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Kissing Friends, 3D Snakes, and a New Shape for Hogwarts- The Deathly Hallows Set Report

DH Film
Posted by: Edward
October 05, 2010, 01:50 PM

Last March, I was lucky enough to spend the day on the set of the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” film, and speak with a number of actors, the producers, director, costume designer, production designer and makeup effects designer for the final chapter of the epic series.  During my twelve hours on set, the true nature of the magical Harry Potter world on film was revealed to me as countless actors and crewmembers worked tirelessly to bring J. K. Rowling’s story to life.  What follows here is a full account of my set visit for the first part of the final Harry Potter film.  Enjoy!

 Needless to say: spoilers abound!

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Kissing Friends, 3D Snakes, and a New Shape for Hogwarts: Leaky's Deathly Hallows Set Report

by Edward Drogos

Part One: Getting It Right

Walking onto the set of the last Harry Potter films in the final weeks of production truly gives you a sense of how much work has been done over the past ten years.  And how now it’s all about to come down.  Things aren’t quite winding down just yet, but there is a sense of nostalgia in the chilly March air.  Actors Richard Griffiths (Uncle Vernon), Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia), and Harry Melling (Dudley) had already wrapped—the first of the original cast members to do so—and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) was set to do the same in little over two months.  Production on the first part of the final Harry Potter film wrapped months previously, and editing had been taking place for over a year. 

  “[T]he first film has to feel like a complete experience,” says “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” director David Yates.  “That’s the number one priority.”  Yates, who returns for his third and fourth term in the director’s chair, is as excited as ever to return to the helm for “It’s too much fun to stop, honestly. It’s just a great world to be working with.  It’s so rich and playful.  And the things that you find, I mean… for example, at the beginning of Part One we’ve got this car chase, it’s a wizard car chase.”

Yates is referencing the escape sequence in the much-anticipated Seven Potters scene, where Radcliffe is copied six times care of Polyjuice Potion so he may stealthily escape from Privet Drive.  This scene, Radcliffe admits, was the most challenging to date.  “That was one of the most daunting scenes to do because it was a highly technical visual effects scene," recalls Radcliffe.  "A lot of it is painstakingly slow then it is complex. There was one shot that was ninety-five takes because it was..."

[General noise of shock.]

"Yes, you may well recoil."

[Laughter.]

"Because, basically, if I'm here in the scene as the real Harry, then we filmed seven or eight takes of me, playing the scene as me.  Then we keep the camera still-- it's a motion controlled camera so it's controlled by a computer so it can recreate exactly the same move at exactly the same time every time-- so I stand and we do the take, then the camera continues its move which was panning around just on empty space.  Then we do the next take and the camera goes through the same move, except that I am standing here and pretending to be Fleur or whoever.  Starting to take the drink and transform and the camera pans around us all.  We filmed it each time in seven different places and that was half-assed explanation, but I think I got the point across.”

This kind of imaginative and complex moment is something Yates believes draws him back to the films each time, and allows him to do something new each time.  For “Deathly Hallows,” he says, “these kids are on the road, they feel very small in this very big world.  They’re away from Hogwarts, this very, big and familiar comfort blanket that they’ve grown up with.   They feel quite surprisingly vulnerable and fragile in this big Muggle world.  And I’ve shot it in a very vérité way so it feels not as measured and it's not as conventional... with Half-Blood Prince I wanted it to be quite elegant, so [“Hallows”] feels a bit raw…"

An element of that rawness comes from the more mature performances from the Trio.  In regards to the more emotional elements in the film, Yates explains:

“Well, they’ve gotten older and that means in their life experience they’ve experienced more and any actor draws on that fundamentally.  So you encourage them to bring a bit of what they’ve learned from real world in their real lives into their performances.  Inevitably, they gain nuances that they wouldn’t have had in film Five or film Six. So, they become a bit more sophisticated in what they do.  I’m a big believer in giving them a bit more freedom to try things, so we might do a take where instead of going ‘cut,’ we just do the take again.  And we do the take again, so we never stop.  So you can give them the opportunity to tune into the moment.

