When Harry Potter was eleven, so was I.
That is to say that I was eleven years old when the first book was released and, therefore, the same age Harry was that first year at Hogwarts. Initially, I was determined not to read them, convinced that something so popular couldn’t possibly be good. (Yes, I was a precocious thing, and very unconcerned with what was “cool.”) But family and friends wore me down in the end, and I found my train to Hogwarts the same way most children my age did—with wonder in my eyes, magic tingling my fingertips, and a hunger for something that I could label as my own.
Harry Potter is an identification marker. In some ways, I like to think of it as its own Woodstock. Allow me to elaborate.
While J.K. Rowling’s seven book saga was created for all generations to enjoy, there was something about growing up with the series that will forever define my generation. We are a group of people who believe in the impossible, in the power of love’s ability to protect and create, in silly things like jelly beans that taste like dirt and earwax, in bravery wrought through friendship and the need for a few basic spells to ease our way through daily life. (What? Chocolate and tea are homemade spells of a sort.) I can’t say whether Harry gave this to us, but I know that he was a part of it all, a uniting factor that allowed children and teens all over the world to lock eyes, smile and know that we weren’t so different after all.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I can never take criticism of these books seriously. Those who want to take issue with Rowling’s prose or her narrative complexities, they just don’t get it. They missed the boat. They weren’t there.
What House are you in? What’s your wand core? What position do you play on the Quidditch team? You know who you are. You’ve answered these questions before. You were there at midnight in a line wrapped around the block, waiting greedily for the next installment. I remember.
Make no mistake, Harry Potter owes all that he is to the internet. As the series began to thrive, the world wide web was coming into its own, and fans from every continent on the planet had a way to connect. Outside convention halls, inside homes, 365 days a year and no stopping for breath. There were countless fanfics, sites full of fanart, videos and parodies and all the Livejournal icons you could ever hope for. The boy wizard proved what the internet could do to a fanbase, how the web could bring us together for fun, fact-sharing, even charity.
Every controversy Potter created made it stronger, particularly because no one could refute one incredible truth; it was getting children to read. To love reading the way that they loved video games and television. On that, there is little to say that hasn’t been said already, but it still gives me goosebumps whenever I see a child flipping through the pages of one of these books, knowing that they’re experiencing it for the first time in a way that I will never be able to again.
The mass enthusiasm that the series generated was unheard of—midnight releases with people wearing costumes, sites where every name, item, and plot detail were picked apart with care, films that would span a decade with actors we would watch turn into adults. It has become a merchandising monster, but that overlooks the value of what it fostered. No book has come close to this kind of fervor, and understandably so: it was the community that did it. The community generated by Rowling’s wizarding world was part of the appeal. We all belonged to it. We all grew in it.
But we’ll probably never grow out of it. At King’s Cross station in London, there is a Platform 9¾ labeled on brick, complete with a cart sticking out of the wall. When I walked by, I had to push it. Just in case. I dare you not to do the same, should you ever find yourself wandering into the station.
And even though certain books took a little longer to reach the shelf and I was no longer the same age as Harry when I finally read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it felt appropriate. College would be ending soon, and Harry and I would head into the world together. He had seen me through many of the formative years of my life. I will always be grateful for that.
A butterbeer toast those of us who grew up Potter.
We’ll be waiting in the Great Hall when you come home.
This article originally appeared during Tor.com’s Potterpalooza