After a taxing two-day drive from Toronto, Tiffany and I arrived at Hogwarts. To our left, a magnificent castle dominated the blue Orlando sky. Thin clouds floated like wisps of cotton candy above the castle’s towering spires. On our right, the village of Hogsmeade buzzed with activity; a frenzy of tourists milled from shop to shop. Straight ahead, across the wooden bridge we stood atop, the entrance to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter beckoned us forward with spellbinding fingers.
As incredible as the park was, I didn’t feel the magic. It was as if an Obliviate charm had struck me long ago, and I had forgotten what wonder was like. Maybe it was called growing up; maybe life had just smacked me in the face too many times.
A delicate hand squeezed mine. “It’s just like the movies, Daddy,” Tiffany said, looking up at me and smiling. A gap was visible between her front teeth.
I smiled back, trying to ignore the yellow bandanna tied around her bald head.
“I told you we’d make it,” I said.
It was a long drive, and the tickets to the theme park weren’t cheap. We had to choose between visiting Diagon Alley, located in Universal Studio’s main park, or Hogsmeade, located in the other park, Islands of Adventure. I couldn’t afford both. We had one day and Tiffany wanted more than anything to get her own wand from Ollivanders; so we chose Islands of Adventure.
We would be sleeping in the car again tonight to save money, and I would have to cut the food budget for a few months when we returned to Canada, but I couldn’t pass up giving this trip to Tiffany. It was the first one I could take her on, perhaps the only one. I didn’t know how much time she had.
“Look!” she shouted, pointing across the bridge into the park, “Hogsmeade!”
I followed her finger past the bustling tourists into the heart of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Makeshift buildings erected along the street created the impression of a thriving village. The pointed roofs were covered in white, fabricating the appearance of snow. It was as if August in Orlando was February in Toronto. But even the sight of fraudulent snow couldn’t lessen the bake of the Florida sun.
Tiffany and I had tucked the bottom of our Hufflepuff robes into our shorts, exposing our legs. It helped cool us off, but wearing a black robe in this heat was agonizing. I was Severus Snape for the day, dark hair slicked back with sweat, pale skin simmering in the heat.
I always thought if I went to Hogwarts I would sort into Ravenclaw; I liked to think I was wise — my depleted bank account would say otherwise. Tiffany was a Hufflepuff. She wanted us to match, so to make her day special, I wore the yellow and black of the badger.
I wish I could say I’m a fan of Harry Potter. I was at one point. I’ve read all the books and watched all the movies more times than I can count. After my wife passed when Tiffany was born, I couldn't return to the world of magic. I had suffered a dementor's kiss — my soul sucked from my body. I was lifeless and floating, year after year, and Harry Potter was a constant reminder of life without Claire.
Like Pokemon and Star Wars, some things stand the test of time. When Tiffany grew older and began showing interest in Harry Potter, I started inching back to the enchanting realm beyond Platform 9 and 3/4. It was a beautiful bonding experience, father and daughter; I was beginning to feel the magic again. And then, Tiffany got hit with her diagnosis.
The magic disappeared, covered by an invisibility cloak, hidden away forever.
“Come on! I want my wand from Ollivanders.” She tugged at my hand.
I grinned. “Let’s get a picture of you first. How many times do you get to see Hogwarts? Go stand over there.” I pointed to the middle of the bridge, where groups of tourists were posing for photos.
Tiffany waited until the group cleared and ran to the spot.
“Look, Daddy!” Tiffany shouted. She outstretched her hands to the sky, Hogwarts gleaming behind her.
It was a good shot, one of the last I might take of her. I took out my phone and tried to hold it steady. “Stay right there,” I raised my voice over the chatter of the passing park visitors.
Tiffany appeared on my phone’s screen. She looked so much like her mother. You would’ve loved it here, Claire.
“Did you take it yet?”
My finger hovered over the capture button. The hot Florida air prickled my skin; a gentle breeze rustled my sweat-streaked hair.
I didn’t want to push it; I wanted time to stop. But time isn’t like that; it keeps going, forever flowing, like a river.
I wished I was Hermione Granger, time-turner in hand, and could wind back up the river. Could I return to this day? Will the picture be enough?
Tiffany and I crossed the bridge, hand-in-hand, and entered Hogsmeade. It was alive, tourists in khaki shorts and running shoes seeming to jet from one location to another, snapping selfies before moving on to the next instagrammable moment.
Honeydukes, the candy shop with its pastel pink sign and green-framed windows, lured us inside. The colorful assorted sweets were tantalizing: Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, Liquorice Wands, and Cauldron Cakes. Tiffany’s eyes lit up like it was Christmas morning. As much as I wanted to buy a treat for Tiffany, we needed the money to get her a wand. I think she understood, but it didn’t change the size of the pit in my stomach. I was a member of the Weasley family, patched clothes and poor, having to choose.
