October 1, 2020 | Narrative
falling (back) into fanfiction
finding comfort in familiar (fictional) friends
“In the mirror—what do you see?”
“What am I supposed to be seeing, Potter? It’s a mirror.”
“You mean, you don’t—”
Draco took a few steps back to observe the mirror at a comfortable distance. He couldn’t see anything beyond his own irritated expression and huffed in frustration. “I see what I should be seeing,” He snapped, “I see me and I see you.”*
At 13 years old, I completely threw myself into fiction. I devoured books by the handful, reading hundreds of pages a day. Fictional worlds, as always, provided a kind distraction from reality. Here, one can temporarily walk the Elysian Fields of fantasy, away from the frustrations of family, school, and financials. I learned early that storytelling can soothe just as well as it can provoke. And I’ve always appreciated the comfort. Whispered words, spoken words—all sung in a wind-like rhythm. A soft voice, a stern voice, an inviting, entertaining, or sympathetic voice—all pressed within pages, pulled together into a gentle binding.
Harry grabbed Draco’s hand and pulled him back to the base of the mirror, his eyes never leaving their reflection. “It shows you your greatest desires.” Harry said, the grip on his hand tightening. “Your hopes and dreams. It should all be reflected back at you while you stand in front of this mirror.”
But we all know the saying, “all good things must come to an end”—whether it’s a shared moment between friends, a sunrise at the crisp of dawn, or a well-written story, cradled and passed onto the avid reader from the author’s arms. Storytelling has its beginnings, middles, and, unfortunately, its ends. Yet, at the cusp of 2014, while I reread beloved books and rewatched cherished TV shows, the rise of a new kind of writing entered my world at exactly the right time: fanfiction.
Now, I won’t provide a link—God forbid you actually Google search it—because I wrote those Drarry (the pairing of Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter) excerpts back in the seventh grade. Obviously, I don’t own Harry Potter. Nor do I support many of J.K. Rowling’s stances. But I will acknowledge the impact of the series on my early years of writing. Middle school Danielle always wondered: What if Harry and Draco were friends? What if they grew into a friendship, after the book’s events, and came across the Mirror of Erised? What if all Draco wanted was someone to confide in? To trust?
And that’s where it all starts. Those small what ifs cascade into scenarios, which then fabricate into plotlines. Questions the author left unanswered. Holes burned into the curtains. Loose ends ignored or woven too slack. Fanfiction provided a new route to navigate it all, a way in which I could wholeheartedly contribute to the stories I loved. Because I spent so long engrossed in fanfiction sites—Archive of Our Own (AO3), Fanfiction.net, Wattpad, and Tumblr—I considered myself a weary traveler, turning my collar to the wind, forging ahead with pen in hand, plucking genres from passing trees: coffee shop alternative universes (AUs), roommates, fake-dating, slow burn, fluff, friends-to-lovers, enemies-to-friends-to-lovers, and so forth. All of which were at my fingertips, to read and to write. Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Voltron, Attack on Titan, Glee, Sherlock. Each of these stories made themselves at home in my heart. As talented writers expanded their worlds and developed loveable characters, so did my curiosity. I wanted Nico and Bianca di Angelo’s (from Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series) backstories. What happened after their father Hades wiped their memories? I wanted character redemption. Why is Snape offered a second chance, but Draco and Narcissa are considered unforgivable? I wanted to remove queer bait and replace it with actual LGBTQ+ representation. You’re telling me Voltron’s Keith and Lance didn’t have that “bonding moment”? The list of ponderings and possibilities grew with each new plotline, each new character, scene, episode, and book.
But as I entered college, fanfiction—once a consistent pastime—was no longer a priority. That is, until quarantine.
Taking Draco’s silence as confusion, Harry continued. “I’m not completely sure, but I’m almost positive Ron sees himself as head boy or captain of the Quidditch team.” He forced a chuckle, “… Something like that—personal success.” Harry quickly glanced at Malfoy, suddenly serious. “Don’t tell him I told you that.”
I have yet to re-enter the fanfiction writing community; honestly, I’m not sure I ever will. But reading fanfiction? Now that just seemed natural. I don’t read fanfiction based on books or musicals anymore. I’ve laid my childhood sources of inspiration—Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Sisters’ Grimm, Dear Evan Hansen, and Waitress—to rest. I don’t plan on digging up that grave anytime soon. I’ve fallen back into fanfiction, but I haven’t fallen back into specific fanfics, the pieces I read back in seventh through eleventh grade. I love The Hunger Games, but even I have to take a step back from 2012. And I will always consider Dear Evan Hansen a lifelong favorite, but I’ve walked those familiar hills for miles; let the memories remain, while also taking time to explore budding fields.
