Tuesday 3rd Nov 2015
The Pottermore Correspondent visited Warner Bros. Studio Tour London on Hallowe’en, because there’s no better day to ponder why fans are drawn to the Dark…
‘We expect to see lots of Slytherins today,’ I’m informed on the train from London to Watford.
The speaker, who actually works at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, looks down the carriage where a hooded youth with a pale, pointy face and swept-back blonde hair is eyeing us suspiciously.
A few pint-sized witches and wizards stand with their parents, hair shiny with glitter, wands clutched in their hands. But most of the people gathering outside are grown-ups, here to enjoy the Dark Arts on Hallowe’en itself, a very important date in the Potter calendar – this was the day James and Lily Potter died at Godric’s Hollow.
‘What are you looking forward to most?’ I ask. ‘Death Eaters,’ the response chimes, without exception, from every visitor I accost. Good job the masked, hooded servants of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named are here today, lurking in the shadows in Diagon Alley and invading our personal space.
A gasp of awe goes up when we enter the Great Hall, decorated with pumpkins, harvest apples and other Hallowe’en treats. As predicted, when the gathered crowd is asked to cheer for their house, voices for Slytherin sound the loudest; there appear to be absolutely no Gryffindors here today.
The allure of darkness is undeniable. In fact, 25-year-old Emma likes being terrorised so much she goes right up to one of the Death Eaters for a photo opportunity, not once but twice, hiding her face in her scarf the whole time and interrupting her shrieks of terror with cackles of laughter Bellatrix would be proud of.
‘It really scares me!’ she tells me, when she’d regained the ability to speak. ‘The masks scare me, anyway. I tried to talk to her and she just stared at me. Stand next to her and you’ll see what I mean!’
The Death Eaters move in a particularly unnatural, almost spider-like way that inspires a serious case of the heebie-jeebies; the alarming head tilts, the way they get right up in your face and their looming, urgent walk. Paul Harris created the language of wand combat for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. He trained the Death Eaters who were appearing at the Studio Tour in order to show visitors how these routines were choreographed.
A boy in his early twenties has a face-off with a rather nasty Death Eater who comes so close, his nose virtually touches her mask. ‘It is a bit intimidating. But it certainly adds to the experience,’ he says, looking relieved that she has disappeared from view.
The Dark elements of J.K. Rowling’s books are a big draw for the crowds. Items from Borgin and Burkes are showcased, including the Hand of Glory and the Vanishing Cabinet – which allowed Death Eaters to enter Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Poor Muggle Studies teacher Charity Burbage, hanging suspended above a table of Death Eaters as Voldemort’s snake Nagini is poised to kill, is perhaps the most spine-tingling exhibit. Like Draco Malfoy in the opening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, we cannot take our eyes off her while being appalled at what we see. It is magnetic and uncomfortable, making feel us complicit in her demise.
But luckily not everything about the experience was creepy, and part of the fun was seeing and meeting other fans. Several had made an impressive effort to dress up. I spotted a Moaning Myrtle, a Lord Voldemort and a Bellatrix Lestrange. My particular favourite was a ‘witch’ named Rozz who had crocheted her very own Mandrake (named Mandy Drake, naturally) especially for the occasion.
Mandrakes are among the scariest plants you might find in Herbology because the sound of their screams causes death. I was slightly concerned that Rozz had forgotten her earmuffs, but Mandy was much more huggable, and certainly a lot quieter than a genuine Mandrake.
Cheryl, 25, a self-confessed ‘Harry Potter superfan’ with tattoos of Hedwig and the lightning bolt scar, learned to duel a Death Eater outside Borgin and Burkes. ‘One of them just stole my wand and lobbed it over there,’ she says, apparently outraged.
Her friend Kieran, who repeats ‘Oh no, a Death Eater!’ every time one passes, adds: ‘They just scare me, they really scare me. This is our third visit and the Death Eaters really make you feel part of it.’
Strangely, there was a lot of love for Voldemort in the room. In fact, when a friendly tour guide asked our group if we’d rather have dinner with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or Dolores Umbridge the answer came back with conviction: ‘Voldemort!’
Why? Cheryl answered: ‘People hate Umbridge more than Voldemort because she acts all sweet. She’s so little with the pink outfits and kittens. She puts on a front so you wouldn’t expect she’d do that [torture Harry]. But you know where you stand with Voldemort.’
We emerged blinking into the sunlight of the hottest English Hallowe’en on record. Just over the road you can see where Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is currently being filmed. I crane my neck hoping, failing, to catch a glimpse of Eddie Redmayne over the parapet. Those beasts had better be terrifying enough to keep this lot happy.