Ron or Hermione? Harry’s Truest Friend
Ron Weasley has always been a beloved character in the Potterverse. As Harry Potter’s best friend, he is possibly the second-most relevant character in the books. People have begged J.K. Rowling not to kill him off for many years. However, over the course of the books, he has seemed to digress as a character. Harry’s other best friend, Hermione Granger, has only progressed. From being an insufferable know-it-all, she has become Harry’s most valuable ally. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows cements these transformations. Hermione sacrifices everything to help Harry out, while Ron acts like a spoiled brat and lets Harry down. So who is Harry’s REAL best friend? Let’s take a trip through the earlier books and see how things play out.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Ron becomes Harry’s very first friend in the wizarding world (or ever, for that matter). Naturally, the title of “best friend” automatically goes to him. And indeed, Hermione provides little competition for him at first, being a bossy know-it-all and getting on everyone’s nerves. Then, on Halloween, Ron displays his insensitivity for the first time, leading to Hermione being attacked by a troll. Harry and Ron save her, and the three become friends. However, it can’t be disputed that Ron is still Harry’s best friend of all. And so far, he’s shown that he deserves to be. I’d say Ron’s finest moments are at the end of this book. He shows loyalty to Harry and willingness to go wherever Harry goes.
Oh, come off it, you don’t think we’d let you go alone?” (271)
Ron only gets better as the chapter progresses, sacrificing himself in the chess game so Harry can continue his quest (283). Hermione has her share of glory here too: She solves the logic puzzle for Harry and then gives him an inspiring speech about friendship and bravery (287). But so far, Ron has Hermione outmatched as Harry’s best friend.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
In this book, Hermione does not do very much at all due to being Petrified before the climax really begins to unfold. As such, there’s not much to measure her friendship with Harry by, other than that he’s obviously heartbroken when she’s Petrified, and so is Ron. She does uncover the secret of the Basilisk, but that’s more to do with her incredible mental prowess. However, it is here that we first see Hermione’s willingness to break rules to help Harry. She takes the risk of brewing Polyjuice Potion so Harry and Ron can interrogate Draco Malfoy, even though she knows she’d be expelled if she were caught.
Ron, meanwhile, continues to shine in this book. Most importantly, he agrees to “follow the spiders” despite his fear. If he suffers from arachnophobia half as much as I do, marching into the Forbidden Forest and meeting Aragog must have been about as pleasant as cutting your own limbs off. Also, Ron is the one who accompanies Harry throughout the climax of the book, solidifying his position as his best friend. So far, so good.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The third book is the last one where Ron is still deserving of the best friend title. Hermione also does much more for Harry – though it is appreciated more by readers than by Harry. She shows that she’d rather have him not talk to her (which is a huge personal sacrifice, since they’re pretty much the only friends she has) than let him be in danger, so she tells Professor McGonagall about the Firebolt. This results in the boys not talking to her for some time, until she finally cracks under the pressure.
However, Ron also has an extremely brave and loyal moment inside the Shrieking Shack:
You’ll have to kill all three of us!” (339)
This once again shows that Ron is willing to lay down his life for Harry – as he already did once in Sorcerer’s Stone. However, Hermione also shows strength of character and loyalty to Harry when she attacks Snape a bit later in the evening:
‘We attacked a teacher. . . . We attacked a teacher . . . ,’ Hermione whimpered, staring at the lifeless Snape with frightened eyes. ‘Oh, we’re going to be in so much trouble -‘” (362)
We know Hermione is really afraid of getting in trouble. To attack a teacher – even one as unpleasant as Snape – would have required something huge to make Hermione do it. But apparently, Harry’s safety is enough of a reason for her.
Later, Hermione is also the only one to accompany Harry during the climax because Ron broke his leg. And this is where Hermione is able to gain ground as Harry’s friend.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
This is the book where Ron’s character goes sharply downhill. Sure, Ron envies Harry – who wouldn’t? But honestly, to just abandon him when he’s facing a potentially lethal tournament is not something a true friend does. And how could he think Harry would just trick Dumbledore’s Age Line and moreover, lie to Ron about it? To my knowledge, Harry has never lied to Ron in the books – a few times to Hermione, but never to Ron.
