Fifty-one days after I turned fifteen years old, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out. I was jumping out of my skin at my birthday present: attendance at the midnight release of the book in Cape Town, South Africa.
I remember a sweaty guy in a full Dumbledore costume, regretting his presence there. His synthetic beard scratched the front endpaper of my copy. A little drop of perspiration, that he had wiped from his brow, smudge the bottom left corner of the ink of the stamp that marked my book as the twenty-seventh copy in the country.
We got home around 3am and while my parents went to bed, I stayed up and read. I spend all of Sunday reading. As Monday rolled around, I found myself discovering the last few chapters of the very last door to my safe haven. My time at Hogwarts was ending, while I was in a Life Orientation class.
Our teacher caught me reading my book, hiding it halfway underneath my desk. What drew her attention was the boy sitting next to me suddenly exclaiming, incredulously so, "Are you crying?!"
"Why are you crying?” she said, disinterested. But then her tone turned furious and mocking… "Are you reading in my class?"
As my massive teardrops further stained the fragrant pages depicting Harry's death, I just looked up and all I could muster was a nod of my head.
Up and until that moment I had been teased about my interest in and love for Harry Potter and the magic he had brought to my life. I had taken each hit, each word, and each knock on the chin. My patronus was protecting me against their Dementor-like attacks. But, when I returned to her class after being excused to blow my nose and wipe my tears, the entirety of my class (teacher included) burst out in a patronising and hateful laughter at the sight of my puffy and red eyes. With this, everything changed. Head down, guilty, small, and so excruciatingly sad, I took my seat; my book in my bag.
The next-level bullying I experienced from that moment on; from the "she cried because of a book" moment the rest of the school heard about as soon as the bell rang for break, pained me. It tainted me. My patronus was failing. I was starting to believe them. I started to imagine that maybe I am way too weird, way too obsessed, and way too out of the ordinary.
The bullies continued their rants and though my patronus kept on fighting, however feebly, it came to a stage where the Dementors won. In a very desperate attempt to obtain sanity, I sold my safe haven. I sold my collection of first edition, hard-cover Harry Potter books, for not even a hundredth of its worth.
Eight years, ten months, and ten days passed and I finally found another complete boxset. I had searched through every nook and cranny of every mainstream bookstore, second-hand bookstore, reseller, and book-shelf I encountered during this time, for both my books and a complete set. But alas, I found neither.
Today, however, I went off the beaten track and walked into a bookstore on a whim. The very first day of June and my second day of being twenty-three. And there it stood…
It was situated between and partly hidden behind, other books. Its plastic wrapping torn and covered in dust as if it was just sat there, waiting for me to come collect it. Yellow words realised a dying wish of mine – Harry Potter: The Complete Collection by J.K. Rowling.
As I bought my new collection, it crossed my mind that this action was more than just me buying a collection of best-sellers. It was me taking back every ounce of dignity, worth, and love that I was stripped of all those years ago. It was me fighting to get back to my safe haven. It was me boldly stating that, no matter what, I am who I am and I am content with that.
There is an immensely important lesson in this story – not just for me, but (I feel) for anyone who has ever been the victim of the immense cruelty humans can achieve.
I was lonely, dejected, bullied, rejected, and neglected by so many because of the fact that I was different. I did not fit their mould or the idea they had on what or who a person should be. But I was happy in my uniqueness. I was happy with and in my sanctuary. I was happy.
The lesson, though is, that it does not do to dwell on the thoughts and opinions of those who criticised you for being different. It does not do be bothered by those who harm your soul in whatever way. It does not do to harm anyone – and that includes rejecting your true self because of those who are unwilling to accept you as is.
For, you see, life continued and people resumed to be cruel towards me and others around me. I was still bullied after I sold my collection. I was mocked up to the day I graduated high school - I kid you not. I was still the odd one out and still am. I still suffer(ed) from an array of mental illnesses. And I had to do it without my books.
That is why it just does not do to dwell on them – your bullies; your Dementors. Because they will truly never change for you; so why, I beg of you, do you want to change for them?
If you are happy with you, in your life, in your sanctuary; if you are not hurting anyone in your ways; if you are making your own way in life, never change. Be yourself. Be unique. Be different. Be challenging. Be quirky. Be a fifteen year old girl crying over her fictional hero's death in a class of ignorant peers.
And remember: "Don't let the muggles get you down."
P.S. To J.K. Rowling, I am so bitterly sorry for selling your work in a desperate attempt to not be attacked anymore. Rest assured that I will never part with my newest collection. Thank you for my very special safe place.