Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth
Fandom: Harry Potter
Character: Hermione Granger
Spoilers: Book One to Five
Note and disclaimer: Hindsight is always 20/20. What today appears to be difficult decision, becomes the easiest of choices tomorrow when you know the consequences of your choice. The same rule applies to the characters in novels - you should reserve judgement until you finish the book. Hermione's story isn't finished and that makes her a difficult character to be judged.
Hermione Granger is without question the most important and visible female character of the Harry Potter books. Harry met her first on the train from King's Cross to Hogwarts in Book One, when she searched for Neville's toad. She has been a vital element and character of the series ever since.
Hermione was born in Britain in either 1979 or 1980 (this is dated by Nearly Headless Nick celebrating his 500th "deathday" in Harry's second year and his death year being 1492.) Her parents are muggles (non-magical folks) and dentists. She was supposed to have a sister, but Rowling never came around writing her in. Hermione is intelligent, although to which degree has been a topic of contention recently, she is the best student in Harry's year, something she achieved by studying hard and being an over-achiever. (She took "Muggle Studies" in her third year despite being a muggleborn.) She became a prefect in her fifth year and is viewed by many as the most likely candidate to become Head Girl.
She has been described as pretty, having bushy brown hair and brown eyes. She is best friends with Harry and Ron ever since they defeated a mountain troll on Halloween during their first year. She didn't had any friends at Hogwarts before and hasn't made many friends since. Hermione used to have fairly poor social skills - she used to like rules, had no sense for tact and she used to let everyone know that she knows everything and everything better than anyone else. These character traits have slowly and gradually diminished over the course of the five books and are now a lot less predominant than they used to be. Yet they still hide what becomes obvious on a second look - Hermione is very insecure.
Hermione is also friends with Ginny Weasley, but it is impossible to tell how deep or casual that friendship is due to the fact that these two characters hardly ever interact with each other in Harry's company. Hermione seems to have a rather highbrow sense of humour, she dislikes the practical jokes of the Weasley Twins, yet she is not above drily remarking that Ron predicts in his phony Diviniations homework that he will drown twice.
Hermione Jane Granger shares a middle name with the series' most hated character: Dolores Jane Umbridge - and indeed they do have a few things in common. Both share affection for rules, both are self-righteous, both believe that the ends justify the means, both are ruthless, both believe that they know without a doubt what is good and what is evil and they act accordingly.
There is one important difference between them though: Hermione is self-righteous, but she is also never wrong. It sounds incredible, but it's true - Hermione might not always completely right, but she never gets it completely wrong and actually gets it more often completely right than anyone else. That's not only true for such assumptions as believing the Midnight Duel to be a set-up, believing that the Basilisk is behind the petrifications in Harry's second year, the Firebolt coming from Sirius, Remus Lupin being a werewolf, Crookshanks not killing Scabbers, Harry not putting his name into the Goblet of Fire, believing Viktor Krum to be a genuinely nice guy, Rita Skeeter being an animagus, predicting Cho's emotional state to the last detail, Umbridge being a genuine danger to Hogwarts and the "kidnapping" of Sirius being a trap, no, Hermione is also never wrong when she has a plan and executes that plan.
Let's take the infamous jinx on the DA signature parchment: It shouldn't have worked. If there had been no mirror in Umbridge's office, if Marietta had been less vain or more out for vengeance... everyone would have been expelled faster than you can say "Hogwarts". The jinx caused a bad case of acne, but it didn't alarm DA that someone had spilled the beans; it worked as a form of vengeance, but it didn't stop the sneak from telling. And it made no difference to the reason why someone spilled the beans and it made no exception for Hermione's friends. If Ron had told Umbridge about DA under the Cruciatus curse, then he would have suffered under the jinx as much as Marietta. But although all odds were against the jinx working as a protection for DA, it worked.
Same can be said of a myriad of other things Hermione has done like: poisoning two fellow students, kidnapping and blackmailing a fellow human being, leading a teacher to a likely death. All these acts have turned against all odds and problems out to work in Hermione's favour. Hermione has been right, despite the fact that her actions are more than just a little bit questionable. This is interesting and one of the big Hermione issues, because it questions the authorial intent. Is Rowling setting up Hermione for a fall here, is Rowling preparing the cleverest subtext about the nature of war or is Hermione getting rewarded with a gold star for her actions actually the author believing that Hermione is right?
I cannot answer this question. And because I cannot answer this question, I cannot tell you whether Hermione self-righteousness does truly translate into being right. It appears that way right now, but that can change. Considering that so far Hermione has pissed off not only a high-ranking ministry official, but also an influential reporter and plans to free what can be viewed as property owned by the government, there is more than one possibility how Hermione can be really, really wrong for once.
(It's interesting to note that people start to have issues with Hermione, the best student in her year, who is pretty, can make an international Quidditch superstar make fall in love with her, is admittedly like Rowling when she was young, knows everything from obscure spells to Cho's innermost feelings, who is always right and gets away with murder. If Hermione's flaws continue to be perceived as being only bushy hair and an abrasive personality, then the accusations of Hermione being a canon Mary Sue will multiply by tenfold.)
