In case it’s not obvious, I’m obsessed with Harry Potter. So much that our honeymoon was to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. So much that I have one child named Gryffin and another one whose middle name is James (just like Harry James Potter, who was a Gryffindor). I know, I know. I’m a super nerd. I’m not even sorry.
When I decided to write a list of 30 Things I learned from Harry Potter for my newest countdown to my 30th birthday, I thought it would be super easy. Um. Negative. I was super wrong.
JK Rowling is easily the best writer I have ever read. She has created a whole entire world and made it feel real–made me feel invested in it. I know that no matter what I put on this list, I will never, ever truly capture the magic of her Wizarding World.
But despite knowing I cannot truly communicate how magnificent the Harry Potter world is, here is my attempt. In honor of turning 30 in four months, here is my newest List of Thirty: 30 Things I Learned from Harry Potter.
WARNING–If you have never read Harry Potter, this list contains spoilers. Spoilers all over the place. (Also, what is wrong with you?!?! Harry Potter is the best. Go read it. Now. Then come back and read my list.)
1. Every life is valuable.
Whether it was Hermione fighting for elf rights, Hagrid nurturing terrifying three-headed dogs and baby dragons, or Harry showing kindness and respect to House Elves and goblins when the rest of society considered them “less than,” it was clear that every life is valuable and worth loving.
2. Love is the most powerful magic there is.
You can call the Harry Potter series whatever you want, but at its core it is a story about sacrificial love. It all starts when Lily Potter dies protecting her son. She didn’t need to die, but she willingly placed herself between Voldemort and her baby. Because of her sacrifice, Voldemort was not able to kill baby Harry. This theme repeats over and over throughout the books and ends with Harry surrendering himself to Voldemort in the Final Battle–willingly facing death because he thought it would protect the people he loved.
3. We don’t have to be what our parents are.
I think this one resonates with me so much because I taught in Title I schools for the better part of a decade and saw first-hand the detrimental effects of generational poverty. Sirius Black was the first person in his family to ever not be sorted into the house of Salazar Slytherin–and as such, he was also the only one who did not become one of Voldemort’s followers. His brother, Regulus, did everything his parents expected before realizing how wrong they were. Draco Malfoy nearly died before he learned the ways of his parents–elitism, violence–were wrong.
4. But sometimes our parents are absolutely right.
Percy Weasley wanted to advance in his career so badly he turned on his parents. When he received a “promotion” during turmoil between the Ministry of Magic and Albus Dumbledore, his parents were afraid the Minister of Magic was using him to spy on the rest of the family, Harry, and Dumbledore. He asserted that they were jealous of his standing in the ministry and accused his dad of having a “lack of ambition” and blamed him for the family’s low socioeconomic status. It was not until the final battle that Percy made amends with his family and joined the fight against Voldemort.
5. Ask for help when you need it.
I didn’t necessarily learn this because I am literally the world’s worse at asking for help. It’s what makes us kindred spirits, Harry and me. Just like me, he always tries to go it alone. Sometimes people pretty much have to force me to let them help me. And the same was true for Harry. He intended to go find the Sorcerer’s stone alone, he intended to rescue Sirius alone, he intended to leave school and hunt Horcruxes alone…but Ron, Hermione, and others were always there to support and help him.
6. Be sassy.
If you’ve only watched the Harry Potter movies, you’ve missed out on some of Harry’s finer moments. Here are a few of my favorites.
“They stuff people’s heads down the toilet the first day at Stonewall,” he told Harry. “Want to come upstairs and practice?”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
“No, thanks,” said Harry. “The poor toilet’s never had anything as horrible as your head down it — it might be sick.” Then he ran, before Dudley could work out what he’d said.”
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
“Why were you lurking under our window?”
“Yes – yes, good point, Petunia! What were you doing under our windows, boy?”
“Listening to the news,” said Harry in a resigned voice.
His aunt and uncle exchanged looks of outrage.
“Listening to the news! Again?””Well, it changes every day, you see,” said Harry.”
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
“Do you remember me telling you we are practicing nonverbal spells, Potter?”
“Yes,” said Harry stiffly.
“There’s no need to call me ‘sir,’ Professor.”
7. Higher education isn’t for everyone.
In the magical world, formal schooling is for seven years. Young wizards begin their first year September 1 after their 11th birthday. The seventh year is optional. Fred and George attended their seventh year to please their parents, but it is obvious school is not for them. They like jokes and pranks and silliness. So mid year they left to open their own joke shop, Weasley Wizard Wheezes. My description makes this sound terribly boring when in all seriousness their departure is one of my absolute favorite scenes in all the books. Actually, it is probably my most favorite. It is hilarious and wonderful. Book 5–you should definitely read it.
8. Sometimes it is okay–and even necessary–to question authority.
Many times throughout the stories, powerful positions and institutions are undermined to benefit those with evil or ulterior motives. The Minister of Magic is unwilling to admit his failures or loss of control and many people end up suffering because of it. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were always quick to question authority, and most times were right to do so.
