"A Fearsome Business,"1 written by author Canis M., is a thoroughly accessible yet intriguingly complex Harry Potter fanfiction story set during the summer after Harry Potter's fourth year at Hogwarts, a time between Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix, the fourth and fifth books in the series by J.K. Rowling. It centers on the relationship between Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, two close friends of James Potter, Harry's father, and known within Harry Potter fandom as members of the Marauder Generation (due to the fact that they made the Marauder's Map)2. The fanfiction story embodies three of the categories mentioned in Henry Jenkins' Textual Poachers3: recontextualization, or gap-filling; refocalization, or focusing on non-primary characters; and a combination of emotional intensification/hurt-comfort and eroticization in its slash form. The author's skill at inserting details unique to the geographic region in which the story is set, as well as the integration of the main protagonists and pre-existing story lines from the Rowling series makes this story wholly believable within the Harry Potter meta-text.
Taking inspiration from this one line spoken by Albus Dumbledore to Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Canis M. sets "A Fearsome Business" at the residence of Remus Lupin. In this narrative which focuses on scenes not covered in the original books, Lupin lives in a cottage owned by his sister and brother-in-law outside of a town called Little Hesket. The author describes the activities of Lupin and Black over a one week time period, offering a plausible exploration of their interactions with each other and their neighbors who are original characters. While primarily focusing on the relationship between these two men, reunited one year prior after a twelve year separation while Black was in the prison of Azkaban, Canis M. weaves in a unique, secondary tale outside of Harry Potter canon, enhancing Rowling's already expansive vision.
Fanfiction authors who
choose to write "gap-filling" fiction, as opposed to elaborating on or
reinterpreting the original author's plots or characters, often add new characters
of their own. This is done exceedingly well in "A Fearsome Business." The house
that Lupin is renting is near a tarn, or a lake with steep sides. This tarn has its
own resident, and, appropriately to the Harry Potter world which includes many
magical creatures, it is a kelpie named Wrack. It is through the eyes of this
original character that Black's arrival is described. While the story's locus
remains with the two canon characters, Lupin and Black, the addition of both the
kelpie and a nine year old girl named Carolina who lives in the nearby town of
Little Hesket allows the reader to experience more fully what may have happened
after Lupin is encouraged to "lie low." In this additional tale, Lupin wittily uses
blackmail to convince the resident kelpie not to eat any of the local children, nor
Padfoot, threatening to put St. John's Wort in the tarn should she go back on her
word. There is also the subtext of Carolina and her worries that she will be a
Squib, or non-magical person born to magical parents, though Remus kindly points
out that her drawing skills are magical in their own way.
Another key aspect of recontextualization in fanfiction involves resolving
troubling issues posed by the canon work. One subplot in "A Fearsome Business"
cleverly addresses a problem facing Black that a thorough reader of the Harry
Potter series would be well aware of. Sirius Black has been in prison for twelve
years and his wand is locked away. The author has Lupin apparate to Ollivander's,
the store where British wizards purchase their wands, and with Black's money, order
a replacement for him as surreptitiously as possible, though it will come at a
While the author deftly references what is happening to Harry Potter, the character who remains the focal point of all the Rowling books, the focus of this story remains with Lupin and Black. Remus Lupin does fill the role of Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor during Harry's third year at Hogwarts, but neither Lupin nor Black are primary characters within the greater narrative and would not be considered integral to moving the plot along in regards to its protagonist.
Using the larger meta-text of Rowling's wizarding world, Canis M.'s story elaborates on these two men and how they react to each other, suddenly reunited after many years. The author infers how the two secondary characters might behave around each other by culling from anecdotes scattered through the primary texts and then imaginatively expanding on them. These references span from the time when Lupin and Black were themselves students at Hogwarts to the time of the story setting, when both men are adults interposing with Harry during his school years. In "A Fearsome Business," Remus Lupin contacts Hagrid and arranges to house Sirius Black's motorcycle, the Black Shadow, which is mentioned in the first chapter of the first Harry Potter book.8
Since so much of this time period is not explicated in the books and does not directly influence the main storyline, Canis M. is able to poach, or raid the preexisting landscape as written by J.K. Rowling to create a unique scenario with a new perspective.
