D  e  s  e  r  t     E  x  p  o  s  u  r  e     August 2005

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Do You Believe in Magic?

Staying up past bedtime with the Harry Potter multitudes.

By Jessica J. Savage

It was nearing midnight. . . and Simone could hardly contain her 13-year-old self as she held her position at the front of the line. Camille was awake at this bewitching hour for the first time in all her nine years. Ricky, more than a week past his 11th birthday, was prepared to stay up all night.

Simone Rehbein, 13, snared the first copy.

"I got a feeling it's gonna be a long night," said Don Pethick, Ricky's father.

Holding the microphone up to his mouth, the manager gave countdown instructions to the crowd that had filled the building. It was one gathering among similar gatherings happening all over the world, as everyone anticipated the stroke of midnight. "Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, ONE."

Simone rushed to the counter to be the first person at midnight on July 16, 2005, in Barnes & Noble of Las Cruces to own the most coveted book in the entire world, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling. (At this time please thank Rowling for writing the first four words of this very article that you are reading right now, which also begin the sixth book of seven in the Harry Potter series.)

Not since the stroke of midnight more than five years ago, when a new century started, has the whole world collectively anticipated such a single event.

"In the history of modern literature, there's nothing like it," said Barnes & Noble Manager Mike Dunworth. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince had a 10.8 million first-run printing, Dunworth said, while other highly anticipated popular books might get a mere 1 million first-run.

The first Harry Potter book, The Sorcerer's Stone, a chapter book aimed at children that soon became a phenomenon crossing all age boundaries, "created an interest that wasn't there," Dunworth added.

Desert Blossom Books in Silver City held a similar "coming out" party for The Half-Blood Prince, which attracted some 200 eager fans; they started lining up more than three hours before the witching-hour release. Nationwide, more than 5,000 Harry Potter parties were held, according to Scholastic Books, the publisher, which rushed another 2.7 million copies into print after the initial run.

Perhaps the world of witchcraft and wizarding was just what the doctor ordered after the previous week's London terror attacks. One of those attacks was very near where Harry and his classmates enter the fictional railway station platform where the Hogwart's Express boards passengers to take them to school at Hogsworth Castle: platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station in London.

"It's relief for tension," Dunworth said. "It's a fantasy book that provides escape, release. It's medicine, it's therapy, it's cathartic."

The bookstore filled with adults, teens and children, many dressed as witches and wizards, or sporting lightning-bolt temporary tattoos and Harry Potter specs.

"People are coming out in their regalia and homemade costumes. This is a friendly, fluid event with no hang-ups," Dunworth said.

Arriving at Barnes & Noble's Friday midnight book-release party, participants received a wizard passport and a paper armband welcoming them to "Barnoble Alley." Answering a few simple questions in the passport transforms Muggles (mere magic-less humans) into Wizards:

What is your favorite animal?

What is your name or nickname spelled backward?

What word best describes you?

Where is your favorite place to spend time?

How many times have you read the Harry Potter books, your favorite number, and what time is it now?

After answering these questions I became a Wizard named ACISSEJ the ANALYZER, otherwise known by the title of Keeper of the Booksellers, Friend of Owls, traveling on Passport No. 1-06-0930. Wearing my black-onyx owl choker necklace, I was now ready to travel about Barnoble Alley and permitted to practice spells and enchantments within the bounds of local laws and customs regulating the practice of wizardry.

After getting tanked up on lattes, my assistant and I were wide-eyed and ready to troll, I mean stroll the magical neighborhood. Staffed with some 30 bookstore employees and volunteers, according to Community Relations Manager Sharon Dalton, the bookstore treated patrons to a variety of activity stations.

We came upon a wand-making station where nine-year-old witch Camille Heath had just put the finishing touches on her new wand. She had selected lovely turquoise and blue phoenix feathers to provide the magic in her wand, although she could also have selected hair from the tail of a unicorn.

"It's very, very, very cool," Camille said of staying up way past her bedtime for the first time ever to purchase Rowling's latest offering. So far, she has read books one and five.

Near the west mall entrance, Hermoine Granger and Professor Sibyll Trelawny, a.k.a. Stephanie Lewis and Amber Curtis, were quizzing passersby with Harry Potter trivia questions: "What house are Harry and Ron Weasley in at Hogwarts?" "Gryffindor," we answered and received a passport stamp.

Minding Cafe Express was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (book four) siren and Triwizard Tournament contestant, Miss Fleur Delacour, a.k.a. Ashley Bitton, dressed for the ball in a gown she sewed herself.

We stopped to get lighting-bolt tattoos (like Harry's famous forehead scar, a reminder of when You-Know-Who killed Harry's parents). Next we visited the children's reading area, where Harry Potter and Hermoine, a.k.a. Alexander Lasater-Moore and his cousin Lexie Galbreath, were having an intense conversation about the Harry Potter books they've read.

After having their pictures taken, father and son Don and Ricky Pethick decorated their frames with glitter and paint, perhaps sprinkled with the dust of magic Veela fairies or with Leprechaun gold.

Ricky, who's read all the books except the fourth, claims to have been the first to check in and receive a passport, arriving at 7:22 p.m., though that claim was not unchallenged. Ricky's father said he read the first book to see for himself what Harry Potter books are all about. "It's not sorcery or satanic," he said. "It's just good, clean fun that's very imaginative. It's no worse than some of the nursery rhymes we heard as kids. Think of the words to 'Rock-a-Bye Baby.'"

Way in the corner of Barnoble Alley we came upon a rowdy group of recent Mayfield High School graduates who were plastering Harry Potter stickers all over the head and face of 18-year-old Cameron Franco—who, through an interpreter (because his mouth was sealed shut), said he wanted to show he's a die-hard Harry Potter fan. Of this group, only Dillon Smith, 17, has actually read all the books. He confidently predicted the titular Half-Blood Prince will be Neville Longbottom, because of what is revealed in the previous tome. That's all we dare say about that.

It was nearing midnight and everyone fortunate enough to be bearing a large letter A in the back of their passport was asked to line up near the front registers. Barnes and Noble employee Branyan Sanxter displayed an unopened box of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince books before the crowd as everyone cheered. The copies had arrived earlier that day and were kept in a locked area, according to Dunworth, who assured us there were enough for the 400 or so people filling the store. More would be delivered the next day, likely affecting delivery service worldwide, as well as real-time computer financial transactions at midnight. "The registers may be slow but we're ready," Dunworth said.

Unable to stand still, a jittering 13-year-old Simone Rehbein of Cedar Park, Texas, smartly dressed in a NASA T-shirt rather than wizard garb, held her position at the front of the line. "I was the first person to get a passport," she declared as her aunt Robyn Rehbein confirmed they arrived at the store at 6 p.m., earlier than the Pethicks. "I've read the books 48 times." Surely, a Harry Potter expert, Simone nonetheless hesitated when asked who the half-blood prince would be, finally spitting out a couple of suggestions.

But Simone may very well have been the first person in the Southwest to find out the answer, because, she vowed, "I'm staying up all night until I finish the book."

Jessica J. Savage wants to savor Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and so still doesn't know which character the prince turns out to be, except that J.K. Rowling says it's not Harry and it's not He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

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