If you are a true Potterhead and love everything J. K. Rowling has written about ‘The Boy Who Lived’, then there is a place you must visit. It is called Warner Bros. Studios Tour and is located just outside London.
You start your journey into the magical world of Harry Potter from the Victoria Coach Station. All you have to do is to catch an air-conditioned coach before it leaves for Leavesden. I almost missed mine! There were some problems with one of the tube lines and I had to divert. I got to the Victoria Station without any further problems, but still had some marching to do. Marching turned into a wild run when I discovered I had only five minutes to reach the Victoria Coach Station. I got there panting like a pervert, but to my great relief the coach was still parked and immobile. A blond lady with a clipboard ticked off my name on a passengers’ list and I was allowed to take my seat.
Soon the coach started to fill up with people of all ages and nationalities. I had a great misfortune to sit next to two young French women who burst into loud laughter every five seconds. What could possibly be that funny at 8:30 in the morning? When my stern looks in their direction did nothing to shut them up, I used my voice. Needless to say it didn’t go well with the noisy chicks. They moved to the back of the vehicle. Oh, well. I can live with that.
The guide informed us that it would take us about an hour to reach Leavesden and four to five hours to immerse ourselves in Harry Potter world. And that’s exactly how I wanted to spend my day. The traffic in London was light at that time so we arrived on schedule. The blond lady waved us goodbye, jumped inside the bus and disappeared in a puff of fumes.
I turned around and saw two huge buildings: stage J and stage K. I discovered later that the letters were not random – they stood for the author’s pen names – Joanne Kathleen. Next to the entrance there were gigantic chess pieces from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. They looked magnificent! I took several photos of these beauties. My only regret was they didn’t move. What a surprise that would be!
With a camera at the ready I crossed the threshold of stage J and went inside. When I finally went through the security check and had my bags and body scanned and groped, I could take in the surroundings. The hall was full of photos of Harry Potter film stars. There was even Mr. Weasley’s light blue Ford Anglia hanging close to the ceiling.
Huge shop windows invited me inside to splash some cash on various Harry Potter related items, but I stood firm and resisted temptation. Instead I took my place in a long and winding queue to enter the much awaited world of the Chosen One.
While I whiled away the time, I had a chance to see the cupboard under the stairs and was instantly pleased with my own room back at home. Tiny as it was, it was free from spiders and Aunt Petunia’s horrid taste in furniture.
The first step on my long and exciting journey was a cinema where I watched a short film with Rupert, Daniel and Emma talking about the oncoming adventure I was going to experience. Then the screen rose to reveal the oak doors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and they led me straight into the Great Hall.
It was just like in all Harry Potter films. The only missing thing was an enchanted ceiling and candles hovering in mid-air.
Dumbledore and the teachers were there – standing in front of the High Table.
And the Sorting Hat sat on a stool – awaiting the arrival of new Hogwarts students, no doubt. I wonder which house I would be sorted into. Would I be slimy enough to get into Malfoy’s Slytherin team? Or brave enough to roam the castle with Harry and his band?
The next stop was a massive hangar where all the props, clothes and other items big and small waited to be seen, photographed and marvelled at. I took so many photos that it would be impossible to share them all. Here’s a small biggish selection:
Yule ball drinks with an incredible ice sculpture that looked like Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral.
A table full of delicious chocolate thingies could leave everyone drooling over.
The Leaky Cauldron – you can see from where this popular wizarding pub took its name.
Gryffindor Boys’ Dormitory – a place where Harry, Ron, Neville, Dean and Seamus slept during a school year. Located inside the Gryffindor Tower and equipped with a stove and four posted beds for each student.
Mirror of Erised – a magical object that shows the deepest and most desperate desires of the person’s heart. Erised is ‘desire’ spelled backwards.
An impressive collection of wands with the names of the owners. A wand was a piece of wood with magical substances added in, and it was necessary to any wizard’s existence. Without it he / she could not perform any incantations and cast spells. A wand chose its owner and served him or her faithfully through thick and thin. The most desired wand was the Elder Wand. A wizard who possessed it, could do things beyond belief. With the other two Hallows – the Invisibility Cloak and the Resurrection Stone – he could be invincible.