9. Kindness is always the best option.
After the death of his parents, Harry lived with his aunt and uncle. They neglected and abused him his entire childhood. Despite that, he never lost his capacity to love. He wanted so badly to belong and be accepted and instead of internalizing his abuse and becoming hard and guarded, his first instinct was always to be kind.
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10. Earning the love of a pet is always a plus.
Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks, knew the truth about Scabbers and the danger Hermione, Ron, and Harry were in and helped Padfoot reveal the truth to them. Harry’s owl, Hedwig, died protecting Harry from a killing curse. Hagrid’s dog, Fang, was always there to protect Hagrid and the students. Even Filch’s cat, Mrs. Norris, would tattle on naughty students to the caretaker. It takes a good heart to earn the love and respect of an animal. And it’s always worth it.
11. The media lies.
You may think the current American media is the first to report “fake news” [eye roll], but the truth is humans are biased and therefore our media will be biased. When Voldemort returned to power, the Ministry of Magic did not want to admit the truth to the wizarding community. Instead of organizing to defeat Voldemort, they made the Daily Prophet (newspaper) publish untruthful propaganda to discredit Harry, Dumbledore, and anyone who supported them. Sound familiar? As a matter of fact, Rita Skeeter–a journalist known for writing “fake news”–wrote an article for The Quibbler–a magazine publication of speculation or myths presented as truth–about Harry and Voldemort’s return to power, and it was the only article that was truthful.
12. When in doubt, research.
Wizards don’t have internet, so any time Hermione was unsure about something she headed off to the library to figure it out. This is how she figured out what was in the Chamber of Secrets, how she almost figured out who the Half-Blood Prince was, how she knew what Nicholas Flamel was famous for, and how she figured out the Deathly Hallows. When Hermione didn’t know something she went looking for correct information from reliable sources. It’s an important and necessary skill.
13. Appearances are deceiving.
Hagrid was a half giant who had wild, scraggly hair and a gruff voice and looked terrifying, but he was the gentlest soul in all the books. Dolores Umbridge was a small woman who loved pink and kittens and spoke softly in a sweet little voice, but she is absolutely the most awful character in all the books. I hate her more than I hate Voldemort. Don’t judge people on their appearances.
14. Heartbreak is inevitable.
Harry does a great job of teaching us this sad, but true lesson. Hermione’s jealousy when Ron dates Lavender. Lavender’s heartbreak at Ron’s hands. Snape’s love for Lily that was never returned and made him bitter. We will all experience heartbreak at some point. Let’s hope we follow the example of Harry when Dumbledore, his mentor and teacher, dies. Harry continued fighting, continued the work Dumbledore began to end Voldemort. He continued to work for the greater good.
15. The love of a parent is so strong, there isn’t anything we wouldn’t do to protect our babies.
Lily Potter sacrificed her own life to protect Harry. Molly Weasley killed Bellatrix Lestrange to protect Ginny. Xenophilius Lovegood tried to turn Harry, Ron, and Hermione over to Voldemort to protect Luna. Narcissa Malfoy lied to Voldemort to protect Draco. I remember being a kid and reading about Luna’s dad calling the Death Eaters and then trying to stall Harry, Ron, and Hermione long enough for them to be captured. The Death Eaters had taken Luna because of information Lovegood had published in The Quibbler and wouldn’t return her unless he helped them. I was so angry. I couldn’t imagine someone sabotaging the only hope the world had at defeating Voldemort. But now I’m a mom, and I get it. I’d do the same damn thing and never think twice.
16. Choose your friends wisely.
Harry Potter was famous in the wizarding world. Anyone would have been his friend. But he connected with Ron and Hermione. And they were always there to help Harry. There was nothing the three of them would not do for one another. They argued. They fought. Sometimes they even stopped speaking for short periods of time. But in the end they always, always had each other’s backs. Quality friends are crucial.
17. Magic is real.
Maybe not in the spells and potions sense. I will never own an Invisibility Cloak. The wand on my desk will never be more than an ink pen. House Elves will never clean my house for me, a fact that deeply upsets me. But there is magic in everything. Our friends, our love, the books we read, the music we listen to. Magic is all around us.
18. Heroism doesn’t always look like a white knight.
Sometimes the hero is the kid who stands up to his friends because that’s a lot harder than standing up to your enemies. Sometimes the hero is the guy who is thought to be a double agent, guilty of murder because if the truth about his allegiance was known it would ruin everything. And sometimes the hero is the guy who is ashamed of how he unknowingly aided Voldemort’s rise to power but turns over the memory anyway despite his fear of judgement and condemnation. Finally, sometimes the hero is a little House Elf who defies his master and rescues his friends. Sometimes the hero is the cousin who notices you and says “I don’t think you’re a waste of space.”
19. Chocolate fixes a lot of problems.
When Harry and friends encounter dementors for the first time in book 3, they are pretty shaken. And who wouldn’t be, to meet a creature that feeds off sadness and sucks the happiness out of everyone it nears? A creature the author created when dealing with her own depression? Professor Lupin gave them all chocolate. “Eat. You’ll feel better,” he says. If that isn’t a man after my heart, I don’t know what is. Permission to eat my feels? Yes please.
