How does one put into words the finale of a decade-long, billion dollar film series? How can anyone describe something that has defined a generation for 14 years through books, movies, music, video games, and more? Perhaps we need only look at the fandom that surrounds it. The great epics of the last generation, Star Wars and Star Trek, inspire a level of commitment and excitement from its fans that is amazing to behold. This generation, which I am proud to say is my generation, has the Harry Potter series, and the levels of dedication and investment that these seven books and eight films bring out in the Potterverse is amazing to behold.

If you need any evidence, all you have to do is check out a midnight showing of any of the Harry Potter films, which draw huge crowds of excited fans of all ages, many dressed in their wizarding best. Thursday night at the Hippodrome, the Potter fans were out in force. Five hundred-plus people turned out to say goodbye to the Harry Potter franchise in grand style.

The Hippodrome was decorated with the four banners of the Hogwarts houses: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Raveclaw, and Hufflepuff. Chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, and Butterbeer were for sale. The staff was dressed in wizard robes or House colors, but they blended right into the throng of robed wizards all around them. My friends and I were dressed as Ministry of Magic officials, complete with pamphlets, badges, and wands. Others dressed as everyone from Harry, Ron, and Hermione to the house elves to a two-person team resting on each other’s shoulders to pull off a very convincing Hagrid. But the winning costume of the night went to a girl who dressed as one of the Hogwarts paintings, the Fat Lady, complete with a picture frame.

The energy in the theater was palpable. As the minutes ticked closer to the premiere of the final film, the excitement rippled through the crowd. And then the lights went out. The cheering was immense, as if we’d just won the Quidditch cup.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 continued the strong finale that Part 1 set up last year. But if you’ve read the books, you know all that. The moments that have existed in our imaginations for 14 years are brought to stunning life in this installment, like seeing the statues of Hogwarts take position against the schools enemies, watching the dragon make its escape from Gringotts, and seeing McGonagall fight off Severus Snape. And the performances from the greatest British actors in the world are a sincere treat. Maggie Smith finally gets to stretch her legs again as McGonagall and is a real firecracker. Julie Walters gets to show her teeth. Helena Bonham Carter takes Bellatrix Lestrange to outrageous new levels of insanity, while capturing awkward adolescence and fear in a scene as Hermione-in-disguise.

But the stars of this film are Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, and Daniel Radcliffe. Fiennes imbues Lord Voldemort with a humanity and fear that brings his villainy to full fruition. Watching him fall apart as his ties to life are destroyed is almost a pitiable thing, while he himself grows more frightening. Daniel Radcliffe, who started these films in 2000, has finally grown into the role. He’s worked for it, and you can see it in the way he mimics the physical and mental deterioration of Fiennes’ Voldemort. He is Harry Potter. And Alan Rickman finally gets to give Severus Snape his due. The back-story of the enigmatic, mysterious character is revealed, and Rickman relishes in the material. The line “You have your mother’s eyes,” delivered a hundred times before in seven films by many characters, brings tears to the eyes here.

When 3 a.m. rolled around and the fans left the theater after a heartfelt round of applause for the film, the energy remained, mixed in with a bit of sadness. Everything must come to an end, but we are all made better because of it, from the youngest of us to the oldest. It has moved us all, and it’s something we’ll never forget, as I will never forget last night. I’ll remember the last two decades of Harry Potter and his magic for the next two decades.

I wonder where I’ll be in 19 years.

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