I became a Harry Potter fan by accident. I was my daughter’s Girl Scout leader for one year when she was six, and one of the perks was free tickets to see Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on opening weekend. We hadn’t read any of the books or seen the first film. I knew Harry was British, I knew he was a wizard, and I knew the series was some kind of phenomenon. But I didn’t expect the crowd in my tiny movie theater in suburban Connecticut. I definitely didn’t expect the middle-aged man dressed in “wizard robes” entertaining the crowd with magic tricks and Harry Potter trivia. He asked us about Floo Powder and Diagon Alley and I pretended I definitely knew the answers but I wanted to let the kids win. By the time we sat down to watch the movie, I was primed for it to be something incredible. Chamber of Secrets is not the best Potter film, but it was my first and it made me fall in love.
After the movie introduced me to Harry and Draco and Ginny (to this day Draco/Ginny is my Potter OTP), I devoured the four books published thus far and from that point on I never missed the midnight opening for book or film. And I threw myself into the fandom. I wrote fic, I drew art, I made vids, I cosplayed, I put together playlists, I wrote thousands of words of meta-analysis, I made wallpapers and icons, and I got incredibly good at Harry Potter trivia. But the best parts of my completely out of control Potter fandom were my experiences with Wizard Rock and online sorting communities.
“Ode to Harry” by pop-punk band Switchblade Kittens is considered the first song within the Wizard Rock genre. It was released in 2000 and is written from the perspective of my girl Ginny Weasley. The most famous Wizard Rock band is Harry and the Potters, a Massachusetts-based band formed by two brothers also by accident in 2002. They’ve released four full-length albums and a slew of other music, they’ve made over 800 live appearances in the U.S. and Europe, they were profiled in Rolling Stone, and they are still out there singing songs about books today.
I first saw Harry and the Potters perform at Harvard for the book release party of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows along with Draco and the Malfoys and a handful of other bands. It was intense—all of Harvard Square was taken over by Potterheads. My whole family was in costume. We were sorted, we had butterbeer, and we sang “The Weapon We Have Is Love” at the top of our lungs with a thousand other people. And we bought three copies of the book because no one was willing to wait their turn.
I saw Harry and the Potters again years later at Wesleyan University. I dressed up as Fleur Delacour because I could and attended the pre-show discussion of their charity work and The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA). The brothers were very passionate about Harry, about music, and about making the world better however they could because they could. Fandom is often derided as something that is at best frivolous and at worst toxic. But organizations like the HPA and Pop Culture Hero Coalition believe it can, and should, be a force for good.
In between these two performances I briefly formed my own Wizard Rock band with my brothers, my daughter, and my then-husband. We never really got past the stage of scribbling lyrics but we had a lot of fun and that is also a force for good.
As Wizard Rock mainly existed on MySpace, sorting communities flourished on LiveJournal (aside: I honestly miss the popularity of both platforms). A “new student” would complete a questionnaire about their interests, skills, favorites… whatever the community wanted to use to get a complete picture of who the person was, or at least who they wanted to present themselves as. They would post their responses to the community and the established students would vote for which Hogwarts House they belonged in. After a week or so the votes were tallied and the student was welcomed into their House and the larger community. Once sorted, they could win house points by participating in discussions, making fanworks, and winning contests. There were forums and chats and everything was interactive, but the only requirement was voting on the newbies, so the participants could choose exactly how involved they wanted to be at any given time.
I love deep-dives into myself, so the entire sorting process was very attractive to me and I applied to quite a few communities. I was predominantly sorted Slytherin and Gryffindor once in a while. I also got a fair share of Ravenclaw votes but not Hufflepuff. I got one squib vote for “trying too hard to be Slytherin,” which I am still angry about some fifteen years later. I collected all my assignments but eventually settled on a community called Lumos as my main group. I still wrote fic, drew art, made vids, etc. etc.—now I also got house points for it.
I loved being a Lumos Slytherin. I loved fleshing out my HP persona—I was a Beauxbatons exchange student, obviously—and not only picked my favorite classes, but I also gave myself assignments to actually study herbalism and ancient runes. I set up a “shop” where community members would commission signature badges and icons in exchange for points. And I hung out in the “common room” chat and talked about all things Harry Potter and also life because that’s what stories really are. We were a little bubble in a giant fandom and it was wonderful.
The LiveJournal Sorting Hat communities started to fade and were eventually totally eclipsed by Pottermore, the official version, and finally disappeared with the rest of what LiveJournal used to be sometime after 2007. Harry Potter fervor died down with Harry’s finale, brand oversaturation, and JK Rowling’s controversial Twitter statements. But it was huge and it was a huge part of my life for about ten years. A happy accident.