It’s been two decades since the Battle of Hogwarts, and just as long since the first U.S. publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Six more books, eight movies, a stage play, hundreds of J.K. Rowling tweets, and a spinoff film series later, the tale of the boy wizard could not be more firmly established as the defining cultural text of a generation.
And for those of us who grew up with Harry? There’s a lot of emotional baggage to unpack. While of course we’re all still hurting from every painful character death and still deeply moved by every word of Dumbledorean wisdom Rowling ever wrote, different pieces of Harry Potter pierce us all individually. As for me, I’m still not over…
When Neville wins the House Cup in Sorcerer’s Stone
Neville Longbottom is a true hero by the end of the series (and, we find out, might have turned out to be the Chosen One himself, before Voldemort “marked Harry as his equal” as a baby). But the thing I’m not over, that pulls at my heartstrings and brings tears to my eyes every single time, is when he wins the House Cup for Gryffindor at the end of Sorcerer’s Stone. “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends,” Dumbledore says before awarding awkward, clumsy Neville, who “had never won so much as a point for Gryffindor before,” the last 10 points of the term. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it.
Prisoner of Azkaban‘s major (movie) omission
Prisoner of Azkaban is arguably the best of the movies, thanks to Alfonso Cuarón’s elegant direction. But the Oscar winner left out one crucial thing that I just can’t get past: While of course the film does communicate that Remus, Peter, Sirius, and James were school friends, the fact that they were “Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs” is never explicitly stated. (Obviously, readers of the books would know this anyway, but films can’t rely on viewers’ familiarity with the source material.) So what do the nicknames really matter, as long as we know that they were all best friends? Characters address Lupin, Sirius, and Pettigrew as “Moony,” “Padfoot,” and “Wormtail” in later installments, so who cares if we get the full-blown explanation in Prisoner of Azkaban?
Harry certainly should. Before he went to Hogwarts, he had nobody and he was nobody. The best conversation of his entire childhood was with a reptile. But slowly, once he turns 11, he begins to understand that he is someone — he had just been removed from his proper context. In Sorcerer’s Stone, he learns “Yer a wizard.” In Chamber of Secrets, he receives confirmation that he’s a true Gryffindor when he pulls the ruby sword out of the Sorting Hat. Prisoner of Azkaban hones Harry’s steadily sharpening understanding of his own identity one step further, from the world in which he belongs, to the community within that world, to a family within that community.
Of course Harry always knew who his parents were, but he has a new relationship to them — as people rather than abstractions — after the events of Prisoner of Azkaban. But how on earth is he supposed to comprehend on a profound level that he is truly his father’s son, that his parents will never not be with him, and that love and magic will bind them always if he never finds out that his father was Prongs, the stag, whom he alone can summon to protect himself from the physical manifestation of hopelessness? Are we supposed to just think that the stag was just a badass animal picked at random to be his Patronus?
Oh wait! Harry’s Patronus is just a vague white light that doesn’t even take its proper shape in the Prisoner of Azkaban movie! So this step in his gradual realization of who he is — all of which is necessary to his developing understanding of his significant role in wizarding history — is basically eliminated from the third movie. It’s a pretty decent flick. But I can’t get over it.
That Luna Lovegood is an Aquarius!
“I must not tell lies.”
It’s obvious from Voldemort’s appearance, as it’s obvious from his name, that he’s evil. Dolores Umbridge, however, with her nervous throat-clearing and her fluffy pink sweaters and her cutesy office décor, is as innocuous as middle-aged cat ladies come — at first glance. Order of the Phoenix’s Defense Against the Dark Arts professor-turned-High Inquisitor-turned-Headmistress is as vile as anyone who bears the Dark Mark, and all the more insidiously so for being on what is technically the right side of wizarding law.
As a high-ranking official in a corrupt bureaucracy headed by a cowardly narcissist, Umbridge swoops in on Hogwarts with remarkable ease, and the students and faculty are powerless to prevent her from seizing control — or inflicting real pain. A perfectly ordinary person who happens to be a bigoted psychopath with the weight of the institution behind her, Umbridge is one of Rowling’s most nightmarishly real creations, and the cruelty of her detention/torture, of I must not tell
alternative facts lies, is among the books’ more disturbing elements.
That Fred was the better Weasley twin
This is the only death I will comment on at all, I promise! Obviously, I love George, too, and the two of them together were so much greater than the sum of their parts. But Fred was just a little bit funnier, and the clear leader. I understand where, from a poetic standpoint, it was a very smart move on Rowling’s part to kill off one of them. But did it have to be Fred?
All of the slights — real and imagined — against Harry in Order of the Phoenix
While I know many people love to hate angsty Order of the Phoenix Harry, I am right there with him the whole time. I, too, resent that everyone completely ignores Harry for months after he had the mildly stressful experience of witnessing the return of Voldemort and the murder of Cedric Diggory all alone — no big deal, right? I share his adolescent fury when it is revealed that everyone’s just been hanging out all summer without him, just laughing and whispering amongst themselves and not lifting a finger to tell him anything, when, really, would there even be any reason to bring back the Order in the first place if not for Harry? I myself am an enraged teenager all over again when Umbridge makes him swallow her Ministry propaganda and deny his trauma by carving into his own skin, when Dumbledore won’t look him in the face!
Also, for the record, even if he weren’t trying to cope with his nightmare of an experience at the end of Goblet of Fire, a 15-year-old is allowed to have a little bit of a dark side, okay? When I was 15, I felt that angry if my friends went to the mall without me. So I’m sorry if you’re mildly irritated by his suffering! I’m so sorry if it annoys you! And I’m not over it!
“Ze British overcook their meat.”
First of all, the British really do overcook their meat, and I really can’t get over it. Second of all, I’m not over Fleur’s loyalty to a disfigured Bill, bitten by Fenrir Greyback (not during a full moon, though, so he just likes his meat rare now) — or Mrs. Weasley’s tearful reaction when she realizes her son’s beautiful French fiancée isn’t as shallow as she first seemed. Ah, l’amour doux!
All the parents
The idea that Harry’s mother died for him, and her love continues to protect him, is crucial to the central mythology of the series, and the parental love written into all seven books underscores the tragedy that Harry lost his own. The Weasleys’ love for their children cannot be overstated, and they treat Harry and Hermione as their own; the Malfoys, nasty classists though they are, are touchingly devoted to Draco; Xenophilius Lovegood tried to turn in Harry and his friends, yes, but only to save his beloved Luna; even the Dursleys’ indulgent adoration of awful Dudley can be… nice? But then there’s Amos Diggory*. At first he’s kind of just a bore who brags about Cedric too much, but his devastated reaction to his son’s death makes Cedric’s fate all the more heartbreaking — and his decency towards Harry in such horrific circumstances shows where Cedric got his unselfish character.
*Pretending Cursed Child never happened, thanks!
Just in general. I miss it like it’s a place I’ve been. I know that I’ll never be over it.