by Kaila Hale-Stern
Four years after the publication of the final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and on the day of that film’s debut, Harry and all his friends — not to mention his enemies, minor acquaintances and a few of his forebears — are still leading extremely active lives online in the form of fan-made fiction and inspired media. The series has long enjoyed one of the biggest, most productive and considerably vocal fandoms on the Internet, not surprising as its publication coincided with the wider blossoming of the web.
Of course, plenty of analysis has already been recorded academically, anthropologically and pop-culturally about the phenomenon of fandom and fan-created communities. Still, for people who have only read the Harry Potter books or seen a few of the movies, the fanon — that is, the fan canon — that has sprung up around these characters can hold some surprises, with memes and embedded understandings seeded from descriptions and passages in J.K. Rowling’s work and influenced by the films, but in incarnations that are constantly being reshaped. Last week, Lev Grossman provided the uninitiated with a thorough introduction in Time. But what’s always intrigued me most about these tales are the ways in which certain characters who are supporting and bit players in the series have been seized upon by fans and pushed center stage, with Harry himself often crowded off to the side, there to act out their own angst-filled, fantastical, fantastically dramatic, frequently sextacular scenes. Here is a look at five of Harry Potter’s secondary characters whose afterlives are especially filled with love, forbidden lust and magical misadventure. But mostly lust.
PROFESSOR SEVERUS SNAPE
He had forgotten the details of Snape’s appearance in the magnitude of his crimes, forgotten how his greasy black hair hung in curtains around his thin face, how his black eyes had a cold, dead look. He was not wearing nightclothes, but was dressed in his usual black cloak, and he too was holding his wand ready for a fight. — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Sure, he’s described as having perpetually unwashed hair and a great hook of a nose, but did you know that the erstwhile Potions-cum-Hogwarts Headmaster is Britain’s hottest piece of ass? In the series, Harry’s surly horror of a professor is an antagonist for a good long while, smirking, sneering and scowling about in Hogwarts’ dungeons. But many Harry Potter devotees latched onto the character early on, believing Snape’s antisocial persona to be mere protective camouflage. Feeding on the plot crumbs Rowling dropped as the series progressed, which hinted at hidden depths beneath the grimace, an entire genre of speculative Snape literature sprang into being.
The character embodies many contrasting archetypes, and the “sexy Snape” fan-generated meme evolved in part because of this manifold nature. It allows for interpretation and thus makes Snape a uniquely attractive canvas upon which to compose. He’s the mean, naughty teacher. He was — as the series gradually revealed — a teased, bookish and miserable youth. He’s the ambiguous Darth Vader figure to Dumbledore’s Obi-Wan, daring you to guess how he’ll turn. He’s committed terrible, unfathomable acts, but holds the memory of youthful unrequited love alive for a lifetime. Sigh. There’s also an unusually potent alchemy of character, fan fixation and movie casting at work here, as Snape’s played by genre lord and master Alan Rickman, who is, in fact, one of Britain’s hottest pieces of ass. The visuals are good there.
Snape had imposed his personality on the room already; it was gloomier than usual, as curtains had been drawn down over the windows, and was lit by candlelight. New pictures adorned the walls, many of them showing people who appeared to be in pain, sporting grisly injuries or strangely contorted body parts. — Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
In fandom, Severus Snape qualifies as ‘’A Little Black Dress,’ a term used to describe the sort of person that looks good on everyone. As a complexly wrought character whose loyalties are never clear, who displays his inner angst via black clothes and wall-decor, whose capabilities are deadly and whose motives prove achingly human, Snape the villainous non-villain, the ugly redeemable duckling who surely must be Alan Rickman under all that greasy hair, gains ever more tumblr followers by the minute. And he’s been romantically repurposed with almost every character under the sun, but most frequently with Harry, Hermione Granger, Draco Malfoy and the band of people known as the Marauders — Harry’s father and his own Hogwarts friends from back in the day, plus Lily Evans (married name Potter), she who would go on to birth the Boy Who Lived and caused so much trouble in the first place.
