Tag Archives: Harry Potter

All the Feelings I Had During Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, in Order


Jamie Parker as Harry Potter. Photo: Manuel Harlan

WARNING: this post contains the sort of mild, vague-detail spoilers that you can find in any of the newspaper reviews that came out this week. You may wish to be completely unspoiled till the script comes out on Sunday, and if so, you have my hearty permission to withdraw. 

It’s been three weeks since we went to London and saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I still think about it once every other day, probably. Sat in the nosebleed seats at the crumbly-Victorian Palace Theatre, all gold leaf and red velvet, I listened to a group of students behind us having self-consciously arty conversation, and the couple in their mid-forties on our right talking about DIY, and thought how strange it was that Harry Potter had gathered us all here in one place. Had the lady next to me read Deathly Hallows on the Tube, in one of those subdued-cover adult editions so as to draw less attention? Had the kids in their early twenties followed Harry and Voldemort from the moment they were old enough to read? I wondered this because, as the lights went down and rose again on Platform 9 3/4, a great, collective gasp went up from the audience, whoever they were: a sort of yearning, joyful, bittersweet nostalgia. We were back, after years of being away.

It took only a few minutes for the old characters to reassert themselves. Jamie Parker was recognisably Harry, Harry with twenty years under his belt: still damaged, heroic, emotional, sometimes bullish to the point of being obnoxious. (There was a moment towards the end of Part One when he went Full Book Five Harry. And we all thought ‘Man. We don’t miss Book Five Harry’.) Noma Dumezweni made a calmly authoritative Hermione, clearly having spent a couple of decades Getting Stuff Done. Paul Thornley is a loose and hilarious Ron: still wise-cracking, still clumsily sincere. Ginny (Poppy Miller) and Draco (Alex Price) got a little less room to breathe, but still established their characters and gave a sense of growth and change.


Paul Thornley as Ron Weasley and Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger. Photo: Manuel Harlan

The new characters had a tougher sell, having to create a personality in a few strokes without a wave of audience goodwill to ride on. They were wonderful: Rose Weasley (Cherrelle Skeete) fiery and stubborn; Albus Potter (Sam Clemmett) totally convincing as a prickly, whiny fifteen-year-old resenting his famous father’s legacy; Scorpius Malfoy (Anthony Boyle) a sweet, nerdy goofball who got huge laughs every time he opened his mouth.

The plot (without giving any important details away) takes the form of a complex, time-travelling quest full of alternative realities, prophecies, hauntings and the return of friends and foes. There were enough revelations to power a million new Tumblr posts, and we all gasped in unison and clutched each other’s hands. There were several moments where beloved, long-lost characters walked back on stage and the entire audience let out cries of welcome and sadness. Characters resolved old issues and laid lingering demons to rest. I’m making it sound like an emotional orgy. Imagine thousands of Potterheads together, reading a new, eighth book aloud: it sort of was.


Photo: Manuel Harlan

What really made it, though, were the special effects. The movies let you see the magic, of course, but you’re always at a remove, on the other side of the screen. Watching magic in front of your eyes is something else. Actors changing instantly into wizard’s robes, taking Polyjuice potion, leaping up and down moving staircases, using the secret entrance to the Ministry of Magic, having a magic duel, complete with flying chairs, flashes and bangs: all so delightful that our mouths fell open. Other set pieces – a dreamy underwater scene, a fiery Patronus dancing in the dark, Dementors extending skeletal hands from fluttering cloaks – were so atmospherically beautiful we held our breaths until they were done.


Photo: Manuel Harlan

It was the very thing. The real thing. It did what books and theatre do better than any other medium, I think: it brought Harry Potter back to life around us, letting us back into a world we’d left years ago, returning to find that everything was different, but still, essentially and marvellously, just the same.

Photo 29-07-2016, 10 18 26 am

2many feelings 2handle.

250 000 more seats are being released on 4th August (for shows in 2017). GET SOME, even if you have to pay in blood.

Harry Potter and my teenaged life


‘No story lives unless someone wants to listen. The stories we love best do live in us forever. So whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.’

J.K. Rowling

What makes a story?

I am thirteen, and stuck on youth camp for the first time. I hate everything from the endless dreary rain to the mandatory team-building to the foot-smelling canvas tents. My aunt, knowing me perhaps better than I realise, has sent me away with a new book. It’s a paperback I’ve never seen before, unremarkable, with a young, brown-bearded man on the back wearing an outlandish outfit.

One evening when I am especially homesick, I sit in the tent (breathing shallowly) and open it. ‘Mr and Mrs Dursley, of Number Four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much‘. And I am gone, from all of it: the tent, the smell, the damp pants. Gone until I’ve finished it, when I peel myself reluctantly out of that world and back into mine. That’s a story.

