Over the last twenty years I have been certain that I loved Harry Potter, but of late JK Rowling has insisted on complicating our relationship. Recently I have had to mute her on Twitter so clearly the woman who I once thought could do no wrong is testing my patience.
I still love Harry Potter; for me, ‘The Boy Who Lived’ is the pivotal point in my universe. These books and movies are how I measure the months and years of my life, they were the subject of my undergraduate dissertation, and next to my bed there sits what my mother has affectionately referred to as a shrine. However in the years that have passed since the publication of Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling has made more and more extra-textual revelations; claims of representation which although they might have always been present in subtext, they were never explicitly stated. But really marginalised people deserve more than subtext especially when we’re so accustomed to crumbs.
“The representation of marginalised people doesn’t count if a reader could so easily miss them in plain sight.”
We know that Dumbledore is gay because Rowling told us, but I can’t help but wish she had shown us, as seeing Dumbledore wistfully recalling his crush on the teenage Grindelwald would have counted for so much more. The representation of marginalised people doesn’t count if a reader could so easily miss them in plain sight, or refuse to acknowledge that they are there.
Jo tells us that Anthony Goldstein is Jewish but we never get to see him lighting a lonely menorah whilst the other students enjoy the Christmas feast. She told us that Charlie Weasley is “more interested in dragons than women” but we know that he is asexual. Most readers were miffed when Jessie Cave was cast as Lavender Brown, because we knew with unflinching certainty that Lavender Brown was black. Fans (including Devon Murray, who played Seamus) know that Dean and Seamus are in love, but we never get to see them sharing a dance at the Yule Ball.
“We have these conversations to imagine ourselves into a world that we love but were only retroactively invited to join.”
Our absolute certainty that people like us must exist in the wizarding world only exists in fanfiction and furtive conversations where we exchange our headcanons, theories and most closely guarded beliefs about all the ways that JK Rowling doesn’t know best. I have enthusiastically chatted with pals about how Harry Potter is definitely bisexual and biracial, Professor Sprout is undoubtedly a lesbian, Colin Creevey is certainly autistic and Nymphadora Tonks is unquestionably non-binary. We have talked at length about how we would make Hogwarts accessible and inclusive, and we have these conversations to imagine ourselves into a world that we love but were only retroactively invited to join. Rowling keeps trying to tell us that we were always there, walking the halls at Hogwarts and sitting in meetings at the Ministry, but we are only there because we have taken our time to write ourselves into the story.
Wizards have their own prejudices, but their concerns over blood purity, beast/being/spirit status and wand carrying rights don’t exist separately to the marginalisations we experience in the Muggle world; they are merely compounded with them. Rowling might have created the world that I, and so many others, hold so dear, but she also coloured it with her own beliefs, biases and blindspots. The version of Hogwarts that is really always there to welcome me home is the one that has been lovingly embellished by fans just looking for their seat at the house table.