The lines grew as the clock ticked closer to midnight, as wizards, ghosts and Muggles alike waited for the answer to one burning question: Who is the Half-Blood Prince?
At the Books-A-Million in McLean, Friday night was a holiday, warranting an all-out party for the release of the sixth Harry Potter book, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
“By midnight, we should see at least 200 people in here,” said store manager Clare Merica. “Every year the parties get bigger. This is so much fun,” she said.
Children of all ages came dressed in costume, the most popular being the young boy wizard, Harry, and his friends Hermione and Ron, prominent characters in the book series.
The party Friday night was one of thousands around the country, keeping bookstores open until well after midnight for the Potter faithful to get their copies of the book as soon as it was released.
Fans of the series began their fun by sitting with Thomas Battle and the Sorting Hat, where children could find out in which of the four dormitories at Hogwarts School for Magicians they belonged — Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw — and receiving a pin with their dorm’s crest to identify their friends or foes.
“Some of the younger kids are vying for one house or another,” Battle said, adding that some people selected certain answers in the hopes of being included in the house Harry shares with his friends or Slytherine, where the more mischievous characters live.
“They like Slytherine because evil is cool,” Battle said, himself having been assigned to Gryffindor. “Most of the staff has been assigned to Hufflepuff, but Gryffindor has been the most popular overall.”
Next, it was over to the face-painting table, where Emily DeGrass and Katherine Lowry applied Harry’s trademark lightning bolt scar on many a child’s face during the course of the night.
“This is pretty much what we expected,” she said during a bit of a lull between eager bookworms.
A fan of the series, Lowry said she had “no idea” who the mystery prince might be, but was eager to get her copy of the book and find out.
“We’re all here for the same reason, which is the love of the books,” DeGrass said.
ANOTHER TABLE OFFERED young artists the chance to create a wizard’s hat or free-hand drawing, mostly images of characters from the books or other magical creatures.
The highlight of the evening, before the release of the book, was the costume contest, in which several Harrys and Hermiones competed with Moaning Myrtle, Dobby the house elf and other members of the Hogwarts crew.
Jeff Megrue and his daughter, Shannon, dressed as Professor Lockheart and Hermione, respectively.
“I’ve read the books a bazillion times,” Shannon Megrue said.
When his daughter asked him to go to the release party with him, Jeff Megrue said he just couldn’t resist.
“Hey, when a daughter asks her father to come with her, I couldn’t say no,” he said. “The only way I could get her to wear a costume is if I agreed to as well.”
Wearing a green cape over his suit, he was one of the Hogwarts professors, described as a “self-absorbed” character, which Shannon said is not much like her dad.
“We were on vacation in North Carolina last year when the last book came out,” he said. “It was amazing. There were three kids about Shannon’s age sitting in a hammock reading the book and they didn’t move for an entire day.”
Shannon’s favorite characters in the series are Harry, whom she describes as “adventurous,” and Hermione. “She’s not as adventurous as Harry, but she’s a very good friend, very loyal to Harry and Ron.”
Attending her third release party, Maggie Keller and her brother Ben were enjoying the anticipated arrival of the book with some friends.
“It’s such a community, it’s nice to see the different kinds of people who read the books and that it’s not just for kids,” Maggie Keller said.
Part of the lure of the series, she said, is author J.K. Rowling’s ability to draw in her readers and keep the stories interesting.
“There wouldn’t be this much hype over a book series if it didn’t deserve it,” she said.
The demand for the book led to a total of 1,499 reservations placed on the Fairfax County Library’s 327 hardcover copies. If each book were returned in the three-week time limit, it would take as long as 16 weeks to fulfill those requests, according to Pat Bangs, a public information officer.
“She’s been able to capture what a teenager’s life would be like in this fantasy environment,” Bangs said of Rowling. “She’s able to blend the two worlds very well. It’s good to see the kids get so excited about reading.”
As the last few seconds ticked away, the eager crowd of several hundred Potter fans counted down the arrival of the book together, like a group of revelers at New Years Eve. And once midnight struck, the boxes opened, cheers filled the air, and the first in line danced down the aisle of the store, books in hand.