Monday, February 6, 2017

Harry Potter Party

("Finally!" I hear you say.)

Yes, this post has been a long time coming, but when you see the scope of this party, it might become clear why it's taken me 5 months to finally share it with you: the Harry Potter universe is simply immense. J.K. Rowling is a master world-builder and her details - spells, charms, games, costumes, wands, pets, potions, characters, food, shops - are endless. By its very definition, a HP party is a role-playing game; one cannot throw this party with, say, merely themed tableware and a token box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say; if you were hoping to do a watered-down HP shindig, throw in the towel now and back away in trepidation, because there is no such thing.

My oldest child, fortunately, does not know trepidation.

In the spring of 2016, she planned this party all by herself. We had an uneasy alliance in the beginning: she declared "I can do this" and I said, "You and what army?"

Undeterred by Mother's chronic wetblanketness, she argued her case: she had all summer, and she'd be more than happy to spend those months working on this than be bored otherwise. She promised to do all the work and all I needed to do was blog about it and maybe sew some bits that were beyond her. Sounded like a fair deal, so I said (a very hesitant) yes. 

And work she did. Let me tell you, she worked this entire party down to the last detail, made almost all the props and decorations, somehow found a way to recreate Diagon Alley in our acutely non-spacious basement, including - with the help of simple electronics - Ollivander's interactive wand shop, recruited volunteer party helpers, then plotted and coordinated the traffic flow and sequence of activities on the day itself.

I wanted to give you this context not only to credit Emily for an incredible accomplishment but also to reassure you that while the effort involved was indeed phenomenal, it was conceptualized, researched and almost-entirely executed by an 11-year-old. A very dedicated, disciplined and talented 11-year-old, granted, but still: a 5th-grader, people. So yes, of course you can do this, too.

Two things before we begin the tour:

  1. Wherever I helped, or actually made something, I'll mention it (or you'll see me in the photos). Otherwise, all the work was Emily's.
  2. There will follow individual posts deconstructing each of the elements of the party, and that's where I'll link to sources for stuff we bought, tutorials for how we made things, and so on. If you see something you like and there isn't a lot of information about it, be assured that you'll probably find more in those later posts, okay? There's so much to share in this overview post that I want to streamline it as much as I can.
Ready for the ride?

Let's start at the beginning - here be the invitations: a personalized scroll explaining that, like in the books, the guest was to be enrolled in a school for magic and was required to report at such-and-such a time and date and place.

Here, in time-table form, was our party schedule - Emily wanted it run like a school day. Actual classes are in red.

When the guests arrived on the day of the party, they were given several things:

two, a key to their own bank vault,

and three, a ticket for the Hogwarts Express.

The guests were then taken downstairs and through a brick wall to Diagon Alley.

Very simple setup: the many businesses of this magical shopping village were constructed of pre-existing furniture, convenient corners, and whatever props we already had in the house. Some were manned by volunteers while others were self-service establishments. 

Here are a couple of shots: Gringotts Bank against the left wall, The Wizard Wheezes Joke Shop (Jenna and Kate are impersonating the Weasley twins), Madam Malkin's Robes in the forefront, and Flourish & Blotts on the right;


Quality Quidditch Supplies and, to its left, the Magical Menagerie, which was Jenna's Little Blue House filled with the animals of Menagerie. Yes, literally.

These are the shop signs Emily printed out and/or adapted from existing licensed images - see if you can spot them around the room:

Let's go shopping!

First stop: Gringotts Bank, where guests presented their vault keys for a pouch of Galleons.

Armed with their allowance, they then wandered around Diagon Alley collecting all the school supplies on their shopping list. They paid shopkeepers (or a money box at self-service stations) the necessary number of Galleons for 

a Pygmy Puff kit (@The Wizard Wheezes Joke Shop);

a broomstick (@Quality Quidditch Supplies) - Emily designed these and the girls and I made them.

a hat (@Madam Maulkins' Robes for All Occasions) - I sewed these.

