A Magical Adventure

Amity and I set off for Scotland almost immediately after classes ended.  There was one exciting excursion in between that just has to be addressed before we can move on to gallivanting among the Scots.  Buckle up, y’all, it’s a big’un!

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We went to Hogwarts!

More accurately, we went to the Warner Brothers studio to tour The Making of Harry Potter, which includes a lot of actual sets, costumes, props, and fun facts about the movies.  We also timed it so that we were there during “Hogwarts in the Snow,” which meant that the Christmas and winter wonderland factors were kicked up a notch.

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Amity and I have had our sights set on this for a while.  We both grew up reading Harry Potter and were about the same age as the characters throughout the series.  When we were little, we used to lay on her bed and listen to the Harry Potter audiobooks (Jim Dale version, naturally) while reading along in the books.

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(Thanks, random dude.  I really wanted a photo of you as well.)

I wasn’t initially a big fan of the movies, but they did get better as they went along.  At this point, they’re definitely engrained in the Harry Potter culture, and they’ve made parts of that world so visual that I was really excited to experience this.  So excited that I made this face the whole time:

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We entered through the giant doors to the Great Hall and were greeted with one of the most festive sights I’ve ever seen.  (I didn’t make this picture sparkle.  I got a notification from Google+ today that a handful of my photos had been put in an “Auto Awesome” folder where they do fun things like this.  I don’t know how Google+ got my photos, but I guess I’m okay with government surveillance if it makes things twinkle.)

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The house tables were laid for a magnificent feast with Christmas crackers at each place.  Giant Christmas trees were set all around the hall, beautifully decorated with golden stars and candles and little flying witches.  There were also a bunch of real costumes from the films set up between the trees (with creepy faceless mannequins).

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There’s Hagrid and Filch holding down the fort (I mostly included this photo because I loved the house points counters behind them!).

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I think we could’ve stayed there all day, but eventually it was time to exit the Great Hall and move on through the rest of the self-guided tour.

We walked past the Yule Ball, which had apparently been frozen in time.  The Taj Mahal-ish ice sculpture was surrounded by deliciously magical (different from magically delicious) looking cocktails but unfortunately there wasn’t a chance to swipe one as we went by… the gangs’ ball outfits were on display in the background, too.

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We carried on past the Leaky Cauldron (that’s in London), a whole wall of Educational Decrees (with Filch’s ladder still leaning precariously against them), and on to the Potions classroom.

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The detail on this set was amazing!  All of the glass jars and bottles had handwritten labels, and the ladles in the cauldrons were actually stirring themselves.  It seemed like Snape (or, if we were lucky, Slughorn) should sweep around the corner at any moment and tell us to turn to page 394.

We moved on to Harry’s dormitory, where I would have gladly plopped down on one of those four-poster beds for an afternoon nap, and the Gryffindor common room, which was so festive and cozy that I wanted to move right in and never leave.

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But I was faced with a tough dilemma when we stumbled upon The Burrow next.  Maybe I could switch between them every month?

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Amity is reading over my shoulder as I’m writing this and would like to interject, “Ufhh, I love The Burrow.”

I think we should definitely look into getting a Mrs. Weasley clock for our flat. And maybe a self-knitting blanket.

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The path meandered through an exhibit of a bunch of real props used in the movies next.  A few Horcruxes to start things off on a sinister note…

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Harry’s invisibility cloak – it was neat to see how the inside was actually neon green so that they could use green screen technology to make the wearer seem invisible.

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And this case had EVERYTHING.  Time-Turners, Deluminators, Omnioculars, Remembralls… even a Golden Snitch and a Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone!

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We passed the giant pendulum that features in the third movie…

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…took a quick peek in the Mirror of Erised (but saw ourselves exactly as we are, since being at Hogwarts is the deepest and most desperate desire of our hearts anyway)…

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And then we found ourselves facing this staircase and whispering every variation of “sherbet lemon” and “cockroach cluster” and “acid pops” we could think of until he let us through.

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In we went to Dumbledore’s office!

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I really wanted to check out his revolving case full of memories, or that lower part of the office behind his desk, or any of the books on his shelf (I’d take reading recommendations from Dumbledore any day), but we weren’t allowed to get closer than this.