Gryffindor Common Room – with comfortable armchairs and a big fireplace. A threadbare carpet looked like it had been there for ages.
The gargoyle – a stony figure guarded the entrance to the Headmaster’s Office.
The Headmaster’s Office – a large room filled with pictures of the deceased headmasters and headmistresses. Albus Dumbledore kept his collection of books there and the cabinets were full of curious objects.
Professor Snape’s and later Professor Slughorn’s kingdom – a gloomy room in the school dungeons. There were shelves with glass jars filled with revolting and weird things.
Hogwarts’ clock dial and pendulum.
Hagrid’s Hut – a small wooden cottage located outside Hogwarts Castle. Harry, Ron and Hermione spent many happy hours in the company of the gatekeeper and his faithful hound – Fang.
The Snake Door that led to the Chamber of Secrets, a secret room created by one of the Hogwarts founders – Salazar Slytherin. It was a home to an ancient and extremely dangerous animal – a basilisk.
The door to Vault 713 at of Gringotts Wizarding Bank in London. To open it, a bank employee – a goblin – had to pass its finger along in and the door would melt away.
The Burrow – home of the Weasley family and Harry Potter’s second home. A pampered git like Malfoy would consider it a pauper’s house, but Harry loved staying there.
The scene depicts the killing of Charity Burbage – one of the professors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Voldemort cast a killing curse at the woman for teaching Muggle Studies and defending muggles in the wizarding community. The incident took place at Malfoy Manor during Death Eaters gathering.
Borgin and Burkes – an antique shop located at 13B, Knockturn Alley. The owners specialised in selling various Dark Magic objects. The window displays and shop cabinets were full of sinister looking wizarding artefacts that were dangerous and could harm or even kill people.
Tom Riddle’s gravestone – the final resting place of the Riddle family: Thomas, Mary and their son – Tom Riddle senior. Lord Voldemort chose the Little Hangleton graveyard as a place for his rebirth.
Dolores Umbridge’s Office – this hateful woman came to Hogwarts as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. The room which, at one point, belonged to Lupin and Moody was transformed into a pink heaven of frills, teacups and cats. When Umbridge became the headmistress, she stayed there because the gargoyle refused to let her inside Dumbledore’s office.
There was a train station with Hogwarts Express puffing and wheezing on platform 9 ¾. Each train compartment was dedicated to a different Harry Potter film.
From the station I went straight to the shop and spent 30 minutes admiring Harry Potter merchandise. There were books, magnets, keychains, pens, wands, school uniforms, T-shirts, cloaks, sweets and so on and so forth. I was tempted to buy a stuffed toy in a shape of Hedwig. It was beautifully crafted and soft and I wanted it so much. But my reason prevailed. Well, actually my wallet. The price tag gave me a heart attack so I put Hedwig back on the shelf. Then the Marauder’s Map caught my eye and I wanted to buy it,too. In the end I left the shop with a book called Harry Potter Film Wizardry.
Half way through the studio tour I chanced upon a Backlot Café. It had Butterbeer on the menu so I had to taste it. It was delicious.
When I quenched my thirst with this wizarding beverage I went outside to admire some of the exterior sets. The first thing to see was the Knight Bus. There was even a Shrunken Head hanging from the rear-view mirror.
Next I visited Aunt Petunia’s house. I went inside to see Harry’s cupboard under the stairs and the Dursleys’ living room bombarded with Hogwarts acceptance letters.
The Potters’ cottage in Godric’s Hollow looked eerie and bleak. The building bore signs of Voldemort’s curse.
Hogwarts Bridge – a beautifully crafted wooden bridge was one of the objects I admired the most in Harry Potter films. It was blown to pieces in a spectacular way by Neville, Ginny and Seamus during the Battle of Hogwarts. The bridge I found in Warner Bros. Studio was not as long as the one featured in Potter films, but I was as giddy as a schoolgirl when I saw it.
