I guess that I could say that my life began to change on the Christmas that I opened up a present from one of my mom’s co-workers. It was a book, an actual long chapter book, and not one of those easy-to-read numbers. Sure, I was ahead of the rest of my class by reading Junie B. Jones and A to Z Mysteries by myself, but this was a book that seemed beyond even my level. This book was called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and it would change my life.
Since I couldn’t read the book by myself, it became a nightly bedtime ritual between my mom and me. We would lie down on the bed and she would read to me, sometimes a little or sometimes an entire chapter. I went to sleep with dreams of Hogwarts and magic dancing in my head. When we made it through the first book, we moved onto the second and then the third. By then I was ready to tackle an actual book, and I wanted Harry Potter to be my first. I remember reading it on a family vacation to Wyoming, thumbing through the pages, rediscovering the old magic, and a new one as well. I’d enjoyed reading before, because it was fun for me, but Harry Potter made me love it. It sparked my imagination and let me delve into a book with all of my attention, not just some of it.
I ran through the second and third books on my own as well. I remember being in fourth grade and wanting to check out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire from the school library, but it was ‘above’ my reading level. So I sat down with my teacher and read the first two pages out loud for her, proving that I was ready to read this epic book. And I did. I was the first person in my elementary school to read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and I was friends with the librarian so I got to write the Accelerated Reading quiz for it. The sixth and seventh books came out when I was spending summers at my grandmother’s in Lakeview, OR so there were no midnight release parties for me, just a morning trip to Safeway to pick up a copy.
I made a race out of reading the last two books, spending entire days devouring them and making a game of it. It took me nine hours to read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and eight hours and fifty-five minutes to read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I remember crying a lot with the last book, not just because a lot of my favorite characters died but because this was the end of a reading era. I wouldn’t have a chance to read any Harry Potter books for the first time again. Of course, there’s rereading and I’ve done plenty of that—especially with the fifth book which is my favorite—but it’s not the same as that first train ride to Hogwarts.
Before Harry Potter I liked movies, but I never really looked forward to them. It was more of a ‘Oh, there’s a new Disney movie that I keep seeing commercials for on the TV—can we go see it?’ instead of ‘Mom! They’re making a Harry Potter movie and it comes out in November and we have to go see it!’ I remember sitting in the very, very front row of the theater, craning my neck up to stare at the screen as Richard Harris appeared, the perfect Dumbledore. It was seeing magic coming to life, and I loved every second of it. So much so, that I saw it again. The same happened with the second film—a nightmare of snakes and spiders—and I remember seeing it again with my cousin and one of her friend’s and saying that the spider scene was over when in fact Aragog was right in front of us all.
I dressed up a bit for the fourth one, putting on a Harry Potter shirt and using some of my mom’s makeup to draw a scar on my forehead, and there was a guy in the elevator who said, “I can bet what movie you’re seeing.” As Harry, Ron, and Hermione grew up so did I. I became one of those people who compared the books to the movies, one of the reasons my mom could never sit next to me in the theater, but I learned about Hollywood adaptations and that some details of stories, while fantastic, aren’t entirely necessary to the basic story. I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on a Saturday morning, for free thanks to some passes, and I dressed up one last time. I wore all black, either as a mourning outfit for the end of an era or to be a Death Eater, and I sat down and watched the movie.
I remember practically sobbing as I came out of the theater, thankful for my sunglasses to cover the smearing makeup, and my mom laughing. Of course, she didn’t get it quite the way I did. Harry Potter was my childhood, someone I had grown up with and learned from, and now it was over.
I own all the DVDs, all the books, but even that sometimes isn’t enough. Enter the wonderful world of fan fiction. I’d written stories for other fandoms before, but I was always intimidated by Harry Potter. To me, it was an untouchable masterpiece, something perfect in its own way even if I had ideas to add to it so I couldn’t possibly write anything close. However, once I accepted that and with some inspiration from other writers, I started to write my own Harry Potter fan fiction that, for the most part, followed the books and kept J.K. Rowling’s story intact while adding my own flavor to it. I wanted to explore things that she hadn’t touched on in the books, to put my characters with hers and see how they mixed, and it taught me a lot about writing. I learned how to pace a story so that a single night can span several chapters. I learned how to foreshadow and prophesize, how to make characters change and develop, how to write wonderful relationships… And I constantly feel honored by having the opportunity to do so.
More than helping me learn about writing and appreciate the story; it helped me get over a horrible, life-changing breakup. I started writing it a month before I became single, and in the year or so after I delved into the characters and story to deal with my feelings about being alone and such. I created a healthy relationship within my fan fiction, because the one I had in life hadn’t been a real thing. I created a love story that, while tragic, was one that I wanted for myself. In writing about real love, I created a standard that I’m happy to say The Captain has mostly met (fiction is not real life after all).
I constantly credit J.K. Rowling with making me want to be a writer, and it’s true. Before Harry Potter my life choice changed constantly. After reading that book, I decided that I wanted to write and it became a single-minded pursuit. Even when I choose other careers to support my writing, I knew I would be an author someday. So I practiced my craft, grew, and learned. J.K. Rowling changed me as a person because she gave me a goal, a dream. It wasn’t to be super rich and famous, but to write stories that would also give people an escape or change their lives. And while I still haven’t been published, she also taught me not to give up. There were sixteen rejection letters before Harry Potter was published, and the hardships within the story itself.
While reading Harry Potter I found a character that I could relate to on a level I had never done before. That was, of course, Hermione Granger. She liked books like I did, and was often ostracized by her peers like I was. She was stubborn and not a popular girl, cared about school and wanted to be thought of highly, and she was a good friend to Harry and Ron. Even though Harry’s bravery is the main focus of the story, it’s Hermione’s intelligence and strategy that really makes a lot of it possible and sometimes that’s not focused on as much as it should be. Hermione, while good at her core, had the possibility to be like Dumbledore—an excellent manipulator, a strategist of the highest caliber. Instead, she chose to treat her friends like people instead of pieces for the greater good, and that’s why she’s a Gryffindor instead of a Ravenclaw. On one of our dress-up days in elementary school, I chose to be Hermione, and while not a lot of people knew who I was I still felt proud.
I’ve loved tattoos, and chose a Harry Potter one for my first. It’s common among fans—the world Always with the Deathly Hallows symbol as the A—but it’s a special thing to me. It unites me with people whose lives have also been changed, and it represents my goals and dreams. It reminds me of my childhood, of growing up with Harry, and the things that I learned from the books. It reminds me of the love that people have for the books, for J.K. Rowling, and for other fans.
I think, other than introducing me to reading and writing and movies, what I love most about Harry Potter is that it gave me friends and a family who shared some of the same experiences that I did. We all went on the Hogwarts Express together and had detention with Umbridge, we scored in Quidditch and wrote long potion’s essays, we discovered Voldemort’s past and fought in the Battle of Hogwarts… We learned about the power of love together. It’s these shared experiences that mean the most to me, because I can relive them every time I read the books or fan fictions or watch the movies, but also when I’m talking to other fans and sharing something that we love.
I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you. Thank you J.K. Rowling for writing these books and not giving up on them, for sharing Harry with the world. Thank you for giving me a dream and a goal to achieve. Thank you for giving me friends and family all over the world who share this love with me. And thank you so much for giving me an awesome childhood full of reading and adventures in a place made of magic.