Stories of Some Twentysomethings Who Take Harry Potter Very Seriously
"What would you think if I named one of my daughters Hermione?" I asked my sister Carly recently.
"I think I would shun her if you did that," she replied.
Really, I insisted, I think it's a nice name. It's from Greek mythology. Hermione was the daugher of Helen of Troy and King Menelaus.
"Are you serious, really?" Carly asked in exasperation. "Is this just a Harry Potter thing?" I like Star Wars, too, she reminded me, but that doesn't mean I can get away with naming a kid Anakin. (She wouldn't let me get away with it, in any case. My husband Steve is more flexible.)
I'm not saying I would actually name my child Hermione--I fear I'd be setting her up for years of childhood teasing. But it made me think about how Harry Potter has become such a big part of my young adult life (I was about 13 when I first read the first three books and became hooked). Some people insist on saying Harry Potter is just for children. But if Harry Potter were flesh-and-blood real, he would be turning 31 this year. In a sense he's my contemporary. We grew up together. Oh yeah, I could say, Harry and I go way back.
I'm not unique in my love for Harry. I'm not the only one who has collected the toys, clothes, and video games. I'm not the only one who has attended the midnight parties and fought with siblings over the newest book in the series. I'm not the only one with the books displayed proudly on her shelf, who rereads them every few years, who stands in line for the movies. I'm not the only one who thinks Alan Rickman as Professor Snape is strangely attractive (I know I'm not the only one!).
I'm sure I wasn't the only kid who was ecstatic about the movie adaptations and who also felt let down because Americans were left out in casting. I even had my role picked out: Penelope Clearwater. I was sure she wouldn't have any lines. She's really only memorable because she's reportedly caught "snogging" with Percy. Oh well.
But these are some of my unique experiences with Harry Potter in recent years. Yes, the books are finished, and the last movie comes out this summer, but the series continues to saturate my life. I'll admit that I'm a nerd. I'll use Potter terms like "disapparate" and "Polyjuice Potion" at work and get strange looks and groans from coworkers. I'll also admit that I thought of Harry Potter's courage battling the forces of evil as a means to cope with the things that scared me, such as giving a speech at high school graduation. The boy wizard may have his detractors, but a fictional character that inspires young readers like that is okay in my book.
Call from...Ron Weasley
Over the years my brother and sister and I have learned not to leave our cell phones unguarded, lest one of our friends receive an awkward, embarrassing message under our name (I'll leave the content of such messages to the imagination). My sister had a good prank on me when she went into my contacts list and changed the names of family members to Harry Potter characters. Everyone had a laugh when Minerva McGonagall, AKA Mom, called me that morning. Dad, who is unfamiliar with the books, did not recognize the honor of being dubbed Albus Dumbledore in my phone. My husband and my brother quibbled over who should be Harry Potter and who was the sidekick ginger Ron Weasley.
It was a funny prank, I had to admit. I was able to recognize the phone numbers and put the real names back in. But I could not let the opportunity for revenge pass. The chance to borrow Carly's phone came when she was in the shower. Later when she texted her best friend Allyson "Merry Christmas, baby. When will I get to see you?" she soon realized the text message had gone to our lifeguard boss instead. "I think you have the wrong person" was her reply. I was delighted with my prank; Carly was justifiably peeved. "Do you know what I might have said to her?" Everyone else thought it was hilarious. It was a good day for family bonding and holiday cheer.
We are pleased to inform you...
When a girl posted online how thrilled she'd be if she got an acceptance letter from Hogwarts, it gave me an idea. I pulled out The Sorcerer's Stone to use as a reference and found some colorful Sharpie pens. No parchment was readily available, so I settled on creamy résumé paper even though it wasn't yellowed and crinkly. Writing carefully in green spidery letters, adopting a loose calligraphy style, I penned letters of acceptance to Hogwarts to Carly and my friend Renée. I thought that if Hogwarts were real and still open today (which it would be, being such an excellent school), it would need a new headmaster. George Weasley seemed the unlikeliest and therefore funniest choice. His old partner in mischief Lee Jordan became Deputy Headmaster. (If you're wondering why Fred is left out, you need to read Deathly Hallows pronto.) To my utter shame, I misspelled "witchcraft" as "withcraft" but left it as is, eschewing white-out.
Carly and Renée were welcomed to Hogwarts despite their advanced age. Their "latent magical ability" made them a good match for the prestigious institution. "Our kind benefactor Mr. Draco Malfoy has set up a scholarship for people of non-magical families." At one point, the letter has the start of "Mudblood" crossed out and replaced with "Muggle" to show a more tolerant attitude.
