The spectacle under Bay View's half-moon sky begins to stir in the hours just before midnight, with the rustle of a dark cape sweeping through the doorway of the booksellers' shop.
By day, Pat Bowne instructs her students at Alverno College as to the mysteries of physiology, but long after the sun disappears, on certain summer evenings, she is transformed into someone quite different. For on her left shoulder she carries Scarlett, a diminutive red dragon.
Scarlett's iridescent wings catch the glow of the streetlamp and her tail trails down the teacher's back and flips around her waist. And wonder of all wonders, the little dragon's head moves effortlessly from side to side, her sparkling eyes reflecting all that surrounds her; all that is, unmistakably, the magic of Harry Potter.
Nearing the moment when the secrets contained in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" promise to be unveiled, the Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop on South Kinnickinnic Avenue bustles with anticipation. In this seventh and last book of author J.K. Rowling's Potter series, is the young Harry doomed?
"That's the big question of the night," says 12-year-old Oliver Gehrke of Bay View. "I think Harry might get sent off to some other kind of place with really good wizards like he is."
Learning magic, wizardry
Oliver has tucked himself into a corner of the shop, at a table covered with vessels of unicorn hair, phoenix feathers, owl feathers and "perfectly straight twigs." The twigs bear an uncanny resemblance to painted chopsticks, but 13-year-old Ruadhan Ward insists they are no such thing. They are cherry oak wood, she says, inscribed with Chinese incantations - just the thing for creating a handmade magic wand.
Besides, Ruadhan points out, the authenticity of a wand has little to do with its component parts.
"The power's all in you, not in the wands," she explains.
Oliver produces a deck of playing cards and begins to shuffle them. With this deck, he says, he can probably do about 30 magic tricks. As a group of Potter fans watch, Oliver "levitates" a container of white glue with his magic wand.
"Oliver's a wizard in training," Ruadhan says.
Will Oliver turn to the last page of the last Potter book to learn what ultimately happens to Harry?
"I would never do that," he says. "I like the suspense. I'm going to read the whole (series) from the beginning."
Erica Couillard, 21, has read all of the Harry Potter books and predicts Harry will die in this last harrowing tale. She thinks it is the only way Rowling can prevent other authors from writing sequels.
Sitting on the floor of the shop and leaning against a bookcase, Brian Krueger and his daughter, Kalena, say they have very different strategies for reading "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." Kalena, who predicts the character Lord Voldemort will die in this story, plans to read the tale from beginning to end.
Her father is less patient.
"I'm going to pick it up and go to the last three pages and read from there," he says.
Will friendship save the day?
Fourteen-year-old Perry Andrew Spott of Bay View has given this some thought as well. If he were J.K. Rowling, he would start the tale with Harry, alone in his search for the evil Voldemort.
"Out of nowhere, his friends hook up with him," Perry continues. "They go through a lot of struggles, but he uses the power of friendship and all his friends."
In the end, they confront and destroy the power of evil, he adds.
But not completely. Perry says in order for Harry to come into his own as a wizard and as a man, he can no longer be truly innocent. Harry carries both good and bad impulses "and he needs his friends to fight off evil."
Midnight approaches and the line to purchase "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is hundreds of people long, curling around the bookshelves in the shop.
Just outside, a group of people gather to peer in the windows as the time when the first Harry Potter fan will clutch the new book draws near.
"Where exactly is Hogwarts?" wonders Bill Koehn of Bay View, a special education teacher who seems just as excited about the new Potter book as any kid in the shop.
On at least one warm and moonlit night in mid-July, it is right here in Bay View.
Nan Bialek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (262) 446-6632.
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