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Exploring ‘Harry Potter’ fandom on the series’ 20th birthday

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Hogwarts alumni reconnect over magic and booze.
Photo: Steve Marcus

A girl in a Harry Potter-themed T-shirt approached me and said, “You’d make a great Moaning Myrtle!”

What?

“With your hair and glasses, you’re a dead ringer. You should dress up like her.”

Wasn’t that the nerdy ghost? Out of prudence, I didn’t speak that thought aloud. My new friend was scrolling through photos of herself dressed as characters from J.K. Rowling’s magical pantheon. Here she was in all black as the dark witch Bellatrix Lestrange and there, wearing fake ears, as Dobby the Elf.

I’d rather not be mistaken for a bullied ghost haunting a school bathroom, but I couldn’t resist the charm of Las Vegas’ first PotterCon USA PotterParty at House of Blues. If Barnes & Noble were a nightclub, this is what it might feel like: bookish millennials reliving their favorite fantasy series from childhood ... sans parents and, finally, with their own credit cards.

The Harry Potter series is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and this “nationally touring fan experience” drew no shortage of fans. The Butterbeer was flowing (vanilla vodka, butterscotch schnapps, cream soda and whipped cream, $10). The crowd was enthusiastic. And the costumes were epic.

It felt like a high school reunion, but one where everybody liked each other. On the stage, a girl dressed as the Whomping Willow tree battled it out with the Gryffindor Lion and Hufflepuff Keeper in a costume contest. The Keeper won. Between contests, a stand-up comic told inside jokes that everybody got, comparing the books to the movies and sending a shout-out to a forgotten ghoul.

It was a regular Diagon Alley offstage. In Quidditch beer pong, players threw balls through golden hoops toward red plastic cups. In the Divination area, a woman channelling Hogwarts’ divination prof Sybill Trelawney read fortunes in tea leaves. In the Potions area, a woman mixed essential oils and dispensed them in tiny glass bottles with names like “wolfsbane.”

There was, of course, a photography area where everybody wanted a Prisoner of Azkaban mugshot. Close to the stage, people mostly stepped around a large wizard chessboard (who could get a serious game in during such a party?). Vendors sold a variety of Potter gear: wooden wands, charm bracelets, magnets, buttons and more.

I discovered the Potterverse about five years too late to be a true believer. Still, I got a contact high from all the happiness in that room. For this one afternoon, Las Vegas’ much put-upon witches and warlocks left the Muggles behind and let their wands and broomsticks fly free.

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