The BBC's Sherlock is just one show that has a complicated relationship between fans and creators. Photo: BBC
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Mutually Assured Destruction: the shifting dynamics between creators and fans

The hypothetical direct channel to the writers and actors in our favourite TV shows fosters a false sense of intimacy. But it's all an illusion – television isn't a democracy.

If you have ever been devoted to a television show, you might know that for fans, it’s often a strange mash-up of fury and love. To hear this play out in real time, I’d recommend listening to a recent exchange between Dan Harmon, the creator of NBC’s Community, and one of the show’s biggest fans. Harmon is known for putting his foot in his mouth, and the fan had tweeted that he needed to “stop talking”, presumably to save him from himself. When Harmon realised she was at one of his events, she was brought, somewhat reluctantly, onstage to have it out.

What followed is an uncomfortable and ultimately unsatisfying dialogue, one founded on a fundamental imbalance of power, because while I’m sure both Harmon and the fan would be as likely as the other to say, “Well, this is my show,” in the end, only one of them is penning the scripts and collecting the cheques. The conversation is enlightening, and awkward, and sad. And it’s Harmon who has the best line, one that underpins so many debates in so many fandoms: “Some of you guys love a television show so much that the guy that created it is an obstacle in its path. And I think that’s a beautiful thing, but it’s an obstacle that’s not going to go away.”

Henry Jenkins’s seminal Convergence Culture sums it up best: “Fandom, after all, is born of a balance between fascination and frustration: if media content didn’t fascinate us, there would be no desire to engage with it; but if it didn’t frustrate us on some level, there would be no drive to rewrite or remake it.” “Rewrite” doesn’t necessarily mean fanfiction and fanart, though for millions, it does; the kind of surgical dissection of shows, often called “meta” in fandom or just plain criticism elsewhere, is another kind of fan work.    

The job of the critic has always been a bit easy, in a way: a safe distance from the object of criticism gives you free rein to let loose. And perhaps things used to be a bit easier for creators, too – no instant feedback, no hate trending on Twitter, no peek into the permutations people are imagining for your characters in fan fiction. But these two groups can now see each other so much more clearly than they could in the past – or, at least, they think they can. The Harmon/frustrated fan incident is a fantastic illustration of the sorts of dynamics that are complicating the way television gets made today. It’s yet another chapter in all of the recent talk about the increasingly blurry barriers between creators and their fans, particularly their “superfans”, as nebulous as that term might be.

Interaction between fans and creators on a mass scale isn’t particularly new – it’s as old as the internet, certainly. The early days online saw Joss Whedon and his team popping up on Buffy message boards, toeing these tricky divisions to get a sense of fan reaction (and then working hard to not let it influence their writing). Eulogies for the recently deceased “Television Without Pity” website have dredged up Aaron Sorkin’s unfortunate attempt to wade into the discussion – he was so irate afterwards that he wrote a subplot into an episode of The West Wing about a fan site for one of the main characters, suggesting that people who frequented that site’s forums were “women in muu-muus smoking Parliaments,” which is a beautifully incoherent insult.

But social media has transformed this landscape dramatically. People who create television – and all media, for that matter – have to navigate a sometimes awkward public/private balance when they go online. Many of them are present, and visible, and sometimes they do engage with fans, but just because you can tweet at someone doesn’t mean that it’s a dialogue. It’s the illusion of unfettered access that regularly leads to dissatisfaction, even anger, on both sides. People who create things want to hear what fans think of their work – but they don’t! Or maybe they do! For the fans, the hypothetical direct channel to writers and actors fosters a false sense of intimacy, and the nature of the internet leaves everyone feeling entitled to offer up their opinions on all things ever. But these channels are rarely free and open to begin with – and there is, of course, that total imbalance of power in any exchange, the mismatch that was so clearly on display when Harmon took on his fan up on that stage. However fluid the once-impermeable fan-creator barriers may appear, television is not actually a democracy.

I was recently sent a pair of books by a pair of women who are devoted to the long-running CW show Supernatural, another one I’ve never seen, though I’ve spent enough time on the internet to be familiar with its highly visible fan base. Lynn Zubernis, a psychologist, and Katherine Larsen, an English professor, hoped to write a single book that examined the often thorny relationship between fans and people who make the objects of their affection. In the end, they wound up writing two: an academic (though very accessible) book called Fandom at the Crossroads: Celebration, Shame, and Fan/Producer Relationships, and a memoir of their personal experiences researching the topic, Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls. (They’re grown women with teenage children, but they appropriate the term “fangirl,” which some female fans have seen as pejorative, as a positive indicator of their investment in fan practices. For the record, I’ve done the same in the past.)

