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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dumbledore’s Anteaters Cast a Spell on UCI

By Carolyn Brown

“Parchment and Quills out! Today you are taking a final test and if you do not pass, you will not continue to your second year O.W.L. exams!” Deputy Headmaster Chirag Bharati stands at the front of the class with Gryffindor Prefect Francine Tran and Slytherin Prefect Nick Blair waiting for the fifteen or so members of Dumbledore’s Anteaters to filter into room 1306 in Social Ecology II to begin their exams. Dressed in his glasses, plaid Bermuda shorts and Birkenstocks, Bharati may not look very menacing but as the second in command for UC Irvine’s Harry Potter Fan Club it is clear he is someone of authority as he welcomes each member into the Room of Requirement and instructs them to take their seats.

Those familiar with the Harry Potter series remember the infamous Room of Requirement originally discussed between Dobby the House Elf and Harry Potter himself in the fifth book of the JK Rowling series. Described as a secret room located on the seventh floor of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, this magical and accommodating space only reveals itself when a person is in great need of it. So, when freshmen drama majors Michelle Maurer and Caitlin McEvoy in the spring of 2009 decided that the University of California, Irvine was lacking in Harry Potter spirit, they went searching for their own Room of Requirement. Two years later, room 1306 in Social Ecology II remains home to Dumbledore’s Anteaters, the only Harry Potter Fan Club at UC Irvine.

Maurer explains that she fell in love with Harry Potter in the third grade, listening with rapt attention to her teacher bring the words to life. Since then, she’s read every book and when she was old enough, attended the midnight premiers in full costume as Professor Trelawney, one of her favorite characters. She and her mother even went so far as to meet JK Rowling in an author’s signing at a bookstore near their home. This common interest helped form a closer connection between mother and daughter. The typical mother/daughter arguments were atypical because they centered on who got to read the only family copy of the latest book and when. Dumbledore’s Anteaters is a manifestation of Maurer’s desire to further connect with the series she fell in love with more than just her immediate family.

The Room of Requirement’s transformation takes place every Wednesday night from five to six o’clock in the evening during Irvine’s academic school year, as a strong, handful of devoted “Potterheads” take their seats and await to see what their Headmaster Ambrella Frantzich, Deputy Headmaster Chirag Bharati, and their team of House Prefects have in store for them. Usually, meeting time is split equally every other week between discussing Harry Potter related trivia and gossip in the Room of Requirement and practicing one’s Quidditch skills in Aldrich Park by the ‘Whomping Willow.”

It’s week nine of instruction during UC Irvine’s spring quarter, which means that today, May 25, 2011, is the last day in the members three-part challenge: The 2nd Annual Triwizard Tournament. Even with finals quickly approaching, the DA members find it necessary to take an hour out of their week to just relax with the people whom with they share such a powerful common interest. Deputy Headmaster Bharati, a fourth year anthropology major, moves to the whiteboard as a few more students find open seats. There are no new members visiting today so instead of drawing a giant, withered sorting hat that usually appears at the beginning of each meeting, Bharati writes a large welcome sign alongside instructions for the member’s exam. Headmaster Frantzich explains that when a new member arrives for their first DA meeting, the Headmaster at the time sits them in front of the whiteboard sorting hat and asks them a series of questions. These range from, ‘If you could only do one spell for the rest of your life, what would you choose?’ ‘If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you bring?’ ‘If you were stranded on a dessert island, what would you bring?” Each question is meant to show the specific personality of the member so the Headmaster can see where best they would fit. The fourteen members currently seated in the Room of Requirement hale from not only differing majors at UCI but also from all four of the Hogwarts houses – Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. These Houses compete against each other throughout the year with the hopes of gaining the title of Top House and receiving the much-coveted House Cup at the end of the school year. Third year political science major Francine Tran, Gryffindor Prefect for three consecutive years, explains that the Triwizard Tournament is one of the ways each house can gain House Points. At the end of the exam, the Headmaster and Deputy Headmaster will tally the points of each member and add them to their specific house total.