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A story is when I am fourteen, and on holiday on the Scottish border. I am walking through Berwick-Upon-Tweed when I see it in a bookshop window, purple and silver: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I want it immediately, but my parents are not given to buying expensive hardback books on a whim. They tell me I must wait for the paperback. The longing for it, for the continuation of the story I know is in there, makes me sick. I have lived and breathed in books for as long as I can remember, but it’s the first time I’ve wanted a book enough for it to hurt.

Not the last, though. That’s a story.

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A story is when I am sixteen, and the film of Philosopher’s Stone is about to be released. My friends and I are dizzily obsessed with it, marinating in it: devouring every trailer and press photo, making complex Potter jokes, speaking mostly in quotes. The fourth book is out by now, and it’s big enough for the midnight openings, for me to buy the hardback immediately and read it in one gulp, expense be damned.

I know these characters like family. I sit in my classes, frizzy-haired, hyper-competent and horribly uncool, and console myself with Hermione Granger. She is not cool at all. She is unfashionable and earnest, fierce and grounded, unable to drop her point long after she should’ve done, driven by book-love and doing the right thing and absolute loyalty. I might never be that wonderful, but I love her. So I lift up my head and answer another question. That’s a story.

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A story is when I am eighteen, and have my pre-ordered copy of Order of the Phoenix in my hands. There’s a sense of gathering darkness in these books now: the cheery end-of-term feasts that close the early books are long gone, and any of these beloved characters might be in for the chop. At the end of Phoenix, of course, someone is.

I am eighteen, and by now I know real heartbreak, real betrayal, real end-of-the-world, can’t-get-out-of-bed despair. And so I get it, forcefully and finally. I lie in bed and I cry tears for Sirius Black that are also for me. That’s a story.

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A story is when I am twenty-two, and Deathly Hallows is finally here. Potter-mania is at fever-pitch, and I feel like one of the sage elder members of a giant, excitable family. I pick up my copy at midnight and stay up all night and all the next day reading it. It’s a war book, Hallows, and it’s as grim and hopeless as a war book should be. Characters are killed off left and right, with horrible suddenness, until I am numb from it. The eleven-year-olds I met in a canvas tent have been written into desperate, brave, traumatised seventeen-year-olds fighting an almost-impossible battle. There’s heroism and love, self-sacrifice and secrets.

I pull myself out of the final pages, as I’ve done all those times before, and feel like I’ve been battered with a stick. And also that this is it, the end, and I can’t bear to lose them. That most of all. That’s a story.

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A story is when I am twenty-six, and hugely, unbearably pregnant with our first child. And we waddle to the cinema for the last Harry Potter film, Deathly Hallows Part 2. I am swirling with feelings about impending motherhood, so close now – will I be adequate, will we be alright, what kind of childhood will I give this unknown baby in my belly – and watching the final struggles of these characters I’ve loved since I was a child myself is an emotional counterweight that feels right. I am not ready to say goodbye to them or to the person I’ve been all this time. But it’s about to happen, all the same.

The camera pulls back from Harry, Ron and Hermione standing on a broken bridge, holding hands, sunlight on their bloodied faces. I shift heavily in my seat, put a hand on the boy kicking my ribs and think ‘I will read this to you, one day‘.

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He’s not old enough yet, but I will.

That’s a story, isn’t it? What a story. It hasn’t left me since.

Fiction crushes I have had, in order of appropriateness

Mildly odd: Adam Dalgliesh


(via BBC)

I LIKE A MAN WHO KNOWS HIS WAY AROUND A MURDER SCENE. Dalgliesh doesn’t have my heart like Hercule Poirot does, but he cuts a much more dashing figure in forensic overalls. He’s tall. He’s private. He writes tortured poetry. He drives a Jag. He is so clever it hurts and he lives in a fancy flat above the Thames where he never invites anyone except for me.

Pros: We would solve murders together in between tours of rural England, looking at medieval churches (this is his hobby but I want it to be mine too).

Cons: Like many literary detectives, he doesn’t age: between 1962 (Cover Her Face) and 2008 (The Private Patient, both amazing OH MY GOSH) he’s in permanent, unspecified early-forties. Immortal life partner relationships end in heartbreak or one-sided wrinkles, don’t they Buffy Summers?


Wouldn’t really work: Prince Caspian


SWISH (via Buena Vista)

Stand back: this is where I confess to the INTERNET AT LARGE that I spent every night for about five or six years getting myself to sleep by making up new Voyage of the Dawn Treader stories. Prince Caspian! His ship and his armour and his bravery and his touching vulnerability! Tell me he’d still go after the star maiden if I was his adventuress-in-crime. TELL ME.

