A Muggle's Journey from Platform 9 3/4Essays - Issue 28
A Muggle's Journey from Platform 9 3/4
I can clearly remember exactly where and when I was when I first discovered Harry. What’s harder to remember is exactly who I was. In the decade plus since I began this journey, I’ve gotten divorced, married again, divorced again, quit my job, was a LeakyMod for a year, participated in a Potter-related podcast, started my career anew, and was diagnosed with and am now a proud survivor of breast cancer. I am more than ten years older, hopefully wiser, and in a different when, where and who in my life, but much of that is due to the lessons that being a fan of Harry has taught me.
“Seven years there and he won’t know himself” 1
My journey with Harry started in the fall of 2000. My then seven year old son was struggling with reading and a coworker of mine recommended the Potter books as a great way to get him engaged in a story. An avid reader since the age of four, I thought I had pretty much read it all and considered myself to be quite sophisticated and worldly when it came to literature. Had I heard of Harry Potter back on that autumn day in 2000? Well, only because my mother-in-law had purchased the yet unread book for my son earlier in the year for his birthday. Quite frankly, the thought of having to suffer through a kid’s book was about as desirable as cleaning the toilet, but I was desperate for my son to start reading. So after work one night, I dusted off my son’s pristine copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and dutifully set off to help him discover my love of reading no matter how boring it might be for me.
I nestled into the armchair with my son, set the egg timer for thirty minutes and read the following words: “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” 2 Before I knew it, the thirty minutes had flown by and it was time to start my son’s bedtime routine. As I was readying him for bed, my mind kept drifting back to the story. What was going to happen to the poor little baby left on the doorstep? What exactly happened that destroyed such a powerful wizard? How were these magical characters we were already introduced to going to figure into the remainder of the story?
These questions and more burned through my mind as I lay in bed trying in vain to read whatever current novel I was reading – one that apparently left me not nearly as impressed seeing as I now have absolutely no clue who the author or what the title of it was. Still feeling a bit unsettled by my preoccupation with this “kid’s book,” I finally gave in to my impulses and snuck back into my son’s room to retrieve the book and continued reading throughout the night. Thus my love affair with Harry’s story began.
“Let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure” 3
As I mentioned before, I read all of Sorcerer’s Stone in one marathon session during the wee hours of the night in secret from the rest of my family. The truth of the matter was that I did not want my son to know I had read on ahead – not because I was ashamed that I had spent the whole night reading a kid’s book, but because this story was so special and so magical (pun intended) that I didn’t want to ruin any part of it for him. By this point in time the first four books had been published, so naturally I made a trip to the nearest bookstore the next day and purchased Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, and Goblet of Fire. Giddy with excitement, I proceeded to devour the next three books over the course of the next couple of weeks. It was during this time that I made a fascinating discovery. As I was still only reading with my son for thirty minutes per night (sometimes I managed to coax an extra ten minutes out of him.) I started to discover those “Things Hidden in Plain Sight” that J.K. Rowling is world-famous for because I was in the unique position of reading both the first book and the consecutive books at the same time. Every reading session I was having those “aha” moments and discovering something new and fun that I had missed the first time around. I still remember the moment I realized that if you took “Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi” 4 and read it backward you got “I show not your face but your heart’s desire” and I literally thought my brain just might explode.
Never before had something so completely captivated my thoughts, dreams, and imagination as these novels were. It was with great regret that I finally came to the end of Goblet of Fire and then realized that it was probably going to be about a year that I would have to wait for the next book. In retrospect, I’m very glad I was naïve enough then to assume she was going to continue to be able to crank out one book per year.
“You’re well out of it, mate” 5
The period of time between 2000 and 2005 was a very challenging time in my personal life. My husband of eight years and father of my two children decided he wanted a divorce; I made a horrible decision to jump right into another train wreck of a relationship, and ended up divorced again by the summer of 2005. I mean, this last relationship was even more disastrous than Harry and Cho’s, if that gives you any kind of indication of how bad it was. During this time, my son (and subsequently my daughter) learned how to read, but neither of them had anything close to the passion for books that I have and they sadly did not share my love for Harry. I found myself a struggling, lonely single mom, lacking in adult companionship that I was so craving at the time, and working a job that I hated with every fiber of my being. I remember feeling the need to contribute more to life than what I was currently doing. In other words, I felt a great need to be a part of something important, but was rudderless and instead drifted aimlessly along the currents of my life. It was right around the time of my second divorce becoming final in the summer of 2005 that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince made the scene and from then on things got a lot more interesting.
