Goodbye, Harry Potter…Hello, 11

Sophie walked toward me and tried, without much success, to suppress her grin. Gesturing with her hands in excitement, she yelled “Mom!” several times as she approached the dining room table where I was sitting.

“I finished Harry Potter! I finished it! I can’t believe I finished it!”

A few seconds elapsed. She paused, processing the realization that her accomplishment meant she had reached the end of a long road. The grin started to morph into a frown. Were those tears forming in the corners of her eyes?

And with that, a week before her 11th birthday, Sophie completed her own version of a marathon, begun more than two years ago when she opened the series’ inaugural volume, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for the first time.

Sophie has never been as passionate about the written word as Chloe. She reads slowly, which frustrates her to no end and often causes her to set books aside for days – or weeks – on end. Chloe has tried to nurture her sister’s enthusiasm for reading, to no avail. Sophie has remained consistently disinterested in, if not downright scornful of, Chloe’s attempts to convert her to the joys of the printed page.

But Harry Potter has always been a different beast. She’d watched all the movies before turning to the books – perhaps the adaptations inspired her. Perhaps, despite Sophie’s best efforts to ignore Chloe’s encouraging words, those words echoed in her subconscious. Perhaps she simply didn’t want to be left out of the Harry Potter phenomenon.

The seven books plus her DIY deathly hallows nightlight

Her years’ long  marathon had its ups and downs. “I’ll never finish!” was a frequent refrain. “I can’t believe I read only 15 pages. I’m so slow!” she often cried. My attempts to remind her that she was not in a competition often provoked a torrent of exasperated eye rolls.

Sophie sometimes took a break from Harry Potter to read other novels, but the gravitational pull of Hogwarts was too strong to resist. The books captured her imagination so completely that she  forged ahead slowly but surely, like the tortoise in Aesop’s fable.

Just as falling leaves eventually lead to falling snow, and thawing snow eventually leads to crocus flowers, and spring flowers lead to the dog days of summer, over time the Sorcerer’s Stone led to the Goblet of Fire, the goblet led to the Order of the Phoenix, and the order led to the Deathly Hallows.

Sophie’s connection to the books deepened with each completed volume. We often read together in my bed and I occasionally had to admonish her to avoid startling me with her yelps of surprise. For a kid who doesn’t particularly enjoy reading, her abiding love for Harry Potter’s universe was enchanting.

“Do I have to go to bed? I’m at such a good part!”

“Draco is such a jerk!”

“I’m so sad. I can’t believe Hedwig died!”

“Mom, you better order the next book. I’m almost done with this one!”

“Ooh! Ginny and Harry kissed!”

“Chloe, I forget. Do Lupin and Tonks die?”

“Oh my god! Oh my god! Chloe, the war has started!”

Now that Sophie has finished the series, she’s in mourning. She has a slew of unread-nothing-to-do-with-Harry-Potter novels on her shelves desperately seeking her attention. I suspect they will remain desperate for a long time, because according to Sophie, no other book could possibly live up to Harry Potter.

I fret that the saga of the “boy who lived” has simultaneously introduced her to the transformative pleasures of reading and discouraged her from ever reading again. For now, she’s processing her feelings of grief with visits to Pottermore, a virtual world where she’s a member of Hufflepuff and her Patronus is a tortoiseshell cat. Needless to say, it’s an insufficient balm.

Fun House Sophie

In a poignant coincidence of timing, Sophie turns 11 tomorrow. She grew more than 8 inches since she started reading Harry Potter two years ago and will likely surpass Chloe and me in height by the end of the year. Her body has magically shape-shifted into a young woman’s form, curves and all. Her feet are a size larger than mine. The orthodontist’s office is her new home away from home; braces will adorn her teeth in the near future.

Sophie’s now in sixth grade, learning how to navigate the complex social and academic labyrinth of junior high. It’s entirely fitting that she completed the adventures of Harry Potter as she closed the door on elementary school. Her childhood is receding ever further into the distance of the rearview mirror, while her teenage years loom on the quickly approaching horizon.

I don’t anticipate that Sophie will battle Death Eaters or the likes of Voldemort in the near future, but she will certainly need to overcome challenges of her own as she embarks on this next chapter of her life. If Harry Potter is a metaphor for the rocky rite of passage that defines the bridge between childhood and adulthood, it’s no wonder so many people see reflections of themselves in the books.

Sophie is no different. She knows there’s no turning back. So she forges ahead, trying, with mixed success, to master her unpredictable adolescent emotions and act the part of someone much older. Yet she continues to cherish the symbols of her early years – her ratty burp cloths, her adored stuffed animals, her favorite old clothes – as she acquires new symbols of young adulthood.

Like so many other kids her age, Sophie is walking a precarious tightrope, hoping to reach the other side without falling. And like a real-life Patronus charm, I’m silently cheering her on as she makes her way across the void to embrace her future.

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