Both books spend a good deal of time discussing the unspoken divide between producers and fans, and the sort of policing that occurs when either side attempts to test the strength of this barrier. Interestingly, the main concern isn’t often fans encroaching on creators’ territory, but rather the opposite: the “First Rule of Fandom” is not to ask producers what they think of fan practices, particularly the creation of fan works – a rule that gets regularly broken at Q&A sessions, often to the horror of the other fans. (There is a fair amount of internal shaming within fan communities documented here, much of it gendered, women trying to keep other women from making the group look too passionate, or too sexually interested, or sexual at all.)

Supernatural makes guesses about its fan communities, though: it’s a show that famously looks directly back at its audience. There are episodes that feature fan conventions and obsessive fangirls, that hint at the most popular fanfiction pairing (an incestuous relationship between the main characters, two brothers, which is another complicated issue entirely), and, recently, one in which said brothers travel to an alternate universe in which they are on the set of their own show – as one character, playing himself, tweeted onscreen, the actor tweeted simultaneously in real life. Zubernis and Larsen say that the flipping of the camera’s gaze from fictional characters to fictional versions of their own fans was, understandably, met with very mixed reactions.

They interview people on both sides of the show-making equation, and while it’s clear that both fans and producers are curious about the other group, they’ve already constructed their narratives – “the writers are thinking X when they wrote Y,” or “the fans will probably want to see this character do this”. Most of the time, expectations don’t line up; when they do, it often feels like pure chance. One of the most interesting moments in Fangasm comes during an interview with Jared Padalecki, one of the aforementioned brothers on Supernatural. He’s talking about a specific genre of fanfiction, RPF, or “real person fic”, which is controversial even within fandom (though nothing new; people have been penning fiction about stars for just about forever). In the Supernatural fandom, he’s most often paired with his costar, Jensen Ackles. “It has nothing to do with reality,” Padalecki says. “What they think of our situation is exactly what they want it to be and it always will be. You sort of accept that or you don’t. It’s how I feel about fanfiction…They’re allowing me to do what I want, so I’ll enable them through what they want.” 

It’s a shockingly well-adjusted sentiment considering that someone else in his position – the subject of (often explicit) stories about a fictional version of himself – might not be able to get past the strangeness of it, or the feeling that boundaries were being encroached upon. But it also feels instructive for the whole messy business of the shifting lines between the parties involved in the making and consuming of a show. Those of us active in fandoms with “showrunners”, the big directorial authorities, spend a lot of time railing about their visions of the world. This is fine, possibly even healthy, a great, critical engagement with art and media, but so often, things go too far –  creators start to see their fans as adversaries, and fans start to see the creators as obstacles.

Not to put too bleak a point on it, but maybe it’s best to think of fan/creator relations through the lens of “mutually assured destruction”, in the sense that “they’re allowing me to do what I want, so I’ll enable them through what they want”. Just because we can see each other – and just because we can potentially even talk to each other – doesn’t mean it’s actually a good deal to directly engage with each other. Loving a television show, or a book, or a movie, can be a beautiful thing – and that includes loving a difficult showrunner, or a difficult fan, or a whole fandom of difficult fans. As television funding models and distribution methods shift at an exponentially fast rate and social media continues to transform the way we communicate, it’ll be a good thing to keep in mind: it’s not the historical barriers in place, but perhaps instead the ones we continue to erect, out of mutual respect, that help to keep making television worth getting invested in.

 

Elizabeth Minkel is a staff writer for The Millions, and writes a regular column on fan culture for the New Statesman. She is on Twitter @ElizabethMinkel.

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Harry Potter and the Rift in Time: a Stephen Bush fanfic

It’s increasingly clear I did not know what the word grimaced meant.

Hello. I’m Stephen, and from 2000 to 2006 I wrote fanfiction, a topic I’ve written on before. But for our Harry Potter Week, I agreed to dig up a masterpiece from the deepest reaches of the Internet. So here, for the first time since 2003, unedited, is…

Harry Potter and the Rift in Time

a_wide_eyed_wanderer

A note on setting: as with the bulk of the Harry Potter fanfiction I perpetrated, this was written during what fans called “the long summer” – between the Goblet of Fire, published in 2000, and The Order of the Phoenix, published in June 2003. I wrote this a few months before The Order of the Phoenix came out.

