Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Launch Weekend – Part 1
Jul 29, 2007
TLC Report: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Launch Weekend
July 15 – July 17, 2005
By Melissa Anelli for The Leaky Cauldron
As midnight approached on July 14, my friends and I were sitting in an Italian restaurant in Leicester Square, toasting. We toasted Harry; we toasted the series; we toasted the people we work with, the people we’ve met and the friends we’ve made thanks to this part of our lives. A long string of benedictions passed as the time ticked down, and then one of us said, “To Jo.” When we realized the minute had switched to 12:00 a.m. at that instant, we beamed. One day left.
I stayed up all night between Thursday and Friday, mostly because I had to repack my suitcase before the flight to Edinburgh, and partly because I wanted to sleep during the day. But I knew from the nerves gripping and twisting my stomach that it had at long last dawned on me what we were flying up to Scotland to do.
Things started almost instantly; after a short and sleepy trip during which I informed the people sitting next to me of my plans, a smiley blonde woman turned to me and asked if I was Melissa. Before I knew it I had been joined by three smiley people, all from Bloomsbury, with their arms full of Potter merchandise, including the first signed Braille HBP (for a blind cub reporter), which was two boxes, each the size of a large television set. They even embossed Jo’s signature to make it readable, I was told. Everyone was glowing with excitement, even as, during a cab trip to the city center, their cell phones went off like church bells on Sunday. Most of the calls were from journalists with interview requests; photo accreditation requests, and late-in-the-game begging to be any part of anything to do with what was happening that night.
As we drove, I stared out the window at this green, breezy and ancient city, which seemed to have absorbed the grandeur of this event and made it seem like part of its identity. It was hard, later, walking on the cobblestone street in front of the hotel and gazing up at the high mossy bluff which Edinburgh Castle dominates, to imagine a city more suited for, and less arrogant about, the official launch of this book. No one ran through the streets shouting; it wasn’t plastered with signs and posters; there wasn’t even a lot of traffic – the only signs available that the launch was imminent were occasional glimpses of workers wearing themed shirts and carrying clipboards.
With hopes that the cloudy but rainless weather would stick, I tried to sleep. At the precise moment I laid my head down, the pub below us decided it was time to dispose of their kegs, and to shout as loud as they could while they did. It sounded like they were rolling them down the brick streets, perhaps also using pots and pans as noisemakers and banging on the sides with wooden spoons; maybe they were just trying to see how many people they could drive to insanity. “This is like a bad sitcom,” said one of my friends.
Five hours (three-and-a-half of which contained sleep) later, it was time to rise and get ready. I met up with Emerson, who had checked in with his mom, Jamie (also of MN but whom would have been there either way) and the other MN staffers who lived in England and came up to Scotland on their own to be near all of this. They were a little MuggleNet-T-shirt-wearing posse.
We picked up our tickets from Bloomsbury at “The Hub,” where they had set up operations, and then tried to eat, and tried to let our excitement overtake our nerves. This was the last stop before the shower and change – before going to the reception and walking up to the castle as part of the entourage.
Edinburgh Castle doesn’t so much tower as reign. It’s at the apex of this city and the streets below it slope so significantly it may be possible to roll yourself down them; certainly a Gringotts cart would feel at home. So, the three-inch heels were not the best of ideas, but I wore them anyway, a choice any girl would understand but which Emerson found amusing. We trod up this slope – complete with several hundred thousand stairs – and to the Edinburgh Council Chambers, where the cub reporters and their guardians had gathered to wait for the carriages to take them to the castle.
As the sky was darkening and midnight was approaching, Edinburgh was starting to transform. The line to get in to the esplanade stretched from the castle down several streets, and tourists with their cameras lined both sides of the road.
When we got to the chambers, we weren’t quite sure what to do. Emerson and I were the odd people out, not cub reporters but not Bloomsbury staff or prefects either. The elegant, wood-paneled room was abuzz with kids, all of whom seemed to be below tween age. We kept to a corner, ate a few nibbles and kept pinching each other. A lot. Emerson bruised my arm, he did it so much, despite my objections that I was very much awake, aware of where we were, and no longer convinced it was some hallucination or elaborate practical joke.
