Harry Potter, the boy-wizard from J K Rowling's hugely popular children's stories, has become a homosexual fantasy on the Internet.
Harry is now the hero of gay romances too, written and read mostly by adolescent girls.
This fan fiction or 'fanfic' is a Web phenomenon and can be heterosexual. But 'het' fanfic is not as popular as homosexual or 'slash' fanfic is.
In these slash fanfics, Harry is mostly paired with Draco Malfoy, his archrival, and sometimes with Ron Weasly, his best friend. Another favourite pairing is Harry and teacher Severus Snape.
Consider this excerpt from a Harry/Draco slashfic, Sometimes When We Touch, by Rhysenn:
"I have to," Harry answered softly, reaching forward and drawing Draco closer to him. "I can't not go." Draco let Harry pull him near, and he subconsciously arched forward against the comforting warmth of Harry's body, the only comfort he trusted in these dark days, and the one thing that was being taken away from him now, and he didn't want to let Harry go, not now, not ever.
A Harry Potter slash page for 'slightly' older folk offers titles like Dementor's Kiss, described as 'a rather twisted little fic'. Other stories promise 'romance, cunning plans, a love triangle and songs galore'.
Rhysenn, a popular slash writer, says that these are stories "where everything and anything goes, for a little fun."
Debbie, another slash writer who corresponded with Net Guide, says she does it because she perceives "chemistry between certain characters". She doesn't mind them belonging to the same sex because, "love is love, no matter who is involved. I look at the subtext and enjoy these non-standard pairings".
What enjoyment does she get by writing and reading stories about relationships between men? "I find a beauty in same-sex relationships because the couple has to really want it in order to overcome a pervasive societal bias against such pairings. They can understand each other, emotionally and physically in ways that heterosexual pairings cannot," explains Debbie.
The excitement over slash fanfic spills on to message boards with readers and writers eagerly debating issues. 'What's your favourite pairing and why?' inquires Tatterhood. Rhysenn declares, "My favourite pairing is Harry/Draco, followed by Lucius/James." Slash writers also use these message boards to understand readership tastes.
'Remus/Severus is the fan mail topic of the week' reads a notice at one site, urging readers to tell the writer how much they love her characters: 'The more fan mail she gets, the more inclined she'll be to write them into the next chapter.'
But like all things that buck convention, slash too has attracted controversy.
College student Pravin Shah is indignant: "The fact that writers who are supposed to be fans can give such twists to popular stories sickens me."
To such familiar reactions, fanfic writers say, don't read them.
One, who goes by the name Firebolt says, "Most stories are marked with warnings all over. If you pay attention to the summary and the author's notes at the top, you have perfect control over what you read. And if the author has enough respect for your dislike of slash to write the warnings, shouldn't you have enough respect for their ideas to leave the story alone?"
Despite tantalising titles like Love Between Rivals, Irresistible Poison and Stealing Sweaters, there aren't always takers. Mumbai housewife Caroline Rodrigues maintains that such fiction is inappropriate for its use of characters from a children's book.
But a writer from New Zealand claims that fanfic "Has no age barriers and while the book itself may be for children it doesn't mean fan fiction is supposed to reflect that."
Writers argue that most stories are set in the future with the characters having grown up. "I have yet to read a story where the characters are younger than 14," says one reader. But who said 14 was mature?
Many also decry the classification of all slash fiction as pornography simply because the characters belong to the same sex.
Debbie has a point to make: "A kiss is a kiss, no matter who's doing it", explaining that while most slash stories "have no more nor less sexual content than comparative heterosexual fics", the latter are not considered porn. "Pornography connotes something dirty. Pure graphic sex without emotion or plot. To lump all slash fics together and say their authors are involved with porn is an insult to the emotional and plot-based stories we try to create," Debbie argues.
An echo comes from slash writer Amy Fortuna: "Less than a third of my stories contain sex. It's about the relationship."
Not everybody buys these arguments though. "Sure it's porn. What did you think it was, wholesome entertainment?" a Mumbai Potter fan asks.
There is also the legal angle. While Warner Brothers has reportedly taken a grim view of such sites, saying it is a violation of intellectual property rights, writers and fans of slash have been quick to defend themselves.
Slash writer Elysian insists that it does not violate copyrights because it isn't done for money: "The only payment I'm receiving for this venture is my own twisted satisfaction. Please don't sue me. I'm fragile." While Author Jules threatens, "If they're looking for a fight, they will get one!"
Debbie points to the fact that writers are careful to put up disclaimers acknowledging that they aren't the owners of anything related to Harry Potter. She does not subscribe to the view that Potter slash results in negative publicity for the movie or books: "Any negative view will be a mere drop in the bucket. There will not be any significant impact on the genre as a whole."
To prove her point, she talks of people who denounce Harry Potter as promoting witchcraft: "Those people have a much larger voice than slash activists but even they have not been able to curb the flood of admiration for Rowling's creation."