MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
With the stars twinkling in the heat of the night, a crowd begins to form. They are an orderly bunch, lined up one family unit at a time all down the queue, yet even the casual observer can tell they are buzzing with excitement.
At the stroke of half past 10 p.m., a witch in blue robes bedecked in stars steps out to provide instruction. Then the doors are flung open.
No, it isn’t exactly Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry that the assembled file into. Yet it is as close as a Muggle (non-magical) building can be.
The great hall of the Marine Corps Exchange is decorated with the flags from each of the Hogwarts houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. The visage of the famous Harry Potter adorns balloons in one corner while a wanted poster of Azkaban escapee Sirius Black hangs near-by.
Just off to the side, two large pallets of shrink-wrapped white boxes sit inert, yet stunningly in the shadows. Banners with the bold notice “do not open until 12:01 July 21” are stretched across each pallet.
After literally two years of anticipation, the final installment in the Harry Potter book series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is on the precipice of revelation.
Just 90 minutes remain until the unveiling of the book.
The excitement is palpable on the faces of those assembled as they busy themselves with all sorts of fun activities. Folks from the very young to the young-at-heart roam around the hall munching on snacks and participating in a Harry Potter “trivia” contest.
In the snack bar, an inflatable movie screen shows one of the recent Harry Potter movies while the videogame stations in the “shops” are set up to challenge the guests with the Harry Potter arcade games.
The Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop is open and providing treats as is a snack table staffed by Marines Corps Community Service employees across the way.
Though Rita Skeeter from The Daily Prophet is (thankfully) unavailable to cover the event, two reporters from The Globe are on the scene.
Just inside the front door we meet twins Bevan and Megan Haskell, 14, and their friends Abby Tye, 14, and Megan Wilder, 18, who are dressed in United States Marine Corps shorts and T-shirts. They each also wear black, round “Harry Potter” spectacles and pointed witches’ hats.
“We’re Dumbledore’s Army,” jokes Wilder of a group named after Hogwart’s headmaster Albus Dumbledore.
Though perhaps in this special case they should be called “Dumbledore’s Marines?”
A few paces over is Matthew McGarr, 12, who says that Harry Potter is, of course, his favorite character in the series of books. His prediction for the book? “I think that both Harry and Voldermort are going to die,” he says.
We shall see….
Ashlynn Edds, 7, and her little sister Abby, 3, are mingling in the crowd. Both are wearing white tank tops that their mother made for them. The shirts have sparklies on the shoulders and a picture of the Hogwarts crew on the front.
Both girls are a little too shy to talk to reporters. Yet their mother fills in the story for them. Ashlynn has been a big Harry Potter fan since she was two years old, and Abby’s favorite character is Harry’s best friend Ron Weasley.
Over by the Ben and Jerry’s stand, we run into a group of four witches. Taylor Hamrick, 10, is wearing a black gown and a feathery witches’ hat. Older sister Alexandra Hamrick, 13, is wearing a black T-shirt with a black over-cloak and Harry Potter glasses.
Family friend Paige Kelly, 13, is wearing scarlet robes. Sonya Hamrick is wearing black robes and round, black glasses. “I’m the mom,” she says.
As they have pre-ordered the book and arrived early this evening, they will be number 12 in line when the book is handed out later.
Sitting on a futon over near the cash registers we run into Megan Benedict, 9. She is wearing a midnight blue shawl with stars on it which her grandmother made for her. A pointy witch’s hat sits jauntily on her head.
She says that she loves Harry Potter because of the adventures and the mystery. She is just starting to read the Harry Potter series and is now on book two.
Her favorite part of the party? “My mom’s friends are giving me candy galore,” she exclaims. “They have candy everywhere.”
Standing nearby is Kathy Benedict. She is a division sales manager for Marine Corps Community Services. “It’s all about giving. MCCS is here to give back. Everything that we do is to improve quality of life,” she says, adding, “It’s neat to be involved in something that’s going on all around the world.”
Later we run into a young man in a red T-shirt looking all dapper in his Harry Potter glasses. He is a huge Harry Potter fan, he says, and he is really excited about the seventh Harry Potter book coming out.
“I’ve read every book. I’ve seen every movie, and I have every game,” he says.
He is not sure what is going to happen in the final installment, but he has high hopes. “I’m hoping that Harry is the winner instead of Voldermort because who else is going to avenge his parents dying than himself?” he asks.
Behind the refreshment table is Brenda Hall. She works in basic replenishment for the MCX. She worked with her stationary buyer to put this party on.
“We are amazed that it is this big,” she says.
The MCX bought 720 “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” books and had 222 pre-orders. “Of course we had to sign a contract to say we wouldn’t release the book early,” she explains about all the security behind the release of J.K. Rowling’s book.
Pretty soon the call goes out. It is nearing midnight. It is hard to believe that an hour and a half went by so quickly, but it has and now people are queuing up for the book release. The line extends all the way down the MCX hallway in front of the book store and other shops.
Near the front of the line is Jessica Martial, 20. A striped “Gryffindor” tie hangs loosely over her shoulders. She is also wearing Quidditch goggles around her neck. “I grew up with Harry Potter. I’m just a big Harry Potter fan.”
She has read all of the books thus far. “I’ll buy one the day that they come out and they’ll be gone by the next morning,” she explains.
What will she do when the series is over? “I hope there will be a spin off or another series,” says Martial, who plans to become an English teacher.
At the very front of the line is Nicole Croley, 10. She arrived at the store at 8 p.m. “I’m no. 1,” she beams. “I love being no. 1.”
Croley says she is buying the book for her mom whom she says is a huge Harry Potter fan.
Then the clock strikes midnight, and there is only one minute to go….
Promptly at 12:01 a.m., MCCS employee Kari Laws opens the first box. The line eases up in an orderly manner. Within less than 15 minutes, each of the pre-ordered books is passed out.
Where there was a big party, now there is none. Each of the readers has been released into the night. Soon they will know what secrets “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” holds.
Bobbie Allen contributed to the reporting of this article.