“You’re not supposed to see that!” shouted Dumbledore (a.k.a. Scott Pauli, the bride’s uncle and wedding officiant).
This scene was just one of many “perfectly imperfect” moments during Travis Griffin and Meghan Kotlanger’s Harry Potter-themed wedding celebration last fall.
A self-described Potterhead and “Gryffindork,” Meghan, 36, had been planning her Harry Potter wedding since long before Travis proposed. The pair had met online in April 2008. Travis, 48, had just moved to the Rockville area and was looking for new relationships.
“I came across Meghan’s page, and she seemed crazy,” he said. “There were hardly any pictures of her just smiling.”
Instead, there she was with her mouth wide open, ready to make a sarcastic remark, or screaming. Her profile was full of quotes from “South Park” and photos of her orange-and-black plush spider, which she took on adventures and called her son (the spider even made it to their wedding).
“Travis messaged me with the opening line: ‘Has anyone ever told you that you’re clinically insane?’ I responded by saying, ‘I get that all the time,’ ” Meghan said.
“I knew that would work on .00001 percent of people,” said Travis, who works at the American Society for Clinical Oncology.
They clicked immediately. One- and two-sentence messages turned into pages and pages of texts — bad jokes, life stories, “South Park” references and a long story about Paris Hilton’s dog. They easily exchanged hundreds of messages.
“We’re both tangential people — one topic would branch off into another macro topic and feed into the next conversation,” said Meghan, a director at a D.C. film and video production company.
A month later, they agreed to meet at a coffee shop. To be on the safe side, Meghan, who was 25 at the time, Googled Travis, and soon realized that he was 12 years older and divorced and had a son.
“Travis was my first real relationship, and having that kind of marriage [experience] was scary to me,” she said. “I knew that I liked talking to him and enjoyed his company. So, I told myself that it would be fine.”
Meghan was prepared to tell him she wanted to be just friends. “But when we finally met in person, we had the best conversation,” she said. “We were crying-laughing when we were talking to each other. It was like a beautiful game of verbal tennis, where whenever I would say something, he’d counter with a point that was even funnier than I had made.”
From then on, the pair texted each other constantly throughout the day and hung out frequently after work.
“I made it clear that I wanted to date and that I didn’t want to be just friends,” Travis said. “I was in from the beginning. I knew it from the connection that we had.”
By the end of June, they were official, and on the Fourth of July, Travis said “I love you.” Meghan, however, thought things were moving too fast. So instead of the “L” word, they agreed to say “I don’t hate you,” which to this day is their pet phrase to show affection.
A couple of months later, they had moved in together and were inseparable.
But it wasn’t until years later, in 2016, that things really shifted into high gear.
Travis decided to propose on an upcoming trip to the Dominican Republic. Meghan, the usual planner and organizer, was swamped with deadlines at graduate school and delegated planning duties to him. What she didn’t know was that her mother had given Travis her old wedding ring and that he had sent it off to be re-set at a local jeweler.
Meghan figured things out soon enough, though, when she saw the jewelry store charge on their credit card statement. She quickly concluded that he was going to propose.
“I saw the receipts, but I did my best to keep my mouth shut,” Meghan said. “I don’t wear jewelry, and I know that our gifts to each other are usually something from GameStop.
“I had a panic attack right after that — not because he was going to propose, but how was I going to plan a Harry Potter wedding?”
In the Dominican Republic, Travis proposed at a beach treehouse, getting down on one knee while wearing a fake pirate beard. They cheered with celebratory beers.
On Oct. 8, Meghan and Travis were married at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Alexandria with their immediate families in attendance. And then, on Oct. 27, it was all Harry Potter: another ceremony and party at Chase Court in Baltimore, a gothic-style venue with arched windows and original iron chandeliers. It was a perfect dark backdrop to the wizard-themed celebration. Meghan planned every detail, and it showed. She had set up “classrooms” at each window mirroring the courses from Harry Potter: Herbology, Potions and Divination. A toy Dobby, a house elf, sat in the corner quietly. And in each restroom, a poster of Moaning Myrtle, the melancholy ghost who haunts a Hogwarts bathroom, was there to “silently judge” patrons.
Each guest had been invited with a personalized letter and a gold-foil Platform 9¾ RSVP ticket, which was held together with a 3-D printed golden snitch, all references to details from the J.K. Rowling books. Once there, they drew their names from a “sorting hat,” where they received a seating assignment in the dining hall, which had been divided into the four Hogwarts houses: Gryffindor in red, Hufflepuff in yellow, Ravenclaw in purple and Slytherin in green. The tables were adorned with manzanita tree centerpieces, cauldrons and floating candles, and wizard wands as party favors. Meghan had even collaborated with the Chase Court owner to create Dementors and ghosts in the back garden.
Before dinner, Meghan and Travis exchanged an “unbreakable vow” under Dumbledore’s watchful eye in the tree-shaded courtyard. They entered the dining hall with a twirl in front of the fireplace as a smoke machine set a foggy scene, and then danced to the “Potter Waltz” as guests waved their lighted wands.
As the real Dumbledore tells Harry in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”: “Pity . . . those who live without love.”
And that’s what Meghan and Travis’s celebration was all about.
“I had the best time,” Meghan said. “I liked being at the top of the stairs seeing Travis, even though my uncle’s wig fell off. I loved every moment.”
And Travis? “I did, too.”