Harry Potter: Three long years waiting for fifth installment

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"The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive."

Marilyn Harris had waited three years to read those words. And when the blue-covered "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" slid across the table and into her hands early Saturday morning, she couldn't help but jump and let out a squeal.

"It's been three years, three poisonous years," the 12-year-old said. "I was listening to the other books on tape over and over and asking why can't there be a fifth book already. It was so hard to wait."

Three years after the release of the last installment in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, muggles around the world lined up for the 12:01 a.m. Saturday release of her fifth book. Steamboat was not immune to the Harry Potter fever.

More than 150 people crammed into Off the Beaten Path Book Store on Friday night waiting for the clock to strike midnight.

They came in costume. Some dressed as Harry Potter in black, round-rimmed glasses and lightning-scarred foreheads; there was even an infant Harry. Others came as members of the Steamboat Quidditch Team decked out in specially made jerseys, and one 15-year-old even came dressed as the Fat Lady, the woman who sits in a painting and holds the password to Harry Potter's Hogwart's living quarters.

Rumors circulated among the partygoers that a main character was going to die at the end of the newly released book, and children speculated on what exactly the Order of the Phoenix was.

All four of Rowling's previous Harry Potter books have become international best sellers. Each book tells of a school year in the life of Harry Potter, who is now 15 and a young wizard in Britain's Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Despite the late hour, Harris said she planned to start reading the 870-page book as soon as she got home.

She wasn't alone. One mother said her children brought a flashlight so they could start reading during the car ride home.

Brant Crossan, 11, was among those who had plans to start reading the book late into the night. Crossan, who preordered the book months ago, said it's more than a story of magic and wizardry that draws him to Harry Potter.

"J.K. Rowling expresses herself so well. Even before the movies came out, I could imagine what is happening. You know what the characters look like, know where the scene is; I know where I am," he said.

His friend, David Mucklow, 10, is going to wait a few days before reading his book. His older brother, Andrew, paid him $7 to read the family's copy first. David Mucklow said the release of the book was exciting, but not as exciting as Mexican soccer. Sitting nearby, Ian Anderson, 11, said the only thing more exciting was when the Avalanche played for the Stanley Cup in 2001.

"Before Harry Potter, I never got hooked on any books; after that I started reading the Redwall (series)," Anderson said.

By Friday afternoon, 325 copies of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" had been preordered from Off the Beaten Path. After the response to the fourth book, store owners Leslie Ryan and her husband, Dick, decided to hold the late-night book release party.

"The community responded in such a positive way. It was really a family affair, a highlight for the kids," Ryan said. "Children are still talking about the (fourth-book release) party. So we decided we had to have a party for this one."

When the fourth book, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," came out, Ryan said they made the mistake of ordering only 100 copies. The night of the book release, 99 were sold and the last copy went at 7 a.m. the next day. Ryan said it took another four weeks for them to get more in the store.

They learned their lesson.

For three days, 500 copies of the coveted book were locked in store's closets and its contents remained unknown. Ryan said the bookstore has never ordered so many copies of one book at one time.

"It is really a phenomenon. There is no other book like this that has ever created such excitement," Ryan said.

The book's publisher, Bloomsbury, had closely guarded what happens in the book. And Ryan said bookstores had to jump through hoops to get the book for the Saturday release.

By the afternoon of the release party, Celebrations costume shop had run out of the Harry Potter black-rimmed glasses. Owner Sandy Pugh said they were the most popular items among those attempting to be Harry Potter look-alikes. The store special ordered costumes from Colorado Springs just for the book release party. The Harry Potter glasses and wands were the most popular item, but Pugh said about 10 to 15 people got full-fledged costumes for the Saturday release.

The store was stocked with Hogwart's sorting hats and Harry Potter napkins and plates.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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