‘I’m not stupid, you know.’
‘You’re doing a really good impression of it,’ Harry snapped.” (287)
Indeed, he most certainly is! Ron has quite the opposite of Hermione’s reaction, which is much more calm and rational.
To his immense relief, Hermione accepted his story without question.
‘Well, of course I knew you hadn’t entered yourself,’ she said.” (289)
That’s what any friend with an ounce of faith and/or reason would say. As the conversation progresses, Hermione brings up Ron’s jealousy concerning all the attention Harry gets. Harry aptly replies:
Tell him from me he’s welcome to it. . . . People gawping at my forehead everywhere I go. . . .” (290)
And he’s quite right. Ron is being a bit of a spoiled brat who doesn’t know how good he has it. Would he really rather be an orphan and be famous than lead his relatively happier life with a loving family? Hermione, meanwhile, sees that Harry is miserable without Ron and does her utmost to bring them back on speaking terms with each other.
She went from one to the other, trying to force them to talk to each other.” (316)
It is here we stumble upon the reason Ron stays Harry’s best friend throughout the books, no matter how much of a horrible friend he sometimes can be and no matter how much Hermione does for Harry.
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.” (316–7)
This little excerpt says it all. Despite how wonderful a friend Hermione is, she’s just not as much fun as Ron. Harry and Ron are both guys – it’s only natural that they’d connect and enjoy each other’s company more. Plus, Harry likes goofing off, while Hermione is much more serious. It takes Ron until the first task to realize that Harry didn’t enter the tournament– after Harry has to face a dragon. That’s almost two months!
‘Caught on, have you?’ said Harry coldly. ‘Took you long enough.’ (358)
It most certainly did! Anyway, after this, the trio becomes best friends again, as if nothing had happened. And Ron bonds further with Harry once they both have to endure the agony of finding a date to the Yule Ball. Ron displays his insensitivity toward Hermione and then is extremely insensitive toward Padma at the ball because he’s busy being jealous of Viktor Krum. Again with the jealousy! And yet at this point, Harry still sides with Ron, albeit passively:
Harry didn’t say anything. He liked being back on speaking terms with Ron too much to speak his mind right now – but he somehow thought that Hermione had gotten the point much better than Ron had.” (432)
Fortunately, this tendency of Harry’s to automatically side with Ron pretty much disappears by the sixth book. Another tendency of Harry’s that is prevalent in this book, but disappears in later books, is that he sometimes lies to Hermione.
Harry’s insides gave a guilty squirm, but he ignored them.” (443)
In later books, Harry doesn’t manage to lie to her quite so easily.
So then we arrive at the second task and readers discover Ron is what Harry will miss the most. Ron is at this point still Harry’s best friend. There is not much else to analyze in terms of the trio’s friendships until the very end of the book, when Harry shows he’s more comfortable with Hermione around than Ron.
When he’s in the hospital wing at the end of the book, he believes Cedric’s death is his fault (typical Harry, blaming everything on himself). When he’s about to start crying (“He could feel a burning, prickling feeling at the inner corners of his eyes. […] He wished Ron would look away” ), he’s more comfortable crying in front of Hermione, yet not in front of Ron, his usually preferred friend.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
In this book, Harry’s friendship with Hermione is greatly strengthened since they team up to face challenges like Professor Umbridge and the wizarding world’s ignoring Harry. Apparently, Hermione was “going spare” (63) worrying about Harry over the summer. And Hermione, seemingly more than Ron, understands how Harry is feeling.
Have you been furious with us? I bet you have, I know our letters were useless.” (62)
Also, Hermione shows she’s not afraid of Harry’s temper, while Ron cowers whenever Harry starts yelling. For example, Hermione brings up the idea of Harry teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Ron “seemed keener to join in this conversation now that he was sure that Harry was not going to start shouting again.” (330)
Hermione is the one who comes up with the brilliant idea of Dumbledore’s Army. And she is pretty much second-in-command once the DA is formed; she is the one who has the members write down their names, she has them “officially” choose Harry as leader, and so forth. And Hermione catches on to Harry’s feelings for Cho much faster than Ron does.
