NEW YORK — Who says there's no magic in Muggle schools? Granted, you won't find Defense Against the Dark Arts classes or lessons in Potions or Divination on the curriculum, but the students at Horace Mann School in the Bronx borough of New York City have their own way of learning from Harry Potter — and, not surprisingly, it involves making a huge mess of the school library.
"Basically, a couple times a year, we have a big sleepover at the library, where we all go Harry Potter crazy," explained senior Charlotte Raines. "We're like our own Dumbledore's Army."
The students who participate are members of an informal book club called Literary Lunch Chat, who meet twice a week each trimester to discuss not only their favorite current reads but their theories about what's going to happen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the seventh and final book in the series (see " 'Harry Potter' Book Covers Provide Clues, Confusion About Showdown With Voldemort" and "Final 'Harry Potter' Book's Release Set As Films' Star Fights Controversy"). As the discussion group grew, so did their activities — from a field trip to see the "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" film to staying overnight in the library to watch the movies, play trivia games, eat junk food, sing karaoke, dance, and "run around like crazy," Raines said. Even students who weren't hard-core fans started signing up, said senior Natasha Tonge, just so they wouldn't be called "a Muggle."
"We are the kind of people who can have a heated 45-minute discussion about why the snail-throwing scene in 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban' absolutely ruins the whole time-travel story line," librarian Caroline Bartels said. "We'll stay up and debate and go to bed around 3 or 4 a.m., if at all."
Seniors get priority in picking sleeping spots (the religion/mythology section is among the favorites), but it's a free-for-all for who gets to chime in when it comes time to test their theories — including who will live, who will die, and who will end up with whom.
"We can get pretty angry about Harry Potter theories," laughed senior Shana Caro. "People are pretty attached to their respective ideas about what is a Horcrux and what isn't."
"The fact that we're sitting here having these debates over that just goes to prove that J.K. Rowling has created such an extensive world," said junior Ruth Linehan. "There are so many little details we can argue over."
It doesn't end with the text — the students also transfigure Harry's world into theirs, deciding which characters they identify with the most (Ginny Weasley gets a lot of votes) or which house they would belong to if they went to Hogwarts (activist kids into Hufflepuff, for instance), and determining real-world parallels with the politics of the wizarding world.
"You can learn from Harry Potter," said sophomore Eleanor Lewis. "There are a lot of life lessons, some of which aren't really applicable: Never store your soul in a foreign object; do not wander into the forest alone, especially magical forests; follow the spiders unless they would lead you into a magical forest; your friends might not always be intelligent and you shouldn't hate them for that."
"Never trust something if you can't see where it keeps its brain," senior Sophia Shapiro said. "He didn't learn that lesson with the Horcrux book. Bad boy."
"Also, don't leave tasks [until] the last minute," freshman Hannah Mark said. "In the fourth book, Harry's trying to figure out what the egg is singing, and it takes asking someone else and cheating [to find out]."
"So the life lesson is to cheat?" Shapiro asked, laughing.
"No, but you have to see someone do the wrong thing to realize you can do the right thing," Mark said.
"Actually, I think the life lesson is stick up for your friends," freshman Zoe Maltby said. "Our friends are our most important assets."
"I think the undying theme of the book is love," freshman Finn Vigeland said. "I don't think the final battle will be who can do the most spells, or throw out the most curses, but who has the love to survive. That's what he's been learning across the seven books. That's what we learn."