Backstory: the original plan was to mass-produce robes like this one,

but after Emily did the Math, she realized they required for more fabric than we wanted to splurge on. So we went with hats instead for the party, but a couple of months later, I made a Gryffindor robe for Emily, adapted from our robe dresses here. Thought I'd include that in this post for completeness' sake, even though we didn't actually have them at the party.

Continuing the shopping-for-supplies now: a cauldron (@Potage's Cauldron Shop);

a quill and inkpot (@Flourish & Blotts);

The Monster Book of Monsters (@Flourish & Blotts);

The Standard Book of Spells Vol. 1 and 2 (Flourish & Blotts);

a pet rat (@Magical Menagerie);

and a wand (@Ollivander's). The photo below shows a trial series of wands which Emily made and sold at the Kids' Craft Fair earlier in the summer. She really enjoyed tweaking her designs and experimenting with new techniques to create different handle and shaft textures, and pommels.

Here are some of the wands she eventually made for the actual party (click on the collage to enlarge). I think they are absolutely gorgeous.

She made the labels and we worked on the wand boxes together.

Do you recognize the shelving unit for Ollivander's Wand Shop? It's from our cardboard greengrocer stand

Mr. Ollivander (played by the girls' cousin Alex) gave his 'the wand chooses the wizard' presentation when guests came to buy their wands.

Emily, who has never been to Harry Potter World (yet), watched their wand-selection process on a youtube video, and recreated it for her party using her Makey-Makey electronics set.

Here's a video she and Jenna then made for Alex to explain what his presentation would be like. You might want to turn up the volume to hear all the sound effects. She also made another "training" video to help him learn to work the Makey-Makey set-up to produce all the sound effects. We'll share that video in a later post about how we made the wands and wand boxes.

Having finished stocking up on school supplies, the guests then headed out to Platform 9 3/4 

to board the Hogwarts Express,

which was a double row of chairs set out on our driveway. This turned out to be a nice waiting area for guests to sit and visit as we waited for everyone to be done shopping.

Look at all those eager-eyed Hogwarts freshmen, placidly waiting for the train to depart!

Unbeknownst to them, however, this was actually a demented game of musical chairs. One by one, the guests were ejected from the train to the sound of Hedwig's Theme being turned on and off, until only one guest was left. Great fun. If you ever host a Harry Potter-themed party, you have to play this game, okay? It was a total hit.

From the Hogwarts Express (now sans most of its chairs), the guests proceeded to lunch, which was served on our deck. When Emily was planning this party, she found no end of ideas on the internet for themed food. Everyone, it seemed, knew how to do food (activities, however - not so much) so this was the easy part. We put out bowls of jelly beans for Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, threw the Sorting Hat in the middle for a centerpiece,

set out lemonade (we tried DIY Butterbeer but found it oversweet and thus unacceptable) and catered in pizza (because everyone knows Harry Potter and his very British friends ate nothing but pizza).

After lunch came the Sorting. We made our own Sorting Hat, concealed a walkie talkie inside it, 

and had Grandpa, hidden downstairs with a second walkie-talkie and a guest list, provide its disembodied voice. The sorting wasn't random: Emily had pre-grouped her guest list into the four houses as fairly as she could as they'd be remaining in their respective houses for the games later.

Then began classes in earnest. 

The first class was Care of Magical Creatures, in which the guests each made a Pygmy Puff from a kit.

Charms (and Spells) was next. This was a game-show-style quiz. We set up this grid of numbered squares (which I drew).

The guests called out a number, under which was a prompt which they had to answer with the help of their Spells textbooks.  

There were two kinds of prompts. If the prompt was the name of a spell, they had to explain what the spell did. 

If the prompt was an action, they had to provide the name of the spell responsible.

Each correct answer earned a point for their house: a simple tally mark on the respective hourglass on this House Points poster. You can see the tally marks on this poster in the next photo.

