Owls, snakes and a fortune-telling professor filled Risley Hall on Friday evening, turning the residence hall into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to the delight of hundreds of students.
Decorated with the colors and emblems of Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, the four houses of Hogwarts, the dining hall makeover is part of an annual Cornell tradition. Characters from the J.K. Rowling books, including Draco Malfoy, Hermione Granger, Fleur Delacour and Harry Potter, walked the halls and interacted with students and families.
While waiting in the long line, students walked through rooms with live owls and handled real snakes in anticipation of enjoying a meal of fish and chips, butterbeer and pumpkin pastries. Students and children also created their own wands and went on a scavenger hunt for Hogwarts keys.
Gray Ryan ’18 took on the role of Newt Scamander for the evening, dressed like the Hogwarts magizoologist in a suit and bowtie and carrying a suitcase. Ryan has participated in the event for the last three years, first as Narcissa Malfoy, then as Luna Lovegood and, this year, as Newt.
“It’s really fun to hear whispers from the crowd,” Ryan said. “Even if I’m not paying attention, it’s still like ‘look who it is.’ People are so into Harry Potter; it’s so beautiful. To be able to bring it to life for them is really fun.”
People came from outside the University as well to enjoy the evening. Mary Grace Hager ’19 came with her sister, Ann Marie, who lives in New York City. They were one pair of many who dressed up to celebrate.
Students at the event shared memorable childhood experiences with the magical, best-selling series.
Sarah Palmer ’17 spoke about how the Harry Potter books have captivated multiple generations, mentioning one time she was in line for one of the movies and a philosophical debate broke out between college students in front of her. Behind her, two young girls imagined what they would do if they had magical abilities and spells.
“It was so great in that moment, being in between those two experiences,” she said.
Sydnie Chavez ’20 and Daniel Zimmerman ’17 enjoyed their deeper understanding of the series, which they got from taking classics courses at Cornell.
“Twins are a common theme in classical literature,” Zimmerman said. “When Fred dies, that’s actually harkening back to some very ancient, classical ideas about the twin dying.”
Chavez spoke about the myth of Pollux and Castor, where one twin dies, and the other brings him back to life.
“It’s been cool to see all those connections from an academic sense,” Chavez said.
Brian Heusschen, an undergraduate exchange student from the Netherlands, talked about the differences between the novels in English and the novels in Dutch.
“The names are different,” Heusschen said. “Dumbledore is completely different. [His name is] Perkamentus — the name for ancient paper, like parchment.”
Lars Olsen, also an exchange student from Denmark, designed costumes for the event and said he and others were busy right up to the deadline.
“We were done 20 minutes before the event, the sewing and everything.” Olsen said. “It was quite stressful.”
Olsen said he and other sewers and designers had been working until about 2 or 3 a.m. every night for a week to finish making costumes in time. Others in attendance had made their own costumes.
Palmer said the idea of self-reflection and acceptance was a poignant theme of the books and movies that stuck out to her and other fans.
“You really see this idea that part of defeating your enemies is defeating that part of yourself and that’s the first step.” Palmer said. “We all have to grapple with the idea that — not that we aren’t good people — but that the things we hate most are usually the things we see in ourselves and that you have to accept that in order to fight it.”