“After All This Time? Always.”: A Review on Return to Hogwarts

Bella Martin, Editor-in-Chief

On Jan. 1, 2022, HBO Max released the perfect start to the new year: Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts. The special’s premiere was announced on Nov. 16, 2021, with details on the reunion of the franchise’s three main Gryffindors: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley).

I have been a Harry Potter fan since I was a little girl. I have read the books and watched the movies countless times, with the most recent time being during the recent two-week-long winter break. As a self-proclaimed “Potterhead,” I probably had the same emotions as all Harry Potter fan around the world when I heard about the reunion: extreme excitement, bittersweet nostalgia and a bit of apprehension. With all of the controversy and (in my opinion, acceptable) “cancelling” of the series’ author, J.K Rowling, due to her transphobic remarks, I was a bit on edge about the entire reunion. Despite this apprehension, I decided to watch the reunion because I have completely separated Rowling from the series. I simply see it as a major part of my life and appreciate the comfort it has provided me through some of the hardest times in my life. 

Going into the reunion special, I was excited that other fan-favorite actors and actresses such as Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Ralph Fiennes (Lord Voldemort), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black) and Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) would make an appearance.

The reunion’s introduction immediately captivated me, as the producers used the infamous Hogwarts acceptance letters as a way to “invite” characters to the set of the Great Hall at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With the appearance of multiple actors and actresses that I did not know would be there such as Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), James and Oliver Phelps (Fred and George Weasley) and Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), the beginning was everything that I could have ever imagined. However, my favorite part of the entire introduction was the use of House spotlights to honor actors and characters such as the trio and key characters, Neville Longbottom and Draco Malfoy. As a Ravenclaw, I was a little disappointed to see that Evanna Lynch (who played Luna Lovegood) was not given a House spotlight, I admired this part of the introduction because it took me back to the moments in the Sorcerer’s Stone (the first movie in the series), where the memorable Sorting Hat placed the first-year Hogwarts students into their houses. 

Throughout the interviews with various cast members and production crew, I was completely enthralled by all of the facts and events that had occurred on set that I never knew about. I admired the way that the actors interacted with each other because I could really see the relationships that everyone had created over the fifteen years they had worked together. I also enjoyed the way that the producers separated the films into segments such as “The Boy Who Lived,” “Coming of Age,” “The Light and Dark Between” and “Something Worth Fighting For.” Because of all the details in these sections, I cannot give a deep analysis of each one, but I can discuss the most memorable parts. 

In “The Boy Who Lived,” which focused on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, my favorite part was hearing about the casting process. Due to the fact that they began filming at extremely young ages, the cast of Harry Potter had no clue what they were getting into. Despite this, they took on their roles with extreme grace and created some of the best movie characters of all time. Emma Watson explained that she and fellow co-stars Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint all resembled their characters in an eerie way, making it shockingly easy for them to take on the part. I also really enjoyed hearing about the off-screen relationship that Jason Isaacs, who played Lucius Malfoy, and Tom Felton, who played Draco Malfoy, had. While the two had a tumultuous and toxic father-son relationship on screen, their relationship off-screen differed completely. Felton explained that Isaacs would consistently apologize for being too rude or hurting him while playing his role. As a strong Draco supporter, I loved hearing about this dynamic. 

In “Coming of Age,” which focused on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I absolutely loved the scene between Gary Oldman and Daniel Radcliffe. After being introduced to Oldman’s role of Sirius Black in the third book, he immediately became a series favorite. Seeing him and Daniel Radcliffe interact and discuss their roles was extremely heart-warming because the relationship that they had in the book always made me feel safe. I also found it amusing that Gary Oldman was the one actor that left Daniel Radcliffe  completely star-struck while filming. The one complaint I have about this segment (and a complaint about the reunion in general) is the absence of David Thewlis, who played Remus Lupin. In all of my time being a Harry Potter fan, Remus Lupin has been my favorite character. The intelligence, compassion, support and advice that he provided to Harry Potter all while facing the difficulties of being a werewolf (and therefore, an outcast) in the Wizarding World quickly became my favorite part of the books. Besides this slight disappointment, I really enjoyed this segment. Another very amusing part of this section was the detail about Emma Watson’s initial failure during the Yule Ball scene. As one of the most magical and beautiful Harry Potter scenes, hearing about the failure of Emma Watson falling down the stairs and Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe being unable to dance was extremely funny and ironic to me. 

