July 14, 10 p.m. "You're not gonna cry. I swear to God, if you're gonna cry, you're not sitting with me." Such was the sympathy my daughter had for me as I contemplated the end of the end of a 13-year relationship. We were on our way to the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two (or, as some in the children's-literature world have abbreviated it, HP 7.5).
Were you crying too? Read our list of books for Potterites in withdrawal.
I remember clearly reading reviews of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the fall of 1998. It sounded like a book I'd love, but I didn't buy it for my library because at the time conventional wisdom had it that A) kids didn't read fantasy, and B) you could always tell what a librarian liked by looking at her collection (this, at least is still true), and mine was already stuffed with fantasy; see (A).
By early spring 1999, I was ready to buy the book that so many people were talking about. I read it and loved it, and I carefully targeted my first reader, an eighth-grade boy. I just gave it to him saying, "Read this. I think you'll like it."
He came in the next day and solemnly said, "Thank you for giving me that book. It was the best book I've ever read in my entire life." And thus my library became swept up in Pottermania.
Seven books and six and a half movies later, I found myself standing outside a small urban theater on a perfect July night with a community of readers who, like me and my daughter, and her friends and their mothers, were ready to celebrate and mourn. There were only a very few kids younger than middle school. Most of the faithful were in high school or college, with a few middle-aged folk sprinkled around (many of whom didn't bother with beards—the purest of fans).
There was at least one Death Eater and a few Slytherins and heaps and heaps of Gryffindors, most in regular robes, but at least one kid showed up in his Quidditch kit. There was absolutely no sense of self-consciousness, and despite the fact that many of us showed up a solid two hours early, the mood never faltered.
The theater we went to didn't go to any great lengths to cultivate its crowd. No parties, no elaborate decorations—just a couple of hand-scrawled signs directing "Muggles with tickets" and "Muggles who need to pick up their tickets" into the appropriate queues. This was to my liking; I didn't want any artificial fervor to ruin my vibe.
The theater went dark; the crowd cheered. The Warner Bros. logo flashed on the screen; the crowd cheered again. For the most part, the audience was rapt. There were a few Johnnies-come-lately (probably boyfriends of acolytes) who snickered at inappropriate moments, but they were quickly dealt with: "Shut UP!"
Minerva McGonagall told off Snape; the crowd hollered. Neville Longbottom achieved his apotheosis; the crowd whooped. Fred Weasley died; scattered sobs could be heard.
The lights came up, and the faithful started to leave, many dabbing at damp eyes. No one was crying about a tragic turn of the plot—didn’t we all know what was going to happen already, and didn't J.K. Rowling make sure we'd see the happily-ever-after?—but instead the end of a phenomenon that has knit together a community of readers in a way we've never before experienced and probably never will again.
That's worth crying about.
Vicky Smith is the children's and YA editor at Kirkus.