“Oh, he’s not unbalanced,” said Dumbledore quietly. “He’s just suffered a severe disappointment.” — Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
“You’re less like your father than I thought,” he said finally, a definite coolness in his voice. “The risk would’ve been what made it fun for James.” — Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter’s rakish godfather sweeps in and out of the series like a Byronic hero and looks the part, too: dashing, handsome, darkly floppy-haired, riding a too-fast flying motorbike and later a Hippogriff named Buckbeak. Sirius is the quintessential aristocrat-gone-good-gone-danger-boy. Pure blooded and privileged, he rises above the books’ fraught racial and class dynamics by befriending the magical mixed-bloods and the poors and the freaky werewolves. After he spends a while going a little crazy in a very bad prison, he emerges with a greater need for speed and even more rakish hair. He’s been a fan favorite ever since.
Sirius Black is one of those irresistibly tragic, impossibly attractive champions, cut so boldly he’s recognizable to the reader at once: the anti-authoritarian badass with the heart of gold we’ve seen out of mythology and in tapestries and brooding across the moors. While some characters attract fans and fanworks because they are ciphers — almost anything could be projected onto them — Sirius’s motivations ring clear. He’s the man of great expectations, charm and good humor we could as easily see holding forth in a classic novel about marriage contracts. Only this is Harry Potter, so he’s a wizard who’s been disowned and most of his friends are dead and he’s a few marbles short and there’s a war on between the forces of good and evil for the fate of mankind starring his godson.
As the date for their departure to Hogwarts drew nearer, he became more and more prone to what Mrs. Weasley called “fits of the sullens,” in which he would become taciturn and grumpy, often withdrawing into Buckbeak’s room for hours at a time. His gloom seeped through the house, oozing under doorways like some noxious gas, so that all of them became infected with it. — Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Sirius takes on a more Byronic cast — “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” — as the books progress. We learn our saintly rogue was once an reckless bully, a flaw which, of course, only serves to make him more angsty for the pen. A good deal of Sirius-related fan activity is centered around ‘Marauder’ fandom — narratives set in the times when Harry’s parents’ generation were younger or later reunited, which Rowling gives flashes of in her canon. In romantic fic, he is often matched with Snape, to work out their heated lifelong animosity (“Sirius pushed his chair roughly aside and strode around the table toward Snape, pulling out his wand as he went; Snape whipped out his own”), Hermione, Harry … and Harry’s father James because … well, this is a topsy-turvy world.
Sirius was tall and handsome, and younger by far than Harry had seen him in life. He loped with an easy grace, his hands in his pockets and a grin on his face. — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows
His bad-good boy appeal is inescapable, and, as with Rickman, it doesn’t hurt that sensuously sly fox Gary Oldman fills his cinematic shoes. But nothing in the world of the Harry Potter fan-canon is quite so established as Sirius Black’s love affair with Remus Lupin.
Very slowly, his sunken gaze never leaving Lupin’s face, Black nodded.
Lupin was lowering his wand, staring fixedly at Black. The Professor walked to Black’ side, seized his hand, pulled him to his feet so that Crookshanks fell to the floor, and embraced him like a brother.
— Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Introduced as the approachable, classy-yet-ostracized new Defense Against The Dark Arts professor in Prisoner of Azkaban — a cursed job position that always indicates drama ahead — Remus Lupin is an old friend of Harry Potter’s father, who, we come to learn, helped him bear a terrible burden while he was at school. A tormented, gentle sort of soul in much-darned robes, Lupin is all cuddly goodness except for the werewolf thing. Then he’s sort of a bastard. It’s the dichotomy of personality that’s been fun to play with since Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Lupin’s depiction as having an alternative lifestyle secret he could not let others discover for fear of losing his teaching job led many readers to interpret that the Azkaban character was coded gay. The text, the character’s portrayal by moustachio’d actor David Thewlis and a winking film interpretation from director Alfonso Cuarón provided some meaty subtext.
This time tomorrow, the owls will start arriving from parents…They will not want a werewolf teaching their children, Harry. — Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
No matter that Lupin marries heterosexually later on. No matter that Rowling would declare post-series that Albus Dumbledore was the only trademarked Harry Potter homosexual: in a case of life imitating sub-textual reading, Thewlis revealed in 2011 that, up until the whole marrying a lady thing, he’d been playing Lupin as a “gay junkie” throughout the film versions since Cuarón first suggested it.
