Hogwarts Castle

Copyright Warner Bros./Photo by Murray Close
Dolores Umbridge, Sybill Trelawney, Minerva McGonagall, and Argus Filch gathered at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Calling all Muggles: If you find yourself boarding the train at Platform 9 ¾ this summer, here's a guide to what to do next.

Near the town of Hogsmeade stands Hogwarts Castle, the most amazing magical building in all of Britain, perhaps in the entire world.

More than a thousand years ago, four of the greatest wizards of all time joined together to create a school where young witches and wizards could be trained in the use of magic. The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is housed in a massive castle which stands on a cliff overlooking a lake in the Highlands of Scotland. No tour of the wizarding world would be complete without a visit to Hogwarts Castle.

The castle is simply saturated with magic. Visitors need to watch their step--quite literally, as at least one staircase has a vanishing step halfway to the top which will trap the unwary. Hogwarts boasts seven floors above the ground floor, with a number of towers rising impossibly high above that. Below the main floor, with its vast entrance hall, ornate marble staircase, and watchful suits of armor (which sing Christmas carols in December), lie the dark and chilly dungeons. Secret passageways, hidden doors, and unexpected corridors connect everything, but as things have a tendency to move about, a visitor may wish to employ the services of a guide. Ask any student and he or she will direct you to someone knowledgeable, probably someone with the name of Weasley.

Between the months of September and June, school is in session and visitors may expect to be surrounded by hundreds of children. It is worth timing one's visit to the school schedule because Hogwarts' school feasts are legendary. The Welcoming Feast is on September 1, the Halloween Feast is on October 31 (the Hogwarts ghosts often provide memorable entertainment), the Christmas feast takes place on December 25, and the Leaving Feast takes place at the end of the summer term in June. The Hogwarts house-elves provide generous quantities of nearly every variety of food one could wish for.

Rumors abound of further mysterious chambers below the dungeons, including the legendary Chamber of Secrets. Thrill seekers may be tempted to hunt for the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets in the dead of night while the caretaker, Filch, and his foul cat are on the prowl. It would be wise to have an invisibility cloak ready for this jaunt. It would be even wiser to give it up as a bad idea and just go back to bed.

Newcomers to the area may be curious to explore Merfolk Village in the center of the school lake (gillyweed is a must for breathing underwater) or to catch a glimpse of the acromantula colony deep in the forest. The Merfolk will avoid travelers, disappearing with a flick of their tails, while the acromantulas--giant spiders with near-human intelligence--will simply eat them. Be warned that neither cauldron nor walking stick will be of much use against a hoard of hungry acromantulas. The forest is home to a number of other less menacing creatures, however. Look for centaurs, thestrals, hippogriffs, the occasional unicorn, and just possibly a flying turquoise Ford Anglia.

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