“No, stupid, you’re too old to have fun!” At 16, this was my life mantra, mostly because it was my parents’ response to anything I wanted to do. It was always, “Karen, you have to eat this and wear this and say this.” “Fun” to me was locking myself up in my room, and escaping into the world of Harry Potter — in the form of rereading the books for the 77th time. Some might have called me antisocial. I was fairly satisfied with this perception of “fun”, though part of me wished I could have a wee bit of a taste of being a teenager. In my daydreams, I saw myself as Harry’s muggle parallel, and I was convinced that I too would break free from my cupboard under the stairs one day.

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My opportunity came two summers ago, when the premiere of the final Harry Potter movie, “Harry Potter and the Dealthy Hallows: Part 2” took place in New York City. The weekend of the premiere happened to be when both my parents and my friend Ray’s parents were away. I knew that weekend would be the experience of a lifetime, my rightful farewell to Harry Potter and my only chance to be a real teenager.

We had exactly $200 for two people for three days in the biggest city in the world. Before we could change our tentative, adolescent minds, we found ourselves in front of the bus station in Boston, bright and early at 8 a.m. It might as well have been four in the morning though, since I spent all night tossing and turning in my bed. I gave Ray a nervous glance, and he returned the look. We carried a hot pink, two-person tent and one small duffle bag, crammed with our clothes and our precious $200 cash.

“Ray, we are definitely fucking crazy,” I muttered.

“Last time I checked, I wasn’t fucking anyone named Crazy, but okay,” was all he replied, his face still. He grabbed my arm and dragged me into the Lucky Star bus ticket line. I wanted so badly to just pull him back home, curl up in my room where everything was always okay and forget we ever planned this stupid trip. But before I could do anything, before he could change his mind, he blurted, “Two round-trip tickets to New York City. Return in three days.”

Everything seemed to move in slow motion as we shoved our bags in the underside compartment of the bus and stood with our tickets in front of the bus door.

“Hey, you on or off?” the bus driver yelled impatiently. I looked at Ray and thought about all the nights we sneaked onto Skype at 3 a.m., planning every tiny detail of this trip. I remembered skipping lunch every other day for the last four months of sophomore year, just to scrape up the measly money. But mostly, I remember dreaming of this experience, almost peeing myself with excitement in my sleep (yes, that is a thing). Ray looked at me, and then finally shouted, “We’re on!” There was no turning back now.

For the next three hours on the bus, we played so many games of Hangman, Pictionary, and tic-tac-toe that I still heave at the sight of those games. We had just begun to doze off when tall, looming buildings flooded our line of vision. The bus finally came to a halt. This was it.

It was noon when we finally arrived at the Lincoln Center station, after taking the subway through a maze of hurried business people and tourists who were all slightly more agitated than we were and who were cramped together because they clearly enjoyed sharing body odor. Our T-shirts stuck permanently to our backs, and our throats screamed for water. I wanted a nap more than anything in the world. Was that too much to ask for? Was it still too late to turn back?

As we trudged up the subway stairs, we were immediately hit with the energy of cheers and laughter all around. Before we knew it, we found our small-town selves in the midst of the massive Lincoln Center, where suddenly, the dreadful heat, hunger and exhaustion were all forgotten. In front of our own eyes was about half the world’s wizarding population, all dressed in robes and carrying wands. The entire street was lined with tents of every single color, all crammed together on the sidewalk. A boy no older than 10 shot past us, head-to-toe in Harry Potter gear, glasses, scar and all. Right behind him ran a stout woman with stark white hair, wand in hand, screaming, “Expelliarmus!” People lounged in their beach chairs with their books propped open, or engaged in heated trivia debates. Cheering fans held posters crying, “Rowling is our Queen,” “Thank you for my childhood” and the classic line, “I’d go sleazy for Ron Weasley.”

I knew right then and there that all the qualms and insecurities I had on this trip would dissolve to become the best experience of my short life. All of this shit would be worth it. Screw the consequences; we were going to live it up.

For two hot nights, we nestled in our sleeping bags on the sidewalk, surrounded by international strangers, all as crazy and foolish as we were. And on the day of the premiere a man came around and rewarded all of us for our hard-core camping with … red carpet tickets. Ray and I started jumping up and down and shouting. It seemed some dreams do come true, even if they are the trivial wishes of a teenage girl.
For the rest of the day, I laughed, I cried, I screamed until my lungs gave out. On the red carpet, I got a hug from Draco Malfoy, an autograph from Hermione Granger and I told Neville Longbottom that I loved him; I met the characters I grew up with and watched the story I adored come to a close. To me, the actors were still the characters that taught me bravery, compassion and acceptance. They were the ones who gave me a magical childhood I wasn’t forced to grow out of.

As always, though, all good things must eventually come to an end. Before this trip, I used to believe I was so independent because I was required to “grow up” so quickly and forget about fun. I never realized how dependent I actually was, merely waiting for my next command. I’ve come to learn that independence is part rebellion; it’s about recklessly trying new things, failing sometimes, and in that process, learning to live. Independence is sometimes about camping out on the streets of New York City for a weekend to meet a bunch of storybook characters.

I suppose there are two morals to this story. First, though it’s difficult to admit, there is an expiration date on blaming my parents for missed opportunities, but there isn’t one on making a change in my life. If Harry Potter has taught me anything, defiance isn’t about breaking all the rules and blind disobedience; defiance is about understanding myself and my limits, then having the courage to step outside the cupboard under the stairs.
The second moral is that Harry Potter heals. Fangirling heals. Or in simpler terms, passion heals. When everything else in life is drab, finding something worth giving a shit about — that heals you. So thanks, Harry, for casting the “lumos” in my life and for letting me see a bit of the world.

P.S. My parents still don’t know about this trip.

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