The Fan’s Party Planner: Harry Potter

The Harry Potter series is an international phenomenon. From seven wonderful books, the Wizarding world has grown to include several spin-off books, eight films, numerous video games, a London exhibition, a stage play, two theme parks, and, of course, a hearty merchandising line. I would be remiss if I did not put my experience as a Head of House (Ra, ra, Ravenclaw!) in my college’s fan club to use and design a party plan for the series that indisputably shaped my generation and the future of children’s fantasy writing.

Because Harry Potter is such a popular theme with ubiquitous official merchandise, party materials, and recognized foods, this guide will have much shorter lists for the decorations and food categories than is typical in The Fan’s Party Planner. Instead, I’ve focused my effort on the activity category to create a list of fun and games! These activities range from a simple Charms Class spelling bee to games based on real Muggle Quidditch drills, and I’ve included suggestions for adapting the activities for younger or older guests or large groups.

As always, this guide is a fancy brainstorm of mostly untested ideas drawn from my personal knowledge of the literature and my own amateur experience with party planning, crafting, cooking, and, this time, Harry Potter events. You can follow the guide exactly, take inspiration for your own ideas, or choose and change the parts that work for you. Use your best judgment when deciding what is going to fit your event’s guests, size, space, time, and budget. Have fun!

GreatHallFeast
Of course, your party will look even better than this. (Warner Bros.)

Invitation:

In addition to the usual information, invite guests to dress up as witches and wizards or in other Wizarding world costumes. Be sure to tell guests if you are going to have activities outdoors or athletic games so they can dress for the weather and bring appropriate shoes or clothes.

Decorations:

Banners: You can make tapestries for each House out of felt, large pieces of paper, or disposable tablecloths. Choose materials in House colors and decorate with images of the House mascots.

Brooms

Candles, lanterns, and fireplaces: Firelight evokes the warmth of a dormitory hearth or the flickering light of a dungeon, so putting out a few lit candles or old-fashioned lanterns will do a lot of work to create a Hogwarts atmosphere. Never leave a burning candle unattended; use candles only on sturdy bases or in deep wells or use closed lanterns, and keep any flames out of reach of children or pets. Consider using electric candles with plastic flickers.

Drapes: Since it might be hard to get stone architecture just for a party, create the Hogwarts atmosphere with velvet- or satin-like drapes and covers in dark colors. Use these to block rooms not intended for guests or to cover large, obtrusive objects like treadmills or empty pet crates. Make the drapes more fun and functional by pinning stars or character cut-outs to them or by attaching themed signs that will help guests navigate the party, e.g., “Shrieking Shack, No Trespassers,” “Keep Out! Forbidden Forest,” or “Great Hall Ahead.”

Goblets: Make one large golden goblet the “Goblet of Fire” by placing a fiery-looking tuft of blue tissue paper inside.

Large, old books: Look for a variety of different colors and bindings in leather or stiff fiber. The books themselves serve as decorations, but you can also use them to hold up other props or activity items.

Ministry memos: Fold purple paper airplanes and hang them from objects or the ceiling with needle and thread.

Magical creatures: Use decorative statues, hangings, pictures, or toys featuring unicorns, dragons, pixies, centaurs, goblins, and any other fantastic beast mentioned in the series.

Old-fashioned keys: Bonus points if you attach glittery wings to them.

Owls: Feathered Halloween decorations, stuffed animals, or hipster owl decorations.

Painted portraits

Tall mirror: This is supposed to be the Mirror of Erised, so the fancier the better! Lean this against a wall or hang it from a door and invite guests to write down what they would see in the mirror on sticky notes and attach them to the frame.

Advanced Decorations:

Potions Master’s Worktable—Acquire chemistry equipment or an assortment of glass vials, jars, measuring spoons, and wooden bowls and arrange them near or around a cauldron on a raised trivet. Black plastic Halloween cauldrons should be easy to find, but you can also use a large black pot with handles if you want to actually mix things. Fill a few of the clear jars or bowls with attractive “potions ingredients” like acorns, fresh or dried leaves, flower heads, seeds, cinnamon sticks, rock salt, sand, seashells, popcorn kernels, toy lizards or insects, etc. Consider adding homemade paper labels for the jars, a few stoppered vials of colored water, and “recipe cards” for famous Harry Potter potions.

