Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts Party at the Library!

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Hogwarts Express
Hogwarts Express

I’d always wanted to host a full-blown Harry Potter party, and when my library director challenged me to come up with a completely new program (outside of my regular Family Night storytimes and Lego Club) this year, I looked at July 31 and started doing the math. This year is, in the timeline of the books, the 25th anniversary of Harry’s 11th birthday, the day he finally got his Hogwarts letter. That seemed like a decent excuse for a celebration. But then it turned out the script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was slated for release this day, too. Even better! Our library is closed on Sundays, so we’d have to have our party on Saturday the 30th, a little too early for anyone to actually check out our embargoed copies of Cursed Child… but not too early for excitement.

I pitched my plan to my coworkers, and the head of Summer Reading Camp grabbed on joyfully. Last year, when the Collaborative Summer Reading Program theme was “Heroes,” she’d put up a butcher-paper city skyline in the hall with a cardboard Batmobile kids could pretend to drive for photo ops. This year’s theme, “On Your Mark, Get Set, Read,” just didn’t offer the same decorating opportunities. So almost immediately she started building a potted mandrake (which didn’t turn out) and a large cardboard Hogwarts Express (which did, see above), before I’d managed to pull any concrete plans together myself.

She also built a Sorting Hat out of a small sunhat and paper mache—cloth mache, actually.

Getting sorted
My daughter got Slytherin.

Making the hat actually talk was out of our skill/budget range, though, so guests were sorted by pulling a house crest out of a bucket, the templates of which we got right here on GeekMom. We took another cue from Kelly’s post by putting a house tie coloring table across from the Sorting Hat, but mostly because we already had a stack of posterboard coloring ties from an Oriental Trading Father’s Day activity.

I suspect my coworker of being a GeekMom reader without telling me, because she contributed everything in Kelly’s post that we used, like the floating candles in the Great Hall (though I did see those a few other places!):

Floating Candles in the Great Hall
Floating Candles in the Great Hall

Diagon Alley Activities:

Then visitors could take a trip through our large double meeting room, labeled Diagon Alley thanks in part to a nice collection of signs I found at the blog One Creative Mommy. At Ollivander’s, kids made wands. We had hundreds of chopsticks, and there are plenty of online tutorials on making wands out of chopsticks, but they all involve paint and hot glue, neither of which is conducive to an unmanned station at a large library program. Besides, we wanted the activities to be as hands-on-for-kids as possible. When I found an awesome wand tutorial that suggested stuffing PVC pipe with phoenix feathers, unicorn hair, or dragon heartstring, I knew that’s what I wanted. But we still had hundreds of chopsticks, so I compromised, by letting visitors wrap their feathers, hair (yarn), or heartstring (chenille stems) to the chopstick base with colored masking tape. The results got pretty creative that way, anyway.


The “Have You Seen This Wizard?” photo booth was another of my coworker’s babies which had also happened to be in Kelly’s post, but we tied it in with the sign for Madame Malkin’s Robes and laid out a lot of funny costumes we had in the storage room. And although we hadn’t used the tie template Kelly linked to, I did use the Harry glasses template on the same page to add a couple pairs to Madame Malkin’s shop.

Photo Booth
Photo Booth
Have you seen this wizard?
She looks like trouble.

I devoted the other end of the meeting room to a very simple Muggle Quidditch pitch. I hitched three hula-hoops to a rack, brought out a squishy foam ball for a quaffle, a couple even squishier dodge balls for bludgers, and a short broom for only the keeper’s use, because otherwise things might end up a little too chaotic for indoors. And as for Snitch-seeking…

Very Simple Muggle Quidditch
Very Simple Muggle Quidditch

…instead of flying after them, visitors made their own Snitches using feathers, glue dots, and gold-painted golf balls. My coworker initially used (the much lighter and usually cheaper) Styrofoam balls instead of golf balls, but the spray paint dissolved the Styrofoam! Hence, a last-minute Facebook plea for used golf balls!

