As tonight's premiere of the final Harry Potter movie approached, I heard many of my friends refer to our age group as the Harry Potter generation. It's a bold claim to take ownership of seven books that are treasured by readers of all ages, in over 70 languages. After all, my parents have been reading the books to me, and at my side, from the Sorcerer's Stone to the Deathly Hallows. Still, I am a part of the Harry Potter generation: a collection of young adults around 20 years old who were young enough when the books came out to truly believe in magic.
The evidence? On my 11th birthday, I woke up believing a letter from Hogwarts would come that day, by owl, with my name on it.
My childhood was spent playing Quidditch on Rollerblades, making wands out of chopsticks with my mom, and teaching my friend Janet how to defend herself from boggarts. Back then, my biggest problems were in my imagination. And I shared them with Harry.
After the release of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, my older brother, Nat, scared me by writing threats from the Basilisk in chalk on the wooden fence in our back yard. I believed the messages and the Basilisk were real, and walked around with a mirror for the rest of the day. As I got older, the real world intruded. Instead of taking on a three-headed dog, I faced my freshman year of high school. Instead of dementors, I dueled the SATs. My He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named became the rising tuition for college.
When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was released in America, I was 7 years old and a rabid reader. I took turns with Nat to read the book. When Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban came out, my mom took me to see a movie because she was worried that I was spending too much time reading. I brought my book with me, lied to my mom about being scared, and spent the rest of the movie in the lobby, finishing the book.
When the Deathly Hallows was released at midnight in July 2007, I was 15 years old. My family bought one copy for each person (no one was willing to take turns this time), and we spent the entire night reading together. I finished as the sun rose that morning.
I've read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone well over a dozen times. These past few nights, I have returned to the book again. I have come face to face with how much Harry has grown and how much I have grown with him since the first time I opened that book. An owl never came with my invitation to the finest school of witchcraft and wizardry, but I've found my own Hogwarts — Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. There's no Peeves the Poltergeist, and the staircases stay put. I have a MacBook Pro instead of a wand, and there's no Sorting Hat. Still, on sunny weekend afternoons I can see a group of 20-year-olds, holding broomsticks and dodgeballs, running around on intramural fields. At colleges nationwide, Quidditch is a popular sport.
Looking back on my childhood, I see that the magic of the Harry Potter series is very real. It just isn't exactly what I thought it was when I was 11. When kids are fighting for a turn to read, when kids are skipping out on movies so they can read, when families are brought together by a book, what else can we call it but magic?
At midnight, I'll join the rest of the Harry Potter generation at the movie theater to see the final chapter. The final moment of a wonderful part of my childhood. Many of my friends are now saying that, as the credits roll, the magic will finally end. They're wrong. These days, my dad is reading the Harry Potter books to my baby sister, Juniper, a preemie at the neonatal intensive care unit at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. They just finished Goblet of Fire and are already deep into Order of the Phoenix. For Juniper, and every other child just meeting Harry, the magic is only beginning.
Sam French is a 2010 graduate of PCCA at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg and a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh studying directing.