Quidditch Equipment Trunk: You can purchase replica Quidditch equipment or make your own set with some yard sale rescues and a few cans of spray paint. Start with an old-fashioned trunk or briefcase-style hard suitcase. Use padding to bring the equipment up to where guests can easily see them inside the trunk and then cover the padding with black fabric. Muggle Quidditch is typically played with a somewhat deflated volleyball for the Quaffle and dodge balls for Bludgers, so you can get those and spray paint them red and black for your set. If your trunk runs small, use child-sized kick balls or plastic play balls. For the Snitch, attach yellow feathers or construction paper wings to a yellow- or gold-colored golf ball. Arrange the balls inside the trunk and prop the lid against a wall. Place a broom nearby. If you are able to fit Beaters’ bats in the trunk, use two whiffle bats painted black or child-sized softball bats.

The Horcruxes: A Horcrux display requires little crafting effort if you can find good objects to start with. Slytherin’s locket can be any gold-colored locket with an “S” drawn or painted on the lid. The Hallows ring can be any ring with a dark-colored stone set in it. Check medieval-themed party supplies, costume pieces, or toys for Hufflepuff’s goblet, Ravenclaw’s diadem, and Gryffindor’s sword. You probably don’t need to alter these objects too much, but a little paint in House colors on the goblet’s side or sword’s pommel won’t hurt. A toy snake works for Nagini. Riddle’s diary can be any black journal; if you want to stab a basilisk fang through it, I’ll let you figure out how to do that. As for Harry, I suppose you can use an action figure if you have one or a pair of his glasses, but I would just place a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the table to represent Harry and make it clear what the display is about. Arrange these objects in an attractive manner on a table or counter where guests can easily see them.

Food: Any kind of modern or traditional British fare or sweet will fit your theme, and there are plenty of Harry Potter unofficial cookbooks and recipes to recreate Hogwarts foods or make new creations like Snitch cake-pops or Firewhiskey barbecue. I recommend using one of these cookbooks to recreate feasts or serve specialty foods. If you’re interested in a simpler spread or general crowd-pleasers, here are a few suggestions for snack tables and buffets:

HPUnofficialCook
A book Hermione and Ron can agree on.

Assortment of tea biscuits

Cake: A cake can serve a lot of people, so it’s great for large parties. You can look up butterbeer-flavored cake recipes or recreate Hagrid’s birthday cake to Harry with pink and green icing.

Cheese platter: There’s nothing particularly Harry Potter-ish about this, but cheese platters are always popular, and you can show off cheeses from the British Isles like Stilton, varieties of blue cheese, Caboc, Wensleydale, Derby, Lancashire, and cheddar.

Chocolates and bonbons: Honeydukes has pretty much everything you could imagine, so get creative with your sweets platter. Not all British candies have caught on in the U.S., but British brand Cadbury has made it across the pond. You may find Aero, Maltesers, and Mars bars in candy shops as well. Include toffees, filled chocolates, and wildly flavored jelly beans.

Desserts: Chocolate gateau, pumpkin tart, chocolate éclair, bread pudding, or any sweet you can think of has appeared at a Great Hall feast.

Fruit platter or salad: The only mandatory requirement is a green apple for Draco, but consider representing all of the House’s colors with red strawberries or watermelon, yellow pineapple chunks or bananas, green grapes or kiwis, and blue, uh, blueberries.

Mrs. Weasley’s Sandwiches: You don’t have to squish these in anyone’s pockets before serving them. Popular British sandwich fillings include tomatoes and cheese, pickles and cheese, ham and cheese, BLT fixings, tuna and sweetcorn, egg and cress, chicken salad, cranberry and brie, and chicken curry.

Pastries: Serve scones, buns, crumpets, and muffins with butter and jam.

Potatoes: Potatoes are standard fare in the Hogwarts Great Hall. You can serve them any way you like—boiled, baked, roasted, mashed, fried—but consider offering a mashed or baked potato bar so guests can use butter, cheese, sour cream, bacon, chives, roast vegetables, onions, chili, beans, and more to create their own magical concoctions.

Advanced Food:

Shepherd’s pie: There are a lot of variations on shepherd’s pie, but it’s essentially a casserole of cooked meat and vegetables topped with mashed potatoes and baked until the potatoes are brown. Shepherd’s pie is great to make for a dinner-style party or hearty buffet because you can bake and serve it out of one large dish. It’s not the best choice for vegetarians, though, so if you have vegetarian or vegan guests, you should bake a separate portion without the meat layer.

