On Harry Potter Fanfiction, Pt 2

Part Two: Interwoven, Sirius Black and Cloaks


            Abigail Loomis, who exists only in a handful of fanfictions, lives in Hogsmeade, running a dress shop. However, like many characters in Potter, Abigail is more than she seems. She is a Weaver, with a family legacy of creating Invisibility Cloaks.

Out of all of the objects associated with Harry, especially in the first four books, none is as close or personal as the Invisibility Cloak. From its first appearance (Christmas morning in Stone), it possesses a magic that surpasses the usual charms of Hogwarts:

            “ His father’s…. this had been his father’s. He let the material flow over his hands… Use it well, the note had said…

            Should Harry wake [Ron]? Something held him back – his father’s cloak – he felt that this time – the first time – he wanted to use it alone.”

            (Sorcerer’s Stone, 205)

It is through the Cloak that Harry discovers the Mirror of Erised, his first vision of his parents – an image that threatens to completely disconnect him from the world around. From then on, the Cloak becomes his greatest tool for rule-breaking and derring-do. Yet, as of Goblet, the readers knew that the Cloak was not perfect. It could be stolen – Professor Snape’s seizure and use of it in Prisoner had devastating consequences. Its disguise is penetrable: the magical eye of Alastor Moody, the glass of the Mirror of Erised, the ominous Dementors, and, it is implied, cats, are not fooled. The object is not even unique – other Cloaks are mentioned (they even start to fade), and Dumbledore himself doesn’t need one. In the end, the Invisibility Cloak is only an object – one loaded with sentimental and monetary value, but limited in its power.

            But one fanfiction writer, waiting for book five, wondered where Invisibility Cloaks came from. The companion book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, indicated that Cloaks were woven from the hairs of a mystical creature, the Demiguise (Beasts 9). But obviously Cloak making could not be as simple as a weaving, not for an object so rare. In canon, it is implied one family – the Ollivanders – has been making most wands since 362 B.C. If one family has the special gift of wandmaking, then why not weaving Invisibility Cloaks? And so, Interwoven came into being.

            Interwoven, penned by Katinka, who admits that it was her first fanfiction and “a ‘learning curve’ experience,” tells the story of Abigail Loomis, the last Weaver of Invisibility Cloaks in Britain, and an entirely invented character. Her secret ability is her burden, but she finds a little comfort at first in the presence of a vagabond dog whom she dubs “Snuffles.” The second element of the story originated from an offhand line uttered by Sirius Black, a wizard who can assume the shape of a large, shaggy black dog: he tells Harry, “don’t worry about me, I’m pretending to be a lovable stray,” and to refer to him as “Snuffles” in conversation (Goblet 522, 534). Sirius never says that there is a seamstress with whom he has developed a clandestine friendship, but then again, he never says that there isn’t. Like many fanfictions, Interwoven does eventually take a turn towards the romantic, but for the most part, it remains focused on the two outsiders gradually learning to trust each other, as well as Abby’s struggles to finish her Cloak, validate her sacrifices, and play a part – any part – in the approaching war.

“Stitching the Standard,” by Edmund Leighton (detail)

“Stitching the Standard,” by Edmund Leighton (detail)

            Rereading the books of Potter that preceded Interwoven (that is, up to Goblet) proves an enlightening experience. Numerous tiny tidbits contribute to the story: for example, the advertisement for Gladrags, a wizardwear shop in Hogsmeade, during the Quidditch World Cup gives Abigail her workplace (Goblet 97). Katinka supplements a reference to The Invisible Book of Invisibility on page 53 of Prisoner when she has Albus Dumbledore say, early in Interwoven, “The ancient originators of this magic [Weaving], in some flight of fancy, decided that any written descriptions of the cloak making would become invisible themselves” (Interwoven, ch. 1). Katinka further provides Sirius Black, the complicating factor of Interwoven, with an itinerary, tasks, and explanations for the year of Goblet. In-canon, he breaks into a wizarding family’s house to use their Floo fire, appears one month well-groomed and more filled out, and then undernourished a couple of months later, and mentions stealing newspapers. Katinka has Abigail either witness or cause many of these phenomena. These and other details connect Interwoven with the universe of Potter, giving life and depth to what are at first one-time jokes or background details.

            Cloak-making is a difficult endeavor, and one which is worked skillfully into the narrative.  Katinka details Abigail’s frustration with finishing the Cloak, and her loneliness in this creative labor – her mother, who passed the craft down to her, is long deceased, and Dumbledore, in a characteristically surprising move for him, defers to Abigail, saying “‘I have my ideas […] but I believe they would be nowhere near as valuable and powerful as what might come from your own mind’” (Interwoven, ch. 1 and 2). The Cloak comprises twenty layers of woven Demiguise hair, and Abby has to work out which potions and enchantments will best help the twenty delicate layers fuse into one. She has been working on the same Cloak for eighteen years, sacrificing much, including her Hogwarts education, for the task. In some ways, she is as much of an orphan as Harry.

