Mark Reads ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’: Chapter 13

In the thirteenth chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry has his second lesson with Dumbledore. Once again, they use the Pensieve to visit a memory; this time, though, they peer into the moment when Dumbledore first meets Voldemort, as eleven-year old Tom Marvolo Riddle. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Harry Potter.


We all come from somewhere.

I spent seven years living in Boise, Idaho, a fact most people don’t ever seem to know about me. It takes them by surprise every time I mention. It’s understandable; I rarely talk about that period of my life. It’s not that I didn’t like it or that I hated Boise. It’s the opposite. But it seems so long ago and the bulk of what formed me into who I am today happened when I moved down to Southern California.

I still remember the elementary school I went to. Maple Grove. It was a jarring experience to move to Riverside because none of the schools seemed to be built the way they were in Boise. Maple Grove was a sprawling brick building and, aside from the kindergarten classes and a few upper grade students in special programs, we were all in one building. Everything on the southern side of the building contained classes for the first three grades of the school; since I moved about two-thirds through the 2nd grade, I never got to experience a class on the opposite side of the building and there was a part of me that was sad to have missed that.

The students on the north end were always twice our size and seemed to know more words and more names to call us and had longer books that I so desperately wanted to read, instead of the shorter ones we got, brimming with pictures and short sentences.

Since the building was shaped in one giant rectangle with an open air plaza thing in the center, my class in second grade faced this courtyard. Just across the way, on the north end, was the school’s library, my favorite place to go during recess or just after school let out if it was a day my mom let me take the late bus.

It was there that I learned that there were books without pictures, with long, snake-like words slithering on the pages, words I’d never seen or heard and with stories I hadn’t read or imagined. Second year students were supposed to be restricted to only one half of the library where there were lots of Richard Scarry books and the occasional Shel Silverstein compilation (if it wasn’t checked out and it was always checked out. But during days when my entire class was in the library, I’d sneak away to look at the upper grade and junior high material. To Kill A Mockingbird. The Outsiders. A short novella called Heart of Darkness with a grim, foreboding cover. There were longer books and thicker covers that I never even cracked open, but I wanted them all.

I must have checked out a hundred books that year. I’d read them during recess, hiding underneath the jungle gym, digging a small recess in the sand, shoes off, blocking out the sounds of my classmates screaming, giggling, and crying out battle cries. I fell in love with Boo Radley for the first time underneath that fort of mine, escaping from a world where kids looked at me, the only student with brown skin in the entire school, and ask me if I came from another planet or if I grew up working in the fields. These questions didn’t make sense to me at the time, but I knew that I didn’t look like anyone and that these people didn’t think I was real. I didn’t feel real.

As winter rolled through Boise and the ground was covered in crystal white flakes and I had to find refuge in the gymnasium or underneath overhangs on the fringes of the building, wishing I was as brave as Ponyboy so that I could stand up to the kids who threw snowballs at the back of my head and who called me Bean Dip and Tortilla Boy because that’s just what their parents called the Mexicans in town. I wasn’t brave enough, but I felt courageous reading those pages.

Winter died down and the rain came and then the wind blew gusts that preemptively turned pages for me, as if Mother Nature was telling me to read faster. I was okay with that and I obliged. I would sometimes read two books in a day if I managed to escape from a particularly boring lesson by finishing my work early and pulling out another book.

That February, before spring took hold and the trees came out of hiding along with the sun, my teacher told us that she had a writing assignment for us. This was, naturally, my favorite time of the day, and she beamed as she described this special project.

“You’ll be describing your favorite place in Boise,” she told us, her wavy locks of hair bouncing as she turned her head to different students with every other word, speaking slowly and with purpose. “And this isn’t just for the class; the city is holding a competition for students to give us their best stories about why they love the city of Boise. All you have to do is”—she paused as she bent over the desk in the front of the class and shuffled a stack of papers, pushing them into a neat pile and then picking them up—“draw a picture of what you love the most”—she pointed to a blank rectangle of space at the top—“and then write your story here.” She gestured to the lines below the canvas. “If you win, your story is going to be hung in the Capitol building downtown!”