Next was Transfiguration, in which Emily taught the guests how to turn a sheet of striped paper by magic (aka origami)

into a necktie.

Everyone picked whichever house colors they liked (or made up their own)

and colored in the stripes. You can see the striped pattern on the sheets of paper in the photo below.

Defence Against The Dark Arts, the next class, was split into two parts, with a break for tea in between. In the first half, guests drew their choice of Patronus animal on paper, colored it bluey-green and cut it out. Emily's Patronus was a hedgehog.

Then everyone took a short recess for treats.

In lieu of a birthday cake, we ate Chocolate Frogs 

and Cauldron Cakes, both of which Emily made herself, with everyone helping, regardless of whether or not she wanted them to. It's hard not to help when there's chocolate involved was our excuse.

We sang to the birthday girl, read cards 

and opened gifts.

We resumed Defence Against The Dark Arts after tea. The plan was for everyone to stick their Patronus animals on the garage door, trail blue party streamers from the tips of their wands and mime calling forth their Patronuses for a group photoshoot. This, unfortunately, did not happen as planned, because everyone drew very elaborate animals and were in danger of coloring themselves into a stupor. For the sake of time, we decided to skip ahead to Quidditch. 

Everyone knows Quidditch, right?

Here are the balls: a red Quaffle (store-bought), two black bludgers (sewn) and a Golden Snitch (made).

And here is the Quidditch pitch - modified for non-flying earthbound players. 

The rules were simple: 
  • There are two teams (we combined two houses into each team).
  • Each team gets (and defends) one goal post.
  • The Golden Snitch gets hidden somewhere in the yard.
  • Anyone can throw any of the remaining three balls.
  • Each shot of the Quaffle through any of the hoops is a point for the other team.
  • Each time you get hit by a Bludger, you freeze in place until someone (ostensibly your team-mate) hits you again with another Bludger.
  • Do not throw the Quaffle at people.
  • Do not throw the Bludger(s) through the hoops.
  • Casting Unforgivable Curses in frustration at people is cheating and bad manners, not to mention illegal.
  • The person who finds the Golden Snitch first gets 150 points for their team.
  • But who cares about points when you really just want to shoot hoops and throw balls at everyone until your parents arrive to drag you away and into their cars to go home.

Good fun was had by all.

Here is a shot of what each guest took home (Diagon Alley refunded all the Galleons and let the guests keep them) Update: Emily just reminded me that Diagon Alley did not offer refunds of Galleons. Apparently, all the Galleons are still somewhere in our house.

And I have to show you one more photo:

Caught up in all the excitement of the party prep, Kate made these mini-cauldrons from polymer clay as prizes for the games. Those round things on the tops are bubbles, but some had fallen off by the time I got around to taking this shot post-party. Aw. I am all mush inside whenever one of my kids wants to do something sweet for another of my kids. Because it's so much more pleasant than fighting with each other, I mean.

Back to Emily now:

Epic doesn't even begin to describe this party. Yes, I am awed by and proud of her for a job very well done, but far prouder of how hard she worked, and how disciplined and organized she was in seeing it from start to finish. You go, girl!

Two more things to say:
  1. Emily and I will be sharing the how-to posts over the next weeks. Expect loads of posts. 
  2. You're probably going to ask if we will also be sharing templates and downloadable stuff so you can more easily recreate favorite bits for your own parties and such. That was the initial plan: she'd saved all her images, files and templates with the hope of compiling them into a pdf file of printables for you to buy and download: a very enterprising move, I thought. Unfortunately, this is Harry Potter; there are copyright and licensing issues regarding the use of any of its, well. . . anything, and not only for commercial purposes. After more research, we've decided to share only instructional tutorials on the blog, with links to the original sites from which Emily sourced her material. We  have a pdf file you can buy that contains original templates and printables not specific to the Harry Potter franchise. Read more about it and purchase it here.
Check back soon for the how-to posts!


