The first thing you should know about the Harry Potter hotel room I stayed in is that it isn't a Harry Potter hotel room. Not officially. The Georgian House Hotel – an otherwise unremarkable looking building among rows of other B&Bs in central London, their uniform white-washed facades making even the most sober navigation difficult – calls them "Wizard Chambers", relying on earnest Potterheads to make the connection between the Hogwartsian decor and The Boy Who Lived, lest, I imagine, Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling conjure up a lawsuit or two: Expecto Gravamen.
The second thing you should know about the Harry Potter hotel is that you should take a friend. Hotels, even Harry Potter hotels, can be pretty boring places, and nothing says "look how single I am!" quite like being a 32-year-old man checking into a wizard-themed room on his lonesome.
I stayed at the Georgian House Hotel for one night, with BuzzFeed picking up the tab. Crushing loneliness aside, the room was actually great.
This is what it was like to stay there.
The Georgian House Hotel has been providing both beds and breakfasts to the weary traveller since 1851, and is a clean, well presented B&B. The staff were all very helpful, though I couldn't help but wonder if they wondered why a 32-year-old man was here to stay in a Harry Potter room by himself. Maybe this is a common occurrence.
There are currently four Wizard Chambers of varying size and appointment, though all are doubles. The room I stayed in, 43, is the only one on ground level; the rest are in the basement (the same night I stayed, my BuzzFeed colleague Chelsey and her husband were in one of the basement rooms, getting up to all kinds of mischief). With understandably high demand, there is a wait time of several months to stay in one.
The Wizard Chambers are hidden away from the Muggle part of the hotel by a heavy wool curtain the maroon and gold of Gryffindor. The other guests at the hotel were either unaware of the Wizard Chambers or didn't care, as nobody walked the 20 feet from reception to come and investigate. Of course it's entirely possible that they literally couldn't see this part of the hotel, as if it were cloaked by a magical barrier. Like the Leaky Cauldron or Diagon Alley, but with themed drapery.
A speaker in the wall plays the Harry Potter theme tune as you cross over the magical divide (according to Chelsey – it didn't play for me). If you're staying in the basement, a switch on the wall at the top of the stairs activates a dry ice machine at the bottom, adding to the theatre as you descend to your chamber. As my room was at the top of the stairs, I didn't have the luxury of a smoky reception. But that didn't stop me pressing the button five times like a giddy child. As the old saying goes, when in Hogwarts...
The room key was a big old-school metal thing with an owl keyring, which is cool but a lot more fiddly than a key card when you've got Hagrid hands (the more dextrous patron should have no problem). Also, it's not as fluffily cute as a real owl. The sharp metal edges of the owl will shred your pocket lining, trouser fans! It's best kept in a bag, or for the cosplay enthusiast, up your sleeve.
The big wooden door set the scene nicely, and creaked open to reveal a rather cosy room of about 10x12', all dark wood and grey stone with maroon and gold trim. It was hard not to grin. I was all but at Hogwarts!
The attention to detail was impressive, faithfully recreating the same worn, lived-in feel as the films, replete with vintage bottles and books and pictures on the wall – like someone just robbed a Victorian apothecary – while never veering too close to copyright infringement. A generic brand facsimile of a Gryffindor dormitory, if you will.
Case in point: The bedside table was a faux-antique piece featuring all the Hogwarts house colours, but emblazoned with soda logos rather than house crests. The success of the room was in creating a facade that was just close enough to the fiction to allow my brain to fill in the gaps – to suspend enough disbelief to transport me to Hogwarts.
The bed, which took up a large part of the chamber, was a delightfully comfy four-poster, though I'm not sure what I was supposed to do with four pillows and four cushions. One me needs one pillow and no cushions. The rest helped decorate the floor.
The first thing I do in a hotel after testing out the bed, throwing all the pillows on the floor and, in this case, snapping more pictures than Colin Creevey, is take a shower. At home showers seem like an insufferable chore, but chuck me in a hotel room and suddenly the novelty of a foreign shower makes me want to jump in and soap up.