After the sweet shop, we stopped in Dervish and Banges. It had a dark green exterior with two cylindrical outcroppings of windows. The interior was full of Hogwarts robes, Potter memorabilia, and quidditch apparel. Iconic broomsticks from the film and books hung from the ceiling: the Nimbus 2000, the Nimbus 2001, and the Firebolt. Tiffany’s jaw was on the floor. She loved quidditch and was always pretend flying, the house broom between her legs after I finished sweeping the floor. I looked at Tiffany, and I looked at the brooms. If I played quidditch, I would be a beater. I would protect you, Tiff, from all the bludgers of the world. I wish I could defend you now.
We left the quidditch store and headed to the main event: Ollivanders. Tiffany was bouncing on her heels.
Fictitious snow covered the roof of the wand shop. Two towers jutted out from the front of the building, their surface covered with glass panes. Written across the towers, I read the words: Ollivanders, Makers of Fine Wands Since 382 BC. On the left side of the wand shop was a line of people slithering like a basilisk out of view.
“Great,” I said.
Tiffany didn’t notice; she was grinning from ear to ear. “I hope they pick me. I hear they pick someone to do the wand show. I really hope it’s me.”
We went to the back of the line. After an hour, we entered the wand shop with a dozen other tourists. A welcome blast of air-conditioning hit us as we crowded into the room. I felt the sweat on my skin dissipate. On all sides of the room, boxes of wands occupied every nook and cranny within the shelves. At the front, a single staircase led up to an open door. Below the stairs was a counter, a wizard behind it. A wizened actor clothed in luminous purple robes and a brown cylinder-shaped hat greeted us.
“Welcome to Ollivanders,” the wizard said. His arms extended from his body in a grand gesture. “One of you will be lucky today, chosen! A wizard and a witch need a wand, and the wand wants to choose. Who will be our chosen one today?”
My hands were on Tiffany’s shoulders. She was bobbing with excitement in front of me.
The actor closed his eyes and brought his ancient fingers to his temples.
Moment of truth. Please pick her.
“You there,” he said. His eyes opened; he was pointing at Tiffany.
“Me?” Tiffany said, bobbing harder under my hands.
“No, no, I’m sorry,” the man said. “You.” He pointed to Tiffany again.
A boy with a baseball cap brushed past from behind us; we realized what had transpired.
Tiffany’s shoulders deflated.
The boy with the cap went to the middle of the wand shop, he wore Slytherin robes.
Come on, you pick the kid in the Slytherin robes?
I felt my fists clench and my throat tighten. Can’t you see my daughter’s bandanna and bald head? I wanted to scream at him.
“Hmmm,” the idiot in the purple robes said. He walked around the room, examining the boxes of wands on the shelves like a fool. “Let me see… let me see… ah, this one!”
He pulled a box from the shelf, opened it, and handed a wand to the boy.
Little Voldemort was in the middle of the room, the dozen tourists around him in a semicircle.
“Well… give it a wave!”
He waved the wand.
A boom erupted from speakers and boxes of wands popped out from a shelf to our right, clattering to the floor.
“No! No! That won’t do!” the moron wizard shook his head. He rubbed his chin.
“Hmmm…” He searched with his hand outstretched, fingers wiggling, the purple sleeve of his robe drooping like the leaves of the Whomping Willow. He pulled another box from a shelf and handed a second wand to the boy.
“Here, maybe this one.”
The boy with the baseball cap waved the wand. A thunderous slam rang through the wand shop as the door above the staircase slammed shut.
“No, definitely not,” the buffoon said. He scratched his head and paced. He squinted his eyes at the boy. “I wonder…”
The horrid actor plucked a third box from a shelf, lifted the wand from the box, and handed it to the boy.
When he raised the wand, a light spilled down from the ceiling, enshrouding the boy in a phony glow. A concealed machine blew air, and the boy’s Slytherin robes billowed.
“Oooooooo. Ahhhhhh,” voices from the crowd cooed.
“You have been chosen,” the wizard said, his eyebrows raising. “The wand chooses the wizard, young one. Your magical journey has just begun.”
I looked at Tiffany. She wasn’t smiling.
Magic. If only it could cure leukemia.
After the show, we were directed to Ollivanders gift shop. Tiffany selected her wand: yew, unicorn hair, 9 and 1/4 inches. I paid for it and my gut sunk at the price tag. But the smile that returned on Tiffany’s face was beyond worth it.
Before we left the wand shop, the purple-robed actor from the show came up to me. He shook my hand.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “We don’t usually have two in one show.”
I didn’t know what he meant, but he hurried off to his next show before I could ask.
