As if by magic, a ghostly image appeared before the students.
Actually, the image was very clear and could easily be attributed to technology.
Author J.K. Rowling celebrated the 15th year of the "Harry Potter" series and the launch of the interactive Pottermore website with a worldwide live interview - a virtual author visit.
Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry
Seventh-graders at Eisenhower Middle School watch and listen as J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter series, gives a live webcast interview on Thursday.
At several points during the 40-minute interview, Rowling responded to video questions from schools in North America and England. Students viewing the webcast could not communicate with her.
More than 40 seventh-graders at Eisenhower Middle School chose to attend the event.
Some of those students were quite familiar with the characters and events, having read the seven books and watched the movies.
"I've read all of them," Laura Courson said. "They're my favorite books. I love them."
The Rowling interview was a different look at the series for Courson. "It was really cool to see what it meant to her and understand it more fully."
Asked if she was familiar with the Pottermore site, she said she had visited a few times when it was under construction, but that she'll be logging in "right when I get home."
Tess Parmenter started to read the first book. She has since seen the movies and, after the interview, may go back and start reading again. And she may visit Pottermore. "I think it would be something that might be interesting to do," she said.
Some of the students were surprised with what they learned from the interview.
Samuel Holt had not read a single word of the series, but he will give them a shot. "I didn't realize there was certain deepness," he said. "I thought it was a certain fan base for people to get entertainment."
He isn't likely to check the website. "I'm more into reading and finding out what the writing means to me and other people."
The interview didn't sway all of the students.
"Harry Potter" isn't on Mason Jaquay's reading list, but he wouldn't rule out the possibility of giving them a shot. The interview gave him some additional insight. "I found it was interesting about her and about the books," he said.
Rowling read what she described as one of her favorite passages from the series and described the strengths and flaws of the lead characters - Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger - students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and said they are, in part, extensions of her.
"There's a good argument that says an author is in every character," she said. "Hermione is an exaggerated version of myself at that age."
"Hermione is all about knowing stuff," Rowling said. But, she "learns to loosen up" through the series.
"Harry is someone who doesn't know a lot," she said. The character is somewhat distant and harder to relate to than others because he is a hero.
"Ron is all about the fun," she said. "But Ron is very loyal... a very human person. Ron gets scared, but he's always there by Harry's side."
"Ron makes me laugh," she said. She appreciates his sense of humor because she wrote the jokes.
"These are three characters who... what they really need to learn about is themselves," Rowling said.
She said some of her favorite personal moments over the 15 years since the books first came out were hearing children explain how they relate to the characters and situations. "I really like this book," a young boy, perhaps 10 years old, told her shortly after the first book was published. "Harry often doesn't know what's going on. Nor do I."
Others tell her there is a version of the series' bully, Draco Malfoy, in their class. "I hope they all realize 'I'm not alone," she said.
After 15 years and 450 million copies sold, Rowling has encouraged millions of young people to read. She sees books as "somewhere you can go that you love and you are safe. If that place is Hogwarts, I couldn't be more humbled."