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Harry Potter Scenes You Didn't Know Were Improvised

More than two decades after it first premiered on the big screen, "Harry Potter" remains one of the biggest and most successful movie franchises of all time — just behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars (via The Numbers). Just as the MCU predominantly draws from Marvel's comic book source material, "Harry Potter" is based on the beloved books by J. K. Rowling. Of course — as with many film and TV adaptations — some things get lost in translation. Eagle-eyed fans have picked up on all the changes from the books — big and small — whether it be Harry's eye color or the differences in Ginny and Harry's first kiss.

What viewers might not know, however, is that many of the changes in the film — particularly pertaining to specific character choices — were improvised. As well as these small touches being added on the fly, many of the actors also had significant input into their character's appearances and behaviors. For example, David Tennant — who played Barty Crouch Jr. — gave his character the signature tell of licking his lips (per Screen Rant). 

In the case of most of the "Harry Potter" films, the directors were happy to let the actors take the lead in some of the scenes since they were the ones who knew their characters best. Join us as we take a look at some of the film franchise's most iconic moments and scenes that you would never know were improvised.

Holy Cricket!

There are wonderfully improvised moments from the very beginning of the franchise, and one of the best comes in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" when Hermione (Emma Watson) meets Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron (Rupert Grint) for the first time. Arriving in Harry and Ron's train compartment under the guise of looking for Trevor — Neville Longbottom's (Matthew Lewis) lost toad — Watson got creative with one of her lines when she sits down opposite The Boy Who Lived. Demonstrating her superior spellcasting abilities by fixing Harry's broken glasses, Hermione recognizes him immediately after he removes his spectacles and exclaims, "Holy Cricket! You're Harry Potter!"

Director Chris Columbus has a history of getting great performances out of child actors — having worked with the young Macaulay Culkin in "Home Alone." Columbus told Watson the line was going to begin with "Holy," and reportedly gave the actor license to fill in the blank with whatever felt right (via Collider). "Cricket" is the word that made the final cut, and it feels like the perfect choice for the precocious young witch. The scene beautifully introduces Hermione's character and gives viewers a taste of what they can look forward to from her.

The rubber duck

Ron's father, Arthur Weasley (Mark Williams) is a muggle-obsessed wizard who we meet at the start of the second film. While we've already been introduced to some of the brood, we get to learn more about them in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" when the Weasleys — Ron along with his brothers Fred and George (James and Oliver Phelps) — break Harry out of the Dursley's house and bring him back to their family home, The Burrow. 

Prior to meeting Arthur, Harry already knows that he likes to tinker with muggle objects — like the flying Ford Anglia car that they had escaped in the previous night — and we later learn he works in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office in the Ministry of Magic. Upon meeting Harry the next morning, Arthur is thrilled to have someone else to talk about the muggle world with, culminating in him asking: "What exactly is the function of a rubber duck?"

During the 2016 Leviosa fan event, Chris Rankin — who plays Percy Weasley — confirmed that Harry's shocked and confused reaction to the question was in fact Daniel Radcliffe's real response. Rankin explained that Williams kept asking Radcliffe different and random questions when they were practicing and filming that scene so that his reaction was always genuine. It just so happened to be the rubber duck question that made the cut. "We did that scene about 13 or 14 times, and every time it was something else. Some of it [is] not repeatable," Rankin revealed (via BuzzFeed).

I didn't know you could read

While there are a host of memorable lines in "Harry Potter," it's safe to say that Tom Felton's Draco Malfoy often delivers the cream of the crop. There are many great options to choose from, but interestingly one of Draco's best-ever lines in the series was totally unscripted. It comes from Felton forgetting his scripted line in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," which he revealed in a Facebook Q&A.

Halfway through the film, the Golden Trio suspects that Draco is the Heir of Slytherin and is responsible for the attacks on muggle-born students at Hogwarts. To try to prove it, they take Polyjuice Potion — which briefly transforms the drinker into another person — and sneak into the Slytherin common room disguised as Malfoy's cronies, Crabbe (Jamie Waylett) and Goyle (Josh Herdman).

While there are a number of hilarious moments during this sequence, the best comes when they are first intercepted by Draco. The ever-perceptive Slytherin observes that Goyle — who is actually Harry in disguise — is wearing glasses, so calls him out on it. When he responds that they are for reading, Draco looks stunned, takes some time to ponder this revelation, and scathingly replies, "I didn't know you could read." Not only is the delivery and comedic timing from Felton perfect, but it reinforces the notion that Draco really isn't nice to anyone — even his friends.

Harry Potter and Lucius Malfoy face off with ad-libbed lines

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" is chock-full of improvised and unscripted moments — and a couple of them involve British star Jason Isaacs, who plays the villainous Lucius Malfoy. The first comes when he appears at the end of the film, distraught to learn that Harry had spoiled his plan of reopening the Chamber of Secrets — though, of course, he would never admit it.

