Hah 02
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It quickly became clear that we were in for the most intense few months of being a Potter fan that had ever been: If the release of the most hotly anticipated book in recent history wasn't enough, Warner Bros. had de­cided to release the fifth film in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, just eight days before the publication of Deathly Hallows. Already we were getting questions about what we were going to do for the release, and as we treated the Leaky Cauldron as a fan's Harry Potter news service, it was going to be hard enough to keep up with everything, never mind celebrate it properly. The prospect of the sheer volume of work that was going to be required over the next few months, together with the notion that after ten years of waiting and wondering, we had only 169 days, 15 hours, 14 minutes, and 42 sec­onds before the release of the final book, added touches of panic and nostalgia to what was otherwise supposed to be a joyous day.
By 7:15 a.m. Sue, John, and I were recording a podcast, still trying to process the news and shake off the shock enough to talk about it coherently while juggling the rapidly intensifying stream of re­sponses from all corners of Harry Potter fandom. John was already hard at work on a graphic countdown to add to the front page of the site, and even as he tinkered we received at least ten e-mails from people asking why it wasn't up already. "Real life" friends and col­leagues who knew of our special interest in the series would, with­out fail, call or e-mail to see if we had gotten the news, thinking they were being helpful. My in-box was on fire, and every few minutes another reporter would call for a quote about the fans' excitement over the release; for one crazy second I started speaking an answer to my e-mail and typing a response to the person on the phone.
John was trying to talk at the same time he was finishing design­ing our countdown: it was a two-book-releases-strong tradition at Leaky by now to post the big, ticking reminder of the book's due date on the site as soon as we were able to calculate it, so that the global salivating could begin. Usually fans bemoaned the slow pas­sage of time as the clock ticked down; once we put this one up, how­ever, it started to serve opposite purposes. To some, it was a tease; to others, it more closely resembled a ticking time bomb. To me, it was both.
The reporters were all asking the same questions. How were we planning on celebrating the release? Were we happy or sad when we heard the news? And my favorite question, the one that, had I still been working at a newspaper, I'd be asking, too: What happens to Leaky after the last Harry? Will the Web site just close up?
Perhaps I imagined it, but I always felt an aftershock to that ques­tion, the secret nudge of the real question underneath: they were really asking me what we as Harry Potter fans planned on doing after Harry Potter. Whether we had anything in our lives besides a children's book series—how we planned to gather up the fragments of our lives—whether we had even existed before there were Harry books to read. I was tempted to tell them I hadn't. That before I read Harry Potter I was composed of magic dust and fairy breath, and reading the first book had been what brought all my particles to­gether. That Harry Potter was my personal Big Bang.
But the truth was, that was exactly what I was wondering. Harry Potter had been a huge part of my life for so long I wasn't sure what came next, or even what I had actually been doing since the turn of the century. How had I ended up twenty-seven years old and the webmistress of one of the largest Harry Potter fan sites on the Net? It wasn't an answerable question. I avoided thinking about it alto­gether until I got an e-mail from Sarah Walsh. I hadn't heard from her in a year and a half.
I saw the headline on Leaky and as excited as I am, I think I'm more sad to know that it's really, finally, wildly, gloriously and heartbreakingly coming to an end. What on earth are we going to do? My students are going to laugh when I tell them that I cried when I first read the publish date! Keep up the good work—I'm reading Goblet of Fire aloud to my sixth-graders and they're obsessed and now check Leaky religiously!
Meanwhile, the podcast, where people usually came to hear intel­ligent and thoughtful discussion on the Harry Potter series, was quickly turning into a display of how many ways we could find to say, "Wow," or "Oh my God."
"Golly!" Sue said, and then instantly laughed at herself. "Man, I sound so hokey. 'Golly!' But, what do you say?"
"I wish we had more time, honestly," I said.
"Well, it's a good thing that I just made a new friend named Hiro Nakamura," John said, referring to the television show Heroes' char­acter with supernatural powers. "He's coming over today to stop time for me for a little bit. So, you guys are screwed. I feel bad for you guys."
I was grateful for the joke, the way I was always grateful for John's jokes, because everything about today was turning into a sappy nostalgia-fest. Cheryl called, and I thought back to the first time we met, when all I knew about her was that she worked on the editing team for Harry Potter, read Leaky, and was about my age. David, Kathleen, and I spoke about July 21 with an absolute assumption that we'd be together for it, and I thought how much we owed Harry Pot­ter, and how remarkable it was for an aspiring actor from Michigan, a kindergarten teacher from Washington, D.C., and a reporter from New York to still be so close. My mother came over unprompted, just to help me manage the day, and I thought back to the hairy eye­ball she used to give me every time I mentioned the series by name. And every person who wrote to me with their thoughts about the announcement, and especially the e-mail from Sarah, made it im­possible not to spend the day remembering when Harry Potter was, to me, just an inexplicable focus of pop culture, like Cabbage Patch Kids or Vanilla Ice.
Like most things upon which I fixate, Harry Potter came to me via my big sister. It was August 2000, the day before my last semester at Georgetown started, and she had come with my parents to Washing­ton, D.C., to help get me set up. We had just finished shopping for my massive pile of textbooks when she slammed a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on top.
"You need something light to read," she insisted, gesturing to my stack of books, which included Through a Glass Darkly, Truffaut's Hitchcock, and a history text that looked just about as boring as it ended up being.
I read the first Harry Potter in the first week of school. By the end of the month I'd started on the second. I liked the books a lot, but that was as far as it went. They were charming and funny, and I knew I would read them all. When I finished each of the first two, I simply put them on a shelf, where they stayed, perhaps never to be touched again, while I moved rapaciously through other books and furiously through my classwork.
