My History With Harry
Sometime in 1998, not long after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in the United States, my mother brought home a copy of it in hardback (first edition, and yes I still have it). A friend of my mother’s at work had suggested it for my sister and I to read. I was 15 at the time, my sister was 12. I immediately rejected the notion of reading what I believed was a “kids’ book”, leaving my sister to read the book first. She has not, to this day, ever let me forget that she read it first, and that it was her captivation with it that lead to my finally reading it after her. (Thanks Sis, I owe you one!)
From that moment forward I was a self-sorted Slytherin. My sister was a self-sorted Gryffindor. I don’t know if this says something about us at that age, but now over a decade later we are still allied with the same houses we were then.
My mother bought us only ONE copy of Chamber of Secrets when it came out in 1999 and this time I let my sister have first crack at it because I was in the middle of reading something else. We wouldn’t learn until the third book which came out later the same year that we could no longer share one copy. Prisoner of Azkaban ignited a silent war between my sister and I. We were stealing and hiding the book back and forth for days until one night I nicked it from her room while she slept. That night I stayed up all night finishing it. To this day, Prisoner of Azkaban has remained my favorite of the series and I have fond memories of reading the last few chapters with sunlight creeping through my bedroom window at dawn.
The year 2000 was a big year for the fandom. Book sales were up tremendously and Goblet of Fire came out alongside cast announcements for the movies. There were no midnight release parties for the fourth book, at least not in my area. My sister and I were alone sitting outside of Walden Books at the local mall when it opened that morning to pick up our copies. That day we set out on a trip out of town and my sister and I read Goblet of Fire side by side on the road.
After the third book there was an unprecedented 3 year gap between books. The movies started to come out and J.K. Rowling gets married and has a baby. Meanwhile, fanfiction takes off within the fandom. I myself begin writing a series about an original character names Lauralie Black set in the Marauders’ time and based on the notion that Sirius Black’s sister, Lauralie, is the first in her family to ever be sorted into Slytherin instead of Gryffindor. Inventive but proven impossible in later books. (To see my long dormant FanFiction.net profile page with all my old FanFics CLICK HERE).
In 2003, for the release of Order of the Phoenix I attend my first ever midnight book release party at Barnes & Noble with my sister (of course). I make a “Death Eater” costume to wear, complete with a sinister looking cloak my mother helped me sew:
With the hood up it completely conceals my face in shadow, and has been known to scare small children. It consisted of a Slytherin green background overlayed with a black spiderweb sheer fabric.
There is a 2 year gap between this and each of the two remaining books but with movies coming otu every year the wait no longer feels astronomical. The fandom blossoms and flourishes online, and I am very active in it under the handle I had been writing fanfiction under for years: “Lauren Snape”. I use this name for so many things online that eventually I start to get mail in this name prompting my father to ask if I’d eloped and married Professor Snape without telling them. I even had at one point a vanity plate on my car that read “L SNAPE”.
Half-Blood Prince was probably the hardest book of the series for me to get through. Snape had been my favorite character since early on. So I had always fostered a belief that he was important and would prove himself to be good and firmly on Harry’s side.
When Snape killed Dumbledore I threw my book across the room.
The two years between this and the final book were full of key arguments within the fandom. I have distinct memories of standing in line for the midnight screening of Goblet of Fire in heavy debate with other fans about whether or not Dumbledore was really dead and if Snape was truly on Voldemort’s side.
July 2oth, 2007, I found myself back at my favorite Barnes & Noble, with my sister by my side, waiting to pick up the 7th and final book. This was by far the most memorable of all the midnight events I had ever attended. B&N pulled out all the stops for this one. Every employee in the store was dressed up and sporting name tags bearing character names. Occasionally calls would come across the loud speaker such as “Professor Moody to customer service, please” and “Draco Malfoy you are needed in the cafe”. Around us everyone was decked out in Harry Potter gear. From costumes, to t-shirts, to wizard hats. It was by far the largest gathering of Potterheads I had ever been among. It would not, however, remain so. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Me in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
By the end of 2007 rumors were already everywhere about a Harry Potter theme park, and finally in May of that year it was officially anounced. A 20-acre expansion of Islands of Adventure in Florida would be dedicated to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My family and I are avid Disney World goers, and rarely ventured to Universal on our trips, but that was all about to change. In 2009 my sister actually MOVED to Orlando, Florida and began keeping an eye on construction. I remember the day she texted me a photo of what appeared to be one of Hogwarts towers peaking out from above a construction barrier.
