Harry Potter Studios in Leavesden. We used to live down the road from there and the Potter buses from Watford Station used to drive past our windows every day. I was always so sorry not to be on one, but somehow we never got round to going. But this year, my last birthday before I move out of London, Rich took me as my main birthday present.
Walking past the huge chess pieces from the first film into the studios, surrounded by pictures of the characters, was almost overwhelming. It was actually really emotional to be there, seeing something that had had such a huge impact on me. A series that I had followed in book and film form for years, a series that I wrote about, a haven for my bullied teenage self where I could hide away with good friends. To see it all suddenly brought to life did bring tears to my eyes.
But why has the wizarding world had such an impact on me? I was never really sure, I thought perhaps it was the time of life I discovered it. But at the Tour, I saw this quote from one of the screenwriters for the film, Steven Kloves:
"The thing about Potter is that it's very earnest about expressions of things like loyalty, courage and redemption [...] In a cynical world Potter stands apart. Look, to take a dystopian stance as a writer or a filmmaker is not that difficult. It's much harder to be earnest about things like loyalty and courage and friendship. Jo Rowling has been able to deal with these things in her books without being saccharine."
The Studio Tour left me with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and love for the first place in which I found myself. Despite my current age, I ran around like a child, duelled with wands, donned a robe and rode a broomstick. I do not recommend the Butterbeer (just don't - it's like ice cream on top of Irn Bru instead of the deliciously warm molten Worther's Original I always imagined), but I thoroughly recommend the experience.
Yes, it's a money-making venture - I confess to treating myself in the shop to a poster and some badges - but this Hufflepuff loved every moment of it. Seeing one woman's imagination brought to life on such a grand scale was inspiring; seeing a story that captured the imagination of the world was humbling.
And Harry Potter is still a comfort to me. Reaching for this series has supported me through some of the hardest times in my life. It has provided an escape from grief and pain, boredom and feeling lost. No doubt I'll be reaching for it when I'm homesick for London.
Because Jo Rowling, one of my heroes, is right:
"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."