Growing up with Harry Potter series

Growing up with Harry Potter series

Alessandro Siciliano was just 7 when he fell under Harry Potter’s spell. Now 15, he’s ready to swap his library card for his learner’s permit. “It’s amazing how everyone has grown up,” says the high-school sophomore from midtown. “If you watch the early movies, the actors look like tiny children!”

Like Daniel Radcliffe and the other stars of the film franchise, a generation of fans has grown from grade-schoolers to young adults since the first movie opened in 2001.

With the first half of the final installment, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” hitting theaters Friday, fans raised on J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world are ready for the next chapter.

Siciliano was a second-grader living in Maine when his mother began reading the books to him. He recalls Potter play dates with friends, watching the first two movies on VHS (remember VCRs?) and pulling out all the stops for a Hogwarts- style eighth-birthday bash. “We had a Sorting Hat and put everyone in a house,” he says. “And everyone got little wands that lit up.”

Aging along with Harry, Ron and Hermione enhanced Siciliano’s love for the series. “I always felt like I was on the same level as Harry and the other characters, and could experience everything along with them,” he says.

Moving from Maine to Manhattan was as much a shock for Siciliano as Harry transferring to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. “It was a big adjustment,” he says. “The city is so much bigger, and you don’t have to be driven around. You can just hop on a train.”

But even as he adjusted to his new home, he had the through line of the “Potter” franchise, which grew up at the same rate he did, thanks to the age-appropriate casting.

“It’s not like some 30-year-old was playing Harry,” he says. “The actors are the same age. That adds to the experience. Everyone is going through school, just like you. They develop along with the rest of us.”

Samantha Lord was in fifth grade when she picked a Harry Potter book off a shelf at her school library in Brooklyn. “It was the first book I really got into,” she says. “It’s like going to another world.”

Now she’s a high-school senior who just mailed out her first batch of college applications. By seventh grade, Lord was shopping on websites to score Potter products like Draco Malfoy’s wand. But her favorite character is Severus Snape, the awkward antagonist whose true loyalties aren’t revealed until the end of the series.

“He’s more comical in the movies, but he had a dark past,” Lord says. “When I finally got to read about it in the sixth book, it made him more in-depth for me. I just saw him as a professor before.”

She’s already planning an outing with friends to catch “Deathly Hallows,” but is in no rush for “Part 2,” due out in July. “I’m getting sadder and sadder as it gets closer and closer to the end,” says Lord.

But for Irvin Khaytman, Harry Potter will live on long past the final film installment. Now a freshman at New York University, the Brooklyn Potter-head counts seeing the first film as a 9-year-old back in 2001 as a life-changing experience.

“My mom dragged me to see it,” he says. “She fell asleep, and I just fell in love. I came out of the theater babbling about it. My dad went to the library and got the books that were out at the time and I devoured them. Though I didn’t get to my current level of obsession until two years later.”

In 2003, as the release of the fifth book neared, Khaytman discovered an online forum full of like-minded fans. “I Googled ‘Harry Potter Book 5,’ and found MuggleNet, the biggest Potter fan site, and spent all day on it,” he says. “Since then, I’ve visited MuggleNet every single day.”

Now 18, Khaytman writes Harry Potter fan fiction, is into wizard rock and even plays Quidditch (the sport played on flying broomsticks in the series) up in Riverside Park. “That’s the first team sport I’ve ever played,” he says.

This Halloween, he went as narcissistic wizarding celeb Gilderoy Lockhart, and he dons the duds of different characters every chance he gets for various Harry Potter group events. That means female characters, too — he has been the beloved head of the Gryffindor House, Prof. McGonagall, and even the pinkhaired Tonks.

Taking a cue from his favorite character, Luna Lovegood, Khaytman isn’t afraid of standing out from the crowd. “She’s totally her own person,” says Khaytman. “Everyone thinks she’s a weirdo, but she doesn’t care and just believes whatever she believes in. I think she’s amazing because when I was in school, I was oftentimes the weirdo because of my obsession with Harry Potter. So I really identify with her and admire the way she handles everything.”

Melissa Willig, 23, can also parallel her life to Harry Potter’s. The marketing rep from the East Village was just a year younger than the boy wizard was in the first novel when she became hooked.

“I was 10, relatively the same age as the characters in the book,” she says. “I was captivated, and have continued to follow all of the books and movies.”

Willig saw her own struggles reflected in the stories, such as when she transferred to a private high school. “I like how the author touched on a lot of issues that someone that age is going through: not knowing who they are, making new friends, and going to a new school,” she says. “The books had a huge impact on me.”

Seeing how much the actors have grown has been something of a rude awakening, however. “It makes me feel old!” Willig says. “But I feel like I know the characters better because I’ve seen them at every different age. It’s like I know everything about them, and I could be their friend!”

Even with only one Potter flick left after this one, Willig plans to keep the magic alive. “I’m looking forward to introducing Harry Potter to either my children or my nieces and nephews,” she says, “and seeing if it translates to a whole new generation.”

Source: New York Daily News