            Weaving a Cloak is far from the only magic that Abby performs. In an unreasonable move, she admits into her house Sirius Black, accused murderer and Death Eater. She implicitly trusts that he is – if not innocent – not beyond goodness. Luckily, she is right. But even to an innocent man – hounded, tormented by nightmares for twelve years in Azkaban – Abby’s kindness is a profound gesture. In the accompanying short story “Character Development,” Katinka shifts to Sirius’ point of view in the first person. He says, “She’d helped me remember what life had been like before Azkaban, and she’d given me an idea of my future could be.” Wars against evil rage outside of snug Hogsmeade, but in the kitchen of a stranger, with a tin of ginger cookies, another war is won – the war against fear, suspicion, and prejudice, against loneliness and despair. This fits in perfectly with the themes of Potter – fellowship and community, unity and love, do as much to combat evil as powerful spells and objects.

            Katinka manages to tie together the mission of Cloak-weaving and the importance of fellowship in Interwoven. The secret to the Finishing of the Cloak is informed by a brief line uttered by Dumbledore at the end of Prisoner, when he tells Harry, “When one wizard saves another wizard’s life, it creates a certain bond between them,” adding, “this is magic at its deepest, its most impenetrable” (Prisoner 427). Fanon seized on this phrase, and life debts became an important phenomenon in Potter fanfiction, a magically enforced fact. In later interviews, Rowling denied that various instances of one wizard clearly saving another’s life counted as incurring the life-debt. (Accio Quote! From July 16, 2005). She treated the rules of a life-debt as fairly arbitrary, and thus imposed her interpretation of the text onto readers outside of the actual text.

But before Rowling redefined what a life debt is and is not, Katinka connected the idea to the Finishing of a Cloak. Sirius, in his dog form, had rescued Abigail in Chapter 2, and in Chapter 7, she realizes that the Cloaks in her family have been given in payment for saving the life of either the Weaver or someone dear to them, as “Grandmother’s life was saved by Matthias Potter” – from whom Harry inherits his cloak –“and mine was saved by…Sirius Black.” With this realization, she is able to complete her Cloak, with the spell ““Adiunctus Sirius Black!” and validate her many sacrifices (ch. 8). Sirius’ act of saving her life, in the sub-universe of Interwoven, has long-reaching consequences. Having life-debts be magically binding, as fanon saw them, helps to distinguish the wizarding world from our own. It’s not Muggle Britain with a Wizarding Wireless Network instead of the British Broadcasting Network; it contains channels and currents in it that are truly magical, that slip below the surface of everyday perception.

I contend that Katinka’s treatment of themes is handled with more depth and forethought than Rowling’s own. In Hallows, the payoff for Dumbledore’s remark of four books ago consists of Harry spluttering at Wormtail, “You’re going to kill me?” After I saved your life? You owe me, Wormtail!” (Hallows pg. 470) Wormtail’s magical hand is the one that reacts to this reminder – the man appears “shocked” and continues trying to strangle Harry. It is only his silver hand, gifted from Voldemort, that responds to the plea – by choking Wormtail to death. Harry’s attempt to awaken Wormtail’s conscience only turns the hand against its owner. Perhaps Rowling means to convey that magic retains a conscience, even when people do not – but when it requires voice-activation, it does not seem very magical. The human element seems distinctly separate from the magical one, and the overall effect is that of cutting a dangling plot thread rather than advancing a message of redemption and mercy.[1]

Wormtail’s death, however, disproves nothing about Interwoven. That book had long been dismantled by canon. The first blow came in the very next Harry Potter book. Not only did Sirius Black’s house arrest at his family mansion, 12 Grimmauld Place, preclude the follow-up stories “A Kind and Caring Friend and “Merry and Bright,” but Sirius died at the end of Phoenix. In retrospect, it makes a kind of sense that Rowling intended his death all the time. He lived too much in the past; his joy in life had already ended with the death of the Potters; his associations with death and dying were numerous, from his Grim-like Animagus form to his mausoleum of a home. And, of course, we mustn’t forget that Rowling never met a father figure she didn’t want to kill off. Rowling never intended Sirius to move out of the past – she gave him nothing to build a real future on, independent of his tragedy. To Rowling, his paths closed and narrowed, one by one, until the only journey left for him was death.

            The second blow to Interwoven came in Deathly Hallows. Rowling, master planner, who said, “Readers loved to be tricked, but not conned,” relied on multiple plot twists and all-important pieces of information only revealed in the endgame (Boquet). For one example, Harry’s Cloak takes on the status of a legendary magical item. Ron says, once Xenophilius Lovegood has conveniently reminded him:

“I’ve heard stuff about charms wearing off cloaks when they get old, or them being ripped apart by spells so they’ve got holes in. Harry’s… is not exactly new, is it, but it’s just… perfect!”

