Harry Potter casts spell over Suffolk

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

10:45 p.m., Friday night: Meredith Hawkins’ shift in the Suffolk Wal-Mart is over, but she’s not leaving the store anytime soon.

She bolts out of the electronic section, rips off her blue customer service vest, puts on a change of clothes, and hurtles toward the magazine department. It’s been three years and three weeks since the last Harry Potter book was released, and Hawkins is ready for the fifth installment in the saga about the young wizard. It’s called &uot;Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,&uot; and it’s scheduled to arrive at midnight.


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&uot;I love her writing style,&uot; she says of J.K. Rowling, creator of Harry and his Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry classmates. &uot;The off-color British jokes are hilarious.&uot;

11 p.m.: Other Potter fans start to trickle in. &uot;My wife told me that I wasn’t allowed to come home without the book,&uot; says Bill Solomon, perusing a Simpsons comic book. &uot;She and I love the Harry Potter books.&uot;

Ever since the evil wizard Voldemort, thought dead throughout the first three installments, came back as Harry’s archenemy in &uot;The Goblet of Fire,&uot; fans have been chomping at the bookmark to get their eyes on Rowling’s new words, said to extend over 800 pages.

Rowling has kept the majority of the book secret, only revealing that a central character dies. Earlier in the week, the pressure became too great for a few thousand; over 7,000 copies of the book were stolen from a truck parked outside an England warehouse late Sunday night. Earlier this month, a print worker was sentenced to 180 hours community service for attempting to sell three chapters of the book to a tabloid newspaper. The Daily News in New York City, which bought a copy and published a preview, is now facing a $100 million lawsuit from Rowling and her publishers.

The first four Potter books have sold an estimated 192 million copies worldwide and have been published in at least 55 languages and distributed in more than 200 countries.

Blockbuster movies were made of the first two books and the movie stemming from the third will be released next year.

11:30 p.m.: Nansemond-Suffolk Academy student Meredith Gersbach, 15, steps to the back of the line, which now extends past several Wal-Mart registers.

&uot;This was the shortest line I could find,&uot; she says, indicating the 30 people in front of her. &uot;I just wanted to get a copy of the book before it sells off the shelves tomorrow morning.&uot;

11:54 p.m.: Chants of &uot;We want Harry! We want Harry!&uot; boom from between the magazine racks. It’s the voice of Erik Wright, 14. &uot;I love Harry Potter and his magic!&uot; he exclaims.

Midnight: It’s past deadline now, and things are getting tense as the line rushes toward 100 people.

&uot;Where ARE they?&uot; grunts a frustrated Melissa Hedgepeth, pumping her first toward an imaginary punching bag (which might have been decorated with the face of Voldemort). &uot;The last four books were so great that I couldn’t put them down. This one is supposed to be even better.&uot;

12:12 a.m.: A strange calmness settles over the store as a cart stacked with hundreds of Phoenix books trundles past the line, settling in front of the eager hands of Hawkins, who grasps a copy and charges toward the checkout counter.

&uot;I think this one will be worth the wait,&uot; says Alex Dakos, 12, patiently waiting for his turn to take home his new literary companion. &uot;I’ll probably be reading it constantly!&uot;

The Associated Press contributed to this report.