The Lord Provost of Edinburgh made a short speech, and a short while later an effervescent man in wizard garb appeared at the balcony over the room to hype up the kids before we traveled to the castle. He said his name was Crispin, and described Edinburgh Castle as a museum, and J.K. Rowling as a magical historian. The kids giggled as their prefects – two from each house – arrived to separate them into houses and prepare them for their carriage rides to the red carpet. Emerson and I simply hung back until all of this was done, and then joined the group of Bloomsbury people walking down the street to the castle.
It was like meeting people with whom we’ve been pen friends with for ages; people from Christopher Little, from Bloomsbury, from Jo’s home office, all buzzing that the hour was at last at hand, that at last the contents of this book could be freely shared and the really hard work required to protect the secrets from reaching the public could ease off. Everyone chatted amiably as we hiked up the road to the castle, and it seemed as if the tension of the past few months was rolling down the slope behind us as we did.
The castle took our breath away. During the day it was so austere and brown; now, the Bloomsbury front-cover art was splashed across its surface, making it look as if the flames on it were licking the castle walls. Torches ringed the top of the tallest tower, and whatever portion of the castle was not aflame in projected art was lighted an intense purplish blue, making it stand out like a neon sign against the black sky.
We took seats in the stands, in a section that had been thankfully roped off for us, and watched as these contest winners made their excellent entrances on the red carpet to tremendous ovations. Portions of the iTV presentation played on large screens between red carpet interviews, and we cheered as loudly as we could for the reporters. It was such a different release, in so many ways, than “Order of the Phoenix”’s, where Jo Rowling made a low-key, surprise bookstore appearance and did two high-end-media interviews. Friday night was all about the kids, the fans and the celebrations that should attend this kind of historical moment.
By the time the parents of the cub reporters had moved out of their seats to go to the viewing room, Jo Rowling was about to arrive. Emerson promptly rose and clambered over rows of seats to sit in the empty area and told me I should follow, whether I was wearing a skirt or not, and teased me until I succumbed. (If you were sitting below me and I flashed you, my apologies.) We stood in the empty row and gave Jo several standing ovations when she arrived, looking elegant and poised, on the red carpet.
It’s hard to believe this woman is about to turn 40. She looked, we remarked, like she was in her 20s, beaming with her book and signing as many autographs as time would allow. Emerson pinched me again. I had now taken to smacking him in return.
Soon, so fast, faster than we could imagine, it was time to go inside and take our viewing seats in the room where the parents and the Bloomsbury crowd would watch the reading. I kept turning back and looking around as we entered the castle, trying to take in the scope of it, trying to take that necessary moment to absorb everything; it still all seemed so much. Walking through the arch and up to the castle itself, however, was much more. The dark and steep slope upwards was bathed only in the light created by the square below and the torches above; costumed characters, including ones that looked like a grindylow and a mechanical fire-breathing horse, seemed to appear out of nowhere. The grindylow nearly sent me rolling back down the hill.
Inside the viewing room, we had coffee and rolls, and sat waiting for the program to start. Emerson was still pinching every few seconds, and I am obliged to report, because I have not been able to convince him not to put it in his writeup, that during the reading I cried a little. I couldn’t help it. So there. I’m a sap. Emerson ran around the rest of the weekend telling anyone who spoke to us for more than three seconds. “She cried,” he’d say, pointing. “She cried.” “Hey, you, person-I’ve-never-met-but – she cried.” Well, turnabout is fair play: when we were about to get the book, Emerson did a full-on Irish jig, complete with pumping arm movements, side leg kicks, and a leprechaunesque smile on his face, while I rolled around laughing.
After we got our books, it was time to go down that huge slope we just walked up, and my feet were not up to the challenge. So, after we had jumped around a little bit with the volume in our hands (and had not even thought about opening it before getting to the room), I took my shoes off. Emerson, a gentleman, insisted on carrying them for me, and we ran. We ran down the cobblestone path, past the canons and battlements, stopped briefly to take a picture on the grass, and then continued hurtling down the castle and back into the part of Edinburgh that seemed a little more real than the part we had just left. Our hotel wasn’t more than a spit away but in our excitement we got lost and ended up on a balcony somewhere; we spun around and found our bearings and ran into the hotel at top speed. The befuddled night desk manager asked if we needed anything.
He handed us an armful of instant coffee packets and shortbread cookies, so carrying that and the book and, somehow, the strings of my shirt, which had managed to come undone along the way (thank god for the shawl still wrapped fiercely around), I headed for my room, threw the book down on the bed, changed into comfortable clothes, and joined Emerson in a common room. We flopped on our stomachs, took a deep breath, and opened the book.