Chapter One

Summer had ended, as summer always does.

Some profound stuff here.

And so Harry and Ron found themselves once again aboard the train to Hogwarts.

“Good summer, ‘arry?” asked the ginger-haired wizard who was Harry’s best friend.

I’m not sure why Ron has a Cockney accent, in truth. But don’t worry, in about, mebbe, three lines of dialogue, I will have forgotten to include it.

“Scar hurt a bit,” Harry grimaced broadly, “But no sign of-”

 Harry stopped and frowned.

Can you grimace broadly? More importantly, can you grimace and then frown? You know, I’m not certain I knew what a “grimace” really was when I wrote this.

Although it had been six weeks since the traumatic events that had seen the Dark Lord Voldemort returned to new and terrifying life, Harry still remembered it as if it were yesterday. “Kill the spare,” that awful voice had hissed – and with a flash of deadly light, Cedric Diggory had died.

“No sign of Voldemort,” he grimaced quietly.

Yes, I think it’s safe to say that I did not know what the word “grimaced” meant.

Ron usually leapt to tell his friend that he should refer to Voldemort as “You Know Who”, but was so concerned about the expression of concern on the bespectacled wizard’s face that he was more concerned at comforting his friend.

Something I find intriguing about my fanfiction: I was worried about overusing the words “Harry” and “Ron”, clearly. But not that bothered about using the word “concern” as if it were going out of fashion.

“Well, that’s good, then, innit?” the lanky redhead said, adopting a tone of exaggerated cheer to boost his friend, “What are you thinking of picking for your special subject?”

Goodbye Ron’s inexplicable East London accent. It will not be seen again.

Ron and Harry were now in their fifth year in Hogwarts, which meant they had to pick two special subjects alongside their OWLs, which they would sit later in the year, before progressing to their NEWTs, which would allow them to pick a degree subject at one of the wizarding universities. Harry was hoping to study at Snaresbrookes, a specialist sporting university that had produced many of the Quidditch players that had wowed Harry, Ron and Hermione at last years Quidditch World Cup. Ron hoped to study at Theydon’s, the civil servant’s college, to follow his father and brother Percy into the Ministry of Magic.

It says a lot about how pushy my mum was that even in the privacy of my own fanfiction, the kids had to go on to post-16 education. And yes, I did use Central Line stations to help me name things and places.

Hermione, who was elsewhere on the train, hoped to go to Chigwell, the finest wizarding university in the known world.

I believe this sentence is intended as “foreshadowing”.

“Theory of Quidditch,” said the Boy Who Lived, his mouth smiling as he forgot the horrific events of his fourth year, “I’m not sure what I’m picking as my number two. What about you, Ron?”

In case you were wondering: this exchange quite literally heals Harry’s trauma at the events of the Goblet of Fire. Neither Cedric Diggory, nor his death, are mentioned again in any shape or form in the rest of the story. All it took was a conversation about what course he would be studying in fifth year.

“Not Whaddamancy,” Ron shuddered, “That’s Snape’s class. Fred says that Transference is easy, so I’ll pick that. And then Disenchantment, Dad says he uses what he learnt their all the time at work.”

Whadda...what now? The reason for introducing Snape’s specialist class will become apparent later on, but why on earth it’s not, I don’t know, Advanced Potions is not entirely clearly to me.

“I’ll pick Transference, then, if it’s easy.”

“OH NO!” said a smart voice from down the corridor, “You can’t pick like that!”

A smart voice? Me neither.

Harry and Ron jumped. They had been so preoccupied that they hadn’t realised that Hermione, who had been looking for them elsewhere on the train, had entered the carriage. Hermione plonked her bags down on a seat and sighed theatrically.

“You can’t just pick subjects based on what is easy,” Hermione said, “These subjects will shape our entire futures. You have to pick topics that will stretch and improve you. I’m taking Advanced Theory of Conjuration, Whaddamancy and Professor McGonagall says I can do Concalculus as well, as it would conflict with my timetable, like in third year.”

Something I believed very strongly growing up – and still believe now in truth – is that Hermione Granger is the true hero of the Harry Potter books. What I find unnerving about how obnoxious Hermione is throughout this story is that these were clearly traits I found admirable and saw in myself.  

If Harry and Ron had only listened to Hermione, they might have averted disaster. But instead, they looked at each other and grinned.

Ooh, foreshadowing!

“Transference it is,” said Harry.

“Transference for everyone!” cheered Ron.

Hermione frowned. If she had known the forces that were about to be unleashed, she wouldn’t have frowned.

