Harry Potter Party, Part 1 – The Decor

We do birthday parties every other year and in 2015 it was party year for Matilda. She had a few ideas and options but her love for all things Harry Potter won and we decided to have a Prisoner of Askaban party for her 9th birthday.

Why am I posting about it now? Well, for 3 reasons: I started drafting the posts 2 years ago and never finished; at her 11th birthday party last week (a tame, themeless sleepover) one of her friends commented on how that HP party was still the best party she’d ever attended; a friend of mine was asking about HP party ideas. So, I’m dusting off the old blog and finishing off these drafts.

Being a type-A former event planner I made her finalize her decision in August so I’d have 2 months to plan. Once she made her choice I was off to the internet for ideas. There are SO MANY ideas! It was hard to narrow it down. This post will be mostly about the decorations and details that were all prepared in the 60 days leading up to the party. The party itself will be a second post. I’ll link to where I found ideas and printables, but I found that many people claimed the same item as their own. If you are the rightful owner of something and I have linked something incorrectly please let me know.

I decided to do something myself here although you can buy very realistic-looking custom invitations on Etsy. After getting inspiration from some other people I came up with this invitation. When printed on plain beige 5×7 invitations from Michael’s they looked great.


Of course we sealed these with the proper red wax and an “H’ stamp for Hogwarts (purchased at Michael’s). I will note that I did have to follow-up with an email to the parents as a few families not familiar with Harry Potter were a touch confused. 


As soon as Matilda picked Harry Potter as the theme I knew we’d be doing a potions class, so I set out collecting interesting jars and bottles. I got some at IKEA and the Libbey Glass outlet in Toledo while we traveled this summer. Some were saved from the recycling bin and I got very luck that “potions” seems to be a big theme for Halloween these days. I found great apothecary-type jars in the dollar spot at Target and found some perfect colored jars with labels for 60% off at Michael’s.

To label the plain jars I again scored in the Target dollar spot with some chalkboard bottle hangers. I also found this terrific printable – by far the best of what I found online – and had it printed in full color on cardstock at my work copy center (cost: 15 cents). I cut them out and adhered them to the jars with good old Modge Podge. One layer to stick it on, then 2 layers to seal them. They looked so good! Once I got going it was hard to stop.


The fun part was filling them up with witchy-looking things. Some of them would be used in potions class so they had to be the ingredients I needed. The other ones were just stuff pulled from my spice rack, garden and pantry. I did ZERO research on what each potion really was… I just looked for things that would be visually pleasing on the shelf. So, please, no comments about how wrong these are.


Draught of the living dead: fruit snacks covered with corn syrup. The kids LOVED this one and had no idea what it was. Since the fruit snacks had been soaking for a few days they got really swollen and translucent.

Bone dust: borax (to be used in an experiment)

Flesh-eating poison: water, green & yellow food coloring, oil. This looked really cool in person – like a lava lamp.

Wolfshane potion: water and loose-leaf raspberry tea


Spider juice: Dawn dish soap with a few rubber spiders floating in it (to be used in an experiment).

Veritaserum: cherry juice (I know, I know, it’s supposed to be clear, colorless, and odorless but that looks boring)


Beetle eyes: chia seeds

Beguiling Bubbles: Clairoxide 40 Volume Clear Liquid Developer (concentrated hydrogen peroxide needed for an experiment)

Felix Felicis – Smarties candies in water with food coloring. Again these were a favorite because after soaking the water the candy got all bubbly and fuzzy.

Pepperup Potion – food coloring (to be used in an experiment)H.


Skele-grow – cornstarch with plastic bones from the dollar store thrown in.

Wartcap powder – dry yeast (needed for experiment).

Essence of Dittany – some decorative grass clippings in water with a drop of yellow food coloring.

Wool of Bat – empty (the bottle is black and you can’t see the contents).

potions5Bezoar – I was going to try to make something that looked like a real bezoar with hair and stones but it was easier to throw in some dollar store eyeballs with a string of LED lights (Target dollar spot).

As luck would have it, the built-in shelves in our dining room make for a perfect place to set up all the goods for potions class. I added some “creepy cloth”, more spiders and eye balls (all from dollar store Halloween decor) along with some LED candles and lights and it looked pretty awesome.


For the party entrance we have a double front door/vestibule which lent itself PERFECTLY to Platform 9 3/4. Mark made a fantastic Platform 9 3/4 sign for the outer door, and I found this brick backdrop on Amazon for the inner door.  It is an enormous roll of material like a plastic party tablecloth. I taped it up on the inner doorway then cut a slit down the middle. The effect was that of walking through the wall to the Hogwarts Express – the kids LOVED it!


We added a couple more touches to the outside (and IKEA lamp and a whomping willow sign) to make for a magical scene as the guests arrived.


