“At what address do the Dursleys live when Harry is delivered at their doorstep?” demanded one of the guys from last year’s winning trivia team, the Remembralls. It was Saturday afternoon and they had come to host a Harry Potter trivia contest at PotterCon at The Bell House. “This is the missionary position of questions, people!”
Trivia was just one of the events at the adults-only PotterCon. There was also a live sorting ceremony with a hat that closely resembled the real one (albeit no talking), a costume contest, an in memoriam video (to honor the deaths of all of those wizards who were murdered by Voldemort and his death eaters), Potter paraphernalia and a J.K. Rowling-inspired improv show.
“Clearly there’s a need to get drunk and talk about Harry Potter,” explained organizer Margaret Kaminski. She began the tradition of PotterCon three years ago when she decided to host a Harry Potter party with a group of friends. It was such a hit among the 10 attendees that she decided to formally organize an event. Last year attendance jumped to 700 and this year still more people showed up. The 400 advance tickets sold out within a week and the event, which ran from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m., drew a line of people waiting around the block – some for three hours before they could gulp a much-needed Butterbeer or Firewhiskey at the bar.
“I love that one day a year I get to be a witch,” said Kaminski with a grin. Though her letter from Hogwarts never came (she waited patiently when she was in her teens), she did meet Rupert Grint, who plays her crush, Ron Weasley, in the movies. Her life’s mission was complete when she bought him a round of beer (though she couldn’t convince him to attend PotterCon).
Kaminski and her Deathly Hallows ankle tattoo were just the beginning of the Potter frenzy. J.K. Rowling’s series was personal to everyone in the venue (besides those dragged there by Potterhead friends) and the result was a mass of black robes, wands in the form of branches and drumsticks, wigs and talk about the best moments and characters. For once, being a 20- or 30-something-year-old Potter addict wasn’t shameful. Instead, witches, wizards and muggles alike raised their wands with pride.
One such wand-raiser was the winner of the costume contest, Ashley Setzler, who dressed up as Luna Lovegood. She spent five hours creating a papier-mâché Gryffindor lion’s head to wear on top of her curly blonde locks to mimic the one Lovegood wore during that memorable Quidditch match. “Luna was always one of my favorite characters because she’s different and accepts you for who you are,” she said.
Sydney Lowe was one of the many dressed as her favorite character, Hermione. She prepared for the trivia contest by rereading all of the books in the series (that’s 4,224 pages of serious dedication). She recalled buying the last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and staying in her room for 14 and a half hours reading because she was worried that someone would yell the ending if she went on the train before she finished.
“It’s amazing to be around people with the same kind of love for Harry Potter,” said Lowe, who is in her mid-20s. In her mind, people her age had a unique experience when reading the series because they were the same age as the characters in the books. “We grew up with Harry Potter so it means something different,” she added. “Here I feel like I’m home.”
Ali Breen started reading the books when she was 39. She was drawn to J.K. Rowling’s work because, like the author, Breen is a single mother and related to her struggle. On the inside of her left arm, “Always” is tattooed in cursive – the last word Severus Snape spoke before his tragic death.
“He was one of those who snuck up on you. It seemed like he hated Harry but he loved Harry’s mom,” said Breen. “I think everyone wants that kind of endearing love in their lives.”
Following the costume contest we met contestants like Dolliah Semanat, who dressed as Moaning Myrtle – toilet bowl included. “I really love that she’s the underdog and really memorable,” said Semanat, who has attended numerous conferences like Comic Con but liked that PotterCon is more focused. “It’s really great to talk and take pictures with people in this one fandom.”
Others like teacher Kristin Marchetto dressed as more unlovable characters. She mimicked Dolores Umbridge’s uniform of pink and lace and was greeted by cheers and jeers when she went on stage. “We all hate you, but we all love you,” said one girl who was dressed as a Hufflepuff student.
“In real life I don’t agree with her methods, but I do agree with her fashion sense,” said Marchetto. Okay, so no medieval punishment for her students. But does she like cats as much as Umbridge does? Meow. “Yes, I do. My apartment looks a little like her office.”
Surprisingly, while there were Malfoys, Hermiones, MadEye Moodys, Dobbys, Albus Dumbledores (some in boxer briefs), awkward-looking Golden Snitches, and creepy Bellatrix Lestranges, we didn’t see much of Harry Potter or Voldemort. Maybe because their greatness is too much to replicate? And though there was an equal mix of men and women, the winners for the costume contest were all female. Said the host, “Can we get a hashtag feminism?”
Andy Shenkman was one of the more entertaining male contestants. He dressed as magically-inhibited Seamus Finnigan, who failed epically at turning water into Butterbeer on stage. “I’m not very magical, but I have magic in me,” said Shenkman in character. Out of character he explained that, “[Harry Potter] turned into a weird sort of addiction. It’s an amazing satire of our world if you take out the magic.”
“Friendship is the closest thing we have to real magic,” Kaminski noted as she stood with the founders and organizers of PotterCon.
But friendship may not be the only thing that’s created at PotterCon. “Next year I’m trying to add a speed dating event,” said Kaminski with a laugh. She’s heard stories of Potterheads who come to PotterCon in the hope of finding their true love (without the help of a love potion). “There is definitely a market for love here.”
Video by Stephanie Leontiev.