Ooh, more foreshadowing!

She’d have screamed in terror.

The chapter could have really ended at “she wouldn’t have frowned”, but I had a lot of contempt for my audience in 2003, so instead you get this extra, extra bit of foreshadowing.

 

Chapter Two

When Harry and Ron arrived at the first Transference class, their hearts immediately sank. The transference teacher, Orpheus Gandar, had an imposing figure, with a shock of white hair. His robes were scruffy and the room stank of coffee. It was clear to see why – the cluttered classroom was filled with magical curios and half-finished coffee mugs, which made up nine-tenths of the stench in his class. The other tenth was coming from the rotting carcass, hanging from the centre of room, as if Professor Gandar had opened a butchers in the middle of the room.

Looking back, I am fairly certain that no amount of unfinished coffee cups could mean that a rotting carcass contributed only one-tenth of the smell in a room.

“What is that unholy smell?” sneered a fifteen old with shoulder length blonde hair.

“That smell, Malfoy, is coming from your mother,” quipped Seumas Finnigan.

Note the mispelling of Seamus Finnegan. I blame the fact I used to read the Guardian every day as a teenager. 

“What did you say about my mother, Finnegan?” grimaced Malfoy, bunching his hands into fists.

It’s increasingly clear I did not know what grimaced meant.

“Be quiet!” snapped Professor Gandar, “Behave yourself, both of you! Ten points each from Ravenclaw!”

“But sir,” sighed Ella Reubens, a dark-haired girl from Ravenclaw, “Malfoy is from Slytherin. Seumas is from Gryffindor.”

(She called Draco “Malfoy”, because she disliked him, and Seumas “Seumas” because she got on well with the Gryffindors.)

I find it a little sad that I did a nice little bit of subtle character writing and then immediately ruined it by drawing attention to it.

“Don’t interrupt!” spluttered Gandar, “10 points from Ravenclaw! 10 points from Slytherin! And 10 points from Gryffindor too!”

“Is that 10 points from Ravenclaw or 20?” asked Ella.

“It’ll be 30 if you keep it up,” Gandar snapped.

“Sir, that’s not fair,” protested Harry.

“Another 10 points from Gryffindor!” Gandar roared.

Orpheus Gandar: captain, leader, legend. The “shock of white hair” is ripped straight from the Target novelisations of old Doctor Who, but the trope - dotty old teacher who is inadvertently comic - seems to be pretty much the only teacher character I could write at this point. Across a wide variety of Harry Potter fanfiction, characters not entirely unlikey Orpheus Gandar appear again and again. The Hogwarts of my imagination was not a very professional organisation. 

“You better shut up, Potter!” sneered Malfoy.

“10 points from Slytherin!” Gandar roared, “Now, let me explain the carcass. Transference, as you all should know, is the study of transferring objects or people by magical means. Floo Powder, Apparition, weaving a magical carpet, constructing a flying broomstick, these are all fruits of the great art of Transference!”  

Ella smiled at Harry, who smiled back. Ella had a small, perfectly spherical head, very pale skin and a very long neck, with long dark hair. She and Hermione were part of a study group together, Harry remembered. He had never noticed how pretty she was before.

I know. You have a lot of questions. Why did I think that having a “perfectly spherical head” was an attractive trait? Why am I describing Harry’s love interest as if she were ET in a wig? Why does this plotline fill your heart with dread? The answers to these questions are: I honestly don’t know. 

“Now, an advanced wizard such as myself can transfer anyone or anything over great distance with as much ease as I make myself a cup of coffee,” said Gandar, helping himself to a half-finished mug and sipping from it, “But for you fresh things, you’d better start on something you can’t damage. I’ll show you what I want you to do.”

Gandar plunged his mug back down on a desk and whipped out a long white ebony wand.

What is white ebony, I hear you ask? I don’t know.

Shiftio!” he cried, with a flick of the wrist.

JK Rowling’s approach to coming up with the name of a new spell: a clever Latin-based pun. My approach: just add “io” to an English word. 

And a black hole opened up, and swallowed the carcass. Gandar flicked his wrist again, and the hole closed. He flicked a third time and another hole opened, this one on the other side of the room – spitting the carcass out and landing it directly on another hook on the other side of the room.

“There you go,” said Professor Gandar with a triumphant gulp of coffee, “It’s easy when you know how. Flick the wrist away from you to open the hole, flick the wrist towards to close it, to the side and think about where you want it to go to open it again, that’s the name of the game. Away, towards, side, think! Who wants to practice first?”

