Today is a special day. If you asked my mother why, she would tell you it’s because it’s the anniversary of the day her most precious gift entered the world. Parents of an only child are the only ones who can and ever would say that. But not only is it my birthday, which in itself is pretty rad, it’s the birthday of both one of my favorite living authors and her most famous creation. J. K. Rowling turns 50 today, and Harry Potter turns 35 (you might be wondering how old I am as well, but a lady never tells). I decided to spend our mutual birthday doing what most adults do: penning a love letter devoted to the book series that shaped my life, of course. Who needs a keg party or a mid life crisis when you have nostalgia and readers to share it with?
It was Christmas of 1998 and every year my dad bought me a new stack of books to discover. That year one of the books he bought me was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. When I unwrapped the book, which was far denser than most of the Nancy Drew paperbacks I had begun to dip my toes in at that point, Dad told me the lady at the bookstore claimed Harry Potter was going to be the next big thing. I tilted my head, skeptical of the messy-haired boy with round glasses and a lightning bolt scar on his forehead, then discarded the dust cover and tore off down the hall to the bathroom. I was big on bubble baths back then, and I’d sit in the tub and read my books until my water went cold, my toes shriveled up, and my dad forced me to pull the plug and rejoin the real world. It only took me two bubble baths to devour Sorcerer’s Stone, and I was hooked. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone revolves around the life changing events sparked by Harry’s 11th birthday, and imagine my surprise and utter delight when I learned that not only were we the same age, but we also shared a birthday. As Harry was being sorted into Gryffindor House and walking the halls of Hogwarts for the first time, I was an anxious and awkward 6th grader, skittering up and down the halls of the big, bad middle school, complete with my own pair of very large, very round glasses that seemed much more hip once Harry Potter fandom erupted and I had already converted to contacts to repel further ridicule.
I grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, aging in synchronicity with them. I pulled ahead a bit over the years since every book is another birthday and as the books increased in size and stature, their release dates stretched further apart. Nevertheless, the growing pains and joys were synonymous, and over the years, I saw these characters as my friends. I remember where I was when I read each book, largely because I sit in the exact same spot until I finished each one. I threw my hardcover across my freshman dorm room in a fit of rage and tears when Dumbledore died, mourning the loss of a character whose words impacted my life as much as my own mentor’s.
The films began to release before the book series had finished, so for a few years I spent more time existing in Hogwarts than small town West Virginia, because who wouldn’t when given the option? I argued with the girl beside me in ninth grade band class over what parts they shouldn’t have left out of the Sorcerer’s Stone movie adaptation. Who won those arguments, you ask? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason I was first chair and she was second. Order of the Phoenix the book and Prizoner of Azkaban the movie were released within a year of one another, and there was something both heartwarming and heart wrenching about losing Sirius Black and then being able to see him brought to life on screen shortly after. I attended every midnight book release party and waited in (almost) every midnight movie release line. My best friend and I spent the duration of entire college parties debating minor details and trying our hardest so stump one another with Potter trivia in between rounds of beer pong and flip cup. By the time Deathly Hallows Part 2 was released in theaters in 2011, I had graduated college, ventured out into the real world, and landed my first big kid job. I couldn’t round up my usual companions for the midnight release of the movie. We all had jobs. So I waited a couple weeks for the crowd to die down, because that’s what you do when you get older, right?
As I sat in the theater and gazed up at these characters for the last time, I realized they’d been in my life longer than anyone other than my family. I had spent 13 years with Harry Potter, which was over half my life at the time. They were the most steadfast, loyal friends I had ever had, and we were about to have our last adventure together. Harry had become fearless. Ron had become confident, and Hermione has become a feminist role model. And what had I become? I sat in theater for a while with this question in my mind after the lights came up and the credits scrolled up the screen. These stories shaped me. They embedded themselves in all of my memories, and they created a safe place I never felt like I outgrew. So as another birthday comes and goes and I blow out another set of candles, I can’t help but be grateful to share this day with Harry Potter. Happy Birthday, Harry, and thanks for always being there. Today’s Friday, and the post runs on Friday. So I’ll just be sitting here waiting on my Hogwarts acceptance letter. I keep telling my mother it’ll be here any day now.