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Spellbound! 2005 ‘Half-Blood Prince’ release party report

By Don of Harry Potter Fan Zone

I was due to arrive in Chicago at around 9 PM on Thursday night, but as my flight was delayed and traffic at several points along the route from O’Hare airport to the Radisson hotel was messed up, I didn’t check in until after 11 PM.

Once I got settled in my room, I called Zach (Harry Potter Fan Zone staffer) on my cell and he said I could come on over to the mall (Randhurst) and he’d give me the grand tour. I drove over to the mall (luckily, I decided to rent a car) to see what was up. What they had done so far was truly remarkable. Decorations were hung all over the mall, several events had been set up, and everything was running smoothly (or so it seemed). After being introduced to Catherine Collins (Harry Potter Fan Zone), Galadriel Waters (Wizarding World Press), Damon Brangers (MuggleNet), and ELF (Wizarding World Press), I asked what I could do to help.

I ran across the parking lot to the grocery store to find some odds and ends that we still needed. Once I came back, Galadriel Waters (henceforth GW) decided to do a walk through to get the rest of the events actually set up, as several were just sort of haphazardly thrown together at this point. We got them all set up for the most part, but by this time it was getting on 4 AM (Zach told me over the phone that we’d only be there until about 1am – see if I believe his time estimates again) and most of us decided to call it a night. GW stayed all night.

Friday dawned and it promised to be a good day weather-wise; there was some concern for the outdoor events as remnants of hurricane Dennis were still threatening the upper mid-west. After eating breakfast at the over-priced, over-rated buffet at the Radisson, I headed over to the mall. We still had to do several last-minute touches to everything and we ran a little behind schedule. Everybody asked me when the Doomspell Tournament (a relay-race of sorts) was going to be ready as I was adding coloured tape to the “stands”.

We finally got up and running and everything seemed to be a real hit. Kids, teenagers and adults alike flooded into the mall dressed up like various Harry Potter characters (some crackpot even dressed up like Obi-Wan Kenobi as a joke). Some were extremely clever and well done. Slytherin was definitely the most represented of the houses. One particularly convincing Malfoy and an equally convincing Harry even posed for photographs on a stage set up as they were in the Chamber of Secrets movie for the Duelling Club scene.

The “Bludging Practice” event seemed to be one of the most popular, and had by-far the best decorations. It was a miniature golf of sorts with padded “bludging bats” instead of golf clubs. The “Wizarding Chess” event drew a huge crowd as it required enough participants to play each piece on a chess board. They were put on a hat that represented their piece and were directed to move spaces as two players played chess on a real chess board. The “Doomspell Tournament” went really well as did the “DA Practice”, which was the arts and crafts room. “Wizard Prison” was pretty cool as you could fill out a slip of paper (like an arrest warrant) and Dementors would come and haul you off to prison where they would shackle you to a ball-and-chain until you answered several Harry Potter trivia questions correctly. There were palm and tarot card readers as well as face painting. The two for-show-only displays were great. The graveyard was fantastic and I can’t praise Beachbum (admin on Plotthickens.com and New Clues forums) enough for the results of the efforts put forth in “The Dungeon” (the unventilated storage room in the basement that the mall gave us to use for storage and use as a workroom). There was also a “Shrine to Padfoot”, which started out as a simple large ceramic black dog (a Rottweiler or black Lab, I believe) but adoring Sirius fans very quickly added their own contributions of packages of dog treats and bones; several Slytherin’s were also overheard muttering under their breath as they passed (I didn’t make that up either). There were also the two shops. The one that was run by the department store in the mall (Carson Pirie Scott) had Spellbound! t-shirts, Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, and other miscellaneous officially licensed merchandise. Alivan’s also had a shop where they were selling their wares (wands, brooms, robes, etc.).

I got to do the Sorting Hat (which people had been asking about all day) in the afternoon. ELF went around the mall handing out invitations to be sorted. We had prizes for those who picked out a “prize” slip: either a pair of Spellbound! socks or a copy of Galadriel Waters’ latest “New Clues” book. Needless to say, the book was far more popular a prize than the socks, cute though they were. Probably the biggest hit was the scavenger hunt, put together by Jenna of DanRadcliffe.com. There were clever Harry Potter-like clues that would lead you to certain stores in the mall. If you guessed which clue pertained to that store, a clerk at the counter would add a stamp to the back of your “Marauder’s Map” and each stamp was worth one ticket for the prize drawings.

Unfortunately, I never made it to the “Land-Based Quidditch”, which was held at the Hilton, or the “Virtual Reality”, which was at the Radisson (be very wary of mall food). The “Graveyard Bowling” looked really cool, but I don’t know if anyone actually made it down there (it was being held at the Best Western).

Sadly, I didn’t get to see much of the live entertainment. The only one I remember was “The Bold and Stupid Men” who were absolutely fantastic! They did a shtick routine that was perhaps more appropriate for a renaissance festival, but it worked very well here too. I understand that the costume contest went extremely well, especially the fifteen-and-over one. Many of those who came in costume also came in character and remained that way throughout the day; the Rita Skeeter was extremely convincing.

I left the mall a little early (see the aforementioned mall food) and decided to relax in my hotel room before picking up my copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. After picking it up, I retired to my room for the last time and foregoing my Johnny Walker in favour of something with caffeine, I cracked open HBP and didn’t stop for four more hours (I got through Draco’s Detour).

In closing, I would just like to say that even though the Spellbound! event at the mall was hugely successful and I was glad to have helped out in my small way, it was the people that I met while there that really made the trip worthwhile. Galadriel Waters is the consummate workaholic and a fantastically generous person. Beachbum and I got along smashingly (we even discovered that we work for the same employer in our day-jobs), and she can drive one mean SUV through the busy Chicago interstates. Damon from MuggleNet didn’t say much to me, but I could tell from the way he conducted himself that he is extremely professional in all his endeavours. Catherine (go HPFZ!) can be a bit high-strung at times, but that simply adds to her charm. She is a wonderful person and a fellow Trekkie as well (sorry if we bored the rest of you in the car with our DS9 ravings), and I promise not to rat you out to the FCC for your little walkie-talkie “incident”. Finally, Zach: what can I say, but “wow”. I believe that I have met the best, hardest working, most trustworthy, caring and mature site admin in all of Harry Potter fandom (if not the entire Internet). I was thoroughly impressed by the way Zach conducted himself all weekend, especially being as sleep-deprived as everyone was. From the media coverage to having already organized events that GW thought hadn’t been, you carried the ball a lot of times this past week. My hat off to you!