By Jeff Balke
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Garrett Samples read all three Harry Potter books in one night. And on last Friday evening, the 13-year-old gets primed to pull another all-nighter as he sits at the Bookstop, eagerly awaiting the midnight release of the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Like millions of kids worldwide, Garrett's a Harry Potter fanatic. "I just get into a frenzy about it," he says. He checks the Web site every day, plays Harry Potter trivia games, and he has read each Potter book at least five times. Determined to read all 734 pages, Garrett planned to drink a glass of water every five minutes to stay awake.
"It works," he tells his aunt, Carlotta Samples.
For the five people in the world who haven't heard of Harry, he's a ten-year-old Brit living a Cinderella lifestyle. Orphaned, he's raised by his boring aunt and uncle, Vernon and Petunia Dursley. They ignore Harry, rarely feed him and make him sleep in a closet crawling with spiders. Like many kids, Harry wishes that he could have a new family and a new life. Harry feels like an outcast in his own family. Nobody loves him.
"He hurts in ways that every little child can feel," says Mary Koenig, a 56-year-old English instructor at Houston Community College. She wore her black matriculation gown from Oxford and a sheer witch's hat to the Harry Potter party.
Koenig wears the outfit because Harry's birth parents were witches. A giant appears at the Dursleys' door on Harry's 11th birthday and whisks Harry off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. All the abnormal things Harry has always been able to do (like speak to snakes) suddenly make sense.
It's every child's fantasy. Harry moves to a world without parents where he has celebrity status, a bank vault full of gold and unlimited candy. The lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead is a reminder of when Lord Voldemort (basically an Oz-like Wicked Witch of the West) tried to kill baby Harry. In every book Harry defeats the dark lord in some new scary shape or form. Hence, the moral of the books: Good conquers evil.
The new book has the largest first printing in the history of literature. Excitement built as kids rushed to reserve their books, their tickets to midnight Harry Potter parties across the country. As the clock nears the witching hour, kids wearing round black glasses, capes and red lightning bolt scars pack bookstores.
At the Bookstop on Shepherd, kids sit shoulder-to-shoulder from the top of the rear stairs where the magazines are, all the way up the aisle to the front entrance. It's like a Backstreet Boys concert. In a quiet corner, Garrett looks at his aunt's watch; it's 13 minutes until midnight. "Ooh," he says, sucking in his breath. "Getting close."
In the middle of the crowd, Daniel O'Sullivan, 13, and his brother Connor are too excited to sit.
"I've waited a year for this," says Connor, ten, his fists clenched.
The boys reserved two copies (so they wouldn't fight over who got to read it first) and two more at another bookstore -- just in case this store runs out. They weren't taking any chances.
"It's hard to believe this one is finally here," says Daniel. Sweating and shaking, he looks like he has had two dozen Diet Cokes.
Midnight grows closer. "TEN-NINE-EIGHT-SEVEN--!" The kids scream the final countdown. "This is going to be a question on Jeopardy someday," says Kathy Butler, a lawyer standing with her nine-year-old son.
As the clock strikes 12, the real waiting begins. Kids are called up group by group to buy their books, a slow process. Adults, meanwhile, pass time arguing how to pronounce the name of Harry's friend Hermione. "That's the true test of a Harry Potter aficionado," says Dan Semetko. His son thought it was Her-moan-ee, Dan thought it was Her-moh-nee, but his wife says it's Her-my-oh-nee. "It's from the Greek," Debbie says. She saw it on Rosie O'Donnell.
On the floor near the cash register, 29-year-old Jenny Latham is a heretic on this night, reading from a Sidney Sheldon book. "I'm torturing my boyfriend," says the financial analyst. On their way downtown, she wanted to stop and buy the Harry Potter book. Two hours later they are still waiting. Even though her boyfriend isn't a fan, she loves Harry too.
"She doesn't think I'm ready for them yet," says Andy Zhmurovsky.
Many adults like Harry Potter books because kids like them: Children who haven't picked up a book since One Fish, Two Fish are dying to read the hefty hardback. "He gives kids a real feeling of empowerment," says Marilyn Gore.
Potter also extends bedtime because it's not easy to put him down; kids want to keep reading because almost every chapter ends with the arrival of a new mystery or Harry thinking he has figured out a mystery. Marilyn let her ten-year-old son, David, stay up an hour past his bedtime to finish the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. "At about 11 p.m. I heard this whooping and hollering coming from his room," Marilyn says. David was so excited when he read the last page he had to scream. She sat on his bed until after midnight while he described the whole book to her.