“And one thing I often say to Dan is 'you got to tune into this experience.' It's a bit like a dial on a radio... here’s a bit of static, here’s a bit of sound but it isn’t quite right, and here you actually you’re in it, you’re in that experience.  So we’re always saying let’s try being in that experience... what does it feel like?  And when you’re in that experience you don’t have to show it. It just happens to you.  It just is.  There was a moment with Emma... there's this torturing with Bellatrix and Emma was really keen to do this torturing scene.  And I said, ‘It’ll be really great, but we’ll have to be really careful how we do it.’ And she completely gave herself to the process. 

“What we did was we set up a couple of cameras and Helena got on top of Emma, basically, and was writing 'mudblood' on her arm.  So she was scoring into her skin.  We just let the whole thing roll for three or four minutes... and in those three or four minutes where were some good bits and some not-so-good bits, and there were one or two moments that were really powerful where Emma was just able to let go a little bit and forget, for a moment, that she was acting.

"I mean she’s still acting... still performing... but she lost herself in this process for a moment.  The screams were quite horrible to listen to.  You could feel it on the stage, everyone felt uncomfortable, everyone just stepped back a bit.  It was a very odd energy in the room, cause she was exploring, exorcising demons and serving the scene in doing that, and it was really interesting.”

Even with those most intimate of acting moments, the enormity of it is is not lost on the actors.  Warwick Davis, who portrays the characters of Griphook and Professor Flitwick, has had a thirty plus year career in film, yet still feels "that huge weight behind you" while working on these films.  "It can be quite daunting," says Davis, "because you think 'I'm the one in front of the camera here and I'm the one representing this great machine that's behind me.'

"That can be quite a daunting thing.  Especially, what's daunting about Potter for me is [the fact that] we've got millions of people around the work who have read these books and have an image of these characters and how they behave and how they interact with each other and how this whole thing unfolds.  We're charged with that responsibility of representing that which is quite daunting as well.  Not so much now as we're gaining confidence going through the films as actors, I suppose, you feel more comfortable with it and you feel it's more accepted.

"Initially that was one of the things that was difficult.  You have to find a balance-- you think 'This is what I'd like to do, but I'm sure this is a bit closer to what is in people's minds,' so you find that balance.  The support and very much the kind of family atmosphere that there is now, most of us have been together for close to ten years now, and it really is like going back to school each time we come back for another movie.  We've had the summer holidays and we're back for a new term."

This term, it seems, will be a test in what can be achieved with the latest technologies, for this film will feature 3D elements which are set to be added in post production.  Producer David Barron explains by saying, "We’re not shooting it in 3D, it’ll be post-production 3D.  The intention [will be for the whole film to be in 3D]."  When asked whether the decision to add a full 3D element to the final Potter films, Barron holds firm to the fact that "it's not because of a fad.

"Obviously, if we didn’t think it was suitable for the film, we, as filmmakers, would have argued very strongly against it.  The fact that it’s now possible-- and it wasn’t for the last film-- even if we wanted to do it, it just wasn't possible to do it.  It was a post-production process.  We’re making the movies as we make the movies.  The approach to the 3D-isation, or whatever you want to call it, will be tailored so it is the greatest benefit to the film."

Following the mindset of doing what is for the greatest benefit to the film, the "Deathly Hallows" producers and actors each feel a true sense of duty to hold true to the books.  "Jo [Rowling] gives us the opportunities in what she has put together in Hallows to do things that I didn’t do in "Half-Blood Prince" or "Order of the Phoenix," Yates explains.  "She’s so imaginative, so I never feel like I’m making the same movie.

Barron reiterates, and speaks to the news that actor Jason Isaacs was able to craft a unique ending for his character at the end of the "Deathly Hallows" by saying, "Obviously, we discuss with the principal cast; they all are intelligent people, they all have views on what their character would or wouldn’t do or say.   Especially having been in for such a very long time, they really know their characters.  But, equally, we are servicing the book and so our objective is to make proper filming rendition of the book and we wouldn’t stray too far-- it's nuances, really-- we wouldn’t stray very far from what Jo has written because she has given the characters what she felt... if they needed an ending, she’s given them an ending.

