- The Washington Times - Monday, July 11, 2005

You won’t need any floo powder to spend an evening in Diagon Alley this weekend.

Harry Potter enthusiasts in Richmond will celebrate the release of the “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” on Friday night a bit differently: They have transformed shops and a large parking lot in the city’s West End into a replica of Diagon Alley, the magical shopping area portrayed in the popular children’s series.

Muggles are welcome, and Potter fans young and old can enjoy Butterbeer and challenge fellow wizards to a Quaffle Toss match. Volunteers will staff 32 shops, from Ollivander’s, where wizards get their wands, to Gringotts Bank.

“We ended up creating Harry Potter’s whole world,” said Leslie Dixon, a Richmond resident and one of nearly 150 volunteers organizing the extravaganza. “We have every single shop that has a name in all the books.”

Harry and his friends can get to Diagon Alley several ways. They can tap the right brick on the back wall of the London pub known as the Leaky Cauldron and step through a portal to get to the town. They also can travel by floo powder, a magical substance that transports wizards when they throw it into a fireplace and shout the name of their destination.

Non-wizarding humans, also known as Muggles, can get there a bit easier, and admission is free.

Richmond’s “Evening in Diagon Alley” started small — literally.

Book People, a tiny shop in Richmond’s West End for 25 years, was planning to sell the book in the wee hours of Saturday morning much like other bookstores across the country. But the shop owners realized it bore a striking resemblance to Flourish & Blott’s, the small bookstore where Harry and his pals stock up on wizarding manuals such as “The Big Book of Monsters.”

The idea caught on faster than Harry rides his Firebolt flying broom, and it has generated worldwide interest and now boasts volunteers from at least six states on the East Coast.

Some will even arrive from New England in a caravan — called the “Hogwarts Express,” named after the mystical train that takes wizards to school, of course.

At the event, a re-created Leaky Cauldron will serve a full dinner with a menu pulled right out of the books. In the morning, children who couldn’t stay up until midnight can feast on a breakfast identical to the one Molly Weasley served Harry and his friends in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

Beloved characters from J.K. Rowling’s series — even a giant Hagrid look-alike — will stroll through Diagon Alley.

Children also can participate in a scavenger hunt and a trivia contest. Prizes include the Gryffindor sword and the Golden Snitch, the winged, golden ball whose capture ends a match of Quidditch, an aerial lacrosse game played on brooms.

Copies of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the sixth installment in the series, will sell for $21. The book will be released officially after midnight Friday.

The festivities kick off at 6 p.m. Friday and run until 2 a.m. Saturday. Organizers will return at 9 a.m. Saturday and keep Diagon Alley open until at least 5 p.m.

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