Chapter Three

It was in the fifth-year Gryffindor girls’ dorm. Lavender Brown was busily unpacking in one corner, Parvati Patel was writing a letter to her younger brother in another, and Hermione was reading a new copy of Advanced Conjuration: An Introduction when there was a knock on the door.

“I bet it’s your boyfriend, Hermione!” giggled Parvati.

“Shut up!” Hermione grimaced.

There it is again.

“Who is it?” Hermione called out.

“It’s Harry, can I come in.”

“I’ll come out,” said Hermione, as Lavender and Parvati giggled.

“Not your boyfriend then,” snickered Lavender.

If looks could kill, Hermione would have left Lavender chopped up and crucified on the nearest wall. Contenting herself with a sharp glare, Hermione left the dormitory.

“What was that about your boyfriend?” Harry asked, curiously.

I am unsure if one can ask something and not do so in a curious manner.

“Just teasing,” Hermione blushed again, “Nothing in particular. What can I help you with? How was Transference? Easy?”

“Pretty easy,” Harry confessed, “But we’ve been asked to practice with conkers, in groups, and I know you and Ella Reubens are friends, so…”

Now it was Harry’s time to blush. The bespectacled wizard looked at his shoes, which were Reebok.

Getting all the important details inThis is the kind of attention to detail that marked me out for a big future as a Serious Journalist.

“Yes, we’re friends,” said Hermione, “She’s nice. She’s very clever, too.”

“Does she have…a boyfriend?” Harry asked his footwear.

“Not anymore,” Hermione said, “She used to go out with Joseph Latymer, another Ravenclaw, but they broke up.”

“Great!” Harry said, a little too loudly, “Great. Do you think she might want to join a study group practicing transference?”

“Does she need a study group, seeing as it’s so easy?” asked Hermione, “I must admit, I’m a little disappointed that Ella would choose such an easy class. Still, I suppose she has always liked the theoretical side of magic. Her father’s a Muggle scientist and she’s always been fascinated as to how all of it works.”

“I just thought,” Harry’s eyes turned back to his trainers again, “I just thought it would be a good way to get to know her a bit, you know.”

“Oh!” said Hermione, “I hadn’t thought. Well, I’m sure she’d be happy to come around. We can all study together, me, you, her and Ron.”

“Won’t that be a bit awkward?” asked Harry.

Hermione beamed. “No. I think it’ll be just fine.”

Chapter Four

Later that day, Hermione, Ron, Harry and Ella met in Harry’s room.

I know what you’re thinking. Why do the girls get a dormitory but Harry gets a room to himself? I think what happened is that between the two chapters I realised that I didn’t want to have to explain what “Seumas”, Dean Thomas and Neville Longbottom were up to so I decided to give them rooms instead.

Harry’s room was neat and tidy, though the walls were covered with awards won for Quidditch and Chudley Cannons memorabilia, as well as one photograph of his parents and another of Harry, Ron and Hermione at a beach over the summer.

A few weeks passed between publishing the first three chapters on my LiveJournal and the remainder of the story, which is one reason why Harry and Ron have gone from talking about the summer as if they hadn’t seen each other in Chapter One to having a picture taken at the beach in Chapter Four.

“Very tidy,” Hermione commented, “Not like Ron’s room, it’s always messy.”

“That’s a bit unfair,” Ron grimaced, “Your room is always full of piles of books, anyway!”

Sadly, I did not use the time between Chapters Three and Four to look up the word “grimaced”.

“It’s very neat,” said Ella, approvingly, “My room is very messy, you should help tidy it for me sometime.”

My expectations of what mid-teens life would be like aged 12 were partially fulfilled. We really did use chat-up lines this bad.

“That’d be, uh, nice,” said Harry, looking at his feet again.

“Well, shall we practice some Transference?” said Hermione, brightly, “I’ve been reading up on it and I’m keen to have a go myself!”

Hermione whipped out a single glass marble.

“Okay,” said Ella, “It’s quite easy, actually. The theory is very interesting though. I think it may hold some explanations about how magic works. Far from being a slap in the face for modern science, I think magic can, in fact, be explained using Muggle science!”

“Really?” asked Harry. As pretty as Ella was, she was even prettier when she was explaining something.

Oh god.

“Yes,” Ella nodded furiously, “The First Law of Thermodynamics says that energy cannot be created or destroyed.”

