Denton Writes 2009 – Winner – Adult Nonfiction – Valerie Gordon

Valerie Gordon preview

 

Harry Potter and the House of Slytherin

by Valerie Gordon

Four walls of stacked balconies draped in ivy ascend to an elaborate glass ceiling reminiscent of an abandoned cathedral. A coterie of witches surround a small table and throw down tarot cards, the sun glinting off of their green and gold glittering pointed hats. Close by a group of sleepy sorceresses are sipping coffee, the hems of their pajamas and puffy slippers peek out beneath their black, hooded robes.

“I feel like a muggle,” I sigh, nervously pulling at the hems of my shamrock green Harry Potter tee shirt. (A muggle is anyone dressed in normal garb.)

I’ve always considered myself a knowledgeable Harry Potter fan. I’ve read all the books at least twice and seen each of the films countless times. But as I walk through the Portus Harry Potter Symposium, I begin to have my doubts. 

            Draping my hot pink press pass around my neck, I explore the hotel’s quiet lobby.

            “Have you been sorted yet?” booms a voice behind me. I turn to see a very convincing Severus Snape, a dark character known for his aversion to Harry Potter and his redemption.

            In the series, wizards are sorted into one of four houses. The bad guys tend to go to the House of Slytherin and the good guys to the House of Gryffindor. More insignificant characters tend come from the houses of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff.

            I shake my head.

            “What house is your favorite?” he sneers, in character.

            “Well, Gryffindor of course,” I beam. A loud snort escapes his assistant. Apparently, I answered wrong.

            “Ooooh k, Gryffindor it is,” says the young witch and hands me a card. Looking up at me under the brim of her pointed hat and tufts of platinum blond hair, I feel bristled by her sardonic smile.

            An older man next in line giddily proclaims himself the House of Slytherin. Now it’s my turn to snort. What a weirdo! Smirking, I look around expecting to see other bemused expressions. Instead, I’m greeted with broad smiles and cheers. 

            A large group of witches scuttle by, donning tall hats wrapped in gold and green ribbons, feathers and string with matching broomsticks. Green and gold are the house colors of Slytherin.

            “Where are all the Gryffindors?” I wonder. After all, Harry Potter is a Gryffindor. Doesn’t everyone want to be like Harry Potter? And why the House of Slytherin, known for their cruelty, elitism and prejudice?

            “I’m totally Hufflepuff,” announces Caitlin Leyden, 17, as she glues pieces of colored glass to a Hufflepuff insignia.  Red feathers stick out from her long auburn hair and her black Harry Potter shirt looks stark against her pale skin.

            “Yeah, I don’t know any Gryffindors,” chimes in her friend Dorie Mishael, 17. “I think most people identify with Slytherin.”  Looming sparkly fairy wings frame a face hidden by large wire glasses.  Protruding purple feathers look tangled in her wild brown hair, reminiscent of the character Hermione- a Gryffindor and one of Harry Potter’s best friends.

            The girls say they dislike Hermione. That she’s boring. Caitlin says she prefers Hufflepuff because, “In Hufflepuff you’re happy where you are. No one expects you to be smart or brave and you’re ok with that.”

            I remind them that Hermione is an exceptionally intelligent girl, with strong opinions and unyielding loyalty. You all seem like Hermiones, I say. Silently they continue gluing their colored glass.

            “Well I prefer Pansy Parkinson,” insists Dorie- a snobby Slytherin character that picks on Hermione.

            In an adjacent room Andrew Sims, contributor to the Harry Potter fan site Muggle.net, sits on the edge of a circular table surrounded by a room full of adolescent girls.

            Sliding along the back wall, I find an open spot next to a gothic-dressed girl.

            “Are there any more questions?” asks Andrew. His blue shirt reads “Myspace Celebrity”.

             “Why are there no Harry Potter’s and why do so many people embrace and identify with Slytherin?”  I ask.

“I have never seen so many Slytherins at a convention,” answers Andrew. “It used to be all about the Gryffindors. People just want to be bad sometimes. But people still do relate to Harry.”

            A murmur of agreement fills the rooms.

“People are proud not to be Gryffindor, which is so different than the way it used to be,” nods Stephanie Mendoza, 16. “Everyone used to want to be Gryffindor, now it’s almost no one. It’s just the sad truth.”

“We all hold Harry close to our hearts,” says Katy Forbes, 17. “Without Harry I wouldn’t have many friends. But I choose to explore other characters that the book doesn’t touch on as much. That way I can make them more my own.”

Still determined to find a Harry Potter and some Gryffindors, I wander down the main hall of the hotel. Just one room over and up a small flight of stairs a giant banner hangs from the ceiling. It reads, “Renew Your Passion.” A few feet further stands a makeshift chapel. Curious I proceed towards emanating music and singing. With eyes closed and arms raised there stood hundreds of Christian missionaries.

“Our God is an awesome God he reigns,” they sing in unison. The words are projected onto a screen in front of them.

Could this be true? I gasp. Did the hotel really simultaneously book a Harry Potter and a Christian Missionary convention?  I spin in a half circle. Sure enough, an elevator slides open and out emerges an impish young woman, perched on clear platform heels, excessive cleavage and a billowing black cape that drags behind her like the bride of Frankenstein.

I cover my mouth and swivel back around. Two older men in chairs glare over their newspapers as she cavorts by. An Amishly dressed young mother pulls her child tightly to her hips.

I turn and flee to concierge desk.

“Did the hotel realize what they’d done?” I blurt out. The concierge smiles through tight lips and explains that the conferences are very distanced and that all guests are welcome.

Here were two extreme worlds: fantasy nerds that reveled in and embraced their attraction to darkness juxtaposed with evangelical missionaries. And despite the distances between their theological worlds and their closeness in proximities, the entire day passed without any reported incidence.

I never found my Harry that day but I realized that the fans had grown out of their hero. They didn’t need him anymore. Through Harry Potter they had found companionship, self-actualization and distractions from life’s sadness. You can always flirt with darkness as long as it ends there.

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