20. Everyone has memories they would rather forget.
Speaking of dementors, when they are near, anyone in their proximity is forced to relive their worst memories. No one is immune to their evil. No matter how perfect or happy their lives look, no matter if they are magical or muggle, no one can escape the dementors. Be kind. You don’t know what kind of darkness others face.
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21. No matter how bad it gets, keep laughing.
After Harry won the Triwizard Cup and Voldemort had returned, he gave all his winnings to Fred and George to invest in their joke shop. He said the world would need a laugh in the coming days more than ever.
22. Gender stereotypes suck and feminism is awesome.
While the books may center around Harry, the female characters are actually very important. They are not just supporting characters. There’s the obvious: Hermione who, even Ron admitted, is the only reason Harry and Ron survived.
Ginny, who is about as interesting as a coffee mug in the moves, is incredible in the books. She also serves as an example of growing into yourself. When the novels begin she is a blushing little girl with a cute little crush on Harry. When they end, she is a fighter taking on Death Eaters. She also teaches us that a woman’s choices are her own. She has six older brothers…some of whom think they have the right to say something about who she dates and how she dates. But she is very quick to put them in their place.
Even Lavender Brown teaches us about feminisim. On the surface, she is the epitome of girly. She loves divination, she giggles, and she is clingy; when she and Ron date she is the most obnoxious character ever. She seems like the exact opposite of a feminist character. But she also dies a hero’s death in the final battle, proving a feminist can be girly. (Thank you, Lavender. This girly feminist has taken it to heart).
23. Babies are always a blessing.
No matter the situation, no matter the circumstances, babies are always a blessing. Harry was born in the middle of the first wizard war. His parents and family loved him and welcomed him. Tonks and Lupin had baby Teddy just before the final battle. It was a bright spot of hope and love in a dark time.
24. Some things are decided for us and we have no control over them.
My dog Duncan loves his collar. When I take it off him to give him a bath or wash it or change it, he gets upset. It’s his and it’s his symbol that he belongs to me and not having it makes him anxious. In the wizarding world, your wand is your most important asset. Without it, your magic is useless. You cannot cast spells. It is a symbol of who you are and where you belong. But you can’t just go pick one. The wand chooses the wizard. Everything about it–the type of wood, the magical core, the length, the flexibility–says something about who you are and your destiny, and you have no control over which wand will choose you. Sometimes, things are decided for us. Sometimes we just have to accept what is and make the best of it.
25. There is no substitute for the real thing.
Authenticity is important. Gilderoy Lockhart pretended to be a hero. He wasn’t authentic and as a result he wasn’t respected. He had no friends. And in his arrogance used someone else’s faulty wand to obliterate his own memory so severely he lived the remainder of his days in a wizard hospital. The Sword of Gryffindor was vital to ending the wizard war, but a copy would not do. Griphook could sight a fake from a mile away. And speaking of authenticity, the sword would only present itself to a true Gryffindor–Harry in the Chamber of Secrets, Neville in the Final Battle, etc.
26. The world is not divided into good people and Death Eaters.
In our current political climate it is hard to remember this. I have a difficult time remembering that anyone who supports the vile acts and racist beliefs of the current administration could still be a good person. There are people who are not Death Eaters who are still not good people. And there are people who are Death Eaters who might be good at the core but were suckered in due to fear, manipulation, or promises of wealth and power. It’s not so black and white as Dumbledore’s Army or Voldemort’s Death Eater. There’s a lot of gray between them.
27. Competition is about more than just winning.
Have integrity. Harry always played a clean game of Quidditch, even against Malfoy and the Slytherins. Whenever he was given a seemingly unfair advantage in the TriWizard Tournament, he made sure to give others the same advantage. When he was set to rescue Ron from the bottom of the lake in the second task of the TriWizard Tournament, he couldn’t leave the others behind and stayed to make sure they were all rescued. He gave up placing first to make sure everyone was safe. He sets a great example with his integrity.
28. People are complicated.
Sometimes I feel like Ron was created to teach us this lesson. Ron is a very black and white thinker. Hermione describes him as having the emotional range of a teaspoon. But people are more complicated than that. Everyone has secrets. Neville’s secret is the condition of his parents. Snape’s is that he loves Lily. Dumbledore’s is that he regrets not valuing his family and how his pursuit of power hurt them. People are complicated and we will never truly understand one another. We should treat each other kindly.
29. Sometimes doing the right thing is hard.
I cannot say it any better than Dumbledore. “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”
30. It only takes one.
t only takes one of us to start a positive change. Harry didn’t win the fight against Voldemort and the Death Eaters alone. He had many people fighting for him and with him. But he was unfaltering in his devotion to standing up to evil. He was the man everyone rallied behind. The task of ending Voldemort’s oppression required a lot of people, but those people would not have come together if it had not been for Harry leading the way. “Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realise that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!” (Dumbledore). It only takes one to turn everything around. Be the one. Be the change.