I recently had the grand pleasure of hosting a small Harry Potter night. The idea originated because some friends who were reading the series with their kids for the very first time had to cancel their long-awaited trip to Universal’s Wizarding World, and I said Well, if you can’t go to Hogwarts, maybe we can bring some of Hogwarts’ magic to you!
I’m no stranger to a Harry Potter party. Since the night of the 7th book release, when I forced my party guests to play a board game I made, I’ve had several Potter parties, replete with costume contests, trivia wars, potluck feasts, tarot readings and floating candles.
Whenever I throw a themed party, I want it to be as an immersive experience as possible. From the moment you walk in the door, I want guests to feel as if they’ve been transported so everything — music, food, decorations, activities — need to communicate the theme and let everyone forget the real world, just for an evening.
During these Covid Days, when travel is infrequent and large group activities are ill-advised, it’s even more important to find ways to bring magic into our lives. So I thought I would share some tips for creating your own immersive Harry Potter party experience. Enjoy!
Sort Your Guests
Every Harry Potter party needs to have a sorting, for those guests who dont already have a house they are loyal to. Make sure everyone knows which house they belong to so you can incorporate team-based games throughout the evening.
Set Up Photo Ops
Everyone loves a photo booth and/or plenty of good spots to take silly selfies and group shots. Personally, I rely on my Snape cutout (best $30 ever spent) and a Hogwarts crest or my recently acquired Diagon Alley backdrop. If you can spring for an invisibility cloak, they are also super fun to play with.
Perhaps its from visiting theme parks so often through my youth, but I want guests to not just attend a party but have a totally immersive experience. This means a walk through haunted house for a Halloween party, a red carpet with photo ops for an Oscar Party, and a Tiki party so warm and bright and tropical that you forget you aren’t in Hawaii.
So for a Harry Potter party, I create a walk-through experience from the moment you enter the house. In the past, I’ve hung dementors by the house entrance, recreated a Great Hall banquet, and repurposed a creepy ghost decoration as the Grey Lady.
This time, my path took guests from Platform 9 3/4, through Diagon Alley, with a wrong turn through Knockturn Alley, back to Diagon Alley past shops galore, through Flourish and Blotts to a secret portal that transports them to Hogwarts.
If you have multiple rooms along a natural pathway, use that to your advantage to set up a walk-through experience. Otherwise, designate parts of a room as different locations — the fridge could be the Potions classroom, your balcony garden is Prof Sprout’s greenhouse, and any set of stairs can be a Hogwarts staircase! — and don’t forget to utilize the yard (Forbidden Forest), doorways (Platform 9 3/4), and hallways (Diagon Alley).
Don’t Forget the Bathroom
Take advantage of your captive audience! Regardless of the party theme, I always put decorations in the bathroom (quotes by famous females for my Galentine’s shindig; backlights and snakes in the tub for Halloween parties; fireworks on the mirror for Fourth of July!)
Harry Potter parties demand bathroom decorations, thanks to so many things in the books taking place in or near bathrooms: half the plot of the Chamber of Secrets, Moaning Myrtle’s woeful tale, the fastest way to get to the Ministry, and Harry’s baths in the Prefects’ Bathroom. “Room of Requirement” is almost too easy of a joke to use to your advantage.
Create an Aural Soundscape
No party is complete without music, so obviously you’ll want to play the movie soundtracks in the background for the night. But take it a step further with sound effects and movie clips to create that creepy, witchy ambience. We all have plenty of devices in our homes that we can put to use. You can use a YouTube clip downloader to grab scenes that fit your decor, and use VLC to loop their playback.
Since our living room was the beginning of Diagon Alley, the computer that’s hooked up to our TV looped the scene where Hagrid first takes Harry to Diagon Alley. Next, guests take a wrong turn into Knockturn Alley, where my office computers were looping two things: audio of Barty Crouch Jr summoning the Dark Mark (“Morsmorde!”) and a rainy, creepy Knockturn Alley/Borgin and Burke scene, just one of the many “ambience” videos available on YouTube. In our bathroom, I stashed a laptop under the bathroom sink, looping a video that included all of Moaning Myrtle’s scenes from the movies, making sure the themed experience didn’t stop when guests had to relieve themselves.
