"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."
With that first line, here written from memory, I was hooked. By late afternoon I had finished The Chamber of Secrets and was dying for more. Luckily, I didn't have to wait too long, as The Prisoner of Azkaban was published in early September of that year. I went to the midnight release of the book at Barnes and Noble, and I may have even dressed up, though I cannot swear to that. That book, whether because of the excitement of a new-found love or because it really is the best, remains my favorite in the series.
A full year passed before I got to read about Harry again. The Goblet of Fire was released on a Saturday in July and my father had pre-ordered the book for my birthday. Of course, this meant I couldn't go get it at midnight, I had to wait until the mail was delivered. Torture akin to the Cruciatus curse, I tell you. I sat outside in the driveway, waiting for the Fed-Ex man to arrive. When he handed the box to an almost tearful thirteen year old he laughed and told me that was about the hundredth one he had delivered that day. Terrified after Rowling's warnings of a character death I peeked at the end. Seeing that it was a character hitherto unmentioned in the books, it was safe to read. I finished it that night, despite the fact that, at 734 pages, it was by far the longest book I had read up till that point.
The world of Harry Potter kept me sane over the following year. Stuck in a miserable school for the already miserable year of 8th grade, I felt rather like Harry before Hagrid pays him that life changing visit. I followed closely the casting for the first movie and reread the books. I also discovered the wonder that is Jim Dale, who narrated the American version of the audio books. I listened to them on car trips, as I cleaned my room, when I was sick. I have listened to the books more than I have read them, to the point where I hear his voice as I read Rowling's words.
A long three years passed in between the fourth and fifth books and The Order of the Phoenix was published on Saturday, June 21st, 2003, two days before my chemistry final my sophomore year of high school. I had to wait until after the exam to even start the book, because I knew if I did, I'd never study. All anyone could talk about Monday morning was how much they wanted to read that book, not how much they had studies for the exam, which felt like double potions when we finally sat for it. I remember nothing of the exam, but I do remember locking myself in my room to read, and sobbing hysterically when my favorite character (at that point) was killed. I finished the book feeling broken hearted and betrayed - I had waited three years just to have my heart ripped from my chest. As I have gotten older I have less love and respect Sirius, but the memory of the pain I felt at his death is still clear.
The Half Blood Prince was released on July 16th, 2005 - exactly a month after I graduated high school and while I was in England. At the time I was participating in an archaeological dig and the site supervisor had canceled all activities that day in favor of reading the book himself. I had pre-ordered the book, as usual, and had it sent to the bed and breakfast where we were all staying. Unfortunately, all mail was forwarded to the owner, who lived a number of towns away. It took a few hours, many buses and a lot of walking, but I got that book, damn it. The death of Dumbledore shocked me far less than Sirius' had, though it saddened me just as much. The entire team was sworn to silence until everyone who wanted to read the book (all but a few people) had done so, and then it was all we talked about. It was there that I formed my belief, shared by few at the time and swiftly shot down by my family and friends, that Severus Snape was in fact a good guy, and would play a major role in the final book. He had always been my second favorite character and now that Sirius was gone all my hope was in him. I felt that there was more to him than the greasy hair and billowing cloak - though with the number of times Rowling uses those terms, you might find it hard to believe.
On July 21st, 2007, almost 4 years ago, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released. I was halfway through summer vacation after my freshman year of college, and was only just starting to get close with a girl who lived on my floor, now my best friend, Jocelyn. We essentially bonded over our love of Harry and our despondency that it was almost over. We didn't talk at all the day the book came out, both too busy reading to do anything else. I pretty much cried my way through the whole thing. Hannah, my sister, had stopped reading the books after Sirius died, and wanted a death list before she would try it. Dobby was hard enough to relay, and when I told her about Tonks and Lupin (this is honestly making me tear up right now, how pathetic am I?) she didn't want to hear any more. I didn't even get to tell her about Snape. For me, who had long been a defender of Snape, his goodness was not so much a surprise as a triumph. In turn, this is why his death didn't shock me. He and Harry are the two heroes of the books, and they can't both live.
Which brings me to another point. After the death of Sirius, I found Harry to become incredibly annoying. Justified, I'm sure, and I have no doubt that Rowling wrote the 16 year old Harry that way, but he became so obnoxious in the Half Blood Prince that the rumors of Voldemort and Harry both dying in the final book upset me not in the least. He was like Neo - I almost looked forward to him kicking it and letting the more interesting and less whiny characters take the spotlight. The Deathly Hallows changed that. He goes through such a growth period in that book, becomes so much more mature, that when he does die, it rather broke my heart.
Say what you want about Rowling's writing - no, it isn't literature - but she created a world and an enormous cast of characters more thoroughly than most other authors ever have. Tolkien is the only other person that immediately comes to mind, but let's face it (and I love the Lord of the Rings), Harry Potter is far more readable.
These books were such a major part of my life for so long that it kind of boggles my mind when I discover someone my age who hasn't read them. Dave, for instance, had never read a single one, and had only seen some of the movies. With the amount of driving we do it didn't take long to listen to the whole series before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 opened. He is still not nearly as obsessed as I am (despite having the nickname Harry Potter), but I think he did enjoy them. I will just make sure to read them to our children and raise them believing in the power of love and knowing that you don't need to be pretty, or smart, or even particularly nice in order to be a hero.