Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Thousands gather, celebrate Potter finale

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J. Adam Fenster⁄The Gazette
Walter Chappel, general manager at the Borders bookstore at White Flint Mall in North Bethesda, hands out raffle tickets to youngsters as they wait for the release of the last Harry Potter book. The winning ticket holder got to go to the front of the line to purchase their reserved copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at 12:01 a.m.
It was a night fit for a wizard — specifically J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard Harry Potter.

Witches and sorcerers outnumbered Muggles — the non-magical — Friday as hundreds of people across the county waited in lines for hours to buy the seventh and final book in the Potter series, ‘‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” that went on sale at midnight.

In downtown Silver Spring, businesses were transformed into the sites of Diagon Alley, a fictional London street in the Potter series accessible to the wizarding community. Ben and Jerry’s became Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour with Owl Nuts for sale, McGinty’s Public House served up Firewhisky as the Leaky Cauldron, and Potbelly’s became Hog’s Head, the pub where it was first prophesied that Potter was ‘‘The Chosen One” destined to take on Lord Voldemort in the final installment’s climactic battle of good versus evil.

And in Rockville, Montgomery College transformed the campus bookstore into the magical village of Hogsmeade where Potter fans used Galleons, or wizard money, to have their fortunes told and ‘‘buy” Potter glasses, potions, spells and candy. Faculty members manned the store dressed as characters from the books, such as the fortune-telling Professor Trelawney or potion master Bathilda Bagshot.

When the clock struck midnight in Rockville, Alex Goldstein, 17, who had been ‘‘counting down every hour for the past 150 days,” and Kaitlin Scanlan, 19, ran from the store screaming, copies of the much-anticipated book in hand.

And Zachary Shapiro, 9, left the store beseeching his parents for a glance at the book’s table of contents. Shapiro, dressed as his favorite character, Potter, said he had read every book three times and could recite every spell.

‘‘Lumos! Petrificus!” he said, waving his wand out the store.

At White Flint Mall in North Bethesda, hundreds of Potter fans milled about the two-story Borders Friday night, waiting for their opportunity to snag one of the store’s 2,600 copies of the final Potter book.

Thousands reserved their copies at the Silver Spring Borders, said Christine Hilferty, a senior marketing manager, and hundreds more arrived after 4 p.m. Saturday when the book was released to walk-in customers.

‘‘I hope it never ends,” said William Winstead, 10, drawing sympathetic looks as he waited in line Friday outside the Silver Spring store with his mother, Treva Boyd, twin sister, Talia, and 9-year-old brother Trenton. The family traveled from Reston, Va., and arrived at 7 a.m. to secure the first spot in line for the midnight release.

Inside the store that night, Potter fans of all ages stood in a line that wound around the aisles for a chance to hear from an animatronic sorting hat about where they would be placed had they studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Potter belonged to the Gryffindor house.

‘‘[The hat] said because of my kindness and loyalty, I would be placed in Hufflepuff,” said Thi Khuc, 18, of College Park who wore a Ravenclaw — a competing house — pin on her white polo shirt.

Among the costumed were those inspired by the book’s characters, the bejeweled witches’ hats and bearded wizards, and children in oversized Potter glasses, and those in princess dresses and glittering wigs who used the night as an excuse for a summertime Halloween.

But not every Potter event in the area was as dramatic.

Things were much quieter at Potomac’s Tree Top Kids store, where 20 percent of its earnings from the latest Potter book will be donated to the Make-A-Wish foundation, said Liz Tromba, the store’s vice-president for books and book buying. As of Friday night, 134 copies of the book had been ordered at the Potomac site, where festivities included wand-making, a costume contest and courses in herbology and potions.

‘‘A lot of people come in and say, ‘We want to buy it from you because it makes us feel a little bit better about spending the money,’” Tromba said.

On Saturday at the Takoma Park Maryland Library, children sat spread out on couches and chairs or on their mothers’ laps, listening to the audio version of the final book playing throughout the day. A sign proclaiming ‘‘Harry’s Here!” hung outside the library’s children’s room manned by staff wearing Potter pins.

Barry Taylor, the professional magician on hand in Silver Spring’s version of Diagon Alley, said the excitement over the Potter events proved the power of the mind. Potter’s fictional world ‘‘was made real because of all these people here,” said Taylor, owner of Barry’s Magic Shop, soon to be open in Rockville.

For Jordan Harris, 9, the night was bittersweet, since the event marked the release of the final book. The Silver Spring resident picked up the series when he was in kindergarten, and has grown to relate to Potter.

‘‘I like the way he acts around his friends,” said Harris, clutching a Firebolt flying broomstick.

‘‘It’s amazing how all this is happening because of a book,” his mother Lisa Harris said.

Staff Writers Contessa Crisostomo and Brad Pearson contributed to this story.