The Burrow: You Can Never Go Home
An original editorial by Robbie Fischer
When I was about twelve years old, my stepfather drove the family out into the country and showed us the place where he had lived with his first wife and their two little sons. It was a run-down farmhouse, separated from a dirt road by a yard completely overgrown. Tall grass gone to seed, thorny vines bringing to mind the Sleeping Beauty’s castle… somehow we got inside the house. It was very sad. Very few things had been left behind, besides a lot of dust. It was just as my stepfather had found it one day when he came home from work; he had never seen his boys again. All that remained were a few discarded toys, cruel reminders of what he had lost.
My stepfather lived another twenty years from that day, yet for some reason, that one visit to his old house is one of my most enduring memories of him. And it is also the experience that comes to mind when I think about what it would be like for Harry to return to Godric’s Hollow. The house where his parents died would be an overgrown ruin by now. It might even be hard to find, though not because of the Fidelius charm. The people whose location was protected, or rather betrayed, by their Secret-Keeper, live no more.
If Harry were to find some of his parents’ things in that rubble, would it mean anything to him? Would it stir any kind of memory? Or would it be, perhaps, like those unfamiliar toys that had once belonged to a pair of stepbrothers whom I never met? Not quite meaningless – but simply, objectively, impersonally sad.
My stepfather talked about his sons often. But when they last saw him, they were too young to have any clear recollection of him. A little while later, a shyster lawyer offered him a deal to help him out of some legal trouble – he was not exactly Citizen of the Year, any year – and as a result, he was no longer legally the boys’ father. They ended up being adopted by their mother’s new husband and raised as his own children, along with several more brothers and sisters who came along later. Meanwhile, I often thought about the two brothers I could have grown up with. In reality, those boys were never part of my life. But in my heart, there was always an empty place reserved for them, inviting them to be there.
It is unlikely that Harry really remembers anything about his parents, regardless of what the movie-Harry said to Professor Lupin. Perhaps the green flash of light that he used to dream about – perhaps that much was burned into his subconscious mind. But I would guess that any other “memory” Harry has of his parents – of their faces, their voices – were suggested to him by pictures, by what he has been told about them, and by his own imagination. Except for his first year of life, Harry has been denied the company of loving parents. For all intents and purposes, he has no memory of ever experiencing their love. Yet their love remains a part of him, and he understands what it means as if he could remember losing it. Really, he hasn’t lost it. It’s there inside of him.
When I was grown up, and I thought my stepfather would not live much longer, I hired a detective agency to locate his two sons. It cost a fortune, but the search was completed very quickly. I learned their new last name, and I learned that they had grown up to be excellent young men – better than their biological father, I must say. With some misgivings, I wrote to the older of the two men and told him about his real father, and asked him to get in touch with me. Because, if he wanted to know the flesh and blood he came from, he had no time to lose.
The young man phoned me. We had a long and, for me, thrilling conversation. I gave him an unvarnished account of his father’s life. He told me that he had not known for sure that he and his brother were adopted – but he had suspected. He had picked up on clues – a picture of his mother with another man (evasively explained) – the fact that his Dad’s side of the family never treated him the same as his younger brothers and sisters. This saddened me. To a lesser degree, this young hero knew what the Dursleys’ treatment of Harry felt like.
My stepbrother-who-never-was quizzed me with insatiable curiosity. One can imagine that Harry would be just as curious to learn anything, any details, any down-to-earth, concrete facts about who his parents were and how they lived. Perhaps he will go to Godric’s Hollow one day; perhaps he has to, in hope of finding someone who will talk to him about James and Lily. Or perhaps he will settle for quizzing Remus Lupin and others who knew his parents.
At the end of our conversation, the young man promised to give my stepfather a call. He even gave me permission to tell my stepfather to expect his call. The news was so staggering to my ailing stepfather that for a few moments, I thought I had killed him. But worse, the young man never did call – and though my stepfather lived a couple more years, he never forgave me for getting his hopes up. He suspected that I had poisoned his son against him, by telling him too frankly about the troubles the old man had, the troubles in our relationship especially.
It is now too late for that happy reunion to take place. The door is closed on one – no, two – young men, who can never go home. Death has closed that door, as it has done for Harry. There is nothing for him to find at Godric’s Hollow except symbols of his own grief, grief for people he never really knew but whom he should have known. If Harry never does go there, please do not judge him harshly. Perhaps he will be tempted – perhaps he will even imagine there is something to be gained from visiting that place – or perhaps he will decide, as one not-quite-brother of mind did, that some discoveries are not worth the pain.