In 2010 we probably called Universal Studios Customer Service nearly a hundred times. My mother, who was always so supportive of my sister and I’s joint obsession with Harry Potter, called practically daily inquiring about a Grand Opening date. Continually we were told the date would be set soon until one magical day in the spring we were told that they were now booking “Harry Potter Vacation Packages” starting on Memorial day weekend. We booked a trip for the weekend AFTER memorial day and the first weekend in June. Two weeks after the vacation is booked, they anounce that Grand Opening will be June 18th.
Despite our immediate panic, our call to customer service was met with patience and reassurance that we would be allowed in to the park on the day our vacation was booked DESPITE the Grand Opening being AFTER our trip. My sister was meeting us at the airport and I can remember the air of excitement in the car as we drove from the Orlando International Airport to the hotel at Universal. We normally never stay on Universal property, but this time I was relieved we had because thanks to us booking the “Harry Potter Package” that weekend we were allowed to enter as a part of what is called a “soft opening”, we also got “Wizarding World Grand Opening” pins and free breakfasts at the Three Broomsticks.
The only down side? The Harry Potter section of the park was still slightly under construction in preparation for the Grand Opening that was to happen two weeks after our trip. So the Wizarding World section of Islands of Adventure would only be open to us for the first three hours the park was open.
Our first day we practically sprinted there, and went STRAIGHT for the castle. I barely remember registering things as we passed. Except the train, I remember the Hogwarts’ Express clearly as it billowed steam while we passed it in the entrance to Hogsmeade. But aside from that, all there was in that moment for my sister and I was Hogwarts Castle. My mother attempted to get us to stop for a picture but we shouted her down, telling her she could take our picture after we rode the ride: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
The Journey of course was Forbidden because the idea behind the attraction was that for the first time ever Muggles were being allowed into Hogwarts for a tour. It’s funny to me that this is the premise because we knew from the books that if a Muggle came across Hogwarts all they would see is a “moldy old ruin” but one can’t be a canon nitpicker in the middle of Wizarding World or you will just ruin all your fun. We bottle necked into the castle, a part of a throng of other hotel guests who had been sprinting through the park along with us, and into the tunnels beneath the castle. We passed the Hour Glasses that keep track of who is winning the house cup (in Wizarding World, Gryffindor is always winning), the door to Snape’s Potions classroom, even the one eyed old crone behind which I was sure I would find a secret passage back to Honeyduke’s if I was so inclined. We passed through halls of fairly convincing moving paintings, through the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom where the trio looked down at us from a balcony talking about the master plan to sneak us out of the castle (as if we wanted to leave anyway). Finally we entered Dumbledore’s office, and he opened his mouth to speak and….
The fire alarm went off.
That’s right, turns out Hogwarts has a fire alarm. And when it goes off poor Hogwarts Prefects have to come to the line queue and escort you out. Problem was that my sister and I really didn’t want to go, we had already been waiting in the line for some time, nearly an hour of our precious three hours in the Wizarding World section, and we were sure if we were ousted from the line now we wouldn’t have a chance to ride it before the section closed for the day.
The poor “Slytherin Prefect” who had to come lead us out of the line queue looked to be about 17. Here he was escorting three fairly upset full grown women out of Hogwarts with alarms blaring on all sides, one of the three of us was nearly in tears. (Okay, it was me, SO SUE ME.) Deciding to come back to the castle later to see if the ride was back open, we followed a portion of the crowd into The Hippogriff, a small kiddy coaster of which the main attraction for adults is the fully audio-animatronic Buckbeak featured at the end of the ride, and a closer look at Hagrid’s cabin as you went through the line queue. We went and ate our “Traditional English Breakfast” at the Three Broomsticks, and it was delicious despite our distraction at the fact that the clock was ticking and we still hadn’t seen the main attraction.
