Hogwarts Express: Final Boarding Call

This must be how Harry felt every summer, when he boarded the train at Hogsmeade Station to return to the Dursleys. Sadness must have come over him as the Hogwarts Express rounded the mountain, giving him a glimpse of the castle he wouldn’t be seeing for several months. Hogwarts was his home. He belonged there, in the company of friends, and even foes alike. Not on Privet Drive, where Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley treated him like dirt. And certainly not in the Muggle world, which was dull, and most of all, definitely not magical.

The final Harry Potter film is here upon us, and I can’t help feeling like Harry did.  To watch the movie is like boarding the Hogwarts Express at Hogsmeade Station. I am leaving Hogwarts, and when the end credits roll, I would have my rounding of the bend. And once I do, I will never see nor set foot in the castle again. There will be no more feasting at the Great Hall; no climbing the moving staircases; no casting spells, no brewing potions, no Quidditch to watch and play. Harry had a September to look forward to, but I don’t have. Yes, I will have a September, but it will be in a world without magic whatsoever.

The train-ride home is long, and I have packed all my Harry Potter memories. 

Harry Potter Remembered

I first met Harry James Potter at the age of 19, in third year college. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was one of the assigned readings in my Children’s Literature class. I admit; at first, I didn’t take any liking to him; I never read him at all; or perhaps at least just the first chapter. My class devoted one day of discussion to him, and moved on to the next novel or story.  From then on, I did not mind Harry Potter, and the rest of the semester flew by.

But I chanced upon him on one’s summer’s day. I forgot why I picked up the book, but I was glad that I did. We hit it off at once, and he welcomed me, as he would do seven times later, into his very first adventure.  Like him, I hated the Dursleys. When Hagrid told him he was a wizard, I never shared Harry’s doubts. I knew him – and wanted him – to be so.

I was there to help him the very day he bought his school things. We enjoyed our time in Diagon Alley, picking potions ingredients, stocking up on books, and fitting school robes.  But it was our time at Olivander’s that I remember the most. Mr. Olivander was creepy for sure, but my uneasiness disappeared when a glow of light burst and the wind rushed as Harry held his phoenix wand aloft. After Mr. Olivander explained all about You-Know-Who, I was afraid. Yet I was also proud to have a friend like Harry. The Boy-Who-Lived.

We came to Hogwarts together, Harry and I. We marveled at the castle. We hung out with Ron. And the three of us found Hermione annoying, but of course, she came to be our friend too after Harry and Ron saved her from the troll. We met Neville, Seamus, Dean, Fred and George, all the teachers, and all the ghosts, especially Peeves. I was happy, and for Harry as well. I knew that he had finally found his home.

Harry, Ron, Hermione and I went on all sorts of adventures, and I do not want to burden you further with what happened. A more talented quill than mine has told the story. And I am sure that you know how the adventures went, for you were there too, weren’t you?

Harry Potter and the Trivia Contest

Yet I bet you weren’t there when I won a Harry Potter trivia contest.

Yes, it was nine years ago, when I was still in the university.  An organization sponsored the event, and over a hundred students joined. All of us were sorted into four different houses, and I happened to fall under Slytherin, which wasn’t quite to my liking. Didn’t Ron say he wouldn’t go to Slytherin house even if you paid him? Anyway, there were fourteen of us in the house, which competed against the others. I forgot how the inter-house battle went, though I remember feeling disappointed.  Winning was already out of my hands, yet by a curious reversal from the books, we somehow beat Gryffindor, along with the other houses.

And so there were 14 left. They grouped us into 7 pairs, each pair to be given a question. It was sudden-death. The first in each pair to respond would advance to the next round. I forgot the question, but I think it was something along the lines of “What book did Adalbert Waffling author?” Anyway, with the reflexes of a Seeker, I thrust my hand and got it right: Magical Theory.

Seven were left standing. We were lined up single-file, and the quiz masters asked each of us a question. This was no race. Get the answer right and you score a point. The top three with the highest scores would move to the semi-finals. And so they ticked off the questions, moving from one contestant to the other.

I got my question wrong. “What month does Quidditch start?” September, I said. [It’s October]. Oh, I was afraid that I might be eliminated, but luckily I managed to end up in the top three. I knew, however, that the other two would win. They never got a question wrong, and one of them was a Molecular Biology and Biotechnology major, supposedly the hardest course in the university. It was the course that supplied the summa-cum-laude who spoke at the university commencement exercises.

And so there were three. It was the same format. We were asked a question, one by one. And one of mine was, “What was the password to Gryffindor Tower the very first time Harry entered it?” I answered Caput Draconis, but was marked wrong. Oh, this time, I knew I would lose for certain, given the quality of my opponent. [Later on, I looked back and saw that I was right.]

