LeakyCon hits Orlando and Potter Talk

San Diego Comic Con might be one of the biggest conventions in the world for comic book readers, superhero fans, and big Hollywood series like The Avengers and Superman. For Harry Potter fans, our favorite and number one convention is Leaky Con - a multi-day gathering of fans and fandom sharing their love of Harry Potter, young adult books, Doctor Who, and every other fandom on the planet. And, Potter Talk will be there to cover this extraordinary event!

This is my first official time attending Leaky Con - to be honest, I couldn't be more excited! Who wouldn't be? Five days of sharing in the common love and adoration for fandoms between geeks. My first day will be attending the exclusive event at Universal Studios Orlando to explore the Harry Potter lands Hogsmeade and the all-new Diagon Alley. From July 30th to August 3rd, this blog will be a little idle attending panels with the stars of the Harry Potter films, graphic designers from the franchise production Mina Lima and so much more. Afterwards please expect a full update of pictures, videos, and what is sure to be a rewarding and fun experience at Leaky Con - here I come!

Deathly Hallows Epilogue Rambles (Part 1)

The saddest thing to me about the epilogue of Harry Potter is that society still reeks of Slytherin intolerance. Albus Severus Potter has obviously been conditioned by society or his friends that the darkest and unstable house is the one that housed Voldemort.

But Slytherin didn't create Voldemort; he was a product of lacking a soul, his ambition to conquer - you could say, his ironclad determination to hurt others like he had been shunned, outcast and institutionalized since birth. All evil, no matter how strong it is, has an origin - and no one can know about his past because it died with him.

We have to look at the unity of houses when students grow up; most commonly it's going to be with their peers from Hogwarts. The Potters are well-aligned with the Weasleys, the Longbottom(s), the Tonks; except for the Lovegoods. How much diversity exists within the family's immediate social circle unless one of the other children is sorted into another house?

History hasn't taught the post second wizarding war children anything different. The next generation knows about Harry versus Voldemort only if they talk about it with their parents, or by what society shows them. So what is Harry signficantly telling Albus when he says you can choose Gryffindor if it will make you happy, peaceful, content with who you are. Not Slytherin housed one of the bravest men that he knew (this is up for debate with your own views of Severus) and leave it that. Unless Hermione is inspiring her children to go on a House Equality rampage, most of society is still breeding the same anti-this, pro-that messaging.

What makes Gryffindors brave in our muggle world?

Gryffindors are known to be brave at heart, says the Sorting Hat. The Golden Trio was placed into this house as well as many other characters: misft-turned-hero Neville Longbottom, all four of the Mauraders (Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, James Potter and Voldemort follower Peter Pettigrew), Lily Potter, the entire Weasley family, Albus Dumbledore - and shall we conclude that the list goes and on. So us fellow Gryffindor have a lot to live up to.

In our muggle world though, how do we remain brave at heart when wizarding evil doesn't lurk around every corner?

Some say that to be brave you must face your fears - well, this works when your biggest fears is stronger than your determination is to overthrow the most evil villain to ever almost rule the wizarding world. There weren't many quiet acts of heroism throughout the series. When we closer examine the characters and their individual fears - let's take the golden trio and Neville for example - they don't really have those moments of dealing with their everyday creatures, situations, or people that fills them with panic or terror:
  • Harry's biggest fear is fear itself, which varies depending on the threat that presents itself. Some say his biggest fear was death, however that can be counteracted by the fact that he uses Voldemort's name freely throughout the series (never wailing on whether that is used to track him or not), and physically diving into situations without much pause.
  • Hermione's biggest fear is a failed test, however, she never actually receives less than top marks - or use than that - write a poorly executed essay on the behalf of Ron.
  • Ron's phobia of spiders is never truly solved or eased - he never comes face to face with another eight legged freak after narrowly escaping The Forbidden Forest.
  • Neville had to imagine Professor Snape as his grandmother in year three during the Boggarts class by Professor Lupin. The almost-chosen-one never has a confrontation with the teacher standing up to himself or someone else (the often belittled Granger, for one) within class.
Though the characters never had the absence of fears, they weren't really presented with opportunities to face those specific fears above throughout the series. 

