The first order of business was to come up with an invitation, so I modeled one after Harry's acceptance letter into Hogwarts from the first book. And yes, we delivered them all by owl! (In case you're looking closely at it, the real invitation did have our actual address and email). I heard back that most of the kids were ridiculously excited over the owl post, and one family even did respond by reusing his owl!
After that, crafting insanity ensued. There must be a list of at least 1000 things that the people of the internet fell are required to have any every single Harry Potter party. However, as probably half our guests had never even read any of the books, I chose to focus on Year 1, and set about collecting or making some of Harry's personal items and many of the things on the supply list sent to Harry with his acceptance letter.
(Really, would it have been worth the hours and days it would have taken to make floating candles for an outdoor party at 10:30 in the morning? Pass! Still, I thank my entire block for saving all of their toilet paper and paper towel rolls for an entire month just in case I decided to make them. This also freed me from having to decorate my bathroom like the Chamber of Secrets and creating a photo booth to take mug shots of the Prisoner of Azkaban).
Here's some detail on the book spines for the 1st year texts - I made them all but one (I got A History of Magic, along with the idea to make the rest, from here). My favorite might be Magical Draughts and Potions, but I also love Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I designed and printed the spines, then taped them to card stock and covered any old book we had around the house that I thought was a good size.
I took liberties by including a broomstick since first years are not allowed to have their own, and I just could not resist making The Marauder's Map even though it's from a later book. This was the best version to download as it was the largest, and it even had a little flap under Hogwarts that revealed a lower level. (For some reason the flap download had to be resized to fit. I found that 42% was just right. And people, please, PLEASE stop with the tea and coffee staining tutorials. You can buy parchment paper or the decorative printer paper that I used (same for the invitations) at Office Depot.)
After everything was perfectly set up outside with plenty of time to spare before the party, it started to rain, and we moved to plan B and set up inside. Luckily it was a quick thunderstorm, and shortly after guests arrived it dried up sufficiently enough to head back outside and start our sorting ceremony (more on that later). We've been mighty lucky with all our outdoor parties, and it only took 8 years for it to rain on Joseph's birthday.
I made the striped ties out of inexpensive cotton fabric in the appropriate colors and paper-backed fusible webbing, then ironed them onto the t-shirts. They probably won't survive a wash, but they just had to last through the ceremony. The sorting hat itself was an oversized basic witch hat I made out of brown felt.
After the students were sorted into houses we headed inside to the common room, where a local illusionist who performs as Professor Severus Snape held a demo of spells, potions, and other magical feats (more on that later as well). I decorated the mantle with feather quills, skulls, potions, more books, and all the House crests, even though Snape favored the Slytherins.
Can I tell you how much easier it was to have a performance rather than corralling 16 kids through multiple activity centers related to the series? Nope, I happily took a pass on wand making, potion experiments, care of magical creatures scavenger hunts, quidditch matches, Dementor pinatas, and the millions of other ideas out there.
While Snape was performing and awarding points, we had a chance to dry off the tables outside and set up the Great Hall for the birthday feast. Although there was no assigned seating, there was a small centerpiece for each house, with a broomstick made out of paper bags and a tree branch (I love you, Martha Stewart) and a corresponding framed section of the sorting hat song. A table runner of a starry night sky was meant to reflect the bewitched ceiling in the Great Hall, and gold chargers, pewter goblets, smoking cauldrons, and personalized broomstick pens from Oriental Trading rounded out the look.
One of my favorite traditions continues to be creating a birthday banner. The background banners were a free download from here, but I cut, pasted, and resized them to be much smaller, added the circles and letters in my good old graphics program, then printed, cut, and mounted them on card stock, and strung them on ribbon. Sounds very straightforward, but then I realized I was short an H when I went to assemble, and had to make a last minute trip to Kinkos for another H to avoid it saying Happy Birtday. I loved using the Harry Potter Font here, and thought is was a cute idea to have snow owls like Hedwig holding up the banner.
I made full size banners for each of the houses to use as a backdrop for the sorting ceremony, but there was not a great place to hang them, so they wound up on a wall in the Great Hall. Plus, there was a golden snitch hiding amongst the herbs!
Ok, that's got to be enough for one post, especially when you see how much more there is! Part 2 coming soon.