Play Pub Trivia
For the release of the 7th book, I held my first Harry Potter themed party and created my own board game for us to play; it included charades, Howlers, and lots of trivia. Since then, we’ve done Harry Potter Jeopardy, Rita Skeeter’s Quick Quotes Quizzes, Quidditch Pong, and lots of pub trivia. You could create your own TriWizard Tournament with Minute-to-Win-It style games. Go with whatever you’ll have the most fun playing and preparing.
Transform Muggle Games into Wizard Fun
Guess Who can become Occlumency lessons; Charades or Celebrity can become Transfiguration class; write your own Hogwarts-themed version of Werewolf. Pin Scar on Harry. Turn cornhole into a Dobby Sock Toss or a Garden Gnome Toss. “Dont say Voldemort” is an easy party-wide take on Taboo. It wouldn’t take much time to create magical editions of Headsup, Password, or Catchphrase. And one of these days I’m going to make a Dementor piñata for Defense Against the Dark Arts Class. There are also plenty of commercially-made games that have already been themed for you including Harry Potter Clue, Codenames and Trivial Pursuit.
Play (a simple version of) Quidditch
Let’s not kid ourselves: watching a bunch of muggle run around with brooms between their legs makes everyone look like idiots. So for a simpler, better muggle version of Quidditch that works for both kids and adults, you find a version of Quidditch Pong that works for your household…. OR for something a bit different, try the “Easter egg hunt” approach, which can last the duration of the entire party and encourages team work: Hide 50+ ping pong balls throughout your house before the party. Paint one gold and hide it in an especially difficult spot. After your guests have been sorted into their houses, tell them the rules. For every ball they find, they will earn 10 points when dropped into their house bucket. Whoever finds the Golden Snitch can either claim it for their house, earn 150 points and end the game, OR hide it again hoping that no one else will find it before they claim it at the end of the evening.
Photo Scavenger Hunt
This was one of my favorite things that we did at our wedding because the photos we got from people were so weird and varied. It’s a good longform activity that people can do in teams and doesn’t force participation of those who would rather not. I haven’t done this at a HP party (yet!) but I know it’ll be at the next big one, whenever it’s safe to have a large group gathering again.
Create a list of things that the houses have to get photos or videos of; these could be things you have hidden around the house, such as James’ patronus, Tom Riddle’s diary, the Hogwarts motto, or it could be things they need to DO, such as howling at the moon like Lupin or casting Petrificus Totalus on a team mate. Establish the judge or game master. Each house earns 10 points per completed task. Set a time limit. Make it a bingo card for an additional level of fun, with different prizes for different levels of completion (traditional line, an X, a full card, etc).
Example tasks (things they need to take photos/videos of):
- A deathly hallows symbol made out of food
- A wizarding duel
- Approaching a hippogriff
- Wingardium Leviosa
- A non-invisibility cloak
- Run through a wall like Platform 9 3/4
- Riding a broom for the first time
- Moaning Myrtle’s hiding place
- A mirror of Erised
- A three-headed human
- Slithering on the ground like Nagini
- Eat a handful of Every Flavor Beans without spitting them out
Prepare a Hogwarts Feast
Since you likely don’t have a staff of house elves to help you prepare, enlist the help of your guests and make it potluck style! Dragon bites, Hufflepuffs, Gillyweed dip, Cauldron Cakes, Chocolate Frogs, Cockroach Clusters…. The internet can provide you with endless ideas for shareable food options. And remember, no feast it complete without a Honeydukes candy section! (I totally forgot to take photos of our spread this time around and don’t have any good ones from parties past.)
Summon Your Inner Potions Master
I am lucky enough to be married to a craft cocktail enthusiast so he has created delicious libations for us including Amortentia, Veritaserum, and Felix Felicis. (We usually just make a batch of something we like, such as margaritas or aviations, and dye it and name it.) Whip up some Polyjuice potion or Butterbeer for the kids. Or keep it simple with beers, wines and ciders that you might be served at the Hog’s Head or Three Broomsticks.
Hold a Costume Contest
I like costume contests that have different categories so you can have multiple winners and acknowledge everyone’s creativity. Most Accurate, Best Character, Best Inanimate Object, Scariest, Funniest, Best Couple or Group, etc. are a great place to start.
• • • •
There are tons of other things you can do in terms of decor and activities. These are just the things that I have done and will continue to expand upon with each iteration. So get out there and have some fun creating your own party magic — and be sure to share your favorite tips, tricks, and illusions!