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“Manacled” was written by SenLinYu with illustrations by Avendell.TODAY Illustration / Courtesy Avendell Art

Harry Potter fan fic ‘Manacled’ has the internet under its spell. How author SenLinYu turned it into a book deal

In her first interview about her debut novel, author SenLinYu talks with about her publishing journey, the importance of fan fiction and the legacy of “Manacled.”

/ Source: TODAY

There’s something in the DNA of SenLinYu’s “Manacled” that has readers around the globe simply bewitched. This story is fan fiction, a near 900-page alternate ending to the “Harry Potter” series with themes far darker than the original books dared to venture. And proof of “Manacled’s” power is planted all over the internet.

Take its numbers: The nearly 16 million individual downloads of the author’s works; the 84,000 likes on Archive of Our Own, aka AO3, where it was first published in 2018; the 19 languages to which it’s been translated; the 71,000 ratings on Goodreads; the 470 million collective TikTok views. The TikTok readers (aka BookTokers) are especially vexed: People are clipping together their emotional states before and after reading — going into it excited and chipper, and finishing with red-rimmed eyes and stifling sobs. 

And the latest flick of the wand: SenLinYu, 32, has leveraged all this into a book deal, a reimagined version of “Manacled” that will leave the characters and world of “Harry Potter” behind.

By 2025, the enemies-to-lovers romance centered around Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy will undergo a transformation to become a novel called “Alchemised,” Sen announced Feb. 5. It’ll be a dark fantasy with new characters, published by Del Rey at Penguin Random House in the U.S. and Michael Joseph in the U.K.

SenLinYu the author of "Manacled"
SenLinYu started publishing chapters from “Manacled” on the fan-fic site AO3 in 2018.Katy Weaver Photography

“It didn’t feel like there was a way to pull (‘Manacled’) back over just to fandom,” Sen tells in an exclusive interview, her first since announcing her book deal. “Using this opportunity to reimagine it felt like a way to leave the original version to fandom so that they could keep it, but that I could take back the rest of the story and rework it in a way where it became mine again.”

Those interested should be warned: “Manacled” is not a tale for the faint of heart, though readers praise it as profoundly moving (hence those aforementioned TikToks). It imagines a version of the “Harry Potter” series with a different chain of events after book five, “The Order of the Phoenix.” In Sen’s story, Harry Potter is dead. Voldemort won the war and is starting a “repopulation effort,” with an imprisoned Hermione sent to be a surrogate to Draco, one of his top officials. Where “Manacled” currently lives on AO3, Sen has warnings of rape and non-consensual sex, psychological trauma and references to torture. 

An artist called Avendell created a cover for “Manacled” and gifted it to the author. “I wanted to challenge myself to try and make my illustrations feel as visceral as her words were to me,” the artist tells Art

Sen says “Manacled” was inspired by watching “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel. There’s one scene in the pilot, specifically, in which the handmaid named Offred is in a room with her commander, a figure that holds physical and sexual control over her.

“That scene just really intrigued me,” Sen tells “I was thinking, imagine being in that kind of situation, but actually, this person is a spy. But ... there’s a reason they can’t disclose that.”

There were several obstacles in Sen’s publishing journey, one of them being the legalities: Over the years, “Manacled” admirers have tried to immortalize it by turning the digital story into physical copies. Sen permits personal bookbinding, but the sale of bound fan fiction can toe a line if it’s for profit. When announcing her book deal, Sen said “there has been a growing issue with illegal sales of ‘Manacled,’ putting both me and the incredible community that shares fan fiction freely in legal jeopardy.”

Another was rebuilding the story itself. She was challenged with taking the spirit of “Manacled” and reworking it around a different magical world and moral dilemma. She reflects on that process as a “cascade” of elements coming together.

“All of sudden, all these other pieces fell into place where it’s like — I think I have a story here that I could tell, that would reimagine all these different aspects of the story,” she says, “but then I could also retain some of these other aspects that are really special to me, that are really well beloved.” 

Though she has more than 50 stories on AO3 under her belt, “Alchemised” will mark Sen’s official debut as a novelist.

“‘Manacled’ was so ambitious, and I started it so early — I had very little writing experience, that I think that there are pieces to it that I felt like, ‘Oh, I wish I could have done that differently,’ or, ‘I wouldn’t have done this, and I would have done this instead,’ or, ‘I could have explored this in a different way,’” she says.

People are being given lots of time to save a copy. ... But this is sort of my way of taking ownership back.

SenLinYu on publishing “Alchemised”

“Alchemised” is set to come out in the fall of next year, but in the meantime, “Manacled” will be available to download through the end of 2024.