This is not to say that during the long hard-fought battle against Lord Voldemort was easy as pie. Sure the characters faced anxieties and worries of their loved ones dying or coming gravely injured - Ron leaves Harry and Hermione temporarily (at the slight influence of wearing one of the Horcruxes) after all. However, in the effort to save those we love from pain through an outside source, or to chase adventure, our bravery tends to fall on the line of reckless, going with our gut feelings, and not thinking things through. That often has consequences to yourself or others in the real world.

Often as a Gryffindor, standing up for myself or others is are not loud declarations. I like to go on adventures or deviate from a plan, but it sometimes takes me a while to warm up to the idea. Proceeding with caution and planning ahead to figure things out eventually, but slowly, takes a backseat to accepting that all hell is going to break loose anyways.

My biggest form of "bravery" is probably being in proud of my personality and my empathy. I like what I like, hate what I hate, and stand to reason to back up whatever I enjoy. I've always stood out from the pack from my peers in terms of my interests or hobbies, and have veered away from locking out my passions to appease society's standards. Empathy in not so many ways is more of an internal call of action, rather again like most Gryffindor's one that is proudly displayed. I try not to cast judgement on others and remind myself that to walk in other people's shoes because I do not know their story. My way of defending others: signing petitions, signal boosting posts on tumblr, donating money or time to charitable causes. Either characteristics are hardly loud, outspoken, or to be remembered in the name of heroics.

What is right isn't always what is easy. Risk is involved; being bold. Do we go after the big thrilling escapades to get the thrill of Harry Potter character - like skydiving, race track driving? Do we go into a line of occupation that as unequivocally daring such as stuntman coordinator or firefighter? Or can being brave including the small stuff too - like lending a roar for those voices may not be loud enough to defend themselves or facing our everyday fears no matter what they may be? Does being considered brave always have to be a "theatrical" display?

Pottermore Rated: Dumbledore's Army Reunites

Pottermore is a touch-and-go website; meaning that when the hype is high, us fans ride the waves over and over again. When nothing is chugging out, the news and excitement dissipates as fast as an emptying Quidditch stadium after a game. Most recently, and what should-be-exciting, author JK Rowling posted the sequel that should've never been - a return of our favorite gossipy journalist Rita Skeeter reporting on Dumbledore's Army Reuniting at the Quidditch World Cup in a quick short story / collumn.

When the announcement was made online, I really should have felt elated about the prospect of Rowling's new dish via Skeeter about the golden trio. Yet, and I didn't really go through any fandom feels at all. If anything, doubts arose if I should read it or not. One question popped up in my head the most: Do we need to know about Harry Potter and co. adult life?

Depending on your outlook on the Deathly Hallows epilogue, there are ways to satiate your lingering curiosity and love for the series post-Voldemort. The fandom is alive and happy spouting dreams of canon, AU, and shipping with delicately crafted details of the Marauder's Map, the second wizarding war, and so on. Gifs circulating on tumblr anaylze the most minute detail that gives entire new appreciation of every single scene from the eight film franchise. Universal Studios just opened Diagon Alley, and two more Harry Potter themed lands are about to open in California and Japan. There is plenty of Potter buzz to go around, and yet there is still a void that is left by the seventh book's finale.

For me, it was all right. I wish that it had been longer and we had found more about the characters we grew to love. Sprinkled throughout the nineteen page ending, there were glimpses of what our fellow Gryffindor friends were up to nineteen years later after Voldemort's final demise, but there wasn't really enough. It was poetic, tied up some of the loose strings, but not enough to understand wherever everyone was at after the Battle of Hogwarts. Our hero Harry had survived the war to live well with Ginny and their children becoming an Auror alongside Ron. The Weasley son now married to Hermione Granger had children of their own, and reuniting on Platform 9 3/4 we assumed their lives were well off enough.

