Why “Order of the Phoenix” Makes Me Cry like a Baby
The stars were dim and the moon was nowhere to be seen. I wasn’t worried. Pools of light stretched across the parking lot from the bookstore windows, bright and festive as if Christmas were in June. The night wind sent chills up and down my spine. Was it because of my horrible sunburn, or was it because I knew the Ministry was up to no good after Voldemort’s return to power?
It was both. June 20, 2003, was the eve of the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The day before, I had forgotten to put on sunscreen during my best friend’s moving away party. The results were unpleasant, but nothing was going to stop me from getting my hands on the new Potter book as soon as the stores allowed.
My grandfather was the only adult in my life to read the Harry Potter books until my early 20s, excluding my elementary school lunch lady, who definitely had a thing for Sirius Black. He was my best friend. He took me fishing every month. We had chocolate malts together every other weekend. When he lived with my family for a few months, he would let me sneak into his room, where we ate popcorn and watched movies late at night after my parents went to sleep. On the night of the Order of the Phoenix release, he picked me up after dinner and we made the 40-minute drive to the mall with the huge Barnes & Noble.
Walking through the glass doors was like crossing the brick barrier into Diagon Alley. Children in Hogwarts robes sprinted between bookshelves, grown men dressed as Hagrid and Dumbledore sipped magical punch, and streamers of deep purple and gold festooned the store from floor to ceiling. Until this point, I had participated in the Potter fandom from afar, poring over MuggleNet columns and hopefully submitting my captions to the caption contest every week. That night was my first taste of the joy and camaraderie the Potter fandom had to offer me, although it would be many years before I experienced the strength of its power.
I snacked on cookies and candy as another round of trivia intensified. My grandfather and I talked quietly between ourselves, smiling at the outlandish costumes, berating trivia participants for their incorrect answers, and keeping a close eye on the clock as it counted down to midnight.
We soon had our books, and I was halfway through “A Peck of Owls” before we got back to my grandfather’s house. I sat on a barstool at the kitchen counter. He made us chocolate malts with rainbow sprinkles.
That was the last time my grandfather and I had chocolate malts together. Sirius Black died the next day, and this profound shift in Harry’s universe foreshadowed an equally profound one in mine. A few weeks later, my grandfather made a series of selfish choices that led to a family schism. We saw him less and less frequently until we had no choice but to cut him out of our lives forever.
To this day, I lie awake at night, asking myself the same questions: Why did he choose himself over us? What could I have done to make him choose me?
The issue is more complex than that, but the 12-year-old girl in my brain doesn’t understand. She’s still writing in her diary, hoping Grandpa will come back before Book 6 comes out so they can go to the midnight release together. When that doesn’t happen, she hopes for Book 7. When each new film is announced, she hopes again.
One day, I stopped hoping. I found myself thinking of Potter, Cursed Child, and the new Fantastic Beasts film without that flash of hope, just pain. Each new film, each new piece of writing, each happy announcement was just another reminder that I didn’t get to experience it with my grandfather.
And then, fresh into my adulthood, I plunged into the Potter fandom headfirst. I was surrounded by people of all ages who lived, breathed, and consumed the books just as I did. I went to my first Potter convention in July of 2016 and made new friends for the first time in five years. We wrote Potter trivia questions into the early hours of the morning, learned new Potter facts and theories at panels, and sang and danced until our lungs and legs gave out.
The hole in my chest left by my grandfather was slowly getting filled with something new. My mental health improved, and I fell deeper and deeper into the fandom. Trailers, movie releases, and new behind-the-scenes interviews were reborn into symbols of joy.
Before I knew it, 19 years later came: the official 19 years later on September 1, 2017. I was in Orlando with a massive group of Potter fans helping out with MuggleNet’s 19 Years Later celebration at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Running around Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade with my favorite people was blissful.
During the hours leading up to the event, my bliss began to fade into despair. This anniversary of all Potter anniversaries was not going to pass without my grandfather’s laugh ringing through my memory or the ghost of his strong freckled hands pointing toward our destination, the Hogwarts Castle. Almost 15 years had passed since the last time I saw him. I walked the shady path to the theme park by myself. I hadn’t felt that kind of loneliness in years. Here I was at the biggest Potter milestone in my life and I didn’t even know if my grandfather had read Book 6. Had he seen the rest of the movies? What did he know about Fantastic Beasts?
I wept on a bridge for almost an hour. I ugly cried, puffy-faced and snot-nosed, causing concern for multiple families with small children as they made their way to and from the parks.
The Potter books give us all many lessons on dealing with grief – what helps and what hurts – but I’ve found no helpful information on how to cope with the living dead. Do I avoid him like an Inferius? Do I pity him like a Dementor victim? Do I visit him in the ward of some heartbreaking hospital wing, elated when he passes me a gum wrapper? I certainly can’t speak to his ghost, because he’s still alive.
How do you grieve for someone who hasn’t died? How do you mourn for a person who walks the earth in decent health, who has chosen to step beyond the veil into an existence outside your own?
The only way I know how to cope is crying. I cry because I miss him. I cry because I’m still scared. I cry because I’m happy that he brought Harry Potter into my life even if he chose to step away.
Every new Potter experience is another one without my grandfather. I will never hear Harry’s name and not hear my grandfather’s voice. I will never forget the late-night theorizing, arguing over how to pronounce Hermione’s name, or the small, rectangular box I received on my tenth birthday containing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
But today, his voice is accompanied by dozens of others. I hear my friends singing silly Potter Christmas carols. I smell a huge pot of homemade butterbeer bubbling over the stove. I see a living room decked out in red and gold, “Hedwig’s Theme” blaring from the speakers as a movie marathon begins. Every day the voices of the Potter community lift me up and out of my misery into a whole new way of looking at the world. I’ve got new Potter anniversaries to celebrate. Whenever a new Potter announcement is made, I feel hopeful again. I hope that I can share the joy and healing the Potter community brought me with the rest of the world.