We exited Ollivanders and stopped in front of a red wagon laden with a round oak barrel laid on its side. BUTTERBEER was written in faded yellow lettering along the bottom of the barrel. The wagon was positioned across from The Three Broomsticks tavern. After leaving the air-conditioned wand shop, the Orlando heat was in full force. We needed a drink, the non-alcoholic kind.
We walked up to order our butterbeer from the wagon and were greeted by a witch bartender.
“Two butterbeer please,” I said, holding up two fingers.
She poured an amber-colored liquid from a glistening keg tap, foam forming at the full brim of the two plastic beer cups. She handed me the cups; I gave one to Tiffany.
“Thirty dollars,” she said with a wink.
I gulped. Theme park drinks are expensive, but fifteen dollars a cup?
I fumbled with my credit card as I debated declining the drinks. But then I was back in Ollivanders wand shop, feeling Tiffany’s shoulders deflate as the Slytherin was picked over her.
I tapped my card on the terminal.
Tiffany and I sat on a park bench across from The Three Broomsticks and sipped our butterbeer. It had the taste of cream soda mixed with root beer. The cool liquid was a treasure in the heat.
The Three Broomsticks tavern had sharply angulated dormers, brown and gray brick interspersed amongst the artificial snow covering its façade. In front of the building, a choir of students dressed in the mixed robes of the Hogwarts houses sang enchanting music, mixing with the babble and hum of the park’s visitors.
I looked at Tiffany; she had a big grin as she lapped her butterbeer. I wondered if she would ever drink real beer, if she would ever have her first taste of alcohol.
As the crowd of tourists bustled about, super fans and the casual intermingling like pure-bloods and muggles, a pair caught my eye: a woman and a boy. Their cups of butterbeer were full to the brim; they were sitting across from us on a bench in front of the tavern.
The Slytherin crest was visible on their black robes. The boy I recognized — he was the boy from Ollivanders. His baseball cap was off, and he was bald.
The park whirled in a flurry of activity; the choir of students' voices rang like bells. I sat there, staring at the boy with his mother. The actor from the wand shop had seen something I had missed.
My eyes fell on the woman. Something about her captured my attention. She was beautiful, with flowing dark hair that hung across her shoulders. Her eyes were like the sapphires of Rowena Ravenclaw’s lost diadem. But it wasn’t her beauty that struck me. It was the expression on her face. It was as if we knew each other, not like old friends from days past, but different, as if we had spent a life together. I felt understood, and I knew she felt it too.
As we locked eyes, something changed. The invisibility cloak peeled back, and what was hidden was now visible. The cloak lifted, got caught in the wind, and fluttered away. I was Harry standing by the lake, unleashing a patronus on the dementors.
I held Tiffany’s shoulder, felt her frailness in my fingertips, and looked at her. She had the same look on her face that she always had: smiling with a gap between her front teeth; and watching the world as if it were full of magic.
I stood up, grabbed Tiffany's hand, and together we walked toward the woman and the boy.
“I saw you in the wand shop,” I said, looking at the boy. “I’m glad they picked you.” I meant it.
He smiled, exchanging glances between Tiffany and me, twirling the wand from Ollivanders in one hand, sipping his butterbeer in the other.
I turned to the woman. “Slytherin?” I said.
“Well actually, I’m a Ravenclaw. But my son wanted us to match, so I went with his house, Slytherin.” Her voice was the soothing hum of the Hogwarts Express, departing for another year of school away from the Dursleys.
“I’m Kyle,” I said, extending a hand. “This is Tiffany.”
“Luna, Ron, time to go!” I shouted, rolling the suitcases into the front hall of our home.
"I want to see Diagon Alley, Mom," Ron said, lollipop stuffed in his chubby cheek.
“I want Hogsmeade!” Luna screamed, arms above her head, running down the hall to the front door.
I blew my hair out of my face as I struggled with the kids' luggage. “Well, we’re going to both, so you kids need to stop arguing.”
Orlando was a far drive from Toronto, but the memories were worth it.
“Luna put that broom back!” She had it between her legs, running down the hall like she was riding a broom.
“Look, Mommy, I’m a seeker!” Her arm was outstretched in front of her, grasping at the air.
As she flew past the living room, my eye caught the familiar objects sitting on the coffee table: the wand and the photo.
I stared at the photo. It was me, arms stretched to the sky, Hogwarts at my back. I never forgot that day, my first trip with Dad. I can still taste the butterbeer, cold and sweet, root beer mixed with cream soda. It was the day I met Mom and my brother.
Dad had little money back then; I know that trip was difficult for him. I wish he were still around.
I looked at Ron, lollipop in cheek, and Luna, running around with the broom. Maybe one day they would appreciate me, just as I appreciated Dad.
When I was a kid, he told me he once wore an invisibility cloak. He said he lost it that day at the park. I don’t know what he meant, but after I beat my cancer, I often caught him with my wand, casting imaginary spells in the house. I think he really believed he was doing magic.