 I finally succumbed to reading the latest Pottermore installment, and again - it was all right. Skeeter shared her "insight" on the golden trio, Luna Lovegood (seems to be doing all right), and Neville Longbottom (might be a drunk). She hinted that it is not all paradise in both camps for the Potters nor Weasleys. Conflicts in relationships and the magical society following the seventh book is natural for Rowling to continue, however, some of it felt entertaining, other sections forced (that every marriage is seems to be crumbling). Our characters are grown up and mature, and the part of me that was always curious about what took place during Potter's post second wizarding war days were all at once over over. It was entertaining but not necessarily enough.

We had been finally been given a sliver of outcomes by our favorite characters, and it was hard for me to rejoice. Being spoonfed conflict, and untrustworthy trite by Skeeter at that, did very little to resolve what I had felt was missing from the epilogue. And, part of me - like when Rowling confessed that Ron and Hermione might not have been a good match after all, felt this short story should've been omitted too.

Because after all - her voice is the confirmation of what's taken place in the wizarding world. We are aware that Skeeter is a manipulator of truth and gossip instigator, so her story shouldn't be taken as gospel - but then there is the big nut of the problem - the details we are getting are too playfully masked as fiction rather than fact; leaving blurbs to be released here and there to never really be enough to feel complete.

Where Pottermore suffers the most is not content but gossip. You don't even have to visit the site anymore to get exclusive content - sites freely post the fresh stories in their entirety for everyone to enjoy freely. Whichever gets the content out there faster and more shareable is better, I guess. However, Pottermore continues to lose the community it once strove to bring together. It's extremely lucky but also ill-fated that short stories and background information is the main gateway to get fans talking about the series on every site except Pottermore. Any news is potentially good news and gets our Hogwarts-colored hearts fluttering again. I just wish big stories like Dumbledore's Army reuniting had been a bit more tangible and less heresy.

Overall Review: 3 out of 5 owls

Diagon Alley in Focus: Pygmy Puff Adoption

Beloved brothers Fred and George Weasley put themselves on the map in the wizarding world with their joke shop Weasley Wizard Wheezes. Making its cinematic debut in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, witches and wizards can walk into the building and hoard all the novelty gifts and prank gadgets as imagined by the favorite twins.

When stopping by the three-story shop, and get swept away in the near-replication of the set in the movies, be sure to adopt a Pygmy Puff - creates of the Weasley's own making. One of them is seen cuddling on their sister Ginny Weasley on her passage to Hogwarts. Upon purchasing your Pygmy Puff make sure to let the cashier know you're officially adopting him / her. You'll be in for a treat of an official adoption announcement to the rest of the store in which your name and as well as your new furry friend are given a round of applause. Take a bow and enjoy your adoption!

Christmas In July Harry Potter Giveaway

July 2014 has been a summer of amazing surprises and treats from the wizarding world; Universal Studios opened its doors to Diagon Alley and author J.K. Rowling treated fans with a further epilogue of Harry, Ron and Hermione thirty years after Deathly Hallows takes place. I thought in honor of the tremendous gifts we've been given, and for the Potterheads around the country who could not be at the theme park opening day in-person, two lucky fans have the opportunity to capture a bit of the magic.

This is my Christmas in July giveaway! Two winners will be selected at random, and each will win one Universal Studios theme park map commemorating Diagon Alley's official opening day, and one Hello! My House is _____ button. I offer the pinback button for sale in my Etsy store and the accessory was a huge hit with wizards, witches and muggles upon my visit to Universal Studios. Styles available are Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin - the winners will be able to choose which house crest they would like to receive.

Enter with Rafflecopter! Two winners will be selected at random. Up your chances by completing all the options! Tell your friends! Winners will be announced July 27th. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley Opening Day

Four years ago Wizarding World of Harry Potter- Hogsmeade, the sister park to Diagon Alley opened with a grand celebration; celebrity guests were on sight to cut the ribbon, and some two million muggles waited outside in the blistering sun to experience the park. Having opened Diagon Alley to the public for a few days before its initial opening, I think some of the crowd was able to simmer and the Diagon Alley opening was more discreet.

