How The Boy Who Lived Brought Me Back to Life

I have been doing a lot of thinking about Harry Potter recently. And by “recently”, I mean I’ve been in a permanent state of thinking about Harry Potter since 1998. I can remember the exact moment that my mom gave me Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. My elementary school had just had a book fair and I was sitting in the back-seat of our car sorting through my treasures when this book with a boy on the cover fell out of my bag…

Can I just get real for a moment? Book fairs were the absolute shit. A company like Scholastic or something, I don’t know the specifics, comes to your school, takes over your gym, and LET’S YOU JUST GO SHOPPING FOR 5 HOURS! FOR BOOKS! WITHOUT YOUR PARENTS! You get to just write down whatever you want! No one judges you! You want a book about a bunny that turns into a vampire? Why don’t you check out Bunnicula! And some of the books even came with little trinkets! Like The Magic Charm books. They came with a necklace with a horse or ballet shoe charm or something like that. You were reading a story about a girl who has difficulty learning ballet who gets a ballet charm from her grandma or something and then WHAT?! You get the charm too, so you can match her?! THE BEST. So at a book fair, not only are you getting books, but sometimes you get trinkets too! Then your parents come and look at your list and if they were my mom, they would sometimes buy what you wanted and stock up for Christmas or birthdays. However, my mom also liked to go rogue. She’d get me random books that I didn’t ask for. That’s not to say I wasn’t grateful, but mostly they were educational books and ain’t nobody got time for that. I had bunny vampires and girls who sucked at ballet to read about!!

But that one year, Mom struck gold. A golden snitch, if you will. So this book with a boy and broom on the cover tumbles out of my bag…


“It’s a book about a boy who is a wizard. It’s supposed to be very good. I thought it might be something you’d like.”

My mom acted like that was going to sell me. This book had a boy on the cover. What use did I have for books with a boy on the cover? Gross. And don’t even act like that unicorn was going to sell me either. I never got unicorns as a kid. It’s a horse with a horn. Everyone calm the hell down.

But alas, I cracked open that book with a boy on the cover that night, and I was sold.

I love Harry Potter. Love even feels like an understatement. Those 7 books have influenced me more than I could write in words on a silly blog. In my darkest and twistiest times, those books have been a light for me.


My pops, Mark Andrews.

In February of 2004, my dad died of cancer. When my he passed away, I basically wanted to shut off from the world. I felt abandoned, alone, and devastated, as anyone probably does when they suffer that kind of loss. Death has always fascinated me, even when I was a child, but I had never had to experience it so closely.

I pulled away from my family. I wouldn’t call my grandparents or other relatives because it was too difficult. It was a constant reminder that these people knew my dad. They were a constant reminder that at one point he existed and thus, a constant reminder that he no longer did.

I threw myself into my group of friends, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it necessarily wasn’t the healthiest thing. My friends didn’t force me to talk about my feelings. I went to a private school for middle school and public school for high school. I made a lot of new friends when I went to high school, however, none of them really got a chance to meet or know my dad. He was already ill with cancer and frankly, there just wasn’t a lot of time.

This encouraged my pulling away. I surrounded myself with people who didn’t talk about my dad or force me to, because they couldn’t. I experimented with alcohol and cigarettes (sorry, Mom) and even self-harm. I wasn’t headed in the best direction, but luckily for me, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was published in the United States on June 21, 2003. My dad passed away on February 21, 2004. Also luckily for me, I have a tendency to re-read the entire Harry Potter series at least once, and sometimes even twice, a year.

I began re-reading Order of the Phoenix that year and something struck a chord. Harry had just witnessed the murder of Cedric Diggory, no one believed him about Voldemort’s return, his friends were being secretive, and Dumbledore wouldn’t even look him in the eye. Harry was also feeling abandoned, alone, and devastated.

I began not to feel so alone. Here was a boy who had lost more than I could even fathom, and yet, he soldiered on. Death and loss no longer seemed so insurmountable.

And then above all, Harry loses Sirius. His godfather, his father-figure. It was almost too much for me. Nothing had hit so close to home in the months after my dad died.

Harry meets with Dumbledore in his office after the fight at the Ministry of Magic, after Sirius has been murdered. Harry begins to lash out in anger and destroy Dumbledore’s office:

“I DON’T CARE!” Harry yelled at them, snatching up a lunascope and throwing it into the fireplace. “I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH, I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END, I DON’T CARE ANYMORE!”
“You do care,” said Dumbledore. He had not flinched or made a single move to stop Harry demolishing his office. His expression was calm, almost detached. “You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it.”

There’s a great quote from the movie, The History Boys, that can explain the way I felt much more eloquently:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”

I began to not feel so alone. I began to let myself feel the pain of my dad’s loss because feeling pain is what makes us human. Feeling any kind of emotion, really.

It has taken me years to come to terms with the loss of my dad, and frankly, I still haven’t. You never get over it, you simply get used to it. Fortunately, I have an amazing support system; my family, those friends I had in high school, and all the friends I have made since, were and are some pretty amazing people.

But, I will forever be grateful to The Boy Who Lived for helping me not to feel so alone during the dark times.


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9 Responses to How The Boy Who Lived Brought Me Back to Life

  1. BenJamIn says:

    Hollis, you are absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for this.

  2. BenJamIn says:

    Also, I don’t mean to totally piggyback on such a personal topic, but in regards to death and HP…

    I wonder how many people first heard about The History Boys today after reading about Richard Griffiths’ passing?

    • Vanessa says:

      I love you Hollis. I too can share the fact that my dad died when I was young, not as young as you were, but I was just getting to know him. There’s hardly a day that goes by where I don’t long for the conversations that we missed and my wondering what he was really like as an adult. You are an amazing woman. Hugs and kisses!

  3. Jeyna Grace says:

    I can remember the first time I saw the movie… i was the perfect age. LOL

  4. Rachel Brieden says:

    I loved reading this, Hollis. I may be six years younger than you, but I want you to know that I look up to you. When you write stuff like this, it makes me proud to be your younger cousin 🙂
    I’ll visit soon, I promise.
    All my love, your cousin,
    Rachel ❤

  5. This is so beautiful. And I just love your sense if humor in your writing.

    On HP – I feel the exact same way about the books and the characters. J.K. Rowling did such an incredible job taking us through each journey that I feel like I KNOW these people. I love it when written works connect to us so deeply and affect us in so many different ways like that.

  6. rob says:

    you are fucking incredible.

  7. Corsie101 says:

    Wow… it’s always a surprise to me when I hear someone else talking about how amazing Harry Potter is. Surprising because I can’t believe something can reach out to so many people and speak to them on the level you describe. I’ve never had anything so sad happen to me as what you went through with your father’s passing, but I know that Harry Potter has given me goosebumps, and made me cry with happiness as well as sadness.
    Props on your writing too, it described the way HP readers feel but can’t always articulate! Beautifully written.

  8. Ali says:

    ok last post i thought you were a sweet and kind person but now i TOTALLY LOVE YOU!!

    I too re-read the whole series at least once (more often twice) a year and for the same reason, it reminds me that brains and friendship and love can conquer all the darkest aspects of our nature and that ‘the ones we love never truly leave us’

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