On my eleventh birthday, I am pretty sure my parents gave me everything I wanted. I’m pretty sure my friends attended some awesome birthday party my mom slaved to put together. I am pretty sure my Dad took pictures and my grandparents smiled as I blew out eleven candles atop a birthday cake. When I turned eleven, I am pretty sure it was everything an 11-year-old could have ever wanted.
But I do remember this one thing lacking on that day. Like many kids of my twentysomthing generation, it was a desperate hope and a sharp pang to the heart when it never came to fruition. I do remember one thing lacking on that day: my letter from Hogwarts.
Even without the letter, I studied those books like a religion, methodically reading them and reviewing them with my best friend. In great anticipation of another release, she and I would review the latest book in the series in order to best prepare ourselves for the midnight campout at the local bookstore. We struggled to identify who we were in the stories (But Hermoine is the one who solves all the problems and riddles! Yeah, but Ginny gets to kiss Harry in Book Five! Obviously with these long blocks, I HAVE to be Fluer… or Phlegm…) We would have told you we were devoted little readers. But, by the rest of society’s standards, we were obsessed.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that the heartache over the fictional state of Hogwarts and Harry Potter subsided, but just a little bit. That was when they announced the opening of Harry Potter World in Florida. I was elated to see the previews and the replicas. I wanted so desperately to go, but convincing my parents to take a college-aged girl to Florida of all places to wave a wand and scream like a little fan girl proved way more difficult than I initially assessed. Aside from the masses of muggles and the the humidity, convincing a bunch of Californians to take vacation in Florida is like trying to convince the wine maker to drink two buck chuck from Trader Joes. (That’s not to say that Florida isn’t a lovely place; it’s more a play on the snobbery of Californians and West Coasters– west coast, best coast, duh).
So, for quite some time I had given up hope on every setting sight on Harry Potter World. Now, at the age of 25, it seemed a little silly to tell people I wanted to go there. The only time I could really talk about Harry Potter with open enthusiasm was at the tutoring program I volunteer at with the fifth, sixth, and seventh graders reading the series. Actually going to Harry Potter World just seemed like it wasn’t in the cards for me.
Until last week when my boyfriend and I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. The patient and loving man that he is, he suggested he take me to Harry Potter World for my last spring break ever before I graduate from law school. My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach– was he actually serious? It wasn’t until we boarded the flight to Florida did I truly understand how serious he actually was.
And then, there it was! Hogwarts! And I can’t even tell you how magical it looked. I am not ashamed to say that my heart pounded when I walked through and saw Hogsmead village and the castle in the background. And there was the Hogwarts Express! And Honeydukes! and Zonkos! My excitement got the best of me and I started rambling like an idiot to my boyfriend about everything we were seeing around us, even though he hadn’t had much of an HP education. The week before we went he decided to watch the films to have a base understanding. By the time we made it to the parks, we were on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Needless to say, references to the final battle for Hogwarts were completely lost on him (although I have to give him credit here and say he is now very into with Harry Potter, like me– the trip was a success just for that if anything else!)
I could into the details of everything I saw (or how intense the rides were). I could ramble about the sugary mess that is Butterbeer or how my eyes lit up during the wand selection process at Ollivander’s. But that’s what anyone could do and I think there is something deeper to the experience than what you see and what you can easily recant to someone else. I thought I would want to buy everything I saw and take it home with me, but as the day went on, I realized what I was taking home was something I couldn’t purchase.
I was living a book. That sounds obvious when I say it, but it’s different when you actually experience it. When you walk the cobblestones of Hogsmead Village and look upon the Three Broomsticks and think about some of your favorite scenes from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. I looked in on the pub and thought, Hermoine sat there while Harry plotted a way to get closer to Slughorn. In parts of Hogwarts and the Great Hall I had flashbacks to some of my favorite scenes and I searched for a little reminder of Dobby (my favorite character) around every corner. It was simply magical.
Humans have the delightful, and sometimes trying experience, of possessing emotion-filled-hearts. Everyday, to and fro, we carry with us these hearts that attach to things. Not in the way of horcruxes and soul-ripping, of course, but our hearts and dreams and loves attach to things throughout our lives that will always make our hearts flutter, our minds pause for just a moment, and senses become overwhelmed with the endorphins of pleasure and love. We smile to ourselves thinking upon the things we love. And for many in my generation, Harry Potter was that thing that we attached our young hearts to. When I got to let mine go and run around the grounds of Hogwarts and chase Dragons of the Triwizard Tournament and marvel at the game that is Quidditch– it felt like I was falling in love with Harry Potter again, for the first time. That simple wonder and inexplicable feeling we all had when we read the books and we just couldn’t stop. Page after page, you had to sit in that same spot on your bed or couch or in the library and you just had to know. You had to know for the energy, for the rush, and for the love you felt for three kids, finding what their purpose and their identity in their own magical world.
We could have just stood from afar and gazed at Hogwarts and I would have been the happiest person in the world. Because to see what you have loved and adored in your heart and mind for so many years gives you some comfort and some realization that your heart found its way home, so to speak. That you placed it in the right hands– in the hands of magic.
When we left the park, a few souvenirs in hand, I asked my boyfriend to stop for just a moment so I could look on Hogsmead and Hogwarts one more time. I just wanted to make sure that this day had been real. That the smiles and the laughter and the pure, erratic excitement and rambling had really taken place. I just wanted to make sure that, in some sense, I had finally gotten my letter. Fourteen years later, yes Alex, it finally came.
My heart was right where it belonged, in the right hands– the hands of magic. And on that day, between the walls of Hogwarts and the bustle of Hogsmead Village, it took flight with the rest of the longing hearts that surrounded it. You know you’re in the right place–when you’ve found a little piece of your soul and home– when you can truly say that your heart has taken flight. A spell was cast and I don’t think my heart is ever coming back down.