Editor’s Note: This month, we're looking back, and reflecting on how influential films, TV shows, and celebrities changed us — and the impact they've had on our lives and pop culture...
Harry Potter is an epic tale of magic and adventure, but to me, its themes of friendship, loyalty, and family are what make it worth the ride. The stories of its three lead characters — Harry, Hermione, and Ron — helped me form my own nontraditional family, and gave me the courage to seek the support and comfort I never received from blood relatives.
For most of my life, I believed I was stuck with the family I was born with. I thought they would be the only "family" I'd ever know. But, as Harry Potter demonstrates, family isn't defined by blood. Family is, instead, a group of people who love each other no matter what life throws at them.
I've read each Harry Potter book and binged the films countless times — much more than should be humanly possible — and I believe HP is one of the best thematic examples of family. The story starts by introducing us to Harry, an orphan who's terribly mistreated by his Aunt Petunia and her oaf of a husband, Vernon. Petunia and Vernon are supposed to protect Harry. They don't. As it turns out, it's Harry's friends who give him the will to fight. His friends empower him to take on Voldemort and save the Wizarding World. As HP fans know, Ron and Hermione are much more than his friends — they're the family Harry never had. As author J.K. Rowling once stated, "Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home."
Growing up, I didn’t have the best relationship with my family, and I still don’t. This relationship only got worse when I turned 15 and revealed my sexuality. As I'd expected, I was greeted with hostility and made to feel like the family disappointment. I was threatened and almost thrown out of the house in the middle of the night, which would have forced me to fend for myself in the middle of a Pacific Northwest forest. Compared to others in my situation, I was lucky, but I lived a dreadful life for the rest of my high school years. While I struggled with my mental health, I found solace in entertainment. At my parents' house, TV, movies, and books became my safe place, and my friends helped me get through every day.
At 15, I'd already read the HP books and watched the films loads of times, but after that night with my family, the story felt different. I could truly empathize with Harry as he struggled through terrible summers with the Dursleys and found his escape at school with his pals.
Harry’s relationship with Petunia — his only blood relative — was so terrible, Harry had to create his own family independent of her. After all, he could never have a real relationship with an aunt who would never accept him for who he was, and this hit me hard as a gay teenage kid with no adults in sight who accepted me for me. So, like Harry, my friends became my family — they were willing to accept me for who I was, not who they wanted me to be, and gave me the love I needed to get through a very difficult time in my life (not to mention many more).
One of the best family scenes in Harry Potter is Harry's first Christmas at Hogwarts, which takes place in Sorcerer’s Stone. After years of living in misery at the Dursley house and watching Dudley get spoiled, Harry finally spent it with people who cared for him. Mrs. Weasley even made Harry a homemade sweater. It was itchy, but it was a gift, and one of the first times someone went out of their way to think of him during the holidays. Harry had only met Mrs. Weasley once, but he was Ron's friend, so she already considered him family. Mrs. Weasley went on to become the maternal figure in his life, which was solidified when Harry married Ginny years later. The Weasleys basically adopted him. They may not have had the means to take him in and care for him alongside their other children (which Dumbledore wouldn’t have allowed anyway), but Mrs. Weasley did everything she could to make Harry feel loved and special, while Mr. Weasley treated Harry just as he did his other sons.
The famous Order of the Phoenix Christmas at Grimmauld Place was also a special moment in the films because it showcased a family (blood related or not) coming together to put aside the darkness of their lives and enjoy the day together. The Weasleys met Harry, Sirius, and Hermione at a dank location, but it didn’t matter. They were happy, regardless of the presents they received. More importantly, it was the first (and last) Christmas Harry was able to spend with Sirius, his godfather. Aside from his first Christmas at Hogwarts, this scene is among the most memorable in the franchise as everyone found the best in each other during a bad situation. Sometimes, that’s what you have to do.
Holidays with my relatives always felt like a chore. I craved that special feeling on those days, but it was always missing. Like Harry, I learned to create my own traditions with my best friend and others I consider my family.
The most important example of family in the series is the relationship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Together, the three became some of the strongest magical beings in fictional history, and that was largely thanks to their friendship. There wasn’t much that Hermione and Ron wouldn’t do for Harry and vice versa. Ron and Hermione even accompanied Harry on his mission to destroy the horcruxes and take down Voldemort — even though it meant putting their lives (and the lives of the people they loved) at risk. Hermione went so far as to wipe her parents' minds of any memories of her. The trio taught so many people — including me — what family actually meant. They fought, split up, and reconciled, because they were drawn to each other. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were meant to be friends from the second their lives started.
From the beginning of his life, Harry was at a disadvantage. If his parents hadn't died, it would have been a different story, but they did, and Harry survived. He survived the Dursleys' mistreatment and found solace with his best friends and the school that felt like home. Ron and Hermione stood by him during the worst, most dangerous times of his life, which is exactly what family should do. You shouldn’t have to question if the people you love will stand by you, and Harry never doubted that his friends would. In fact, he was worried they would do too much to help him and put themselves at risk.
When my own family let me down, Harry Potter and my friends (both past and present) were there for me. Without them, I wouldn’t have gotten through that terrible time in my life, and without Harry Potter, I wouldn't have believed I could have a family that accepted me. Today, I’ve started building that family. I have a best friend who is the Hermione to my Harry, someone who I trust more than anyone else in the world. She’s the person who would accompany me on an adventure to destroy Voldemort's horcruxes (luckily, no such dangerous tasks are in our future, I hope), and I’ve built a strong, supportive group of friends who I consider my family.
Love is about so much more than blood, and I’m grateful that Harry Potter taught me family is something you make.