But like a twist in a Harry Potter novel, the MBB major, whom I thought would win, finally made a mistake.  He couldn’t answer “What day do classes in Hogwarts start?” I couldn’t believe it. I was emboldened. From then on, I got all my answers correct. When it came down to it, the MBB major and I were at 7 apiece. The other was at 6. The last question came, and it was mine. “What was the password to Dumbledore’s office the second time Harry visited in The Goblet of Fire?” I relaxed, smiled inside, and spoke to the microphone, “Cockroach Clusters.”

The door of victory swung open and I earned 3,000 pesos. I never got a copy, but there is or was a picture of me standing with officials of the organization who sponsored the event.

Later that summer, I graduated from the university. And I’m sure you know what the theme of my party was.

Harry Potter and the Lessons I Learned

It was always a comfort spending time with Harry. I read the books over and over – while I ate, before I slept, and never once got tired of them. I did my undergraduate thesis on our adventures, which was a labor of love for sure, but not exactly research study of the year.

And so I stand here sad at the threshold, at my own Hogsmeade Station platform, and I leave not just with memories, but also with lessons. I learned a lot from Harry.

First, he taught me that love is stronger than death. Cheesy and corny as it sounds, it is perfectly true. For was it not Harry’s mother Lily that saved him from Voldemort’s curse in Godric’s Hollow? Wasn’t Harry’s love for his friends, his selfless surrender to the Dark Lord, the key to destroying himself as the seventh Horcrux? Moreover, isn’t mockery of the lesson similar to Lord Voldemort’s attitude to love?

“But nothing I have seen in the world has supported your famous pronouncements that love is more powerful than my kind of magic, Dumbledore.”

Second, Harry showed me how unmagical the Muggle world has become, and that is something to its discredit, deserving of mockery. It is not an accident that Muggle means “fool.” And nowhere is this ridicule clearer than in the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The very first sentence is loaded with sarcasm, and the joke’s on Uncle Vernon as he goes about his day, made uncomfortable by the weird stuff he sees (or does not see).

Third, Harry taught me to appreciate that things are not always what they seem, and that appearances are deceiving. Our Muggle world is obsessed with “hard facts.” We see what we see, and that is only what we see.  But when you live in a magical world, you learn to go beyond appearances and “broaden your minds,” as Professor Trelawney liked to say.  There is always something more than meets the eye when it comes to a bully like Professor Snape, a werewolf like Remus Lupin, an escaped convict like Sirius Black, an eccentric like Luna Lovegood, and a timid boy like Neville Longbottom.

Fourth, Harry showed me that not only a king like Aragorn or a princess like Arwen can be heroes.  Even social outcasts – an ostracized werewolf, an escaped convict, a thief, a mudblood, among others – deserve the label too. Our Muggle world has its own pariahs.  We treat them with disdain, perhaps not openly at least. And we never consider them as heroes.  We have a bit of Death Eater in us too, a Draco Malfoy who thinks himself to superior to the rest.  Yet when you spend time with the Order of the Phoenix, you learn to like, and even love, these “riffraff.” You realize that they are much more reliable than politicians, who “never get it right,” blind to the truth like Cornelius Fudge or given to seeking a mascot for morale like Rufus Scrimgeour.  Most of all, you see that these “wrong sort” of people are heroes, and that their lives and self-sacrifice are worthy of emulation. It was always easy to yield to evil, but they chose to do the right thing, even if it meant suffering.

Fifth, Harry showed me not to trust too much in power and intelligence, for they can be the root of evil. Just look at Lord Voldemort  – friendless and clever yet drunk with power and ambition. I now fully understand why Harry did not become as strong as he was or why it wasn’t Albus Dumbledore’s destiny to defeat the Dark Lord. Harry meant to show me that that kind of power, such as the Deathly Hallows, is not the answer. It is selflessness, humility, friendship, and of course, love.

“Books! And Cleverness! There are more important things – friendship and bravery…” – Hermione Granger

Getting a Lightning-Shaped Scar

Nothing can ever match the experience of being with Harry, Ron, Hermione and all the others, living in Hogwarts castle, playing Quidditch, brewing potions, casting spells, and dining on Mrs. Weasley’s cooking.  Of course, I can always re-read the records of my adventures with them, and there will be PotterMore, but I know it will never be the same. Six times, when Harry stepped out of Platform 9 and ¾ and into the Muggle world, he trailed off into empty space. Yet we knew we would see him again. But when I step down the train, leave my own Platform 9 and ¾, and return to the Muggles, this would be it. There will never be another book. Only the permanent emptiness of a blank page. And a lightning-shaped scar right upon my heart.

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