But now that I am older and have a few years of therapy under my belt, I am much more sympathetic to Harry. I am so incredibly glad that he found a family who loves and supports him unconditionally. When I reread the series, I no longer get angry at how he releases his emotions; as even if they aren’t always expressed in the best of ways, at least he is feeling something. He isn’t numb and withdrawn. He has emotions and they are real and raw and so very warranted.
Today, the only complaints I have about Harry are the gaps left in his writing. Although I’m currently undecided if it is a blessing or a curse that J.K. Rowling didn’t mention them, the fact remains: it is never told just how deeply the decade of abuse Harry suffered likely affected him. There is so much more to Harry that Rowling could have included. Perhaps he has panic attacks when he finds himself in a small cramped space, as he is unable to get the image of the cupboard under the stairs out of his head. Years of dust falling on him, spiders adorning the walls, the nauseating tones of the Dursleys pampering Dudley yet only sliding him a piece of bread under the door simply can’t be erased. Maybe he flinches whenever someone says his last name or calls him “boy”. He may even flinch when friends raise their hands to high-five him, as he expects – however sub-consciously and if only for an instant – that these people might hit him. Maybe he finds himself crying himself to sleep, but doesn’t understand why. There is nothing wrong, no one is speaking to him, he is in Hogwarts safe and sound, and yet he just can’t stop crying. Maybe he was terrified of having children, as he doesn’t want to become like the Dursleys. Maybe he grabs extra food and hoards the snacks in his dorm, unable to shake that old habit that came from years of knowing that if he didn’t do just that, he might not eat for a week.
And then there are the more subtle and insidious ways that he was likely affected. How is his self-esteem? Does he view himself as worthy of the misfortunes that have befallen him? Does he continually expect bad things to happen to him? After all, why would anything other than bad things happen to him? On any given day, how many times does he have thoughts so fleeting and yet so persistent, about how worthless he is? Did he ever dabble in self-harm? When he goes out and sees families that are laughing and affectionate, does his chest physically hurt with longing and sorrow? Or is he angry? Does he mistrust that apparent happiness those families demonstrate? Does he feel that the happiness shown is fake? Does he assume the parents are beating and mistreating the children, and if so how does he express this anger he might feel? Does he feel comfortable sharing this with anyone – even Ron and Hermione, his two closest friends in the world?
There is just so much that I want to know. I want to know about his recovery. I want to know about more than just the happiness that concealed an underlying sadness.
Needless to say, I intuitively feel like I understand Harry so much, and that is why I am deeply unsatisfied with the epilogue. It creates this stage where life just falls together for Harry Potter, seemingly right after the war ends. We know from Rowling’s time line that he begins Auror training in the fall of 1998 instead of going back to finish his schooling; but to me, that seems so wrong and sad. How common is it for a 15-year-old to stick with or actually enjoy the career they think they will have? He was that young when he decided he wanted to be an Auror, and his reasoning was simply because he was inspired by Mad-Eye. I thought perhaps there might have been some element of following in his parents’ footsteps, but upon doing some further research, his parents were not in fact Aurors (they were only members of The Order). This single reason for joining seems to be lacking in depth.
After The Deathly Hallows – after having physically died and having tortured, injured, and potentially killed people in an all-out battle – one would think that would be a very real taste of the negative aspects of committing your life to fighting dark wizards. I am not inclined to believe that Harry truly enjoyed any of that. And while it is canon that he seemed to enjoy using the Cruciatus Curse on Bellatrix, I wonder how much of that enjoyment was from feeling as though he was stopping a dark wizard, or from sheer, rage-fueled revenge. After the war, when the person upon whom he wanted revenge was dead, was there truly any anger or enjoyment left in facing dark wizards?
To me, based on my intuitive connection with Harry, I truly believe that after the war, Harry would have been left feeling tired and empty. The entity that had defined his life from infancy was dead. And if the existence of Voldemort was more or less how he’d been forced to define himself for so long, when he is gone, what would Harry be left with in terms of identity? I’d wager that he would see it as nothing. He would try desperately to find a new meaning and purpose to his life.
It is because of that drive to find meaning to his life that I could at least see him trying out the Auror career. Maybe he would have stayed for a year or two and then decided that it is terrible – too much paperwork, too much violence, too much of things he just doesn’t enjoy. After all, he’s done his time of fighting bad guys. It’s time to leave that to other witches and wizards.
No, I picture his life taking a much different route than the one J.K. Rowling laid out for him. I picture one where he gets to help people, one where he doesn’t simply follow a path he arbitrarily chose for himself as a teenager, one where he gets to truly heal and come to terms with his past.
And maybe, having kids and settling down with Ginny would be one way to do that (although, those who know me know that I really don’t like the pairing. But I am willing to make a concession here). I could truly see him as a great father—one who is so invested in his children’s growth and development and cares about who they are as individuals. I could see him being the type of father who never raises his voice, who attends all of his children’s sporting matches, and who sends care packages at least once a month. I could see fatherhood suiting Harry just fine. But I don’t like the idea of him just settling down with a person who, much like the dream of becoming an Auror, was decided at a young age. An age that was fraught with so much difficulty and so little time for self-reflection. But who knows, Ginny is a strong character, and maybe after some self-reflection and growth on her part as well, they could truly be good for each other.
While this essay was originally just supposed to be a lighthearted birthday well-wishing to our boy Harry Potter, it certainly took a different path. But it is still relevant. I, like many others, am almost always thinking about the Harry Potter universe in some way, shape, or form. And as I grow older, I am able to appreciate just how much Harry Potter has been with me through my passage into adolescence and adulthood, and just how relevant he will always be to my life.