"And we are aware that this is the final film and there are certain people that we love, who have-- actors like Matthew [Lewis], who plays Neville, and he’s probably got slightly more to do in the film then he had in the book, but it’s just the way it’s panned out.  We haven’t sat down and had a big forum with the cast and said ‘Okay, what would you like to do?’  Because we’d still be here next year and the year after probably.  We’re out to make a film rendition of the book, so that takes us, to a large degree, how these things work out.

"We’re not inventing anything that’s not in the books.  Other than where trying to compress... to present the idea of several episodes that we don’t have room to show every single item, just the same as we always have done.  She’s given us the map, and we’re aiming to follow it to the end."

To that end, David Yates made comments regarding the condensing of story lines, as well as makes mention of a new and emotional scene between Harry and Hermione.  He explains:

"We’ve added on a couple of things.  Just for jeopardy, we’ve added a scene where the Snatchers chase Harry, Ron, and Hermione, so it’s this moment where they’re pursued in the forest.  We’ve added this very tender scene, I mentioned earlier, where they dance.  Harry and Hermoione dance.  It’s a really beautiful moment.  But, there is so much in the book that it’s crazy adding things when we always get criticized when we leave things out.  The adaptive process is really hard because you have to invent one or two things to help the structure."

The crew was tight lipped, however, on the Silver Doe scene, where Ron faces the horcrux of Voldemort taunting him while images of topless Harry and Hermione visions embracing and kissing flash before him.  Dan maintains this is not a nude scene.

"I've done a nude scene and this wasn't a nude scene!  [Laughter.]  There is a fair amount of stripping off and things, but it's all down to underpants, really.  At the very most, I think.  There is one scene where... I have to jump into this icy pool and, obviously, I have to be in my pants for that.  With the locket and jump in... the locket tries to kill me and then Ron saves me at the last minute.  And I dress in a hurry.  It really doesn't worry me anymore, particularly.  This time around, they even heated the water which was really, really nice.  You're quite cold out of the water but when you're in it it's very nice."

Filming two epic movies back to back has been a challenge too.  "It’s crazy, it’s absolutly crazy," Yates relates.  "I’m editing things now that we shot about a year ago and it feels very strange.  I’m looking at Dan a year younger than he is now.  It’s just a big marathon, it’s a huge shoot.  And go through ups and we go through downs and there are great weeks and there are weeks that are challenging.  But we’re coming to the end of it now so it’s really odd coming to the end, it’s really strange."

Dan Radcliffe, the boy-- now a man-- who has grown up as Harry Potter, believes "It’ll be very, very odd…"  Coming to the end, is "a very real propspect.  The fact that one day I’m going to come in here in a few weeks and I’m going to the makeup rooms for the last time.  That will be a moving, emotional day.  And I’ll be saying goodbye to a lot of people.  But, I mean, it’ll exciting to go on to other things and see what’s out there and that will be great.  But, equally, I will miss the crew and the sense of family that we have here will be very difficult to recreate on other films." 

What's next for the actor who played Harry Potter?  "There are loads of stuff I'm thinking about," Radcliffe says, "but nothing confirmed."  To whether the long-rumored Dan Eldon project, he says "I'm still very much attached to that, but that's not happening in the next little while, unfortunately... That one we're going to have to wait for.  But, I'm fortunately, with that one, we do have a little bit of time play with as I'm still a few years younger than Dan was, so we've got a little bit of leeway there.  Which is very, very nice."

Whenever that may be, we still have two Harry Potter films to go.  We're no where near done yet.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~ 

Part Two: The Ministry, Privet Drive, and the Gentleman’s Loo

At long last, we were able to make our way around the sprawling factory space that now houses Leavesden Studios, the production center of the Harry Potter films.  The production has set up camp there for over ten years, and seems to have the run of the place.  We leave our tent—yes, a tent—and begin to weave through spaces and stages across the lot.  As you make your way through the sets, you catch glimpses of props and backdrops from previous films.  Both the Privet Drive set and Weasley House are constructed not too far way from the studio structure, and fill you with a slight sense of thrill and magic when you see them.

Inside, we step into the courtroom where Professor Umbridge interrogates Mary Cattermole.  The sickeningly sweet feeling of Dolores’ presence abounds in this room, for it is filled with pink and purple file folders of documents of information on her detainees.  Each bound lilac folder contains a shuffle of papers, each created on site for the specific purpose of being stuffed into a file folder. 