Fanfiction for recently-watched movies and TV shows, though? That’s fair game. Watching as unfamiliar fictional realms are transformed, adventures stacking on top of adventures, the weary traveler perseveres. I hate to admit it, considering the problematic nature of the series, but I fell back into Attack on Titan (AOT). Levi Ackerman and Hanji Zoë? They deserve happiness. Ymir and Christa? They should’ve been married. Annie Leonhart and Mikasa Ackerman? They deserve so much more—stop pitting them against each other. I spent a majority of my COVID-19 summer curled up in bed bookmarking AO3 fics and scrolling through my favorite tags. The push came from an innocent suggestion: “Let’s watch Attack on Titan together.” I hadn’t delved back into the fandom since 2014, when the series’s first season was released. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. I thought, “Sure. Why not?”
Nearly 50 episodes and 70 AOT manga chapters later, I was reintroduced to fandom euphoria. The endorphins that came with loving and caring (intensely, mind you) about a story. And once the final episode of the third season ended, once I caught up to the manga’s latest chapter, I simply couldn’t let it go. Caring and loving a story, whether it be an anime, a Netflix original, or a new TV show, livened my dull summer in Providence. So I rooted myself back in fanfiction. Quarantined 2000+ miles from home, these stories provided an escape, a glimpse of the familiar amidst stress and chaos, and a reminder of the unique narratives that lay beyond the four walls of my summer dorm room.
Harry took a deep breath.
“I’m really glad you’re my friend now, Malfoy.” This outburst was followed by deathly silence. Both boys considered disapparating to avoid the awkward atmosphere. Harry swallowed nervously, “It just felt like a good time to tell you.”
Draco stared at him before nodding slowly. “Thank you,” he said. “Me too.”
At first, I was surprised at how easy the process came to me. Not that looking up fics required much skill, but my resolve came against zero resistance. Once a cause for adolescent embarrassment (God forbid you mention fanfiction back in high school), now a valued hobby. Writing is tough, and fanfiction is full of dedicated writers. They pen fic recommendations, post their work online, and boldly take reader criticism. Or sometimes they’re simply writing to write. To delve into the sidestory of their favorite fandom, to pave and cobble a new road. For enjoyment, because it’s fun. Because it’s loved—loved by the fanfiction writer, the dedicated reader, and the surrounding franchise community. Fanfiction recommendation lists, a personalized summary of curated fic favorites, exist all over the Internet.
Readers and writers alike want to share and cherish their love for the story. Because that’s what seems to be at the center of fanfiction. Love.
“I guess I was just curious. But I know that type of stuff is personal, so I get why you won’t tell me the whole thing,” Harry said.
Draco automatically stiffened. He prayed it’d go unnoticed. It didn’t.
Harry lowered his voice as he continued. “About the mirror… I left some things out as well. Maybe we’ll work up to it, being friends and all. Maybe one day, we’ll trust each other enough to share. If that’s alright with you?”
I won’t say where this fic is posted. If it were up to me, it’d be taken down. But since I lost the login information, this Harry Potter oneshot, regrettably, won’t disappear anytime soon. The worlds created by storytellers are vast. The characters—shaped and molded, pulled from books, TV shows, comics, and everything in between—are rich. Fanfiction writers recognize this; they see limitless potential. As COVID-19 creates new complications, and quarantine heightens preexisting systemic obstacles, I’m reminded of fanfiction’s promise: All good things must come to an end, but a story’s potential is everlasting. The sun dances and sleeps; you either wait for dawn, or guide its luster to sunset.
Before I end, I have a small confession: I took a break from writing this piece to read Haikyu!! college AU fanfiction—at three in the morning. It wasn’t planned, but yearning is hardly ever sought. The final chapter of the Haikyu!! manga series came out back in mid-July. The characters I’ve grown to love said their goodbyes, and I’ve been scrolling though AO3, compensating for lost time, ever since.
The silence was back, but strangely enough, they didn’t mind. They were fine with the cluster of tangled thoughts between them. Harry and Draco believed they’d eventually come to trust one another. No matter how long it took, they both made a silent vow to be there.
*Snippets are taken from the writer’s own work