I stood outside on a warm July night as the clock closed in toward midnight, surrounded by a group of people just as rabid as I was to get the final installment in a series that had captivated us for so long. It was a bittersweet few minutes because I knew when I finally had that book in my mitts that would be it; there would be no more firsts when it came to Harry Potter. And I knew that when I had finally gotten to the last page and read that last sentence, that last word, it would be finished. I would have no more books to look forward to. I knew I would have to savor it in a way I had savored very few things in my life to that point. That was okay by me.
The group outside of Barnes & Noble that cloudless night were varied, from the black-wearing goths, to the bowtie nerds, to the casually chic, to, well, me. I was the only tall black guy wearing glasses in the bunch, but I didn’t stand out because we all stood out. We were standing outside of a book store at midnight, in 2007, after the point when physical books were supposed to be obsolete, desperate to get our hands on the same thing, like crackheads needing that pipe.
That brought us together, but it separated us too, because we all read in different ways. Some of us take our time and absorb every single word, sometimes going back and re-reading entire sections when we feel we’ve missed or want to clarify something. Others skim read, a process I call “getting the gist,” and they fly through each book with ease, but they don’t get each subtle nuance the way the absorbed readers do. For the skim readers their ultimate goal is to get to the end of the book as quickly as possible, whatever it takes.
Some of those skim readers were in front of me in line that night, as we all had to take numbers according to when we arrived at the store. I got there at quarter of 12 so I was in the 20’s, and I knew my wait to get my hands on the coveted book would be infinitely longer than the people in front of me who loudly declared they would finish the book in the parking lot, that they wouldn’t budge until they were on that last page. Then the floodgates opened, they called the first group of ticket holders, and it had begun.
The lucky ones who had those first tickets disappeared inside the golden gates, and in a matter of minutes they were back with their copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in hand. A few of them opened the book up straightaway and skipped to the last page, to see how it all ended. It was in those moments that I sincerely wished that magic was real, that each page’s words would only appear after the previous page had been read. But no such luck, so I merely hoped they would keep whatever happened to themselves.
Then my number was called and I was gone, inside the store at quarter after midnight. A man in a suit stood next to a large table that was completely filled with copies of the book. He handed one to the woman in front of me, who I swear did a dance before hustling up to the register. Then it was my turn, and he handed me my own copy, the book I knew I would treasure until the end of my days. I followed the woman to the register, desperate to give her my hard-earned money in exchange for an experience that would certainly be as magical as the words in the book themselves.
I emerged into the parking lot again, and even though there were still legions of fans out there milling around I didn’t see any of them. My eyes were locked onto the artwork on the front of the book gripped tightly in my hands. I didn’t see any way that I would get sleep that night, but I wasn’t staying in the parking lot. My car materialized out of the fog of my obsession, I clicked it unlocked, and I tossed the book onto the passenger side seat. It would have to wait until the next day, on the way to Massachusetts.
When I would read until I couldn’t read any more. Because it was Harry Potter. Because it was the final book. And it was time.