Fans of The Wizarding World were in for a treat on New Year's day when HBO Max released their much-anticipated Harry Potter reunion special. As the title suggests, Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts sees the original cast relive old memories and revisit well-cherished sets to celebrate two decades passing since the first movie's release. The Golden Trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson steal the show with beloved actors Ralph Fiennes, Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham Carter, and more making appearances.
Various directors of the seven Harry Potter movies also share their unique experiences working with the cast, as does producer David Heyman — a constant figure in the franchise. With a runtime of just under two hours, this epic trip down memory lane reignited passion for the JK Rowling universe and moved a great deal of muggles to tears. Of the many side-splittingly funny and heart-wrenchingly sad moments to choose from, these six stand out amongst the rest.
The very nostalgic opening of Return To Hogwarts sees the cast, dispersed across London, receive their wax-sealed invitations to the reunion. Filled with nervous energy, they shortly make their way to Platform 9¾ where they board the magical train to the place where it all began: Hogwarts. Sharing hugs and kisses under the glow of floating candles, it quickly becomes apparent that one pivotal person is missing. Where is Harry Potter?
Fortunately, and unlike Harry Potter creator JK Rowling, Daniel Radcliffe didn't decline the invitation, and was just making his big entrance. As the title credits fade to black, Radcliffe is shown walking down a snowy Diagon Alley to the iconic tune of Hedwig's Theme. Older (and hairier) now, he looks around in bewilderment as eleven-year-old Harry Potter did twenty years ago in The Sorcerer's Stone. Visual parallels of the sort continue throughout the special and bring home the opening quote, "Mysterious thing, time."
Gary Oldman made his first appearance in the third movie of the franchise, The Prisoner of Azkaban, where he played the titular convict, Sirius Black. Framed for betraying the Potter's and murdering a dozen muggles, Black escapes prison and reveals himself as Harry's godfather in the movie, and the two eventually go on to have a close, albeit short, relationship. Offscreen, the actors shared a similar dynamic, with Oldman revealing he "had a natural paternal thing" towards then 14-year-old Radcliffe who, like Harry, reportedly made a totem out of the older, wiser man.
In a particularly hilarious segment, Radcliffe recalls being in awe of the screen legend and sitting down to have "the Gary chat" with Emma Watson which, according to the latter, went along the lines of, "Listen, Emma, you need to be cool, because Gary Oldman is a really big deal." Evidently more comfortable now, Radcliffe revels in Oldman's company and the two share compliments and a hearty laugh over co-star Alan Rickman's secrecy on set.
Hermione and Draco might not have gotten along in the movies — with the former punching the latter in The Prisoner of Azkaban — but offscreen, Emma Watson and Tom Felton had a soft spot for each other that's lasted to this day. Remembering the first time she met Felton, Watson shares, "I walked into the room where we were having tutoring, the assignment that had been given was to draw what you thought God looked like and Tom had drawn a girl with a backward cap on a skateboard."
Head over heels for her onscreen enemy, Watson would eagerly look for his number on the call sheet whilst Felton, who is a few years older than her, felt protective over his younger co-star. Whereas Watson assumes Felton viewed her as a "little sister," shared behind-the-scenes footage from The Goblet of Fire paints a different picture as Felton turns to the camera and calls Hermione's Yule Ball date/Watson's dancing partner a "lucky guy." Sixteen years on and Felton is the lucky guy, swapping places with Viktor Krum/Stanislav Ianevski in the special.
Emma Watson wasn't the only person with a huge crush on set; as the special reveals, Radcliffe also harbored feelings for his older co-star, Helena Bonham Carter. During their sit down, the actress who played kooky Bellatrix Lestrange pulls out her phone and asks Radcliffe to read an old love letter he wrote aloud. Beginning with a pun: "Dear HBC, it was a pleasure being your co-star and coaster, in the sense that I always ended up holding your coffee," the letter becomes a love letter when Radcliffe confesses his infatuation with the actress by the end: "I do love you and I just wish I'd been born ten years earlier, I might have been in with a chance."
Told between laughter, Bonham Carter made Radcliffe double over once again when, after producing Bellatrix's dirty teeth from her bag, she pops them in and jokes "do you remember me?" Of course, it would be hard to forget either woman — both being loud, larger-than-life characters. In their interviews, Jason Isaacs and Tom Felton talk about the two interchangeably, with Isaacs saying "Bellatrix was this wild thing," and Felton continuing, "you never really know what's gonna come out of her [Helena Bonham Carter's] mouth next." (Fake teeth, apparently).
During their time alone, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson reflect on the strong bond they and Daniel Radcliffe have together and agree "we're family." Against the backdrop of the Gryffindor Common Room where, as the Golden Trio, they spent a lot of time, Watson says, "It feels like you're like a pillar of my life," to which Grint responds, "It's a very overwhelming thing because I've watched you grow up, we've watched each other grow up, we grew up together."
With emotions running high, Grint provides some comic relief when, after solemnly telling Watson he loves her, he quickly adds, "as a friend." Viewers needn't clarity on that, however, as Watson says it all when she shared, "I mean, obviously us kissing was the most horrifying thing either of us have ever had to go through." And it seems the feeling was mutual as Grint jokes, "I think I blacked out."
Earlier in the special, Watson addresses the elephant in the room when she says, "It's obviously amazing to be back, but it's like ... shocking that so many people that we both thought would be around for much longer than they have been, like Helen, and Alan, and Richard [aren't here]." Here Watson is referring to the passing of Narcissa Malfoy actress Helen McCrory, and actors Alan Rickman and Richard Harris, who played Professor Snape and the original Dumbledore, respectively. Many others have passed since the filming of Harry Potter and the special pays respect to them too, immortalizing their name on screen and
having cast members recount the impact the screen icons had on the young actors.
Nothing is quite as emotional as Return To Hogwarts' final scene, however, which is taken from the final movie, The Deathly Hallows: Part 2. As any fans of the franchise will know, Rickman's Snape takes a massive turn in this movie, showing audiences that he is not only capable of love but full of it. Casting the spell, Expecto Patronum, he reveals his Patronus to be a doe — the same as Lily Potter who, as it transpires, he loved dearly. When Dumbledore remarks, "After all this time?" Snape famously replies, "Always." This response takes on a double meaning at the end of the special where it is symbolic of the love fans will "always" have for the franchise, and for those who made it what it is.
Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is available to watch on HBO Max.
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