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Joining in the frenzy at the Book House: Four friends pose with their new books and Hagrid, a character from the series.

Waiting for Harry

The moon had been in the sky for several hours, and the air was as thick as dragon’s blood. This, however, did not deter hundreds of shiny-faced muggles (non-magic folk) from descending on the Bookmark in Loudonville’s Newton Plaza, eagerly awaiting the just-past-midnight release of the sixth installment of the Harry Potter series, titled Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

By the time I arrived at 10:30 PM, the scene itself was hours old. The Mr. Bouncety-Bounce, which had been erected in a roped-off portion of the parking lot, seemed like it was getting the workout of a lifetime; and the balloon-sculpting clown looked as though she might do with a little help from the same generator. Though this might give the impression of some careworn Joycean carnival depiction, the children were ecstatic, jumping up and down as they asked their parents, “Is it almost time?” It had been two years since the release of book five (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), and now only 90 minutes separated these wide-eyed youngsters from J.K. Rowling’s latest achievement.

There was food aplenty, cocktail wienies, pizza, and other finger foods, but no one appeared to eat much. The Starbucks next door remained open past its usual closing time, helping to support the event while also taking advantage of a captive (by choice) audience.

Costumes were secondary on the minds of many of the patrons—one man walked by with a T-shirt, shorts, and a black cape, while others struggled to figure out which character he was supposed to represent. Some were successful, though by all accounts, the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza was far better in this arena. Owner Susan Novotny was a convincing Professor McGonagall (the elderly, yet talented witch, and head of Gryffindor House), and Hagrid and even Willy Wonka made appearances.

Back at the Bookmark, though, no one appeared to let the lack of character-specific costumes affect their good time. Above the sweaty and energetic din, Sheila Fontenot, the owner of the Bookmark, seemed quite satisfied with the goings-on. She said that while the chain bookstores may be able to provide more activities to their patrons on this night, the atmosphere was more intimate at independents like the Bookmark and the Book House.

At 11:45 PM, we were coaxed into a line outside of the store. People had been given either a yellow or a purple ticket with a number on it. This number was the order in which we were to receive our books; yellow went first (the people who prepaid), and then purple (those who had reserved but not paid). Somehow, my friend Michael had managed to get yellow tickets Nos. 1 and 2. I felt somehow strange being in front of children in line, knowing that I was going to have my book before them. But I wasn’t about to give up my number. At 12:01 AM, we entered and received our copies of the book along with the approximately 200 other customers who preordered the book.

It’s unlikely that many of the children who waited so long to get their copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince actually made it through the second chapter that night (though many would finish the entire book in a day or two), but watching their young, triumphant faces as they walked to the counter was magical. The wait was over, the quest was at a successful end; they’d finally gotten their book. After I’d gotten mine, of course.

—Tom Templeton


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