We all enjoyed the story of Harry Potter and his progressive battles against fosterage, puberty, and a noseless supervillain, but what readers—especially, but not limited to, younger ones—really loved about the series was the ability to immerse themselves in a world of everyday magic, of charm spells, enchanted clocks, and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. How many kids at one point or another pulled a Veruca Salt, demanding of their parents, “But mummy and daddy, I want an invitation to Hogwarts, now!” Forget Santa Claus, for a whole generation of children the real heartbreaking revelation was that we’re all Muggles and that’s all we’ll ever be.
While it won’t let you apparate or play Quidditch (there are leagues for that already), J.K. Rowling’s new interactive website Pottermore will at least let you experience some of the fun of living in the world of Harry Potter. It’s still in beta and doesn’t open to the general public until October, but Pottermore is rolling out early access to the one million fans who qualified for it, and we were lucky enough to get an account.
First things first, for those who were worried that this would be just the skeletal frame of a game used to sell audiobooks or ebooks or plush sorting hats or whatever: it’s not. Even though the site is currently limited to material relating to the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, there’s still more than enough to make your entire afternoon disappear like a temporus suckus spell. You begin your journey by going through various interactive tableaux representing scenes from the book: the arrival of the Hogwarts letters, platform 9 3/4, Diagon Alley. For the most part, there’s not terribly much to do with these at first, other than zooming in and clicking on objects to learn their history and grab some collectible items for your trunk. However, there is actually a decent amount of textual content—including character backgrounds and location histories—that was purportedly written by Rowling herself, and the author promises to reveal a number of other story lines she wrote that never managed to make it into the books themselves.
The real fun comes with the community elements. Once you’re sorted into a house—we got Ravenclaw because we’re smart and boring—you’ll be able to interact with your fellow housemates via a number of activities. Individuals can earn house points in the site-wide House Cup, and you can even engage in a wizard’s duel using your customized wand and the spells you have learned. If potions are more your thing, you can buy all the bezoars and flobberworm mucus you need at Diagon Alley and whip up a batch or two in your cauldron, but don’t overspend or else you’ll find your Gringotts vault empty. All these elements represent the kind of useless but still desperately desired reward system that can turn horribly, wonderfully addictive. It’s hard to tell at this point exactly how addictive when it’s nobody else but us chickens in here, but Pottermore seems especially designed to destroy work productivity the world over.