As she passed around the papers, my mind swam with ideas. Did I love the school the most? The library? Did I love the park around the corner from my house? Or maybe I really loved the Circle K down the street because my mom took me there and I’d always get an ice cream of some sort and she’d get a set of scratcher tickets and sometimes she’d hand me, my brother, and my younger sister a set of them and then pass around quarters and tell us to be very careful as we scratched away that silvery, metallic powder that hid numbers and dollar amounts, and then sometimes she’d win and we’d proudly walk back into the Circle K, tickets in the air, waving them around as if we were holding gifts no one else understood, and then we’d get another popsicle or ice cream sandwich if she won money.

That seemed like a good idea to me, but as I grabbed my bright yellow pencil inside my desk and put it down on the page, I realized there was a fatal flaw in my plan: I couldn’t draw. At all.

It’s been a plague of mine for as long as I can remember. “Mark, draw a representation of your family!” Minutes later: “Who is this? Your family dog?” No, that’s my sister. She likes to play dress-up. “What…what is she dressed up as?” She’s dressed up as my mom. “……………….ok.”

(Hasn’t changed much, for the record. I cannot even compose legible stick figures.)

This wrench in my creative machine plagued me. I raised my hand a couple minutes later; the class was largely silent and scribbling away, so my teacher noticed me immediately and nodded in approval.

Uh…so what if we’re not good at drawing? I don’t know how to draw an entire store.

“Don’t worry, Mark. It’s ok! Just do your best. Maybe try to draw something easy and then focus on making your story even better!”

She had a point. Drawing was not a strong area of mine, but I believed that I had a good grasp on stringing words together. I thought about places I enjoyed, but all of them were unbearably complex. How do you draw a tree with lots of shiny leaves? How on earth could I have drawn the canal that I rode over in my mom’s van or the school bus every day? It was a long dam. How could I fit that all in the space provided?

This quickly became so stressful to me as I looked around and saw the girl sitting next to me drawing an intricate flower bed entirely out of Crayola markers. They weren’t even the ones with thin tips; she was already an expert at making fine lines out the stubby-ended beasts that I struggled with, even when I had to do something as simple as drawing a circle.

Think, Mark, think. What do you love? What’s your favorite place? My heart started racing. How much more time would I have? Oh god, I haven’t even drawn one line on the paper. I looked back to my left and the girl was now beginning her first few sentences. Oh no, this is not good.

I glanced up and out the glass door that led to the courtyard in the center of the school and I could see another class entering the library. Why couldn’t this just be a writing assignment? This wasn’t fair; not all of us were good at art. Oh, why couldn’t I be in the library, trying to find a book, so I could sit out underneath that slide and dig my toes into the cold sand as I—

The slide. The jungle gym. OH MY GOD, THAT IS IT. I started drawing diagonal lines parallel to each other until I’d managed to construct the crudest slide known to man. I wasn’t convinced this believable enough, so I drew a haggard and deformed child sliding down so that someone might understand what this was. I placed a giant square next to this, one that was elevated from the ground, and then I was drawing a stick-figure version of myself, lounging underneath this square. It sort of looked like I was comfortable? My head was oversized and I tried to make my face look comforted, but it turned out I looked rather constipated instead.

No matter. Because I placed a poorly drawn book in my hands on that page and whipped out my Crayola markers. I didn’t even remotely attempt to color in the lines at this point. In my head, I had imagined that there was some clock, ticking down, warning me that I didn’t have much time left before my teacher would announce that we’d have to finish our stories and turn them in as-is. My lines of color blurred out the edges and I came to realize that because I’d used a brown marker to represent my skin, it actually looked like an M&M with toothpicks jutting out of it was sitting under a yellow square.

It was hideous.

But it didn’t matter to me. Because soon I was constructing things that felt good, that felt right: sentences. I talked about how good the sand felt on my feet. How I could disappear under that slide and how I found new worlds there and how even when it was raining, I’d still find a way to hang out there. How I loved that place more than anything.

Even though the page was lined for very large letters, I ended up using the broken lines (which were supposed to denote lowercase letters) as solid lines. So I have two lines of words where all the other kids had one.

I managed to squeee the last few words tightly onto the last line so that only a couple letters hung off the designated space. I stared at my horrifying “drawing” for a couple seconds and knew my words would be my saving grace. I stood up, beaming at my teacher as she had beamed to me, and proudly handed over my creation. I sat down, a smug smile on my face. I couldn’t wait to go back to the library that day and tell the librarian what I’d done.