Prior to the release of Half-Blood Prince, I would have called myself a fan of the Harry Potter books. After the release of Half-Blood Prince, I realized that I was not just a fan, but a fanatic. Maybe it was because the trio was getting older and I could relate more to them, maybe it was the romance, the intrigue, the sense of how in the hell are they going to get everything done. Whatever it was, my moderate intrigue turned into a full-blown obsession. I immediately began a reread of the entire series because I just knew that the clues were there if I paid more attention. I felt like Hermione did when she fell asleep and missed Cheering Charm lessons. I knew that something vital had just happened and even though I had read and reread the previous five books, I knew there was so much more to this than I could glean in one reading. Then the most spectacular thing ever in the world occurred.
Not being the most internet savvy person in the world, it wasn’t until the fall of 2005 that I realized J.K. Rowling had her own website. This place was a completely new discovery and it opened up a world I had never imagined existed. Like Hansel and Gretel following the breadcrumbs, I found The Leaky Cauldron (affectionately known as Leaky to the community) through following fan links. To me, the thought of joining an on-line community was not something I had ever considered before, so at that time I lurked a bit, spent some time reading through different theories and threads and generally made excuses to myself as to why I kept visiting, but not joining up.
“I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind [...] At these times [...] I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one's mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one's leisure” 6
In the past, I would have the same pattern: read the newest Harry Potter book, obsess about it for a few weeks, read the other books, then put them back on my bookshelf with not many passing thoughts and go about living my life. Wait a couple of years for the next book release, read all night long, then wash, rinse, repeat. This time it was different. It was as if my mind was aflame with thoughts and try as I may; I could not rid myself of them. In short, I really did need a Pensieve. I would find myself at the grocery store thinking about R.A.B., I would be at work and all of a sudden a thought about the trio’s task would pop into my brain and I would have to scribble it down on a post-it. One day I scared my cat because I was in the shower and screamed when I had the “aha” moment because I realized where the locket had been last seen. I literally forced the books upon different friend’s family members in the vain hopes they would become as entranced as myself and I would have somebody who shared this passion to discuss theory, character traits, and the future of the trio. I finally came to the realization that all roads led back to Leaky. One day in February 2006 as I was lurking I saw a notice about a Reading Group starting up. That was the day I joined Leaky under the handle SoonerGryffindor (my two favorite sports teams in case anybody was wondering) and officially became a member of the Potterverse. It was if I had finally found my own personal Pensieve where I could siphon off and examine all those thoughts, ideas, and inspirations in an environment rich with the thoughts, ideas and inspirations of other people.
As most who will read this essay already know, mere words cannot capture the sheer delight that being a Potter fan during this era was. Since I could literally write an entire essay just about my experiences on Leaky, I will try my best to be concise here. It was a magical, thrilling, enchanting, captivating, breathtaking, delightful, charming, spell-binding, once-in-a-lifetime, kind of thing. I will never forget what it was like to be on the cusp of something so incredible. From the reading groups, to film discussions, chat groups and everything in-between it was all amazing. Nothing will ever be able to replace being lead defense counsel (and getting to work with some of the most remarkable people on the planet) for Snape’s trial on July 7, 2007. Even though I and my team lost our case, Jo herself managed to exonerate Snape a mere two weeks later with the release of Deathly Hallows. The bitterness of that defeat was mitigated in learning that the Prince himself was indeed Dumbledore’s man through and through – a topic that was probably the most hotly debated throughout the entire fandom.
Being a canon freak, I spent most of my time in Great Wizarding Events, Unfogging the Future, and Notable Magical Names, but I also re-discovered some of my more academic roots in Obscurus (four years later, I still think I have brain-strain from the alchemy thread). These places and The Corner Booth were my favorite hangouts, so I guess it’s no surprise that I was eventually asked to be a mod for both. Like mold, I had stuck to the walls so I might as well make myself useful.
“Ah, music, […] A magic beyond all we do here!” 7
In retrospect, one of the best things about being a member of the community at this period of time was the opportunity to step outside of the box and get outside of my comfort zone. Nothing better shows this than the day that fellow Corner Booth and Forum moderator futureweasley approached me about doing a filk with her. At first I was stunned … me sing a filk? Seriously? Ron Weasley’s teaspoonful of emotional range far exceeds any musical ability I was born with, but the funny thing about being a Potterfan (or Ginny Weasley) is that you really do start to think that anything is possible if you have enough nerve. Through this process I learned a couple of things about myself. First, I was actually pretty good at coming up with ideas for and writing filks. Second, you don’t have to be particularly good at something to have a blast doing it. All you need is to be able to take a giant step out of that comfort zone and be amazed at the great time you’re having. Thank you so much MJ for introducing me to that valuable life lesson.