Back in the Room of Requirement, some members race to see who can clear their desks and pull out spare pieces of lined notebook paper first when Seth Strickland, a vocal third year Hufflepuff and political science major sarcastically asks, “is this going to be curved?” Bharati laughs and rolls his eyes before explaining that the third and final task in this year’s Triwizard Tournament will be a thirty-six question exam testing each member’s knowledge of Harry Potter facts from both the movies and books.

Although DA members are huge fans of Harry Potter and the Rowling series, they admit they probably would not be able to stand up against The World’s Biggest Harry Potter Fan. ‘Steve’, who refers to himself as “Harry Potter himself” in a video made in November 2010 for an online contest to find America’s Biggest HP Fan, has quickly become a household name in families of diehard Potterheads as well as a YouTube sensation. His video, reaching almost 1,500,000 views, guides the viewers through the three rooms in his house covered with Potter memorabilia and merchandise. Steve claims to have read the books each over one hundred times and that he is ‘able to wear Harry Potter clothing every day for three months without wearing the same thing twice.’ He ends the video by revealing his right forearm to the camera to show where he has had Rowling’s autograph tattooed on him. Frantzich talks about the spectrum of fan-obsession and how there are people who just watch the movies or read the books to the people, like Steve, who center their whole lives on the series. “Dumbledore’s Anteaters are filled with all different types of fans.” She further explains that the DA is just meant to be a space where anyone who likes Potter, Rowling, fiction, mystery, wizardry or just good literature, can feel welcome. Being an English major, Frantzich not only appreciates the series because she’s fallen in love with the characters and the idea that magic may exist in this world but also because she appreciates the literary work Rowling puts into her writing. Some people in the club attend meetings because they love the movies and artistic side of the Potter franchise while others just want to pretend to fly around on a broom and hang out with friends. It doesn’t matter if you do or do not know the obscure Potter Facts, we just want to “hang out and have a good time!”
“Question one: What do you do if you want to cast away a Boggart?” All heads bow over their blank papers, scribbling away their answers as Bharati steadily goes through different questions only true Harry Potter fans would know. “Question eleven: Who was Ginny’s last boyfriend before Harry?”

“Cho Chang!” Strickland exclaims before looking around at his classmates to see their reactions. Satisfied with their responses of laughter, Strickland turns back to Bharati who stands arms crossed, shaking his head with a strained smile across his face; clearly, this is outburst is something expected from Strickland. “Five points from Hufflepuff!” Bharati yells back at the DA’s class clown, laughing as he watches Strickland over exaggerated response to this punishment. As Deputy Headmaster, Bharati is one of only a few select students who are able to add and subtract house points.

Michelle Maurer explains that when she and McEvoy originally started Dumbledore’s Anteaters, they didn’t want to have the standard positions of President, Vice President and Secretary/Treasurer, which is why they used leadership titles from the series. Since their meeting in high school, Maurer and McEvoy shared a deep love for all things Harry Potter so when they visited the Anteater Involvement fair during their first week as UCI freshman, they were confused how a Harry Potter Fan club was not already in existence.
“This kind of defines our generation, we have to have a Harry Potter club,” Maurer remembers thinking. The two searched Irvine’s online club database, CORE – Campus Organizations Resources and Education – and discovered all that was needed to start a new organization was forty dollars, three officers or members and a description of the club. With McEvoy as Minister of Magic, Maurer as Headmaster and their friend Victoria Hannah as Deputy Headmaster, the Potterheads attended the mandatory welcome meeting for all new clubs at the end of winter quarter in 2009. “We’re the DA, or Dumbledore’s Anteaters, and we promise to provide a wonderful experience for all Harry Potter fans who attend UC Irvine!”

Now that the club was official, the founders made a few posters and put them on the bridges connecting the Student Center to the school of Humanities and Middle Earth Housing to the school of Engineering. Along with this, the officers set up a Facebook event encouraging students to ‘come get sorted’ into their Hogwarts houses at their first meeting in spring quarter.
“We really didn’t publicize that much. Only like twenty-three people said they were attending online and it was mostly our friends so we really didn’t think that many people were going to come to our first meeting.” But when Maurer and McEvoy walked down to the club meeting spot – the Whomping Willow in Aldrich Park – fifty to sixty students were already waiting for them. “It was a little overwhelming but it ended up being a huge success.” Maurer remembers that once everyone had been sorted into their specific house, all members got in a giant circle, sat down and talked about why they personally decided to attend today’s meeting. “It was really shocking to see so many different students with different lives and goals come together on a whim just because they saw a flyer about Harry Potter.”