  1. Seems absolutley AMAZING! Both of you did such a wonderful job, and props to Emily for organising all of this almost on her own; thats quite magnificent. I really do wish it was socially acceptable to have such a rad party at 15 :( any ideas about how to adjust it to make it a bit more teen friendly? Regardless, great job you guys!

    1. How about a role playing party in the style of a murder mystery. You'd have to create a story and assign parts to the guests where each character has a certain amount of information, so the story can play out. It can be in the setting of Hogwarts with courses, but the focus would be more on the story and less on the activities. The story could follow the formula of the first few books where one of Voldemort's horcruxes. Or maybe it can be a spin off story of some sort.

  2. Dear Emily, my birthday is in August! Wink wink! Well done sweetie, clearly you're a chip off the old block!

  3. WOW!! I think Emily has begun her career as a party planner! 😊

  4. Absolutely outstanding. Emily deserves an award for excellent ideas and hard work!

  5. Emma is going to be so excited to see this post! We have started planning our March party here, but there is a long ways to go and February is a short month!

  6. Fantastic party! Congratulations to the birthday girl for pulling it off. I can't wait to read all about it!

  7. Wow. Emily is an amazing organizer who is wonderfully creative! I know many adults who could never pull this off. I wish that I could have been there - I forwarded it on to a dear friend of mine who is an avid HP fan - what fun it would be to have an adult version of this party. I'm sure that this is one birthday party tha Emily's friends have been talking about for months. I am proud of you Emily - and I do not even know you.

  8. An after thought - I was not able to get the vide for Alex to work, either in linked version here or in the email.

    1. Doris: Thank you so much for pointing that out. I've uploaded it to youtube and linked to that here. Hopefully this version will play.

  9. Wow ! That is amazing ! Emily is a great party-planner and she did a wonderful job. You must be really proud ! I cannot wait for my 11-year-old to see that, she wants to do a Harry Potter party and she loves to plan her own parties as well, she will love it. Thank you for sharing !

  10. Amazing job Emily!!! I need to figure out how to have this for my 43rd bday this year ;) happy birthday!!

  11. This is incredible. I will need to use this at some point:)

  12. What an amazingly talented, hard-working, creative and imaginative daughter you have!

  13. Love! The Pygmy Puff kits are such a clever idea! And I never thought to make brooms out of paper and sticks. Those are awesome! I'm so impressed by all of Emily's planning and implementation. The level of detail in the galleons and keys, monster books and quills, everything is amazing! There is nothing overlooked. And the video of the wand selection is so wonderful!

    I did a Harry Potter party for my child's 8th birthday, over 5 years ago. There are so many more resources now, but I'll share a summary of my party, in case others are interested, and since I don't have a blog. I made wands (paper/hot glue/paint - my husband helped with these), robes (a lot of sewing), and owls (homemade pompoms) for each child. Additionally, we made text books bound in fabric covered cardboard, including sections for all their classes (took forever to compile). They also got cauldrons (dollar store), and shopped at Honeydukes for hand packaged themed candy, and homemade chocolate frogs. I purchased some candy box templates on Etsy. I used Photoshop Elements to design other candy labels, Hogwarts Express tickets, and photo backdrops - one for individual children in the "Have You Seen This Wizard" poster remake and another for a group shot that says, "I solemnly swear I'm up to no good". We hung three broomsticks in a triangle over our garage where the kids had cake and butterbeer (and also set up the Honeydukes display). Our Diagon Alley was our large front porch, where kids got their robes, wands, and owls. My husband made signs for Ollivander's and Madam Malkins. He also made a website (no longer exists) for kids to shop for wands and owls and give measurements for robes, and their purchases were ready upon arrival at the party (a trip to Gringotts to get galleons would have been fun). I created class schedules, and kids went through classes based on that and which house they were in (they weren't all in the same classes at the same time due to space constraints). We started with lunch and the sorting hat (unfortunately without the walkie talkie). Kids attended classes: Astronomy (looked at constellations using a star projector), Defense Against the Dark Arts (the kids attacked my husband with various spells - apparently a big hit due to his dramatic effects), Potions (made slime -polymers), Charms (made "snow" -polymers), Care of Magical Creatures (made "flobberworms" -more polymers), Transfiguration (sculpted with Model Magic), Divination (Palm Reading), and Herbology (planted Jade clippings, and "magic beans"). They ended the day with the trip to The Three Broomsticks for treats, followed by a wild and chaotic game of Quidditch (for which my brother-in-law crafted amazing hoops that have since been discarded despite my protests). I'm sure there is more, but it was a party that was talked about for years, and one of the best (and most fun) things I've ever created.

