Pottermore's Pioneers: Exploring J.K. Rowling's New Site

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Pottermore, the new, officially J.K. Rowling–sanctioned Harry Potter website, is now conducting what's known as a "closed beta." That means that it's not open to the public, but a bunch of lucky fans, about a million of them, have been invited in to explore it early.

I'm one of them. My daughter, whom we'll call Plum, is another. Plum is 7, but she's a voracious reader and no mean Potter scholar. She's about to finish the series for the second time. She is, needless to say, crazed with excitement. She also has a very short attention span.

Plum and I settled in for our first session with Pottermore the other day. I sat at the keyboard, since Plum doesn't use a computer yet, and she looked over my shoulder. We logged in, using the username and password Pottermore had given us. The Pottermore interface is elegant — a thing of twisted branches and silver filigree. There's an owl perched at the top of the screen.

Me: Look, there's an owl.

Plum: That's not Hedwig though. Maybe that's Hermione's owl.

[The owl turns out to be Pottermore's message center. Three people have asked to be friends with us already. Since I don't know who they are, I ignore them and head back to the main page, where the seven Harry Potter books are represented by symbols. For now only the first book is clickable.]

Me: [Reading] "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" ...

Plum: What's the philosopher's stone?

Me: That's what they call it in England.

[I click on the book and it shows me a picture of Privet Drive, where the book opens. It's not quite a still image — it has little animations in it, like the fumes rising from the tailpipe of the Dursleys' idling car. Nearby a cat waves its tail.]

Plum: [Excited] There's McGonagall!

Me: [Reading] "You've discovered No. 4 Privet Drive." We can read J.K. Rowling's thoughts about Privet Drive.

Plum: You have to read them to me.

Me: "The name of the street where the Dursleys live is a reference to that most suburban plant, the privet bush, which makes neat hedges around many English gardens. I liked the associations with both suburbia and enclosure, the Dursleys being so smugly middle class, and so determinedly separate from the wizarding world. The name of their area is 'Little Whinging,' which again sounds appropriately parochial and sniffy, 'whinging' being a colloquial term for 'complaining or whining' in British English." [Pause.] That was interesting.

Plum: I want to get out of this darn place. I do not like Privet Drive. [I click to the next page, which is an evening scene.] Where in the world is this?

Me: Still Privet Drive. Look, if you click on McGonagall she waves her tail.

Plum: There's Dumblydore. [She uses the nickname given to him by the headmistress of Beauxbatons in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.] He's turning out the streetlamps.

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