“Which,” Hermione interjected, “Wizard theorists have long believed that the existence of magic rebuts the First Law. We create and destroy energy at all times – for instance, when we create an enchanted fire, or even an illusion, we are creating energy.”

“It’s not just the First Law that magic defies,” Ella continued, “The Second Law of Thermodynamics states the more you put things together, the more they keep falling apart.”

“That’s the essence of the second law of thermodynamics and I never heard a truer word spoken,” nodded Hermione.

Doctor Who fans will find this exchange suspiciously familiar to one in Tom Baker’s final story “Logopolis”.

“But if energy cannot be destroyed and entropy is always increasing, how can magic work? My theory is that actually witches and wizards are simply transferring energy from one dimension to another, not creating it at all,” Ella said excitedly. Harry gazed fondly at her.

Just in case you hadn’t got it. Harry is into Ella.

“This is all over my head,” complained Ron.

“Don’t worry about it, darling,” said Hermione, reassuringly, “You know, Rowena Ravenclaw thought that all magic came from a higher plane of existence, and believed that magic users would return there upon death.”

“How do you know all this stuff?” asked Ron.

“Haven’t you ever read Hogwarts: A History?” asked Hermione.

“It’s my belief that the Transference spell also works by moving the object or the person transfers into and out of another dimension,” Ella said, “In fact, the more I read about it, the more convinced I become. But sadly, it’ll be years until I can get to Chigwell – if I can get to Chigwell – to prove my theories.”

“Can’t you test it right now?” asked Harry, excitedly.

“How would I do that?” asked Ella.

“Oh, isn’t it obvious?” said Hermione.

“No,” said Ron.

“For a person apparating or even being transferred, the experience feels instantaneous,” Hermione said, “Or, in the case of Floo Powder, it takes a matter of minutes. The Transference Spell is meant to work by opening one hole, closing it, then opening another. What if we opened one hole, but didn’t close it? And then opened another? I think instead of a hole, it would create a tunnel, and energy would come pouring through.”

“That would be incredibly dangerous outside of a research environment,” Ella said, “Who knows what reaction it could unleash? No, I’ll just have to wait. And I’m probably wrong anyway.”

“I think you should do it,” said Harry, “I think your theory sounds like a good one, and we should try it out. We’re at Hogwarts, what’s the worst that could happen here?”

At the beginning of this story, Harry was traumatised by the death of Cedric Diggory. At best two or three days later, he has seemingly forgotten about it. All because Ron asked what courses to drop.

“Alright,” said Ella, “Hermione, shall you create one hole and then I’ll create the other.”

“Right you are,” said Hermione, “Here goes: Shiftio!

A small black hole, barely the size of a marble, appeared in the air.

“My turn,” said Ella, “Shiftio!

Another small black hole, again barely the size of a small black hole opened – and then the ground began to shake. The two holes began to pull at one another, until they resembled not so much two holes, but a long, black, gaping mouth. A howling sound, like a high wind, began to howl from the void.

A howling sound began to howl. This is great stuff.

“Oh no!” said Hermione, “We have to stop this!”

Hermione flicked her wrist, but it was no good.

“What’s happening?!” asked Ron.

“My theory was right!” Ella shouted above the howling wind, as she desperately flicked her wrist in a desperate bid to close the hole: “We opened a void into a realm of pure energy!”

“So what’s the problem?!” asked Harry.

“Because we blew open another hole!” said Hermione, “I’ve seen this before, with my Time Turner! Harry, we’ve opened a rift in time!”

Chapter Five

Harry’s room was certainly a mess now. His Quidditch Awards had been scattered across the room, as had his CDs and videogames. The wind whipped at the four of them, their robes billowing in the wind.

How did Harry, a man who has no Muggle money to his name, acquire CDs and videogames?

Something was coming through the void: a hulking, tentacled, monster. It was round and covered in short, cropped hair, like a tennis ball that had been dropped in an oil slick. It had six cruel tentacles, and one large, blood-red eye. As it oozed from the void, the wind stopped and the void closed behind it. And suddenly, the oozy blackness opened revealing a sticky red mouth.

Lovecrafts a hell of a drug, you know? I am not sure why I referred to the creature’s “six cruel tentacles” (and four friendly ones?) but it’s something I was fond of doing. The monster in Harry Potter and the Minotaur’s Rage had “cruel horns” and if you search the word “cruel” in any of my fanfiction, the chances are you will find a body part.  

FREEDOM!” hissed the creature.

“Are you...a fairy?” asked Harry, nervously.

“I’ve studied the fairy books comprehensively,” said Hermione, “And that isn’t a fairy.”

