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The first time I ever broke the law was on July 16th, 2005. I had just turned 15 years old and I was breaking the state curfew by staying out for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth in J.K. Rowling’s epic saga about the boy who lived. I had on my Hogwarts uniform, my matching Gryffindor socks and scarf, and a sad excuse for a homemade wand in hand. I stood in line in horrible humidity for over an hour outside the now-defunct Paige Turner Books in Zion, Illinois. And that’s when it happened. A black car drove past the long line of fans, young and old, when a voice cried out “Snape kills Dumbledore.” The crowd roared with anger and people began screaming at the top of their lungs. One of my classmates dressed in a full Quidditch uniform chased after the car and whipped a rock at the back windshield, cracking it. People began banging on the door to the bookstore desperately trying to find out if this spoiler was true, and for the first time, I cried in public.
Like Beatlemania in the 1960s and the Star Wars frenzy of the 1970s, The Harry Potter book (and subsequent film) series reached a level of popularity that previously seemed unfathomable. During the explosion of technological advancements, the millennial generation was thirsting for a book series and treated every new installment like a feast for a starving man. Having to wait a year or two for a new book felt like an eternity. For a 15 year old, a year and a half is a tenth of their entire existence. And yet we waited impatiently and lined up for hours upon hours to get a hold of the next adventure in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We would camp out and watch the films on portable DVD players, re-read the books that came before the newest entry, play “Muggle Quidditch” in the streets surrounding the book stores, and stare wide-eyed like a child on Christmas morning when the doors to the bookstore finally opened. Our obsessions made J.K. Rowling the first billionaire author and both the film and book series have shattered just about every record possible. While dollar signs and broken records have their importance, it’s the profound impact Harry Potter made on a generation that will live on longer than any historic footnote.
When we first met Harry Potter, the boy who lived under the stairs of Mr. and Mrs. Dursley’s home at Number Four, Privet Drive (who were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much), he was eleven years old, much like many of those that picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time. While wizardry and fantasy are the most obvious reasons we were drawn to Harry Potter, it’s the messages of accepting outsiders, social justice, the desire for non-violent conflict resolution, working together as a community, questioning authority, overcoming imposing odds, maturing through adolescence, love and loss that serve as the heart of the fandom. We found kindred spirits with Harry, Ron, Hermione and the gang, and growing up alongside them acted as a guide to entering adulthood. It was as if J.K. Rowling offered us the sage advice of Judy Blume novels and wrapped it into an adventurous and fantastical package.
The impact of the books, the films and the fandom of Harry Potter on our coming of age experiences are undeniable. Hogwarts Houses have become part of our identity, similar to that of zodiac signs or the sixteen personality types. I fully admit to refusing a second date to a guy in college I found out had been “sorted” in Slytherin. I’m sorry, but as a Gryffindor, I just couldn’t. Thanks to the growing accessibility of the Internet and online communities coinciding with the Harry Potter phenomenon, fans from all over the globe could connect together and soak up in each others’ geekiness. We could share fan theories, write fanfiction and, for many of us, finally feel like we had a family that understood us. Gone are the days where kids had to hide their obsessions with superheroes or the supernatural out of fear of being bullied. We may speak now with a sense of wonder about how the success of the Marvel renaissance has made it “cool” and “safe” to be a geek, but it wasn’t The Avengers that made geek culture accepted in the mainstream -- it was Harry Potter. The strength of the Harry Potter fandom and the loving nature shared amongst those that consider themselves a part of it ignited the flame that brought geek culture to the forefront of the public’s eye, and completely changed the game.
As Sirius Black most famously said, “We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are.” The Harry Potter fandom has since evolved from a community of likeminded fanatics to an unstoppable force of activists. After the earthquake in Haiti, The Harry Potter Alliance raised $123,000, enough to fill five cargo planes with supplies to help those in need. While many of us are sure to have desired an invisibility cloak, a time-turner, a Marauder’s Map or the ability to ride a broomstick into the sky, there was something more we were trying to capture. Through the world of Harry Potter, we bore witness to individuals uniting together, showcasing unconditional love and support, and acting as pillars for us to strive to emulate.
The Harry Potter fandom reassured us that it’s okay to be who we are. Just as these wizards and muggle-born joined together as one; we from all walks of life grew up with and fell in love with a world that we could make real in our minds. We became a community with an unspoken understanding of something we all hope to find.