Inside LeakyCon, The Progressive Convention For Harry Potter Fans

Photo: Warner Bros./Photofest.
I pass a handful of Ravenclaws as I belly up to the reception desk.
“Are you with the convention?” the young Irish woman checking me in asks. I lean closer and say yes. I clear my throat self-consciously.
“But just to write about it.”
She shrugs, hands me a key card, and I make my way up to my room. The first thing I notice is that the bedspread has gold and garnet stripes. Gryffindor. How did they know?
When I told friends I was traveling to Dublin to cover LeakyCon, an annual Harry Potter fan convention running since 2009, they immediately wanted to know what my costume would be. Moaning Myrtle? Dolores Umbridge? Daily Prophet scribe Rita Skeeter, in a meta nod to my journalistic mission?
I chickened out, assuming that a witch hat or pink power suit would undermine my professional image. So here I am, oozing journalistic integrity and drowning in cosplay FOMO as men, women, children, and even babies glide past in Hogwarts robes, striped scarves, Harry Potter specs, and Molly Weasley-issue monogrammed wooly sweaters. The most devoted members of Dumbledore’s Army have tinted their hair to match their house colors. People are brandishing wands and playing Quidditch. Even the food served in the on-site cafeteria is ready for the occasion: everything’s "golden snitch raisin scone" this and "butterbeer battered cod" that. I’ve never felt like more of a muggle.
But that’s okay, because muggles are welcome at this four-day extravaganza. In fact, everyone’s welcome. Despite a canon that insists on sorting the wizard world into four different houses, the vibe at LeakyCon is incredibly inclusive. There are gender-neutral restrooms and “Gryffin Fluid” and “Raven Curious” buttons for sale. In between Q&As with actors like Alfred Enoch (Dean Thomas), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), and Dan Fogler (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’s Jacob Kowalski) a photo and autograph opp is a huge draw are panels discussing queer and POC representation in J.K. Rowling’s work. (Long story short: There’s a long way to go, and the next Fantastic film really needs to do right by Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s relationship. Also, Nymphadora Tonks might be pansexual.)
This spirit of inclusiveness might explain why so many of the attendees are female. Rowling’s stories may have a young boy as the protagonist, but it’s Hermione Granger who, incidentally, is celebrating her 38th birthday on September 19 who gets spoken of in the most breathless terms.
A 7-year-old girl who’s flown over from Brooklyn with her little sister, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all Potterheads tells me that Hermione and Ginny are her favorite characters. Naturally, she identifies as a Gryffindor, the only one in her family to do so. Mom and a wand-waving kid sis are Slytherins; Grandma, who re-reads the books every summer, doesn’t belong to a Hogwarts house. She prefers the Ugandan wizarding school, Uagadou. Her mother is Team Beauxbatons, the French school. (And yes, you eventually get used to asking “what’s your house?” without feeling too much like a medallion-wearing sleazeball at a 1970s cocktail lounge.)
Over in the marketplace, where one can buy a Siriusly Black shower bar or get their face painted, Ms. Granger has inspired two social justice projects at the Harry Potter Alliance table. The Granger Leadership Academy is a sort of all-ages Lean In seminar for would-be “wizard activists.” A World Without Hermione, meanwhile, aims to stamp out gender inequity in classrooms for female, trans, and non-binary students around the world.
“We are asking people to imagine a world in which Hermione couldn’t go to Hogwarts simply because of her gender,” Jackson Bird, HPA’s director of wizard-muggle relations, says of the campaign’s name choice. “Harry and Ron probably would have died without Hermione there to save them.”
And if you’ve ever wondered what A Hermione Without Ron might look like, consult the Hermione Granger and the Quarter Life Crisis web series. Here she’s 25, single having ditched Ron to party SATC-style with her feminist cousin LaQuita and former classmate Parvati Patil in Los Angeles and working as a beauty editor. As with London’s Cursed Child production, she’s also portrayed by a Black actress, Ashley Romans.
As far as Harry Potter fans go, creator Eliyannah Amirah Yisrael is something of a late bloomer. Yisrael was in college when she read her first book in the early 2000s, and then only because her mother wanted to make sure it was appropriate for her 11-year-old brother. (“When the books were first coming out, in Black communities there was this really big fear that their kids would be devil-worshipper,” she explains. “It was just this religious thing.”)
She ended up becoming a huge fan, and now her days are spent crafting storylines for Hermione and her “girl squad.”
“I think a lot of us saw ourselves in Hermione, and also aspired to be her,” Yisrael says of the character’s appeal with female fans. “She was so confident most of the time. She would set boundaries and say, you’re not going to treat me this way. She had so much self-respect. Even being in college, I learned a lot from a 13-year-old female character in a book. I was just like, yeah, you’re right, don’t talk to her like that, don’t treat her like that. She was so strong and so powerful. Just almost like this perfect woman. She was smart and she was quick and she was clever and she was kind and she was considerate everything. And I feel like we had never seen ourselves in a book like that. So it became something to admire and aspire to and be self-reflective.”
Of course, Hermione’s far from being the only female role model in the series. Before the day is out I meet Steph Anderson, the Hufflepuff frontwoman for the feminist wizard rock outfit Tonks & The Aurors. She’s wearing a “Yes All Witches” denim vest and selling “Witch Gang” T-shirts; Tonks is her favorite because she’s “kind of a badass.”
For most attendees, the festivities end with a ball. I, however, have an early flight to catch the next morning. After learning the difference between wizard rock and “muggle music” and sitting in on discussions pointing out the lack of sex ed at Hogwarts, I’m ready to make my exit. There’s just one last thing I need to do before I head back to my room.
I pay a photographer 10 euros, pick out a background, and let his assistant drape a Hogwarts robe and Gryffindor scarf over my muggle dress. I may be a LeakyCon newbie. I may be working. But dammit, I’m still with Hermione.
Keep clicking to see photos from inside LeakyCon.
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