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I was sorely tempted to stick my face in the Pensieve.  I’ve always been in such disbelief that, when Dumbledore explains this device to Harry in the fourth book by saying “I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind,” Harry is confused and has no idea what that feels like.  Really, Harry?  I feel like that all the time.  People need to start handing out Pensieves with college diplomas.

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We saw walls of Hogwarts portraits, the door to the Chamber of Secrets, Harry’s golden egg and the Triwizard Cup, a Gringott’s cart, and Mad-Eye Moody’s magic trunk.  Hagrid’s hut was just as warm and inviting as you’d expect (although it needed a more realistic Fang slobbering at the door).

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The Black family tapestry was so beautiful and intricate.  It was actually handmade by artisans for the movie and every name and image is exquisitely embroidered and detailed.  It’s hard to believe it’s not actually centuries old!

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One of my favorite displays was all of the graphic design and print work that was created for the movies.  The Daily Prophet, the Marauder’s Map, the Quibbler…

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There was a quote from one of the designers who worked on the films that said, “This was a graphic designer’s dream.  An extraordinary opportunity to be creative.”  I can imagine that would be the case.  This made me want to revisit my graphic design minor – maybe I could get a marketing apprenticeship with the Weasley twins!  Their merchandise was some of my favorite…

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The next part of the studio tour took us outside, where we hightailed it over to the bar for…

BUTTERBEER!

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Don’t be fooled: Amity was not a fan in the long run.  It was cold butterbeer and I think that a chilly December evening definitely called for something hot and creamy straight from The Three Broomsticks.  Unfortunately, the hot stuff is probably trickier to produce en masse, so cold it was.  The foam was definitely the best part.

The triple-decker Knight Bus was casting a crazy purple glow over everything…

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…and then they took “Hogwarts in the Snow” all the way and showered us in magical snow flurries!

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But it wasn’t real snow.  It was soapsuds, as I quickly found out because I was making my excited face and couldn’t close my mouth.  It was gross.  The effect was still nice, though!

The rest of the outdoor sights included Number Four Privet Drive, the rickety Hogwarts bridge, the Potters’ cottage in Godric’s Hollow, and the gigantic chess pieces from the first film.  We went back inside and were taken through the makeup and prosthetics department, where there were goblins galore…

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I had a right little cry over this fella:

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We scurried along to the part we’d both been waiting for… Diagon Alley!

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It was fantastic.  Gringott’s towered over us at the start and the cheeky guy in Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes tipped his hat at the end.  In between, we passed Ollivander’s, Eeylops Owl Emporium, the Apothecary, Madam Malkin’s, the Magical Menagerie, and another old favorite: Flourish and Blotts!

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I was dying to pop in there but Amity and I haven’t received our school letters yet so I wasn’t sure which books to buy.

Instead, we took a last wistful look down the lane and rounded the corner.

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Our final lap took us through a room covered in original illustrations and contractors’ drawings of Hogwarts and other set pieces (incredible!).

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The grand finale is well worth the wait, because the tour finishes with a big loop around a scale model of Hogwarts, glowing and blanketed in snow.  I can’t do this part justice in words so I’ll stop prattling and just show you.

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(That’s another magical Google+ creation)

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And here were are for scale:

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I wanted someone to put a Shrinking Charm on me so I could run around the grounds and halls!

This castle was completely magical – there’s no other word for it.  Something about seeing Hogwarts so whole and real just made me so awed at the fact that all of this came from one person’s imagination.  That was perhaps my favorite part of the entire experience: despite the fact that this was a film studio, and that the tour was devoted to the making of the Harry Potter movies, they focused on the books just as much.  The tour began and ended with quotes by J.K. Rowling.

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The introducers, employees, and even filmed actors and set workers all spoke about her with near-reverence, and always paid the books their due.  It made me so happy to see how much those books mean to so many other people, even after the blockbusters were made.

We finished up with a quick pass through what looked like Ollivander’s storeroom.  The walls were stacked floor to ceiling with wand boxes, and every single one was labeled with the name of someone who worked on the films in some capacity.

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Amity and I hunted around long enough to pick out a few of our favorites (Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, Nicholas Hooper).  Please enjoy this close-up and terrifying shot of my face next to the wand box that Amity spotted labeled “Julian Manning.”  So close!

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There was also a Jules Mann.  Destiny!

With that, it was time to grudgingly return to the Muggle world.  But not without snagging a little something from Honeydukes first…

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Rats!  Slytherin!

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Better luck next time…

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