Like most things in second grade, I quickly forgot the importance of that specific moment for weeks. Caught up in the minutia of everyday elementary life, I found I had other things to worry about. So when my teacher cleared her throat after recess, a goofy smile on her face, her words caught me by surprise.

“Well,” she began, clearly holding back a gush of joy, “I’m very pleased to announce that the city of Boise has picked the winner of their writing contest that we all entered a few weeks ago!”

The hush she’d created was broken immediately by a wave of yammering and excited cries from the students. She put her hand up as some sort of sign that we should calm down and we complied.

“I’m even happier to be able to announce that the winner is actually in our class!”

Chaos broke out. Someone screamed, though I’m kind of unsure why. Kids were scooting anxiously in their chairs before she hushed us again.

“I would like to congratulate…Mark Oshiro!”

I don’t even remember hearing anything. I was at such a loss because, clearly, my drawing was not what qualified me to win. My teacher hurried to my seat, still smiling with her rosy cheeks wide apart from her mouth. “Mark, you can see your entry hanging in the Capitol building any time starting today!”

I could visit it? This thought became my new obsessions. I didn’t stay late to go to the library that day. I took the first bus home, ran down Maverick Way to my house, my brother trailing behind me, and burst through the front door, screaming, MOM! MOM! MOM! MOM! GUESS WHAT? GUESS WHAT? GUESS WHAT????

My mom, unsurprisingly, was totally floored by the news. “We have to go visit tomorrow after school,” she told me, stroking my black hair. “I’ll pick you up and we’ll drive downtown.”

In my head, I imagined a scene that I should have known could not exist. I imagined a red carpet, like those ones on television, sprawled up to the steps of the Capital building. (In my mind, I also believed that the Capitol building in Boise was the one in Washington D.C. I was eight. Shut up.) As I climbed the steps, someone took my picture and the flash blinded me. “Mark, what’s it like to be the youngest published author ever?” they’d ask me. “What’s it like to know you’re the best writer in the entire state?” “How does it feel to know you have the only story hung in the hallowed halls of the Capitol?”

I wouldn’t say anything, just smile and wave. I’d walk into the expansive dome, gaping with wonder at the ceiling above, and then there, on the gray and shiny wall in front of me, was my story. And somehow, in this daydream version of the future, my drawing had magically improved to something I’d never be able to do. It looked as though the drawing was a photograph, that I was so talented at my craft that I was able to draw photorealistic images. And there was the President. Yes, the President of the United States was there, some old white man with graying hair, and he was shaking my hand like he meant it, not like he did with those other old white men on TV, he really meant it this time, and he’s saying something to me but I don’t hear it because I suddenly feel special and unique and original and different and it made me feel all right to be different for once.

The following school day ached; every moment was slower than the last and every assignment was more boring than the one before it. The scenario I’d developed in my head kept manifesting itself with new details, like getting a check for a million dollars or a lifetime supply of scratchers or a Nintendo system so I could play super Mario Bros. whenever I wanted.

When the ball rang just after two, there was no doubting that I was the first one out of class. I sprinted down the hallway; a teacher yelled at me to slow down, but I passed by them so quickly that there really wasn’t much they could do. I bolted through the glass double doors and hung a sharp right to the dropoff/pickup zone outside the front of the school.

I saw my mom’s Ford Aerostar minivan parked at the far end. My brother’s class was on this side of the school, so I saw him ahead of me walking to the car. I sprinted even faster; in my head, getting to the van first would just add to my luck.

I remember slinging the door open so hard that it slammed against the rear hinges and my mom yelled at me to calm down. And though she’d always be quick to burn her fuse, even this time she could tell I was just excited and happy to be going downtown.

I didn’t say anything on the drive; I just sat there, staring out the win, the stupidest grin plastered over my face. I can’t believe this is happening! I thought to myself. I won out of everyone in my school and in the city and that means important people read it! I wondered if S.E. Hinton or Harper Lee would see it and ask me to write their next book with them.

We had to park on the street, away from the Capitol, so my first introduction to the Capitol building wasn’t until we’d walked a few blocks and it thrust upwards into my view.

It was more than I imagined. I’d not seen a building so immense, so stoic and stony, that commanded the attention of everyone on the street. I wanted to grab people as we passed them and yell into their faces. Why aren’t you looking at this? It’s right there! Look! Look!

