Midnight Madness for 'Harry Potter'

A sea of wizard hats and purple-and-gold-striped ties lined the sidewalks, beginning at the entrance to the Times Square Toys R Us and wrapping around the corner and as far as the eye could see.

Fans lucky enough to be inside the building, those first in line and those chosen for having the best costumes, could literally feel the building shake as seemingly everyone in Times Square counted down the seconds to midnight.

When the roaring crowd finally reached zero, all it took was a wave of the magic wand by Victoria Lombardi, the first customer in line, and poof, the final installment of the J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was released to American audiences.

"I've been reading them [Harry Potter books] since I was 14 so I'm very psyched," said a flustered Lombardi immediately after purchasing the book. "I don't even know if I want to read it. I just want to hold it and not let go."

Soon purchasing lines turned into a blur of rounded glasses and capes as more and more fans hurried into the store. Any fears of a sell-out were assuaged by Toys R Us staff who said they had "enough" while motioning to several crates of books -- their share of the 12 million copies printed so far in the United States.

Off to See the Wizard

Lombardi, along with a handful of friends from Valley Stream on New York's Long Island dressed in homemade Hogwarts uniforms, were the first to arrive at the Toys R Us in Times Square at 2:00 yesterday afternoon, 10 hours before the book's release.

To help the time go by, the group played board games like "Guess Who," debated which of them was the biggest Harry Potter fan and, according to Jeana Fucello, one of Lombardi's friends, threatened to beat up anyone that tried to spoil the new book for them.

While the book has already been released overseas, controversy struck in the states when several American newspapers ran reviews of the book they had obtained ahead of publication. According to Fucello, however, it shouldn't matter.

"True fans don't want to know about the spoilers," said the purple haired Fucello with lightening bolt earrings dangling.

But only feet behind Lombardi's cheerful crew of Hogwart's students yesterday afternoon was a more menacing figure -- a dark wizard complete with staff and hooded cape to obscure his face as he brushed up on all things magic in the "Wizardology Handbook" splayed across his lap.

Upon looking up, however, the face of 14-year-old Gabriel Barzola was far less intimidating than one may imagine a dark wizard's to be.

"I've read all of them," Barzola said, smiling and shyly referring to previous Harry Potter books. "And if I had powers now, I'd teleport in there and get one."

'Like a Kid Again'

In an example of the book's appeal to all ages, also near the front of the line was 42-year-old Greg Packer, sporting his own lightening bolt sticker in homage to the series' main character.

"I like the wizardry and the enchantment," explained Packer, who was one of hundreds of adults in line. "It breaks up the everyday life for adults. It's a chance to feel like a kid again."

Packer's sentiments seemed to be supported by a recent study done by the Nielsen Company, which reported that in the last two Harry Potter movies, more than a quarter of the audience was more than 35 years old.

Nineteen-year-old Fucello believes age has little bearing in the world of Harry Potter: "Harry Potter makes you feel like you can do something no matter who you are or how old or young you are."

Unable to control a broad smile after purchasing his book, Packer seemed to feel and look like a kid again as he excitedly repeated, "I got it," to anyone nearby.

Seven Successes

Sales expectations are high for the 12 million copies of the final installment which have been printed -- 1.2 million more than the last novel.

Comparing to the first novel, of which only 50,000 copies were initially printed, it's possible to gauge the enormous popularity growth the broom-riding wizard has gained since his start in 1998.

Since then, five movies have been made from the novels, raking in more than $4 billion worldwide.

When the fourth book, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," hit shelves in 2000, it sold 3 million copies in the first weekend alone, making it the fastest selling book in history at the time.

However, those numbers mean little to Fucello and determined fans like her.

They are only focused on one number now: 784. That's how many pages are in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," and that's how many she claims she will read before she sleeps.

"I didn't sleep after I got the last one. I'm going to read this one on the train home and keep reading it," she explained proudly. "There will be no sleep for a while."