by Daley Wilhelm
Today is Harry Potter’s birthday, and I don’t want to hear from him.
Today he’s 37, a harried (ha) Auror who balances his work in the Ministry, three children, and dealing with his celebrity status having defeated Voldemort all those years ago. I imagine he’d head over to the Weasley household, that the garden would get filled with his ginger-haired in-laws and friends. Maybe Hagrid brings the cake every year, pink and green icing a little mushed from the ride, but nevertheless something Harry beams over, remembering his very first birthday cake.
Whatever goes on, I don’t want to know. When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows closed with, “All was well“, I shook, wept, and hugged the book, but there was a finality in that line that has stuck with me.
I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I’ve read the books a half dozen times, an overwhelmed 14-year-old version of myself visited the Wizarding World in Florida, and a disbelieving 19-year-old Daley walked the Leavesden studio tour utterly star struck. I’ve written a 128,000-word fan fiction, which I admit with a strange mixture of pride and shame. I am a sponge of Potter trivia, but when it comes to Harry’s post-Hogwarts adventures, I’d rather them be left up to the collective speculation of the fandom rather than the canon that J.K. Rowling continues to elaborate on.
J.K. Rowling’s word is canon; I don’t dispute that whatsoever. Nor do I argue against the fact that the Wizarding World is hers to do with as she wants. I have a very personal connection to the universe and the characters, but that’s not much in comparison to the bond an author has with a world of her own fabrication. If anything, the continuation of the Potter story just shows what a compelling realm she has created and how even after writing so much there’s still the pull to tell us more.
Have just heard that James S Potter has been Sorted (to nobody's surprise) into Gryffindor. Teddy Lupin (Head Boy, Hufflepuff) disappointed.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) September 1, 2015
And I want to know what more there is. I wanted to know whether or not Harry’s youngest got sorted into Slytherin. I wanted to know how Teddy Lupin grew up and how Hermione reformed the Ministry of Magic. I wanted to know all these things, but after reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I realized I was much more partial to the ephemeral world of “what-if’s” and “imagine-if’s” that the Harry Potter fandom provided.
All these years post-Hallows have allowed fans to make designs on what was next for Harry Potter, because there was something beautifully undefined about the Nineteen Years Later chapter. It left all those years in between and the coming ones open for interpretation. I could attach myself to an idea and just as quickly find another contradictory one. I liked finding massive posts on theories and headcanons, like the idea of Harry surprising everyone in not becoming an Auror because he finally decided that he had enough of near-misses with death. Then there was the equally popular theory that those close calls were precisely why he chose the profession; that he was addicted to the thrill of danger.
I liked how there was validity in either. Fans rooted their theories deep into the canon, but allowed them to grow wild. There was no limit to what could have become of The Golden Trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, because they already had a record of defying the odds.
Then came Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which many described as the weirdest fan fiction they’ve ever read. Initially, I didn’t want to read it because of this. My memory of where the Harry Potter story left off was something of a sacred shrine in my mind, and I didn’t want to disturb it with this new gospel. But eventually I gave in, and I was just as confused and dissatisfied as a good amount of reviewers were.
This wasn’t my Harry Potter. It certainly wasn’t my Hermione Granger present in that screenplay. But that’s the thing; my Hermione and Rowling’s Hermione can be different entities: mine, shaped by my first reading at thirteen and the years of fan fiction and art that followed, and hers sprang originally from her own mind. Just as we see our friends differently from how others might interpret them, these characters that we befriend are multidimensional too, which just further credits Rowling’s writing skill.
J.K. Rowling’s retconning has been meet with loud but mixed responses. She shook up her own universe most notably a few years back in saying that Harry should have ended up with Hermione. In the interview with the magazine Wonderland she asked, “Am I breaking people’s hearts by saying this?” The answer is yes; she was.
But we move on from that the same way we move on from weird fan fictions. Mostly, we have the choice to ignore the little bonus bits of the canon story that she tacks on via tweets and Pottermore posts, because the books themselves and our memories of them are much more potent.
You can’t dispute facts. I’m not going to argue that no, actually, Hermione and Ron are soul mates and Rowling is wrong. But I can give reasons why I would believe that they might be. I can still read between the canon’s lines, find those moments that speak to the characters and how I perceive them. Not every headcanon should be quashed with “well, Rowling said this in an interview” just as Rowling should leave us space to wonder about and love her work. Without fan theories, I think revisiting the Harry Potter universe would become rather boring.
If Rowling rolls out a new book on the Wizarding World, I’m going to read it. I do honestly love the new layers of context her new writings give the Potter story, but I love them in the way that I love a well thought-out headcanon. I mull it over, respect it, but as a fan I can chose whether or not to nestle it into my heart along with my own personal Harry Potter mythology.