Pumpkin pasties: You can actually find these frozen nowadays, which makes them an easy but special treat for a large crowd. However, not all grocery stores carry them, so if they’re unavailable in your area or if you prefer baking, you can make your own. Exact recipes can be found online and in Harry Potter cookbooks, but they’re basically pumpkin pie turnovers that you can make with roll-out pie crust, canned pumpkin, and spices.

Treacle tart: Treacle tarts are Harry’s absolute favorite dessert. You can find a number of different recipes online to suit your taste and ability, but they generally consist of shortcrust pastry, “golden syrup,” and other ingredients like lemon juice, breadcrumbs, etc. The filling seems an awful lot like the stuff that holds pecan pies together, and the tart can be made as either a large pie or in small crusts and can be served warm or cold with clotted cream.

Beverages:

Tea: Serve hot.

Hot chocolate

Pumpkin juice: I don’t know if anyone would actually want to drink real pumpkin juice, so maybe just whip orange juice and pineapple juice in a blender for a minute and serve over ice.

Hot apple cider: Get the heavy red/brown kind made with whole apples and mull with “pumpkin pie” cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.

Butterbeer: There are hundreds of recipes for butterbeer online. Go look one up, you Muggle.

Cocktails:

Butterbeer—Because you can never have enough butterbeer at a Harry Potter party, here’s a version for grown-up witches and wizards. For this recipe, I’m going to direct you to a Harry Potter cocktail article at Buzzfeed, because there are several ingredients and it involves actual cooking, so don’t just try to muddle it out! You can serve multiple people with a single batch.

Felix Felicis—That Buzzfeed post has a recipe for this, too, which does look fabulous, but here’s a simpler version from my own head: use sparkling apple cider for the molten gold-colored, bubbly base and stir in either brandy for a sweet taste or pale Scottish whiskey for a drier taste. Either way, enough of this potion will make you feel light and lucky enough to start winning some “Triwizard Minutes” (see below).

Activities:

Sorting Hat: The Sorting Ceremony was easily the most popular activity in my college club. Our sorting method takes too much time and effort for a party, but you can make a multiple-choice Sorting quiz or use one from the Internet to sort your guests into Houses. Keep the quiz simple and use an odd number of questions to make it easier to decide Hat Stalls between two Houses. Provide four answers per question, one for each House, but avoid questions or answers straight from the books or movies that will make it clear which is the “Slytherin” or “Hufflepuff” choice, etc. When guests have finished their quizzes, use your answer sheet to tally their answers for each House. Guests will go to whatever House fits the majority of their responses. Allow guests who are evenly split in a Hat Stall between Houses on the quiz to choose their House from those two and assign guests with wider splits to Houses with fewer members.

As an alternative, have guests choose their House randomly from a Sorting Hat. Make as many slips of paper as you have guests and divide the slips of paper evenly among the four Houses. Keep in mind that some younger guests may be reluctant to join Slytherin House, which has a reputation for evil witches and wizards, so be prepared to accommodate unhappy children by allowing guests to trade Houses after the Sorting or to draw a second time. If you would like to avoid the Hogwarts Houses but still want to sort guests into smaller teams, you can sort guests by magical creatures (unicorns, dragons, hippogriffs, etc.), favorite series magical objects (Invisibility Cloak, Marauders’ Map, Firebolt, etc.), or which Hogwarts class they would take (Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, etc.).

Triwizard Minute: The Triwizard Tournament from Goblet of Fire inspires fun and exciting party games, but it can be difficult to get dragons, mazes, and merpeople on a budget. Instead, have three or four little Triwizards throughout the party with some one-minute games inspired by the game show Minute to Win It. You can find the instructions and materials for some of the show’s games online or design your own challenges. For example, you might make a game about organizing potions ingredients for Professor Snape and have guests race to sort out small scoops of mixed lentils, rice, and rosemary needles. Or you might have a wingardium leviosa challenge where guests try to keep a feather in the air with only their breath for one minute.

To prepare for the tournaments, first write an entry card for each guest with their name and House. Place all of these cards into the “Goblet of Fire.” At specified times or during slow periods at your party, call on your guests to attend a “Triwizard Tournament.” Draw four cards from the Goblet, one from each House. The guests on these cards will play the games as their House’s Champion. When you’re done playing a Triwizard, take the Champions’ cards out of the Goblet so that new guests can be chosen to play the next Triwizard. Keeping the games short with one-minute challenges should help you make sure every guest gets to play something before the party ends and accommodate guests who arrive late or leave early.