I got to the third book, Prisoner of Azkaban, on a break between classes that September, a day I found myself alone in the Hoya's of­fice. It was Tuesday, one of the Georgetown newspaper's two weekly publish days, which meant a fresh edition was on campus news-stands and everyone involved in its creation was home sleeping off the long, hard production night. Perfect. As much as I enjoyed work­ing as an arts editor, I was still relatively new to the higher levels of Hoya staff, having only joined the editing ranks in my junior year right after I decided I would become a journalist instead of a doctor. By that point, strong friendships had already formed between staff­ers, and it seemed I was always missing the meaning of some inside joke. Outside the newsroom and newspaper parties, I didn't socialize with the staff much. And I especially didn't relish the idea of being scoffed at for my new Harry Potter interest by people who had the power to make The Brothers Karamazov seem like Romper Room story-time material.
Yet the newsroom felt like my natural home; I spent almost every free period between classes there. With an hour to spare and feeling confident that no one would disturb me, I tucked myself into a cor­ner of the sofa and pulled Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban from my bag.
"Ohh, I envy you."
It was Sarah Walsh, a bright-eyed and genial editor with whom I'd only spoken with casually. I hadn't heard her come in, so I emit­ted a surprised squeal and shut the book, trying not to look like I'd been caught playing with dolls. "I'm sorry, what?"
"I envy you—that's the first time you're reading it, right?"
I followed her gaze down to my book, which suddenly felt lighter in my lap. "I—yes."
Sarah had spent several semesters as the Hoya's senior sports edi­tor and had done the job better than most of the boys. She was never unkind or immature, and had a humor-and-play-with-the-guys tough side that earned her respect from all corners of the newsroom. We had the same loose kind of friendship I had with almost everyone else at the paper and had never had a real or long conversation. I'd certainly never pegged her as a Harry Potter fan.
She made a tiny, emphatic grunt and threw herself into the chair across from me. "And?"
"Oh, I like it a lot," I said, not quite yet able to say "love," like I suspected she wanted me to. "It's really absorbing, and—"
"Oh, no no no. No, wait," she said conspiratorially, eyes twinkling, nodding her head as if to confirm her own supposition. "You're not there yet. I can tell. Just wait—oh, I can't wait to talk to you about it!" She rubbed her hands together in a kind of glee I thought a little odd for having to do with children's books. "We'll have to have lunch."
Egged on by her excitement, I powered through the rest of Azka­ban, starting to fall in love with it, starting to love Harry himself. As he tussled with his likeness to his father and the memory of his mother's horrifying last moments, I felt myself sinking in more deeply. The book rarely left my side; I sat reading in the hallways, hoping class wouldn't start.
The day I reached the final chapters, I sat sprawled on the grass, hunched over the pages, unable to believe what I was reading. When I was done, I snapped the book shut and marched from my spot on the campus lawn to the Hoya's office in our student center. I planted myself in front of Sarah.
"You didn't tell me," I accused, brandishing the book.
"What? I didn't tell you what?" she asked, too innocently.
"That it was all connected." I opened a page to show Sarah what I meant. "Look—SIRIUS. Sirius! He's mentioned in the first book, in the very first chapter of the very first book, and now he's all over this book and I never noticed he was mentioned right in the beginning of book one! She has a master plan; it's all connected!"
Sarah started to snicker. "Told you."
"And—and, Harry—and his father, and his Patronus — how sad was that? And now Wormtail's off back to Voldemort and J. K. Rowl­ing just let it happen, and that's not how books end!" I exclaimed, ignoring my sniggering comrades. "It's all one big huge story and I have to read these all again now!"
"You have no idea," Sarah teased, laughing at my hysterics. "You have absolutely no idea of the extent." She drummed her hands on the tabletop. "Lunch, when you're done. You tell me when you re done; I can't wait to talk to you about it."
It took two weeks, thanks to schoolwork, for me to gobble up Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I sat on my bed, a quarter of a mile away from my Gothic Conventions in Media class, battling the need to go to school against the need to finish my real reading.
Harry, in book four, was locked in a showdown with Voldemort. He'd just watched a friend die and had been forced to help bring Voldemort back to full power. Fate and circumstance had intervened, and Voldemort's wand began emitting shadows of all his past victims. Smoky figures in the likeness of Harry's parents and the just-killed Cedric Diggory issued forth, offering whispered help and pleas.
"Harry…" whispered the figure of Cedric, "take my body back, will you? Take my body back to my parents…"
"I will," said Harry, his face screwed up with the effort of holding the wand.
I could barely see the pages. Poor little Harry—severely out­matched, broken and alone, was finally starting to understand the enormity of evil in the world, and his role in fighting it.
Screw class. I marched into the newsroom and grabbed Sarah by the shoulders.
"I finished," I said, my eyes still glistening from the read.
She beamed and dropped her page proof on the table. "Let's go."
We walked to Darnall Hall, a campus cafeteria. On the way I didn't say anything: If I started I wouldn't stop, and I didn't want to have to stop talking to get our food and get settled. But once we were all set up, I launched right into it.
"What is up with that gleam in Dumbledore's eye?" I asked, refer­ring to the way that the headmaster had looked triumphant at the end of book four while being told the story of Voldemort's return.
"It doesn't mean he's evil," said Sarah, as if J. K. Rowling had told her this herself. "I think it means there's something about the way he came back to life that will be Voldemort's undoing."
I quickly appreciated how intricate the story was, even outside my own current understanding, for Sarah kept coming up with sce­narios and theories that only time to ponder could have produced. It seemed as though the more you thought about the series, the more complicated it became, and though my head started to spin while we sat there over our cafeteria food, I couldn't wait to dive back into it and start making those discoveries myself.
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