Pros: Sweet royal lifestyle in what is an essentially feudal society. Dresses, jewels, horses to ride and chat to, castle, surfeit of heroism.

Cons: Since I’d have lived through my teenage years twice (C.S. Lewis never goes into detail about how messed up the Pevensie children must have been, but he should have), we’d have to work through some issues. He’d be constantly trying to prove himself, I’d be dropping in pass-agg commentary about how I used to run Narnia in the golden age.


Destined for tragedy: Remus Lupin


via Harry Potter wikia

I know, I know, he’s a werewolf. Also older, emotionally scarred, with a corrosive vein of self-loathing underneath the mild-mannered surface. And there’s also the thing where he marries Tonks, has a baby and then dies in the Battle of Hogwarts. So I think we’d probably just be long-standing friends that knew each other’s in-jokes, and I’d make his Wolfsbane potion without whinging every single month, and he’d drink it without gagging just to save my feelings.

Pros: Good Defence Against the Dark Arts skills. At weekends we’d go hunting Death Eaters and make our Patronuses run races against each other across fields of flowers.

Cons: Werewolf. Issues. Death. We covered this.


Historically implausible: Thomas Cromwell

via BBC

via BBC

Yes, I know he can be a cold-blooded power-player. He’s just so good at it. And funny, and sceptical, and he believes in teasing his wife and educating his daughters, and he plays Henry VIII like a fiddle for years, HENRY THE BLIMMING EIGHTH of all people, egotistical vibrant monster that he was, and Cromwell owns him and uses him to make England better. I am attracted to super-human competence (witness: my marriage) and Cromwell makes competence into a gorgeous symphony of getting crap done.

Pros: ability to take simmering revenge on anyone who had slighted me in the past. When Cromwell said, in the TV adaptation that I adored, ‘There’s no need to trouble God, George. I’ll take it in hand’. Did you get a feeling? I got a feeling.

Cons: I’m relying, of course, on Hilary Mantel’s version of Cromwell. In real life the sending-people-blithely-to-their-deaths thing might have got a bit much. Also, as much as I love history, the paucity of baths and abundance of plagues would have been a serious pain.


Special mention of awfulness: Will Parry


via Knopf

I read The Subtle Knife when it was released, at twelve. Will Parry (the stoicism! The tender care for his mother! The oft-mentioned jutting chin!) was an obvious dreamboat. Of course, when you are twelve and Will Parry is twelve, it’s alright to have a crush on him. It becomes less alright when you are thirteen and he is twelve, and then you are fourteen and fifteen and he is – gag, horror – still twelve.

But why twelve, anyway? The entire readership only got through the love scene at the end by vigorously suppressing the fact that both protagonists were barely out of the H&M Kids section. I’m hoping the long-awaited Dark Materials sequel will have allowed him to get older, because LOVE SCENES BETWEEN TWELVE-YEAR-OLDS ARE WEIRD, PHILIP, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS TO THE DUST AFTERWARDS.


Alright, you guys, this is a safe space. Any embarrassing fiction crushes you’ve had over the years? Roll ’em on out. Any Snape lovers in the audience? You can tell me, I won’t judge.



Saturday night’s alright for chicken wings and a chunky-knit cardy

Well, obviously.

You know, I thought I loved Saturday when it was the only day in the week I had a chance to stay in bed beyond 6am. Now I’m up feeding at 5.45 regardless, Saturday has become the only day in the week we have Timothy to ourselves. Which is EVEN BETTER. For all sorts of reasons, but not having to change all the nappies looms large on the list.

This Saturday was freezing cold. Winter has decided it wants in on this season after all, and is making a daring last dash into February. How very dare it. And our house was not made for cold. I woke up this morning, realised the bedroom was an icebox, and went to forage downstairs for a baby and some extra blankets. It was like a scene from The Day After Tomorrow, and I totally felt that there should be more snow suits and Dennis Quaid being all frost-faced. On Dennis’ behalf we took this emergency situation as seriously as possible, and stayed in bed.

Ok, not all of the day. Just quite a lot of it. We watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two – oh, Harry, I miss you in my life – and had porridge for breakfast and King Toasties for lunch. Henry grew some teeth, and didn’t like it much.

Then we were brave and went out to B&Q for a heater for Henry’s room, wearing so many layers we banged into all sorts of things on the way out of the front door.

On our return, it was actually snowing and there was a full-on icicle hanging out of one of our pipes. An icicle, dudes. Big leagues. So we got back under the duvet and had take-out for dinner. Because, as Timothy wisely opined, we should save our food for when the snow has blocked the front door. Come on, you know Dennis would say the same.