There’s a lot going on here. Why does Harry think this could be a fairy? What are “the fairy books”?

“YOU HAVE TRAVELLED THE WEB OF TIME. PIQUANT,” the creature rasped, “YOUR TEMPORAL ENERGIES WILL SUSTAIN ME. FEED ME!”

The creature leapt at Hermione, pushing Ron, Harry and Ella aside. Hermione yelped as the beast’s jaws closed on her throat.

“Hermione, no!” cried Ron.

Harry grabbed his Firebolt from its case on the wall and beat the creature about the head with his racing broomstick.

You’d think I could have introduced the Firebolt when I described Harry’s room in the last chapter, or even when I set the scene at the start of this one, but no.

The creature roared with pain and released Hermione.

“HOW DARE YOU PREVENT MY FEEDING, SCAR-FACE!”

“You can eat from the Banqueting Hall like the rest of us,” snapped Harry, “Come on guys, run!”

The four heroes ran, the black shadow flying towards them.

“YOU CANNOT RUN, YOU CANNOT HIDE. YOU’VE TURNED TIME, AND NOW YOU’LL FEED ME!”

“Can we fight it!?” yelled Ron as they ran.

“With what?” asked Hermione, “We don’t know what its weaknesses are, and we can’t use one of the Unforgivable Curses, even on that…thing!”

“Run!” cried Harry, “I’ll hold them off, with the Firebolt!”

Them? They are being chased by a singular entity.

“We’re not leaving you!” cried Ella.

“You’ve got to get help!” said Harry, “It’s Hermione it wants to eat! Go! I’ll be fine!”

Harry charged at the creature, his broomstick held high like a club, and smashed it into its face, once, twice, dodging and diving as it tried to whack at him with its tentacles.

“This way!” said Hermione, “To the library!”

“I don’t think this is time for a book!” said Ron

“It’ll have loads of teachers in it,” said Hermione, “Teachers who can help!”

The School Library was wood panelled, and lit by floating candles.

“I’d like to order a copy of Potion-Making for Practical Wizards, Volume Eight,” said Snape.

“Of course, Severus,” said Madam Pince, “It’ll be a week until it arrives on the goods train.”  

The plot of this story is literally about them using magic to transport things instantaeneously and yet it takes a week for them to transport a book. 

“That’s quite alright,” said the Potions Master, “Thank you so mu-”

Suddenly, a wizard with glasses and dark hair smashed through the library’s walls, tossed there by some unknown force. It was Harry Potter. At that same moment, at the other end of the library, Hermione, Ron and Ella ran through the library doors.

“What is going on, Potter?” sneered Snape.

“Sir, there’s a thing lose in the castle grounds – some kind of black thing, we were practicing Transference , and.”

“An Outer Horror,” sighed Snape, “We’ll deal with this.”

Snape pulled his wand from his robes. Madam Pince did likewise, as the creature barrelled through the hole it had made in the wall. The two teachers started hurling spells at the Outer Horror, but it kept advancing.

“Mr Potter, fetch Dumbledore at once! Run!” shouted Snape as he continued to cast spells, “Miss Granger, stay where you are, it’s you it’ll be after, thanks to that Time Turner of yours!”

Harry turned to run, but he didn’t need to. Teachers were pouring into the room, with Dumbledore at their head, each of them hurling spells at the creature, holding it back – but not hurting it.

“What do we do?” asked Ron.

“If only you still had your Time Turner,” said Ella.

“Time Turner,” said Hermione, “Time Turner! You’re a genius, Ella! I just need to turn back time! Shiftio!”

A large black hole appeared around the Outer Horror, and the vile creature began to be sucked into the void.

“WHAT?! NO! IMPOSSIBLE! THIS…CANNOT…BE!” it roared as it vanished into the hole. Hermione closed it with a flick of her wrist.

All was quiet. The beast had gone. Hermione had saved the day.

Having…endangered the day by coming up with the idea of testing Ella’s theory, but there you go.

Chapter Six

“The costs to the library are horrendous,” Dumbledore said gravely, “It will delay your education by a term, and you will all have to stay for a few extra weeks over the summer to make up the time.”
Dumbledore winked at Harry. Dumbledore knew that a few more weeks at Hogwarts and away from the Dursleys would be no punishment at all. But more was to come. Dumbledore had summoned Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ella, Snape and Professor McGonagall to his office to account for what had gone on.

