Harry Potter has been a part of my life ever since I was an eleven-year-old girl. One who, I will freely admit, wasn’t a huge reader. Books never really interested me before Harry. I had read books, but I was more of an explorer than a reader. One that went outside and always came back with cuts, scratches and a story. The type that played with dinosaur toys and Pokémon cards. I also really enjoyed the Nintendo 64. In fact, when I was seven I was told by my teacher that I would never be a writer, because I had never really taken to reading. For the record, she didn’t just randomly announce this in class; she was scolding me for purchasing a fairytale book, rather than a proper “three-hundred-pager” from the school magazine. I was confused; I didn’t see the problem with my five-hundred word story. After all, fairies were the creatures that existed in my back garden, in the big old oak tree and beyond that, in the fields past the road to Mary’s house. I just wanted to know more about them, and that’s why I bought (with my pocket money) the unexpectedly controversial book. I didn’t tell her that though, I just sat in silence and listened to what she had to say. My teacher had told me that I wasn’t a reader, and to a child, a teacher’s words define who you are. So for a long time after that, I was Karen, the girl who didn’t read. Karen, the girl who wouldn’t write.
With this in mind, I was a child who jumped onto the Hogwarts express a bit later than most; I remember the film being released, and because of the hype surrounding it, I decided to sneak into my sister’s bedroom and raid her bookshelf. That’s when the obsession began, and only increased as the years (and books) went on. Eventually, when the books came to an end, I remained an ardent fan, only I slowly began to forget about how much Harry and his world meant to me. I just sort of… grew up.
That all changed when I went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child over the weekend. Now, before we go on, this won’t be a blog post that is (Tom) riddled with spoilers, so fret not. I’m a good keeper of secrets! I’m also very aware of how lucky I was to see it, and I’m not about to spoil it for anybody else. What I will say though is that I was captivated by the friendship of Harry’s son Albus, and young Scorpius Malfoy. It was something I could relate to, and, in that moment, the memories of my love for the books and the characters within them returned. From the moment the play began I was delighted, and also just a little bit teary; it reminded me of my childhood, when the books came to me at a time I needed them the most.
I found Harry at a very uncertain point in my life. It was over the summer of 2002, just before I started secondary school. It was a tricky time; my old friends had all gone in different directions and I discovered that I had a long summer of loneliness of ahead of me. Being lonely is a pretty hard thing to come to terms with for anyone, let alone a child. I also worried about everything. Spelling tests. Family life. Report cards. School. Everything that I could think of, and invent a worry for, I would do just that. I wasn’t the type to talk about these worries either. So Harry became my friend, and his world a place of solitude where I could escape from anything that was on my mind. The only thing Harry couldn’t do was stop time, and eventually the day came when I was standing in front of those pristine, glass doors of my pristine and fancy new school. Like going to Hogwarts, I figured it was only a matter of time until, like Harry, I found friends.
I wasn’t a child that could fit in easily; my brown socks always fell to my ankles; my hair never stayed in place; my locker key was attached to a curly keychain that I could access at a moment’s notice; and I always kept all my books in my bag, for fear of being late. I even remember falling backwards down a set of stairs and, looking a bit like an unfortunate turtle, found it hard to get back to my feet, all because of the weight of my bag. So I guess you can say that I found school… stressful. Hard. Sometimes impossible. The teachers were brilliant, though.
And despite my hope of finding my very own Ron and Hermione, I found it hard to really communicate with the other girls in my class. I spent the initial weeks of secondary school life feeling quite isolated, so I kept returning to my books, night by night. Soon, walks on the beach with my Mum turned into hours of her listening as I talked and talked and talked about Harry and his adventures. It was easier than telling her about what was happening, or most importantly, what was not happening at school.
Then one day I sat beside a girl I only knew by name. She had amazing hair and really big eyes. She was an artist and also had really lovely handwriting, and I started to understand why our English teacher raved about her work in class. I had tried to suss her out about a week before that, but I didn’t quite know what to say. So I just sort of laughed when she did, but I had absolutely no idea what I was laughing at, so I sort of had to shuffle away, before I was included in the conversation. I remember being very distracted from my classwork, desperately trying to think of a good conversation starter. I couldn’t really think of one though, so I just opened with the only thing that meant something to me:
‘Do you like Harry Potter?’ I said.
At that point, she lowered her pen. Slowly, she turned to face me. ‘Karen,’ she said, ‘I love Harry Potter.’
That was it. Just like magic, I had a best friend. That’s how it happened for Albus and Scorpius too. Their friendship was easy, just like ours.
The weeks went on and my love for Harry Potter grew, only this time encouraged by the new friend in my life. I loved when she would come to school with magazine cut outs that related to Harry Potter, as well as stories that she would hear about potential plot twists. I would also regularly find letters posted into my locker (36B, for any curious soul), where she would, a) scold me for being late and b) fill it with other lovely messages, most of them Potter-related. Reading it in full would usually make me even later for class, but for her, I never really cared.
Like Albus and Scorpius, you would never find one of us without the other. I even remember calling her most days after school, because time in class together was never really enough. We often swapped letters that we wrote to J.K Rowling, and the treasured responses we got in return. The years went on, we grew up and so did Harry and his universe, but our friendship remained as strong as ever. I remember buying her Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix because she couldn’t attend the midnight launch, and sneaking it through her window in the middle of the night. I remember her writing messages all over my French book, usually filled with jokes that only we would understand. I remember us deliberately slapping each other in the face as we tried to remember the French for right (droite) and left (gauche). We once ate an entire packet of fudge for breakfast, but made sure not to tell our Mums. We would hang out at the arcade, and we would also go on walks around her estate. We were obsessed with Converse. We loved reenacting famous scenes in movies. That was our friendship. One that was easy, fun, and built on a foundation of magic.
As Harry entered a new chapter in his life, so did we. In our fourth year in school, we drifted apart. Not for any major reason, it just was another crossroad in our lives. We grew older, and focus shifted more towards the future. What would happen beyond those pristine glass doors. We still chatted and laughed like normal, only not as regularly as we used to. I did miss her, especially when the final instalment of Harry Potter was released in 2007. As we said goodbye to Harry, we said goodbye to each other, and a year later we were in separate colleges, following completely different lives.
We always stayed in touch though, and recently met for a coffee. She’s getting married now, to a boy I remember her telling me about when we were fifteen (she passed me a note in class, and told me he was “cool and funi”; I found that note recently and laughed). Of course we chatted about Harry, and I told her that I was going to see the play. When I was sitting in the auditorium, I turned to my sister and said that I wished she was there to see it.
So thank you, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, for reminding me about how much I loved Harry and the characters he shared his world with. Thank you for introducing me to two new inimitable characters, Albus and Scorpius, who reminded me of a friendship that I will cherish, forever and always.
The characters had grown into adults, just like us. To watch this play meant the world to me, as all I could remember was the eleven-year-old girl, that once read about an eleven-year-old boy who lived under the stairs. See Harry as an adult, made me realise how far we’d both come. That was a long, long time ago now. A lot of things have changed since then. I’m a few inches taller, for example, and I don’t have as many scratches, and playing on the Nintendo makes me feel dizzy. I’m also a writer, lecturer, and writing tutor who loves to read books. And, for the record, that five-hundred-word fairytale was absolutely brilliant.
The images in this post came from some lovely fan art found on Pinterest.