When Professor Dumbledore (Richard Harris) reveals that Harry has once again thwarted Voldemort — who reappeared through his teenage diary — Lucius is livid. To mask his anger, and feign compassion for Hogwarts and its students, he sarcastically praises Harry's efforts, saying, "Well, let's hope Mr. Potter will always be around to save the day."

CBR confirmed that Isaacs ad-libbed this line, just feeling it was something his character would say at this moment. Because of this, Radcliffe was not expecting it in the scene. But, without missing a beat, he quickly fires back at Lucius, defiantly saying, "Don't worry, I will be." Radcliffe's improvised comeback also perfectly captures his character and highlights Harry's nature as someone who will always put others before himself.

Lucius Malfoy kicks Dobby down the stairs

Following Jason Isaacs' improvised sarcasm aimed at the boy wizard, the actor improvises another of Lucius Malfoy's iconic moments almost immediately after. After being put in his place by Harry's retort, Lucius attempts to assert his authority again and goes to depart Professor Dumbledore's office, swinging his cloak in dramatic fashion as he does so. He calls for Dobby (voiced by Toby Jones) and announces that they are leaving before kicking the house-elf down the stairs in front of him. However, this moment was not scripted.

While the scene was being shot, Isaacs wasn't sure where Dobby was going to be, but director Chris Columbus told him that he'd be edited in somewhere in his eye-line. According to the actor, this isn't the normal experience on set but it gave him a lot of room to play. Given the freedom he'd been allowed in the scene, the actor went one step further and spontaneously decided to kick Dobby down the stairs on the way out. He explained: "I swung my leg out, and I stepped down and I swung my stick, and Chris goes, 'Cut! Can we clean the floor where Jason slipped, please?' And I said, 'No, I didn't slip. I kicked Dobby down the stairs.' And I just thought 'this is going to be ridiculously good fun'" (via Screen Rant).

That handshake between Hermione and Ron

The early years of Hermione and Ron's relationship are heavily foreshadowed in the early films. In "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" there's an important scene between the two characters that was improvised by Emma Watson, with the help of Chris Columbus. 

After the confrontation with Lucius Malfoy, Harry has cleaned himself up and reunited with Ron and the rest of the school in the Great Hall. However, Hermione, who has been petrified up until this point, has yet to enter. When she does, Harry and Ron both jump up to greet her. Hermione runs from one end of the hall to the other, rushing into Harry's arms. She then goes to embrace Ron but stops herself. Instead, Ron extends his arm for a handshake, which she happily accepts.

This scene was not scripted the way it played out, and Columbus actually wanted Watson to run through the Great Hall and hug both boys, but Watson had it changed because the 11-year-old actor was far too embarrassed to do it. She had a hard enough time just hugging Radcliffe. "I hugged him for such a short period of time my arms barely touched around his neck, and then I let go immediately. Chris had to freeze-frame the hug so that the moment lasted long enough for it to be anything," she explained (via Instagram).

The clapping at the end of the Chamber of Secrets

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" saved one of its biggest improvised scenes for the very end. After Hermione returns, she sits down at the Gryffindor table, just in time for Dumbledore's end-of-term announcements. The celebrations are interrupted when Hogwarts gamekeeper, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), returns to the school following his brief stint in Azkaban.

In a touching scene, Harry welcomes him back and utters one of the franchise's most heavily quoted lines, saying, "There's no Hogwarts without you Hagrid," before he gives the half-giant a big hug. Seeing the moment, Dumbledore rises and begins to clap, and he is quickly joined by Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Harry, and the rest of the Great Hall. However, according to Collider, the school clapping scene happened completely by accident. Only Richard Harris was supposed to clap, but everyone ended up joining in, and it was kept in.

Other actors were seemingly inspired by this wave of improvisation and decided to put their own marks on the scene as well. Jamie Waylett, who plays Crabbe, also chose to join in with the clapping, despite the rest of the Slytherin table not doing so. The actor told The Leaky Cauldron that this was a personal acting choice during a 2007 interview. However, Draco Malfoy actor Tom Felton was not privy to this spontaneous decision and so he pulled Waylett back down onto the bench because he didn't want the scene to be ruined. This moment also ended up making the final cut, and once again showcases Malfoy's controlling tendencies and mistreatment of his friends.

The emotional range of a teaspoon

There are some truly great moments between the Golden Trio through the "Harry Potter" films — from the time they unite to fight a cave troll in the first film, to the moment they escaped from Gringotts Bank on the back of a dragon in the final movie. Of course, most of their interactions are scripted, but in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," one accidental improvisation made the cut.

After Harry's first kiss with Cho Chang (Katie Leung) in the Room of Requirement, he goes back to the Gryffindor common room to discuss it with Ron and Hermione — as all best friends do — and Harry admits that Cho was "sort of crying" at the time. Showing compassion, Hermione tries to put herself in Cho's shoes and explains to the boys all the confusing emotions that she must be feeling. In disbelief, Ron replies, "one person couldn't be feeling all that. They'd explode."

