I wish that I could have been given a crystal ball when I was twelve years old and given a glimpse of my future. If I had known how reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone would shape my life, perhaps I would have been more enthusiastic about getting to read it. The truth is that my best friend at the time pestered and pestered me for weeks to read Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets.
Eventually I relented and checked them both out of my tiny local library. I remember sitting down on my bed, opening it up and being swallowed up by the story. I broke only to call the friend and whisper frantically (because I wasn’t allowed to use the phone) that “SNAPE IS LORD VOLDEMORT! SNAPE! IS! LORD! VOLDEMORT!!” I remember that so vividly. Immediately I was swallowed up again, and finishing that first book, I realise now, my life changed.
From the second I met Harry, my life was better. School was more fun as my equally obsessed friend and I reenacted scenes from the books in empty corridors and made our new secondary school our own Hogwarts. (We even scratched a snake onto the tap in one of the girls’ bathrooms.) When I was thirteen and fourteen, I lived and breathed the books. In classes, I did my very best to out-Hermione my friend, and we did our homework with quills. We had a folder filled with fanfic and fan art that we found on the handful of fan sites that existed back then and it was our most prized possession, apart from the books themselves.
When Prisoner of Azkaban came out, my friend and I both put our names down on a waiting list in the library for it. (We weren’t aware yet that people often just went and bought books they hadn’t already read.) The depth of story completely bowled me over. It occurs to me now that I never analyse these things as they happen to me, all I knew was that suddenly there were Marauders and I was in love with two of them. But really, J.K. Rowling has a way of NOT writing things that leads the readers to fill in the gaps themselves. It came at just the right age, where that amazing childish imagination hadn’t yet succumbed to teenage ‘coolness.’ My friend and I spent hours imagining ourselves at Hogwarts, with Harry, Ron and Hermione. We knew them as friends. I longed for friends who were just like them in real life – just as courageous, loyal, funny and caring.
I couldn’t possibly write all the ways in which Harry has affected my life. When, initially the movies were announced and the tiny fandom began to grow I resented every new fan who turned up and said they loved it as much as I did, or as much as any of the people I knew online. I was a child then. In fact, I was a child until very recently and in many ways I will never stop being one. But at the time I didn’t understand that people could read three, four, five, etc, books in a row and still understand, love and enjoy them as much as we did, having lived them out several times.
Again, if I’d had a crystal ball and seen what this enlarged fandom would be capable of – adopting causes, changing the world, helping not only others but each other – maybe I wouldn’t have minded. And of course, I would see my wonderful friends.
There’s a fierceness, I think, in a way a Harry Potter fan loves their friends. I know that among my closest friends there is an unspoken understanding that we are the Rons and Hermiones to each others’ Harrys. We’re going to be there for each other when we’re needed.
This brings me to, if you’ll allow me, the ‘crux’ of this post. My Rons and Hermiones. My Nevilles, Ginnys and Lunas.
In every one of Harry’s friends there is an admirable quality. Ron is loyal, unassuming and does everything he can to help. Hermione is clever and prepared. Neville is ready to step up and do what he has to for the good of others. Ginny is ferocious when it comes to protecting the people she loves. And Luna sees the world in a different way, and embraces the differences she sees. Harry doesn’t feel that there is anything special about him. In fact, we are led to believe for a long time that he is very average. But Harry sees these qualities in his friends – in every person he picks out something that is admirable.
I’ve noticed over the last few years that once you leave school, college or work, the people you were friends with may drift away from you. Often you were only friends because you were sharing a common daily life, not because you had anything in common. I have also noticed that in each of my friends now, I can tell you at least one quality in them that I admire. Harry Potter has brought me together with so many different people and I admire all of them. They’re my friends. The word has taken on new meaning to me in the last few years. In a way I went through a very traumatic phase last year of examining my existing friendships and thinking about how I felt when I was with a person, or how they treated me. It resulted in me letting some friends drift away, to see if they cared enough to come back again. (Not one of those friends did.)
Even though that was difficult, it helped me to see the incredible relationships I did have and gave me more time to spend on the people with whom to spend time is its own reward. Rewarding. I give my love and more love comes back. Only today did I realise how much love I have and how many people I love, in so many different ways. And I know that if I hadn’t picked up that book twelve years ago, I wouldn’t have these people who make my life so much richer. I may not have the privilege of being friends with people I deeply admire.
“I longed for friends who were just like them in real life – just as courageous, loyal, funny and caring.”