changes we are seeing in their arguments. Somethingâs happened that practically puts a damper onto Ron and Hermioneâs 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 (Hermioneâs next time quote and Ronâs jealousy) the potential price is pretty high. If both donât feel the same way (and once it’s out in the open, or spoken, you canât 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 arenât mutual). Both Ron and Hermione know their friendship affects Harry. Harryâs already demonstrated that heâs irritated at his two friends, especially when theyâre âfightingâ (Ron and Hermione donât 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 —
âGood luck, Ron,â said Hermione, standing on tiptoe and kissing him on the cheek. âand you Harry -â…
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 Harryâs response, or lack thereof. When Hermione kisses him at the end of GOF he remarks on it being something âshe had never done beforeâ (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 wasnât 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? Itâs 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 itâs 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, Ronâs behavior towards Hermione changes. He doesnât retaliate when Hermione calls him an âinsensitive wartâ or tells him heâs got the âemotional range of a teaspoonâ (OotP 459). He doesnât even rise to the Krum letter, though he is reasonably confused at her attitude. After all she was the one who kissed him. He canât 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.
âYou should write a book,â Ron told Hermione as he cut up his potatoes, âtranslating mad things girls do so that boys understand themâ (573).
So why is Hermione so hostile towards Ron? At the time theyâre discussing Harry and Choâs kiss (anybody else think it’s odd that the kiss takes up no space at all while Ron and Hermioneâs discussion of it covers almost four pages? Perhaps Harry getting kissed isnât quite as important as his friendsâ responses to it), Hermione hasnât received any non-platonic signals from Ron. Her shortness (and we havenât seen her this hostile to Ron since the Yule Brawl) is a manifestation of her frustration. She doesnât 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 Choâs. She seems uncomfortable with the âlocker roomâ feel of his comments. Ron is treating her as one of the guys and she doesnât 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 youâre also not being sensitive to me and my feelings. Sheâs pulled out their old Yule Brawl script; only Ron isnât 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. âThanks for the book Harry!â she said happily. âIâve been wanting that New Theory of Numerology for ages! And that perfume is really unusual, Ron.â
âNo problem,â said Ron. âWhoâs that forâ¦?â (OotP 503).
On the surface, there doesnât seem to be much going on here. Hermioneâs response is not a big, bright thank you, thereâs 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 theyâre both trying to keep the whole thing low key. It isnât 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, Harryâs complete lack of surprise or comment is perhaps telling. Perfume is not a usual gift for Hermione. Itâs certainly not what Ron usually buys Hermione. And yet Harry doesnât even raise an eyebrow about it. Itâs 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 otherâs 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 arenât embroiled in their typical arguments, caught up in their usual game of verbal one-ups-manship. Has something else happened? We canât know. What goes on privately between Ron and Hermione is – well not something weâre privy to. And we may never really be privy to it. Because of the limits imposed by JKRâs narrative style, we canât 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 didnât see it the first time, not all hope is lost. Their relationship is progressing just beneath the surface. Something has happened in OotP. Theyâve 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.