Books, Essays, Geek Culture

Transfiguring Adoption: How Harry Potter Helped Me Survive My Experience in Care

Growing up I was an avid reader and often used books to escape my reality, a reality that included a mentally ill, abusive mother and an absent father. In grade two our teacher started reading a book about a young boy with shaggy hair and a scar in the shape of a lighting bolt and I sat captivated. I was sick of the fairy tales, with the princesses who were saved and lived happily ever after, I learned quickly that was a dream that I couldn’t keep dreaming.

For those who aren’t well versed in adoption, Harry was essentially placed in a kinship adoption (adoption by relatives). Yet the environment he was placed in was hostile and neglectful. Something I felt most connected to in the series was Harry’s anger over his circumstances, the decisions made for him, and the role of ‘the chosen one’. As a child growing up I too felt anger and confusion; why had my parents decided to have a kid they couldn’t take care of? Why didn’t the social workers tell me where I was going when they took me away? Why was I a pawn in my own life? The treatment of Harry vs. Dudley by Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon so easily mirrored the relationship I saw between myself and the biological children in the foster homes. I didn’t live in a broom closet, but I was hidden in a subtle way, not brought along to vacations, in my room keeping quiet at dinners, and given close to nothing on Christmas and birthdays. Harry’s salvation came in the form of the half-giant Hagrid who affirmed his feelings of alienation when he spoke the line we all know and whisked him off to Diagon Alley and then to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I too, took refuge in school and education, and the hours at school were my safest and happiest.

Although Harry lost his father early on, he had many parental figures throughout the series; Albus Dumbledore, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and perhaps the strongest of all a mother figure in Molly Weasley.

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The relationship between Sirius and Harry was one of my favorites because I saw Harry accept the fact that he wanted that figure in his life, he wanted a family. You wouldn’t believe how hard that is to accept sometimes for kids who have experienced trauma, the moment we realize we deserve some normalcy is quite altering. Of course, we know how that ended and honestly it was the death I mourned the most because I saw that vision Harry had being torn from him. Now, I wonder why Harry wasn’t adopted by Molly and Arthur, I’ve come my own conclusion that they already felt he was a part of the family. In fact, the idea of Harry being adopted is a popular topic in fanfic, with works pairing him with Sirius, the Weasleys and even the Malfoys. Check out some works here. And so even though Harry lost his biological family and then suffered in his new home he created his own family amongst the Weasleys, members of the Order of the Phoenix, and his peers at his chosen home, Hogwarts. This is what many kids in and from care experience: we make our own families and we carve our own homes out and sometimes we’re lucky enough to find forever families through adoption.

Harry’s saving grace came when he turned eleven, stumbled in-between those two platforms at King’s Cross Station and discovered a place he belonged. Although I never got a letter that confirmed I was a witch (I’m still hoping), my escape came too when I was introduced to the world of Harry Potter in that classroom.

  1. Linda

    September 14, 2016 at 9:47 am

    Nice piece of writing Ashley. I never considered the parallels between HP fiction and adoption, so an interesting reflection. Like Harry you have found strength by creating your sense of family and support meanwhile, finding your own voice. Keep writing, you are good at it.

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