Wizarding school offers magic all year long for ‘Harry Potter’ fans

Dec 07, 2017
Erika Rich
Worthwich School’s wand-making classes feature different types of wood to create your wand, each with its own distinctive properties.

After reading the “Harry Potter” series, many of us wish our own Hogwarts acceptance letters would arrive in the mail.

But some lucky Muggles (that is, those with no magical abilities) are able to experience their own kind of magic at a Central Texas wizarding school. Worthwich School offers all sorts of wizarding activities for people still enthralled by the series 20 years after the first book was published — including wand-making classes and retreats like one that ran for a weekend in October.

The next “Harry Potter”-inspired event from producer Faye Fearless, who created the concept of Worthwich with her partner, Mai Infante, is the enchanting Worthwich Yule Ball on Dec. 16.

Before the annual holiday ball — which is your excuse to finally break out those dress robes you’ve been hoarding — there will also be a wand-making class at Dragon’s Lair in Austin and a “Harry Potter” painting party at Painting with a Twist in Cedar Park. The painting studio will follow up with a wand-making class on Dec. 17, and you can buy a combo package to do both events.

The concept of Worthwich was created just last year.

“We didn’t see that there was really anything for adult fans of ‘Harry Potter’ to kind of engage in, especially as an immersive experience,” Fearless said earlier this year. “We didn’t see any other Texas events like that. It’s something we wanted to create as fans ourselves. It allows us to really jump in and enjoy it all over again.”

That’s the stuff of dreams for fans of the books like me, who grew up as Harry and his friends did and still reread their adventures regularly. Having events for readers who are now fully grown was entirely the point, Fearless said.

Fearless (whose real name is Ashley Stinson) and Infante have gone to great lengths to make the school, the Yule Ball and the wand-making workshops as authentic to “Harry Potter” lore as possible. Worthwich has its own extensive history as “the home for misfit wizards” and sorts robes-wearing students into houses based on regions of the world, Fearless said. She even wrote a book of potions to teach her class.

Worthwich School offers events for fans of the “Harry Potter” series. Kids like Miles Thomas, 5, are able to participate in the Worthwich School’s wand-making classes, but a fall weekend retreat and late-night Yule Ball are only for adults.

Be your own Ollivander

Originally, Worthwich started as stand-alone wand-making workshops that Infante (a “major, major fan,” Fearless said) developed after she read about wand wood lore on J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore website and wanted a wand of her own. She told her dad about her wish, and together they made a few from real wood. He was the reason she became such an avid fan of the books in the first place, reading her “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” at night when she was a kid.

“For my eighth birthday, he threw me a Potter party that was really epic,” Infante said. “He made me a full-sized Nimbus 2000 (broomstick). He’s crafty, so he got me all these things that no one else had.”

With the wand-making classes, she and Fearless are able to expand on his do-it-yourself prowess and show participants in the workshops how to make wands, with a few twists of their own. Each class serves up a heaping helping of Potter references, of course, and knowledgeable fans are encouraged to speak up about what they know about wands.

I dragged my husband to one such class at Mary Moore Searight Metropolitan Park in South Austin earlier this year. He has only seen the movies and didn’t show up all gung-ho in a Marauder’s Map tank top like I did, but he enjoyed getting to work with wood — using tools to sand down the rough bark and whittle designs onto the newly smoothed surface. That part took up a bulk of the two-hour class.

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First, however, we had to select which type of wood we wanted to create our wand from — whether that’s maple, larch, holly, chestnut or any of the myriad others that arrived at the class as sticks bundled in burlap. Each one is said to have its own distinctive magic-making properties, as Rowling noted on Pottermore: Cherry “possesses truly lethal power,” while beech (which became my wand of choice) has a “subtlety and artistry rarely seen in any other wood.”

Another crucial step in the wand-making process is the core — the tiny magical item that goes inside the hollowed-out base. As Worthwich School points out, the wand doesn’t have to be filled with the phoenix feather, dragon heartstring or unicorn hair that Potter wand-maker Ollivander always preferred. Rather, the core is another chance for you to get imaginative.

“I have seen people put some very creative things in their wand: wine, letters from your lover, hair from your kids or your pet,” Infante said at the class. “Someone put the ashes of their grandma in there once. So it’s whatever you want. Just something that is very personal to you.”

At the very end of the class, all the new wand owners line up in a ceremony to dedicate the wands and prepare them to start doing spells. For just a second, you see yourself as you are — someone holding a nicely polished stick aloft while reciting nonsense words like “Wingardium Leviosa” and “Alohomora” — but in this cluster of like-minded people, you can let yourself start to imagine your newfound spell-casting abilities with a gleeful smile.

If you find yourself doing that, you might be ready to immerse yourself in a full Worthwich weekend. The third installment will be next fall. In the meantime, there’s also the Yule Ball.

Faye Fearless and Mai Infante of Worthwich School teach “Harry Potter”-inspired wand-making classes at Dragon’s Lair and other venues around Austin. Erika Rich for American-Statesman photos

Wrock out with your friends

The Yule Ball has always been one of my favorite scenes in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” — Hermione’s transformation, Harry’s truly awkward dancing skills and the interactions between the school champions, their dates and the professors of Hogwarts, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. Rowling’s knack for comedic moments, intermingled with growing tension, was at its zenith here.

In the midst of all that was the dancing and the live, loud performance of the Weird Sisters, a hip alt-rock group that in the movies consisted of members of Radiohead, among others. Worthwich’s version of the Yule Ball won’t have Harry’s most favorite band playing on stage, although Austinites will be treated to some genuine wizard rock, a niche genre of rock music with lyrics centered on the characters in the books, also called wrock.

Providing this nostalgic auditory treat is a DJ who will play well-known wizard wrock tunes as well as holiday songs and popular dance hits. The ball also will include free ballroom dance lessons, a specialty menu of potions and brews (that is, cocktails like a boozy butterbeer made with rum) and the raffle of a full-size replica model Nimbus 2000. There also will be a cosplay contest for those who want to truly transform. Worthwich professors will mingle with the crowd.

Attendees don’t have to be previous Worthwich School students, but many students will reunite there and catch up on all the things they’ve missed since October. Fearless said that’s what happened last year, too.

“We had to swap out our Divination professor later on in the year, so we made a storyline about him going missing,” she said. “The students all come to the Yule Ball, and they were like, ‘Did you find out anything else about Professor Vale? Are you still looking for him?’ It’s a continuing storyline for us, which is great.”

If the ball is anything like the Worthwich School weekend — when students insisted on being as authentic as possible, using quill and ink on parchment for their coursework — it’ll be a chance to immerse yourself in the “Harry Potter” world in a whole new way. You just might make new friends out of it, also.

“The best part for me is finding people that like the same thing that I do. We are all really into ‘Harry Potter,’ and we’re all doing nerdy things together. That’s the best,” Infante said.