Our tour moved onto elements of the Ministry of Magic set, which was designed with the Victorian-built London Underground system in mind.  As our guide said, if a Muggle got lost in the tunnels of the tube, they could very well find their way into the Ministry if they’re not careful.  The same gleaming bricks were in place, along with construction crews working on various elements of the sets as we continued on tour.  It was also while walking through the Ministry that we first learned of the new statue that would replace the previous Ministry statue that was destroyed in Dumbledore’s battle with Lord Voldemort.

This statue takes a number of influences from Stalin-istic art and design, a theme that was studied and molded from statues created in the Soviet Union during the early to mid 1900s.  Even while the statue was being molded, it was obvious a new reign had taken over the Ministry.  Muggles were now crushed together while holding up their magical superiors.  Literally.

From there, we got our first glimpse of filming as the Second Unit shot footage for what they refer to as the "Gentleman’s Toilet Scene."  About a half-dozen men in varying forms of wizard wear line up to take their place walking into bathroom stalls which, in the magical world, will flush them into the Ministry of Magic.

Our tour then leads us to the Great Hall, the longest standing set of the Harry Potter films production.  One of the most curious things of the visit happened during this time, for I walked into the Great Hall to see a shimmering white peacock observing me carefully from its place in the corner of the set.  This is the everyday life for the cast and crew working on the film, but an extraordinary occurrence for me.  The animal, I later came to find out, was being acclimated to the set for its split second role in the Malfoy Manor sequence during the film’s opening. 

 Magic was truly around every corner during this set visit, and presented itself in the most interesting of ways.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Part Three: Creatures, Statues, and Props

If one experience could be chosen as a highlight of the entire experience, it would have to be the hour or so spent with Nick Dudman, the Special Makeup Designer for the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” film.  However, he’d more readily call himself someone who likes to make toys.  His Creature Effects realm on set is expansive and covers everything from design of the Magic is Might statue at the center of the Ministry of Magic to the application of thousands of individual hairs onto the eyebrow of one prosthetic application for an actor.  He does not do this all himself; at one point his crew encompassed a total of 158 people, each putting the oftentimes unseen and underappreciated details onto the countless makeup and prop effects seen in the movie.

Touring around his workspace, remnants of props greet you everywhere.  The eyes of the gigantic Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes head stares at you from the corner of one space, while hallways and alcoves are packed with boxes and trinkets—set dressings only glimpsed for a moment in the films.  Then, you come across an industrial shelving unit with the life-size prosthetic recreation of Hagrid’s head sitting there as if it were a teacup… or, tankard, I should say.  Beneath that lies a life-size dummy of Albus Dumbledore stretched out across a bottom shelf, looking far too creepy to be allowed.  It speaks to the kind of care and detail put into these objects that for a while afterwards, the creepiness of what you saw lingers.

However, the life-size dummy of Dumbledore was nothing compared to the writhing and moving animatronics mannequin used in place of the real actress as Charity Burbage in the opening sequence of the Harry Potter film.  (Revealed to us with her knickers showing.  Not on purpose, of course.)  As Mr. Dudman explained, it would have been impossible to suspend the actress playing the role of Charity Burbage above the Death Eater meeting for the whole duration of the filming that dialogue-heavy scene.  Instead this life-size mannequin—whose skin felt as real as my own—was used instead.

What is particularly jarring was how, if you didn’t know these were props, they could have been so easily mistaken for real people.  This level of reality is due to the time and labor-intensive process with which each dummy—and, additionally—each silicone makeup piece goes through before it is used on camera.

And, yes, we did take a moment to mourn the dummy of Dobby as we passed his place in the workshop.

Past Neville’s cactus plant and Harry’s broomstick, we move into the design studio where the aforementioned Ministry statue is being constructed.  The collection of intertwined Muggles was sculptured based off of sketches, using the Stalinist design cues, and molded together to form a platform on which the statue of the all-powerful wizard and witch stand.  The witch and wizard, however, will be added as a digital set extension and not actually sculpted and put into place. 

