This Unbreakable Vow
By Sue Upton
I often joke that my job description here at TLC as Senior Editor is “online bartender at one of the greatest global magical pubs in the world, serving up your daily dose of Harry Potter news.” I pour out the news, then go and clean up the pub or talk to the patrons. It’s a great job and I’m lucky to do it. Seriously. Our continually evolving site, and the new content and features that are shared every day among fans worldwide is truly part of what makes working here so special to me. My background is news and now I get to do news, Potter style. It’s the best of both worlds for me, and I simply just love it. Every day there is something new, and I personally thrill in posting a piece of news or information and watching the conversation unfold as Potter fans dissect the latest picture, story or happening. It is said that both joy and the devil are in the details, and we Harry Potter fans are notorious for going over the detail in the news with a fine tooth comb. We—myself included—love nothing more than a long conversation about seemingly minute things like hair, clothing color or even hyphens! Why are we such an obsessive lot? I think the key factor has to do with a pesky four letter word, called “time.”
“Hasn’t your experience with the Time-Turner taught you anything, Harry? The consequences of our actions are always so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed. . . .”2
If there is one thing we Harry Potter fans have learned to do, it is wait. After the release of Harry Potter and theGoblet of Fire, we had to wait, for the first books were released in fairly quick succession here in the United States, and when interest really began to peak, suddenly there was a pause in the action (so to speak). Thus began the long, often seemingly excruciating wait to get the fifth book. So how to fill that gaping void as we waited to see what would happen next? Slowly, one by one, more fan sites began to appear, as news began to trickle out about the first movie. Leaky itself slowly grew from a collection of mere links to news stories to much more. After the much anticipated arrival of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the wait started again. It was another two years before we got Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and yet again we find ourselves waiting for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Many fans of other things such as a hit TV program or a sporting team often have to wait a week to see what will happen next. Harry Potter fans have learned to wait YEARS for the next installment in the series. Even though it has been very hard to wait, it also has been a good thing: it has allowed the opportunity to go back and re-read the books we already have, and to discover and consume even more wonderful material each time.
Brace yourself, but I also credit the waiting time with allowing me to fall more deeply in love. This might sound like a hokey way to describe my feelings about the books and this fandom, but to be completely honest, I am utterly besotted by the entire world that Jo has created. Plainly put, I love the Harry Potter books. I realize that probably sounds like something straight from a greeting card or a sappy song about how the passage of time makes the heart grow fonder. Well, to me, it has been this time that allowed me to grow to care for the characters Jo has brought to our lives. There are certain passages and quotes I know by heart that I manage to sneak into everyday context and conversations. There are sections I’ve read again and again and never tire of. I thrill over Harry’s adventures, and oftentimes see myself in one of the characters. I lament when something bad has happened to them, and I have such genuine hope for the future and concern about these characters’ fates. Jo’s gift to us all has not just been the mere books themselves, it’s making the readers feel so strong an emotional investment in her characters that for me (fictional though they may be) I genuinely care about their fates, and worry about the outcome of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I believe it’s because we care so deeply that we are both looking forward to and dreading the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I am both loath to know what is going to happen (PLEASE Harry, do not die!) and absolutely impatient to find out. What a paradox; what an unbearable, joyful, sad, wondrous thing this is.
During the time spent between books I’ve also witnessed an odd phenomenon—an outgrowth of this love, and this is where things get interesting for me. Our widely diverse, creative lot has set about creating ways to fill the wait time and show their love of all things Harry Potter. The written word has become a joyously spread audio experience, as we now have Harry Potter-related soundtracks, music, filks, rock bands, and even podcasts (one of which I am enormously proud to be part of). This is just another way to bring the fans together and I couldn’t be more thrilled that not only is our podcast so well received, but others are doing them as well; the variety and different voices of the fandom we all get to hear is a wonderful thing that I don’t think any of us could have anticipated even several years ago.
There are other forms of fandom expression to behold as well, including fan videos about the films or books, fan art, and a huge variety of fan fiction. The many talents of the fans are there for all of us to enjoy: the beautifully crafted and eloquent writings and essays, the wonderful artwork, the creative and fun nature of the videos and songs. Then there are the many forums where we can all gather to talk and swap ideas on Potter and beyond—a whole virtual world exists online to bring this magic to a very real place for many of us. It is all of these things that help fill our time and make our wait more bearable; I just don’t want to see this aspect of the fandom ever come to an end.
