"Please be advised that students are not allowed to touch dragon eggs. If you find a dragon egg, please return it to either Professor Smith or Mrs Wolfe."
A Bigfoot lookalike politely opens the doors at Herstmonceux castle on a sunny Saturday morning, while by his side, a gnome is worried about being late for class.
These robe-clad individuals running, chanting and casting spells through the castle's seven gardens are taking part in a LARP - live-action roleplay.
To a Harry Potter fan, all of this will sound quite familiar - the robes, the dragons, the castle - but this magical school is no Hogwarts. It's the Bothwell School of Witchcraft. Here there are only three years, divided in four houses: Boyeswick, Wisenforth, Tabwen and MacNewthorn.
The school's co-founders were inspired by J.K Rowling's magical world but to avoid copyright troubles...they had to improvise.
Stuart Munnich and Cameron Readman had heard of a magical LARP event taking place in Czocha, Poland. Since 2014, the College of Wizardry has been gathering Harry Potter fans who want an enchanting experience over a three day-weekend.
Having seen the success of Czocha, Stuart and Cameron wondered if anybody had tried to emulate this trend in England, the actual home of Harry Potter. Upon discovering that they would be the first, they decided to go for it.
They put together a Kickstarter to raise funds for their school in March, and it was a success of magical proportions: "It was absolutely fantastic. We reached our minimum target in 4 minutes, and were sold out in nearly 2 hours," Cameron tells me with a proud smile. Bothwell is now one of Czocha's partners.
Strolling through the corridors of the castle, it's clear Stuart and Cameron's gamble has paid off. Nearly 150 people booked a ticket to Bothwell. About 40 of them are currently in the courtyard. Some are engaging in a hardcore lesson of Magical defence: spells are cast, and some poor souls go flying in the air, landing on their bottoms.
On the other side of the yard, some are "just" low-key summoning a demon. Yikes!
The games teacher (games are the magical equivalent of P.E., except more fun) is guarding his precious dragon eggs. It's all part of a subplot the organisers and players have put together. As luck would have it, all the eggs get stolen by a bunch of sneaky students as the grumpy teacher lets his guard down to chat with me. I feel mildly alarmed but he assures me he'll get them back. "One perk of being a teacher here is that I can easily beat 30 students with just one spell. Also, I get to jump the queue at lunch," he jokes.
Bothwell larpers come from all over the world: the UK, of course, Europe, but even Japan and the United States. Some flew in just for the weekend. The minimum age to attend the school is 18 but all generations of adults are represented. The History of Magic teacher is a tall bearded man sporting a blue cape and glasses. He is 67, and regularly attends LARPs. He's been to the one in Czocha three times: "I enjoy it very much. It's like improv' theatre, where you just take your clues from the others," he tells me inbetween classes.
You don't have to experienced in LARP to take part either. The headmistress is a 39 year-old American woman who flew in from Virginia for the weekend (by plane, not broomstick). "It just seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I told myself, "Yes, I'm getting that ticket and booking that flight," and it has been truly amazing," she says.
"Being here with a 150 other people that are just as passionate and excited about this as I am has been the most amazing experience," she adds.
Although most of the players met in-the-flesh on Friday morning before the sorting ceremony, many have been working on their back stories and fictional relationships through "pre-gaming" on Facebook for months. And it's clear a lot of thought went into their character building, from costumes to secondary quests. The organisers and a team of 20 volunteers fully catered to the larpers' requests: A minotaur in the courtyard at 2pm? You got it! A banquet and a ball on Saturday night? Say no more.
But, in the words of one Rumpelstiltskin: "Magic comes with a price, deary." A standard ticket for Bothwell costs £449, a deluxe experience will come at £555. Thankfully, if you are still willing to take a shot at larping, Munnich and Readman have announced at least two more dates for 2018, and are hoping to secure some more. Plenty of time to save up for a brand new broomstick and take the leap.