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In Honour of September 1st: It Feels Too Real [Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling]

September 1, 2016
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The Great Hall – the day Deathly Hallows came out, we transformed a large part of my parents’ house into Hogwarts, and other parts into the Burrow and the Leaky Cauldron.

I thought this would be a similar post to last year, a nostalgic one, remembering the release of the last book (or, what we then thought would be the last book), the last Harry Potter party – the last party we would have at all, before my parents got divorced and sold the house.

But I read the first chapter, and already knew this would be a very different post. I actually had to put the book down and read something else for a few days – because it felt too real, too painfully real.

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The Unwrapping was always an important ceremony.

I remember reading it for the first time, sitting in the back garden of my parents’ house, with all the kids at the party playing around me, running around with water balloons and squirt guns, and the memory feels like warmth and safety and being surrounded by happiness.

I remember still reading when they moved indoors, and wandering in dazedly when I had read “The Wedding”, standing in the door and telling them, “the Death Eaters are attacking, and I’m scared.” And I remember being told, “Go, keep reading.”

I remember still reading in the garden as it grew dark, and hearing something rustle in the hedge, and knowing that it was just the cat or a hedgehog, but having to go inside because it felt like Death Eaters were creeping up on me.

And I don’t remember reading the last chapters, but I can still see the stomach-churning fear of it, in the chewed-off corners of the bookmark that has spent all these years between the pages.

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So was me translating the first few chapters out loud, for the kids who couldn’t read in English.

Bu this is an entirely different kind of real. I read about Muggle-borns persecuted, and I hear the disgusting, racist politicians who are on the rise everywhere I look. I read about Muggles being murdered and I hear terrorist attacks and shootings that are in the news far too often.

(And I know these things have happened in the past, but they feel so much closer now, both physically, with Munich just a three-hour train ride away, and emotionally, following the attacks in Paris through the blog of a friend living there.)

And I remember Ron, in Half-Blood Prince, asking, “Anyone we know dead?” and it feels so real, writing to a friend, “Are you save? Are your friends and family okay?” It feels so real, talking to other friends when the news keep coming in, asking each other, “Do we know anyone there?” And wondering, how long will it be until there’s someone I know among the victims.

Too real, in a way I couldn’t possibly have imagined this time last year.

And it’s difficult to look past this feeling of choking fear and find something else to say about the book.

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The entrance to the Burrow.

There were a couple of things I thought about, and some of them are mostly me going “no, I don’t agree” at criticisms I’ve read over the years. (My memories of the time I spent on the edge of the Harry Potter fandom feel tinged with so much negativity, so many people finding so many things wrong with the books that I wanted to simply love and enjoy, and ultimately, that is why I never got more deeply involved, and why I didn’t regret leaving it behind.)

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Fireplace in the Burrow, complete with flower pot of floo powder (and my mother’s Mrs Weasley wig.)

  • on aimlessly wandering around and hiding in a tent: yeah well, so maybe that doesn’t make for a very exciting plot – but let’s be honest, who of us would do better?

  • “Dumbledore is a manipulative bastard”. Maybe? But I just don’t care. He shows up at King’s Cross and I just… love him as much as ever, and am utterly charmed by him, and everything he says, the reasons he gives for doing things as he did, make perfect sense. I don’t know if they actually do… I can’t see clearly through my affection for him. (And I read the bits of The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, and it sounds like those posts I see on tumblr, the ones that say, “Hillary Clinton said this problematic thing so-and-so-many years ago, so she’s just as bad as Donald Trump, and we can’t vote for her.”)

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How can I not like Dumbledore? I’ve BEEN Dumbledore.

  • And how many of us have believed things at eighteen that we now look back on with shame? And how many of us, like Harry, have believed then that we had already reached the height of wisdom and would never change, and anyone who had believed or done something problematic at the same age was irredeemably awful?