(Deathly Hallows, pg. 416-417)

So, over the course of six years, Ron never once “stopped to think” about Harry’s Cloak. He is not the most cerebral of the central trio, but his thinking is characterized by being grounded in common sense and the most hands-on knowledge of how the wizarding world works. He should have been the first to comment on the oddness of this object. And is it really odd? How many years of use does it take for a Cloak to be called “old”? Rowling does not answer this question. In-canon, we heard of one Invisibility Cloak fraying… that belonged to Mad-Eye Moody, known paranoiac and Auror (hunter and catcher of Dark wizards). His cloak must have seen far more danger than Harry’s. It could be far older. Harry’s might merely have been well-preserved (it did have ten whole years of sitting in storage, after all). There is no reason, other than author-granted inspiration, to conclude that this cloak is exceptional. Yet chapter twenty-two, “The Deathly Hallows,” is a series of one “revelation” after another regarding the three objects – none of which have any backing stronger than Harry’s “instincts.” As a reader, I was fully expecting this hypothesis to be proven wrong by the end of the seventh book, in step with Harry’s theories about Snape being evil, Malfoy being the heir of Slytherin, Sirius Black being a murderous traitor, etc., book after book. Except…

Except it turns out that yes, Harry’s Cloak is indeed that special, it is older than any other, and in fact it’s an immensely powerful magical object. This has, it must be noted, no relevance to the plot, except that the cloak is one of the three Deathly Hallows. Harry considers that his ownership of the cloak by descent qualifies him to seek the other two. His saving grace, ultimately, turns out to be that he is descended from Ignotus Peverell (the cloak’s canonical creator), whose existence was also not so much as hinted at until book seven. This is all well and good – ignoring the fact that “hero turns out to be a descendent of a mighty legend” is a justification employed by the series’ villain, Lord Voldemort, the proud heir of Slytherin. As of the July 16, 2005 Interview with the Leaky Cauldron, Rowling shut down the fanon-endorsed theory that Harry was the Heir of Gryffindor. Her characters had repeatedly criticized the belief that bloodline is the primary determiner of value. But in the end, her story fell back on this tired formula. Rowling takes time in The Tales of Beedle the Bard to elaborate; she breaks from Dumbledore’s narration to say “Invisibility cloaks may rip, or grow opaque with age, or the charms placed upon them may wear off” (Beedle 97). Why share this information after the canonical seven texts have been published, instead of working it into the text of one of the previous six books? Rowling makes a clumsy justification of what she, perhaps, knows to be a weak plot decision that was poorly foreshadowed. She has severely undermined the trust she built with her readers: that the books were carefully plotted from the start, that small details present and clear in the text could provide the clue to predicting the future books, that as of Half-Blood Prince, we, the fandom, “had 6/7th's of the puzzle and book 7 would tie those pesky loose ends up in a box with a pretty bow” (professor_mum). Katinka used more details, and more effectively, to write Interwoven, than Rowling did to write Deathly Hallows.

Harry’s status as the last descendent of Ignotus Peverell grants him no other abilities – leaving him a wizard whose combat skills are good, but no match for Voldemort (Hallows 714). Harry spends almost all of Deathly Hallows immobile and inactive, with no clue as to where Voldemort’s six Horcruxes might be. He wanders in the wilderness, waiting for some object to appear and point the way for him. As soon as he even hears of such objects, the Deathly Hallows – and better yet, convinces himself that Dumbledore would have wanted him to have them – he becomes obsessed (Hallows 435). He continues to live out his role as “the ideal consumer,” collecting one magical doodad after another, each of which performs exactly as advertised, each of which gives him agency (Weatjen and Gibson, 17). Harry, instead of creating or acting, yearns for items that may not even be real. Rowling rewards his consumerism by a series of coincidences that bequeath the objects he desires; thus he becomes “Master of Death” and defeats evil. He does so with the grace and blessing of Dumbledore, whose manipulations he at first resents and rejects, but eventually Harry submits his will to Dumbledore’s higher plan.

In contrast, Abigail toils at creation, toils at her loom, a modern wizarding Penelope. She plies her craft with some resentment. Dumbledore has, with kindness and graciousness, planned this future for her. He has arranged her life for the last fifteen years to ensure that she does not lose the art. As of Goblet, this was a surprising characterization for Dumbledore – in-character, yes, but an extreme step from what he had shown in canon. However, this interpretation would be nothing except borne out by Deathly Hallows, where it is made clear that Dumbledore has been manipulating Harry’s entire life.  Abigail, much as she respects Dumbledore and is grateful for his protection, chafes under being treated like a child, especially as she realizes that he has known about Snuffles being Sirius, and kept that information from her (Interwoven ch. 6). Katinka never fully resolves Abigail’s frustration with Dumbledore, because Interwoven is part of the never-ending story of fanfiction – she would not presume to imagine the end of the series and Dumbledore’s character development. However, by her depiction of Abigail as an independent, creative woman, who resents Dumbledore’s kind engineerings, Katinka still sets up a heroine who is more dynamic than “the Chosen One” Harry of Deathly Hallows, who waits to receive plot-resolving items and directions from Dumbledore on how to use them.

[1] With hindsight, I realize that I was projecting something onto the text that wasn’t there. I had hoped that Harry’s act of sparing Peter’s life would pay off dramatically. But Rowling never really planned for “a message of redemption and mercy,” at least not for Peter. I think Peter Pettigrew represents a host of missed opportunities, but that’s a subject for another time.