In many official ways, Harry Potter is complete, finished, done. The final book in the series, Deathly Hollows, was released eight years ago, the final movie, four. J.K. Rowling's adult novel, far removed from the wizarding world she created, has been made into a miniseries, and the child stars of the film franchise have moved on to so many post-Potter projects, they survive press interviews without fielding a single question about the fantasy saga. And yet, a video tribute to The Boy Who Lived created in May went viral last month. ABC Family seems to hype and air Harry Potter weekends at least once a month. Childhood nostalgia is at least part of what makes "Hedwig's Theme" a siren song for millennials. And while the latest companion installments to the film franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, will certainly invigorate fans, the promise of new chapters isn't what's keeping the fandom alive. The vigor of the Harry Potter fan base is due to the fact that an online community grew as the series progressed, accruing more and more fans over time. As people continued to discover the stories for themselves, they were able to easily find and join likeminded fans in online forums, many of which center around specific fan-generated projects. Harry Potter fan projects can be large and sprawling, mixing purely fan-made creations with elements of the franchise. In July 2009, a young theater group called StarKid posted a recording of a show titled A Very Potter Musical to YouTube. In an opening-frame disclaimer, the group assures fans, "This Fan Musical is produced and performed solely for the personal, non-commercial enjoyment of ourselves and other Harry Potter fans. It is in no way sponsored, approved, endorsed, or affiliated with J.K. Rowling of Warner Brothers or Warner Brothers or any of its affiliates."
But then the musical began garnering some mainstream attention. Six months after it was uploaded to YouTube, Entertainment Weekly gave it an honorable mention in its list of the "10 Best Viral Videos of 2009." The third installment, performed in front of a live audience at the annual Potter fan convention LeakyCon, featured Evanna Lynch, who plays Luna Lovegood in the Potter films, reprising her role for the fan musical. And in 2013, The Fault in Our Stars author John Green referenced a joke from the musical during an interview on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. A fan-made creation had achieved its own fandom (including its own collection of Etsy items) and managed to enlist a star from its source material to collaborate. A big part of the fandom's power is its ability to create cultural touchstones that can extend the fandom's reach, not just sustain it.
Lynch isn't the only Potter actor to have a hand in the fandom. Tom Felton, who played Draco Malfoy, directed a documentary examining the Harry Potter fandom titled Tom Felton Meets the Superfans. When Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, was asked after the final film wrapped if he'd ever don the trademark glasses again, he suggested he might play Harry in a live action production of Potter Puppet Pal's "The Mysterious Ticking Noise," a fan-made viral video with over 160 million views. It's not that unusual for actors to dip into fan culture, with Marvel stars musing at and praising fan art, but it's often from an outside perspective, without a mind toward collaboration.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the Harry Potter fandom is fans' ownership over the story now that Rowling has put down her pen. Last month, The Huffington Post profiled fan artists who create "racebending" drawings of their favorite Harry Potter characters. The artists imagine a Hermione different from Emma Watson's portrayal or even Mary GrandPré's illustrations, one who can be transferred into new fan art and new fan fiction — and one who certainly doesn't have to be white. Even if Fantastic Beasts was scrapped tomorrow, or if the distant remake of fans' dreams (starring Watson as McGonagall and Radcliffe as Dumbledore, of course) never happens, the fandom will nevertheless continue to expand — and most importantly, to create.
OPENER IMAGE: David Livingston/ Getty Images