I think they look like giant chocolate truffles, actually.
The Owlery

I’d seen a lot of helium-balloon owls online, delivering invitations or simply being decorative, but then I saw this line: “Wouldn’t it be fun to do a whole shelf like an Owlery, with each balloon holding a special message?” YES, I thought, we could have balloon owls with fortunes for all the guests! Since I didn’t know how many people we might get, I got a helium pump so we didn’t have to worry about running out (or transporting dozens of inflated balloons to the library). I had fun drawing the faces. Then I found a list of fortune cookie fortunes, printed them out, cut them apart, rolled them up, and tied one to each balloon. I thought enough to go through, delete all the ones about romance or careers, change the font to something fun, and put lots of space between each one so I’d have something larger than a fortune cookie fortune to roll, but I really should have gone with one fortune per half-page of paper. The Owlery in my head had the owls held in place by the weight of the message they carried, but a two-inch slip of paper is just not heavy enough. I had to resort to masking tape. But no one seemed to mind, terribly.

Owls in Close Up
Owls in Close Up


With all the relish J.K. Rowling put into describing food, you can’t have a Harry Potter party without it! We went with the self-serve Honeydukes setup, with labels provided or adapted from Over the Big Moon with the exception of the Every-Flavour Beans because hers had a lamination accident, and when I went to print a new one I found this one instead. And the Honeydukes sign is all mine, made from WordArt letters and clipart. I’m proud of that sign.


The sign which has fallen off the punch bowl indicates, naturally, Butter Beer. There are many butter beer recipes out there, from “just use cream soda” to complicated concoctions that I think require actual home brewing materials, but we went with one both simple and stunningly delicious: cream soda, butterscotch syrup, and ice cream. I really did drink too much.

Beans and Pasties
Bertie Bott’s and Pumpkin Pasties

The Honeydukes set up saved the expense of buying individual packets of actual Bertie Botts beans, as a proper candy shop like Honeydukes would have scoop-it-yourself bulk supply, anyway. I found a three-pound jar of Jelly Bellies at a local candy store, which is effectively just as every-flavor-chancey as Bertie Botts—the very first one I got, which I thought was root beer, turned out to be coffee (which is a major blech from me, personally, at least).  The pumpkin pasties are a thrown-together recipe: refrigerated pie crusts cut, stuffed with pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices (not full-blown pie filling), folded, sealed, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and baked 12 minutes in a 425 degree oven.

Chocolate Frogs
Chocolate Frogs

Chocolate frogs were another thing that felt necessary, but would be completely ridiculous to attempt to supply to a public library event if one were to buy the actual (admittedly non-jumping) chocolate frogs on the market. Even most of the people online who’d made their own had been making them for private parties, and kept linking to large three-inch molds. With a little digging, I managed to find a mold that made frogs about the size of a chocolate kiss instead. I adapted this box (both too large now and too complicated for my many little frogs) into a rectangular label that could be stapled around a simple bag. For the flip side of the label, I adapted pictures from chocolate frog cards I found through a Google image search. There were no facts and stats, but this was fancy enough.

chocolate frog cards
Two I’ve saved

Hogwarts Classes in Station Form:

Care of Magical Creatures
Hagrid’s hut, and Hagrid’s class instructions.

I think Care of Magical Creatures got missed by everyone except my daughter, because it was farther away from the main drag, set up at the Children’s Circulation Desk, where there weren’t any staff to entice people over since we were all busy at other stations. But the projects are simple enough that they can hang out in the library indefinitely afterward: coloring sheets at our usual coloring table and a scavenger hunt. I’d seen magical creatures hunts on several party blogs, but another librarian turned it into a parts-of-the-library learning opportunity. She had a much simpler hunt because apparently she has realistic expectations, but that’s the nice thing about this laying around for awhile after the party—families can pick one up and work through it at their own pace, now, without having to worry about everything else going on.