It’s because of this other outpouring of love that I have also experienced some of my most special memories. There have been book release parties, and film premieres, and conventions, where I have been so fortunate to get to meet other Potter fans who feel the way, act the way, and care the same way as I do about these marvelous books. Meeting people face to face that you’ve only known and worked with online can perhaps seem like a daunting thing but once you do, it has proven to be an incredible experience. I will say that one of the most special moments for me while at TLC took place when I got off that plane in New York for the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire movie premiere. Walking down that concourse and meeting two very important people who have come to mean so much to me was a very special private thing, a wonderful thing, and one that I will never ever forget as long as live and will carry in my heart with me forever; it was truly that powerful. The same thing happened later at the Lumos convention in Las Vegas when I met some of my closest online friends. These are the ones who are always there for you, and meeting them was like I had known them my entire life. The sheer amount of laughter and fun we have online was only topped by the great joy and fun we had when we were together. It was so remarkable and I saw it happening to many people all around me, there and yet again in New York when Jo did her readings for the charity benefit. These were incredible, indescribable moments for me. It really was a very wonderful, very moving and very cool thing, and these are moments that time and circumstance will never change. Sappy as it may seem, it’s just another example of the magic from these books; this meeting of true friends and uniting of people.
So time marched on as I continued to work at TLC and July 16, 2005 heralded the arrival of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which by many standards was a remarkable book. Plot line aside, I was equally stunned by all the new facets of magic we learned, one of which is the “Unbreakable Vow.” Very much the magical equivalent of a pinky promise we made in our youth, this vow is bound by a magical force and can never be broken.
At the risk of this whole essay, and especially this last part, being dismissed as wretchedly sentimental, I cannot think of a more fitting way to summarize my experience here and as a fan on the brink of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows than to talk about the heart of the magic I found as a fan, and for me that is the heart of the matter. Heart. And our own unbreakable vow.
This past year in the fandom saw many events and changes. Like so many, I was lucky enough to get to meet large numbers of fellow Potter fans this past year at the conventions and in New York for the readings at Radio City Music Hall. It was the most wonderful of moments, being together with all these incredible fans who were there because of one reason: J.K. Rowling and her books. Once again, it all boils down to those books; those marvelous, magical, wondrous books.
Although I can’t speak for everyone, I like to think that many of us have made our own unbreakable vow to see our journey through until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. All the time, energy, love and passion we have devoted both in this fandom and to these marvelous books is coming to a head as we wait for the last of the Harry Potter series. To represent this, when I met with some of my dearest friends this summer, we made our own private unbreakable vow. These are people with whom I shared much laughter, hard times, long hours of work, and a common love of the boy who stepped out of the cupboard and into our hearts. I gave them special bracelets I made to symbolize that no matter where our paths may take us after this last book, our friendship and experience here will never truly end. For to me, the greatest joy of this whole experience has been the people, plain and simple. Although it may seem hard for those who’ve never shared in a great journey like this to fully understand, true magic has been created in the strength of the friendships that will truly never be broken.But now here we are as our journey is about to reach its peak. All the hard work, all the long hours, all the waiting, the nitpicking, the lamenting and creating and celebrating has been worth it as we await the release of the last book. We have stuck through it to this point, and now our moment is coming as we will have our conclusion to the series, but I’m not sure my journey will quite end with the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While I am not sure what the future will bring for Leaky, I made my vow to the site, and to my friends in this fandom, and I do believe that we are not going away any time soon. What I do know is that along with that last book, there are films yet to be made and more news yet to come, and I personally don’t want my relationships to end, as I think that we still have a long way to go as a fandom. My own private vow is never to give up on the magic that Jo has created, nor to turn away from this world she has given me, and all the many blessings I have received because of that. I may not ever be able to properly thank J.K. Rowling for what she has given me, but I do know that I will carry these people and these experiences with me for as long as I live, and this is the real magic indeed.
1. “3. Letters from No One,” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone film.
2. Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban, 426.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 1999.
“3. Letters from No One.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone film, directed by Christopher Columbus, 2001. DVD, Warner Home Video, 2002.