Harry and the Magic Castle

22nd July 2005 at 01:00
TES Scotland correspondent Ailsa Floyd reports from the launch of the latest Harry Potter novel

Riding up in our horse-drawn carriage, we catch sight of the Castle. A red carpet leads up to it. On raised stands sit 1,000 screaming schoolchildren.

It is the launch of the newest Harry Potter book by JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The event took place at Edinburgh Castle on Friday (July 15). Seventy children between the ages of eight and 16 had been invited to attend as reporters for various newspapers around the world.

The evening started with a reception at the City Chambers where the children were separated from their parents and sorted into houses. They were then taken up to the Castle in horse-drawn carriages. Projected on to the Castle wall was the image from the front cover of the book. On either side of the entrance as it swung open was a flaming torch.

Behind the closed doors there were no parents, no cameras and no watching fans. We were alone. We walked up the slope to the courtyard and waited to go inside and hear Rowling read from the new book at one minute past midnight. Before going in, we got mugs of warm butterbeer. A couple of people dressed as gargoyles kept trying to scare us. Then, finally, we were shown into the room where the reading would take place.

As we filed in, Rob Dawson, a boy who had been in my carriage, said: "It feels like someone's put the jellylegs curse on me." This was how most people felt.

We took our seats and waited impatiently. Then there were several loud bangs and the lights started flashing. JK Rowling appeared from a door at the back. She spoke to us, confirming that the half-blood prince was neither Harry nor Voldemort. She seemed so pleasant and normal. Then she began. We were all issued with our own signed copy of the book and sent off to begin reading.

On Saturday evening, we were treated to a Hogwarts-style banquet. The hall was dark and the ceiling draped in black material decorated with tiny lights. It looked like the Hogwarts Great Hall, in which the ceiling shows the sky outside. Like Hogwarts, it also had four house tables. On each table were two cauldrons out of which a white misty substance was seeping.

Very spooky. There were even, in true Hogwarts style, little bowls of mint humbugs.

The culmination of the weekend was the press conference on Sunday morning.

At the front of the hall, behind a comfy red chair, was a two-metre tall background, showing the spines of the first five books. A separate board behind the chair was surrounded by lights and showed the front cover from the new book. The chatter in the room was quiet and laden with anticipation. Rowling walked in and sat down, looking happy to see all the children wanting to interview her.

The questions began and we discovered that Dumbledore is about 150, that the person Rowling would least like to be stuck on a desert island with is Lockhart or Umbridge, and that her favourite part when writing the book was Luna commentating on the quidditch match. Rowling revealed that at the end of book seven there will be a chapter about what happened to everyone after Hogwarts. She doesn't think the books are becoming darker, "because Philosopher's Stone started with a double murder".

Her advice to young writers was to read a lot and plan well. The one question she was never asked, to her surprise, was why Voldemort didn't die when the killing curse rebounded on to him from Harry. This is answered in the new book.

I asked: "How did you think up the motto 'never tickle sleeping dragons'

from under the crest?" The answer was: "You know the way that most school slogans are things like persevere and nobility, charity and fidelity - it just amused me to give an entirely practical piece of advice for the Hogwarts school motto."

It was a fantastic event. To be one of only 70 children from around the world was amazing. It was nice to meet people from as far away as Australia, Canada and India and as close as Edinburgh. One of the best things about the weekend, for me, was being able to say Harry-related things and know people understood what I meant. There was no "whereabouts?", "who said that?" or "which book was that in?"

I had finished the book by Sunday morning and it was fantastic. I won't give anything too important away but I will tell you that Harry is made Quidditch Captain and there are some interesting games, so all fans of the sport, and indeed all fans of the books, will be more than satisfied.

leader 18; JKand me 28 Ailsa Floyd, aged 14, is a pupil at Lochgilphead High, Argyll and Bute.

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