Arguably one of the greatest fiction series ever written, Harry Potter contains one heartwarming, yet tear-jerking secret: one character in the fourth book is not only based on an actual person, she carries her name as well.
In a moving tribute, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling named a first-year Gryffindor student after Natalie McDonald, a 9-year-old Canadian who was suffering from terminal leukemia. Per Refinery29, in 1999, when Rowling was hard at work writing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, she received correspondence from Anne Kidder, a friend of the sick girl’s family. In said correspondence, she stated that McDonald was a dedicated fan and utilized the Harry Potter books as a means of escape from her harsh reality.
“[Natalie] was obsessed with the ‘Harry Potter’ books. They had been her respite from the hell of leukemia. And because I’m the sort of person who thinks there must be something I can do, I badgered Rowling’s publishers in London, sending them a letter and an e-mail and a fax for her.”
Kidder’s letter to Rowling arrived at Rowling’s home one day after she had left for vacation. According to Buzzfeed, Rowling expressed the sense of urgency she felt upon reading the correspondence.
“When I came back two weeks later and read it, I had a bad feeling I was too late. I tried to phone Annie but she wasn’t in, so I e-mailed both Natalie and her mother, Valerie — because Annie hadn’t told Valerie what she had done.”
As the Harry Potter author indicated, McDonald’s mother had not been aware of what Kidder had done for her daughter. However, once she found out, McDonald wrote back to Rowling. The following year, the McDonald family traveled to Britain to meet with the beloved author. By then, the fourth Harry Potter installment had been published. During a ride on London’s tube (subway system), the family discovered that Natalie had been penned into Hogwarts history.
The tribute can be found on page 180 of the American version of The Goblet of Fire, when the ghost, Nearly Headless Nick, voices his concerns of obtaining a suitable incoming class for Gryffindor.
“‘I do hope this year’s batch of Gryffindors are up to scratch,’ said Nearly Headless Nick, applauding as ‘McDonald, Natalie!’ joined the Gryffindor table. ‘We don’t want to break our winning streak, do we?’”