How you run these games and score them is up to you. You might be able to have each Champion play at the same time if you have enough materials, but guests may need to play other games with sound or large movements one at a time. You could also decide to award points to only the first person to complete the challenge or to all players who succeed. I recommend having guests play at least two of these little games per Triwizard. Total their points from each game and add them to their House Points.

Charms Class Spelling Bee: This simple activity is great for party guests of all ages, and it only requires a few materials. You will need four paper pads or whiteboards, four writing utensils, a 15-second timer, and a list of spelling words from Harry Potter. Choose words that match your guests’ skill level and increase the difficulty as you play.  For each word, have Houses select a representative speller. Read the word aloud so all can hear, and be prepared to use the word in a sentence if necessary. Spellers will have 15 seconds to write the word. When time is up, spellers show their words to be checked; each player who spelled the word correctly will win a point for their team. You can choose to award more points for harder words.

Here are a few suggestions for your spelling list:

Easy/Young Players: Hermione, Hedwig, Galleon, Dragon, Witch, Quaffle, Hogwarts, Broom, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Charm, Dementor, Sirius, Protego, Lumos, Snitch, Polyjuice Potion

Hard/Older Players: Slytherin, Beauxbatons, Durmstrang, Quidditch, Expecto Patronum, Crucio, Felix Felicis, Pensieve, Bellatrix, Animagus, Transfiguration, Gryffindor,  Accio

Wand-making Workshop: Wand-making is a fun craft activity for grown-ups and older children or teenagers. Use hot glue, beads, and acrylic paint in wood-toned colors to turn chopsticks or thin wooden dowels into wands. To make a wand, use a hot glue gun to carefully apply glue to the chopstick or dowel to form handles and raised features like bumps, bark, or vines. You can fit large beads onto the dowel to make bumps under the glue or stick smaller beads to the glue to create texture. The hot glue can be sculpted while it is still warm and runny, but warn guests to be careful with fresh glue and to avoid touching the very hot tip of the glue gun. Allow the glue to dry completely before painting the wands. Use foam craft brushes for easy painting. You may want to paint one side of the wand at a time or allow it to dry on newspaper between coats. Make sure you give guests enough time to complete this activity early in the party so they can use the wands and take them home the same day. Prepare for potential messes by covering surfaces with cardboard or several layers of newspaper, having multiple brushes for each color and for mixing paint, and keeping a supply of wet wipes on hand. You can find more wand tutorials, examples of handmade wands, and guides to wand wood meanings online.

Potions Class: “Potions Class” is an extremely flexible activity that you can adapt to your own skills, your guests’ ages and abilities, and your available budget and space. Making “oobleck” with common household materials is a safe and popular option for all ages, plus you can easily customize it for each House with a little food coloring. If you’ve got a smaller group, a bigger budget, or just want something a little more involved, you can buy kids’ crafting kits that will come with all the materials, equipment, and instructions you need for guests to make gummies, bouncy balls, bubblegum, perfume, bath bombs, and all these other cool things I wish they’d had kits for when I was a kid. Read the directions, age recommendations, and time constraints before you buy a kit to make sure it will fit your party. Some kits might require adult supervision, ventilation, and much more work. Test the kit and familiarize yourself with the process before your party so you can help guests with the steps and take protective measures against messes. As an alternative for grown-up guests, lead a “potions lesson” in which you demonstrate how to make a favorite cocktail step-by-step and invite guests to try mixing a glass.

Muggle Quidditch: I actually played Quidditch in college and hosted a little game at my house for fun. So I can tell you that organizing a full Quidditch game is doable, but you’re going to need at least 16 people—7 for each team, 1 for the Snitch, and 1 for the referee—a large field, three dodge balls, a somewhat deflated volleyball, a tennis ball in a yellow sock, 14 brooms, 6 hoops on poles in the ground or hung on a line, cones, and a big grassy space. It’s great, but it takes a lot of work and time. I recommend reading up on the game’s rules, equipment, and safety guidelines on the US Quidditch or International Quidditch Association’s website and then using these adaptations based on popular team drills*:

QuidditchHouse2Edit
Speaks for itself. (Photo courtesy of author)

Chaser Drill—Set up three hoops on poles of different heights or hang them from a line strung across your field. Provide brooms, a somewhat deflated volleyball (Quaffle), and three dodge balls (Bludgers). This game can accommodate 4-6 people at once depending on how you run it. The 4-person base scenario has two offensive Chasers with the Quaffle trying to score on hoops defended by a Keeper and a Beater with a Bludger. The drill ends when a Chaser scores, the Keeper possesses the Quaffle in their box, or both Chasers are beat with the Bludger. Run the drill multiple times so everyone has a chance to play positions on the offensive and defensive sides.