I remember walking up the stone stairs in the front, turning around to see the city behind me, the lone flagpole jutting up into the sky. And I felt important and wanted and needed and I was still in awe that something I’d done was now framed inside the most important building in the world.

I’ll never forget that first moment, walking into the main room, the rotunda looming above us. It was somehow bigger on the inside and I couldn’t understand how this was possible. This has to be magic, I thought. How could this place be larger once you walked inside? (For what it’s worth, I continued to believe large buildings had magical spells cast inside them until I was around twelve. HOW DID I NOT READ HARRY POTTER. Jesus.)

My mom tugged my arm as I was staring up and I turned to see excitement in her eyes. “I think your story is over there!” She pointed to a wall to our left adorned with plaques and certificates and other white rectangles with ribbons on them.

I let go of my mom’s hand and bolted down the hall, my mom begging me to slow down and come back to her. But I had to see it for myself.

A few feet later, though, I came to an abrupt stop, peering with horror to my left. There were identical papers on the wall, with that same blank space and the same stupid lines. Except none of these had my drawing on it and none of these had my story on it. I gaped, the fear rising in me, as I stood back and saw that the entire south wall was covered in even more animated stories. There were trees and water parks and rivers and fishing and hopscotch and ice cream trucks and none of these were mine.

My brother and my mom walked up to, eyes anticipating my joy at what I was seeing. Mom, I said, what are all these?

“Well, Mark,” she replied, “these are all the other winners.” What do you mean “other winners”?

“Well, the contest was held all over the state. These are the other kids who won.”

I stared back at her. This didn’t make any sense to me. How could they have won if I won, too?

“Well…they chose the best story from each class,” she said to me, carefully choosing her words, seeing that my reaction was not what she had expected. “You competed against everyone in your class and you were the best!”

No, I thought, I was not the best. As I looked at a particularly skilled rendition of the Snake River, which cut through Southern Idaho and I read the story:






That won? I told myself, my indignation rising. My story was ten times that length. And I talked about how I felt and why I loved that jungle gym and slide so much and why it meant so much to me, and here was this limerick-length piece of trash that was hanging on a wall where I was supposed to be. By myself.

My mom interrupted my staring. “Look!” she cried, pointing above me and to the right. “What’s that? Is that yours?”

She excitedly dragged me a few feet to the right and sure enough, plastered between a horrid drawing of a horse and some sort of lake, my shoddy idea of a slide and jungle gym was pinned to the wall, an orange ribbon stuck to it. The ribbon just said, “CONGRATULATIONS!”

I told my mom that I was done and I wanted to leave. She said that we should look around some more, since she didn’t know when we’d get a chance to come back. Reluctantly, I followed her, a few paces behind her light blue Keds, drowning in my thoughts.

I have to do better, I thought. I didn’t win because I wasn’t good enough. I want to win by myself, I thought.

The anger and frustration I felt over my imagined scenario being crushed so quickly evolved over the years, but if I could pick any one moment that was indicative of what I would grow into be, it was this. There I was, a young kid with an unbearable sense of paranoia and self-doubt, filled with a conflicting sense of hope and faith, certain that I could be the exception to the rule, obsessing over perfection and the desire to be the number one in my class at everything, unwilling to share my glory with anyone else.

I thought it was about time I shared a story of my life that wasn’t bone-crushinglydepressing. Reading chapter 13, I had this whole bit of commentary planned out about how the flashback to eleven-year-old Tom Marvolo Riddle showed how he had developed his tendency towards solitude, hatred, distrust, and manipulation early on. But then Dumbledore went ahead and said everything I might have written (and more) and I felt a bit deflated.

But I’m beginning to understand why Dumbledore is doing this during his lessons. (I think.) There is no better way to know a person (or an enemy) than to understand how he or she came to become who they are today. If there’s a way to defeat Voldemort, perhaps Dumbledore isn’t looking towards the future; he’s looking to the past (with Harry’s help) to see if he can determine some key to unraveling him in the future.

My point for all this (including why I just vomited up like 3,800 words) is that we are all who we are because of where we came from. And I figured that while I’ve given pieces of my past to you, in honor of learning how Voldemort grew to be who he is today, you should understand how I came to be the overly wordy, perfectionist, Hermione-ish person I am today.

We all came from somewhere. This is what I came from.