After a summer that passed all too fast, Halifax's students have started arriving in the city, their boxes and suitcases bulging with the clothes, books and school supplies they'll need for the coming months of classes. Look closely, and you might just glimpse a few trunks, owls, wands and robes, too.
Most of this year's incoming or returning students would have been six to eight years old when Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone was first published, and have grown up with the series. So don't be surprised if the person sitting next to you on your first day of class introduces him or herself as Harry Potter's biggest fan, or your roommate plasters your dorm room with posters of Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint.
Alora Reid and Kaleigh Embree are two students who both claim to be Halifax's biggest Harry Potter fan.
"I've been to six out of seven book premieres, and eight out of eight movie premieres---often showing up hours beforehand to camp out," says Embree, who's starting her third year at Saint Mary's University in the anthropology program. "I have been Harry Potter and Hermione for Halloween a few times, and I know the books better than anyone I know. And yes, I did cry throughout the last book and last two movies," she adds.
A few weeks ago, Embree packed up her things to move into her first apartment. Among her boxes---several years' worth of Harry Potter memorabilia, including posters, t-shirts, Hogwarts house flags, jewellery and all of the Harry Potter books and side books.
"The corner of my room [is usually] a Harry Potter shrine, and half of my book-case always has one half of the shelf that has all the Harry Potter books and DVDs," says Embree. "There's definitely a space in my room that's always for that."
Alora Reid might challenge Embree's claim to Potter fan fame if they ever met. The third-year computer science major at Dalhousie also knows the series intimately, having read some of the books six or seven times. In addition to attending several of the midnight book and movie launches (she was interviewed in costume as Hermione Granger for television news at a launch for the seventh book), Reid also owns an "extensive" Harry Potter collection.
Last November, Reid and her boyfriend arrived at the midnight pre-screening of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows dressed as Bellatrix Lestrange and Gilderoy Lockhart.
"We'd been to a few of the other midnight screenings and people would be in costume, but this time, we were the only two dressed up in the whole theatre," recalls Reid. "But everyone liked them so I guess that worked out," she says with a laugh.
For Reid, her fascination with Harry Potter all started on a road trip to Ontario at the end of grade two. "We read all of the books that were out [at that time] because it was such a drive and we were so bored. My mother read out loud until she was hoarse, and when we fell asleep she would keep reading because she was so riveted," recalls Reid. "I think because my mother made it so enjoyable for us, it really just became such a big part of my childhood."
Reid was so taken with Rowling's fictional world that in grade four she wrote the author a letter and expressed her sadness that it wasn't real.
"She wrote back that even though Hogwarts isn't real, it's not too bad to hope that it is," she says.
"We all grew up with it," says Embree, who was also drawn to the realism of the world of Harry Potter. "A lot of people could imagine that world being a part of our own. It was so immersive and you rooted for the characters, who had real flaws."
Harry Potter was also "a friend in time that could've been lonely, or when I felt my other friends didn't quite understand me," adds Embree.
Both she and Reid also credit the books for teaching them a number of values like love, friendship, loyalty and perseverance.
Many of these are lessons that have served these Potterheads (both of whom feel a slight affinity with the studious Ravenclaw house) well in the classroom.
"One of the biggest things Harry Potter taught me in grade school---and even now---is that if you want the best results, you have to go above and beyond," says Embree. "The characters in the book never stopped trying. Even when they got stuck on something, there was always a new way to research or a new person they could ask and they never ever gave up."
Whether you've enrolled in Psych 100 or Care of Magical Creatures, "don't rely on Hermione to do your homework for you," cautions Reid. "She only begrudgingly did it for Harry and Ron, and she's a fictional character. So don't think she's going to swoop in with her mad skills and write your paper for you."
Sadly, with the release of the final movie this summer, many Potterheads are struggling to fill the void that's left.
"There's never going to be [the experience of] waiting in line with my dad for a book to come out, where all the other Harry Potter fans are all there and excited, and everyone's got lightning scars on their foreheads and wearing costumes," says Embree.
"It's definitely going to go down as the classic of this generation and I think in a couple decades, we're going to see a remake of the movies and I'll be on board for that when it happens," says Reid. In the meantime, Potterheads can "keep Harry Potter in your heart but the era's coming to an end. So you need to move on and, if you don't mind me saying, pick something that's not Twilight and get on with your life."