Twenty Years Later: Looking Back on a Childhood Shaped by Harry Potter

Twenty years. That’s hard to believe. Harry Potter been around almost my entire life. I was just starting school when kids were opening up the first book for the first time, and I don’t think any of us knew what all this would become. For so many people of my generation, childhood is synonymous with Hogwarts. We grew up reading the books, waiting impatiently for each one, and going to see the movies even though they could never do justice to the stories in our heads. Deathly Hallows marked the end of not just a book series, but a phase of life that we can never go back to, no matter how hard we try. And trust me, we’ve never stopped trying.

They say that in difficult times, you learn who your real friends are, and maybe that’s why it’s so easy to think of the Hogwarts kids as old friends. Middle school isn’t a fun time for anyone, but they were there beside me every step of the way. Simply by opening a book, I could practice spells with the DA, laugh at the Weasley twins’ jokes, fly on a broom next to Harry, and find my way to Ravenclaw Tower, where I was certain I’d belong. It’s always been so easy to imagine myself as a part of that world, even as a muggle who has never set foot in England, let alone Hogwarts.

I can’t credit Harry Potter with teaching me to love reading. I was an avid reader long before I got caught up in the Potter craze. But hearing so many stories from other kids who hated it before these books came along has taught me something just as important: that all it takes is one good book to change a child’s world. Now that I’m all grown up and working as a teacher, I’m constantly on the lookout for that book. And it warms my heart to know that for so many kids today, that book is still Harry Potter.

The series has brought me true friendships and memories worthy of fueling a patronus. I’ll never forget taking Harry Potter books to summer camp, knowing they’d be the perfect icebreaker, because I might not have known anyone there or had much else in common with them, but we all had a favorite character and a House we were sure we’d be sorted into. I’ll never forget when all the kids at school had an opinion about whether Dumbledore was really dead. I’ll never forget how I couldn’t stop smiling as I held Deathly Hallows in my hand and carefully turned the first page, savoring that feeling of starting a new Harry Potter book for the last time. I’ll never forget bonding with college classmates over Pottermore and Hogwarts houses and favorite characters. It was like being in middle school again, but without all the awkwardness and drama.

I don’t think I’ll ever be done with the wizarding world. There’s just so much there, and as I’ve grown up, the world has gained more and more complexity. I’ve asked questions about the ethics of Slytherin house, the symbolism of Quidditch, and everything in between. I’ve made artwork and written poetry inspired by the books. I’ve got a Pottermore wand that I love and an awful patronus that I’ve mostly made peace with. Even during the times in my life when other things have taken precedence, Hogwarts has been there in the background, slowly simmering like a potion, and I’ve known it would be all the better when I returned.

There may not really be a Hogwarts out there, or a Ministry of Magic, or a Grimmauld Place or a Burrow. But that’s okay. They exist in our collective imagination. The characters may not be living, breathing people, but they live in our hearts. They’re our friends and foes and mentors. As Dumbledore says, “Of course it is happening inside your head … but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” Likewise, no matter how far-fetched and fanciful the goings-on at Hogwarts are, we imagine them in our mind’s eye, we pour out our sympathy into these fictional characters as if they were people we knew, we escape again and again into their world. That’s what makes it all come to life. “It’s real for us”, and although it ended a long time ago, it’s not really over. I don’t think it ever will be.

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