You can alter the play scenario by exchanging the Keeper for another Beater, adding a third Chaser to the offense and a second armed Beater to the defense, adding a Chaser to each side, adding an unarmed Beater to the offense and a Chaser or armed Beater to the defense, etc. You just want to avoid overpowering one side. Use the base scenario to introduce guests to positions before mixing things up. Simplify the game for younger players by requiring paired Chasers to pass the Quaffle twice before they can shoot at unguarded hoops or by including an adult Keeper who will facilitate passing or turn-taking with careful guarding and blocks.

Snitch Snatch—Snitch Snatch can be played in two ways. The first way is best for a large group or for younger players. Start with two Seekers on brooms and have everyone else play Snitch. Use tail socks if you have enough or detachable flag football belts. The Seekers will try to pull the tails off the Snitches, and the Snitches will try to evade the Seekers; if a Snitch loses their tail, they pick up a broom and join the Seekers in catching the remaining Snitches.

The second way is more like a Seeker drill. Play this game with at least four rounds, points, and guests divided into House teams. For the first round, have two Houses select a Seeker to play. One of the remaining Houses will supply the Snitch player. Seekers will begin at the pitch’s starting lines and the Snitch will stay in the middle until you call “Brooms up!” and begin the game. The Seeker who catches the Snitch before a certain time limit is up (e.g., three minutes) wins a set number of points for their team; if the Snitch can avoid being caught, they win the points instead. If the Snitch falls down, pause play and give them 15 seconds to get up and prepare for play. Snitches cannot be caught mid-fall or while on the ground. The Snitch may go outside of the field boundaries for five seconds, but if Seekers go outside of the field, they must dismount, return to their starting line, and get back on their brooms before they can play again.

Play each round with a different House match-up and a new Snitch. Encourage House teams to choose different players to go on the field for each round so that all team members get the chance to play as either Seeker or Snitch. Play at least four rounds so that each House has represented the Snitch once and played Seekers twice, giving each House three opportunities to earn points.

If you have a large party of guests and need more chances for people to play, increase the number of players on the field by adding Beater partners. In real games, Beaters commonly get involved with Seekers on the pitch to keep enemy Seekers off the Snitch or defend their own Seekers. Either arm both Beaters with a Bludger at their starting lines or have them run for a single Bludger placed in the center of the field when the game begins. Beaters may not hit the Snitch on purpose, and Snitches may not touch Beaters or Bludgers. If a Beater hits the opposing team’s Seeker or Beater on their body or on their broom, the beat player must dismount, return to their starting line, and get back on their broom before they can resume play. A Seeker who is beat before they have fully detached the Snitch tail has not made a successful catch and must immediately release the tail. If a Seeker is beat after they have fully detached the tail, they have still made a successful catch because the game ended the moment they caught the Snitch.

*Note on safety—Keep in mind that while Muggle Quidditch is a contact sport generally played by college students and people in that age range, your party guests may not all be prepared or able to play to that level of athleticism or physicality. If you organize a full game, be prepared to simplify the rules, shorten the game time, limit physical interactions (tackling, blocking, checking, arm guarding), and have plenty of player substitutes. Keep basic first aid supplies like ice packs, adhesive bandages, and disinfectant on hand for common injuries like bruises and minor cuts; always be ready for accidents (tripping, bad throws, sliding on grass), but most injuries happen during tackles or grapples for a ball, so restricting player contact should minimize these injuries. Make special considerations for children’s parties, as young guests may have trouble remembering a long list of rules, accidentally use inappropriate physical force or contact, and tire more easily than older guests. Adapt Quidditch activities to children’s abilities by playing on a smaller field, simplifying the rules, and lowering the hoops to child height; promote safe play by using thin pool noodles cut in half instead of brooms, using smaller or softer balls, running shorter games or having frequent breaks, providing adequate adult supervision and refereeing, and using positive strategies to correct rule-breaking or unsafe behaviors.

Let us know if you use these ideas or if you come up with any new ones! Send us an owl and wave at us from some pictures! We’d love to hear from you and share your experience.

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4 thoughts on “The Fan’s Party Planner: Harry Potter

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