basement magic

a foreword to my zine about the house shows at brian malfoy manor in woonsocket, rhode island.

Two Augusts ago, I emailed my friend (and then-boss) Matt asking if he thought it would be a good idea for me to move to Rhode Island.

I lived, as I had since I was five years old, in Miami — confined to my personal Privet Drive, thousands of miles from any consistent iteration of the DIY Harry Potter community I loved. Like Harry, I grew up wanting to escape but never really thinking it was possible — feeling trapped and alone, but never really thinking there was a place where I could belong. This was the first time I saw a flicker of possibility before me.

Earlier that August, I had been in Orlando, closing out another GeekyCon the way my friends and I almost always mark the end of a con: by hitting the hotel hot tub. I felt a sour panic growing in my stomach as I realized that the weekend was over and a bus would soon take me back to Miami, back to Privet Drive, away from a week that had felt like home. This was the summer I had realized that I simply couldn’t afford the New England college I was set to transfer to, and — without a cosigner for student loans — my only ticket out of Miami had disappeared.

When the hot tub conversation lulled and someone asked where I’d be going to school that fall, my answer of “Oh, well, nowhere,” and the crack in my voice when I said it betrayed my panic. “I’m pretty much stuck in Miami,” I said. To varying degrees, this group of friends had seen me struggle under abuse in the house I’d soon return to. They knew as well as I did that I couldn’t stay there much longer. So they started listing possibilities — cheap cities, residencies, options. I felt my world shift under the realization that there might actually be a way out.

“You could live in a punk house,” Joe said. “There’s one somewhere in Massachusetts that rents out the cupboard under the stairs… or you could come to Providence!”

Providence. It was such a great fit: I already had friends in the area; I’d fallen in love with it in the fleeting hours I’d spent there back in spring; it was in the northeast, far closer to everything I had always wanted within reach — friends and shows and cities I could sneak away to. And wizard rock.

I have a habit of saying I was raised by wizard rock. I still think that’s true: I stumbled across it when I was in elementary school, and I held on tight. It changed my life from the very first moment; among so much else, it gave me a value system, and a rabbit hole into DIY culture, and a necessary soundtrack to my survival.

But I suppose that explanation doesn’t tell the whole story, the one where wizard rock is less my hometown and more my map and compass, my shield and sword. It’s not just my childhood. It’s there in every part of my story, guiding me along, leading me to massive nights but also lighting a path through the fog. It’s always been all of this, and I wanted nothing more than to find it somewhere beyond my iPod.

Because I wasn’t allowed to leave my house until I simply couldn’t be kept there anymore, my first wizard rock show was at LeakyCon 2014, almost ten years after I first started listening to the bands on the lineup. For a long time, I thought all my wizard rock experiences would be like that one, taking place in huge convention halls with crowds hundreds of people deep. I loved those shows (they’re still some of my very favorite nights), but they were few and far between, and functioned more as annual blowout celebrations than as steady, community-building get-togethers.

I wanted both, not just the former. I had grown up watching the fandom from afar, hearing all about small library shows and house show tours and tight-knit events where everyone knew everyone’s name. But I figured I’d never live out the dream of the 2000s, and I was more than happy with what I did get. I counted down to LeakyCon 2014 and then GeekyCon 2015 with painstaking attention, urging each day along until I could be in a crowd, singing along to all my favorite songs with all my favorite people.

By 2015, though, I had heard tell of some wizard rock house shows Brian from Draco and the Malfoys would throw at his home in Rhode Island. I knew there were a fair amount of active bands in the area, but I didn’t dwell on the idea of the house shows too much because I knew I couldn’t go. I knew that when GeekyCon ended, everyone would be counting down to the next house show in September and I would still be in Florida.

GeekyCon did end, and I did make my way back to Miami. But it was still August when I emailed Matt looking to talk the idea of moving to Providence with someone who lived there and was a mentor figure in my life, and it was still August when Matt responded not with tips but with an invitation to live with him and Lauren for two months. It was August, and I was terrified.

