Fireworks popped and crackled in the sky, and oddly-dressed witches and wizards gathered exitedly, partying, celebrating, and discussing one topic: Harry Potter. That was the scene in the first chapter of the first book. And it was utterly fitting, I mused, as another firework banged overhead, that it should also be the scene when the last chapter was unveiled.
Deborah and I were on our way to the only Potter-party in town that we knew about, dressed in our wizard and would-be-muggle best. Now, I don't normally do this. I didn't dress up and camp out to see Episode I. I don't do conventions. But this, I reasoned, was the last book, and it was something I enjoyed, so... why not? If not now, when?
I had been there earlier (The party started at 11, not at 8, as I had been told) and my 10:00 arrival had me swishing about the store, searching for the festivities. ("You have heard a rumor that a certain dark wizard has returned, and has been seen stalking about Wal-Mart. This is... uh, never mind...") What I found interesting was people's reactions, or lack thereof. Certainly, as I walked past, I heard a few sniggers, but most people didn't even look at me twice.
My early arrival, at least, earned me a red rubber Gryffindor bracelet (How did these rubber bracelets get to be fashionable, anyway? They're so sweaty!) that guaranteed my place in line for the first 100 copies, as well as a ticket for a drawing to win a deluxe edition of the book.
Once Deborah and I arrived, the party was grinding to life, with people happily comparing wands and costumes, while eating cake and drinking "butterbeer" (root-beer floats) and "pumpkin juice" (sherbet punch.) I was amused to see how many other people had thought to re-purpose their graduation gowns — you went to all that work and expense, you may as well get something out of your higher education.
There was a trivia contest, which was much harder than I expected, but having just finished listening to the series on CD, I could almost hear Jim Dale's voice confirming that Hogwarts indeed had 142 staircases, not 421 or 124, and that Remus Lupin's middle initial was J. I apparently was the first person to get them all correct, because a wide-eyed Wal-Mart Witches tracked me down and asked if I could confirm my entry — I had forgot to put my name on it! I wasn't the only one who got them all right, though, and the gift card went to someone else at 11:55.
As the hour drew near, the crowd grew very dense, and there were signs of nervousness, excitement, annoyance, and joy, which wasn't dependent on which side of the book tables you were standing on. One gal distributing posters looked like she was afraid that people would rush the tables to get the books once they appeared. Another lady in the crowd I was standing next to (and moved away from) sounded like she might be the one to do it. They started calling for people with red bracelets and pre-publication tickets to come to the front, which prompted a bit of panic in the people that had neither. ("We've got eleven hundred books here, folks, you'll get one, don't worry!") They tried to get us to form a line. (People are jammed together tightly, and we're supposed to form a line? There was some momentary squeezing, but a line did not happen. Oddly enough, I found myself right at the front. The pallets were wheeled in, and opened, and they started passing out the books (along with a poster and bookmark) as fast as they could. The employee who gave me the poster just looked nervous and harassed. The young boy who handed me my book, on the other hand, just looked simply delighted to be there.
So now, at last, we have the final book, and we shall see if Harry is, indeed, The Boy Who Lived.