On previous walks to Universal Studios over the past week or so, I was first very surprised to see the lack of advertisements for Diagon Alley. Always in search of posters or banners, there was a bit of let down when I didn't see anything promoting the new land. On opening day, that all changed with new posters at every turn - an official confirmation that the the new park was open.

Instead of only utilizing a stand-by line for fans who were willing to wait to walk through the barrier of the muggle world to the magical one, there was also a ticketed time entrance. Park guests were allowed to spend the day enjoying Universal Studios, and then return to the Diagon Alley area during a registered time slot. There was options for both the hardcore fans who wanted to make a long wait, and vacationers who wanted to explore the park and then see Diagon Alley at their discretion.

My family and I chose the latter option because my mother being a woman of significant age couldn't sit in line for the duration for four plus hours (!!). So we chose a time slot for for the evening when we thought the weather would be a bit more cooler.

It definitely was - because the sun took a dip for some clouds to roll in. Even being a Floridian we knew rain might pop up, and forgetfully, I left my umbrella and rain slicker in our car. Just as we crossed into Diagon Alley, it was Nevermind the storm though - magic was still in the air. Even though I had visited Diagon Alley  with a soft opening, the majesty and awe still hit me like a ton of bricks - even with rain pouring down and trying not to get my camera wet, there was nothing to do but make the best of it.

It's difficult to pin which shop is a favorite of mine because each one has their special brand of atmosphere. Stop by Madame Malkin's Robes for All Occassions and get fitted for your robe - you are truly welcomed and encouraged to try on different robes and select your size before purchasing. Laugh your way around Weasley Wizard Wheezes with all the cool muggle and magical joke gifts. There is really something for everyone and every wizarding occasion within Diagon Alley.

The firebreathing dragon is an absolute showstopper. Wherever guests are when the first rumblings of his belly are heard, people stop in their tracks, whip their cameras or phones out, and wait to capture the moment. It never truly gets old!

Unlike my first trip too, my sister, mother and I walked through some of the shops and took endless photographs, looking at merchandise (keeping a tally on how I was going to spend my life's savings) and enjoying the general splendor of it all. Every shop keeper was helpful, kind, and in wonder of muggle contraptions such as the pinback button I wore, my rain slicker, and camera.

There is so much to see and do at this new amazing theme park, I plan on posting a tour of the shops and restaurants for a clearer and fuller guide - with tips and things to be sure to check out from each location.

Many guests are in agreement that the big attraction is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, a new multi-dimensional rollercoaster which had a waiting time on opening day of seven hours. While we were there, the line and ride was shut down due to maximum capacity. People who had gotten in line around 10pm wouldn't ride the actual attraction until 3am. Needles to say this wasn't something doable for my family - the ride was closed when we got there - but it's something I'll continue to very much look forward to doing in the future.

For such a big event as the Diagon Alley opening day, I was surprised by Universal's management of the event - everything seemed well controlled and like the magical occassion it was striving to be. I'm not sure how this compared to anyone else's visit, but I hope it was enjoyable and something that they are willing to relive again and again. Happy Birthday, Diagon Alley!

Soft Opening Diagon Alley Pictures + Brief Review at Universal Studios

Previously, I had an opportunity to ride the Hogwarts Express during a soft opening, and the experience was overwhelming. My senses were in overload, and I'm convinced after my train to Hogsmeade and back that I retained very little besides the tremendous amount of satisfaction and happiness to be riding such an awesome ride.

 My sister and I were going to Universal City Walk to see a showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, and with some extra time on our hands, headed over to Universal Studios to hang out around the modern London walk-through. Today had a very awkward yet amazing turn of events, even for a Gryffindor witch like myself. After all the #PotterWatch-ing on Twitter and Tumblr, I finally found myself crossing through the muggle world into Diagon Alley. For the past few days in early July, Universal Studios has graciously given park guests a magical treat to soft openings - selective dates and times when vacationers can check out an unofficially opened park area to experience shops and attractions. I had the lucky opportunity to be one of many park guests to see Diagon Alley!