We tried again only to be told the ride was having technical difficulties with only one hour left. We doubled back, hitting the Ollivander’s wand show. A lot of people skip this now, because it is such a small capacity show, but it was cute and well worth seeing. I watched a young boy attempting magic much to the destruction of shelves and vases around Ollivander’s until finally a wand chose him and we were all poured conveniently into a shop where we could buy wands.
I was like a kid in a candy shop (even though Honeydukes was at the other end of Hogsmeade). Before you could blink I had my arms full of things to buy. From a Slytherin Scarf to a replica of Severus Snape’s wand. So preoccupied my sister and I were we hardly noticed my mother had vanished from our sides so fast she might as well have Apparated.
My mother is a formidable woman. In fact in many ways she reminds me a great deal of Mrs. Weasley. So she was not about to let us leave that park without riding the main ride. She had seen a group of important looking Warner Brothers/ Universal employees huddled in a group and she decided she was going to see what they had to say about the ride being closed.
My sister and I were not aware of any of this. We were too busy poking our fingers through the cage of the Monster Book of Monsters, and trying on school robes of our houses. For two full grown adults (I was 27 and my sister 25) we were acting like complete children. It wasn’t until my mother reappeared that we knew she’d been up to something.
“Pay for your stuff, we have an escort.”
That was all she said, and for a frightening moment I was sure she meant an escort out of the park because she had unleashed her inner angry customer on some poor employee and we were being booted. Quite the contrary though, when we stepped out of the store laden with shopping bags we found our mother standing beside a well dressed man in a polo shirt bearing a name tag that read simply “Scott”. Hanging around his neck were a variety of different passes and he looked quite official.
Scott, I don’t know where you are today, but I still thank you so much for this day.
As it turned out Scott was one of the men who helped design the Wizarding World of Harry potter. He told us that they had opened the ride back up, but the wait was already at an hour (longer than we had left in the section) but that he was going to take us a very secret way up to the loading bay and put us on the ride. He went with us to get lockers to shove our shopping into, and then into a back entrance of the castle.
He told us, as we entered the hallway, that J.K. Rowling herself would be taking the hallway in a couple days to come ride the ride herself. He told us about meeting her when she came for consultations, and that she was delightful. He took us down a hallway and up an elevator (yes, there is an elevator in Hogwarts) which opened up straight onto the loading platform behind where all the employees were. He took a picture for us, in the secret back hallway of Hogwarts. This picture sits on my parents mantle in a Hogwarts photo frame to this day.
My last glimpse of the castle that day can be seen atop this blog. I took that picture just as we were being ushered from the area, the blue Florida sky almost completely free of clouds.
I have been back twice since (as I said my sister lives in Florida) and though I believed nothing would EVER top that first trip, I was so very wrong.
A Very Harry Potter Celebration
A year ago today my mother (whom has always been quite the obsession enabler as you can see) booked the end all be all of Harry Potter vacations. She purchased three Premium Packages for the Harry Potter Home Entertainment Celebration to take place in Florida for 11-11-11 and the release of the final Harry Potter movie on DVD and Blu-Ray. The package included tickets to autograph sessions with people who worked on and in the movies, Q & A sessions with the stars, and a VIP party at the end for the release of the movies on Blu-Ray.
This would be our first trip to Florida where we would spend every minute in Universal and not step foot on Disney ground once. This was highly unusual for us as we were, are, and will forever be Disney World people above Universal (sorry Universal, you got Harry but Disney has the rest of my childhood).
I don’t even remember the flight down, the trip from the airport, even checking in at the hotel. My first conscious memory of the trip was at 5 am on Friday November 11th when we rose early to go claim all our package bits from customer service and enter the park early as part of our package perks. We didn’t expect to see any stars that early, so you’ll imagine my surprise when the moment we finally stepped foot inside Wizarding World we spotted the twins giving an interview!
