I clasped my ticket in hand while waiting in line. I didn't want it to get crumbled or lost -- I like saving tickets to good things, mostly movies.
There was a school group in front of my mom and I -- kids, maybe 9 years old, wearing matching maroon uniforms and chattering in British accents. I couldn't hear exactly what they were saying, but I knew they were discussing plot points and characters.
I smiled. Normally, I would say they were too young to really appreciate this experience, but it made me happy to see people younger than myself still invested and excited.
The quote on the wall summed it up perfectly before the tour even began.
"No story lives unless someone wants to listen."
It had been six years since the Harry Potter story had been completed, yet here we all were at the Warner Bros. Studio in Leavesden, England, ready to keep listening.
We watched an introduction video that began just like one of the movies, with the Warner Bros. logo and theme music playing. I smiled, feeling like a kid again.
The video showed Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint talking about growing up on set and the making of the films, interspersed with behind-the-scenes clips.
I watched in awe as the video told a story of real magic -- the kind they had been a part of, the kind we were about to learn about and see firsthand, the kind I wanted to be a part of one day.
I had grown up in the Harry Potter generation. I had listened to the audiobooks and watched the movies with my family countless times. Now, I want to move to Hollywood and find my way in the film industry.
My childhood is meeting my dreams for the future, I thought.
I was going to see the sound stages and production sets and learn about how scenes were captured and created.
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As the introductory video ended, the movie screen before us lifted up to reveal the entrance to Hogwarts' Great Hall. The rest of the audience gasped at the giant wooden doors and carved stone wall. But having been warned by my sister, Britton, who'd already visited, my mom and I were already exchanging grins and getting ready to leap to the front of the crowd for when the doors opened.
We were charmed by the Great Hall. We toured the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore's office, the Potions classroom and Hagrid's Hut. We saw hundreds of props piled together as if they sat in the Room of Requirement. We saw the Burrow's kitchen with its enchanted chores. And all the rooms were complete with costume-clad mannequins. We wandered into the dark Forbidden Forest, then spent a long time on Platform 9 \0xBE with the Hogwarts Express.
The sets were real and right in front of me, but everything somehow looked smaller than it had in the films. I had to remind myself that they were only partial, combined with on-location filming and further movie magic.
My mom and I ate a quick lunch -- the highlight of which was a creamy, delicious mug of butterbeer -- surrounded by the purple Knight Bus, Number 4 Privet Drive and Godric's Hollow.
Our tour continued with the magic of animatronics, and we happened upon Diagon Alley. I stood in awe on the fake cobblestone streets, searching for familiar details in the shop windows. Then we moved on to see paintings of magical creatures, architectural drawings and models of different sets that were used for production planning.
I was beginning to feel worn out -- my neck was tense and my back in pain, my eyes tired, my phone's battery dwindling. But when I stepped into the next room, all of that faded away.
It was overwhelming. It was like my brain had stopped working while my legs kept moving. I wanted to get as close as possible to the replica of Hogwarts castle before me.
I spotted an opening in the crowd and wormed my way in. I stood, leaning on a railing and staring. My chest swelled and I could feel myself tearing up.
Britton had told me about this, but somehow I had forgotten. I was almost mad at myself for not remembering something so important, but I'm glad it snuck up and took me by surprise. It made the experience all the better.
My mom came up and put her arm around my shoulder, squeezing me closer. I knew she was grinning, but I was too preoccupied to turn and look at her.
I was entranced by the magnificence of the castle, and by the lights that made its facade change from a normal yellow glow to a deep blue based on the selection from the movie scores playing in the background.
Honestly, I was trying not to cry and look like a complete idiot -- which the music was also making difficult.
I slowly made my way down the sloped floor and around the entire structure -- about 50 feet in diameter and well over six feet tall. I stopped to read about how the model was built and which exterior shots it was used for during filming. I took multiple nearly-identical photos, hoping to somehow capture how seeing the castle was making me feel, or maybe so I wouldn't forget.
I knew this was the end of the tour, and I didn't want to leave. I wanted one last, longing look at the beautiful castle, the real-life magic.
But it actually wasn't quite over.
The final room before the gift shop was designed to resemble Ollivander's wand shop. Boxes upon boxes were stacked against the walls. And on each was written a name.
"Each box bears the name of one of the more than 4,000 talented, passionate, and dedicated people who worked on the Harry Potter motion pictures for over a decade of extraordinary filmmaking," a sign titled 'A Magical Production' read.
I can't say that I wish for my name to be on a wand box. I can't say that I wish to be a part of another Harry Potter family and franchise. I don't think there can be another Harry Potter, not for a long time.
But I do hope for my name to be somewhere -- in the credits on the big screen, on a list of nominees.
I read the quote that was displayed in the middle of the wand boxes, the quote from J.K. Rowling that I already knew.
"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."
I smiled, holding back tears again.
Home. That's what Harry Potter gave me. And that's what I want to create, in my own work, for future generations. I want to be part of a story that impacts people, that lives on after it's finished. I want the stories that mean so much to me to be a kind of fuel -- enough to turn my slight smile of contentment into real inspiration, into something I will create.
And for just a moment, looking at those wand boxes, I wanted this one incredible story about a boy wizard to live on forever.