Yeah, you read that title right. The first time I picked up a Harry Potter book was when I was 30 years young. I know what exactly you're thinking. How do I know what you're thinking? Because it's probably the same thing people have been saying to me since I told them I was reading Harry Potter wayyy late in life. It was mostly a variation of: "How in the hell did you manage to not read these books for so long?!"
I think I missed the boat when I was younger (I was more of an R.L. Stine kind of girl back in the day), and then later in life as the movies came out and the world was fully in the throes of HP fever, I just never wanted to commit to all those books. Now, I'm a huge bookworm and read very quickly, but I still wasn't ready for Harry Potter. Maybe it was because I knew I'd become obsessed and spend all my free time reading. Maybe I was afraid it wouldn't live up to the hype. In the end, I started reading it for my boyfriend, who has a deep, burning passion for that series and would not stop bugging me about it. And I would also like to note that I didn't see any of the movies before reading the books, either. Only bits and pieces. So I went into this HP portal almost completely blind and mostly spoiler-free.
Long story short: I was 30 years old when I read the complete Harry Potter series. And I had a lot of feelings about it and I cried and laughed and cried more and got pissed off at Ron all the damn time. But mostly, I learned so much from the books, and simply for that, I am forever grateful that I was able to hang out with Harry and his cohorts for as long as I did. So, in honor of Harry's birthday, here are the lessons that I (and probably all of you) held onto long after "all was well":
1. J.K. Rowling is an actual wizard.
The fact that she created this huge, ever-expanding world so beloved by so many people can only be explained by sorcery. I accept no other explanation. She's so talented that it almost makes me mad.
2. I finally understand half the references on the Internet!
So many memes! So many Tumblr posts! So many Mean Girl-Harry Potter mashups! I finally get them! You guys, I'm like, part of the inside jokes now!
3. If the material is good, spoilers don't matter as much.
Seeing as HP and the movies came out hundreds of years ago in spoiler years, I knew a lot of the big stuff that was going to happen. I work in entertainment. I'm on the Internet a lot. It's a hazard of the job. Before reading I knew that (spoilers coming!) Snape kills Dumbledore, both Dobby and Fred Weasley die, Harry dies and then really doesn't and that Snape had a good reason for killing Dumbledore. But none of that mattered because first of all, it was amazing to read those plotlines regardless. And secondly, I didn't know why all that stuff was important, and after getting invested, the reveals still hit me so hard.
Fun fact: The hardest I cried reading the book is when Hedwig died. What can I say? I'm an animal lover. Although I did not see Sirius' death coming and that slayed me, too.
4. Physical strength is important, but not as important as a strong heart.
Harry spends most of the books just foolishly throwing himself into dangerous situations, and he always manages to come out on top. We all know Harry doesn't even lift (bro), so how does he always win? He's brave as hell, and he is willing to risk his life for his loved ones. Sometimes that's bigger than an evil army. But you know what else he had that was also super helpful? Friends. Which brings us to…
5. Choose your friends wisely.
We all agree that Harry would be dead if it weren't for his friends, specifically Hermione and Ron, right? Okay, good.
6. Respect your elders, because sometimes they are boss-ass bitches.
Dumbledore is my homeboy. And Professor McGonagall? She runs this s--t.
7. There is one great rule for judging a person's character.
As the great Sirius Black once said, "If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."
Folks, if you are on a date, watch how the other person treats the wait staff. It will tell you almost everything you need to know, because even though waiters and waitresses are not inferiors, some people certainly treat them that way. Stay away from those people.
8. Despite usually having cooler costumes and better powers, the dark side of anything always loses.
That's just the way of life. Or it has been since Star Wars. Good always conquers evil, eventually. Voldemort could fly and he had the elder wand. And don't forget that he was oh-so-sassy and had a fancy cloak that he loved to whoosh around in. But in the end, he was defeated. Despite his whoosh-y cloak.
9. The easy choice is very seldom the right choice.
One of my favorite Dumbledore sayings, no doubt about it. Good ol' Albus. If you have to make a decision and you aren't sure which one is right, it's usually the tough one. If it were easy, it wouldn't be worth it.
10. You are never too old to go on an adventure.
At 30 years old, I was very happy to discover that I was as enthusiastic and involved in Harry's world as any 12 year old on the planet. I'm not a kid any more, but I felt like one as I giddily devoured each book. It's never too late to go on an adventure, literary or otherwise.
11. The ones we adore never truly leave us.
This, to me, is the most important lesson of all. Yes, the quote is actually from the film version of Prisoner of Azkaban, but it taught me that I can always come back to Harry's world whenever I want, which is a very comforting thought.
Now in case you are wondering how I felt about the movies in comparison to the books, well, that's a tale for another time. But we can chat about it in the comments, especially if you agree that movie Ginny was just awful. And it definitely wasn't her fault.
Happy Birthday, Harry! And I will see you all on Pottermore! (Pssst. I'm in Ravenclaw).
(Originally published on July 31, 2014 at 7:30 a.m. PT)