Turning back time to a magical Harry Potter book release

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Fourteen-year-old Jacob Walker, now a BYU senior, gets ready to open the major bookstore chain, Waterstone, for the Harry otter 6 book release in England. (Joseph Walker)
Fourteen-year-old Jacob Walker, now a BYU senior, gets ready to open the major bookstore chain, Waterstone, for the Harry Potter 6 book release in England. (Joseph Walker)

Jakob Walker, a BYU student from Deeping St. Nicholas, England, was one of the first people to see the “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” book just over nine years ago. He was recognized as an honorary wizard as he opened the doors of the Waterstones bookstore to hundreds of Harry Potter fans the night of the book release.

An excited young “wizard’s” dream come true

Walker heard of a contest on the radio one day as he changed the station from his mother’s “old person radio station” to the “one with the cool music and presenters.”

“I had read all the books up until that point and loved everything about the Harry Potter world,” Walker said. “I wanted to enter because I wanted to be involved with all of the magic of a new Harry Potter book.”

Each day of the week Walker’s “cool” radio station took a winner from the person calling on “lucky line number nine.” At the end of the week it selected a final winner to open the bookstore the night of the release.

“I remember they called me up right before school started, and I was parked outside the school gates with my mum,” Walker said. “School was already starting, but I didn’t care. They spun a wheel over the airwaves, and I could hear it slowing down until they finally announced that I had won.”

Fourteen-year-old Walker couldn’t believe it.

He arrived at the bookstore a few hours before midnight with his family the night of the release. Bookstore employees wore shirts with a big golden “M” on them to stand for “muggle.” Walker got a special shirt with a “W” for “wizard.”

Every second counted for everyone involved. The store had to make sure no one cracked open a cover before it was time.

Waterstones had the book two days before the release, but Walker said the store manager had to stay and protect the books for two days straight. “She said she had gone two whole days without sleep,” he said. “Poor thing.”

The manager took him through the back door to the main store. “There they were, stacked up high in pyramids all across the store front,” Walker said. “The eerie green ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.'”

Walker may have been one of the first readers to see the book, but he still had to abide by the rules.

“I wanted to go and touch it and open it,” he said. “But the manager wouldn’t let me read a word of it before the clocks turned midnight.”

As the clocks ticked closer to the hour, he went to the doors, “ready to … let in the huge crowds of people who were lining up outside.”

Once it finally turned midnight, Walker tore back the paper covering the windows and let the fans and their screams pour inside.

“It really was a magical night,” Walker said. He went home with a crate full of free books, including the sixth Harry Potter book, which he loved. He said it’s one of his favorites.

Walker said he didn’t enjoy reading much as a kid, but when it came to Harry Potter, he couldn’t put the books down. He’s read each book at least twice and seen each movie at least three times.

“If that makes me a big fan, I suppose I am,” Walker said. “I just love the books.”

Potterheads around the globe: A cross-cultural phenomenon

Bookstores in America held parties for Harry Potter fans eager to get the “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” book, but these parties varied in intensity. Can America hold a candle to Britain’s devotion?

Shiralea Woodhouse, a diehard Harry Potter fan, went to a book release party for the sixth Harry Potter at WalMart in Orem. The party had games and trivia, and some shoppers dressed up. But Woodhouse wasn’t very impressed. “(It) wasn’t super thrilling,” she said.

Woodhouse’s neighbor, Amy Peterson, took matters into her own hands when it came to planning a unique but unifying party for her daughter’s 16th birthday.

Peterson spent a month making things like butterbeer and a wax-sealed Hogwarts acceptance-letter-styled invitation (delivered by handmade owls dropped on doorsteps). Candles graced the Peterson’s Great Hall. She also made party favors like boxed-up puking pastilles, chocolate frogs and a leather Tom Riddle diary filled with Harry Potter trivia questions. “We had a lot of fun,” she said.

Peterson said her daughter’s friends all loved Harry Potter and could relate to the characters. “It brought everyone together,” she said.

Walker relates to Potter fans (also known as Potterheads) who love the books because of the story’s magic.

“I think that the whole idea of a magical world out there is every little kid’s fantasy,” he said. “Being able to do spells and discover new creatures and places. What is not to love?”

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