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Wizards Gone Wild 

What do Marauders, maps, muggles and Magazine Street have in common? Ordinarily, nothing, but on the night of July 20, all will be ingredients in Octavia Books' Harry Potter release party. For its three-hour event honoring the release of the seventh book in the series, the bookshop has teamed up with five Magazine Street businesses to send muggles (that's non-wizards in Harry Potter speak) on an activities scavenger hunt. Children and plenty of adults will make wands, decorate themed cookies and create their own wizard hats before returning to Octavia for the midnight book unveiling.

"It's a very big affair," says Octavia Books owner Tom Lowenburg, who will be in full Mad-Eye Moody regalia for the party. "It's going to start at 9 on the 20th, and then we say the book goes on sale one nanosecond after midnight. The books will come out under a black cloak."

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last in J.K. Rowling's fantasy series, has become something of a phenomenon already. There is more published work decoding and predicting what happens in the last novel than there are books in the entire Harry Potter series. Amazon.com recently announced that pre-orders of No. 7 have topped 1.6 million, the largest presale of a book ever.

It's not just children anxious about the release. At Octavia Books, many of the shop's adult employees have planned elaborate costumes for the event. Partygoers are encouraged to come in character too.

"We had someone who dressed as a dementor two years ago (for the release of volume six), it was really uncanny," says Judith Lafitte, the store's co-owner. "All of a sudden, this hand came around and I was so scared" she says of the character's Grim Reaper-like appearance. Lafitte will be costumed as the series' nosy reporter Rita Skeeter, wearing acid green robes and a blond wig.

Many wonder how adults can become so absorbed in children's books, but for Lafitte, who's read all six stories currently out, it's easy to see why the Harry Potter series translates well into grown ups' lifestyles.

"Certainly, parents reading to their children want them to take away the positive messages, but it's also just good writing and good reading," she says. "It's nice to escape and remember those times when we were young, when we had those kinds of experiences and those kinds of friends."

Garden District Book Shop assistant manager Amy Loewy agrees that the Harry Potter series is as popular with adults as with children. "I've read them multiple times," she says. "They take you to another place."

Loewy is planning a midnight party as well, with wand making, trivia and Harry Potter-themed snacks. Downtown, the Faulkner Society, the Hotel Monteleone and other businesses will transform Exchange Alley into the books' magical lane Diagon Alley the night of the release. Many large bookselling chains, like Border's and Barnes & Noble, have planned late-night celebrations as well.

It seems New Orleans has become a haven for Potter fans of all ages, and not just because of the multiple book release parties springing up around town. In October, Rowling herself will speak to schoolchildren at the convention center as part of a three-city U.S. tour. In May, almost 1,000 Harry Potter-loving adults flocked to the city for the Phoenix Rising convention, a five-day academic conference on Rowling's series.

"We were some of the first tourists after the storm, and the city really struck a chord because of where we are in the books," conference organizer and Chicago lawyer Amy Tenbrink explains. "At that time, book six had just come out and it's all about triumphing over adversity and rebuilding. So we just couldn't say no. The city was going through what Harry was going through."

Elise Hebert was a local volunteer at the conference and she says, "It was wonderful." Hebert fell victim to Potter mania when the fourth book was released five years ago.

"I picked one up in Wal-Mart when the fourth book came out," she says. "I started to hear all these kids were going crazy about them, and I wanted to see what the fuss was about. The next day, I was running around town looking for the other three."

Hebert, a sales administrator, plans to attend Borders' midnight release party. "I'll be camped out again (before the release), and I'll probably hide away in my apartment until I finish to make sure it doesn't get spoiled," she says.

As excited as she is about book seven, however, Hebert says she's not as much a fanatic as some. Hers is more of a covert Harry Potter love. "You have the people who have everything Harry Potter, even bumper stickers," she says. "I'm not to that point yet."

click to enlarge At Octavia Books' release party for the sixth Harry Potter - book, Jarrett Graham helps judge the costumes.
  • At Octavia Books' release party for the sixth Harry Potter book, Jarrett Graham helps judge the costumes.
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