I embellished on the second letter (the fact that I wrote smaller also afforded me more space). "Your letter was meant to be sent 13 years ago but was only recently found torn up in an owl's nest and covered with droppings. We apologize for the error." The letter also advised not to be discouraged by being among the first-years. "We do not place much stock in Muggle education, no offense." My cousin Melissa joined me and composed a letter to her sister. "Since you are considered uneducated and ignorant by our standards," she warned, "you are therefore classified as underage and are strictly forbidden to practice magic, including but not limited to love potions..."
Renée didn't know who had sent her letter, but she was really excited to show me. "I wonder if it was my sister. I know she just got back from Orlando," she said, referring to the new Harry Potter theme park. I could only play dumb for so long before my excitement burst and I admitted to being the author. Renée began devising her own elaborate plans to send a letter via owl (stuffed, thankfully) to her sister.
I wondered if Carly would know it was me. I had to wait for the letter to reach Athens where Carly is a student at UGA. First it was Sunday, then Martin Luther King Day. I feared the ice storm would delay its arrival even more. But finally I got word from Carly. Our text exchange went something like this (text-speak has been largely preserved but edited for content and understandability):
Carly: You'll never guess what I got in the mail! An acceptance letter to hogwarts!!
Me: No way! Really?
Carly: Yeah! It says they're acccepting me as a student even though I'm a muggle! I'm totally psyched!
Me: Did you get it by owl?
Carly: No, it was in my mailbox.
Me: Do you really have magic powers? Are you sure it's not a mistake?
Carly: Why would hogwarts send it if they didn't want me, and it's not like someone would just make this up.
Of course she was just toying with me, enjoying the joke as much as I was. I still couldn't stand it, though, her not coming out and saying she knew it was me.
Me: Who sent you the hogwarts letter?
Carly: Lee Jordan.
Me: Haha sweet... I sent the letter btw.
Carly: Don't lie. It was Lee Jordan!
Me: Did you know?
Carly: Yes I did darling. That's why I texted you about it. But it definitely made me laugh!
Me: Good. I wondered if you really thought it was from Hogwarts. LOL
Carly: Umm yeaaa haha idk if you know this but I'm not [a moron]
Me: How did you know?
Carly: It was your handwriting, the stamps you got for Christmas, you asked for my address, and you're the only creative person that way I know.
Aww, she's sweet! I also praised her for her deductive reasoning skills. As I told Renée, I just need to find some younger kids--some gullible eleven-year-olds--who might actually believe it was a true Hogwarts letter. But then I might feel bad for crushing their hopes. This whole exercise may seem silly, but it was seriously the coolest thing I've done so far this year. And what kid, no matter how old, doesn't secretly dream of getting accepted to Hogwarts? The students at my old high school were thrilled when they adopted a house system because they immediately associated it with Hogwarts. (Never mind that the houses were named for saints, not ancient warlocks.)
We didn't start the fire
We rang in the New Year with some good Potter-inspired revelry. We had some friends over that night and we had adult beverages. As Harry says in the Goblet of Fire film when Mad-Eye Moody takes a swig from his flask, "I don't know [what it is], but I have a feeling it's not pumpkin juice." As is often the case when people have impaired judgment in such circumstances, they decide to celebrate the New Year by "blowing [stuff] up." Specifically, it was a bag of fireworks acquired on a road trip to Tennessee. Besides the actual fireworks my friends pulled out some Roman candles from that goody bag.
Here I deny any participation in the following scene, and I do not recommend it as a safe activity. Needless to say, the Roman candles became magic wands that shot off spurts of fire after various spells were recited. Our neighbors surely heard cries of "Expelliarmus," "Stupefy," and "Expecto Patronum!" Sometimes there was a delay between the spell and the erupting fireball, which only prompted more laughter and wand waving. It's not a good idea to aim a Roman candle at anyone, although it's hard to know where to aim because the blast rarely comes out in a direct line but slants sneakily to one side or the other. Mercifully, no one was injured. It would have been tough explaining that Alex went to the emergency room because he was hit by a Disarming spell.
What's next in our plans? Well, the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Orlando seems to merit a road trip. I can't wait to take the ride through Hogwarts and sample some Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks pub. (I tried making my own Butterbeer once, using an online recipe. As I recall, it involved a lot of butter. No wonder it's such a treat, being essentially carbonated liquid butter!)
Since I'm a fan of trivia, I'll leave you with some factoids concerning the Harry Potter films.
- The actors of the Harry Potter films have frequently acted together in other projects. To the best of my knowledge, the film with the most Potter actors is In Bruges (2008). It features Brendan Gleeson (Mad-Eye Moody), Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort), and Clémence Poésy (Fleur Delacour).
- Deathly Hallows Part I had two characters played by actors related to other Potter actors. Brendan Gleeson's son Domhnall Gleeson portrayed Bill Weasley. Mafalda Hopkirk, the Ministry official that Hermione impersonates in the Ministry break-in segment, was played by Sophie Thompson, Emma Thompson's (Professor Trelawney) sister.
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