'Harry Potter' Magic Lives, 'Return to Hogwarts' Shows Why

Longtime Potterhead Alecks Ambayec was palpitating from what felt like four cups of espresso when she watched the Harry Potter reunion special, savoring 100 minutes of nostalgia from the book-to-film franchise that raised a generation to believe in magic.

As the Omicron coronavirus variant spread around the world on Jan. 1, Ambayec joined millions around the world in streaming "Harry Potter: Return to Hogwarts", a reunion that was 20 years in the making, and one which dropped when the planet felt like it's in the grasp of Lord Voldemort, the franchise villain.

"Alam mo 'yung masaya na masakit? Parang it's so good it hurts," said the 26-year-old Ambayec, who credits her "Harry Potter" for her career path in theater and writing.

"Ang laki talaga ng influence... Parang 'di siguro ako sobrang nag-decide na 'yun ang i-take na course kung hindi ako na-adik sa 'Harry Potter.'"

The reunion special served as a ticket to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, when the pandemic made joy scarce, said Anne Frances Sangil, a professor of Rowling literature at De La Salle University for 14 years.


"There's something there that even up to now, while watching it, I'm still affected. it's a sign that it's touched me to the core, that it has an effect to me as a person just for reading these stories," she said.


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Potter generation believes in magic

While "Harry Potter" lives in the magical realm, it tackles all-encompassing themes which made the Wizarding World relatable to anyone: family, friendship, sacrifices, and love.

Sangil brought the supernatural world to life at La Salle's Taft campus, where students were sorted into Hogwarts houses and read all seven books for thirteen weeks of classes, wands in hand. The pandemic put the in-demand class on hold, as she didn't want to shortchange students by teaching via Zoom.

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Hogwarts DLSU Class of 2019. Photo courtesy of Nala Chincuanco

Tackling "Harry Potter" in the academic setting allowed students to love reading and apply the book's lessons in real life. It's no different from the wisdom of "Beowulf" and "Florante at Laura," she said.

"That's the ultimate goal for an educator to make learning meaningful, hindi 'yung parang requirement lang. I want that in my students na makita 'yung pleasure in reading a book," said Sangil, who sees herself as Harry's Professor Minerva McGonagall.


Some parents thought the course would teach students about witchcraft, Sangil said. In 2000, "Harry Potter" topped the list of most challenged books because of alleged occult and Satanic themes harmful to children, some religious conservatives claimed.

The franchise has sold more than 500 million books as of 2018. "If it's such a bad thing, why are the kids there making friends, having fun? It can't be that bad if it brings people together," Sangil said.

"We can always find comfort in the books kaya teaching it and talking about it, it enriches our humanity and allows us to reflect on our relationships with other people and our understanding of humanity and ourselves," said Sangil.

Ambayec said the reunion is a reminder that the Wizarding World is still out there to give fans a sense of belongingness. "Parang kahit papaano sa panonood sa kanila, lumaki ka with them. So while watching it feeling mo like you belong kahit 'di ka naman part ng production," she said.


Robbie Coltrane, who played the half-giant Rubeus Hagrid, summed up how people would embrace "Harry Potter" even after the actors have passed.

"So you could be watching it in 50 years' time, easy. I'll not be here, sadly, but Hagrid will, yes," said Coltrane, 71.

For Ambayec, it's the unforgettable exchange between Dumbledore the Hogwarts Headmaster and Snape the sinister witch that explains why fans love "Harry Potter".

"After all this time?" "Always."

Earth needed this reunion to happen


The reunion was like playing catchup with childhood friends and a throwback to simpler times, evoking nostalgia and bittersweet longing, Sangil said.

Ambayec teared up when the cast honored Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy) and other actors who passed on. She gushed  when Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) admitted he had a crush on Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange).

"We see these characters as friends and as companions whether in the pages of the books that we've read and the small screen. They give us joy, they give us companionship and there is pleasure in that," she said.

"More than us wanting to check how the characters have turned out, I think its also us wanting to check ourselves kasi it's a reflection of us as well. To liberally quote Joey Tribbiani, 'how are we doin'?'", said Sangil, referencing a character from "Friends".

Absent from the reunion was J.K. Rowling, who came under fire for her alleged transphobic comments. Instead, HBO Max included her file interviews in the film.


While she's thankful to Rowling for writing "Harry Potter", Ambayec said her presence would have made the reunion awkward. "Ang dami kasing lesson ng 'Harry Potter' about inclusion and diversity. Paanong nangyaring nanggaling sayo 'tong mundong 'to tas ikaw mismo 'di mo ma-apply?"

Ambayec's nostalgia trip ended with a realization of how much Harry Potter helped shape who she is now.

"Latter part na naging fan ako, tumanda-tanda ako, doon na-appreciate 'yung life lessons... parang every year na tumatagal, parang nagiging bago pa rin sa akin 'yung Harry Potter," she said.

"For a while lang may ikatuwa naman tayo sa life, tapos ang ganda pa na Jan. 1 siya kasi alam mo 'yung it gives you hope na baka dahil masaya ako ng Jan. 1, masaya rin yung the rest of the year... minsan kailangan mo lang ng ganun para sa sarili mo," she said.

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