Hermione is not only ruthless and self-righteous, but she is also compassionate and loyal. She is the only person in the entire Wizarding World that advocates the abolishment of the house-elf slavery. The fact that Rowling chose the word "slavery" instead of all the other much more neutral words, she could have chosen, is a red flag that Hermione (once again) is on the right track, although her S.P.E.W. (Society for Promotion of Elfish Welfare) campaigns have been very, very ineffective so far. She is loyal to a degree that borders on self-denial. Despite her deep belief in her own infallibility and knowledge, when Ron and Harry oppose her, Hermione bows to their pressure and falls in line. There are only three instances where Hermione didn't relent and in all three she was believing that she was protecting either Harry's life (the Sirius "kidnapping" and the Firebolt fight) or Crookshanks (the Scabbers Incident).
In the HP movies Hermione is played by Emma Watson, who portrays her as disturbing mix of Spice Girl, genius, the girl next door and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For some reason (favouritism?) the script gives Hermione both the Basil Exposition role and all the juicy lines, even when they originally belonged to Ron. People are now praying for Steve Kloves' early retirement.
In fandom Hermione is one of the most popular characters around. She is disliked by quite a few people, but even more people identify with her. That creates the interesting phenomenon of the "Hermione Sue" wherein Hermione is used as a facade for a self-insert. The most blatant instances are the makeover!Hermione fics in which Hermione straigthens her hair, gets miraculously DD boobs, wears a pound of make-up and listens to the band of the hour - be it Linkin Park or Evanescance. Unfortunately most self-insert!Hermiones are a lot more difficult to spot, if at all, as they come in all guises and some of them are even in character.
In discussions of the text references to that self-identification are not uncommon either. How on the mark this self-identification is, is a matter of the debate in itself and as fandom's readings of the character Hermione Granger are pretty divergent to begin with, this matter will never be settled.
Fandom!Hermione is - due to her popularity - the female shipping and fanfic equivalent to Harry - from Hermione/Dumbledore to Hermione/Giant Squid every possible Hermione pairing has been written. The most popular Hermione ships are Draco/Hermione - the Hermione ship with the most fanfiction to its name, Snape/Hermione - Kink Central, Hermione/Ginny - the most popular femmeslash pairing and most wankily Ron/Hermione and Harry/Hermione.
Both the Ron/Hermione and Harry/Hermione ship consider it more than possible that their ship will sail in the last two books and that puts them a bit at odds with each other. While there seems to be a wide-spread consensus that Ron has a crush on Hermione, Hermione's romantic feelings have been a bit more obscure ever since she recovered from her crush on Gilderoy Lockhart. She had a relationship with Viktor Krum, that was at least on his side romantic, and she still exchanges letters with him. Beyond this fact there have been conflicting signals coming her - or to word this more exactly - with every potentially romantic action of Hermione's comes with an in-built alternative, non-romantic explanation. Some people believe that the reason for that is that Rowling is preparing the Love Triangle of Doom, but that's an entirely different story.
Both groups mostly ignore the possibility that they both might wrong, although it is quite a likely scenario. Some H/H and R/Hr shippers find themselves re-united on the Harry/Ron/Hermione threesome ship, a ship known for its smut and its love for the Trio as a unit.
In fanfiction Hermione's name is often shortened to a Mione or even Mya. In the books Hermione never allowed anyone but a twenty-feet, speech-impaired giant to shorten her name into anything but Hermione.
Fandom in general disregards the possibility of Hermione dying before the end of Book Seven. It is worthy to note that Hermione has been labeled by Rowling as someone "Harry needs badly," (considering Hermione's input in Harry's Get Out Of These Seven School Years Alive schemes this is more than true) her loss would be an actual loss to the light side, to Harry, it would hit everyone and the reader where it hurts. It would be dramatic. But what makes me believe that it is a real possibility is the fact that Hermione hadn't had a storyline of her own in OotP and that she didn't developed as a character either. The Hermione, we meet at the beginning of the novel, is exactly the same Hermione we leave at the end of the novel. But then one can easily make a case for her not needing to develop anymore.
If Rowling really intends to portray Hermione's more questionable actions as right, then there is no lesson Hermione still needs to learn. Everything that Ron and Harry still have to work for character-wise, they still have to learn, would be already learned by Hermione. If Harry Potter is seen as a Bildungsroman, then one can see Hermione of having finished the race for psychological, moral and intellectual maturity early.
Too early. If Hermione is finished in her development, then she is bound to become a static character that has nowhere to go. To read about such characters (and to write them) is boring. Characters need development to fuel a story, need to make mistakes to get the story, the plot working, so if Hermione has been finishing her development early, Rowling can take her nowhere worth going anymore. In that case it would make sense to kill her off.
But then there are good arguments for Rowling killing Ron or Harry, too. Hermione isn't necessarily the most likely Trio member to die, but she isn't the least likely candidate either.
In conclusion, nothing conclusive can be said about the direction where Hermione is heading, only where she is right now. It's a tight spot, Rowling has written herself in, in my opinion. Whether Hermione will be right for the rest of the books or not– her characterisation will determine the way many people perceive Rowling's ethics and the quality of Rowling's writing.
Due to the fact that in-character!Hermione is a topic of contention, I won't rec any fanfiction.
Hermione Granger by Joreal
Hermione with Crookshanks by Kemotan
Hermione, Harry, Ron by Glockgal
Halloween!Hermione by yukipon
Hermione crying by Yethro
Hermione with time-turner by Katrina
Hermione and Crookshanks by thistlefinch
Hermione as Head Girl by sas
Hermione with rat by Dominique
Hermione is prejudiced: 1, 2, 3, 4 by morgan_d
Blackmail in GoF by Elkins
Hermione? Brightest witch of her age? Brilliant? Not on your life. by mirabellawotr
Rebuttal regarding Hermione's intelligence by readerravenclaw