After I saw every piece that the backlot had to offer, I turned towards stage K. This building was called the Creature Shop and it housed magical animals and creepy creations of extremely talented people that had brought Potter world to life.
The first ‘item’ I saw was Bathilda Bagshot. She appeared in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1 for a short time, but made such an impression on me that I couldn’t settle down for some time. You can see for yourself she’s no eye candy!
Fawkes – Albus Dumbledore’s pet phoenix. The headmaster’s feathery companion and staunch defender. He helped Harry defeat the basilisk and cured the boy’s lethal wound with his tears. Fawkes’s tail feathers were the cores of Harry’s and Voldemort’s wands.
The Merperson’s head. Merpeople lived underwater and they had half-human half-fish bodies. Their skin was grey and their hair was long and green.
Hedwig – Harry’s beautiful, snow white owl he got from Rubeus Hagrid. She was his sole companion when he had to stay with Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon at 4, Privet Drive. I would never forgive J.K. Rowling for killing Hedwig off. It was brutal and unnecessary. The boy had already lost everyone who was family to him, he didn’t have to say goodbye to his pet owl. The one in the photo was artificial but could move its head and wings. It looked so real!
Who could forget Lord Voldemort’s baby like figure before he regained his body and full power? Maybe he looked frail and vulnerable, but he was far from being harmless.
Mandrake – a plant which had a root that looked like a human. When somebody tried to unearth it, a mandrake screamed. When a plant was young, its cry could knock a person out for some time. However, when mature, its cry was fatal to anyone who heard it. Mandrake had many properties. It could ease pain and calm frayed nerves. Madam Pomfrey used mandrakes to prepare a special potion to revive petrified victims of the basilisk.
The Monster Book of Monsters – a textbook used by Hagrid during Care of Magical Creatures lessons. The book was dangerous because it attacked anyone who tried to open it. The only way to pacify this bloodthirsty volume was to stroke its spine. The one displayed in the glass box gave me a heart attack when it moved towards me with an open mouth. I must admit I emitted some kind of a sound and it sounded like a whimper.
Dobby – a house-elf who served the Malfoys for many years. He was freed by Harry and remained his loyal and devoted little friend until his tragic death.
Thestral – a winged horse with a skeletal body and leathery wings. The wizarding community considered thestrals to be omens of misfortune because only people who had witnessed death could see them.
Buckbeak – this unusual animal was called a hippogriff. It had the front legs, wings, and head of an eagle and the body, hind legs and tail of a horse. The magical creature was proud and very dangerous. Malfoy learned how dangerous a hippogriff could be when he insulted Buckbeak, and the animal attacked him.
From the Creature House to Diagon Alley I went. And it was an amazing experience! I strolled along the cobbled street and saw all those wonderful wizarding shops: Slug & Jiggers Apothecary, Potage’s Cauldron Shop, Ollivanders, Flourish and Blotts, Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, Madam Malkin’s Robes for all Occasions, Quality Quidditch Supplies, Gringotts Wizarding Bank and Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes – famous for selling practical joke objects.
After the pleasures of Diagon Alley I thought that nothing could surprise me, but I was wrong. I went into a room full of miniatures.
But the best was yet to come! On the way to the exit I went past a huge maquette of Hogwarts Castle. I could find no words to describe this impressive work of art.
Hogwarts Castle was the last object to see. I looked at my watch and couldn’t believe the time – five hours went by so quickly. I had the time of my life! I walked through the original stone floor of the Great Hall and Diagon Alley. I saw iconic Harry Potter sets and props. I enjoyed a mug of foamy drink called Butterbeer. I sat in Mr. Weasley’s Ford Anglia and on Hagrid’s motorbike. I caught the Knight Bus and visited the cupboard under the stairs. As a true Harry Potter fan I couldn’t ask for more. Or could I?
Next to Starbucks Coffee I found these beauties – handprints of Daniel, Emma and Rupert in concrete. With a cup of hot coffee in one hand and the other on the prints I felt that at that time life couldn’t be better.