Harry Potter and the Torture of Waiting

As I squandered away my teenage years searching for misplaced items and trying to figure out which one of the keys would unlock my front door, I was the same age, more or less, as Harry Potter. He was a boy who had spells to help him with life’s inanities. Accio! Alohamora!

Harry_Potter_and_the_Order_of_the_PhoenixAs a teenager, I cut through a long and winding line at the Greensborough Plaza Angus and Robertson (RIP) to pick up a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth volume of the series. It was an overcast day, the Plaza’s glass ceiling was rendered useless.

I hadn’t noticed that the queue was even there until the yellow trophy, a brick of a book, was in my hands. It is possible to feel guilty and smug at the same time. I read the 766-page volume that day. I wept at the end and barely slept that night.

Waiting for books five, six, and seven was agonising for me and for all the people I knew who were enthusiastic about Harry Potter. My grandmother once requested, if she were to die before the release of the full series, that could I please read the books aloud so that she could hear them from heaven. The myriad of questions that arose from Rowling’s dense yet engaging world were intolerable. They would constantly preoccupy a fan, even at the end of their mortal existence.

We thought that all the books and films have been out for some years now. But evidently we were wrong. The recent announcement of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a two-part play which explores the challenges that face Harry’s youngest son, puts me and the other Potter-fans of the world back into that weird place of waiting. I’m fortunate enough to have tickets to the performances (October 2016!), but even with a definite date, waiting is hard.

I’m now revisiting those previous years of waiting. A month after book five’s release, after I had the chance to re-read the entire series thus far several times over, I wrote my own Harry Potter Six. I titled it Harry Potter and the Second War. The new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher was named Erin Stewart. The website that I posted it to no longer exists, but I still have the .txt files on my computer.

It is over 22,000 words long and reads mostly like a game show host unveiling the prize washer and dryer behind the red curtain. ‘Blackness overruled the cold night. Nothing could be seen, all that was heard was the soft footsteps of none other than, Peter Pettigrew.’ And soon after, ‘A murmur was made and the chamber was filled with light, to reveal, the Chamber of Secrets and a skeleton white man, with red eyes with cat-like slits and unnaturally long fingers.’

Alongside grave spelling and punctuation errors, in it, a new weapon, a green torch and the essence of a mother’s love saves the day.

In the face of ambiguity, creative speculation grew. It was the longest work I had ever written at that stage, and I had done so over the span of months. I imagined myself part of the narrative. And in a way, even though I wasn’t literally a Harry Potter character, I was part of this phenomenon of massive waiting. And in the darkness of a cliffhanger, it was up to me to manufacture a green light.

hpHarry Potter and the Elastic Possibilities

“Oh.” said Harry, It didn’t really explain much, and Harry was quite supprised [sic] he had an uncle other than Vernon, but he wanted to get on with teaching Mark some spells.

Fanfiction is a loop of genre. The fiction of fiction, it represents the falsehood of something that was never real to begin with. Original texts (known as ‘canon’) hold a steadier claim to authenticity, they are the actual story. Fanfiction deviates, it’s what we might imagine the story to be. I never thought that my fanfic would be an accurate prediction of what came next in the series (and it wasn’t). But somehow it provided a catharsis of the heavy feelings that surrounded waiting.

I deliberately tried to fill a space, knowing I had it wrong but wanting something.

Fanfiction has a certain elasticity, where the points set out either by JK Rowling or regular existence are not necessarily followed to the letter. When I added in my own character, Erin (or Professor Stewart during term time), I kept my appearance, my Australian-ness, my name, despite that my presence in the plot makes little sense within a canonical frame of reference. I also invented. This character was a generation older than me, well-travelled (I hadn’t even a passport at this stage of my life) and a supposed expert in Dark Arts defence, despite the incongruity of these characteristics within the framework of reality.

I created a kind of fanfiction of myself. Not who I was, or even someone I could aspire to be (unless magic gets invented), but some imaginative version I could put on top of the face of an unknown, undirected future like a cap on a pen. It doesn’t matter if the prediction turns out to be true, or if it stretches the elastic to breaking point. What matters is the process of finding it and holding it and breathing a sigh of relief.

hp underwaterHarry Potter and the Gruesome Speculation

“Well, yes, I do want to talk about that, but there is something to be said.” Professor Stewart closed her eyes fo [sic] a few seconds and thought. “Whet [sic] you saw, just then, the fire, the Dark Mark, it’s something we’ll have to expect in the future. I’m kind of glad you saw it, because now you know the fear, [sic] that everyone went through, during the first war with Voldemort. At the Quiddich World Cup, you saw the Dark Mark, but it meant nothing, just a symbol, but now you know.”

Harry couldn’t help it, right then, he vomited all over the office.

Speculation in fiction can lead to rather gruesome story lines. Voldemort gaining power, the Dark Mark spreading across wizarding suburbs, even Harry vomiting without regard for others’ discomfort. This is a safe speculation though. It is different to agonising over some celebrity’s baby bump, or taking money in or out of markets based on vague forward estimates. The lives of actual people are not implicated in fanfiction. And, in my belief, this means nothing is sacred.

This possibly explains all that pornographic Harry Potter fanfiction in which various characters become sexually paired with the giant squid that lives in the Hogwarts lake.

hermione dracoHarry Potter and the Cathartic Release

Harry told Hermione and Ron, everything they wanted to know, plus the prophecy, and the dream about the chamber and what happened that night, as Dumbledore directed. He also told them about the talk with Snape. Harry felt heaps better, that he was only keeping one secret from his friends, the chocolate frog card one.

From the first time we start writing stories, our teacher tells us to construct something with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should have a conflict and a resolution. But, in reality, a lot of the time, all I get is the conflict. As a story unfolds over a decade, the satisfying narrative click that we are used to and gives us closure is mostly absent for our entire adolescence.

Fanfiction goes towards finding the satisfying catharsis that is missing while you’re waiting.

Harry Potter and the ‘All Was Well’ Conclusion

“You’d better go back to the commonroom [sic] though.” said Bill, “I’ll guard you.”

But just then, about 600 dementors rampaged them.

Creativity can flourish in the gaps, however poorly executed. But there’s an additional vitality to waiting that need not even be addressed creatively. There’s anticipation, a willingness to spend big pounds on a play that is almost a year away, a reason to keep going to see how it all pans out, and those strange conversations about reading on Earth for the sounds to travel to heaven. Waiting is frustrating but it’s also a gift.

The last person Harry talked too [sic] was Dumbledore, he had not said anything at all, Ron and Hermione weren’t worried though, nobdy [sic] was, they knew Harry wasn’t speaking because he was sad.

He wasn’t speaking because he knew.

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