Although the Whomping Willow is no longer the meeting place for DA meetings, it is the spot to be if one desires a quick Quidditch match in Aldrich Park. Of course, members don’t actually fly on a broomstick and hit ‘bludgers’ at each other, but they make do with makeshift goals and kitchen brooms that can be found in Target’s house wares section. Split up into two teams with seven on each and one member as the designated ‘snitch’, Potterheads run around and try to aim the volleyball-Quaffle into the hula-hoop goal posts and dodge the vicious soccer ball-bludgers. The snitch’s sole job is to run around the campus and avoid being caught – once caught, the game is over and the team gets an additional 160 points. Alternating teams and positions, Hogwarts houses do not matter on the field. This week, it’s the “Chudley Cannons vs. Team Hogwarts” with Headmaster Frantzich as the snitch. As the game begins, Frantzich immediately starts running out of Aldrich Park and away from the game – specifically from the two ‘seekers’ who will run after her in about a minute – her goal is to avoid the seekers long enough for the two teams to score some points. Being a seasoned Quidditch player, Frantzich runs to the on campus Starbucks for her hideout explaining that no one ever thinks to look there.

Frantzich says she relates to Neville Longbottom and says she’s, “always been that quirky weird kid but in the end, I know I’m going to go out with a bang, I’m going to be the one who makes it all happen.” She has proven her determination in her goals and devotion to the DA’s wellbeing since her rise from Gryffindor Prefect to the now Headmaster. Frantzich admits to not always being a devoted Harry Potter Fanatic but since the moment someone spoiled the death of Sirius – Harry’s Godfather – in the fifth book, she has converted to Potterdom. Now, she is an avid follower of Mugglenet.com, the world’s number one Harry Potter site, where she awaits her fateful day of becoming ‘Muggle of the Week’.

Mugglenet.com has forums, message boards, pictures and links to all things Potter related. Not only was this the webpage where the opening scene of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was leaked briefly before site managers removed the link but also where the popular ‘A Very Potter Musical’ and sequel ‘A Very Potter Sequel’ were promoted – two musical adaptations of the Potter story written by University of Michigan students and starring Fox Channel Glee star, Darren Criss.

But Frantzich’s favorite fanatic outlet is harrypotterfanfiction.com. Fan fiction is fiction written by fans about characters from stories they love in situations different than those created by the original author. Harry Potter is the number one fan fiction topic in the world; written and read by people on every continent. For Frantzich, fan fiction supplements her overwhelming desire to read about the characters she’s fallen in love with. The seven original books and soon to be eight original movies just don’t fill that need.

Potter has been such a constant in Frantzich’s life, but she doesn’t believe the myth that Harry Potter fandom stops with our generation. This series has been such an influence in her life and without its existence, she wouldn’t have found a club where she feels ‘more at home’ with, she wouldn’t have met her roommates who share her love of Potter, and she wouldn’t want to study abroad in England to see first hand where Rowling became inspired. Frantzich thinks that even though this series was published in ‘our’ generation, its popularity will not fade with time. As an English major, she thinks Potter’s story has found it’s place among other great tales like Frodo’s quest, Huckleberry Finn’s adventure and Aslan’s redemption. In her opinion, Harry has become and will remain a household name and even though some say this Wizarding World does not exist, in her heart, “it does.”

Reporter’s Notes:
One-hour interview with Michelle Maurer
One-hour interview with Francine Tran
Two-hour interview with Ambrella Frantzich
Attendance of Meeting/Quidditch
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
http://m.youtube.com/index?desktopuri=%F&gl=US#/profile?user=HarryPotterHimself (World’s Biggest Harry Potter Fan)


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