I Open at the Close: On Harry Potter and the Universal Experience of Death

It’s been a little over a month since my sister’s husband died. It feels like longer and not that long all at once.

He was diagnosed with bone cancer almost exactly two years ago and all our lives were turned upside down. It has been a roller coaster that steadily got worse and worse ever since. But what I want to talk to you about, and the part that has to do with writing, is what happened June 30.

That was the day we got the news that his bone cancer had metastasized to his lungs and there wasn’t much time left. We knew this was coming but it was still a shock, and I had to take my pain outside to walk around my neighborhood over and over and process it all.

And do you want to know what’s interesting? I’m a religious person. I find great comfort in scripture and prayer. But as I circled my block in the dark, the words that kept coming to me were not from scripture, but from the final Harry Potter book. “I open at the close.”

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Those are the words written on the golden snitch that Harry carries with him to face Voldemort and sacrifice himself.

I open at the close.

And those are the words I couldn’t get out of my brain.

Because as much as my brother-in-law’s death was a too painful and too soon ending, it was also a beginning. A beginning for him of an existence free of pain. A beginning of a new (if unwanted) chapter for my sister where she and my niece would face the world without him. The beginning of a new family for all of us, where we hold tight my sister and niece, lift them up, protect them.

I didn’t want the close. But it was not the end. Life would go on. There would be new beginnings.

I open at the close.

I raced home and pulled my copy of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS off the shelf. I flipped to the back and found the scene I was looking for. I walked with Harry away from Hogwarts. Away from life and friends who were family. I cried when he whispered, “I am going to die.”

Do you know how hard it is to say that? To admit it and face it? It takes an inordinate amount of bravery. I don’t think people actually understand this until they see someone have to do it.

I continued to weep as one by one, Harry’s family came with him, to walk him home. I thought of my brother-in-law’s mother and sister who had already passed. The ones who seemed to be visiting him in his dreams those last few days.

And then Harry asks, “Does it hurt?”

I don’t know J.K. Rowling’s life story. I don’t know if she has watched someone die. But this is word for word the question that plagued my brother-in-law. That plagued my sister and all of us. And when Harry spoke the words that were slowly choking all of us, I couldn’t contain my emotion.

How did she know? How did she know all the feelings and thoughts I was facing in that moment? The feelings and thoughts my brother in law was facing?

Over the next few days, we said goodbye to him. We stood in his room and watched and waited as he took his last few breaths. And when his chest stopped rising once and for all, I thought of Sirius falling through that veiled archway. Passing from one plane to the next. Just gone.

And again the words came.

I open at the close.

When the pain felt too much to handle. When the world seemed so incredibly unfair. When I was facing unspeakable emotional pain. It wasn’t scripture where I found that first initial comfort. It was books. It was characters who felt real to me. It was the insight of an author I’d never met. The humanity of a universal experience. One we will all have eventually.

And I’m not sure I realized how important books were until then. I’m not sure I fully understood what it is that we, as authors, are doing. How divine the work of creation truly is.

You are not just creating stories and made up worlds. You are forming a mirror and a rope that binds us, as humans, together. One that says, “You are seen and you are not alone.”

_____________________________

Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.

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