Travelling on the tube in central London just after midnight on July 31st, you’d be forgiven for thinking someone had stolen a time-turner and sent you back a decade.
Watching a small child engrossed in a new Harry Potter book sitting happily among the throngs of late night revellers was surely something we did in the noughties, right? Right.
But the Boy Who Lived is back – in script form this time – and he’s brought the magic back with him.
The little girl in a Hogwarts uniform, absent mindedly twirling a pigtail plait around her finger as she devours the eighth Potter story, isn’t the only one on the Piccadilly Line with their nose firmly planted in a book. There’s the twenty-something with the suitcase, who’s already at least forty pages in, and the curious man sat next to her who’s trying to read over her shoulder.
That twenty-something is just one of a number of Potter fans who’ve lined the streets outside London’s bookshops for the first time in a decade, eager to get their hands on a new Rowling tale – written and realised this time in collaboration with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany – as the clock strikes midnight on their hero’s 36th birthday.
In Foyles on Charing Cross Road (a street known for its association with books and the street on which you’ll find The Leaky Cauldron), Harry, Dumbledore, Moaning Myrtle and many other familiar faces arrive for a magical celebration that, rather aptly, opens at the close of business.
As soon as the clock hits nine, a booming wizard welcomes the guests and chants a spell to speedily remove stragglers from the central London bookshop.
Then it’s down to magical business as the witches and wizards make their way up Hogwarts-esque flights of stairs, and the countdown to the big reveal commences.
The night of magical scavenger hunts and fiendishly difficult Potter table quizzes is nothing like anything Swiss students Anabel and Luca have ever experienced before. They’ve never been to a Potter midnight release party.
“It wasn’t possible because we were too young for it,” explains Anabel. “I thought we would never get a new book,” Lucas adds, “so it’s amazing that she wrote a new one. Hopefully it’s going to be as good as the other ones.”
Sisters Josephine, Maddy and Bea Marshall – who’ve come dressed as the Hogwarts Express for the occasion – have high hopes, too.
“It’s quite an emotional thing to find out what’s happening now,” says Josephine, a structural engineer who designed the trio’s elaborate costume. “I think we all want to know 10, 20 years down the line, what Harry, Ron and Hermione are up to.”
And the sisters have gone to great lengths to ensure they can ALL find out what happens next.
“We used to have to buy more than three books so we wouldn’t have any arguments” explains Maddy. “We all wanted to read them straight away, including our parents and grandma. So we’d all have bookmarks in the same book and say ‘you’ve had half an hour reading it, it’s my turn now.”
This time they’ve ordered three copies of Cursed Child, the book everyone is waiting to get their hands on.
As fans take on a fiendish Potter quiz, presided over by three wily wizards, the staff at Foyles are busy whizzing cleverly concealed carts around in the background.
It’s a real effort to #KeepTheSecrets as the muggles begin a magical scavenger hunt that takes them to the four corners of the shop in search of magical relics. There’s a copy of the Daily Prophet heralding Voldemort’s reuturn, and the Elder Wand is causing havoc over by the lift.
Who’d have thought almost a decade after the last book was released, we’d find ourselves enchanted by a midnight Potter release again?
Certainly not Megan, who has organized this magical evening. “It’s brilliant,” she beams as the crowd happily trade Potter tales, take selfies with the best dressed winners – the Hogwarts Express wins an award – and downs goblets of fruit punch.
Eventually the clock ticks closer to midnight and Rita Skeeter and a team of Hufflepuffs claim scavenger hunt glory. There’s just enough time for photos and a few congratulatory cheers before the witching hour (midnight, for the purposes of this magical evening) is upon us.
As July 31st rings in, there’s a quick rendition of Happy Birthday to Harry Potter, and then it’s time to do what everyone is really here for.
Pick up a copy of Cursed Child and open at the close.
Nine years, nine days and nineteen years later, Harry Potter truly is the Boy Who Lived to tell another tale.