“People are being given lots of time to save a copy,” Sen says. “So if they want that version, if that’s the version that’s the most special to them, they are welcome to keep that. … But this is sort of my way of taking ownership back.”

Down the fan-fiction rabbit hole

Before Sen wrote fan fiction, she was reading it. Fan fiction comes in many forms, though most involve romance. Some follow a canon couple (a pair romantically tied in the original work), while others explore new ones. As a preteen, Sen was intrigued by “Harry Potter” fic that “shipped” — fandom speak for wishing two characters get together — Harry and Hermione. She then read a fic that folded in Draco, a definitive bad guy, as his loyalties shift while juggling a love triangle.

Hermione and Harry in a flashback from “Manacled,” illustrated by Avendell.Avendell Art

It’s easy for some to dismiss fan fiction as derivative, smutty, juvenile. It’s hard to put it in one “box” or definition, Sen says. It can range from children writing a story for the first time, using characters they already know to approach the process. It can also involve a writer exploring a part of the original story that felt glossed over or wrapped up in a shiny “happy ever after.”

“I think especially because societally, mental health has been for so long something that people don’t talk about, (that) having something just wrap up so neatly, where there is no need to recover, makes people feel like, ‘I’m doing something wrong if these characters did this, and they’re fine,’” Sen says. “And so, then (writers) want to be like, ‘No, I think that they wouldn’t be fine. I want to see them get there.’”

For Sen, transitioning from reading to writing fan fiction was a “personal challenge,” she says. She gave herself a goal: Write an entire story in one month. After six weeks, she ended up with a 97,000-word Dramione story titled “Love and Other Misfortunes.” 

She couldn’t shake the feeling that she just wanted to keep writing. So she went back to the scene she had written after watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” and crafted a story around it: Hermione is a spy with gaps in her memory, and Draco is a powerful figure in Voldemort’s army tasked with trying to unearth those buried secrets. 

Draco and Hermione, illustrated from a scene in “Manacled.”Avendell Art

She says she’d “write little notes and bits” to herself to tee up her second long-form fan fiction, which became “Manacled.” She developed an outline, getting the details in a row while starting to write a chapter at a time. Her first post on AO3 debuted April 27, 2018. The rest of the story came out as serial chapters. 

How SenLinYu wrote that gutting last line of ‘Manacled’

🚨 Warning: This section contains spoilers for “Manacled” and its ending. For more on what’s to come with the fan fiction’s reimagining, “Alchemised,” skip to the next section.

The last installment of “Manacled” came out in August 2019. Finishing the story brought an onslaught of emotions that Sen sat with for a couple weeks, similar to how many readers feel after the haunting conclusion.

She says she doesn’t take readers’ investment in the story for granted.

“I think that whenever you’re creating a story that’s really personal, you don’t know for sure if anyone else is going to find that interesting. And so you sort of want to prepare yourself emotionally that nobody cares,” she says.

You don’t know for sure if anyone else is going to find that interesting. So you sort of want to prepare yourself emotionally that nobody cares.”

Senlinyu on releasing work that’s personal to her

This story is personal, she clarifies, in the way that Sen identifies with Hermione’s form of heroism — quiet, subtle and self-sacrificing. It represents how Sen feels many women have been represented throughout history, she explains. 

The “trope of the trio” — specifically two boys and a girl, which in “Harry Potter,” is exemplified by Harry, Ron and Hermione — was one of Sen’s ways in.

“So many of the stories that I read then had that combination. And the girl, she was usually the strong female character — she was really spunky and smart and competent,” Sen says. “But at the end of the day, the hero was always one of the boys ... and then she did all these things along the way to enable that final heroism.”

Sen says she had also been picking up historical works and found that this pattern wasn’t just in fiction. She describes reading “The Unwomanly Face of War,” an oral history of Soviet women who fought in World War II but their experiences are left out of the records.

“When I was writing ‘Manacled,’ I was trying to reconcile the ways that women are turned invisible, because they don’t perform the right kinds of heroism,” Sen adds. 

In “Manacled,” Hermione is a healer, tasked with keeping everyone around her alive as supplies and staff diminish in a war. The book opens with Dumbledore’s Order of the Phoenix decimated, and Hermione only able to remember the deaths and the people she feels she had failed. 

As Draco’s surrogate, she becomes pregnant, which leads to the restoration of her lost memories. Through a series of flashbacks, the reader learns she had also served as a spy for the Order, meeting in a shack with a source on the inside of Voldemort’s efforts — Draco. She earns his trust and they fall in love. She finds herself on the battlefield on several occasions, risking her life for Harry, Ron and eventually, Draco. But her efforts are largely forgotten.