The reader does not get the sense that this particular fanfiction writer is displeased with what was written by the original author, it is simply that there is so much more that could be explored should the focus shift from the intended protagonist to the goings-on of the lesser characters. Within the story there is also a crossover reference to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, albeit in a manner that this reader believes is intended to be tongue in cheek. The worlds of both The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are magical, and it would not be unexpected, given the rampant popularity of both stories in their book and movie manifestations, that there are many participants who are involved in both fandoms simultaneously. Presumably Canis M. is aware of this when in the story Carolina goes to the Owlery at her parent's post office and selects one of two owls to send a surreptitious note to Mr. Lupin; the two owls are named Frodo and Samwise, the names of two of the four hobbits who are primary characters in The Lord of the Rings. In "A Fearsome Business," however, Samwise the owl is a female.
From the moment when Sirius Black in his animagus form as Padfoot the dog appears on Remus Lupin's doorstep, Canis M. writes about an undercurrent of feelings that Lupin has for his former schoolmate from Lupin's point of view. These range from sensations which are platonic and would not be unexpected of any empathetic person toward another sentient being, to those of outright adoration and sexual desire. This story, therefore, fits into the fanfiction genre of slash. In regards to this particular narrative, a phrase from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick as quoted in Textual Poachers seems to be especially applicable. The two characters are homosocial, rather than homosexual. Their interactions with each other "refer to 'social bonds between persons of the same sex,'"13 focusing primarily on the emotional experiences of the characters rather than physical sexual interludes. At the very end of the story they do join physically though the scene is left up to the imagination of the reader.
Interestingly, this narrative does not appear to fall conveniently into any of the formulaic structures as posited by Jenkins. At first glance it appears to be an "Initial Relationship" story, but after multiple readings, the tantalizing hints that Lupin and Black have been intimate prior to the time period when this story takes place become very apparent:
As the water splashed and dishes clinked, he let himself wonder what Sirius might be like now if he'd never been framed for murder, if Azkaban had never held him. Wondered, for the fleetest of instants, what might have become of them. Would things still have ended as they had? Or would Sirius have regretted, and--"15
Outside the bedroom Remus stopped them, turned, shouldered Sirius against the wall -- [ ] --only to lean in, to remind them both of the weight and comfort of body on body, skin on skin. To ask with tremoring hands, with reveling fingers: remember this? Remember that? And then no longer asking, but tenderly insisting: remember this. Remember.16
There is nothing in this story to indicate that it has any of the elements of being either a "Masculine Dystopic" or a "Masculine Utopic" story. There is, however, a component of the "Confession" in it which happens at the end of the narrative.
There is also a Hurt/Comfort aspect to this story. When Sirius Black first arrives at Remus Lupin's home, he is in his animagus form of a large black dog, and Lupin tends to the sores on his feet that Black incurred while travelling in his canine persona.
The author is not gratuitous about Black's wounds, but a reader aware that this is a slash story can infer additional layers of familiarity and tenderness into this simple action. Indeed, much of the underlying story in "A Fearsome Business" centers on Lupin's caring for Black, helping him to recover from the injuries he sustained while on the run during the previous year, both those which are physical as quoted above and also the deeper psychological wounds inflicted on him from his years in Azkaban.
"A Fearsome Business" is an exceedingly well written, Harry Potter book canon-based fanfiction story. Though the time period covered in the narrative is only a few days, the author incorporates multiple storylines, including both explicit references to events from the Harry Potter series as well as the creation of original characters and leaves open the possibility for additional chapters. Through creative plots and subtle character inferences, Canis M. achieves a stunning work of slash fanfiction which incorporates several of the reinterpretive strategies explicated by Henry Jenkins.
1 M, Canis. "A Fearsome Business." http://www.sugarquill.net/read.php?storyid=116&chapno=1. INTERNET. Accessed 11 November, 2003
2Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic Press, 1999. p. 347
3Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1992. pp 162-177
4Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic Press, 2000. p. 713< br> 5M, Canis. Ibid. Chapter 4
6M, Canis. Ibid. Chapter 5
7Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. p. 23
8Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. New York: Scholastic Press, 1997. p. 14. "Borrowed it, Dumbledore, sir," said the giant, climbing carefully off the motorcycle as he spoke. "Young Sirius Black lent it to me."
9M, Canis. Ibid. Chapter 3
10M, Canis. Ibid. Chapter 1
11M, Canis. Ibid. Chapter 3
12M, Canis. Ibid. Chapter 2
13Jenkins, Henry. Ibid. p. 202
14M, Canis. Ibid. Chapter 1
15M, Canis. Ibid. Chapter 3
16M, Canis. Chapter 6
17M, Canis. Chapter 6
18M, Canis. Chapter 1
19M, Canis. Ibid. Chapter 6
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