‘Don’t be silly,’ said Hermione vaguely, ‘Harry’s liked her for ages, haven’t you, Harry?'” (460)
After Harry kisses Cho, Hermione is the one who stands up for him when Ron starts to question Harry’s kissing ability (458). This shows she actually cares about Harry’s feelings and realizes he’s probably not feeling very comfortable with the whole situation, while Ron just makes jokes at his expense.
Later, when Harry isolates himself because he thinks he’s possessed by Voldemort, Hermione sacrifices spending her Christmas with her family to come to Harry’s aid. Now that’s a loyal friend! Hermione continues to excel as a friend, getting Harry’s story to the public via The Quibbler. Ron, meanwhile, does precious little that is praiseworthy. It is Hermione who accompanies Harry when they are introduced to Grawp, which solidifies Hermione’s role as Harry’s sidekick.
Also around this part of the book, we see a subtle progression in Harry and Hermione’s friendship from the fourth book. Harry can no longer lie to her as easily.
‘So you’ve stopped having funny dreams?’ said Hermione skeptically.
‘Pretty much,’ said Harry, not looking at her.” (651)
Hermione continues to be the main sidekick when Harry decides to break into Umbridge’s office a second time. She goes into the office with him, which is infinitely more dangerous than telling Umbridge tales about Peeves (Ron’s assignment). This is yet another show of solidarity. But the real evidence doesn’t begin until they are all caught by Umbridge and Harry is about to be tortured by the Cruciatus Curse.
‘The Cruciatus Curse ought to loosen your tongue,’ said Umbridge quietly.
‘No!’ shrieked Hermione. ‘Professor Umbridge – it’s illegal!’
[…] ‘The minister wouldn’t want you to break the law, Professor Umbridge!’ cried Hermione.” (746)
Hermione does everything in her power to dissuade Umbridge from torturing Harry. What does Ron do? Absolutely nothing. But when Umbridge won’t be dissuaded, Hermione is the one who ultimately saves Harry. She feeds Umbridge a cock-and-bull story about the weapon they made for Dumbledore, and then Harry and Hermione head off to the forest with Umbridge close behind. Hermione uses her ingenuity to get Umbridge carried off by centaurs, and they meet up with the rest of the gang.
Fast forward to the Ministry battle. It’s interesting to note that when the six teens split up into two groups, Hermione is with Harry, yet Ron isn’t. I think Jo purposefully does this to cement Hermione’s role as Harry’s right-hand person.
So let’s recap. Hermione has formed the DA, got Harry’s story to the public, and got rid of Umbridge, all in one book. Ron, meanwhile, has done virtually nothing that significant for Harry. It looks like the tables have finally turned, and Hermione is becoming Harry’s best friend.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The sixth book does not do much for either Ron or Hermione’s case. Jo seems to be signifying the importance of the friendship of the trio as a whole, not that of any two members. Yet there is still some material to work with. Harry’s friendship with Ron is still as strong as ever. Harry explains to Ron how Draco Malfoy stomped on his nose and left him on the Hogwarts train:
It was a mark of the strength of their friendship that Ron did not laugh.” (169)
However, Harry also finally stops siding with Ron unconditionally. When Ron starts snogging Lavender, Harry comforts Hermione. Instead of just being on Ron’s side, Harry realizes he’s being immature, mean, and downright pathetic in his behavior toward Hermione. Harry once again sides with Hermione when Ron is particularly horrid to her during a Transfiguration class.
Harry, deciding that her need was greater than Ron’s just now, scooped up her remaining possessions and followed her.” (310)
This shows Harry’s friendship with Hermione at this point is at least as strong as his friendship with Ron, if not more so. He is finally there for her when she needs him, just like she helped him out in the previous year. Ron, meanwhile, continues to act despicably for several months before coming around and reconciling with Hermione. But the final evidence arrives in the final book.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
This book presents the final showdown between Ron and Hermione for the position of Harry’s best friend. The interesting thing is, we have our answer at the very beginning of the book, before the trio even goes on their journey. This is what Hermione does to prepare:
I’ve also modified my parents’ memories so that they’re convinced […] that their life’s ambition is to move to Australia, which they have now done.