The final lines of “Manacled,” illustrated by Avendell.
The final lines of “Manacled,” illustrated by Avendell.Avendell Art

Draco and Hermione do seem to find a happy ending. But Chapter 77, the final installment, flashes forward to someone reading a book about the war’s history. Draco has his own chapter. Hermione, however, has one mention in the tome’s index, leading to the caption of a photograph of her, Ron and Harry.

It reads: “She survived the war but died during imprisonment while a surrogate in the Repopulation Program. She was a non-active member of the Order of the Phoenix and did not fight.”

Those final words have haunted so many “Manacled” readers. Sen says she came up with them about three months into writing. But she didn’t actually write it down and didn’t tell anyone about it.

I was trying to reconcile the ways that women are turned invisible, because they don’t perform the right kinds of heroism.”

SenLinYu on writing “Manacled”

“I felt like I had to earn it,” she says. “I had to get all the way there and reach the point where it made sense that that was the final line, and I couldn’t put it into the world until I had made it there.”

She recalls that ending bringing her “a very weird, surreal sense of devastation.”

“People feel that in their lives, that sense that they are doing so much, they’re sacrificing all the time, and then they kind of slip into the margins of someone else’s story,” she adds. “And I feel like the people that reach out to me, that is often what made ‘Manacled’ incredibly special to them.”

Prepare to enter the world of ‘Alchemised’ 

Sen did not set out to write “Manacled” with a vision of turning it into a novel, she says. But if she did do it, she knew she had to rework the moral dilemma at the core of “Manacled,” find something else worth waging war over.

The idea came to her when Sen was talking with a friend about organ donation, she says. She recalls that friend having “a very visceral reaction to the idea of anyone doing something to her body, even if she was dead.”

“I had just been reading a book that involves necromancers,” Sen continues, “and for whatever reason, my brain was like, ‘I wonder if there should be ethics in necromancy. Should you just be allowed to reanimate anybody?’”

Hermione, illustrated by Avendell.Avendell Art

The idea germinated, she says: What if, on opposing sides of a war, one camp abhors necromancy while another refuses to limit it, constantly bolstering their army with the deceased?

“So if you’re the side that says, ‘No, necromancy is never acceptable, that’s a violation of humanity, we will never ever resort to that’ — when does it get to the point … where violating the dead is worse than endangering so many living people?”

Once she had that piece, the possibility of “reimagining” her fan fiction fell into place. 

She started redrafting the story in December 2022 and shortly after was contacted by agents at WME Books. “Alchemised,” which follows a healer with amnesia taken as a prisoner of war, then went out to publishers on submission.

Fans of “Manacled” may be happy to hear that scenes Sen deems crucial to the plot will remain. But the broader story is going through a rewrite, she adds.

The bigger question: Where do all these changes leave the Draco and Hermione characters? While “Manacled” touches on themes of heroism, memory, legacy and wartime ethics, at its core, it’s a love story. 

Sen describes her new leads — Helena and Kaine.

Helena, the prisoner of war at the center of “Alchemised,” is a student who immigrated to attend an elite alchemy school. She faces great expectations because of the sacrifices made to get her there, and she forms meaningful relationships with the people around her. Then, a war breaks out.

“Even though she has an opportunity to leave and let the war happen in the place where it’s happening and go home, she can’t bring herself to leave all these relationships and friends,” Sen says.

Meanwhile, the male lead, Kaine, comes from one of the old “guild families.” They are able to transmute an industrially valuable element, iron, leading to great wealth but limited social capital, compared to families specializing in precious metals.

A hierarchy exists, as a result, one that “seeds some of the resentment and tensions that then get utilized by others to spark the war that occurs,” Sen says.  

There’s more to come about the plot of “Alchemised” and how it will relate to “Manacled.” For now, Sen says she’s still writing. The final draft is supposed to be a bit shorter then “Manacled,” but not by much.

So many readers say they wish they could experience reading their favorite books for the first time. Could “Alchemised” feel like that for fans of “Manacled”?

“I would say that I am mostly reimagining it for new readers,” Sen replies. “In part because old readers will have ‘Manacled’ still, and they are going to have certain emotional investments in those characters that they’re not necessarily going to have for new characters. So trying to prioritize giving them the same exact experience that they’ve already had, just feels sort of reiterative.”

She adds, “The priority is to try to tell a similarly moving story, but to people that haven’t already experienced it once.”