On this day, every year, Harry Potter fans across the world share their incredible stories of their Deathly Hallows release party experiences. For the most part, I tend to stay quiet on this day. Trying to smile as people reminisce about Borders release parties, or the wrock concert they attended. Because my Deathly Hallows release day went quite differently:
My anxiety was already running high as we boarded the plane in San Francisco on July 20th, 2007. I explicitly told my mother I needed to be back at the local Borders by midnight on the 21st, so I could be with my best friends for the Deathly Hallows release party.
Pour one out for Borders. I miss you, bro.
Through the confusions of times zones and what midnight on the 21st actually meant, we would be flying home the night of the book release. That would be okay, right? We would land at about 10:00pm and head right to the bookstore—with just enough time for the energy in the store to peak, and the release would only be an hour away.
I would have my book, and my best friends, and my tears, and hopefully no spoilers, and most importantly: the rest of Harry’s story.
What could go wrong, right?
We boarded the plane, and I clicked my seatbelt into place, and we waited. Everyone had boarded, but the plane had yet to move. We waited, and the clock ticked, and we had a connecting flight to make at Chicago O’Hare. Our layover was two hours, but what could go wrong, right?
We sat on the tarmac for two hours.
Because one of the bathrooms wouldn’t work.
It didn’t matter that I was 16, and it didn’t matter that there was an entire plane full of people around me. It just didn’t matter.
I have never cried so loudly in my entire life than in that moment. The moment I realized I wouldn’t be at Borders at midnight for the most momentous book release in the history of my lifetime. That weeks, months, years— years —high school projects, new found friendships, hours and hours on the internet reading fanfiction and prediction theories would come down to me sitting on an airplane while everyone else would stand together, sing their favorite Harry and the Potters songs, and hold that book in their hands at midnight.
It was loud and it was ugly and I didn’t care.
So, at this point, my beautiful, selfless, amazing mother is crying. It is nobody’s fault that this is the way the chocolate-frog cards fell for me. My mother, bless her , never once told me that I shouldn’t be crying, or should be trying to cry, well, less agonizingly.
I’m talking some serious wailing here. Completely devastated.
The flight attendant came over to us to ask my mother if everything was alright, which of course made me sob harder because NO, NOTHING WAS RIGHT. Bless her too, this woman, making promises I am sure she tried to keep, bringing me water and updates. But the longer we sat on the tarmac waiting, the harder I cried.
Finally, the flight attendant came back to me, tears running down her face. “I am so sorry,” she said. “I am so so sorry.”
Older women around me kept asking my mother if I was okay, and they started crying when my mother explained.
My father cried for me.
My brother was asleep, I am pretty sure.
Finally, the flight took off, and the bathroom STILL DIDN’T WORK. I am not sure if this is purely my fault because I was sobbing like a free-elf or what.
It was hell when we landed in Chicago. We had to rush to three different places for USAir to try and find us a flight home. But of course, you had an entire plane trying to catch missed connecting flights. First, there weren’t enough seats to get us home, then we couldn’t get onto the flight at all, then they put us on standby for a flight that would get us home at 1am, which meant missing the release altogether.
I told my Dad about this huge MuggleNet release party they were having in Downtown Chicago, and he begged the airlines for money for transportation. They wouldn’t budge. He begged them for a hotel so we could stay the night. They couldn’t do that. Finally, exasperated, he said, “Well, what about some food?”
The representative said, “We can give you $5.”
“Great,” my Dad said, “Thanks. There are five of us.”
“No sir, I can give you $5. Total.”
Meanwhile, I am on the phone with my best friend, breaking the news to her in a tearful mess that I won’t be home for the release. Now she is crying for me too, and I am still crying, even though logistically, I shouldn’t have any tears left. She promises to get me a book no matter what, and that we will read it together in the morning.
Out of options, potentially out of flights, my family finds a quiet corner, next to a bookstore in all irony, and we begin to wait.
There is still a chance we might make the last flight out, so my father, bless him , pops into the bookstore to find out if they will be selling Deathly Hallows. There’s a brown, cardboard box sitting behind the register.
This is how I know I am the luckiest daughter in the world. My father begged and pleaded with this bookstore-lady to sell me a book early. He promised that I wouldn’t open it because I wouldn’t want to upset Jo, and it would be unfair to all the other Harry Potter fans, but if he had to see his daughter be on a plane when the clock strikes midnight and she was without this book, he would be broken.
The bookstore-lady, who I like to imagine was crying for me as well, nodded, and reached into the box, slowly pulling it open, ready to bring out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for me even though she could loose her job. Bless her too.
Tote bags. There were freakin’ tote bags in the box.
Well, she gave us some free Deathly Hallows tote bags, so that was something I guess.
As we are realizing we are going to be in the Chicago O’Hare airport for the next 12 hours without anywhere comfortable to sleep, I start seeing important looking people wheeling around white boxes with red writing all over them—red looking scholastic logos, and big letters that said DO NOT OPEN UNTIL JULY 21ST, 2007. I see white and red boxes filled with hope, and answers.
My father and I spring up from our seats and start booking it after these boxes. At this point, 16-year old me began to recognize that though I am heartbroken and dehydrated, that this will be quite the story to tell one day.
Mr. Important tells us that he is not sure any stores will be open at midnight, but we can follow him anyway. Mr. Important is v. important and starts walking much faster than us, takes a turn, and literally vanished.
Maybe I should have made him cry too.
At this point it is 11:59 and all hope is lost, but my Dad, bless him again , didn’t give up. Further down the terminal, we found a bookstore, with one lone person that just finished arranging Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Through the cage that separated me from those glorious books, illuminated in the lights, and filled with everything I ever needed (except that epilogue). We asked if she would sell us a book, and without hesitating, she said of course.
She lifted the gates, and I felt like she was lifting my soul back out from inside a dementor. I grabbed the first book I saw from the shelf, and we paid.
I’ll never forget the random guy that was walking by at the right place and the right time. “Are you open?” he said, like this wasn’t the most miraculous moment of my life. And then he bought a book, at midnight, because he could. Bless you, sir.
In that moment, it was terrible to not be surrounded by other die-hard fans, it was awful to not be in London, to not be in Downtown Chicago, to not have one last book release party at Borders before they went out of business. It was painful to be without my friends, it was disappointing. I wanted Jo to reach out of the sky and pull me into her arms and read me the book herself. But none of these things would happen.
But I had my family, who never once gave up on trying to make this night special for me. I had my family who understood how much Harry Potter meant to me, and never tried to convince me otherwise.
And I am blessed, 7 years later, to have parents that are bummed to miss out on Harry Potter events, so much so that they traveled to LeakyCon London to hang out with me. Blessed to be heavily involved with shaping the Harry Potter fandom experience for the next generation of fans. Blessed to have the same friends that don’t mind if I talk about Harry Potter all day. Blessed that my mother carried an empty Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows release box all the way home from Chicago, just because I wanted it, and continues to let it live in my closet.
Blessed that sometimes, I can still visit 2007 every summer with the most amazing people that I have ever met.