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I loved rereading Harry Potter as an adult – until I got stuck

All of the irreversible wrongs in the series can be traced back to this moment. It didn’t have to be this way.

Rereading a book first read years before is a kind of time travel. As well as the familiar characters, we meet past versions of ourselves between the pages, waiting there to be reencountered. This effect is particularly acute with favourite stories from childhood, I find, or novels associated with especially formative emotional moments. For me, the self that hides in Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, for instance, is the one who liked to wear heavy floral perfumes and affect strange loopy handwriting. It’s probably best that she stays in there.

Inside my faded copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix lurks a sunburned teenager with goth tendencies, who left the dubious house party punch behind at a quarter to midnight to go and queue up at a book shop for a copy. I stayed up all night to read it, eventually falling asleep mid-morning in the garden with a chapter to go, only to wake with a peeling red nose that no amount of too-pale concealer could hide. In my subsequent rereadings of the series – usually gulped down in the bloated lazy days between Christmas and New Year – I have sprinted through this volume, trying to avoid reliving the headache and the hangover the book gave me the first time.

Late last year, upon remembering that I had a dormant audiobook subscription with half a dozen credits racked up, I decided to relisten to the series, rather than reread. For the first few weeks, all was well. Although my teenage admiration for Stephen Fry has long since worn off, I could still enjoy his avuncular narration for the Potter audiobooks. Without the physical book in my hand, I was free from the shame that occasionally accompanies an encounter with a past self I’d rather forget. My whole mood improved, even though it was winter and the days were at their shortest: any time I was walking, I was spending time in the wizarding world.

Except then I got stuck.

The problem came near the end of Order of the Phoenix, just as the plot darkens and our young heroes find themselves facing some serious peril once more. I would listen up to the point at which Harry falls asleep during his History of Magic exam and “sees” his godfather Sirius being tortured by Voldemort. I would struggle on through his waking attempts to find out what was really happening, and then right at the point when the members of the rescue mission climb up onto their Thestrals and head for the Ministry of Magic, I would hit pause and rewind back a couple of chapters.

I did this close to a dozen times over the next few days, looping around the same 45 minutes or so, unable to carry on past that crucial moment in the Forbidden Forest. This part of the Potter arc had never affected me in this way before – if anything, Order of the Phoenix, was my favourite book from the series. Yet reading as an adult rather than as a teenager, it was impossible to ignore how pivotal a moment this was in the plot. All of the irreversible wrongs in the series, like the deaths of Sirius, Fred Weasley, Severus Snape, Remus Lupin and many others, can be traced back to this moment. And it didn’t have to be this way.

Unlike the previous four novels, where the machinations of adults like Professor Quirrell and Barty Crouch Jr are outside of Harry’s control, the tragedy that unfolds in this book is avoidable. Harry thinks he is once more setting out on a heroic rescue mission, but like all the best villains, Voldemort has learned from his previously unsuccessful attempts to kill The Boy Who Lived. In line with the other ways that the series’ themes have matured (there is snogging, and general teenage angst now) The Dark Lord has levelled up, evil wise. He analyses what he knows about Harry – his saviour complex, his distrust of authority, his desperate desire to have a family – and uses it to manipulate him.

Like my colleague Stephen, I have long believed that Hermione Granger is the true hero of the Harry Potter books, and this moment in Order of the Phoenix confirms it. It was she, you see, who triggered my inability to keep on listening, knowing the avertable tragedy that was about to unfold. When Harry outlines his crazy plan to dash off to London because of a bad dream he had, she advises caution:

“Look, I’m sorry,” cried Hermione, “but neither of you is making sense, and we’ve got no proof for any of this. . .”

As ever, she’s right. Even though she forces Harry to try and contact Sirius, only to be deceived by Kreacher, it shouldn’t be enough to warrant a suicide mission – why take the word of a long-abused servant who hates his master? Why not talk to literally any of the Umbridge-resisting teachers still in the school, like Professor Flitwick or Professor Sprout?

Across the series, I have so many questions like this. As a result, I’ve read a lot of fanfiction written by authors who prefer to pretend that the Deathly Hallows epilogue never happened, or that the series ended halfway through book six. That’s the beauty of this fictional universe – you can branch off whenever and however you like, to solve the problems you see.

