A few lucky visitors first are invited to try on the sorting hat, which compliments them on their bravery, intelligence or cunning. Then, a few steps down a dark corridor and you are surrounded by a cloud of steam. Ahead is the train station, where the Hogwarts Express has just arrived.
You have entered "Harry Potter: The Exhibition," a showcase filled with the imagery evoked in J.K. Rowling's seven-part series about an orphan named Harry who discovers he is part of a mostly hidden magical world. The traveling museum show opens at Seattle's Pacific Science Center on Saturday.
What Harry Potter fan hasn't wanted to sit for a bit in a giant chair at Hagrid's cottage, watching to see if the dragon's egg shaking and rattling on the table is going to open? The show also give fans a chance to test their Quidditch skills and see up close the beautiful gowns the actors wore to the Yule Ball in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."
Costumes and props from the seven movies are in Seattle for an exhibition, including a few that weren't shown when the show stopped previously in Chicago, Boston and Ontario. Seattle is the last stop — for now — in the United States for the 10,000 square-foot exhibit.
"The filmmakers have been great. They love the exhibition and love sharing things with the fans," said Eddie Newquist, chief creative officer of Global Experience Specialists, an exhibition and trade show company based in Las Vegas.
Newquist said it took two years to create the exhibit, and it continues to evolve as the filmmakers release more props. The seventh movie opens Nov. 19, and one more film is planned.
From the seventh movie, the exhibition includes a decoy detector, Rita Skeeter's biography of Albus Dumbledore, and a costume worn by Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Bellatrix LeStrange.
As you enter the castle, the fat lady, who usually sits in a picture frame that blocks the entrance to the Gryffindor Common Room and Harry's digs at Hogwarts invites the visitor to stop and enjoy her singing. When you start to walk away, she signals the visitor to give her just a little more time.
In the end, she breaks her wine glass on the wall when she can't break it by singing — just like in the movie.
Just about everything the fan has ever wanted to take a closer look at is on display: from the tapestry outside the Room of Requirement — it's painted, not woven — to the creepy, crawlers stored in jars in the potions classroom, plus the marauder's map, Harry's broomstick, various school uniforms, everybody's wands and Dobby the house elf.
A few things were missing from the displays, including owls, which were not seen until the gift shop.
The show has only a few hands-on exhibits: tossing a quaffle, pulling a mandrake from its pot and sitting on Hagrid's chair. But a group of second graders, many who hadn't read any of the books or seen the movies, were quickly immersed in the displays and hyped up with excitement, without any assistance from the sweets on display at the end.
Kyleigh Ball, 7, who has read the first book in the series, said her favorite part was the costume displays.
"I thought it was great," she said. When asked if anything in the exhibit was too scary, Kyleigh added, "I definitely don't want my best friend to get freaked out by the statues. They were scary."
She would advise her friend to avoid the giant statue of the Angel of Death from the graveyard scene in the "Goblet of Fire."
Newquist said the exhibit is appropriate for children old enough to read one of the books or see the first movie, and the scary parts of the exhibit were not as scary as the later movies.
Kyleigh's teacher, Dano Beal of Lafayette Elementary in West Seattle, wore a wizard's robe and a fancy hat to the preview. Harry Potter is his classroom theme this year — with a focus on teamwork — and he contacted the Science Center to tell them his class was really immersed in the story. They were invited to be the museum's special guests for the press preview of the exhibit.
"I'm terribly excited," he said, when asked if he or the children were more entranced by the displays. "The kids have just been wiggling about it. They're going to be talking about this for months."