As I stared at my computer screen, I thought of all the things that could go wrong. I had never lived by myself. I didn’t know a thing about the so-called real world. I was looking at moving states away with nothing but the two suitcases and one carry-on Southwest allowed. I was absolutely certain I would fuck this up.

I replied to Matt’s email with something about not possibly being able to impose on them. He replied with something shutting down my nonsense, assuring me that they wanted to do this. I allowed myself to think I could actually do it. I could have a life beyond Privet Drive for more than a few days out of the year.

The clincher, though — the thing I couldn’t let myself talk my way out of — was the house show. The small, DIY, magical house show straight out of my dreams. I looked at the calendar, and realized that I could move up in time for the next one.

So I emailed Matt back with a yes. And just like that, I was packing my life into a couple of suitcases, daydreaming about two months with two of the people who meant and mean the world to me, and counting down to the next house show in September, when I would no longer be in Florida.

A few weeks later, I walked into my first house show and immediately felt at home. I kept looking around at all my friends and all the familiar faces and realizing that, before this, I’d only seen this many people I loved at once in bigger settings: hotels, convention centers, huge rooms with cold blue lights. Here, we were in someone’s home — a lovingly curated, lived-in place with books stacked on coffee tables and a shelf full of records and a collection of Star Wars figurines.

Brian Malfoy Manor, March 2017.

It was like the parties I thought I was missing out on in high school, populated with people I never thought I’d get to see in a place like this.

Before my first LeakyCon, I had never really been to a party. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house much outside of school, and I was definitely not allowed to attend any gathering involving anybody my parents did not know. I wasn’t even sure what a party was. I made it through middle school and high school and two years of community college without so much as one Teen Movie Moment, longing for just one night where I could sit on some couch or floor or kitchen counter and feel like I belonged in the crowd milling about as I talked to friends or strangers and threw my head back and laughed and laughed. It feels silly now, but I feared I’d lost my chance at that experience. When all you know is Privet Drive, it’s hard to realize there’s a world beyond it just waiting for you.

At cons, I began to see flickers of that world. I would find myself in hotel rooms packed far beyond their capacity, or sometimes in hospitality suites thrumming with music and conversation. Depending on the night, I’d either join in or sit back, silent, absorbing the scene. It felt new, with so much potential, but it took a while before I even began to be comfortable enough to chip away at my shell.

At the house shows, I found I could be the best version of myself from the moment I walked in: more relaxed, smiling, something approaching confident. I could effortlessly ease into conversations, and I could goof around without the weight of anxiety on my shoulders, and I didn’t have to hide my sincerity. Sure, it helped that I knew most people in attendance through those cons, and my social anxiety at cons said a lot more about my hangups than about my surroundings, but there was a distinct shift in the atmosphere. Here, we were all old friends at a party; we knew every word to every song, and we understood each other. Without the pressure of packing enough memories and good impressions into one weekend to last us a year or more, we could slow down and just be normal people.

(Or, at least, normal people who were gathering in a basement in a house called Brian Malfoy Manor to sing songs about Harry Potter’s parents being dead. Details.)

Not long after that first show, I moved into my first apartment in Providence. I worked out of local coffee shops. I started going to shows at AS220, an amazing independent space that had hosted many early wizard rock shows long before I landed nearby. And, every few months, I would go back to Brian Malfoy Manor.

They say that what you’re doing at midnight on New Year’s will set the tone for year. This superstition proved true for me, because I welcomed and let go of 2016 the same way: in Brian’s basement, laughing and singing and hugging. In between, I marked every season with another house show. This space became the throughline for a year like no other –- a sure thing, a stability I desperately needed. No matter what was going on in my life, I could count on this.

In the spring of 2016, Olivia and I were both working on projects that endeavored to carve out the types of space we, as writers, wanted to see in the fandom — Olivia on Wizards in Space, me on Wizard Punk. We had spent so much time driving around having long talks about the gaps we saw and how we could bridge them. The first public step we took was asking Brian if we could start a series of readings at the house shows.

