Harry Potter-fueled wizards will Countdown to Midnight

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Harry Potter fever hits Oak Park again this weekend, with "Countdown to Midnight," the village-wide party in honor of the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth book in the series. Events and activities will be scattered throughout Oak Park beginning on Friday, July 15, at 2 p.m. and ending with the release of the book at midnight.

The Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and Magic Tree Bookstore have been working together to pull off the party. Potter planning has been bureau employee Deirdra Stockmann's full-time job since April. The village and the police department have been more involved in the planning than in 2003, when huge crowds overwhelmed the Avenue. (For more information on logistics, see the story on page 10).

A complete list of events is available at www.wednesdayjournalonline.com or on the Magic Tree Bookstore website, www.magictreebookstore.comharrypotter.

Village businesses again will re-create Diagon Alley, the wizarding nexus of London, in the area of Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street. Highlights of "Diagon Alley on the Avenue" include Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions (Camille et famille), where they'll be teaching spell chants and selling wands; moving paintings at Boulevard Fine Art; butterbeer at Winberie's, Fuego Loco and Cucina Paradiso; vault tours of Gringotts Wizarding Bank, also known as U.S. Bank; and Madam Pomfrey's Infirmary (Eastlake Chiropractic), where young wizards can do stretches and test their reflexes before leaving with some chocolate.

The Oak Park Public Library is sponsoring several events for younger kids, including magical, craft and fortune-telling booths at the library plaza near Scoville Park, a magician and a costume parade. The three Harry Potter movies will play from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Storytime Room for anyone who wants to go inside for awhile.

During the afternoon, kids can take Hogwarts classes at Pleasant Home or Cheney Mansion. Classes include potions, where they'll concoct edible potions with the intense, robe swishing Professor Snape; herbology, where kids can learn about unusual plants with members of the Oak Park Conservatory and pot a plant to take home; and divination, where they'll learn how to see the future and read tea leaves with misty-voiced Professor Trelawney. Costumed professors will oversee these classes, which are limited to ages 7-12. Pre-registration through Magic Tree Bookstore, 848-0770, is required.

After wizard school, young wizards can fire off some excess energy with Quidditch, a game played on broomsticks. Organizer Bronwyn Wright is expecting about 150 kids at Mills Park, 217 S. Home Ave. This land-bound version is a combination of basketball and soccer. Players shove Nerf ball Quaffles through hula hoops or catch the valuable but fast Snitch, a little golden ball that zings over the field. Games will run from 2 to 7 p.m. and cheering sections are welcome, especially for the championship World Cup game at 6:45 p.m. Pre-registration at Magic Tree is also required for Quidditch; it's for ages 6-12 and costs $5 per person.

Wizarding Chess, where players serve as chess pieces or directors, is at 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. at Scoville Park. It's sponsored by the Wizarding World Press, a Harry Potter fan website. They'll also be holding a costume contest for all ages at the Scoville Park stage at 6 p.m.

Circle Theatre is also feeling the magicâ€"they're the only theater company with official permission from Warner Bros. to do an abridged performance of the third Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, adapted by Debbie Mitchell, the organizer of the 2003 Potter bash. Audience members can participate by singing the Hogwarts school song (it starts, "Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts, teach us something please") or cheering at Quidditch matches. The free performance starts at 7:30 p.m. at First United Church of Oak Park, 848 Lake St.

Scoville Park will be the center of evening activities, with dancers from The Academy of (Magical) Movement and Music, and music by The Sharp Cookies, a group from the Old Town School of Music. The music will end at 10 p.m., although stores will remain open and costumed characters will roam around Magic Tree until midnight, when the book goes on sale.

For Iris Yipp, co-owner of Magic Tree, the highlight of the whole event will be witnessing the wonder on the faces of kids as they see their favorite books come to life. "There's something totally amazing about seeing a book come off the pages," she said. "We want people to experience Harry's world. We're creating the magic for one day."

â€"Diana Oleszczuk

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