The relationship between the digital special effects (CGI) and actual prop making is combining, Dudman believes.  He says, “I think we are hitting the middle ground.  CG came along and it bulldozed everything for a period of years.  And went into areas where it doesn’t work as some traditional methods.  That is now settling back; it’s like the tide is going back out, for which I am eternally grateful.  But, it’s also changed how we do things, because we use computers and digital stuff a lot to achieve something practically… All of it is a brilliant aid in doing something practical.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~ 

Part Four: Weddings and Settings

An exciting part of the visit was getting an early look at some of the production stills and artwork from the film.  Among them, Fleur’s dress, which Jany Temime, costume designer for the films, calls “witch princess dress.”

“Fleur is French so the idea was to have a wedding with a little French tone.  Not a Weasley wedding, which would have been tragically bad taste, but a French wedding with style.  Fleur has always been, especially in the book-- it's actually much more described in the book than it is in the script-- that Fleur is really liking her clothes and completely anti-Hermione, anti-every single girl in Potter.  She really believes in clothes and being beautiful and all that.  I wanted to design for her a real witch princess dress. But I also wanted to find a very witchy thematic [for the wedding].  So, I thought of the Phoenix; the Phoenix being a bird, maybe not of love but of rebirth and because love is eternal, so is the Phoenix.”

Also among the photos were images of the different locations and sets used in the film.  Stuart Craig, who has been the film’s production designer since day one, spoke at some length about the evolution of the style, look, and feeling of the series as it has progressed.

Q: You've been on from the beginning; can you talk about the evolution of the look of the films over the course of the seven movies?

Stuart Craig: Following the seriousness and the emotional content of the movies, they have got darker and the sets have literally got darker.  That rather attractive honey color that you saw in the early movies, we've gone and painted out, not completely, but made them significantly darker in the recent films.  That very much has happened.  Also, when we started them there were just two novels and they've come out sequentially since then, so not everything was known. We didn't know of the Room of Requirement, so we had to change… certain changes have been forced upon us.  The Astronomy Tower has had to pop up in the middle of the whole complex and the forecourt in front of it has had to get bigger and bigger to accommodate the battle at the end, particularly.  The viaduct that joins you to the courtyard that takes you into the Entrance Hall and the Great Hall that relationship has shifted around.  Then there are other of improvements that are just there because they look better.  We had a chance to improve it, so we've improved the silhouette of the castle.

Q: Has the silhouette has been able to stay similar? Do you think it is still recognizable from One to Seven?

SC: I think that's a good question (laughter), and I'm not sure...  No, I think the iconic, identifiable bit is the Great Hall and that big tower just to the side of it-- which is Dumbledore's Tower, with the conical roof and those three little things, they've been there forever-- and then the big facade to the right of that has been there from the very beginning.  I think we've messed around with the silhouette, but those key bits have stayed permanent.

Q: How often do you end up going back to the book as a source for ideas and inspiration, as opposed to just sticking with the script?  Do you comb through the Seventh Book to find inspiration?

SC: We do look through the books all the time. And very recently looked at Godric's Hollow again and looked at what the book had to say, look at what Jo Rowling had to say about the state of the Potter house in Godric's Hollow.  We'd built it for the first film, we built it once again for the seventh film, then had to rebuild a bit-- to do with Alan Rickman's availability and so on-- there was a continuity issue there and we refer to the book.  But, it is typical; we do all the time.  It is so specific and precise.  Everything is grounded in the book, I think.  I know the scale is sometimes increased enormously; there are lots and lots of omissions because there have to be.  You're making a movie out of a novel, certainly, a very long novel.  But, nonetheless, I think everything is grounded in the book in the spirit of it, at least, if not in the letter of it and the reference is constant.

Q: What's it like coming to each film with a new director, being there as the guy who has been there since day one?

SC:  I have very carefully and deliberately said to every one of them, "You don't have to have me." (laughter)  I can see that there is a perception that you do have to have me because I know what's continuity, I know what we did before and how to rebuild it, and so on.  But it isn't as necessary as it appears.  I did very deliberately, as I say, say that to every one of them.  I think the changes of director have been exciting and stimulating, entirely good for the whole project, really.  And even the changes in cameramen too, the different look, the different mood, the different style... and I think, frankly, a change in designer would have produced similarly interesting results.

