Twenty years ago last week, the first in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (a slight name change from the UK version) was released in the United States. I was unaware of its existence until sometime later when it was recommended to me by a teacher friend of mine. I have always been a fan of fantasy, played my share of D&D, written my share of worldbuilding. I was a little envious of JK Rowling. This was perfectly in my wheelhouse. One of the things I loved about Harry Potter was its multi-genre layers. The magic world but set in the modern world. Magic for stirring sauce and knitting. Friendships, and others, misfits but still finding your tribe, and right and wrong. It was everything at once.
And so, I read the first two books.
And then the third at the library.
And then, when the fifth book came out, I was still on the waiting list for the fourth book, but I, and about a hundred kids got on the waiting list for book 5 at the library. I don’t think they even had two copies. I waited months for my turn. I got called for book 5 before book 4. I had to pass on it and go to the end of the queue.
When I finished the sixth book, I knew that I was at least a year away from the publication of the final book in the series. I was lost. I was depressed. I had added two more children to my first baby when the first book came out. Things were not well. I was not in a good place. For a long time, Harry’s World kept me centered and distracted.
When the movies came out it helped, but it still wasn’t enough. Where was the end of the story?!
I don’t know how I found out about the online Live Journal world of fan fiction, but I wandered in and muddled about in early 2007, becoming what I learned was a lurker, someone who just watches and doesn’t interact. It was like dipping my toe in the water. I found some sweet stories, some alternative endings, some really bizarre things, and despite being a Trekkie, I finally learned about and added slash fiction and squicks to my vocabulary. I read, and I discovered some amateur authors, and it gave me a space where I could see other people who felt what I felt about the Harry Potter books while we all waited for July of 2007 together.
I remember where I was when one of my favorite characters died. I couldn’t continue with the book for a day. I think my mother-in-law was visiting, and I was devastated. I can picture her on the sofa through my tears. She was drinking tea, and the two little ones were napping. There was no one to explain my sadness, my hurt to. I hadn’t gotten my own Live Journal yet, but something in those tear-filled moments happened.
I wanted a new ending.
I needed a new ending.
I began to write a variety of scenarios in my head, and then eventually I began to write on my laptop. Soon after, I met a group of other fan fiction writers and Harry Potter fans. That was in the spring of 2008, and it changed my direction and my world view. I attended a writer’s conference sponsored by the IWWG [International Women’s Writer’s Guild]. I began to write more. I began to discuss the nuances of the Harry Potter themes and plots. The friends I’d made soon felt like old friends. They were younger than my late thirty-something self, but while they didn’t understand the diapers and car pools and nursery schools, they understood my attachment to these fictional characters and we kept each other afloat through our various trials and tribulations of life, from me in New York to Tennessee, Virginia, South Dakota, and Wales.
It only grew from there, and exploring the reaches of writing fan fiction, I opened myself up to head canons and a language I’d never heard before. Beta readers, Brit pickers, SPAG. I met like minded people and soon my circle, while decidedly still younger was growing a bit older. Friends in other parts of the country now were having kids and would soon be driving car pools.
Straight and queer, social issues at the forefront of discussions that I usually only talked to myself about. Politics as a part of people’s lives. Connecting with fans, receiving feedback, collaborating with other writers and beta readers from across the world. Insight and new knowledge, new things to research and explore; to learn.
My closest friends came from this time.
We gathered in chat rooms and for some, in physical space. We were drawn like moths to a flame to a single fan fiction, to a head canon we could all wrap our heads around. We became a family. We compared Hogwarts Houses, and discovered where we each fit in, not only in Potter World, but in our worlds, and while we were certain at the time, some of those Houses changed over time. (I’m a Hufflepuff by the way. We’re good friends and loyal, and we’re finders.)
I’m still close with the majority of them, and talk to one or more on a daily basis. We check in, and we support our new endeavors and trying out new things. We offer advice and life hacks; we talk and vent and share puns and family pictures. Recipes. Prayers and support.
They saved me when I needed saving.
When I first began to attend church and went through with my conversion to Catholicism, I received wonderful support from these “Harry Potter People”. They took care of me when I was lost, they supported my mental health and my spiritual health and brought me back from the brink.
I’m not sure I’d be the person I am today if not for JK Rowling and Harry Potter.
I wasn’t eleven when the books came out, I didn’t grow up with them, but still, I feel that they’ve always been a part of my life. I can’t remember the time before Harry Potter. I’m still spreading my wings and learning who I am, and whether new books come out, new movies, or not, it doesn’t matter.
Going back is going home.