Words: Lucy Jolin / Photography: Angela Moore
If you don’t know your parseltongue from your imperio, the Harry Potter Society is here to help.
Whisper it quietly (or perhaps cast a quick Silencing Charm): Harry Potter Society President Natakala Dakshesh (Physics, Third Year, Gryffindor) has a secret. “I’m not a super-super Harry Potter fan,” he confesses. “Of course, I’ve read all the books. Multiple times. But I joined the society because Harry Potter is great to bond around and make friends. So many people know it, and it lends itself to so many different things.”
It certainly does: the Wizarding Chess Tournament, for example. “It’s exactly the same as normal chess,” says Dakshesh. “Except we’re wizards.” Hats are a popular theme, as one would expect with wizards, particularly when events were taking place online in pandemic times and fun was a little thin on the ground. But there’s no pressure to acquire a particularly wizardly hat: Dakshesh chose a green bucket for an online quiz. A
I’m a straight arrow: a very typical Gryffindor”
Sorting Ceremony also took place online, with members being assigned to one of wizarding school Hogwarts’ houses: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. “I’m a straight arrow: a very typical Gryffindor,” says Dakshesh.
Now that events can be in-person again, the Society has a lot of fun thinking of Potter-themed events. A recent treasure hunt took place in the suitably occult surroundings of Brompton Cemetery and saw members solving riddles to find Horcruxes – objects where a Dark Wizard or Witch has hidden a fragment of their soul in order to achieve immortality. “That was great fun, particularly going to a café afterwards,” says Dakshesh. “It was probably my favourite thing that we’ve done so far.”
Food plays a big part in the wizarding world of Harry Potter: not just magical Potterverse specialities like Butterbeer and Fizzing Whizzbees, but also traditional British boarding-school fare like treacle tart, steak and kidney pie, spotted dick, kippers and Yorkshire pudding. “Once we were back on campus, we held a feast,” says Dakshesh. “The brief was just to make Harry Potter-themed food. It was fantastic, but one problem with the Harry Potter films is that they show desserts more than actual food. So we only ended up with one main course – Pumpkin Pasties – and absolutely loads of Potter-themed sweets like Cockroach Clusters, which you make by covering Rice Krispies with chocolate.” For his contribution, Dakshesh paid tribute to Harry’s loyal owl companion and created a Hedwig-themed cake, though he’s at pains to point out that it was ‘only in 2D’.
We’re hoping to get a team together to play Quidditch next year”
If by now you’re wondering why you haven’t seen wandwielding wizards around the campus, you haven’t missed them: the Society haven’t gone in for dressing up so far, though Dakshesh did make a wand for his presidential pitch. “It was from a rosemary tree and somehow it became infested with ants and spiders, which are supposed to hate rosemary, so I destroyed it. I’m not sure it was that magical. But now we’re discussing having a dress-up event – maybe even a Yule Ball.” And next year, he’s hoping to get a team together to play Quidditch – a game played on broomsticks which requires the players to retain possession of a leather ball called the Quaffle and catch an enchanted winged ball known as the Golden Snitch.
Few books have the power to inspire university societies, so what makes the Harry Potter series different? “I think it’s the shared experience,” says Dakshesh. “There are those who have only watched the movies, and those who have read the books, and those who have done both, and who argue which one is better – it’s always the book, of course. And all these different groups come together in this place where we can go to pretend.”
Read more about the Harry Potter Society on the Imperial College Union website.