With “The Light and Dark Between” being my absolute favorite segment of the reunion, I have had a hard time deciding on my favorite moments. This segment, which focused on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, offered extremely interesting details and one of the most emotional scenes. Helena Bonham Carter’s entrance into this segment made me smile and laugh so hard. As one of the most accomplished and brilliant British actresses on cast, her addition to the movie series and reunion is something that cannot be overlooked. Her witty commentary made me laugh, especially when she exposed Daniel Radcliffe’s crush on her. One of the most shocking details released in the movie series came when Emma Watson explained her resistance to return to the film series after the Goblet of Fire. Watson explained that fame “really hit home,” but the support from the fans convinced her to stay. This next part was the first one that made me cry; the “In Memoriam” scene was brilliantly produced. Using the Pensieve, a Harry Potter object that allows one to review memories, could not have been a better addition. The reunion special could simply not go on without the recognition of the incomparable and astonishing Alan Rickman, who played Severus Snape. After Remus Lupin, Severus Snape was my favorite Harry Potter character. His redemption arc, plotline and commentary remain some of the most remarkable parts of the book. Rickman’s portrayal of Snape was not only spot on but very emotional at times. Other stars such as Richard Harris (Albus Dumbledore in the first two films), Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy) and Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley) were also honored. Although I believe that the memoriam scene could have been a bit longer and more in-depth, I truly appreciate the way that the producers incorporated it into the series. In my opinion, the movies would absolutely not be the same without the acting from all of the aforementioned individuals. 

In “Something Worth Fighting For,” which focused on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and 2, stars provided an interesting insight into some of the most memorable scenes that wrapped up the series. Before mentioning my favorite part, I have to point out my extreme disagreement with Emma Watson, who enjoyed the scene between her character and Harry Potter dancing in the tent during the Deathly Hallows Part 1. I believe that this scene is extremely unnecessary and confusing in the movie since it leads fans to speculate about a potential relationship between Hermione and Harry. This scene makes me especially mad because, in the books, it never happened, and Harry noted his “brother and sister” relationship with Hermione. Now, on to the good parts! I genuinely laughed so hard when Emma Watson explained the awkwardness that came about when kissing Rupert Grint in the Chamber of Secrets. As the two had been best friends since a young age, they looked to each other as siblings, so kissing each other was difficult for them to do. This makes the scene extremely ironic because for Ron and Hermione as lovers, this scene was the only one they needed in the series. In this segment, I also really appreciated the way that the producer of the last two movies, David Yates, explained his thought process in some of the key scenes such as the Battle of Hogwarts and the final battle between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. Since the book and the movie differed at some of these points, I enjoyed hearing his thoughts and perspective. 

After getting over my tears from the “In Memoriam” segment, I immediately started crying again in the final moments of the special. As the special neared its end, many characters reflected on their time together and the relationships they built. One specific moment that completely wrecked me was when Robbie Coltrane explained the impact that the Harry Potter series has had and will have on the past, present and future. In his own words, Coltrane said, “I’ll not be here, sadly, but Hagrid will be,” indicating the impact that the character will always have. I also became extremely emotional when Rupert Grint explained how he measures his life in terms of the Harry Potter films. For example, when people ask when he passed his drivers’ test, he tells them that it was during Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. However, even with all of these emotional moments, nothing made me sob harder than the last scene. The producers so brilliantly finished off the special with one of the best lines in the entire Harry Potter series: “After all this time? Always.” These lines come from the scene in the last film where Harry Potter is viewing Severus Snape’s memories in the Pensieve after his death, and he learns about the role that Snape has played in his protection and his life. In the memory, Snape and Dumbledore discuss Snape’s protection of Harry as a result of his deep love for Harry’s mother, Lily. Dumbledore asks Snape if he has come to actually care for Harry, and he casts his Patronus (a sort-of protector that takes the shape of an animal), which takes the shape of a doe. Lily Potter had this exact Patronus, and when one person is deeply in love with another, it can cause their Patronus to take the shape of the object of their affection’s Patronus. Therefore, the shape of Snape’s Patronus leads Dumbledore to understand his love for Lily. As a result, Dumbledore asks if he still loves her “after all this time,” to which Snape responds, “Always.” Everyone that knows me and my Harry Potter obsession knows that this is my favorite line in the series and one of my favorite lines in literature, so hearing it at the end of the special really did it for me. With the entire end of the special, I truly realized the impact that the Harry Potter series will forever have on the literary and cinematic universe.