Anelli: Everyday flaws allow magic to come through

In chapter 23 of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” there is a seemingly unimportant scuffle that became a defining moment for the series. Yet, it often goes unnoticed by many readers.

When publishers suggested author J.K. Rowling draw more attention to the moment “she said, ‘No, it is this small for a reason,'” said Melissa Anelli, a Harry Potter historian who spoke Tuesday night in the Marshall Student Center Oval Theater as part of the University Lecture Series. “And it’s this moment that is being referred to at the end of the series; it’s called ‘The Flaw in the Plan.'”

The idea of a “flaw in the plan” – the little moments that later influence a person’s life – was the subject of Anelli’s lecture to about 250 USF students; some wearing Harry Potter paraphernalia.

Anelli, who studied J.K. Rowling to write her novel, “Harry, a History” said Rowling’s career itself is made up of many small moments. They ranged from choosing a small publisher because she “liked the name” to having fans in the marketing teams she worked with.

But Anelli, who originally went to college to be a doctor, said she never would be where she is today – Webmistress of the most popular Harry Potter fan site on the Internet and a New York Times bestseller – without a few flaws in her own plan.

Her life with Harry Potter began during her last year at Georgetown University. After seeing the stack of textbooks Anelli would need for the semester, her sister suggested lighter reading: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

“Three weeks later I’m sitting on the bed in my dorm room like half a mile from my class where I was due five minutes previous, doing the ‘end of book four cry,” Anelli said, before bursting into fake tears on stage for a character who died in the fourth book of the series.

When Anelli began to work for The Hoya, Georgetown University’s school paper, she began holding book discussions with her editor-in-chief. Anelli said this was the first time she can remember having a conversation about something with that kind of passion.

After graduating in 2001 with a degree in English, Anelli said she accidentally rediscovered the Harry Potter series in her parent’s house.

“I did that cheesy thing that … people do in Hallmark commercials where they pick up something that means something to them … and they run their hand over it,” Anelli said. “Suddenly, I was back where I felt at home.”

After re-reading books one through four in two days, Anelli turned to the Internet for information on book five and instead found The Leaky Cauldron, the No. 1 Harry Potter fan site. In 2001, she became Webmistress of the site, a title she still holds today.

Before getting the job, she e-mailed as many news tips to the site as she could, even bribing a salesman into giving her an early issue of Vanity Fair, which contained the first pictures of the costumes for the first Harry Potter film, so that she could scan it in before anyone else.

But working for the blog was a volunteer job, and Anelli said she still struggled with living at home with her parents.

“If you have graduated and you’re jobless and you’re home in your parents house, possibly in green paisley pajamas like I was wearing every day at the time … you’ll have fights with your parents,” Anelli said. “If you want to make those fights worse, start working for no money for a fan organization online.”

It wasn’t until Sept.11, 2001, when her sister was working in a building next to the World Trade Center that Anelli began to see the benefit of Harry Potter outside of the novels. As Anelli and her mother tried to get information through unstable phone connections and one working news station, she said. The Leaky Cauldron members kept her sane.

“These 12-year-old kids were writing to me and saying, ‘How can this happen? How is this possible in this world? Why? I thought Voldemort was fictional. What’s happening?'” she said. “And I knew at that moment, that was it. I was locked in. This was my world.”

After that, Anelli said things happened fast.

Now, Anelli runs Leaky Con, a Harry Potter convention put on by the blog in Orlando, enjoys the success of “Harry, a History,” is pen pals with J.K. Rowling and has spoken at colleges for the past two years, answering Harry Potter trivia questions and advising students to pay attention to the small moments in life.

“(For me) it was because I’d done the thing that I wasn’t supposed to do: I had followed the flaw in the plan,” Anelli said. “I like saying this to college people because if you allow things to go wrong in your life … then the flaw allows the magic to come through.”