5:00 pm EDT, August 14, 2012

LeakyCon 2012: Confessions of a first-time convention attendee

Still recovering from an insane weekend at LeakyCon 2012 in Chicago, I wanted to share my experience with all you guys at Hypable! Get some insight into the biggest Harry Potter party of the year, or relive the weekend with me here.

Harry Potter fans are the best. Seriously, the best. Fandom is a great thing to be a part of in general, but I have never experienced such a level of acceptance, sincerity, inclusivity and openness from any other category of people I have ever met.

When I first agreed to attend the con earlier this year, I had no idea what to expect. Knowing that I could only really justify one trip to the States this year, I weighed up my options: Comic-Con or LeakyCon? While I initially leaned towards the former because of zomg-all-the-celebrities, after careful deliberation I decided to go to LeakyCon. For me, there is much less value in big, chaotic events where you get to glimpse “famous” people or whatever, than in something like LeakyCon, which allows you to connect intimately with wonderful, likeminded people who share a love of something so incredible as Harry Potter.

For the uninitiated, LeakyCon is an annual Harry Potter/fandom convention arranged by The Leaky Cauldron. This was their third year running, and about 4,000 fans gathered at the Hilton Hotel in Chicago for four days of panels, parties and other P-words (see what I did there?).

Above: Evanna Lynch at the opening ceremony.

Ever since being properly initiated into the fandom, I have wanted to go to a convention like LeakyCon, Ascendio, Portus, or any of the other events that bring together Potter fans from the whole world. When I attended the big Harry Potter midnight release party in London in 2007 and got to spend the day and night in line with people I had never met but with whom I shared one of the greatest experiences of my life, I knew I had been lucky enough to have found something really special. And now, five years later, it is such a deep relief to come back from Chicago and know that even though HP is done, the core of our fandom hasn’t changed.

Every person who went to the con will have had a different experience. Those who have gone to these things for years may have been more interested in catching up and hanging out with old internet friends, while newbies like myself were probably more into the actual programming, going to panels to meet likeminded fans and some of the special guests in attendance – including the Green brothers, the Wizard Rockers, the Starkids, Evanna Lynch, and many more authors, actors and big name fans from the online community.

I was lucky enough to experience a mix of both, getting to spend time with fellow Hypable staff members Andrew, Jessica, Natalie, Kristina and Louie, and also checking out some of the key events on the schedule.

Most notably, I got to be in the audience for the A Very Potter Senior Year musical put on by Team Starkid. Natalie has already written a great, officially approved review of the performance, and we are under unbreakable vows not to give anything away about what went down, but I can safely say that this was one of the highlights of the whole con for me. I have always been so impressed with the Starkids’ ability to blend in hilarious parody of the Potter series with actual, deeply rooted respect for the canon, and they managed that balance in this show as impressively as in the first two. Getting to be a part of the crowd and seeing Starkid fans’ emotional reactions after it was all over just reaffirmed my belief in the power of this fandom, and how desperately we all love Harry Potter and everything about it.

MuggleCast at LeakyConAbove: MuggleCast live at LeakyCon! Featuring Selina Wilken, Micah Tannenbaum, Ben Schoen, Eric Scull and Andrew Sims.

Then of course there was the live MuggleCast, where I appeared on the panel for a discussion about… err, something. This part isn’t vague because I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but because I honestly can’t remember a single thing that was said here; it was all a bit of a blur. Andrew, Eric, Ben and Micah are pros at this stuff and I’m sure they found my jittery excitement amusing, but we all agreed that it was a blast meeting you all and getting your feedback on the show! The fact that MuggleCast is still going strong after 7 years is something those guys can be very proud of, and I’m just happy to be a part of the podcast now.

Randomly, I also decided to go to the international meetup on the first day, to find some more people who hadn’t been to cons before… and more importantly who were desperately jetlagged like myself. Aside from the surprisingly large group of Americans who appeared, I managed to meet some nice Norwegian and Swedish girls, and also spoke to a French girl whose name I can’t remember now, but who was incredibly friendly and welcoming. The point is, it was great to see that a con like LeakyCon can draw fans from all over the world, bringing them together in the same place and creating friendships based solely on our love for this book series. This meetup also makes me more optimistic for London 2013, which will likely have a lot more European guests than this one did.

Above: Josée LeBlanc and Keith Hawk showing off their incredible Fawkes and Dumbledore costumes. LeBlanc created Fawkes, while the Dumbledore outfit was made by Magic Needle Creations

So many more things took place that I want to talk about. Like the live recording of the Edition podcast on a random floor of the hotel, or the costume contest, where The Leaky Cauldron staffer Josée picked up a prize for her amazing phoenix costume, and where fans got to showcase their impressive crafting skills. I’m still upset that the adorable pair of house elves didn’t pick up any prizes, but to be fair, I could never have made the tough decisions that the judges had to make!

As with any of these conventions, there was no way one person could get to experience it all. I missed out on some things I would have loved to have seen, such as the Wizard Rock concert, the Starkid panel, the John Green events, the Potter Puppet Pals and much more. But I’m not complaining – I feel like I got a little bite of most of the cakes.

If you ever get the chance to attend (next year there’ll be LeakyCons both in Portland and London, so maybe it’s more likely that you can!), I’m telling you, DO IT. Even if you have no one to go with, you WILL find friends. Because that’s just what Potter fans are like, and it’s why LeakyCon is such an intensely positive, life-affirming experience.

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