I started my journey with Harry Potter four years after the rest of the world. Ten and a half years ago, I was sitting in a waiting room at the Indiana University Medical Center with one of my brother’s nephews. He was reading a book called, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and he was devouring it like it was his favorite ice cream. His mother asked me if I’d read the books, and I hadn’t, but I’d heard a great deal about the book series – mostly negative. The enthusiasm of this little boy stirred my curiosity so much that when he’d finished the book and asked if I wanted to read it, I said yes, and my journey with Harry Potter began.
After reading the first book in the series (while my brother’s nephew sat next to me and eagerly read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) I was so enthusiastic about Harry’s story that one of my friends ran out and bought all the books (Goblet of Fire had just been released) and stuffed them in my suitcase. The next three books, I went with my friend Jene’ to midnight release parties at Borders and read them in the first 24 hours after I had them in my hands so I would not have to go live in a cave to avoid spoilers.
The creator of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling, created a character so rich, so flawed, so complicated and so inspiring that the world has gladly spent the last 14 years journeying with Harry through 7 books (not including the side books like Tales of Beedle the Bard) and 8 movies. Each time I’ve left the theater I couldn’t wait to see what lay ahead for Harry. Since 2007, I’ve known how the series would end, but today, I saw the final saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 2).
Reading a book and knowing how the story would end, there were no surprises for me, but seeing the story (and what an excellent job screenwriter Steve Kloves did with it) fleshed out so vividly made the wait for the movie worth it. My favorite movie in the entire series had been Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban until today. Today, something happened that hadn’t happened that has not happened for me during a movie in years, and never during one of the Harry Potter movies, not even when Cedric Diggory died – I cried.
I cried a lot during this film, actually. The ladies next to me cried, one even wept openly during several scenes and asked me if I needed a tissue at one point. I was touched by several things in the movie, especially when Harry walked through the great hall during the battle of Hogwarts and saw all the people who had been sacrificed fighting for what they believed in. I started crying when I saw George weeping over Fred’s lifeless body, but lost it completely when I saw Lupin and Tonks lying next to each other, knowing they had left behind an infant who would never know his parents, just like Harry.
The scenes explaining the loyalty, bravery, and exceptional love of Severus Snape were touching for nearly everyone in the theater. When Harry was collecting the memories from Snape and Snape reached up and touched Harry’s face and said, “You have your mother’s eyes,” before Harry even went to the pensieve, Harry knew, deep down inside, that Snape was good. I could tell who hadn’t read the books because there were gasps as Snape’s story unfolded – of how much he loved Lily Potter and wept over her dead body as Harry cried in his crib, of how Dumbledore trusted Snape and asked him to kill him so that he could get even closer to Voldemort, and how, even as Dumbledore reveals that Harry must die, that Snape had grown fond of Harry, and found Dumbledore’s preparing of Harry as a pig to slaughter disgusting. Dumbledore finally realized that Snape has loved Lily Potter all this time and will, “always.”
One of the moments that got most cheers was when Molly Weasley duels Bellatrix Lestrange after Bellatrix tries to kill Ginny. It was worth waiting for. “Not my daughter, you, BITCH!” Molly, a softly padded wizarding family housewife and mother of seven, rises to the occasion and Bellatrix is outmatched and dies with the smirk wiped off her face and dissolved into the air.
When Harry walks toward the forbidden forest to confront Voldemort, he opens the snitch and says, “I am ready to die.” How many 17 year-olds know what self-sacrifice or any kind of sacrifice truly is? Harry walks toward death willingly, believing he must do so so that Voldemort can finally be defeated and the world will be safe. When he opened the snitch, he called his parents, Sirius, and Lupin back from the dead. The calm and quiet that surrounded him was felt in the theater. People were on the edge of their seats. Waiting. Knowing what would happen next.
Voldemort kills Harry, at least the part of him that lived in Harry. Voldemort’s victory is only truly cheered by the worst of the worst, Bellatrix Lestrange and a few others. Voldemort asks the students and the adults who had come to fight for Harry who will join him. Only Draco Malfoy crosses the line, but not after hesitating for what seemed like a long time. He had been torn, even since he was charged to kill Dumbledore in The Half Blood Prince, between doing what is expected (evil) versus what he believes to be right. Harry saved his life in the castle, and Draco knows where his loyalty should lie, but he finally walks toward his parents. Instead of waiting around with Voldemort to celebrate, the battered family walks away. They do not belong on either side any more. All they have left is each other. Through the three brilliant actors who played the Malfoys, you felt every struggle, torment, regret, and defeat.
One character everyone has waited to see have his big moment is Neville Longbottom. After Draco Malfoy walks away with his parents, he steps up and steels himself while Voldemort mocks him. Then, Neville, tired and injured, says that even though Harry’s dead, the cause for freedom and doing what’s right isn’t. He was ready to lead the charge and eventually gets to kill the snake, Nagini, the last horcrux. When he does, Harry is able to defeat Voldemort once and for all.
The movie ends with the epilogue that was in the 7th book, “19 Years Later.” Harry and Ginny are married and have three kids and Ron and Hermione have two kids. Three of the children, James and Albus Potter, and Rose Weasley, are going back to school at Hogwarts. It was a satisfying moment to see something so normal and touching happening for these families and it was happening because of Harry’s sacrifice and willingness to confront evil, and the willingness of others to stand with him.
Very few movies end with applause, but the people in the theater clapped and then got up and left before the credits started to roll. I couldn’t move. I sat and watched the credits (which reads like a who’s who of British thespian royalty) and I was one of two people in the theater. I watched until the very last words faded off the screen. I stood on the stairs with another lady about my age and she said, “I can’t believe it’s over.” I walked out into the lobby and thought I was walking through a funeral home. People of all ages who had just seen the movie were grieving, in a way. The character of Harry Potter will live on through books and movies and memory, but his character will no longer develop, at least not in print.
As someone who loves stories and rich, deep characters, Harry Potter has been a favorite of mine for the last ten years. JK Rowling has created a character and a world that has touched the imaginations of millions of people. She is definitely talented but I don’t think lightning will strike twice with her, though I hope she writes more enjoyable stories. Many people will try to fill Harry’s shoes with Harry-like characters, but there will never be another story quite like his.
It’s time for a new story, a new character to love, but it will take a while. I will miss reading about the boy who lived and watching him fight for what is right – larger than life on the big screen. I will revisit his story from time to time and loathe Hollywood for rebooting the series in thirty years (gnargles will be behind it all).
Goodbye, Harry Potter, and all that you journeyed with. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you, JK Rowling, for sharing Harry with us.