Magical Creatures Scavenger Hunt
Magical Creatures Scavenger Hunt

Back when my coworker had been trying to pot mandrakes, she planned to set them up at an Herbology station where kids could simply plant a seed in a cup and call it a day. But the morning of our party, she arrived at the library and said, “You know what, I forgot seeds. I’ll go run to the hardware  store. They probably have sunflower seeds. Those are big and easy to plant.” But at the hardware store she had a last-minute flash of brilliance and picked a bag of grass seed instead. MONSTER GRASS. She already had a bag of foam monster eyes: kids could stick some eyes on a cup and plant grass seed in the top, which would grow into a nice head of green monster hair for their cups!


Here’s my kid showing off his owl, Monster Grass, Golden Snitch, and wand at the end of the day.

Hogwarts Party Take-Homes
He’s not as bored as he looks, really.

There was one more Hogwarts class available, one I’d been prepping for pretty much nonstop:

Potions Class!

You’ve seen my class syllabus before, but it was finally time to put it in action! I made my materials as witchy-looking as possible with the help of some labels mostly adapted again from Over the Big Moon. A Styrofoam cooler painted to look like a wooden chest kept cold ingredients cold. I would have loved to have added some dry ice to the effect, but never managed to work out how to get it there.

Potions class stuff
The Potion Mistress’s supply table

At the other end of the table I kept some jars and bottles that wouldn’t actually be used in the class, but looked cool.

Display Potions
The sunny “Slugs! Globs of fun for everyone!” label was my own making. The slugs were gummy worms that had been soaking for two weeks. You can’t see it, but the bottle behind the Amortentia has a bunch of ant carcasses floating in it. One of my kids left a cup of apple juice sitting out for days and it turned into an ant trap. Figured I wouldn’t let them die in vain.

Then each table had a kit or two of spell components the pupils would be using. The tiny bottles came from Oriental Trading. My coworker had ordered one set and accidentally got four, so she gave them all to me, and they turned out to be perfect, each holding between 3 and 4 tablespoons. I could pre-fill each with the exact amount needed for an experiment.

Potions kit
Potions kit and some creepy kid

In class, some of the experiments worked better than others. Our invisible ink turned mostly messy. The hot ice failed for the first session, but worked amazingly for the second (smaller) session. I managed to run out of wet wipes just before we made an extra-disgusting magnetic slime. Nonetheless, everyone had fun.

Potions Class
At the head of my class. Picture by Barb Somma.

The first session ran longer than I thought it would, and my coworker and a helpful grandmother were still cleaning up the mess on the back tables while the second session started in the front. I really should have done only one session. It was far too complicated to reset between sessions.

My only real regret about the day, in fact, was that I was so tied to the potions classroom that I didn’t get a chance to enjoy everyone experiencing the rest of the party.

Actually, my other regret is that I never got around to making this Boggart-in-a-suitcase.

More to Read!

You can’t have a library program without a book display, so I set up a “Books for Fans of Harry Potter” case beside the Owlery. I’ve always been skeptical of “If You Like Harry Potter” lists because there are so many bad ones out there, ones that throw on whatever middle grade or YA speculative fiction they can think of whether or not it’s at all similar to Harry. The worst are the ones who include The Hunger Games and even Twilight on the single basis that they’re all YA series that became insanely-huge hits, but I even side-eye the ones that include my favorite book ever, A Wrinkle In Time, because, sure, I DO love both, but the only thing they have in common is being upper-middle-grade SFF books with a moral about love. But even with my picky standards, I still stuffed the display as full as possible and left a lot of others off:

If You Like Harry Potter Books
This was as much as I could squeeze onto the shelf

Harry Potter fans come in a lot of varieties, so I even broke the display up a little to aim the books. Older teen fans might enjoy finding themselves in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, for example, being that it’s about a (loosely-disguised) Harry Potter fanfic writer (and behind it is the book within the book, Carry On, which, therefore, technically IS HP fanfic). The very young ones whose knowledge of the series at this point comes mostly from cultural osmosis and overly-excited-fan-parents can start out with my favorite first-fantasy-chapter-book-to-read-aloud, My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. In the middle, I stuffed as much Diana Wynne Jones as I could get away with. I even put a little out for nonfiction fans: books of magic tricks and histories of magical creatures in myth and legend.

Now I just have to find where our copies of Cursed Child have been hidden…

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