Of all the fascinating permutations within the Harry Potter universe, there is one intricate mystery of such depth, it became the audience’s focus out of the recent Harry Potter reunion: the chemistry between actors Emma Watson and Tom Felton.

Watson, 31, who played whip-smart Hermione Granger in the franchise, described the moment she fell in love with older “bad boy” Felton, after the child actors were asked to draw what they thought God looked like.

Emma Watson and Tom Felton drew the most attention in HBO’s Harry Potter 20-year reunion special. Credit:Getty

“Tom had drawn a girl with a backward cap on a skateboard. And, I just don’t know how to say it, I just fell in love with him,” Watson said, adding that she looked forward to days when they were working together on set.

Though they insist nothing happened at the time when Felton, now 34, was playing the villainous Draco Malfoy, in real life, the two seem to have built a bond so close, it has younger Millennials, who grew up with the actors, perplexed. And intrigued. And maybe, given the times we’re living in, a little bit desperate for the pair to just get together and call it a day.

The Generation X equivalent might be Ross and Rachel on Friends. It was on that 2020 cast reunion that we learnt that Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer really did have feelings for each other at the time, even though they were both dating other people, so they never acted on it. The surprising confession generated tabloid speculation for weeks afterward that they might be getting together.

Though both revelations are soaked in nostalgia, the need we seem to have for people to fall for each other, transcends time. What is so exciting about learning of hopeless crushes in the past tense?

“The suspense!” says Dr Jodi McAlister, senior lecturer in writing, literature and culture at Deakin University. It’s this, says McAlister, who specialises in romance literature, that drives every narrative because we always want to know what happens next.

It might be years in the past; it might be the wrong place, the wrong time or blatantly unrequited – no matter. We will always want any hint of spark to ignite into a raging fire of love.

In other words, if there is no suspense, we will manufacture our own, and project a “will they/won’t they” narrative onto a pair.

“The idea of will they/won’t they’ is both a microcosm of this broader narrative phenomenon, and a really interesting example of it, because for the most part, we know what’s going to happen next,” McAlister says. “What we get curious about, then, is the ‘how’: how will they get together? Those questions create their own kind of suspense and keep us invested and excited.”

This is exactly how Fifty Shades of Grey came to be. Author E.L James originally wrote it as fan-fiction between the two characters in Twilight, precisely because their sexual tension wasn’t moving fast enough. Author and book critic Parul Sehgal calls it the “marriage plot” and says it propels us forward, into the future.

It’s a device that is at least as old as Shakespeare, think: Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. But it is also probably why Pride and Prejudice is still in print and has been remade for the screen 17 times since the 1940s. Elizabeth and Darcy are, at first, actively repulsed by one another – until their mounting disapproval gives way to love.

The “will they/won’t they” marriage plot is also partly why some would-be male suitors mistake disinterest in women for “playing hard to get” and some women have had to be told “he’s just not that into you” – such is the yearning for deep, lasting, heteronormative love to conquer all.

But characters in books and on TV is one thing. Emma Watson and Tom Felton, Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer are real people.

“Celebrities are kind of unscripted fictional characters for us in a way,” US-based psychologist Jared DeFife says. “Especially with social media there is a feeling of connection like you really know these people and have a relationship with them when, in reality, we don’t. We have some glimpses into their lives.”

That’s certainly true of Emma Watson and Tom Felton, who, whenever they post photos of themselves together on Instagram, manage to whip fans into a frenzy, convinced the two are secretly dating. This, even though Watson has said she is happily “self-partnered” telling British Vogue in 2019 that while she used to feel anxious about being single, she didn’t anymore. She’s since found love with reported boyfriend of two years, businessman Leo Robinton, 31.

It’s an attitude that’s reflected now in broader society. We are living in a time when there are more single people than there have been for generations. A Pew survey of American singles, 18 years and older, found that 50 per cent of those single people are not interested in a committed romantic relationship, and they are not even interested in a date.

Maybe next time there’s a cast reunion, we might have evolved to understand singleness as its own story; rather than a narrative waiting to happen. Both Friends and Harry Potter contained themes about the triumph of the individual, so it's a shame that all these years later, what generates the most intrigue is not the magic of a person, but the persistent idea of a couple.

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