[…] Assuming I survive our hunt for the Horcruxes, I’ll find Mum and Dad and lift the enchantment. If I don’t – well, I think I’ve cast a good enough charm to keep them safe and happy. Wendell and Monica Wilkins don’t know that they’ve got a daughter, you see.” (96–7)
In comparison, this is what Ron has done to prepare:
So we’re going to put out the story that I’m seriously ill with spattergroit.
[…] Dad is [in on the plan].” (99)
So let’s see how the sacrifices of Ron and Hermione compare with each other. Hermione has made her parents forget that she ever existed so she can go with Harry on his journey. Ron cooked up a comfortable plan with his family that will have the ghoul pretend to be him with spattergroit. All in all, I’d say Hermione’s sacrifice counts for more in this case.
But once the trio is on their quest, isolated from civilization and being hunted down by the government, things get much worse between Ron and the other two. Hermione holds up reasonably well under the conditions, especially since she’s a girl and not really used to roughing it. Ron, instead, acts like a spoiled brat. Ron and his family may be poor, but in many ways, he is far better off than Harry and much more spoiled. He has been loved and sheltered all his life. He’s lived in a comfortable, if not extravagant, home.
Ron, however, had always been used to three delicious meals a day, courtesy of his mother or of the Hogwarts house-elves, and hunger made him both unreasonable and irascible.” (287–8)
Ron only gets worse as time goes by. Even if he was wearing the locket, that’s no excuse – Harry and Hermione only became a bit more short-tempered; Ron deserted his friends.
Did you think we’d be staying in five-star hotels? Finding a Horcrux every other day? Did you think you’d be back to Mummy by Christmas?” (307)
Honestly, what was Ron expecting? He should have known it would be a long and grueling journey. Harry had told him everything he did and did not know. Ron and Hermione made it clear to Harry that they knew what they were getting themselves into, yet apparently, only Hermione really did. And this is the point where the bond that was holding Harry and Ron’s friendship together, even after the episode in the beginning of their fourth year, finally snaps.
Harry felt a corrosive hatred toward Ron: Something had broken between them.” (309)
Ron then continues on his downward spiral: He tries to get Hermione to leave Harry as well. For me, this was the final straw. Someday he’ll have to learn that unlike his first few years at Hogwarts, the adventure won’t be wrapped up nicely after a few months. Unlike his fourth and sixth years, he won’t be followed despite his many wrongs and then welcomed back with open arms. He needs to learn that Hermione is what he should be: a truly loyal friend.
[Ron] turned to Hermione.
‘What are you doing?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Are you staying, or what?’
‘I . . .’ She looked anguished. ‘Yes – yes, I’m staying. Ron, we said we’d go with Harry, we said we’d help -‘
‘I get it. You choose him.’ (309–10)
Jealousy has always been one of his defining characteristics, but this is too far. When Hermione decides to stay with Harry, as they both promised to, Ron’s immediate conclusion is that she’s picking him romantically over Ron. He clearly has no notions of loyalty in friendship. As for Hermione, I could have kissed her. She loves Ron, and yet she still chooses to stay with Harry. She chooses to continue living this horrible lifestyle, isolated from other people and alone with Harry. She chooses her friendship with Harry over a comfortable life with the boy she loves. This action, above all else, solidifies her friendship and loyalty with Harry. It is at this point that she becomes Harry’s true best friend.
Well, in the following period of time, Harry and Hermione have to endure many trials and tribulations (the incident at Godric’s Hollow comes to mind), and Hermione continues to stand by Harry’s side through everything, no matter how hair-raising. An interesting thing to note is Harry and Hermione’s interaction after Harry’s wand gets broken.
She was biting her lip, and tears swam in her eyes.
[…] ‘Harry,’ Hermione whispered so quietly he could hardly hear her. “I’m so, so sorry. I think it was me. As we were leaving, you know, the snake was coming for us, and so I cast a Blasting Curse, and it rebounded everywhere, and it must have – must have hit -‘
‘It was an accident,’ said Harry.” (348–9)
‘You’re still really angry at me, aren’t you?’ said Hermione; he looked up to see fresh tears leaking out of her eyes, and knew that his anger [at Dumbledore] must have shown on his face.