But ultimately, I have to keep on listening. Just because I find Harry’s teenage thoughtlessness hard to hear now, as an adult who knows the terrible consequences that lie ahead, doesn’t mean that J K Rowling didn’t write a story true to her characters. In stopping, I’m as much avoiding the teenage version of myself that I associate with this story as I am the plot itself. Confronting Harry’s bad decisions means reliving my own. And it isn’t just Order of the Phoenix. Once I get beyond this narrative sticking point, there are all my terrible opinions and unrequited passions hiding in Half-Blood Prince to contend with.

Allegra Goodman, in an essay about returning to Jane Austen called “Pemberly Previsited”, from a collection called Rereadings, captured this push-pull feeling of simultaneously wanting to revisit a book and wishing never to open it again:

“I think unfolding is what rereading is about. Like pleated fabric, the text reveals different parts of its pattern at different times. And yet every time the text unfolds, in the library, or in bed, or upon the grass, the reader adds new wrinkles. Memory and experience press themselves into each reading so that each encounter informs the next.”

Perhaps if I come back to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in twenty years’ time, I’ll feel differently, with my new wrinkles.

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

Caroline Crampton is head of podcasts at the New Statesman.

Harry Styles performing in London on April 11. Photo: Hélène Pambrun
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How Harry Styles’ European tour was transformed into a LGBT-positive safe space

And all thanks to two fans, 50 volunteers and 28,000 pieces of paper.

After 21 dates, 20 cities, 19 suits, 14 countries and one kilt, Harry Styles’s European tour came to a close last night in Dublin. Some of his most dedicated fans attended a handful of dates in a row, organising their own queuing systems, and arranging tributes to the Manchester terror attacks. “Feel free to be whoever you want to be in this room,” Styles said at every gig, always bringing an LGBT flag on to the stage as he performed. As ever, his shows were a always collaboration between artist and audience to create a safe space for teenage girls and LGBT fans.

On this tour, two fans in particular went above and beyond to create a visually striking, affirmational statement. Ksenia, 17, and Luna, 20, came up with the Rainbow Project, a labour-intensive and involved plan to invite those attending the London dates of the tour to participate in a giant rainbow running around the circumference of the O2 Arena. The project involved distributing 14,000 pieces of differently coloured paper and instructions each night to different seat sections: fans were then invited to put the paper over their phone torches during the song “Sweet Creature” to create a rainbow light effect.

Ksenia and Luna tell me they have been fans of Harry's since his One Direction days: in 2014 and 2012 respectively. “We are really proud of how far he’s come,” Luna explains, “from being afraid of what people thought of him, to confidently pulling off wearing a dress!” The two say they were inspired by Harrys support of the LGBT community: “We just wanted to do something for him.”

Such fan projects aren’t new. As the writer Aamina Khan explains, One Direction fans – who are known for collectively organising to win polls, drive obscure songs to become chart hits, or raise money for charities the band have supported in the past – have been organising fan projects around the rainbow flag since 2014. As the presence of such flags became more and more visbile, Styles in particular started engaging with both the symbol and its message: draping flags around him speaking of love and equality to the crowd. Last year, fans brought hundreds of #BlackLivesMatter signs to Harry Styles concerts.

But Ksenia and Luna’s project seems by far the most complex and challenging so far. “It took us three months to prepare the project,” Luna explains. “We had a group of about 25 volunteers for each show who helped us to hand the colours out. Almost everyone in the arena got a colour, so we made 28,000 pieces in total for the two days.”

Aside from the hours and organisation needed to produce, print, cut out and distribute close to 30,000 small pieces of paper, they both feared that the strict security teams at venues like the O2 wouldn’t take too kindly to their plan. “Obviously you are scared that what you planned doesn't work out,” Luna explains. “But we were pretty optimistic.”

“The venue sadly did take 5,000 pieces away from us on the first night, as we needed permission to do the whole thing – which we didn’t know. The next day, the O2 and its venue manager Rachael reached out to us, and we were happy to have official permission. That night everything worked out perfectly and we’ve never seen something more stunning. It left us speechless.”

“Harry creates wonderful safe spaces each night he steps on stage,” they tell me. “We think we speak for everyone when we say that we’re thankful for that.”

Luna says that the inclusive feeling of Harry Styles concerts is a collaboration between both audience and artist:  “He brings a message, and we as fans chose what we can identify with or look up to. The combination of that creates the feeling at a concert.”

The Harry Styles tour has left Europe, but it’s far from over. As it moves on to Australia, Asia and America, more creative fan projects are undoubtedly on the way.

All photos by Hélène Pambrun.

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's deputy culture editor.