SPOILERS for anyone who somehow hasn’t finished the entire Harry Potter series yet. If you haven’t, please get on that. You’re missing out.
Harry Potter was my gateway drug to geekdom. Before I knew what fandom was and before I could even admit that I liked fantasy, I fell head over heels for JK Rowling’s Wizarding World.
I can’t remember exactly when I started reading the books or from whom I got the first one. I do know that when the first movie was announced, I was 4 books in and madly in love with Daniel Radcliffe.
And I definitely remember attending the midnight release of the very last movie: Deathly Hallows Part 2.
I went with Bryce and my college friend Betty. We stood in line, me with my Dumbledore’s Army T-shirt, Betty in her plain white T with a Hogwarts crest stitched on, and Bryce with his wizard’s hat. A photographer snapped a photo of us in the long line from the theater balcony, and we made it in the local newspaper.
I remember the excitement and dread at the thought of this being the end. I remember cheering when Ron and Hermione kissed and when Neville killed Nagini the snake. I remember being disappointed in the portrayal of the final battle between Harry and Voldemort and the lack of Dumbledore’s story. I remember smiling through (possibly) teary eyes when grown up Harry, Ron, and Hermione watched their own children roll away from them on the Hogwarts Express. But most of all, I remember the film ending, holding Bryce’s hand in the stillness that comes with the blank screen just before the credits begin to roll, and thinking to myself, “Now what?”
After spending so much time with Harry and his friends, in their lives and adventures, I felt a jolt as the screen went blank and the lights came up, blinding in their harsh reminder that story time was over, and the world was waiting for me to go back.
And from the blank screen through the car ride home and even while I drifted off to sleep that same evening, I asked myself a number of questions:
What happens next? Do the characters really live happily ever after? Will more troubles befall them? How do I go back to reality? What did this story teach me about life and the world around me?
Isn’t this what stories are supposed to do? Not simply entertain and remove us from the world, but to put us back into reality with a new perspective and lots of questions? Isn’t that what good stories do to us?
The Old and New Testaments have similar endings which, if read well, simultaneously unsettle and excite us. 2 Chronicles, the last book in the Hebrew Bible, ends with King Cyrus’ cliffhanger order for the Jews to return home to Israel. John’s Revelation at the end of the New Testament offers us a vision of the future, in which the powers of darkness are defeated, and we are invited into the new kingdom to dwell with God.
Both endings inspire hope and wonder in their readers. What will happen when the Jews return from exile? Will they renew the covenant with God only to break it again, or will they remain faithful? Are a new heaven and a new earth really possible, and when will they happen?
Then when we look at the world as it is, and we feel another jolt.
After we close our Bibles, we see that heaven and earth are as separate as ever, and we are still in exile.
After we close Deathly Hallows when Harry says, “All was well,” we return to the world around us, where things may or may not all be well.
We finish hearing or watching the story, but the story is not finished with us. And we may ask, “Now what?”
What do we do with a proclamation of returning home when we are still in exile? What do we do with the promise of a new heaven and new earth in a broken, bleeding world? What do we do after the evil lord is defeated in one story but others loom large in the lives of others?
Sometimes, these questions push me to love God and others with a renewed fervor, hoping that through these efforts, the exile will end, and the world will get better. Other days, these questions overwhelm me and make me want to retreat or join the “bad guys,” who seems to have more efficient ways of getting things done. Either way, the stories are not finished with me, nor am I finished with them.
Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be for now.