The first time I read Harry Potter I was 9 or 10, but the first time I heard it I was only 6. My mother was looking for something new to read to us, and a friend recommended Harry Potter. She read the first 3 books aloud to us, until we were old enough to read them on our own. Listening to the story unfold for the first time are memories I will treasure forever— waiting impatiently at the end of the Sorcerers Stone to find out it was Quirrell in front of the mirror, peeking ahead to discover if Ginny was still alive, the excitement of finding out that Sirius was actually good all along. My mother mispronounced Hermione until the first movie came out, but it didn’t matter, and I would always go back after we were done to look at the illustrations, reading little bits here and there until I was old enough to read the entire books on my own.
When we finished the third book I was convinced I could read it on my own, so I did, the next week, but I don’t really know if I understood it all then. By the time the fourth book came out I got first claim on our copy, and then had to wait impatiently to discuss it with my sister and mother. I heard the first chapter of Goblet of Fire aloud too, the book came out when I was at summer camp, and during one afternoon activity we sat and listened to Riddle House, the carpet of cabin 7 sticking to our backs. I read the 5th and 6th books in the car, lying down on the very back seat of our suburban. When we got to North Carolina and our grandparents house I basically hid in the room until I finished and Sirius was dead, the white stucco walls and the July heat my companions in grief, my 11 year old self truly rattled for the first time by a fictional death. Two years later on the way to New Hampshire, I begged my parents to buy the 6th book, not wanting to wait until we got back from hiking a week later to read it, and so I finished the book in the 10 hour drive to the hotel, stumbling out of the car onto a small town sidewalk in shock when Dumbledore died. My mother made me tell her what happened, and for the next week as we explored the mountains I couldn’t get the Horcruxes out of my mind, and what would happen in the end, when the last book came out and the journey was over.
When I read the 7th book for the first time, it was like the 1st, aloud. We read it over a week at camp, whenever we had free time between service projects and meals and everything else. We handed the book around, sitting in clover patches and campfire circles, experiencing it all together for the first and last time. The last night of camp we had stayed up reading, and I fell asleep at the beginning of the Last Battle. I awoke early, as the sun was just peeking over the horizon, and I just wanted to finish, wanted the moment to myself. I started with the Princes Tale, and I finished the story that had so defined my life, and still does. I cried silently as Fred, Lupin, Tonks and so many others died, cheered on Molly Weasley, and read in awe of Dumbledore and Harry’s last conversation. As the sun rose over the great hall and Voldemort met his end, I sat in a room full of my best friends and smiled, so happy and so sad at the same time, but feeling at peace. Later that day when we read the last words aloud on a hot basketball court in the July sunshine, I knew the end was real, that it was truly over, but that it was okay. It would never really end, not for us anyway, and the last words Rowling wrote really were true— all was well.