Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was released in theatres during my fourth year of elementary school. Our teacher was a Potterhead himself, and he read the book to our class during any spare time he could monopolize. He brought documentaries for us to watch; the majority of my class groaned and rolled their eyes when he tried to share his love for the series with us, but there were two of us who were beside ourselves the entire time.
My best friend, Sheila, had a magazine that came out just before the movie's premiere. It featured biographies of cast members and promotional pictures. The pages were already worn and faded in the short time that Sheila and I fawned over it, re-reading passages and cast trivia until we could recite the magazine backwards. We could barely contain ourselves when the movie finally came out in November.
I fell in love with Tom Felton, the twelve year old blonde who had been selected to play Draco Malfoy. For Sheila, it was the movie's Ron Weasely, Rupert Grint. I indulged in a few fantasies about going to Britain and meeting Tom on the set of Harry Potter typical wishful thinking spurred on by a naïve crush. I thought about how cute he was, the perfect Draco. He was probably really, really nice, the complete opposite of his character. I liked the idea of this, that he himself could be a character foil for the unpleasant Draco Malfoy.
And Sheila, she went on dates with Rupert.
She propped the magazine up on her desk at noon hours, the pages open to a poster of him. His pasty skin made his red hair all the more vibrant. She pretended to feed the poster and had one-sided conversations with it.
"He's so dreamy," she told me through a mouthful of macaroni. I was really starting to hate that poster.
"Yeah, totally," I replied, staring at his face and cruelly comparing him to a frog.
There is a small copse of trees on the school grounds that lay at the bottom of "The Big Hill." This was my class' favourite place at recess. When we girls weren't hiding in the bathrooms from the teacher on supervision a game we liked to call "Don't Get Kicked Outside" we were playing in the trees or running up and down the hill. We pretended we were conquering mountains and travelling through forests on some grand quest. Sheila and I shared the trees with a few of the girls, and we each claimed our own tree. We felt entitled to these trees, and refused to share them with any other kids. The hill wasn't so easy to gain the illusion of ownership of, however. In the winter, The Big Hill was full of kids zipping down on sleds in every direction.
In Grade Four, the hill turned into the Hogwarts grounds for Sheila and me, and the trees were the school itself. There were four trees the easiest one to climb was designated as our dormitory, and the other three switched identities between classrooms and secret doors. We hung out with Harry, Ron, and Hermione and saved the wizarding world from Voldemort countless times. We loved to re-enact scenes from the books, but even more, we loved to create our own stories.
It wasn't enough to pretend to be Harry Potter characters at recess, either.
"We are going to attend Hogwarts," Sheila said, slapping a piece of line paper down on my desk. She had her own, as well.
"We can't go to Hogwarts," I pointed out. "We're not eleven yet."
Sheila, ever patient, carefully explained it to me: "Well, we have to practice until then, don't we? Get a pen and help me change the subjects. Science is obviously Potions, and Social Studies is History of Magic."
I felt cheated that she'd taken the easy ones and left me to think of a clever connection between our remaining ordinary subjects and the magical ones of Harry Potter.
"Language Arts could be Defense Against the Dark Arts," I suggested, and Sheila was pleased.
We quietly debated what class would be the equivalent of Transfiguration, the Hogwarts course that had wizards learning how to transform objects. Our teacher must have heard us, but he was never too concerned with the noise level of the classroom. We soon had a new and improved timetable that our classmates smirked at, but some of the girls did ask if they could join our game.
Sheila kept up the lunch dates with her poster for weeks on end. She stared into poster-Rupert's eyes as she ate and this continually left me feeling strange and awkward. Our classmates poked fun at her and I ate alone at my desk, unsure exactly what her actions meant. I couldn't believe that I was being replaced by a poster.
"I think Tom Felton's cute," I told Sheila one day. I stood by her desk, shoulders hunched. "But I would rather hang out with you than a picture of him."
She just smiled and turned her gaze back to the poster, like it was so normal, so ordinary, and I had the fleeting impression that I was the crazy one.
I asked her once about the sparkly lipstick marks on the poster, multiple prints strewn across "Rupert's" lips. She said that he kissed her at night. A few days later she brought a necklace with a music note pendant that she claimed he had sent her just the other day. I pointed out that she'd had the necklace for two years already; she assured me it was a different one.
Sheila was my best friend, my only friend, and I played along. I would let her have her strange little affair as long as she helped me keep Hogwarts. Though I knew she lied about Rupert (as she did about everything, it seemed), and though I knew the wizarding world didn't really exist, sometimes it was hard to distinguish fantasy from reality. And sometimes I didn't want to. We lived in our heads, pretending and playing make-believe at every opportunity. In grades one, two and three, it had been Pokemon and Digimon; Tarzan and The Lion King. In Grade Four, it was Harry Potter.
Admittedly, we outdid ourselves and reached a whole new level with our desire to be wizards that very nearly bordered on delusional belief at times. The Harry Potter world appeared so much more interesting, more vibrant and real than the dreary, boring, un-magical world that we closed our eyes to.