‘No,’ he said quietly. ‘No, Hermione, I know it was an accident. You were trying to get us out of there alive, and you were incredible. I’d be dead if you hadn’t been there to help me.'” (352)
Naturally, Harry doesn’t blame Hermione one bit (how could he?). But what’s interesting to note is the difference between this and the whimpering Ron we encountered in Order of the Phoenix. Back then, Harry was in the wrong, always jumping down Ron and Hermione’s throats. Ron didn’t have the guts to say anything to him. Here, Hermione is afraid that Harry might actually blame her; their emotions are both extreme to the maximum (as evidenced by Hermione’s nearly hysterical crying and Harry’s sudden bouts of anger at Dumbledore) all the time now, and Hermione can’t predict how Harry will react. After all, she did break his wand, even if it was to save his life. More importantly, we have to consider her position – if Harry gets mad at her, where else can she go? She can’t go to a comfy cottage to live with her brother and his wife; she has nowhere to go and no one to go to (if you think she can go to Ron’s, I’d like to disagree – how does she know Ron won’t be mad at her for “choosing” Harry and deny her?).
Anyway, these two remain by themselves for a few more days. Then, as we knew he would (Jo never permanently separates the trio), Ron returns. He returns, saves Harry’s life, and everything is hunky-dory between them again. Then, we get some interesting insight into Ron’s deepest fears. The locket Horcrux has astutely absorbed how to push Ron’s buttons, better than even Malfoy ever could.
Basically, Ron is afraid that his mother loves Harry better than him. (For Merlin’s sake, this is Molly Weasley! There’s enough love to go around!). More importantly, he’s afraid Hermione prefers Harry to him. He’s afraid that Harry and Hermione think they were better off without him, that Ron has done nothing in comparison to Harry, and that Hermione loves Harry. This culminates in a projection of Harry and Hermione kissing, which drives Ron over the edge, making him finally stab the locket. Now that that unpleasant affair is over with and done, it’s time for Ron to reconcile with Hermione. Everyone ready to cheerlead for Hermione? Got your pom-poms? Good!
Hermione slid out of her bunk and moved like a sleepwalker toward Ron, her eyes upon his pale face. […] Ron gave a weak, hopeful smile and half raised his arms.
Hermione launched herself forward and started punching every inch of him that she could reach.
[…] ‘You – complete – arse – Ronald – Weasley!’
She punctuated every word with a blow: Ron backed away, shielding his head as Hermione advanced.
‘You – crawl – back – here – after – weeks – and – weeks – oh, where’s my wand?’
She looked as though ready to wrestle it out of Harry’s hands and he reacted instinctively.
[…] Spitting hair out of her mouth, she leapt up again.
‘Hermione!’ said Harry. ‘Calm -‘
‘I will not come down!’ she screamed. Never before had he seen her lose control like this; she looked quite demented.
[…] She was pointing at Ron in dire accusation: It was like a malediction, and Harry could not blame Ron for retreating several steps.
‘I came running after you! I called you! I begged you to come back!’
‘I know,’ Ron said, ‘Hermione, I’m sorry, I’m really – ‘
‘Oh, you’re sorry!’
She laughed, a high-pitched, out-of-control sound; Ron looked at Harry for help, but Harry merely grimaced his helplessness.
‘You come back after weeks – weeks – and you think it’s all going to be all right if you just say sorry?’
‘Well, what else can I say?’ Ron shouted, and Harry was glad that Ron was fighting back.
[…] ‘I don’t care!’ she screamed. ‘I don’t care what he’s done! Weeks and weeks, we could have been dead for all he knew -‘
‘I knew you weren’t dead! […] I knew I’d hear straight off if you were dead, you don’t know what it’s been like -”
‘What it’s been like for you?’
[…] Ron glanced at Hermione, clearly hopeful she might soften at this small instance of humor, but her expression remained stony above her tightly knotted limbs.
‘Gosh, what a gripping story,’ Hermione said in the lofty voice she adopted when wishing to wound. ‘You must have been simply terrified. Meanwhile we went to Godric’s Hollow and, let’s think, what happened there, Harry? Oh yes, You-Know-Who’s snake turned up, it nearly killed both of us, and then You-Know-Who himself arrived and missed us by about a second.’
