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A Hogwarts Homecoming

trigger warning: this post contains mention of substance abuse. 

I’ve lived with a secret for fourteen years: I never finished the Harry Potter series.

As someone who holds their masters degree in Children and Adolescent literature, this is a particularly embarrassing confession. I’ve sat through countless lectures, and panels on the infamous Harry Potter. I can give you all the facts and figures but I never told anyone, save a few people, that I’d never finished the books.

I’m not sure why I didn’t tell anyone, and I’ve only recently become aware of why I never finished them. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Harry Potter. I fall in the generation that grew up alongside Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Waiting all night for the bookstores to open, then hurrying home with the newest installment only to finish it in less than a day and begin the long wait until the next book was published. J.K. Rowling couldn’t write them fast enough for me. I was the same age as Harry, Hogwarts was my fictional home, and then, halfway through THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, I put the book down and walked away.

At the time, I didn’t know why. I couldn’t put my finger on what had caused me to turn away, but I knew I was angry and hurt. You see, I grew up in an alcoholic family. It hadn’t always been that way, but over the years, things had gotten progressively worse.

When you live with people who are dependent on substances, especially as a child, you begin to develop coping mechanisms to help you process the uncertainty of your home.

The one coping mechanism that had never failed me were my books and the escape of reading. Between the pages I found solace in worlds so different than my own. Narnia, Middle Earth, and Hogwarts saved me. The taught me about Hope and the power of friendship. Things that, at the time of my reading, I didn’t have, but that I held onto tightly like a promise.

The trouble with substance abuse is that it typically gets worse before it gets better.

Often times, there’s also a Scapegoat in the family of abuse, again, another term I didn’t have the words for until much later. People’s pain is sometimes indistinguishable from their truth, so when I was told that my anger that kept me safe and in control was dark and uncontrollable - that I was dark and uncontrollable - my heart believed it as truth.

Looking back, I now have tools to pick apart my memories and find the truth that winds its way throughout those years, but in the moment there were no words that could illuminate the pain I was feeling.

I tried to escape to Hogwarts, the only home I’d ever wanted, but it was no longer a safe place for me to run. In the fifth book, Harry is accused of being possessed by a darkness that he has no control over. He is powerless, alone, and angry. They say that books are a mirror, and I was staring into a void of hopelessness and fear.

It fed my anger, knowing that my defenses were crumbling and I was fighting a losing battle. Even more, I was angry at the fictional characters who always seemed to have help and guidance. The story was both too real and too fictional for my heart to hold. So I shut the book and walked away from Hogwarts and the magic and hope of it all.

I got older. I learned things. I forgave. I remembered.

And all the while something nagged at my heart. It wasn’t until last fall that the nagging turned into a full-fledged burning. I had made new friendships with Harry Potter fans, the kind of fans I’d wished I’d known when I was younger. These people set my soul ablaze with life, and hope, and magic. To quote Dumbledore, “The things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect.” I knew it was time to revisit my past and return home.
The fifth book was one of the most difficult books for me to finish. It was as if I was returning to an abandoned, desolate part of my soul. Then, quietly, slowly, I found the rhythm and joy of it all. The characters were different. I was different. And yet…and yet.

It was if I had never left. The books, though dusty from neglect, were still full of the same magic and hope that had filled me so many years ago. I was no longer a child, but I was returning to my childhood home with fresh eyes and a full heart.

Everything was familiar and just as I had left it, but better and bigger than before.

When I reached the final chapters, and Dumbledore asks, “After all this time?” I cried silently, knowing that those words were meant for my heart at just this time - the question was welcoming me home and allowing me to close a door at the same time.

Finally. Peacefully. I was able to answer, “Always.”

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