“There’ll never be another book release like this in history,” said one man to the woman beside him.
“There may be,” she replied. “We might just not live to see it.”
If you accuse the couple of melodrama and a surprising lack of perspective, then you were not in Hogwarts Square last night, at the Harvard Square Business Association (HSBA)-organized festival to celebrate the midnight release of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final installment in her wildly popular series. Dozens of restaurants and stores stayed open late and posted Harry Potter-themed specials, and a three-hour concert that finished with the musical stylings of Harry and the Potters packed Tercentenary Theater.
PLANNING THE POTTER PARTY
According to Denise A. Jillson, director of the HSBA, the Harry Potter party had been in the works since January.
“We came up with a whole series of events for the year, and looked at what were some of the fun events that we could celebrate,” she said.
High on the list was the highly anticipated release of the seventh Harry Potter book. So, months later, Harvard Square became Hogwarts Square, a wonderland for children dressed in wizard costumes and adults dressed in considerably more elaborate wizard costumes.
The festivities opened when the Harvard Museum of Natural History did, as young visitors were handed “Maurader’s Maps” and encouraged to find Harry’s wand (American holly), the Sorcerer’s Stone (rhodochrosite) and other fictional creatures and artifacts from the books.
“It’s designed for kids to go around and explore,” said Mary Blue Magruder, the director of communications and marketing at the museum.
“Some kids would never think of coming into a natural history museum,” she said, but yesterday the museum was filled with excited children racing through its extensive holdings. Magruder lauded the event, which will run through July 29, for getting children to look at science in the same way that Rowling’s series got them to pick up a book.
As evening approached, the crowds of young children were joined by legions of older fans, and by 5 p.m. the line to get wristbands at the Coop—proof of pre-ordering that would allow their wearers to stand in a much longer line later that night—wound down Massachusetts Avenue and up Church Street.
‘VOLDEMORT CAN’T STOP THE ROCK’
By 7 p.m., the start of the concert, several hundred people had gathered in the New Yard, waiting for the bands to take the porch of Memorial Church, where the crazy light tornado—the one that hangs near Johnson Gate around Christmastime—was suspended between two of the venerable old church’s massive columns. Harry Potter-themed t-shirts, many of them custom made, were everywhere: “You Can’t Stop Hufflepuff,” “I See Thestrals” and “Harry Potter Can Ride My Broomstick” could all be spotted in the excited crowd.
One older gentleman wore a shirt that said “Beater,” which one hopes alluded to the “wizarding sport” of Quidditch. The t-shirts, of course, were the province of the less devoted fans: the serious Potter partisans came in costume, and robes, scarves, and brightly-colored ties marked the true faithful.
One man wore a large pentagram around his neck, quite possibly missing the point of the event entirely. In some places, crowds of Hermiones, in gray skirts and sweaters, gave the Yard the appearance of a Catholic girls’ school; in others, circles of witches in robes and dyed hair gave the Yard the appearance of a Catholic girls’ school.
Jillson opened the concert by thanking the assembled and introducing Cambridge Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72. “Welcome Harry Potter people to Cambridge!” he shouted. “Enjoy Harvard Square at its best and Harvard Yard at its wildest!” As the Yard was considerably more packed by 9 p.m. than it was for Yardfest 2007 (and perhaps even Yardfest 2006), it’s hard to take issue with Reeves’s statement.
Reeves surrendered the stage to Andy Slack, who heads the Harry Potter Alliance, an organization which seeks to take the books’ message of love and tolerance and apply it to the real world. By his third appearance, before Harry and the Potters took the stage at about 9 p.m., his pronouncements had become increasingly surreal.
In the third book, Remus Lupin, Rowling’s good-hearted werewolf, had to hide his identity for fear of persecution.
“Is it fair that someone has to hide their identity for being gay?” Slack asked. Azkaban proved that “prison torture is not okay,” he said, while the Daily Prophet’s poor coverage of Voldemort’s return was likened to the mainstream media’s failure to cover the early stages of the Darfur genocide.
“As we greet that flighty mistress named ‘adventure,’ let’s embrace her together!” Slack might have been reaching on a few of these, but his earnest exhortations to love and friendship drew thunderous cheers from the crowd.
The first band on stage was the Hungarian Horntails, who appeared to be three seven or eight-year-olds, all of whom sang and one of whom played guitar. The first number, heavy on the screaming and vicious guitar riffs, reminiscent of the early Ramones. But as the second song, and third, fourth, and so on sounded the same, the crowd’s mood shifted from delight to confusion.
“You suck!” shouted a middle-aged gentleman near the front of the crowd. “No one has the heart to tell them they suck!”
Another fan, in between high-fiving his bros and rocking his crooked Boston College Eagles hat, shouted at the children to stop and gave them the thumbs down. Yet another young man slapped his face with both hands—over and over—in obvious pain and frustration. The Hungarian Horntails got a long ovation, seemingly as much in relief as in appreciation.
Draco and the Malfoys, two dark wizards and a drum machine, got the crowd back on their feet. “It’s time to party! Like! You’re evil!” they sang, in light-hearted role-playing. “It’s time to Freak! Out! Some Muggles!,” referencing the books’ term for non-magical people. “It’s time to summon! Up! The Devil!” That last one might not have been in the book.
The crowd had come for one thing, though, and that was Harry and the Potters. The brothers’ act featured a lot of call and response, and the crowd enthusiastically jumped and shook along to the beat. The first step in planning the event, Jillson said, “was to secure Harry and the Potters...we secured them even before we secured the venue.”
After the show, multitudes of Potter partiers wandered from shop to shop, sampling special deals and specialty treats. A number of restaurants were selling “butterbeer,” while IHOP, open until 4 a.m. last night, really went out on a limb with novel menu items.
According to harvardsquare.com, they were “serving Harry’s most favorite food BACON.” They’ll probably never serve that again.
By 11:30 p.m., the line outside Wordsworth’s stretched back along Brattle Street, almost reaching Peet’s Coffee and Tea, while the line at the Coop ended across the street from Cafe Algiers.
But they didn’t get there the easy way: down Mass Ave, up Church, and down Brattle wound the line of eager readers, each with the red-and-white or golden bracelet that proved they had pre-ordered their copy. Some of those at the front of the line had waited since about 9:30 p.m., and had stood on line for two hours earlier in the day to get their bracelets.
As the witching hour approached, the crowd watching the front door of the Coop grew almost as large as the line leading to it. Artist George Stanley was showing the crowd his creation, an iconographic, Christ-like representation of Harry. As the old religions lose their power, he said, “we need new heroes for a new generation.” An increase in imagination would increase our GDP, he claimed, and lead to evil expunged and good ascendant.
Others seemed less interested in Rowling’s message: what appeared to be a three card monte table had been set up outside of CVS.
Those in line were just excited to get their hands on their book.
“I cannot wait to read the conclusion of one of the most engrossing series in the history of books,” said one fan, Ben M. Brostoff.
“I’ve heard a lot of talk about someone dying [in book seven],” said 12-year-old David A. Witten. “I’m pretty pumped for it.”
At midnight—”clock hands joined palms in respectful greeting,” as Rushdie put it—a heartfelt scream of excitement rose from thousands of throats in the Square. The first patrons came out of the Coop with their books held aloft, struggling through the clapping, cheering, slightly jealous crowd.
“Do not let go of your book!” shouted one little girl. Let go of the book? Not likely.
—Staff writer M. Aidan Kelly can be reached at email@example.com.