Sirius, I need you to set off at once. You are to alert Remus Lupin, Arabella Figg, Mundungus Fletcher — the old crowd. Lie low at Lupin’s for a while; I will contact you there. — Harry Potter and the Goblet Of Fire
These instructions — “Lie low at Lupin’s” — spoken by Dumbledore, have become a fannish hallmark and spin-off genre all their own, a designated spot in the canon space-time continuum where the two men are holing together for sure. (Later they go on to gift Harry with a joint Christmas present.) Of course, for a subset of Harry Potter fandom, sparks have been flying ever since Remus Lupin discovered his old best friend Sirius Black wasn’t a psycho killer after all and they started hugging it out. Depending on which pocket of the Internet you’re in, Sirius and Remus were either long together or discovered romance at reunion.
As a generally good guy with a dark underbelly he can’t control, Lupin gets a lot of action. He also can be found bedding down with an array of characters: Snape (because who doesn’t get down with Snape? and he and Lupin have considerable tensions), Harry, Hermione and sometimes even his canonical wife. But we know where his heart truly lies.
Sirius: You know the man you truly are, Remus! This heart is where you truly live! This heart! Here! — Prisoner of Azkaban script
Harry lay curled uncomfortably under the cloak to ensure that every inch of him remained hidden, and watched Pansy stroke the sleek blond hair off Malfoy’s forehead, smirking as she did so, as though anyone would have loved to have been in her place. — Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry’s arch-nemesis in class is a vainglorious, pretty, mean, filthily rich bastard with few scruples, platinum blond hair, a deadly sense of personal entitlement and a pouting scowl. Of course he’s having more sexytime adventures than everyone else combined. Of course.
She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth. — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Not a secondary character, you say? Quite right — Hermione’s us. Rowling’s spoken of Harry’s brilliant Girl Friday as an authorial stand-in and projection; it’s a testament to her strong characterization that Hermione never devolves into a total Mary Sue, that amateur and professional trap of a character so perfect and perfectly attractive and beloved in every way so as not to be found in reality — and who often has the distracting effect of actually ruining everything with her exquisite presence.
Hermione is extremely smart but flawed, openly emotional, not meant to be beautiful (though she eventually has some magical dentistry done), and she doesn’t get with the hero. Still, she holds a central place in the story and is boldly heroic in her own right, like Eowyn and Princess Leia before her.
Although her attachment to Ron Weasley is one of the earliest established in Rowling’s books, Hermione remains the cipher that many fans desire. She is a sympathetic, unapologetically intelligent, self-empowered, free-thinking female, and as such has generated a universe of appreciation, multimedia creativity and expansive storytelling.
On the Internet, Hermione’s still getting it on and leading wild magical lives with a wide array of fascinating people, including the characters above and a range of Harry Potter’s lovely ladies. Many fans never stopped rooting for the Harry end of the hinted romantic triangle, and see out their love sans Ron. The Snape/Hermione pairing has found more than a niche, no doubt fueled by the allure of matching two bold, bossily emotive characters. The good canonical ship Ron/Hermione does sail ever on, animated by speculations about their future and children, but holds less appeal for some due to the lack of subversive challenge.
Above all, Hermione’s an ideal modern woman: attachments aside, many fictions speculate on the boldface careers she’ll go on to pursue, from Minister of Magic to running Hogwarts. As a dyed-in-the-wool social activist (for House Elf liberation) and fierce intellectual, she isn’t bound by cultural expectations, and her primary characterization is that she can figure out the challenges she puts her able mind to. I only wish I’d had Hermione for a role model growing up, back when a lonely few of us were writing tales about The Baby Sitters’ Club school dances and drunken Sweet Valley High parties, and no one else was listening.
So here’s to you, sweet Harry Potter, and all the variegated delights you have brought us. Now for the love of Godric Gryffindor, would you run? That’s Lord Voldemort coming up behind you! I mean, unless you’re into that sort of thing…
Kaila Hale-Stern lives in a self-selected corner of the internet populated by basement-dwelling anarchists and people who write stories about their favorite fictional characters. Her primary concerns are the duplicities of history, the scourge of pop culture, and not letting Mayor Bloomberg win the battle against cigarettes. She can be reached here and has been here before.