Two things of real significance occur July 16th, 2005 and the least of these is that I turn 23. This was vastly overwhelmed by the fact that this is the day I have been waiting for for three years. This is the day the newest Harry Potter book will be released. This is the day that I will finally be able to live again.
I wake up the morning of the 15th in a rush. Before my eyes even open I am already thinking, planning out my attack. I just have to make it to midnight and then the book will be in my hands. I will finally find out who the half-blood prince is. Then I remembered, “oh yeah…work”. I jump up and hurriedly get ready. I can’t be late again because my dependability is already in the toilet. At the same time, I have to take some time on my appearance or else Carrie, my boss, will razz me about it. “Another late night bender, eh Jacob?” she will sneer. Or, “Good thing vodka doesn’t have a smell huh?” She thinks I am an alcoholic because I have time management issues and frequently look like I slept in my clothes. The truth is that my clothes are wrinkled because folding them takes time that I would rather spend reading, and I sleep in because the night before I had to finish just one more chapter.
I arrive at work a bare five minutes late, and looking like the worst of muggles, in business casual attire that not even my grandmother would object to. This is a good result for me, so Carrie doesn’t say anything. She can’t resist an exaggerated sniff as I walk by though, searching for the aroma of a drink of which I didn’t partake. I sit at my desk and pull the bundle of letters waiting for me over to my computer. I am ready to tackle the day’s allotment of abuse head on. I work for a credit reporting agency in their fraud department. Every day I hear from people who have had some villain steal their identity, use up their credit, and left their credit rating in a shambles it is unlikely they will ever be able to fully recover. I hear stories about how people are unable to find work, get a car, or rent a home. Mostly I hear about how betrayed they feel, that someone could come in and take something so integral to their existence. I tell these people they should have been more careful, as if they just left their identity lying around. I tell them that I will happily put a statement on their report, even though I know this is more likely to hurt their efforts to get new credit. And finally, I tell them all I can do is dispute the incorrect information. I tell them it is up to them to work with the companies who have the false accounts to get them removed, even though this is a blatant lie. I tell them all of this because my company makes money on the amount of items that it reports. The more items removed, the less money we make. After about the fourth or fifth person calling in with the same sad story it strikes me. In my day to day existence I work for the bad guy. In this life I am a death eater.
Unfortunately this thought sticks with me all the way through the morning. I have to break out of this funk. It wouldn’t do to show up to the “pre-release” party with this kind of attitude. So at lunch, I decide to go out to eat with, Derrick, a friend of mine from a few rows over. He reads Stephen King like a religion so he understands my obsession, and we spend the hour re-discussing various books and authors that we have in common. I tell him about my plan to go to the pre-release party tonight at Barnes and Noble and invite him along. He politely refuses, and secretly I am glad. Derrick is a great guy and one of my best friends, but he is also a bit of a talker. The last thing I will want at midnight tonight is to have to make small talk with someone I see at least five days a week anyway.
My “literary lunch,” as I like to think of it, is just what I needed to push through the rest of the day. I soldier through the complaints, the insults, and even the tears. I absolutely refuse to let even the elderly lady crying over how her assets have been frozen and she is on a fixed income faze me. After all what are the plights of a few individuals compared to the battle for the entire wizarding world.
When I finally get to the party, I feel at home. These are my people. From the shy girl in the manga aisle to the elderly couple dressed as Professors Dumbledore and Trelawney, these are the people who understand who I am. The rest of the night passes in a blur of pointy hats and wand waving. To my astonishment, I win the trivia contest. This means that not only have I proven my superiority in knowledge, but I have won the third place in line when it is time to buy the books. I am right behind the winner of the contest costume and the little boy in the motorized wheelchair. I force myself to believe he isn’t just faking it. As the clock counts down to midnight we all count along. It’s louder than any New Year’s Eve party I have ever seen. As the count reaches zero we all surge toward the registers, eagerly reaching toward the cashiers who have superimposed a forced smile over what would be an expression of fear and awe. Any other day I would be worried that they are judging me, but not today. Today is too important to care about such frivolities. I get three copies; one for myself, one for my sister, and one for when my first one wears out. I hurriedly pay and force my way past the line of people all staring at me hungrily. I can’t believe my luck. I had planned to be in line for another two hours yet, but it is only 12:15 and I am already on my way home.
Once home I don’t even stop to lock the door. I head straight to my bed, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince clutched in my hands. I stare at it for a while in astonishment. Sure, I knew what the cover would look like. Scholastic released it three months ago, but I still wanted to make sure I had every detail etched in my memory. I open the book and read, “Chapter One – The Other Minister” and suddenly I am swept away back into my real life. I am Harry Potter. I feel his astonishment as he meets professor Slughorn. I laugh out loud at the antics of Fred and George Weasley. And I puzzle through the mystery of the Half-Blood Prince’s identity with Hermione.
Halfway through the book I decide I have to have a break, if for nothing else than to use the restroom. I force the book down onto my bedside table and it causes a near physical wrench. I get up, lock the door, and empty my ashtray. I have already gone through a half of a pack of Marlboros, although I doubt I have actually smoked even 2 full cigarettes. Mostly they sit in the ashtray wasting. I change into pajamas, get a glass of water, and sit back down. I know I should go to bed and finish the book tomorrow, but the very thought it so abhorrent to my identity that I also know it isn’t going to happen. I open back the book and just as fast I am back at Hogwarts. I speed through the pages as if my life depended on it. I must know what happens next. I thrill a the story and I marvel at the events as they unfold. And then it happens. Snape kills Dumbledore. I gasp in shock. I mean I physically and verbally gasp. It is like I have been doused in cold water. Snape kills Dumbledore? My entire world is in upheaval. Surely I read something wrong. I read it again. The hero of my youth has just been thrown off the tower with a single spell. Avada Kedavra. No. Surely this is a plot twist. Ms. Rowling is just being clever. I go back to the book and rush through to the end, but Dumbledore is still dead when I close the book.
I am exhausted. It is now 7:00 am and I have an even greater yearning for the next book than I ever have. I finally turn off the light and lay my head on my still damp pillow and close my eyes. Before falling asleep, my last thought is that the message boards will be blazing tomorrow. Maybe someone else has found something in their first reading that I missed. Or maybe when I read it through again, more slowly and carefully, I will find some clue as to what really happened.
The next day, when I emerge to meet people for my birthday celebration, I am bleary eyed and sad. Everyone notices. They think I must have been up all night celebrating my birthday. They all ask, “What did you do last night?” I reply, “I bought a book,” but no one believes that is really true. This is ok because it isn’t really true. Actually, I lived.