When You Go There, They Have To Take You In

My younger brothers are here. They’re downstairs, right now, in that comatose, sweaty state they call sleeping. And they smell and seem too big and ungainly and make lots of noise and have an immense amount of hair, but still: I feel more myself with them in the house. Or rather, I reconnect with a self I don’t often occupy these days. I think Jane Mersky Leder expressed it best:

Our siblings push buttons that cast us in roles we felt sure we had let go of long ago – the baby, the peacekeeper, the caretaker, the avoider…. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time has elapsed or how far we’ve travelled.

Very true. Fifty-one weeks of my year are without family. And I love my life, don’t get me wrong (why do so many grown-ups go around looking so miserable when married adulthood is so much fun?); I just feel somewhat loose and untethered with brothers and sister on a different continent. I only notice when they come back, one golden week a year. It’s like I take a deep breath and remember myself in the way they see me. Oh yes, I think. That’s who I am. It doesn’t even really matter how well we get on – we are the same, underneath. We draw from a common pool of childhood memories. We are each other. (Too sentimental? Yes. Concentrating a year’s worth of sibling interaction into seven days makes for heightened appreciation but also mawkishness, I find.)

We’ve had a good week, so far. We’ve visited Oxford museums, gone swimming, raided Topman, eaten lots of food, talked. Harry Potter Day was yesterday, the clear highlight of the week – we went to see the film once Tim arrived home from work, then discussed and analysed every scene from every angle on the way home. My favourite conversation:

James: Doesn’t it make you wish there were more than seven books?

Rob: Doesn’t it make you wish it was real?!

James: (flatly) No. If it was real, you’d be a Muggle.

Rob: (rises at once to the bait) No I wouldn’t.

James: Yes you would. You think you’d get a letter at seventeen, inviting you to Hogwarts? It’s too late for you. You’d be a Muggle. You just don’t understand how it works, Rob.

Rob: You just don’t understand the magic of the Harry Potter series.

This is an in-joke at James’ expense (a line from a film review he wrote aged nine), so we all laugh and he growls, threateningly. A pause.

Tim: Rob, if it were real, you’d be a house elf. (The back seat erupts in outrage.)

Ah, family.


Diversionary Tactics

Of all the improbable developments: I have this month turned into a genuine gym bunny.

I have long harboured a very deeply buried ambition to be a good runner. I suspect this aspiration has its roots in the triumphant Primary Sports Day at which I sailed to victory in the 8-year-old’s sprint. What a sweet moment. I’ve never since done anything about it, however, as it’s always been thoroughly overwhelmed by my utter, utter loathing of running. And a sad thing it is to be so conflicted inside.

This January I not only renewed my gym membership but actually started going. I diligently shrugged off all their offers of fitness assessments and programmes – when I’m doing exercise, I’d far rather no one was watching – and made up a little routine of my own. Slowly does it, I thought. So I started by walking on the treadmill, then running, hard, for as long as I could stand, then walking again to push my lungs back down my throat, and finishing with a crashingly heavy jog of despair. The first time I managed eight minutes of running before I was almost whipped off the treadmill in a floppy heap. With steely determination I have forced myself to hard-run for a minute longer each time I go back. I’m now up to a – gasp! – twelve minute hard-run, a feat that has me sweating and wobbling all over the rowing machine afterwards, but still feeling strangely satisfied.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not nice. I find the whole process vaguely horrible, from the T-shirt-wetting splashiness of the water fountain, to the burly men grunting appreciatively in the weights corner, to the obstacle course of wobbly damp flesh in the changing rooms.  And there’s certainly nothing vague about how much it horribly hurts. So, I’ve found diversionary tactics are the key. The first couple of times I had nothing at all to distract from the rising chest agony: I couldn’t read the TV subtitles without my glasses on, so just watched myself in the mirror, hazily interested in how red my face was getting (fire-engine red, should you want to know). Repeating the mantra ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body’ only made me realise how fond I was of my weakness. No good. Then I started bringing my iPod, which aside from introducing the danger of being whipped at high speeds by the headphone cable worked better. As I reached the dizzy heights of ten and eleven minutes, though, the music lost my attention; worse, there are a couple of ex-favourite songs which now evoke a strange mixture of Antiques Roadshow and an ardent wish for death.

Today I found the ultimate solution, and dug out the last four chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I still had in my Audiobooks library. Twelve hard-run minutes flew by without a whimper – what’s a bit of chest pain compared to the final battle of Hogwarts? Not even running can shake my affection for Harry, so no bad associations are likely. I even kind of forgot I was in the gym for a moment, and came to with surprise as I tripped over the cycle machine, having finally lost all control over my limbs during the jog of despair.

The lesson here? The best way to exercise is to pretend you’re not doing it. Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, y’know.

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