Yesterday, it was revealed that J.K. Rowling now regrets that Hermione ended up with Ron, and feels that Hermione and Harry would have been the better match. This naturally set the whole Hogwarts fan nation buzzing – everyone has an opinion on who should have ended up with whom, or whether the characters ought instead to have married folks they met sometime after the age of 13. All of which, to my mind, has the regrettable effect of making the series seem like little more than a serial romance.
Then again, Rowling opened this door herself when she wrote the epilogue at all. After writing thousands upon thousands of words detailing every year of her many characters’ adolescences, she thought she could just skip the intervening 19 years? Perhaps she would do better regretting having tried to prognosticate for her characters at all. I try to imagine the epilogue as the work of a Sybill Trewlawney in reverse – “nothing much unexpected or terrible will happen to you, and everything will be a simple continuation of what it is now.” And I treat the written product of Rowling’s soothsaying with about as much respect as Harry and Ron did Trewlawney’s. As much as possible, I try to pretend the epilogue does not exist.
Without the epilogue, the book ends with Harry speaking the words: “I’ve had enough trouble for a lifetime.” A fitting end to a long day. With the epilogue, it appears that this sigh of exhaustion was instead performative speech for himself and all of his loved ones. “And they lived happily ever after.” Rowling is eager to prove it to you, by zipping ahead 19 years. But the journey was always more fascinating than the results.
There is much more to Harry Potter than who marries who, and whether in fact Ginny gets any say in what her children are named. The important stuff is in the details of adolescent uncertainty, in the realistic portrayal of jealousy and friendship, in the deeper questions of whether evil can be defeated and how. The things I lay awake thinking about is the scars of rejection and imprisonment (both embodied in Sirius), how guilt can bind us to our grief (Severus), how even the best mothers are not perfect mothers (Molly), how intelligence can both alienate and attract our friends (Hermione), and how the aims of battle are better achieved by disarming another than by killing them (Harry’s signature spell: “Expelliarmus!”) I do not lay awake thinking, “Harry and Hermione would have made a better match.”
But then, as I have said before, all fiction is speculative fiction. And the most speculative element of Rowling’s Potter series is not so much the magic as the romance. That’s ok. None of us is an authority on everything.