Goodbye, Harry, and thanks for the magic

At 12:01 Friday morning, it will be over. Much has been made these past few weeks about July 15, when the 10-year juggernaut of a movie franchise comes to a close with its final installment: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II." My son, his four friends, my husband and I will be at the Senator Theatre to watch it. (Not seated together, mind you; my teenage son practically begged us not to sit near him and his friends.) When the final credits roll, I will be crying. Not for Harry — I already know how he turns out — but because the movie marks an end to my son's childhood.

When J.K. Rowling first charmed the world in 1997 with her publication of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," Harry flew under my radar. My son, Charlie, was barely walking, and I didn't have much time for the adventures of a boy wizard. The first Potter movie came out when Charlie turned 5. He begged to see it, but my rule was "Books first." Since he could barely read sight words, I read it aloud. Right away, we were transfixed.

Charlie made me promise that I would read every Potter book aloud, and over the years, I kept my promise. I read until my throat was sore. I made up character voices and read through tears (most of Book 7). I read holding a crying baby — Charlie's younger brother — and walking backwards around the house while Charlie carried the open book. Sometimes Charlie would read to me, and often we read silently beside each other, nodding when it was time to turn the page.

We did everything devoted Potter geeks do. (When he was 8, Charlie declared that we should call ourselves "Potheads" because we were such fans. I quickly corrected him and prayed he hadn't shared that notion with his teachers). I threw him themed birthday parties, took him to midnight book release parties, bought or made Potter paraphernalia, even took him to the Potter theme park in Orlando and to Boston to see a traveling exhibit of movie props.

His brother, Henry, younger by 10 years, has grown up fully indoctrinated in all things Potter. Since age 3, Henry has referred to a certain big-box store as "Wal-demort" after Harry's arch-nemesis. (I would like to think Henry has a prodigious sense of irony, but I know it's just because Charlie talks of little else.)

Harry helped me and plenty of other parents flesh out right and wrong and all shades in between for our children. The death of Harry's mother and father (as if that needed a spoiler alert) gave me an opening to explain why my own father, who died well before Charlie was born, was not in the picture. I learned a few lessons, too. The summer release of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" meant that we read in the evening, and in the morning Charlie went to camp. He made me swear I would not read ahead. I lasted for two days. On Day Three, I finished the book in time to pick up him up in the afternoon. The next few nights, I pretended that I was reading the words for the first time. When we got to (spoiler alert!) Dumbledore's death scene, I faked a few tears. He looked at me through his own real tears and hissed, "You read ahead!" He finished the final few chapters without me.

Tomorrow morning, the most difficult tears to hold in will be after the movie, on the drive home, while listening to my son dissect the movie with his friends. I have known for a long time that he is worlds away from the little boy who used to curl up beside me and hold my hand as I read to him. As the mother of a teenager, I also know that in his eyes I am closer to She-Who-Shall-Not-be-Named than the woman who painted a lightning-bolt scar on his forehead many Halloweens ago. No spell can bring that back, and none should.

I'll be OK, though. In just a few years, Henry will be ready for the books. And if Harry has taught me anything, it's that the real magic is in second chances.

Sarah Achenbach, the communications director for Garrison Forest School, is co-author of "Spirit of Place/Baltimore's Favorite Spaces" and author of "A Century of Spirit: Garrison Forest School, 1910-2010." Her email is

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