 "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One" will arrive in theaters on November 19th.

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57 Comments

553520_488880994466250_43107597_n_thumb
2394 Points

Ooooh, getting excited here!
Thanks, Edward, this was very fun to read :D

Posted by Asria (DreamLight208) on October 05, 2010, 04:58 PM report to moderator
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350 Points

This is fantastic! I am curious to see how Lucius’ character changes. I think a lot of fans were so fascinated by him, in part because of how well Jacobs played him in the movies, that his character became more popular and possibly even more important in fandom than he ever was in the books. I can see them setting Lucius and Draco up to turn on Voldemort together. I thought Rowling’s ending for him was most fitting – an incredibly selfish and prejudiced man who was totally humbled and broken down by the ending of the books, when he lost everything. He never really turned on Voldemort, but simply abandoned Voldemort because in the end his own self-interest for himself and his family was far larger than his loyalty to the cause. In Tales of Beetle the Bard, Dumbledore said it became Lucius’ quest to remove him as headmaster, and so it was Dumbledore’s own quest to remove Lucius as Voldemort’s favorite Death Eater. That made me happy; long live his sense of humor :)

Posted by Bless_the_children on October 05, 2010, 05:27 PM report to moderator
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2421 Points

Glad they talked about the changes Hogwarts has been through. I was never a fan of those rather unnecessary changes -like the bridge and thesomewhat stone-hedge circle – but if they are approved by Rowling… Besides the books are the real deal ;)

Anyway, nice to see how much work, attention and effort has been put in this whole series.

Posted by Mr. Brightside on October 05, 2010, 05:30 PM report to moderator
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393 Points

great report! I cant wait for the film,,,

Posted by hermy on October 05, 2010, 05:40 PM report to moderator
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1740 Points

That sounds awesome! I can’t wait to see the actual scenes. They sound so intense!

Wand_thumb
4852 Points

Thanks for the report! I will read it after DH! I am scared for too many spoilers!

Posted by #1 Witch ROAR! on October 05, 2010, 05:47 PM report to moderator
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629 Points

i am soooo stoked!

Posted by ExpectoPatronum512 on October 05, 2010, 06:27 PM report to moderator
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349 Points

Amazing report. I really enjoyed reading this!

Posted by AvanelleWood on October 05, 2010, 06:38 PM report to moderator
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300 Points

Great article. Come on Nov 19th

Posted by taoist1 on October 05, 2010, 07:18 PM report to moderator
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3121 Points

An interesting read. By the sounds of this, loyal fans won’t be disappointed…this time.

Posted by DobbyWinkyKreacher on October 05, 2010, 07:19 PM report to moderator
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4906 Points

ALBINO PEACOCKS! YES!

Posted by Darth Luna on October 05, 2010, 07:32 PM report to moderator
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4208 Points

Thank you for a really well written set report, and the detailed description of the sets. This is one of the more interesting pieces on the movies that I have ever read. That scene with Hermione and Bellatrix is going to make me cringe! I saw the Harry Potter Exhibition in Toronto, and they had the life size models of Colin Creevey and the head of the Horntail Dragon there. The author is absolutely correct when he describes how real they seemed. You expected the dragon to move and breath fire! I am glad that Fleur and Bill’s wedding is planned out so well. Fleur is indeed a girly- sort-of-girl, and Hermione has never been bothered with that, except at the Yule Ball. They seem to have followed the book so well in this movie.

Posted by Fresca ROAR on October 05, 2010, 07:52 PM report to moderator
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104 Points

HELL YEAH!WHITE PEACOCK!:D
uhm,i am still really worried about what they decided to do to Lucius…

Posted by Black_wind on October 05, 2010, 07:59 PM report to moderator
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10839 Points

Thats alot of news! Excellent report! :D This is why i love leaky :D

Posted by ϟ☮Sindi a.k.a Remy [ROAR!!]☮ϟ on October 05, 2010, 08:41 PM report to moderator
Photo_on_2010-09-25_at_22
34 Points

i seriously haven’t been this excited since deathly hallows the book came out. THANK YOU EDWARD DROGOS!!

Posted by MeliKickYourFace on October 05, 2010, 09:00 PM report to moderator
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