I'm old. There are many ways I can tell that I'm old, like not recognizing a single song on the iTunes top 10 singles list. Another way I can tell I'm old is that my Harry Potter experience is completely different than "the kids today."
If you were born in 1989, you were perfectly positioned in life for the Harry Potter series of books. You would have been 8 years-old, J.K. Rowling's recommended age for beginning the series, when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published in 1997.
A small part of you, no doubt, believed you would receive an admission letter from Hogwarts. You grew up alongside Harry, losing your wide-eyed innocence bit by bit, just like Harry, until the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when it completely vanished.
(Disclaimer: I'm assuming anyone who's reading this has also read all the books, or has seen all the movies. There are mild spoilers ahead.)
Although I didn't believe I'd receive a letter from Hogwarts (I was much older than 11 when the first book was published), I traveled a long journey with Harry too. I started out thinking Voldemort had been vanquished, and that Harry's story would be nothing more than a children's tale. I ended up grieving for people — and creatures — whom I would never meet, and shedding a bittersweet tear when Harry's son boarded the Hogwarts Express.
The first time I ever heard of Harry Potter was during an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy's little sister, Dawn, mentioned Hogwarts. I got the reference, but dismissed it. I refused to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, thinking, like many people, that those books were all hype and no quality.
All that changed in 2001. I went to see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with my family over Thanksgiving. I was fascinated and intrigued by this world. I shouldn't have been surprised. I have always loved stories involving magic. And set in England? This Anglophile was thrilled!
I knew there were more books, and more movies on the way, so I went to the bookstore (Amazon was only a glint on the internet's horizon) and bought the first three books. I headed to Rome with my husband for our first anniversary with all three books in hand. Rome was wonderful, but I tore through those three books any chance I had. I was thoroughly hooked.
Almost the instant we got home, I purchased Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which was, at that time, the thickest Harry Potter novel to date. I closed the cover on that one in no time, as well.
Here's where my Harry Potter experience, and the Harry Potter experience of, say, my children's generation, splits into different directions. If you were of reading age when those books were being published, you can guess what the difference is. After finishing Goblet of Fire, I had to wait literally years for the next book to come out. And it was painfully delicious.
Those years between books were spent spinning theories based on what limited information we had. How were Harry and Voldemort connected? Why did Snape really hate Harry so much? How did Voldemort survive all those years without a body? Why did Harry survive the Avada Kedavra? Now, it all seems to be a given, but at the time, oh, it was agony! Glorious agony!
By the time Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was published, I had an infant son. After Amazon delivered the book to my doorstep — much like Dumbledore delivered Harry to No. 4 Privet Drive — my dear husband took my son and let me read the sizable tome from start to finish. I remember it well, because it was one of the first times I was able to slice a big piece of time for myself.
But then, more waiting! The title for the sixth book was announced, and fans around the world tried to figure out who the Half-Blood Prince would be. (Harry was too obvious!) Finally, in 2005, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out. Again, I cracked the cover and read it from start to finish.
Next — you guessed it — even more waiting! The wait for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the worst, because we knew it was the last book. Again, the title was announced, and we wondered, what the heck are Hallows? By this time, I had a baby girl. I read the first six books over and over, late at night, during feedings.
When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published in 2007, I had two small children. Thankfully, my sweet husband took the children, handed me the book, and said, "Go." I hopped in my car and drove to the closest park. As I read, I occasionally called my cousins, who were also reading it. We checked in with each other, to see how far we'd gotten, so we could dissect new discoveries and mourn tragedies as we read them. I didn't return home until late that night, and even then, read until 3 a.m. When I finally finished the entire series, I was spent.
Anyone who wasn't of a reading age in 2007 has no idea of the painful bliss, the rabid frenzy, that came with waiting for a new Harry Potter book. Today, most Harry Potter readers already know the entire story, thanks to the movies and a myriad of video games. They don't know the joy of the big reveal about Snape. And they can binge the whole series in one go, if they wish. There is so much about Harry Potter that they take for granted.
While my Harry Potter journey wasn't the same as a child who grew up alongside Harry, it was still a milestone journey in my life. I went from being a newlywed, to being an inexperienced mother, to being a confident mother. Those were rough and rocky years. The first years of any marriage can be trying. Throw in two children, one of whom had a serious medical condition, and it all becomes as stressful as sitting for OWLs, maybe even NEWTs!
My love for the Harry Potter books is forever entwined with those turbulent years. The books were a balm, they were comfort food, they were a sanctuary.
That's what it means to be old, and to be a Harry Potter fan.