“While curiosity is admirable, and experimentation is to be encouraged at a school,” Dumbledore said, “Doing what you did outside the bounds of a classroom was incredibly dangerous. In normal circumstances, I’d have no choice but to expel all four of you.”

Hermione let out a gasp.

“But with Voldemort on the prowl that isn’t an option,” Dumbledore said, gently, “Instead, it’s going to be 300 points off each of your houses and no trips to Hogsmeade either. Of course, that means that the House Cup will be gifted to Slytherin this year, as there is no way that any of your houses will be able to make up that gap.”

Snape grinned like a Cheshire Cat. Ron, Harry, Ella and Hermione looked glum.

I have a lot of questions for past Stephen. The four of them unleashed an abomination from above time, and their punishment is that they won’t win the House Cup or go on a jolly? They’re 15, they don’t care about the House Cup. Really not sure why I wrote Dumbledore as quite this irresponsible.

“What about Hufflepuff, sir?” asked Ella.

“Well, Miss Ruebens, as you know, Mr Weasley is a Hufflepuff, so they will have no chance of overhauling Slytherin either,” said Dumbledore.

I’m not saying that the other characters were realised in astonishing detail, but I really don’t know what is going on with my depiction of Dumbledore here.

“I’m a Gryffindor, sir,” said Ron.

“Are you?” gasped Dumbledore, “Well, the Sorting Hat’s not foolproof, clearly.”

Stephen’s version of Dumbledore. History’s greatest monster.

“Professor!” protested Hermione, angrily, “Ron is the most Gryffindor person I know. He’s brave, and kind, and honourable, and – and I love him!”

“I know,” Dumbledore winked, “I just thought you should come out and say it, and that the two of you should stop telling poor Harry that you were “off to research Potions” or whatever nonsense.”

I’m not saying this fanfiction was going to win any awards but this late “Dumbledore turns into the world’s least professional man” development has floored me. I think I intended for Dumbledore’s winking to reveal that he was really on their side, but instead he comes across as unprofessional and sleazy. 

“Anyway,” Dumbledore continued, “Unless anyone has a persuasive case, that’ll be 300 points from Ravenclaw and 900 points from Gryffindor.”

“Actually, headmaster,” Snape interjected, “The fault was mine. I had a conversation with Miss Granger about theoretical magic after her Whaddamancy class and I fear she took it as an instruction. I take full responsibility.”

“Hmph!” harrumped Dumbledore

My theory is that as I got to the end I started phoning it in, explaining why the quality, never particularly high, really drops off in this chapter.

“Well,” Dumbledore said, “Severus, we’ll talk about this between ourselves. You four may go.”

Outside Dumbledore’s study, the four teenagers looked at each other awkwardly.

“How long have the two of you been….?” Harry asked.

Ron and Hermione blushed.

“Well…”

“It….”

“We spent a lot of time together this summer,” Hermione said, “And well, we were talking about last year and we realised how much we, uh, meant to each other.”
“We didn’t tell you because we didn’t want you to think that while you were holed up with the Dursleys we were having fun without you,” Ron said.

“It’s okay,” said Harry, “I’m glad. The two of you were driving me mad last year, I’m glad you worked it out.”

“And seeing as we can all still go to Hogsmeade, we could do a double date,” said Ella.
“A double date?” gasped Harry, “You mean?”
Ella grinned and held out an arm.

“Walk me back to Ravenclaw’s dorms?”

Dormitory update. They have dormitories again.

Ella and Harry walked off, arm in arm.

“Hermione…”

“Yes, Ron?”

“You know, I, uh, love you too, right?”

Hermione beamed.

“Yes, Ron. Meet you at mine? I want to talk to Snape.

“You aren’t half weird.”

Ron walked off, and Snape walked out.

“Miss Granger,” the tall and forbidding Potions Master said.

“Professor Snape,” gasped Hermione.

Why is she gasping? She knew he was in that room!

“I suppose you’re wondering why I lied for you, and blew Slytherin’s easiest chance at the House Cup in our history,” Snape said.

“Yes, sir,” said Hermione.

“You confirmed to me that while you can let your curiosity get the better of you, you are one of the cleverest witches of your age,” said Snape, “While I want you to be more careful in future – I don’t want that curiosity crushed.”

WORST. TEACHERS. EVER. Also why did I think they cared this much about the House Cup?

“Thank you, sir.”

“No need. And, Miss Granger?”

“Yes, Professor?”

“I do hope that you won’t disappoint me.”

Clearly I intended this to set up a sequel, because I ended it with…

THE END?

Thankfully, it was. 

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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