[…] ‘Imagine losing fingernails, Harry! That really puts our sufferings into perspective, doesn’t it?’ (379–83)
I absolutely loved this passage. For one thing, I thought that if Hermione was immediately willing to forgive and forget, then it simply wouldn’t be realistic. Ron saved Harry’s life, which earns him brownie points, but I’m still shocked at how quickly Harry forgave him. Fortunately, Hermione is not like that and will give Ron what he had coming.
Jo writes that Harry had never seen Hermione lose control like this before, and there’s a very simple reason why: This type of thing is unprecedented! The only betrayal that might equal this one is Snape’s murder of Dumbledore (I’m not counting Pettigrew’s betrayal of the Potters since that wasn’t during Hermione’s time). And during that incident, everyone was caught up with the death of Dumbledore and didn’t spend as much time condemning Snape. In this case, there’s nothing to distract Hermione. Moreover, it’s much more personal, since Snape and Dumbledore were never more than teachers and authority figures to her. But these are her best friends, and Ron is her love interest. No wonder she lost control!
So after everything, Ron comes back with a simple “sorry” and thinks everything’s going to be just peachy? Honestly, has he read that book on charming witches or not? There should definitely have been a chapter on apologizing! At the very least, Ron should have come with flowers and chocolates and possibly a very sweet “I love you,” but he just says “sorry”! I think Hermione’s snipe about racking his brains, while mean, is very true.
Hermione shouts that she doesn’t care what Ron has done, and indeed, little could make up for what he did! Indeed, he might very well have simply left them to die, and it was an absolute miracle they didn’t, as Hermione recounts. While losing fingernails is doubtlessly unpleasant, the two hardly equate! And Ron’s uncertainty about their fates must certainly have been excruciatingly unpleasant, but fighting for your lives is a bit more unpleasant.
But when I read one sentence, I just felt my jaw drop: “Harry was glad that Ron was fighting back.” I couldn’t believe this! After everything was said and done, after Ron betrayed him and Hermione stuck by him, after the incident at Godric’s Hollow, after six and a half years of unwavering loyalty and support from Hermione, Harry still sided with Ron. It’s obvious that Harry and Ron are both guys, which makes them closer, and they were friends first, but it still doesn’t add up! Poor Hermione – after everything she’s done, Harry sides with Ron against her. It brings to mind Hermione’s old line: “Boys!”
So now that the trio is reunited, let’s take a look at what Ron’s priorities are. No, they’re not helping his best friend stay alive, or vanquishing the ultimate evil in the world (Lord Voldemort, for those who haven’t been paying attention). It’s sucking up to Hermione so as to get back in his crush’s good books.
Harry threw [Ron] a dark look. He was quite sure that Ron’s support of Hermione had little to do with a desire to know the meaning of the triangular rune.
[…] ‘Maybe . . . maybe it’s something you need to find out for yourself,’ said Hermione with a faint air of clutching at straws.
‘Yeah,’ said Ron sycophantically, ‘that makes sense.’
‘No, it doesn’t,’ snapped Hermione, ‘but I still think we ought to talk to Mr. Lovegood. […]’
‘I think we should vote on it,’ said Ron. ‘Those in favor of going to see Lovegood -‘
His hand flew into the air before Hermione’s. Her lips quivered suspiciously as she raised her own.
[…] When Hermione had returned to her bunk, Harry lowered his voice.
‘You only agreed to try and get back in her good books.’
‘All’s fair in love and war,’ said Ron brightly, ‘and this is a bit of both.'”
Apparently, Ron is more concerned about gaining Hermione’s favor than their fates – which, while understandable under normal circumstances, isn’t the thing to prioritize when one false move can cost you your life. But it’s fairly clear that Ron’s priority is getting Hermione to be his girlfriend, not supporting his friends.
And so our reflection on the friendships between Harry and his two best friends ends. I could delve further into Ron’s character to show just why I lost faith in him, but I think the dynamics between the trio say all there is to say. However, we must then ask ourselves why Harry still considers Ron his best friend, above Hermione? I think the answer is perfectly clear: They’re both guys and are both less serious than Hermione. So Ron ends up being Harry’s best friend, despite everything. But I still consider Hermione to be a far better friend to Harry than Ron.