Brian said “Of course; of course you can. Just tell me what you need.”

We read our work in back-to-back sets, and I was struck by how welcoming and enthusiastic the audience was. For a relatively small crowd, the cheers and applause at the end of our readings came in like a roar. I felt like I could do absolutely anything.

In the house shows that followed, we began welcoming new voices to the “stage.” I saw people I’d known for years sharing their stories through incredibly moving essays and poems in a space Olivia and I had created. It feels like a privilege each and every time, and it remains one of the most humbling and fulfilling projects I’ve worked on.

From my very first house show. September 2015.

I am starting to realize that I’m lucky enough to have a home most everywhere I go. Home, for me, scatters across states, exists in memories and in moments yet to come. It’s books. It’s buses. It’s hotels in Orlando, and in Minneapolis, and inLos Angeles. It’s that moment in that hot tub where I realized people were rooting for me, and it’s that moment in Miami where I stared at my computer screen and saw a future unfold before me.

I love that. I love GeekyCon and LeakyCon. I love the big, blowout shows. I still count down to them as intently as before. But now I know that I don’t have to count on those days to last me a year because there’s always a house back in Rhode Island waiting for me.

There’s something so special about having a homebase — a basement with lights woven through the rafters, our own little enchanted ceiling; a living room with couches and a fireplace and all the comfort and community of a common room; an entire great hall’s worth of cupcakes. There’s something so special about going down to the basement, packed full of people, and seeing bands that have been around since the very beginning playing alongside bands making their wizard rock debuts.

As a fandom, we call a lot of things our Hogwarts. I don’t think that metaphor would go amiss here, but there’s definitely room for a bit more specificity. I think this space is most like our own Room of Requirement with a wizard punk spin. We teach. We learn. We laugh. We take shelter from a darkening world. We take the future of our community into our own hands. We say what we need this place to be and it changes, as if by magic.

When I needed a place to find my footing after escaping Privet Drive, Malfoy Manor welcomed me. When Olivia and I wanted a place to launch and nurture our vision for a writing community, Brian gave us the go ahead without a moment’s hesitation. When my life fell apart in time with the world’s sharp turn towards terror and I needed to laugh and cry in unpredictable turns, the New Year’s Eve party came through with Smash Mouth and Ecto Cooler and hugs.

From the New Year’s Eve show. December 2016/January 2017.

According to the books, the Room of Requirement is “a room that a person can only enter when they have real need of it. Sometimes it is there, and sometimes it is not, but when it appears, it is always equipped for the seeker’s needs.”

When I lived at Privet Drive, I longed for a Hogwarts letter or at least a high school party. I longed for friendship and belonging and a sense of home beyond the star-cornered pages I knew so well. I waited longer than I thought I could. I know now that the things I agonized over missing out on weren’t the things I needed, and if I had a timeturner my first stop would be that scared and lonely and impatient girl so I could tell her there were so many homes waiting for her. That there was a home in a town she had never even heard of, and it was full of so much love and friendship and possibility. That it would shelter her and nurture her and provide a backdrop for so many memories — songs and stories, polaroid pictures and puff-paint shirts, Snitchwich shades and good mistakes, friendship and firewhiskey, a Moaning Myrtles reunion and a Black Wampum show, Smash Mouth and more Smash Mouth, too many beers and never enough time. What she needed was out there. She just had to wait a little longer.

Each of us has a story. Each of us has needed something, and left something, and found something in this Room of Requirement. In the pages that follow, I’ve gathered some words from some of the wonderful people who make up this sub-sub-sub-community. It’s a tiny, tiny thank you — a drop in the ocean of what we owe this space — but it’s a start.

If you’d like a copy of the house show zine, it’s available for purchase here. If you’d like to learn more about the quarterly house show series at Brian Malfoy Manor, this is the Facebook page. The next show is on June 17th, the night before Harry and the Potters’ 15th anniversary show in Adams, MA.