Wide Angle

The Best Harry Potter Novel Isn’t Written by J.K. Rowling

It’s queer, it’s class-conscious, and it’s 500,000 words-long.

Two men stand next to each other. One has short brown hair, a brown suit, and a gray button down shirt underneath; the other has scraggly black hair and a long brown coat. They both look off-camera.
Warner Bros. Entertainment

Over the past year, a new Harry Potter canon has gained steam, one that stems from a massive, 500,000-word fanfiction. Yes, 500,000 words—nearly half the length of all the Harry Potter books combined. Called All the Young Dudes, it’s currently the most popular story on the fanfic website Archive of Our Own, with over four million hits and climbing. It may not be an official Harry Potter story, but that doesn’t matter: All the Young Dudes has managed to birth a fandom of its own, one that’s all over Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, and Tumblr.

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All The Young Dudes, named after a song written by David Bowie and recorded by Mott the Hoople, first began publishing in March 2017 by a user named MsKingBean89; it ended in 2018 with 188 chapters total. All the Young Dudes is set during what fans call the Marauders era in the Harry Potter universe, the time when Harry’s parents attended Hogwarts, and stars the so-called Marauders themselves: Harry’s father, James, and his best friends Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew—all of whom appear in the novels.

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Marauders era fanfic is one of the more popular subgenres within the Harry Potter fandom, known for having several unique relationship pairings besides the canon-compliant ship of Harry’s parents. Perhaps most popular among these is the one known as Wolfstar, which is what fanfic readers and writers call the romantic relationship between Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. They’re best friends in the books, and much more than friends in All the Young Dudes. Over the course of 188 chapters, the fic charts the growing relationship between Remus and Sirius as well as the lives of James and Peter and Lily, following the gang from their very first year at Hogwarts to the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban—a nearly 25-year span of time.

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I first started reading All the Young Dudes in November 2020, while I was living at home. (It’s indisputable fact that if you live at home for longer than three weeks, you regress into a teenager.) Despite having read the entirety of the Harry Potter series as a child, I hadn’t read any fan fiction of the series before last year. Once I started, All The Young Dudes was inescapable. First I said, “I’m not reading a 500,000-word fanfiction.” Then I said, “I’m going to read the first two chapters of this 500,000 word fanfiction.” Fast forward two weeks, and I’m skipping Zoom meetings to read this fan fiction.

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What makes All the Young Dudes so engrossing is how detailed and invested it is in building a world outside of the one Rowling created. It’s a slow-burning love story told from the perspective of Remus, who is a werewolf, and thus explores the experience of being a gay man in 1970s Britain and being a werewolf in the wizarding society. At the same time, there’s also a lot of class exploration, a dynamic hinted at in the Harry Potter books but more fully explored in All the Young Dudes. Fanfiction as a genre allows for people to write characters into a universe that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have been there or had been given short shrift. Stories focused on Wolfstar, the relationship between Remus and Sirius, fall into both those categories—not least since queerness was largely excluded from Rowling’s version of the Harry Potter universe.

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The growing interest in All the Young Dudes of late has this movement of reclamation to thank, but there’s another factor: Fanfiction TikTok. All the Young Dudes in particular really had its moment in the second year of the pandemic, starting around the winter. Here’s some more numbers: The fic finished publishing in November 2018. By mid-2019, it had somewhere around 100,000 hits on Archive of Our Own. By November 2020, it had just under 300,000 hits. Jump to January 2021: By the end of the month, the story had reached just under a million hits. And now it now has more than four million hits on Archive of Our Own. There are now YouTube reviews of this fic. People have taken it upon themselves to read it for audiobooks in a practice known as podficcing. It has almost 9,000 ratings on GoodReads and a 4.82 star average review score, which a lot of published authors would kill for. It has its own TV Tropes page, and there are hundreds of posts in the Tumblr tag, which includes some phenomenal fan art.

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Over on TikTok, the #atyd hashtag on TikTok has 704 million views. Few of of them have anything to do with the Mott the Hoople song, although almost every single TikTok that uses that song is about the fanfiction of the same name. The spinoff hashtag #atydtiktok has 45 million views in and of itself. Among countless memes and fancasts dedicated to the story, people have even posted clips of themselves printing and binding the entire, 500,000-word fic so they can have their own physical copies.

At first glance, the concept of printing out fanfiction might seem wild but it makes total sense—fandom is nothing if not committed—and it’s also sparked a discussion among fanfic readers and writers about copyright. The popular fandom logic goes that the only reason that fanworks aren’t technically violating copyright law is because they’re transformative, which means they’re different from the original work they’re based upon, and because they don’t affect the market of the original work. Profiting off of fanfic theoretically changes the legal calculus though actual legal experts are in dispute over that. But since MsKingBean89 isn’t selling copies of All The Young Dudes, just allowing others to spend their own on bound copies of her writing, the argument is moot in this case. There’s little to no financial incentive for MsKingBean89 here—any attempt to monetize a level of engagement that brands would kill for could potentially open her up to a copyright claim from Rowling. Which makes the popularity of All The Young Dudes entirely organic and grassroots in a way that few internet trends are anymore.

It’s just one of the many, many, many fascinating parts of All the Young Dudes—and why it seems like, more than two years since it wrapped, its popularity won’t wane any time soon.

For more on All the Young Dudes, listen to ICYMI, Slate’s internet culture podcast; new episodes premiere every Wednesday and Saturday.

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