Kids are on board for the final 'Harry' hype

The Baltimore Sun

Five girls from Jacksonville Elementary School stood outside the Cockeysville Library yesterday dressed as characters from their favorite series of books. Hannah Manley was Ron Weasley. Nicole Miller was Hermione Granger. And Juliana Bauerle was Ginny Weasley.

Waiting in line to board a big purple bus, they speculated on what will happen as the Harry Potter series comes to an end -- and described what drew them to the books and movies in the first place.

"It's really exciting," said Megan Schaller, wearing glasses and a black robe, looking as much like Harry Potter as a 9-year-old girl can. "At the end, everything turns out opposite of what you thought that would happen."

Moments later, they boarded the bus -- designed to look like the one out of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban -- and shared their thoughts on the series in a 20-second video clip.

The bus was in Cockeysville yesterday as part of a 37-stop, nationwide tour to promote next month's release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final installment in the best-selling series. The tour, which began 12 days ago in Providence, R.I., stopped later yesterday at the Southeast Anchor Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.

More than 450 fans, many dressed in robes and carrying wands, attended the two events. The tour will end in New York City at midnight July 21, just in time for the release of the final installment of the Harry Potter series. More than 8,000 fans are expected to see the bus.

The purple English bus -- complete with steering wheel on the right side -- is painted to look like the triple-decker Knight Bus ridden by Harry Potter in the third book. Inside, fans can see the artwork for the cover of the seventh installment and a library of special editions of the other Harry Potter books. They can record a 20-second video, which they can later view online, of their thoughts on Harry Potter and what they think will happen in the last book.

"I think it's going to be one really big battle, and everyone is going to help out," said Carol Zubrowski, 12, who added that she thought Harry would try to avenge his parents' deaths.

Megan O'Heren, 10, who was dressed as a witch for the event, said: "I hope Harry doesn't die."

The 225 slots on the Knight Bus filled up quickly at both libraries. In Cockeysville, the first 80 spaces were reserved for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classes at Padonia International Elementary, located across the street, and the remaining were available to the public. In Baltimore, times were assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

Potter-inspired crafts and activities, including potions lessons, wand making and face painting, were available for people waiting to get on the bus.

Many parents were just as excited as their children to board the Knight Bus. "I brought my kids as a coverup," said Melinda Berry, 29.

The Essex resident learned about the Knight Bus stop from a fan Web site. Berry, whose enthusiasm for Harry Potter was passed on to daughter Gabrielle, 4, and son Jonathan, 2, was able to get some of the last available spots by arriving at the Cockeysville library just before 9 a.m.

"It's been an incredible phenomenon," said Baltimore County Public Library Director Jim Fish. "I can't remember another book that has been this popular with so many ages."

The Knight Bus is scheduled to stop today at the New Carrollton and Oxon Hill branches of the Prince George's County library system, and Tuesday at the Bethesda public library. Stops are also scheduled in Washington and Virginia. The route is planned to avoid low bridges, and the bus draws a lot of attention.

"It's great driving it," said driver Ernie Pram. "People honk and take pictures. Kids love to see it on the road."

The bus will go to California, stopping in a dozen states, before circling back to New York City.

"It has all these additions like the fake windows and stuff," said Annaliese Rutishavser, 9, who likes the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the best. "It's so cool."

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