Before I have even written a word, there it is, laid out for all to see, in that picture: I am a huge Harry Potter geek.
I am one of those fans who pre-ordered the books and stayed up all night to finish them so no-one could spoil the ending for me. I have seen all of the films on their opening weekends, even taken days off work to see them on opening night, and I have seen most of the movies more than once in the cinema. But there is more. I have hung out in the crowd of not one, but two of the London premieres, snapping pictures of the stars. I own all the DVDs (including double copies of some) and yes, this weekend I am hosting a Potter viewing party.
So, as you may well imagine, this month's release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" is both a source of great excitement and gloom for me.
Why? Well, because to quote the tagline of that film for all you Muggles out there, "It all ends here." The final instalment of a film franchise that has clocked up more than a thousand minutes of screen time and over $6.3 billion at the box-office to date premieres on July 7th, and is released worldwide on July 15th. Four years have already passed since the last in JK Rowling's best-selling series of books was published, and with the author swearing she has no more books in the pipeline, this is the end of an era for fans of Harry, Ron, Hermione and Hogwarts.
But before regaling you with how the wizarding world has become nothing short of an obsession, I have a confession to make.
My first encounter with Harry Potter came not with the publication of "The Philosopher's Stone" book (or "The Sorcerer's Stone", for all you Americans out there) in 1997. No, I am ashamed to say my story starts in the depths of December 2001, when my best friend suggested a trip to the cinema. A lot of criticism is thrown at that first Chris Columbus flick, and I will admit that it was most definitely made with a young audience in mind, but I was hooked. I loved the idea of secret world hidden just out of sight, full of magic wands, broomsticks and super-cool sweets. I loved the idea of a young boy with a tragic past catapulted into extraordinary circumstances, and his discovery that the fate of that new world rests on his puny teenage shoulders.
Over my Christmas break I read the first four Harry Potter books in a week. The seeds had been planted for an addiction that will probably last a lifetime.
As of June 2011, 450 million Harry Potter books had been sold, and the series has been translated into 67 languages. So clearly I am not alone in my love of the Potterverse. After all, who wouldn't want to live in a world full of magic and marvelous words like "expelliarmus"?
For me, as an English Literature graduate and perhaps more importantly a geek, Harry Potter books are the ultimate escapism, you can immerse yourself in them. Every character, no matter how small, has a fully developed back-story and a reason for being there. Neville Longbottom's rise from bashfulness to fortitude is just one example of this. Who would have thought that the stuttering kid in "The Philosopher's Stone" would later wield the Sword of Gryffindor in such dramatic fashion? Ramping up the geek levels, it is also possible to read a seemingly insignificant sentence in one book, only to find that two books down the line, it was a clue to something important. How did I know who the Half-blood Prince was before the end of that novel? His handwriting. (Here's a clue Potter-fans: Harry sees the "Prince" completing his O.W.L. exams in the pensieve.) For fans of more classical literature there are numerous clues to a character's development. Remus Lupin, former Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher and member of the Order of the Phoenix is a werewolf - well, what else could he be? His name both plays on the Latin word for "wolf", and references one of the founders of Rome who, legend has it, was brought up by a wolf. In Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale" the character of Hermione is petrified, much as Harry's friend Hermione Granger is in Rowling's "The Chamber of Secrets".
By now, you have probably guessed that I am one of those readers with a dorky desire to know anything and everything about the literature I am reading (perhaps that is why I identify with Hermione so much). It means that no matter how many times I read Harry Potter it just keeps getting better. When I read the books or watch the films I cannot think about anything else. I am engrossed, and that has had its advantages. The books and movies have seen me through good times and bad; through illness, separation and bereavement. Hogwarts is a place I can go where nothing hurtful in the real world can reach me. My obsession may seem insane, but at times I think it may have helped me keep my sanity.
So, now it has come to an end, what is next for a geek like me? Luckily, JK Rowling is having similar problems letting go of the world she created. "I've never cried for a man as I cried for Harry Potter," she told reporters last month. Hence the launch of Pottermore, a "unique and free-to-use website which builds an exciting online experience around the reading" of the Harry Potter books. While many fans were hoping for an online video game, and I was hoping for a prequel to the books detailing the young lives of the Marauders (James Potter, Sirius Black and chums), Pottermore is exciting in the sense that it is going to allow me to delve into the series in yet more detail. "Back in 1998 I generated a lot more material than would ever be put in the books," said Rowling at the Pottermore news conference. "It was simply ridiculous that anyone - to me at the time, I thought, who would ever want to know the significance of these types of wand woods?" Well, I would...
Pottermore launches officially in October, so I only have a few months to wait. In the meantime, I have my ticket to watch "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" at the IMAX, I am digging out my Gryffindor tie and my replica wand again and buying up a big supply of jelly beans. The battle of Hogwarts is about to begin on the silver screen, and a decade after I caught my first glimpse of the wizarding world, I am still spellbound.