PotterVerse convention brings Harry Potter mania to Baltimore

Harry Potter fans prepare for the Potterverse convention at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace on Sept. 8 through 10. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)*

*Correction: A previous version of the caption accompanying this video had the incorrect location of the PotterVerse convention. The Sun regrets the error.

Silver Spring attorney Jerusha Burnett will be channeling Luna Lovegood this weekend, right down to her Butterbeer cork necklace and Dirigible plum earrings. And, naturally, a wand.

If you're a Harry Potter fan, no further explanation is necessary; you already know about Luna, the determinedly non-conformist and perhaps slightly daft witch who proves an invaluable ally to Harry and his Hogwarts school friends in the battle against Lord Voldemort. And maybe you, too, will be one of the 3,000 or so Potterites, many in full costume, making their way to the Inner Harbor this weekend for the first PotterVerse convention, three days of total immersion in the universe created by J.K. Rowling's books about a young wizard struggling to master the magic surrounding him.


If you're not? Maybe you ought to be. To hear Burnett and others talk about it, Harry Potter fandom is a pretty welcoming place, for wizards and Muggles — that is, ordinary humans, like most of us — alike. Not to mention creative, engaging and a great place to socialize.

"It's a very open, accepting fandom," says Burnett, who was about 11 when she read the first book in the series, 1997's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Noting that one of the ultimate heroes of the Potter books starts out as one of the series' least likable characters, Burnett says fans find inspiration in such underlying themes — the idea that "even when you might not agree with somebody, they might have some good in them."


She remembers being captivated by "the world that Rowling weaved, a world that feels magical, but also feels real — and fantasy doesn't always achieve that balance."

"That balance" has been attracting legions of fans over the past two decades, a period that has seen the sale of more than 400 million books worldwide and a total box office, for the eight films made from those books, of $7.7 billion. A ninth film, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" — an offshoot of the main book series set decades before Harry was even born — pulled in more than $814 million after being released in November.

That suggests a potent fan base, and their devotion to the world Rowling had created is the stuff successful fan conventions are made of. PotterVerse organizer Oni Hartstein, who was looking to build on the "Doctor Who" fan conventions — called (Re)Generation Who, the fourth is already set for March 2018 — that she's run in Maryland the past three years, was happy to pick up on the vibe.

"With the Harry Potter universe, you have a world of complete magic, and you can write your own story and go in any direction," she says. "The key is when the world feels compelling enough that the fans feel they have ownership of the world, and they can create their own stories and their own space in them."

Hartstein says she and her staff have a range of options in store, for everyone from the most experienced wizard to the most confirmed Squib (that's those in the wizarding world without magical powers). There will be panel discussions, on subjects that include "Critical Thinking & Subversion 101 — the real lessons of Hogwarts" and "Love in the Wizarding World: What Does Harry Potter Teach Us About Relationships?" There will be workshops on wand-making and writing your own Harry Potter story. There will be a couple of dance parties.

And, of course, there will be that perennial fan favorite, cosplay, Evan Ockershausen , for instance, will be outfitted as the eccentric, though principled, Newt Scamander, a famed magizoologist, author of the textbook "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" and central figure in the most recent film in the Potter universe (which shares its title with Scamander's text).

"His style is very much my style, so it was a very natural choice for me" says Ockershausen, a 28-year-old banker living in Laurel, who looks positively rakish in his blue overcoat, brown vest and pin-striped bow tie.

But enjoying the chance to walk around with a different identity for a few days is only a small part of the appeal of something like PotterVerse, says Hartstein. Fan conventions are all about making friends and swapping tales with an audience you already know will be interested in your experiences.


"With Harry Potter, the books are so awesome that I feel we owe it to the fans to really create the best event possible for them," she says.

Several actors from the Potter movies are scheduled to be on hand, including Natalia Tena (Nymphadora Tonks), Chris Rankin (Percy Weasley) and Sean Biggerstaff (Oliver Wood). Besides signing autographs and posing for pictures, they'll be participating in a "Wizards' Council," taking a few minutes to go from table to table, speaking with groups of fans.

"It's almost like speed-dating with the actors," says Hartstein. "Obviously, there's no dating, but at least the idea's there — it allows everybody to meet every actor."

PotterVerse should also benefit from its relatively small size, Hartstein said. Taking place at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace and with a cap of about 3,000 attendees, the convention should prove far more intimate than gatherings held in larger venues, such as the Baltimore Convention Center, where attendance can number in the tens of thousands.

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"We like to keep it at a manageable size," she says. "I love big conventions, it's one of my favorite things to do. But here, you're not going to be pushed through the actors, for instance, you can actually have meaningful interactions with them."

The smaller size also allows for a certain informality and flexibility, she notes, alluding to her experience with the (Re)Generation Who gatherings. "The actors even go to the children's programs, and if they have time, they'll sit and read to the kids and everything. It's almost like we make the convention personal again."


Which must be music to the ears of Rachel Belemjian, 39, a homemaker from Severn who plans to show up dressed as a student from Hogwarts' Hufflepuff house, complete with black robe and gold necktie. For her, costuming and vendors' tables and panel discussions are all wonderful, but at a convention like PotterVerse, it all comes down to renewing friendships — and maybe developing a few new ones.

"I'm really most excited about getting to know people, hearing about their experiences as well," Belemjian says. "I love being around people like this, people who share my interest."

If you go

PotterVerse begins at noon Friday and runs through 5 p.m. Sunday at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace, 202 E. Pratt St. Tickets are $20-$1,585, free for kids under 5.