Since Dementors play such a big role in Prisoner of Askaban we decided we needed one for the party. It took the form of a piñata so the wizarding guests could destroy it. I googled around for info on making a paper bag piñata, filled it with Harry glasses, some HP goodies, and of course, some galleons, sickles and knuts (since we were doing candy at the end of the party, I didn’t want a candy piñata). I draped the bag with that dollar store “creepy cloth”, added some dollar store halloween hands and we had a Dementor on which we could practice our defensive charms. Expecto Patronum!


Have You Seen This Wizard?
One of the Askaban-related party activities was getting a mug shot taken like Sirius Black. So Mark used a movie image as a guide to make up our own “Have You Seen This Wizard?” poster (this is where having an artist spouse husband comes in handy). He just used black sharpie on a gold foam-core board. Cut out the center and boom! Poster (and party activity complete).


We couldn’t let the theme fizzle out for bathroom breaks. So I found a movie image of Moaning Myrtle, had it color-printed as large as I could and she kept the guest company in the loo.


Hogwarts Castle’s Great Hall
This was the most fun and the thing the kids talked about the most. It took some work and investment but the impact was really great. I got a dozen taper LED candles from IKEA, strung them up with fishing line, and hung them at various heights from clear Command hooks. It honestly was the most time consuming part of decorating and I was ready to give it up, but the end effect was so terrific that I’m glad I did it.


Hogwarts Great Hall: pre-party


Hogwarts Great Hall: after dinner

That’s it for today – the next post will be about the party itself! Happy wizarding!

No Other Country Lets This Happen

Gun control shouldn’t be a political debate. It SHOULD be common sense. And yet, here we are yet again. No talk. No debate. No common sense discussion about the glut of guns in our communities and the ease of access to them. Just thoughts and prayers. And the words: “the shooter…has been identified as… a white male”*.

Gun control shouldn’t be a political debate. But it IS a public health issue. And yet our government can’t even track and research gun deaths (estimated to be among the top 5 causes of death for Americans under the age of 65).

It’s sick and I’m so tired of “thoughts and prayers” and “but there are good guys with guns!” and the rest of the nonsense. And don’t tell me not to politicize the issue right now. Gun control shouldn’t be a political debate, but it is… always has been.

Yes, the right to bear arms is a constitutional right (as part of a “well regulated militia”, but we tend to overlook those words). But, just like the right to free speech, it is not an unlimited right. There are regulations on free speech, so why not robust regulations on bearing arms?

We live where efficient killing machines are able to be had on a whim. Where a person can stockpile these weapons and ammo. A place where ONE MAN can kill 59 and injure 500+ more in the span of 8 minutes or less. ONE MAN.

We regulate everything from driving to drinking to buying cold medicine.

Lawn darts injured 6000 people in 8 years, and killed one. We banned them.

Drop-side cribs caused 32 deaths over 10 years. We banned them.

KinderEgg chocolates have caused 3 deaths in other countries. We banned them.

Every day, 93 Americans are killed with guns – and we do nothing. And when we TRY to do something (like, make it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun), it gets revoked to score political points with the NRA.

For the last 4 years, on December 14 I write my congress-people to ask for the following things, which I think are “common sense” regulations on the right to bear arms:
– Limit the size of large capacity ammunition clips, and create a database to track all purchases of ammunition (similar to database used to track the sale of pseudoephedrine-containing products).
– Require a criminal background check, mental health screening** and mandatory waiting period for anyone to buy a gun, eliminating gun show and private-sale loopholes.
– Mandate spousal/ex-spousal notification before a gun can be legally obtained (similar to Canadian gun laws) and maybe reduce the horrific number of domestic abuse deaths in this country.
– Institute a gun-ownership purchase permit and license that requires the passing of a test and annual renewal of your license (similar to drivers licenses and license plate renewal).
– Require legal gun owners to secure their weapon and safeguard against theft and misuse (and maybe reduce the 200+ children who unintentionally shoot themselves or others each year).

I keep going back what British journalist Dan Hodges said in 2015: “In retrospect, Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was all over”

But I keep calling, I keep writing. This week I’ve called and emailed my congresspeople asking them to oppose the GOP-sponsored SHARE Act moving through Congress that would that would deregulate gun silencers.

I will continue to make my plea on the anniversary of Sandy Hook that we do SOMETHING, ANYTHING. I will continue to hope that our elected officials act like the public servants they are and stop offering prayers and condolences as if they were a corner preacher.


*I would be remiss if I didn’t point out all the ways this particular, and all, white terrorists are described in the media by their “virtues” while any victim or suspect of color is described by any vices the media can dig up.

**I am very aware that most domestic terrorists do NOT have a diagnosed mental illness. And in calling their acts “crazy” or implying that they are mentally ill only further stigmatizes the mentally ill. However, as nearly 2/3 of gun deaths in the US are suicides, I maintain that by screening for mental health issues before purchasing a firearm we could reduce the number of people who take their own lives.