a/k/a Van Dusen Garden, Vancouver, British Columbia.
The tickets came in the mail just a few days ago: three Ministry of Magic badges, along with one Key to unlock the gate to a copy of That Book.
Last time around, two years ago, we were also in Vancouver and hit the midnight party at Kidsbooks, but this time they went offsite and held the launch at Van Dusen Garden.
The doors opened at 11 PM, but we didn't show up until 11:30. We didn't remember exactly where the garden was, but we soon figured it out by the lack of parking. And--oh, right!--the line of people stretching up most of a very, very long block and around the corner.
We took up our spots at the end: two jaded, sleepy grownups and our very jazzed 6-year-old Hermione, the latter sporting the requisite Griffyndor cloak and tie, a sparkly wand, and a white shirt and plaid skirt found at a thrift store. We flashed our badges at the gate, past Kidsbooks employees urging us to "Hurry! Hurry! It's almost midnight!" and then we were in.
Inside the garden was all drizzly, convivial chaos, which is an apt description of most of Vancouver most of the time. A Celtic band played, and the expected crowds of revelers wore the expected costumes: there were Griffyndor badges a plenty, as well as numerous lightning bolts on faces, tiny children in witches' hats, teenage boys sporting big round black-framed glasses. A very polite dragon (Canadian, dont'cha know) wished us a good evening, and Kidsbook employees wearing Ministry of Magic T-shirts buzzed about.
But where were the books? Oh, at those tents! Scattered about the well-lit grounds, numbered 1 to 12, the vaguely medieval-looking tents were obviously where the books were to be found. Everyone pulled out their paper certificates and looked for the number. Rumor had it, you were to pick up your books at the tent whose number matched your key. Crowds pressed forward around each tent as midnight approached.
Our young scout, hoisted on shoulders, gave the play-by-play: "I don't see anything--now smoke is coming out of the tent--now, nothing--wait, Harry Potter just came out! Now he went back in!" The band stopped playing. We were urged to pick up our books and then leave as quietly as possible, so as to spare the neighbors, and have "a good read." (to which I murmured that this was my kind of party: make an appearance, wander around and mingle a little, and then go home and read.)
The countdown was counted. Wild cheering erupted, and the crowd surged forward.
After much confusion, it emerged that the tent numbers meant nothing after all, and certificate-holders could go to any tent to pick up their book. "Just get in line," we were told, which was easier said than done, as there seemed to be no lines whatsoever, just swirling masses.
It crossed our minds that there might be no books at all, after all, as no one seemed to have any. Then--oh, there was someone gleefully holding a book! And there-- a few more! We were finally in something resembling a line, which seemed to be moving forward. Then we were in the tent, handed over the certificate, and were unceremoniously handed a book and swept out the other side.
The crowds lingered, photographing each other with their books, with some of the most flamboyantly costumed guests (including Sirius Black's mother, wearing black and carrying an elaborate picture frame). I read aloud the first paragraphs to my companions. (Not to give too much away, but it opens in a dark night, in a city that knows how to keep its secrets.)
Then a staffer dressed as Professor McGonagle kindly but firmly shooed us out of the park, and we obediently left.
It was almost 1 AM. Almost certainly, there were kids in England who had finished the whole book by the time we left the party in Vancouver. We walked through the pleasant, tree-lined streets to our car. Most houses were dark. But one, a few blocks away, was brightly lit on the second floor. We could see posters and decorations and a white gauze canopy: a girl's bedroom. We stopped outside the house for a moment, picturing her in there, just home with her brand-new, long-awaited book, and up late reading, reading, reading.