Writing and singing filks soon led to being one of six people lucky enough to write, perform and produce their own podcast and my time with WeasleyCast was absolutely the time of my life. Sadly all things must end and even though I only have a few bits and scraps that I was able to salvage from my old decrepit desktop from 2007 when my house flooded earlier this year, I will never forget the wonderful times and all of the laughter I shared with my amazing castmates. Scott, Varza, Ranea, Stuart and MJ, you guys totally rocked my socks! I will never forget the laughter, the recordings that we had to do over and over because of our laughter, the arguments, the discussions, and the late night forays together over to the Fat Friar’s vat of wine. Oh yeah, and more laughter.
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live” 8
As incredibly joyful and fulfilling as this time in my life was, it was not destined to last forever. Before we all knew it July 21, 2007 had finally arrived. For me it was an astounding journey of almost seven years and worth every second I had to wait. In some ways I wish it could have lasted longer, but even when you aren’t dreading something, time has an incredibly annoying habit of marching on. Bills still had to be paid, appointments kept, and kids raised. Even though one chapter of my life was now over, new adventures lay just over the next horizon. There are times where I still deeply miss the daily involvement with the rest of the Potterverse, but whenever that melancholy sets in, I remember the friendships made and the life lessons learned. Life after Harry will definitely go on and it will be much richer for it.
“After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure” 9
“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” 10
So for the next couple of years life went on until two quite ordinary things that led to extraordinary events happened. First I turned forty, and then because I had turned forty, I went in for my first ever mammogram. Which was most definitely not an ordinary experience, unless being told you have stage III breast cancer is your idea of the mundane. In the space of one simple morning, my entire world had transformed. Instead of worrying over what I was going to make for dinner that night, I was instead Googling everything I could on the different types, subtypes and survival rates of breast cancer. Would I still be able to work? How was I still going to be able to raise my kids? Was this really, truly the end of the line for me? Just like Harry, I can remember sitting there wondering how many beats my heart had left to beat before I died. It took a few weeks of testing: biopsies, blood tests, ultrasound, breast MRI, lumpectomy. At the end, it was determined I had a triple negative tumor, which is automatically stage III (and a very poor prognosis) whether or not it has spread to the lymph nodes.
“It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew—and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents—that there was all the difference in the world” 11
When we first started WeasleyCast, we all wanted to let everyone know what our favorite Potter quote was. For me there was never any question. The above quote from Harry has always been my favorite from the moment I first read it. I always thought that if I were in a similar situation I would hope that this would be my reaction. With my test results finally in, I now had two choices: no further treatment and be looking at a 56% five year survival rate or endure five months of grueling chemo followed by two months radiation and increase my survival chances to 78%. Being a health care provider I already knew a lot of the ugly truth about the choice I was getting ready to make, but not fighting – not going into that arena with my head held high was not an option. I sat down with my oncology team and worked out a survival strategy. It was not pretty and it was not fun, but in April 2010 I walked out of my last radiation session knowing that I had done everything I possibly could have done to give myself the highest survival rate possible. A few months later, I finally finished my last chemo session. As I write this now, it has been almost twelve months since my last trek down that long hallway into the chemo room. Thank you so much Harry for preparing me for this battle.
Finally things are starting to normalize again. My hair eventually grew long enough for a proper haircut, hurts and scars are healing, my son graduated from high school, life goes on. Most importantly, are the lessons learned throughout this journey. Among other things, I’ve learned to:
· love my kids like Molly
· let out my inner Luna
· laugh like the twins
· be brave like Harry.
All in all, it’s been a very interesting decade and there’s no way I would be the person I am today without having had Harry and the rest of the fandom as part of my life.
1. J.K. Rowling, Sorcerer's Stone, 58.
2. Ibid., 1.
3. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 56.
4. Ibid., Sorcerer's Stone, 207.
5. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 866.
6. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 597.
7. Ibid., Sorcerer's Stone, 128.
8. Ibid., 214.
9. Ibid., 297.
10. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 328.
11. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 512.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2007.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New