    I'm sure Emily's party will be remembered and talked about for years to come! I can't wait until she starts her own blog. She's sure to create more amazing things!

  14. So fabulous! Can't wait for all the posts! Seems like it could be a great summer camp too!

  15. WOW! That is one epic party and it sounds like Emily will take the world by storm when she decides she wants something. I hope my daughter will grow up to be as diligent, creative, and Harry-Potter-loving as you Emily!

  16. Totally Epic! Her professors must be very proud of her. Brightest witch in her class!

  17. This is PHENOMENAL! I'm in awe of your daughter. This is certainly going to be the comprehensive guide from now on for a Harry Potter party. I would not even have dreamed of such a party when I was 11! Good for her.

  18. That was awesome! And your daughter is even more awesome for planning and carrying it out. Well done Emily!

  19. Absolutely marvelous Emily, well done!

  20. one silly question: how did Emily make the Galleons? Thanks

  21. Woooow, congratulations to Emily, what a great party!! I absolutely love it!!

  22. I'm in awe! I almost got stressed just reading this post. I can't even begin to imagine organizing all that stuff! We sometimes do a simple treasure hunt at our parties, and I find that difficult enough. I only dream of having theamed parties with just half the stuff you do.

    One question I have though: how long is your party? Here childrens birthday parties are normally 2 hours, and I can't imagine fitting all that into such a short space of time.

    1. Kara: ours was 3 hours long.

      And yes, if it were just me doing it, I wouldn't have done a Harry Potter party. Ever.

  23. This is son is only 3yr old but i still want to do a similar party!

  24. Fantastic! I might even consider letting my kids host a birthday party with this kid-driven approach. These are also good ideas for items my 7yo can help make to decorate her room and outfit her siblings for playing HP world (wasn't planning on that till she was a bit older but she sweet talked the librarian into holding the books for her and read like a girl possessed). I really like how each post shows the steps Emily used to figure out what she wanted/needed to do. I'm looking forward to showing my daughter - very inspiring, Thanks for sharing!

  25. Two years later, and this post has been an long time inspiration to my Harry Potter loving kid. We live in a tiny apartment, her birthday is in November, but still, she really wanted to do it.

    So this weekend, we finally did! We made wands and sewed felt wand pouches; had kids make Emily's Pygmy Puffs and Monster Books of Monsters at the party; gave kids pin backs, pre-cut letters and shield-shapes to make House Badges; used plastic test tubes and pipettes to make ginger ale/fruit punch/lime juice/seltzer potions; and then I drew Hogwarts crests on cheap nylon drawstring backpacks for collecting the loot. Oh and a movie-viewing and a sleep-over (which pushed it over the top to being a little cookoo.)

    I just. can't. say. enough thanks to Emily and to you for sharing all your ideas. At 9, my daughter was old enough to help with most of the prep, and "reasonable" enough to negotiate reasonable limits to how much we could pull off. But it was really the inspiration of Emily planning and executing so many fun, clever, but simple ideas that kept our whole family so engaged. It really was a blast!


Thank you for talking to me! If you have a question, I might reply to it here in the comments or in an email.