So, as mentioned in Chapter One, when the kiddos finished up with Quidditch, we still had half of the party to go. What followed was the activity I’d spent the most time planning (and the part that Ella knew the least about, so she could still be surprised): Potions.
After rather exhaustively searching the internet, I’d decided on six different experiments for the kids to complete. Everything was assigned a Harry Potter-ish name (white vinegar was Phoenix Tears, Basilisk Venom was blue dish soap, etc.) and the experiments were typed up, step-by-step (as part of the spell books). The ingredients and tools were set out, science-lab style, and the kiddos got to work.
One of the tables, from above, ready to go…
They were divided into two groups (mostly for crowd control) and we went through the experiments together, to ensure that the steps were followed exactly (in order for some of them to work properly, they had to be completed just so).
We started with “Exploding Filibusters” (combine vinegar and baking soda in a small container with a cap; shake vigorously; stand back) because I knew it would grab their attention. (I knew this because when I’d tried the experiment myself, the top exploded so violently off the vial, it hit the kitchen ceiling. That woke me up, let me tell you.) The kids had similar results; they were hooked!
“Spider Expulsion” and “Unicorn Milk Diffusion” – both involving dish soap as repellents – were met mostly with success… although if you’re going to do an experiment that calls for food coloring, I don’t recommend that you use the super-thick, “good” stuff you might have purchased when you fancied yourself a budding Cake Boss. Globs of food coloring are swell for fondant but not so swell for Potions. Trust me on this.
See above: large blobs of food coloring in the milk. Don’t do this.
For “Effervescent Elixir,” each kiddo had his/her own “cauldron” in which to mix their potion, with explicit instructions to follow – including placing their cauldron on a tray and giving some space.
As the solutions frothed and bubbled deliciously, Ella and her pals understood why it was wise to keep their distance.
The penultimate experiment – “Mandrake Restorative Draught” – was quick and fun, with some “magic” color changes occurring at its finish.
We ended with the experiment I knew would be the most sensational, if only because it involved flame. I called it “Incendiated Basilisk Skin” and made up some story about defeating a basilisk with fire; they ate it up (not literally. That would have been a problem). If you try this one at home, be aware that you really only need a *tiny* bit of rubbing alcohol… anything else might, say, burn for over an hour in your kitchen (which will make you grateful that you tried the experiment in advance, but also annoyed because FIRE and KITCHEN are bad).
When at last the fires had died out, leaving the basilisk “shells” in their wake, we took the kids to the backyard for their final activity: Defense Against The Dark Arts. Nick and Chris worked up a tale involving spells and charms, then sent them off to duel with their newly-acquired weapons: cans of silly string.
This was Nick’s idea, and it was brilliant. Although Ella and her guests had thoroughly enjoyed the Potions class, they’d had to focus and follow precise instructions for a good 45 minutes – so they were thrilled to have the opportunity to run themselves ragged.
And use silly string. ‘Cause that’s always a hit.
While they went bananas in the yard, Sarah and I took the opportunity to put away the Potions lab, rinse out their cauldrons (which were party favors), and get the
dining room Great Hall set up for the end-of-term feast. When, at last, the yard resembled a Jackson Pollock creation (and the kids ran out of string), we called them inside to begin the feast.
After looking up faux castle wall backdrops, I decided – as with the Platform 9 3/4 brick wall – to just make one myself. I found grey shower curtains at the Dollar Store (sweet!) and felt pretty good about my genius design… until I began to actually hang the curtains in the dining room and the paint flaked off, piece by piece, piling up on the floor.
Turns out? Shower curtains don’t only repel water; they also repel paint.
At least it looked kinda cool.
Some additional feast food and drinks…
Ella had requested angel food cake as her birthday goodie (yum!). She also requested it entirely plain (um…). I was able to convince her to have one entirely plain cake (see above: the ridiculously-named “Meringue Gateau”) and one whipped-cream-frosted cake (with strawberries on the side).
As mentioned in the first post, Sarah was in charge of the cake-frosting, with instructions to make the lettering look like Harry’s 11th birthday cake from the Sorcerer’s Stone movie.
Making Hagrid proud!
Following the feast, we invited everyone to fill up at Honeydukes Sweet Shop.
Each kiddo got to take home an awesome butterbeer that Sarah and Chris had driven up from Westchester…
… as well as an assortment of Muggle candy, all named after Wizarding sweets.
From left: Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum (gum balls), Chocolate Frogs (made with a frog mold and chocolate discs), Pepper Imps (big, chalk-y peppermint candies), Chocoballs (malted chocolate balls), Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, Toothflossing Stringmints (coils of red and black licorice), and Acid Pops (lollypops dipped in Pop Rocks).
The Acid Pops were a cool idea, but the execution – dipping the lollies in water, then pressing them into the Pop Rocks – left a lot to be desired… Sarah helped out as best she could…
Before everyone departed – wands, spellbooks, cauldrons, butterbeer, and candy in hand (or bag) – we made sure to get a couple of photos by the (crumbling, peeling…) Great Hall backdrop.
Yes, it was a nutty six days leading up to the party. But I would do it all again to see our wonderfully Harry-obsessed eleven year-old feel – for a couple of hours – like she was maybe, just a little bit, at Hogwarts with her friends. Giving her that magical experience was really our birthday present to her; seeing her celebrating, wizard-style, with her friends was so very worth it.
Plus also we had leftover candy and butterbeer.
I’m calling it a win.
I bought customizable labels for the Potions at this neat Etsy shop.
I found ideas – and the sign – for the Potions class here, here, and here.
The Honedukes and Defense Against the Dark Arts signs were from here.