As the clock at Hastings Entertainment in Waxahachie struck midnight, the crowd of nearly 400 strong knew they were moments away from the beginning of an ending.

At 12:01 a.m., box cutters were in action, slicing through tape that had been hiding a secret that might as well have been the government’s top secret.

The seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter series “The Deathly Hallows” finally hit bookshelves early Saturday morning.

To celebrate the release, Hastings invited people to come be a part of the magic by competing in costume, coloring and trivia contests. Along with the contests, the store had pizza donated by Double Dave’s and cakes provided by Beverly Gatlin, face painting along with traditional Potter-related items including “dragon snot” and “butter beer.”

“Because we had all of these things planned we figured people would begin showing up around 8 (p.m.),” store manager Michelle Finch said. “But people began showing up at 7.”

“It is a much better turnout than I thought we would have,” Finch said. “We had this event at the old store when the last book came out, so we kind of have something to measure this with. This was a lot more exciting than I thought it would be.”

The highlight of the event, other than the mad dash for the novels, was the costume contest.

The judges had a difficult time trying to pick a single winner, so they presented both Luke Smolka and Daphne Emmons with free copies of the book.

Smolka, who simply described his victory as feeling “good,” was dressed as Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter’s rival, despite Potter being his favorite character.

Emmons won her copy of the book by dressing up as the spell casting-villain Bellatrix.

“She is a strong female character,” Emmons said about Bellatrix. “I just really enjoy her character.”

Once the costume judging was over, the loyal fans went back to the hot button issue of how the series would come to an end.

“I really hope Voldemort is going to be defeated,” Emma Bauman said. “But I think Harry is going to die in the effort.”

Other people thought Harry would live on, but one of his best friends would perish.

“I think Ron is going to die and that is going to make Hermione really upset and cause tension between Harry and Jenny,” Sean Monger said. “And just for good measure, I bet Haggard is going to go too.”

Still others believed both Ron and Harry would survive and the book would have a happy ending.

“Ron and Hermione are going to get married and have beautiful babies,” Gabby Dickson said. “And Harry is going to beat Voldemort.”

No matter how the series concludes, fans will still be fans of the novels.

“I like how (the books) aren’t afraid to delve into big, deep issues,” Monger said. “Like in book five they were looking into the meaning of life.”

Some fans like the way the book is written.

“I like the imagery the fantasy part of it,” Emmons said. “Plus it is a good read.”

Others like the whimsy that comes with books driven by imagination.

“It is very magical and has a lot of fantasy and adventure in it,” Bauman said.

The books have had a coming of age effect on the kids who read them.

“I like that I feel like I can relate to the characters,” Dickson said. “I have grown up with the books so I feel like I am watching them go through the same things I am going through, except they have cooler stuff to get through it with.”

No matter what effect the books have on the readers, the nearly 400 people who picked up their copies from Hastings at midnight were satisfied - but there was some fear the store might not have enough copies.

“I believe we have 400 copies of the book,” Hastings employee Matthew Cale said. “We have more than 400 people here, so I believe we are going to run out.”

Cale had a simple message to those who could not get a copy at the release party.

“Sorry,” said Cale, who was dressed as a very convincing Harry Potter.

The way to guarantee a copy at midnight was to pre-order one from the store. That also enabled fans who did not feel like going shopping at midnight to get their copy anytime after that.

“They know their copy is guaranteed so they don’t have to come tonight,” Finch said.

But where is the fun in that, besides what is better than snuggling up with a good book and a frosty mug of butter beer?