Watson quickly responds with one of Hermione's best one-liners, telling Ron, "Just because you've got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean we all have." However, the scene comes out differently in the movie than it does in the book. In the film, the line elicits humor, and the Golden Trio bursts into laughter. In the book, it's a more serious line, but the actors just couldn't contain themselves and the tone of the scene changed (via What Culture). This was actually their own reaction to the comment in a completely unscripted moment, but it changed the scene for the better.

When Bellatrix pokes Neville with her wand

"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" was the film that finally introduced the notorious Bellatrix Lestrange, played by the incomparable Helena Bonham Carter. The actor is well-known for being almost as bonkers on set as her character, but after one particular scene, Bonham Carter admitted she might have taken her "sadism a bit too literally" (per Entertainment Weekly).

During the film's final battle, Harry and his friends face off against the Death Eaters — who are led by Lucius Malfoy. The Death Eaters have them cornered — each one with their wands to the throat of a teenager — while Lucius faces Harry head-on. Bellatrix has hold of Neville, but unlike the other Death Eaters, she's brandishing her wand around, poking and prodding at Neville. In all the flurry, Bonham Carter admitted she mistakenly "poked him in his ear." She explained further, "I thought I could brandish the wand like a sort of Q-tip, and clean out his ear ... But unfortunately he moved toward the wand as I was prodding it. And it actually perforated his eardrum."

Although Lewis' injury wasn't permanent, Bonham Carter confirmed that he ended up in a lot of pain with some internal bleeding days later when he finally admitted it. But in true Bellatrix fashion, she concluded her story with a twisted joke, "Well, torture happens."

Luna's dance in The Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Luna might be a little bit quirky, but she's a fan favorite "Harry Potter" character and there was certainly no one more suited to play her than Evanna Lynch. By the time she appears in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1," Luna's weirdness does not need explaining — although one key scene does explain where she gets it from. As the characters gather to celebrate Bill (Domhnall Gleeson) and Fleur's (Clémence Poésy) wedding, we meet another important character, Luna's dad Xenophilius Lovegood (Rhys Ifans). After briefly speaking to Harry, Luna and Xenophilius can be spotted dancing an unusual routine together.

Set to upbeat Irish jig music, Luna and her dad dominate the dance floor with a move Lynch later dubbed "the Wrackspurt Dance" (per E! News). The story goes that the film's official choreographer couldn't nail down a routine for Luna and Xenophilius, so Lynch and Ifans came up with their own (via Collider). As reported by E! News, when Lynch was competing in "Dancing With the Stars" years later, her partner Keo Motsepe joked that they would be incorporating some of the moves from that iconic improvised dance, saying, "I'm going to turn it into an amazing move."

Bellatrix torturing Hermione

The "Harry Potter" franchise has always had significantly dark undertones, but these particularly come to the surface in the "Deathly Hallows" films. In "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1," Harry, Ron, and Hermione are kidnapped by snatchers who take them to Malfoy Manor. Here, they are interrogated by the wicked Bellatrix Lestrange. Deciding to focus her efforts on them one at a time, Bellatrix locks Harry and Ron in the cellar so she can torture Hermione. 

The scene sees Bellatrix pressing Hermione on what they stole from her Gringotts vault, and it is undeniably powerful and emotional. This is no doubt thanks to Emma Watson and Helena Bonham Carter, who went off-script to bring it to life. In addition to the dark torture, Hermione's "mudblood" scar is something that Watson and Bonham Carter came up with together, as it doesn't exist in the books.

The film's director David Yates later explained to Fandango that Watson did a lot of research about torture survivors before taking on the scene. Additionally, he took a different approach to filming this scene. He explained, "I didn't shoot it like a scene where you [say] action [and] cut. I kind of let the camera roll for four or five minutes and I let Helena and Emma improvise ... so they could build an intensity together." Yates went on to say that it proved to be a groundbreaking moment for Watson, who "discovered something within herself that will make her a great actor."

Voldemort and Draco's awkward hug

As you might expect for such a large and significant moment, the scene in the courtyard in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" — when everyone believes Harry is dead — took many takes to get it right. According to Tom Felton's autobiography "Beyond the Wand: The Magic and Mayhem of Growing Up a Wizard," it was as many as 30 or 40 times (via Insider). Felton's character — Draco Malfoy — has a particularly significant moment when he approaches Voldemort to signify he is taking his side. Felton explained, "For many of the takes I did the same thing: walking past Voldemort, keeping my distance, pacing slowly, head down, slightly terrified. Ralph [Fiennes] would look at me differently every time."

Just as Mark Williams elicited an authentic reaction when he asked Daniel Radcliffe about the function of a rubber duck, Fiennes did something similar in this scene. He threw Felton off his guard when he lifted his arms in a hugging gesture. "Uncertain, I shimmied towards him, my arms down by my side. He put his own arms around me and gave me perhaps the most uninviting hug ever captured on film. Even on set it chilled me," he revealed.

Because they had filmed so many takes, Felton had no idea which one had even made it into the final cut — only getting the answer when he saw the movie for the first time at the London premiere. He noted that the audience was completely silent during the scene, all experiencing the same chill he did that day on set.