POV video of walking through to Diagon Alley
You may hear a ton of "OMGs" in the background - that's me!

Passing through the broken brick wall - just like the movies - is to feel like you walked into another universe. When I watch the Harry Potter movies or read the books, it's to escape into a different realm other than our ordinary world, and the theme park encapsulates the sheer magnitude of sucking guests into that place we've all dreamed of visiting.

This is no theme park trying to put over your expectations or senses with forced perspective or cardboard alleyways. You look to your left, to your right, towards the sky, down at the ground - and every detail has been paid attention to. Brick walls, shop signage, and colorful bold decorations fill you with the feeling that this area is specifically for us witches and wizards. All of your senses are absorbing every detail and your body becomes hyper-aware that you can actually touch, taste, smell, and hear all of the things that was alive in your imagination or experienced through the movies.

For a soft opening, Diagon Alley was heavy with guests taking advantage of the preview before the grand opening day. One of the most impressive aspects of the new land is how the traffic is managed; stores have a single entrance and exit. It's easier for guests to filter through the landscape without feeling overwhelmed with bumping shoulders into others constantly.

Having watched Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince earlier in the day - it was hard to imagine that YES, I was standing in front of the same store that I saw in the sixth film. Cast members such as James and Oliver Phelps (who play the Weasley twins) visited Universal Studios during their exclusive Media and VIP preview week commented that this was almost better than being on the film sets because the location is tangible. Wholeheartedly, I agree.

I used to watch the movies and read the books hoping one day that I could stop by a place like Weasley Wizard Wheezes. Now when I visit Diagon Alley, I can proudly claim that I'm standing in the place I've watched countless times on film and in the books.

Everywhere you turn there is something new and exciting to see; point out to your friends and family as well as want to go and immediately explore. My sister and I stood in the middle of Diagon Alley pointing at all the small details that enhanced every shop and attraction. I'm not even sure we covered even half the effort and hard work Universal Studios' team put into the area, and I'm that much more inspired to back again to discover anything and everything we may have missed the first time around.

I was surprised by the large space that consumes Diagon Alley. There is more than one alleyway guests can explore. Down the main area there is lines of shops such as Weasley Wizard Wheezes and Quality Quidditch Supplies (to name a few), and when you reach the end of the block, there is more to go - Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor, Carkitt Market, Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment, Knockturn Alley.

Something else that caught my eye about Diagon Alley is that even though the area is a marketplace known for wizards and witches to do their regular shopping - the new land did not feel like a marketing ploy. Every shop makes you feel like you are there to get your shopping done before your year at Hogwarts. The shopkeepers and Gringott's guards are helpful, polite, and friendly. My sister and I were helped out a few times by nearby shop owners to help take pictures and to answer questions that we had. Universal Studios is astounding in their theming and articulate sense to give fans an experience. Diagon Alley might be heavily populated by guests enjoying their vacation (as it should be expected), but a good attitude goes a very long way.

"Neville" sitting atop of Gringott's Bank is a true showstopper.
If you're in the area, keep your ears open to hearing his belly rumble. 
Soon you'll see and feel his firebreathing!

Truly stand and marvel at the ginormous size of Gringotts Bank.

Standing in front of Gringott's Bank
Definitely a sight I will be taking in (at least) one or a thousand more times!

By far the favorite thing that sat with me emotionally during the soft opening was just how authentic the area was. Similar to my very first ride on the Hogwarts Express, the store fronts are more than enough for you to explore. A walk-through Diagon Alley is just as enjoyable as getting all your shopping done before your trip to Hogwarts, grabbing a cool treat at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor and making a quick stop by the Leaky Cauldron for some Bangers and Mash. There's plenty to do, see, and enjoy - I'm sure every Harry Potter fan like myself, and even those only familiar with the movies or books through a family member or its enormous pop culture impact will be amazed by the theme park for generations to come.

A big thank you to Universal Studios for giving fans this amazing experience - for all your hardwork and dedication for bringing J.K. Rowling's world to life does not go unappreciated; you are giving everyone a truly magical experience.

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