If you’ve watched a few Harry Potter movies and you’re hoping to see one of Hermione’s iconic Yule Ball gown or Harry’s Nimbus 3000, this may not be the exhibit for you. But if you feel like you belong in the magical universe J.K. Rowling created with her novels—the type of fan who knows the proper way to approach a Hippogriff, the dangers of Mandrake root, and the uses of a bezoar—you’ll never want to leave.
The exhibit combines real magical artifacts with early Harry Potter illustrations and manuscripts, showing the many historical influences Rowling combined to create Harry’s world.
“It’s not pedantic. That’s what’s so interesting,” said Roberta Olson, curator of drawings at the NYHS. ” She didn’t actually take things literally. She was inspired by them to invent her own. One word for it is eclectic—but it’s more than eclectic. It’s creative. It’s based on something, and that’s why there are all these levels.”
Using many of the same pieces from the original British exhibition, the displays takes guests on a journey through the Hogwarts curriculum. Visitors enter the exhibit through the Hogwarts gates. Inside, there is a room for each subject, including Potions and Alchemy, Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Care of Magical Creatures.
Each room is full of things to see, including the real Nicolas Flamel’s tombstone, a witch’s cauldron and broomstick, a Mandrake root, a bezoar, a scrying mirror (which had similar uses to the Mirror of Erised), and spell books. These artifacts are well-matched with quotes from the books, as well as character portraits by Jim Kay.
While the magical artifacts are fascinating, the most exciting part for most Potterheads will be the 20 items from JK Rowling’s personal collection. From a five-panel conceptual sketch of Diagon Alley, to a drafted scene from The Philosopher’s Stone in which Vernon Dursley meets Cornelius Fudge, to an intricate Order of the Phoenix plot map that she created shortly after the first book was published, there is so much content to discover.
The final room, titled “Past, Present, Future” goes a bit beyond the books, including an annotated screenplay for Fantastic Beasts, a model of the Broadway stage for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and a video covering the 20 years since Harry Potter’s debut.
“I think [the exhibit] speaks to the power of magic,” Olson said. “Harry Potter’s been translated into 80 different languages. So obviously not only magic reaches people, but his story.”
The level of detail in the exhibits brings the experience to another level. Keep your eye out for a golden snitch flitting through the walls of the charms room, a seemingly empty display case that is home to an “invisibility cloak,” and books strung up from the ceiling to appear in flight. There are even interactive components to the exhibit, including virtual potion-making and a crystal ball.
The NYHS also partnered with Audible to provide an audio guide to the exhibit, free to download for ticket holders. Game of Thrones fans will recognize the narrator, Natalie Dormer as the late Margaery Tyrell. They have also released a companion audiobook, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, which explores the history of real-life magic and J.K. Rowling’s magical inventions. Narrated by Stephen Fry and Jim Dale, the book is on sale now.
To supplement the exhibit, the society will also host a series of Harry Potter-themed events for adults, including a Halloween party, speakers, and wine and paint nights.