  • “None of the Slytherins stayed to fight.” Well, yeah, I agree that it would have been more interesting if some of them had. But, with this thought in mind, I noticed this time that McGonagall says, to Pansy, “You will leave the Hall first with Mr Filch. If the rest of your house could follow.” Would you want to stay after that? Especially when the defining traits of your house are cunning and ambition, and staying behind will probably get not only you, but also your family killed? (I tell myself that some Slytherins did sneak away to stay and fight after they’d left the Great Hall, and Harry just didn’t notice.)

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Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, with “out of order” sign. It had sound effects. (There’s a reason why I call one of my friends from that time Myrtle McGonagall.)

  • The epilogue: I’ve never quite understood why some people hate it so much. All my imaginary friends (the ones that aren’t dead, anyway) are happy, and that makes me happy. I did read a post once that said something along the lines, the Harry Potter generation is also the generation coming of age in an economic crisis, and for them “All was well” is something unattainable, so seeing this ending for the characters they’d grown up with and identified with felt jarring. And maybe it’s because in 2007, I was still living in my happy bubble, mostly ignoring the cracks in my family and able to pretend it was happy and whole and functional, and an apprenticeship I loved, and a future stretching ahead of me that I didn’t feel worried about. (A few years later, all of that had become a lot more complicated, and that was the thing that made Cursed Child work for me, emotionally – seeing the cracks underneath the“All was well”.)

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The entrance to Gryffindor Tower a.k.a. the upper floor of the house.

  • The whole business with the wands and Hallows felt very confusing to me the first time around. And still when I read the book a second time. But it doesn’t feel so confusing now.

  • Deaths, so many deaths, and I regretted reading on the train on more than one occasion, because I might not cry any more, but I still can’t appear completely unconcerned. Fred’s death, painful as it is, might be my favourite death scene ever, just for the emotional whiplash of going from laughing to crying in less than a page.

  • Ron and Hermione. I have no idea how anyone could ever deny those two were going to end up together, and I think their first kiss might be my favourite too. “Oi! There’s a war going on here!”

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The entrance to the kitchen. You did actually have to “tickle” the pear to get in (to the cellar, where the freezer with the ice cream was.)

  • It makes me laugh, even in the midst of deaths and things that feel too painfully real.

  • Neville. I just love Neville. And his gran.

  • “Not my daughter, you bitch!” I love Mrs Weasley, too, and I think this might be my favourite duel in all the Harry Potter books.

  • Although I like Voldemort’s death, too, or rather the fact that, when he falls, he is referred as Tom Riddle again, just a man rather than a force of evil. (And that is why, when I saw the movie, that was the point where I fell out of my seat in rage.)

  • I don’t think I’ve actually read Deathly Hallows since… whenever the last movie came out. It always felt too painful to read again.

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Mrs Weasley’s clock. This is actually still around, glued over the face of the clock on my wall.

  • Draco Malfoy: I feel so sorry for the kid.

  • Severus Snape: I don’t feel sorry for him one bit, and I don’t forgive him. It’s not even getting Lily and James killed that’s unforgivable. I can forgive that, since he regrets it. But I do not, and never will, forgive him for being an awful teacher, for being an adult who bullies children just because he dislikes them.

    The rest of the internet seems to treat “Always” as the epitome of romance, but for me it’s just always a reminder of how very much I still haven’t forgiven Snape.

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Suit of armour in the Entrance Hall. Wearing Dumbledore’s hat – clearly, Peeves must have been involved.

And every time I flip through the book, I see more that I could write something on, but it’s time to finish this up and go to sleep. There’ll always be time to reread it again.

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One of my favourite pictures of the Clown Brother. (Another reason to feel close to Dumbledore: having a disabled sibling is exhausting. And sometimes annoying. But you still love them anyway.)

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 1, 2016 22:55

    Reblogged this on planet pooks and commented:
    Very much worth reading.

  2. September 5, 2016 04:53

    So glad Pooks reblogged this. (I never forgave Snape either…)

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