We were being routed into the area through Jurassic Park, which was unusual, we turned a corner and realized the main entrance to Hogsmeade was blocked as they set up for the Today Show with Hoda and Kathy Lee. We promptly packed into this crowd, which was nightmarish by the time the area had filled up.
We couldn’t see much of the show itself, but all the stars passed by us to get out and in of Honey Dukes and at the end of the show I was able to get Hoda to come take a picture with my mother. “Hoda, please, come take a picture with my mom, she is a big fan!” I wonder to this day if it was because I was hollering at her for my mother that she turned. She came right up to the chain and said “Come here, Momma” pulled my mother next to her and I snapped a pic.
That was just the first day! We would later have an autograph session that included David Heyman (the producer of all 8 Harry Potter movies), Nick Moran (aka Scabior) and David Bradley (aka Argus Filch). As it turned out Mr. Bradley would be the most delightful of all the actors I met that weekend, and it all began in that autograph session. My mother, who’s name is Mary Lou, went down the autograph line in front of me because I was attempting to sneak pictures (we were told no photo’s by Warner Brothers). When she reached David Bradley he started to reminisce about her name because it is also the title of a Ricky Nelson song. As he fills out her autograph, he starts to sing it to her.
I can not tell you the emotions and amazement that went through me as I stood and listened to Argus Filch sing “Hello, Mary Lou” to my mother while the handsome Nick Moran clapped the rhythm along beside him.
Later David Bradley could be found running about the Wizarding World with his daughter. After she rode the ride he discovered that the souvenir store was called “Filch’s Emporium” and promptly spent at least an hour hanging around the store welcoming random fans with greetings like “Welcome to my Emporium!” as they came in. He is now one of my favorite actors in the Harry Potter series.
Some memories of this weekend come in clearer than others. I remember our first Q & A session being mainly producers, but with Jason Isaacs and Warwick Davis. I remember cheering with the crowd before the session started because they brought in a step stool so we all knew that Warwick was there. Jason Isaacs turned out to be a phenomenal story teller, and we enjoyed hearing David Heyman and David Yates talk about making the last few movies.
The autograph sessions were shielded in mystery. You wouldn’t even know who was in the session until you got into the curtained room and saw who was sitting behind the table. We knew that Rupert wasn’t sitting any of the autograph sessions but I was hoping for Jason Isaacs, and my sister was dying for it to be Warwick Davis. We came through the curtains and who should we see? Mark Williams (Mr. Weasley), Dom Gleeson (Bill Weasley), Warwick Davis (Flitwick/Griphook), and George Harris (Kingsley Shacklebolt)! (Don’t worry, I track down Jason on the red carpet later )
Our last Q & A contained a great deal of Dumbledore’s Army, and though I enjoyed seeing them all the stories told by Jason and Warwick in our first session could not be competed with.
There were TWO red carpet events this weekend. We were able to line the carpet for both, but only enter the second.
The first night was for press and celebrities only. The red carpet was ALMOST a complete bust that first night, as at first they had us lining a path that no celebrities came down. I did however manage to sprint over to where Jason Isaacs was and nab an autograph from him thanks to the kindness of others and an assist from Nick Moran (Scabior). We had passed my green leather Slytherin journal forward and I was shouting “Jason, please sign the green journal.” It wasn’t until Nick turned and said “Don’t you hear her, sign the green journal!” that Jason saw it and took it to sign. I even had a brief word with him over the heads of others.
That night was frustrating. Saved by this interaction with Jason and by the touching scene BEFORE the carpet event:
There were about a hundred of us shoved into a restaurant in Seuss Landing and we had started an impromptu dueling tournament. We were a good ways into this when a boyfriend/girlfriend couple got up there to duel. He was making a big scene about not wanting to “curse” his girlfriend, but she had no such qualms. She pointed her Bellatrix style wand at him and shouted “IMPERIO!”. He promptly got down on one knee and proposed in front of everyone there in the center of the dueling circle. I only wish I’d known it was coming so I could have gotten video.