The facilities – hidden behind a faux-gothic archway door – are hardly the Prefects' Bathroom, but are big enough to wave a wand, should you be so inclined. The toilet was quite regal, like a throne, and the shower was first rate – one of those big rainfall-style ones. I've never seen the shower heads in Hogwarts, but I like to think they too had these big rainfall-style ones.
The bathroom also had some nice touches, vintage jugs to hold your toothbrush, and a wooden ladder leaned against the wall to hold the towels.
As good as it was, I couldn't help but feel like it would be better shared. Harry Potter is a story about friendship, above all. It's best enjoyed with friends. When I watched the films for the first time last year, I was surrounded with friends on Twitter, and I've had many dozens of real-life conversations with fellow fans about the series since.
But as much as it is about friendship, Harry Potter is also a story about loneliness. And I was feeling it. It might not have been in a cupboard under the stairs, but it was still quite a small space for a large human man to occupy, and it left me feeling a little like Harry, stuck behind while everyone goes home over Christmas, or on a class trip to Hogsmeade. Somehow live-tweeting this didn't seem so appealing. The internet has its limits. And so do Wizard Chambers.
It wasn't the room's fault, of course. This existential crisis was all my own doing. But with it I began to see through the facade, as if wearing Mad-Eye Moody's Mad Eye. For every detail that transports you to Hogwarts, the room has something that brings you back to Muggledom: the wall-mounted LCD TV screen, the large oscillating fan meant to compensate for the lack of air conditioning (try not to visit during a heat wave), the standard hotel bedsheets and towels, the seams in the stone-effect wallpaper that remind you you're not in a castle.
Even the fireplace wasn't real. It lit up with a remote control. I looked into the faux-flame, half hoping a familiar face would appear, take one look at me, and wonder "why so Sirius?", sending us both into fits of laughter. Alas, there was no face in the coals.
Tired, and a little defeated, I turned it off and reverted to my favourite method of escapism: I took a nap. I wrapped myself in my own personal invisibility cloak – the duvet – and hid away from the world for a while: Somnio.
Of course, I wasn't alone. Like Harry in OOTP and HBP, I'm just prone to a good sulk. But friends will always come through, and I woke to a text message from Chelsey. She and her husband, Zach, were heading to dinner, and wanted me to come with.
On the way out, she brought me a goodie bag with sherbet lemons and Bertie Bott's Beans, and my very own Hogwarts letter. Any magic I'd let escape from the room was instantly restored. As much as I was looking forward to dinner, I couldn't wait to get back to my midnight feast.
We stepped out of Hogwarts and back into Victoria. The local dim sum joint didn't serve butterbeer, but we more than made up for that with a variety of Muggle alcohols. A few too many drinks later we were higher than Harry on Liquid Luck.
Back at the newly christened Georgian Hogwarts Hotel, I joined Chelsey and Zach in their chambers for a game of Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit, which Chelsey – the Hermione of the trio – won by a long distance. It felt fitting that there were three of us, sitting up late, pyjama-clad and laughing, playing games – Zach and I being schooled by a Boss Witch. Harry Potter is indeed better with friends.
With midnight approaching, I retired to my room to dine on ear wax-flavoured jelly beans and digest the day. I lay on my four-poster bed and listened to what I assumed was Moaning Myrtle coming through the walls. Hazy from the alcohol and merriment, I put my anxieties aside and let myself enjoy the experience. As hotel rooms go, this one is hard to beat – the props, the details, the Gryffin-decor. Not to mention the pincers... *click click click click*.
The morning arrived too soon and with it a head like a herd of galloping Centaur: Accio Panadol. I groaned my way through breakfast, showered off my hangover, packed my bags and checked out, passing back through the magical barrier and into the real world.
The Wizard Chambers are well worth a visit for the avid Potterhead, and I'd definitely go back – perhaps with a study buddy next time. But if you can't visit the Wizard Chambers, don't worry. There are many other ways to travel to Hogwarts: by page, by screen, by Tumblr.
And Hogwarts, as we know, will always be there to welcome you home.