Every other event of my road trip will just have to fight for second place, because I cannot imagine a better day than today. Elizabeth, her sister Natalie, and I drove two hours to Chestertown, a real life Stars Hollow that went all out to throw a Harry Potter Festival. We parked on the outskirts of the cute bay town, and freaked out when we saw the “Hogwarts Express” sign on a train, with a Platform 9 3/4 nearby. Little did we know what awaited us when we got into the town proper.
Dozens of local businesses participated in decking out their storefronts with wizarding goods, and the town square boasted a market of Harry Potter-themed foods and merchandise. There were hundreds of people there for the celebration. One of the things I love most about the Harry Potter fandom is that it is ageless. There were kids, teenagers, young adults, and seniors there in varying stages of costume. Families and friends walked the sidewalks, some with babies dressed up as owls.
We arrived at 12:30, so we wandered a little while waiting for a table for lunch. Then we waited forever for our food, increasingly desperate when we realized the town-wide scavenger hunt ended at 3:00. We asked for the check as soon as we got the food, and we were out the door fifteen minutes after we got our meals. At 2:10, we started the scavenger hunt. It was intense! There were nine OWL level clues. To find them, you had to go to different stores marked on the map, search the store for a hidden clue, then write down the answer given. There were also twelve NEWT level clues. They also involved entering stores, searching for hidden signs, but this time there was a question to be answered.
Elizabeth, Natalie, and I were an awesome team. Elizabeth navigated us to each clue location, Natalie found the clue (she ought to have been in Hufflepuff), and I wrote everything down. We managed to finish the whole scavenger hunt with five minutes to spare, though we had cheated slightly by sharing information with other participants when we realized we didn’t have time to reach 12 Grimmauld Place on the edge of town. We rushed to Hogwarts to collect our prizes. I was first, so I got my wrist band and tote bag. Behind me, Natalie tried to get her bag, only to be told that our cheated information wasn’t listed properly. Because I’m not a loyal Hufflepuff, I scurried away before the woman doling out prizes would realize I shouldn’t have received mine.
After rushing around town, we took a slower stroll, grabbing butterbeer (and a butterbeer latte) and taking pictures. I’m going to show you…all of them.
We spent a long time in Flourish & Blotts, a super cute used bookstore. In between the hunt and that night’s party, there was supposed to be a Quidditch match, but it had started raining, so instead we stayed in the bookshop and read. Eventually we decided to drive around Chestertown and the surrounding countryside, circling back to the town center at 6:00. We stood in line with the other hundred or so people who had pre-bought tickets to the Leaky Cauldron party.
We ate and drank and mocked people who stubbornly waited for quesadilla refills. At 7:30 we went to a back room for the trivia contest, where we competed as team “The Heroines” since we were Hermione, Luna, and Ginny (by hair, and often by temperament). We got 4th place out of 17 teams, which is pretty amazing since we were competing against the biggest Harry Potter nerds in Maryland.
On the way out, we each took pictures with Gilderoy Lockhart. Some guy had spent a lot of money to dress like him, and he’d even printed out pictures of himself to sign and give people. It was completely amazing, and as we walked out of the Leaky Cauldron, I admitted, “I was never even the tiniest bit attracted to Lockhart in the books, but…in real life? I totally get why his cockiness won people over.”
Elizabeth side-eyed me. “I know!” I said. “I’m ashamed of myself.”
She relented. “Well, Hermione did always have a thing for him.”
That made me feel better.
We ran back to the car, drove two hours home, and declared the day a success. “We’re winning at life, guys,” Elizabeth insisted. I COULDN’T AGREE MORE, I’m so sad I’ll be in Athens when the 3rd annual Harry Potter Festival occurs in Chestertown.