Fortunately, the final night of our trip we had the VIP “Gala” complete with another red carpet entrance by the stars. But this time, we weren’t playing around. My sister, mother, and I lined up hours in advance and were in the first ten people in line. We were right on the chain inside the entrance to Hogsmeade. Words fail me here, but pictures are worth thousands of those right? Right!
Everyone was very patient. Switching sides of the carpet to hit every last person they could to give them an autograph. It was by far the most amazing Potter experience of my life. I’m getting a little teary eyed right now thinking about it. Which means it’s time to move on to the final section of this entry:
My History with Pottermore
I have told this story so many times that I feel like you all probably know it by now. One year ago I sat before my computer watching the countdown on “J.K. Rowling Announces” count down to zero and I, as many others, got to watch her official Pottermore announcement for the very first time. I got to hear about the Magical Quill challenge and my chance to be one of the first million to get into Pottermore!
I stayed up most of that night, despite having work at 6 am the next morning, and refreshed Pottermore constantly waiting for something to happen. Around 4 am EST I hit refresh to discover that the first quill was online! I solved a clue and went through registration in the wee hours of the morning July 31st, 2011. I was officially what would come to be known as a Pottermore Beta. It would take two hours for my activation e-mail to arrive, and I wouldn’t click that link confirming my account until I was already at work. Thanks to having an iPhone and working strange hours at the time I was online for all 7 of the magical quills, and on the third day of the challenge I created my @ElmBlade43 twitter account and started helping others to join. Around me others started making Twitter accounts to match their Pottermore user names. This became known as the Pottermore Family.
August 5th I would make the decision to start this blog. It kicked off the day of the final quill with an entry about the Quill challenge that only other Pottermore Family members would read. Then it would blow up with Owl Watch 2011 as a million users awaited their “welcome owls” alerting them that they could finally enter Pottermore.
Pottermore was still a great deal of mystery then. None of us knew what or when to expect entry. Rumors flew around with dates and people attempted to get information by posing as concerned parents and calling the child safety number for Pottermore. Then on August 15th the first Beta’s got in, not many, and I was not among them. I wouldn’t get in until August 25th, still early compared to the many who had to wait until September.
Dueling was offline when I entered, only a select few had been able to duel before it was taken down. All we had to do was explore the first book and brew potions. The servers were… well, they were total crap. The site could barely handle 50,000 users at the time. I remember every time they let new people in it was just Purple Screen after Purple screen constantly. Right near the end of September, with still only half the promised million users inside, Pottermore decided to just release the remaining welcome owls. The servers crumbled under the weight repeatedly.
This, I suspect, is the reason the entire foundation of the site had to be reprogrammed. Much to the dismay of those who had NOT gotten in during the Beta the public opening was bumped back from “October” to “November”. Then to “next year”. People stopped talking about the site. I myself even vanished from Pottermore and this blog to handle personal matters. I was not here when dueling came back online. I was not here when the site became so glitchy you had to sign in using a proxy server just to brew potions.
Then, in February of this year, rumors started to swirl that the site might just come out of Beta finally. I came back to find dueling online and started to learn how to duel effectively. In March they finally announced the site would open in “Early April”. I started to revive the blog, starting a new watch “Pottermore Watch” and adding help pages for what was on site already.
I was asleep when the site opened to the public. And now, I have a problem remembering what it was like BEFORE the site went public. When you had your account and Merlin Forbid anything happen to that account because there was no getting another one. There was no deleting your account to make a new one to sort again. Password reset hadn’t worked during Beta so if you were locked out you were stuck out.
Things are much improved now. The site has sounds, CoS is starting to creep out, and we’ve got a great deal more to look forward to. I am hopeful the future of Pottermore will hold great things, and I look forward to experiencing it all with you guys. Because this blog wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for each and every one of you who come here and read my entries.
My first day on this blog it got 59 hits, and most of that was from my friends on Twitter. I now average around 2000 hits a day and I can’t even put into words how grateful I am for each and ever one of you. You are all a part of my Potter Family, and I can not thank you enough.
Also, if you made it all the way through this rambling mess I feel you deserve a prize.