First things first. If you’re looking for tips on how to run a professional-ish Harry Potter party – of which I’ve seen some fairly jaw-dropping examples on the internet over the past few weeks – then this blog is probably not going to be your salvation.
My creative skills are very definitely on the low side. But the party that I was somewhat dreading turned out to be a rather excellent afternoon, and I have promised my assistant extraordinaire daughter Charlotte that I would blog about it.
I do apologise for the level of detail to follow, but in the world of Harry Potter parties, this is seriously about as un-hardcore as you can get.
... A few weeks ago we watched all the Harry Potter films back-to-back, and my son Harry was transfixed and naturally wanted a Harry Potter party. Initially my heart sunk, I was rather banking on another soft-play, get-it-off-your-hands kind of affair, but then a friend on twitter suggested I had a look on Pinterest for inspiration, and that proved a bit fatal. You can see my board here – very much the theory!
With memories of house parties and major clear-up exercises still scarred on our memories, we encouraged Harry to keep the numbers down to his best friends (and specifically not to invite the child who broke our drumkit. Not that I’m bitter or anything). Amazingly he went for this ruse. Result! So the first step was the invitations. Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of these, but basically what we did (& bear in mind, we only needed to do a few) was paint paper with cold black coffee to give it an aged look. Then I got Charlotte to write invitations in her absolute loopiest handwriting, addressed from Hogwarts. We sealed the envelope with red wax – obviously the whole melting wax scenario turned into a major diversion - into which we carved a H for Harry/Hogwarts (obviously the use of knives quite attractive in this process too).
My anally-retentive tendencies then went somewhat into overdrive, and everyone had to humour me as I set about devising various lists and schedule for the day, and we returned from the Pound Shop with pretty much all the bags as we could carry. The party took the best part of the weekend to set up once it was planned out. The most time-consuming aspect (by far!!) was painting the Platform 9 ¾ wall - a feat not best achieved with a 2 year old on site – imagine the irritation factor of ironing the world’s largest sheet and then factor in drying time. But Harry & Charlotte set about it with gusto. I gave up on doing a platform sign, since the ones on the internet were such works of art I knew I would dismally fail, and when I happened upon a sub-debate on whether signage should occur before or after the wall, this more or less pushed me over the edge and I took the executive decision that 5/6 year old boys could probably live without this level of detail.
So, onto the programme … Oh yes, there was a programme! And as a last-minute brainwave, Charlie set up his lap top to play the Harry Potter theme music in the hallway.
1. Platform 9 ¾ - This created a very satisfying effect as you came in, but I’m not altogether sure if the hours of prep time were worth the 20 seconds or so it took for the children to run through. And of course the stress every time Katie walked through relentlessly tugging on it, that someone would end up with a drawing pin in their foot. Actually ... yes, I would do it again, what’s a childhood without a painted wall in your hall at least once??
2. Paint-your-own-wands - this involved painting sticks for use as wands in a game later, so it needed to be done early on in order for them to have dried off. Slightly risky in mess terms, but there was no disasters and only some minimal fussing about paint on fingers. It got them all in one place and fairly calm at the beginning of the party at least.
3. Sorting hat assignments – I got the sorting hat off eBay fairly cheap, although frankly any witch's hat would have done, the children weren’t exactly checking. Then I printed off a selection of house badges so the children could pick their own, overloading it in favour of Gryffindor badges just in case anyone got traumatised by being put in Slytherin.
4. Gringott’s bank – this was basically a mini sweetshop in which they randomly selected toy money which they could use to buy 10 sweets to keep them going. Astonishingly the system didn’t get abused! This kind of thing would never work in our house under normal circumstances.
5. Find Harry Potter – this consisted of 10 balloons inside which were slips of paper printed with different Harry Potter characters , the idea being to pop balloons until you found ‘Harry’. No-one was really fooled by my ingenious idea of coding the 1D balloon for Harry and they all made a beeline for it.
6. Magical creature hunt – we nearly forgot to set this up, but the balloons game gave Charlie 5 minutes to do it – plastic dragons, spiders, frogs & snakes hidden around the house, the winner being the one who collected most.
7. Potions class – this was the surprise hit of the party, it was ace. But I cannot stress enough that if you are giving this a go YOU WILL NEED TO SPILL-PROOF THE AREA. We were mostly only split-seconds from disaster.
There were 2 different potions to be made, the first was magically changing water. I’d put a drop of differently coloured food dye in paper cups, left them to dry, and then at the last minute put ice cubes in and poured water from a height (with a flourish would be an exaggeration, but that’s the general idea). It’s a satisfying effect, & the kids were keen to drink the coloured water afterwards. Potion making was also a good excuse for making up latin-sounding incantations, which the kids latched on to straight away.
But the show stopper was the foaming potions. You need fairly big glasses for this effect, and be careful not to overfill them (& open the window! Apparently you can fill balloons with the hydrogen that’s emitted). Add a drop of washing-up liquid, a drop of food colouring, spoon of bicarbonate of soda, & half-fill with a mixture of water and a little vinegar. This foams up quite dramatically and the kids went a bit mental for it, so we ended up creating ever-increasingly weirdly-coloured and overflowing concoctions. Katie seemed to consider it pretty much the most exciting thing she’d ever seen, which probably tells you as much as you need to know about her exposure to 'messy play'. Poor child.
8. Fortune-telling – this was Charlotte’s show, and an excuse to get the party crew into the living room while I mopped up the potion mess. Probably not the best parenting ever to encourage your children to lie, but it was done with the usual caveats about only nice lies to be told, and make them specific and plausible. You never know, this strategy may even take her places in life, although it probably won’t be into politics.
10. Quidditch - I had some fairly complicated rules in mind for this that I’d read on Pinterest (of course!). But despite having briefed the team approximately 300 times everyone was looking decidedly off-message/glazed, and I will do everyone the favour of not repeating them again. Naturally Katie chose that precise moment to go for a poo and my capacity to impose order was lost. When I returned ‘Quidditch’ had somehow morphed into football, which I’m pretty sure was never played at Hogwarts, and the hidden golden snitch had to be implemented to redirect their attention more constructively.
11. Levitating balloons (we blew A LOT of balloons up for the party) – this consisted of keeping a balloon in the air with their newly-dry wands. It went on for a scarily long time. In the end we had to declare a winner for the girls and winner for the boys. There was no end in sight.
To round off, we had two completely non-Harry Potter games, which the party boy insisted on – pass the parcel & a dance-off. I think we’d all heard enough of Gangham Style by this point in proceedings, as – as if by magic – parents arrived to pick them up. But a party would not be party without a party bag - & this was our tour-de-force, & very cheap too – brown paper bags, decorated with painted ties and plastic glasses.
So that was our Harry Potter Party - a lot of work but good fun and very funny to see how focused the children were on every game. Charlotte was the star of the day and never flagged for a second, even being extremely tolerant when I dropped my phone at the last minute and possibly said some rude words.
And no, I absolutely did not make the cake. Do you think I am completely insane? It went down very nicely with a large glass of wine.