This Unbreakable Vow
By Sue Upton
"There's no such thing as magic!" —Uncle Vernon Dursley, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone film1
Hello. My name is Sue, and I am a Harry Potter fan. I also believe in magic. No no, not the hocus-pocus kind found in fairy tales, but rather, the kind of magic that the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling have brought to me. Sure, these books are a fictional story about a boy who has magical powers, but what I am referring to is very real. It is a kind of force that has affected my life for the better; a tangible presence both in normal everyday life and online with Harry Potter fans all around the world.
I think there is some sort of cliché about how it’s most often the unexpected little things in life that can have the biggest impact, and this has surely been the case with my involvement in the Harry Potter fandom. Almost five years ago, after a particularly rough spell, I was given the first Potter book and told that I would enjoy it, as the story was both compelling and fun, and most of all, it would help take my mind off of the pressing matters in my life at the time. Reluctantly, I picked up the first novel, opened the door to the story about a boy who belonged in a magical place, and once inside, I never left his rich, full world.
I loved the books immediately and read the first three in quick succession. It was after the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, however, that I found myself wanting more; more information about the magical world Jo had created, more about the future books and movies, but most of all, more of a way to fit into this world, a place and way to exchange thoughts and ideas and theories with others who shared the same passion for these books. Thus, I turned to the Internet to see what I could find. The choices of Potter-related websites have since multiplied quickly, but a few years ago they were few in number. Poking around I stumbled onto the site where I still am today. I went from being a curious, once-a-week lurker to a full-time, active member at a place I’ve grown to care about very much. This is also where I’ve found the real magic: in the life, people, events, and most of all, the true friendships I’ve discovered in this fandom and here at The Leaky Cauldron (TLC). Sure, there are many Harry Potter websites and many fans, and many people have a similar tale to tell of their own journey. This is mine.
Four Houses, One Fandom
Do you remember that scene in Goblet of Fire, when Harry and company arrive at the Quidditch World Cup, and they are met with the sight of thousands of fans, in varying stage of dress, nationality, backgrounds and interest, all gathered there to share in one common event? I tend to carry the thought in my head that our little Harry Potter fan community is very much like that; we have a hodge-podge of readers from around the world, who come wandering in looking to fit into this magical world, each joined by one common fact—a love of the Harry Potter books. Does that sound goofy? Well perhaps, but I can’t think of a better way to describe all the different nationalities, different perspectives, ages, jobs, and walks of life that these books have affected. When trying to explain what it is I do online to others (and more importantly why), I laugh when describing this image I have sometimes of a gigantic, never ending Woodstock sort of “Potter camp.” I picture people coming and going as they click online for the news, and then disappearing after getting lost in the crowds, or hanging out at mini-campsites (i.e., our forums), discussing the books. Each person is different, of course, and how we involve ourselves in this or any other fan community is unique, but the fact that all these varying perspectives can come together under one roof has been one of the aspects of my Harry Potter experience that I enjoy most. I love that it’s quite okay that some of us sneak peeks at Potter places like Leaky once in a while (perhaps quietly while at work, with our families, or at school), while others come to hang out and read every day. Others take it a bit further and simply pour their hearts, time, and energy into creating a variety of online sources that truly exhibit the variety and talent of the Harry Potter fan.The days are never quite the same here in my corner of the fandom, some more colorful than others, of course, but that is part of the unique charm, and part of why I stayed for all this time.
I think everyone has their own private reasons for being part of the fandom; whether because they really enjoy the books, are fans of the movies or the cast, or honestly feel a sense of belonging and joy with people who share the same interests. However, I think it all boils down to this: no matter how divergent our interests, backgrounds, and “real” lives are, we are all part of this huge fandom together, waiting to see what Jo has in store for us in the last of the Harry Potter books. For I believe it is the story that Jo has crafted, woven so carefully, so deftly and deeply with its many intricate strands, that truly links us together; the cherished books she has created for us and that we spend hours upon days upon months upon years discovering and reveling in.
When I stop to think about it, I realize how odd it must seem to those on the outside of the fandom that the simple private act of reading a book can lead to expressing your love of the written word on what is now a global scale. Online fandom is not a new occurrence, of course, nor is it limited to the Harry Potter world; it is just the one that I choose to participate in. It has given me a freedom and a joy to do things and express myself in a manner that like-minded fans feel as well. It has also given me an opportunity to delve deeper into amazing theories, to converse on subjects I wouldn’t normally, to push myself and my personal sense of development each day I work on the website and speak with fellow fans from around the world. I like that Harry Potter fans can do things besides just talk theories, we can also look beyond ourselves and do things for charity and each other and it’s that level of caring and compassion which makes me proud. I’m very proud of the work I get to do online and equally proud and honored to work alongside some truly remarkable people.
Finding my way to Leaky was something of a fluke, I will admit. Again, because each way we chose to involve ourselves in this fandom is unique, the way I got involved was due to my background in news, and the need to both know more and share what I found. However this posed a problem for me when I discovered how this fandom was operating at the time. Frankly, I simply can’t write or express theories or stories as eloquently as others, nor was I blessed with any artistic talents, but what I did know was that I wanted to contribute in some fashion. I also was aware of things happening in the press and elsewhere about the Potter world, and this is what led me to where I am now. It is well known now that I owled the site regularly for almost a year with tips and information (and occasional silly commentary) before I was invited to join the staff. What started out as a bit of a lark has turned into a life-altering thing for me. Like so many websites, we have grown from a small blog with very brief news links to a full-fledged, all-encompassing website with millions of readers every day. This has not been achieved overnight—in fact the changes made to TLC in the past year alone still stagger me when I stop and think about it. The high level of quality on the site and scope of content we have now is due to countless hours, many late nights, and a whole lot of hard work done by a great many talented people, all given out of the sheer love of the books. That’s it. For Free. Because we want to. Because we care.
I guess you could pretty accurately call me a geek or a dork for feeling this way, but I willingly, joyfully, and openly admit my love of being part of this fandom, and gladly contribute when and in any way I can. Through the years and via my job on a large website, I’ve also been so incredibly lucky to work with, know, and meet new people from all walks of life who also, I believe, feel the same way, share the same passion and joy for these books and this world. These are people who would have ordinarily passed right by me on the street; now, because of these books, I’ve gotten to know them and count them among my closest friends. Perhaps fans of other things can relate to how I feel, but it is constantly amazing to me how such a diverse collection of people came together to be both part of the same fandom, and in my case, the same website. Some friends have come and gone, but that doesn’t mean they are forgotten. Others have simply gotten bored and gone away, sometimes returning after a long absence. There is a unique ebb and flow to our website that is all part of the hum that I think is very much part of the fiber of the fandom.
There are many times when I find myself marveling over how our once small, now huge staff completely exemplifies and mirrors the houses and life inside Hogwarts. It thrills me how fans like to identify themselves with one house or another as it is such fun to take elements from the books and bring them into our relationships online. For example, I am so proud to call myself a member of the House of Hufflepuff, and I love that our staff truly has all of the houses represented. Like any other group, organization or company, or a family, we have occasional spats and disputes and there are times that I honestly get discouraged. There are also unbelievably exciting moments—times of personal and public triumph and success, true moments of great happiness and joy—just like winning our own House Cup. The best moments come, however, when our site or the fandom gets something that we can all share in together, just like at Hogwarts.