PARENTS, don't count on taking your kids on any outings this weekend if you buy the new Harry Potter book when it goes on sale at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. Children -- and plenty of adults -- surely will be occupied reading about Harry's new adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (Or they'll be sleeping, after staying up til dawn reading.)
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the much-anticipated sixth installment in the J.K. Rowling fantasy series, will arrive as the culmination of many store celebrations Friday night. Many independent bookstores and virtually all the big book chains plan festivities.
The 25 metropolitan Borders bookstores will host "Midnight Magic" parties at 9 p.m., where kids can make star catchers, masks, potions and invisible ink; get face paintings and temporary tattoos; pick up bookmarks and other freebies; and munch on Bertie Bott's jelly beans in the store cafes. Borders spokeswoman Beth Bingham said a company poll showed 60 percent of children ages 6 to 17 surveyed said they planned to read the new 672-page book -- 25 percent of those within the first 24 hours. Bingham declined to say how many copies customers have pre-ordered but said it's greater than 750,000, the number sold on June 21, 2003, the day the fifth Potter book came out.
In addition to Harry Potter parties at its 14 greater Washington locations, Barnes & Noble has scheduled a taped broadcast interview online at 7:20 p.m. with Rowling from Edinburgh Castle (www.barnesandnoble.com). The chain is calling all Muggles to costume contests at the Ellicott City store (Long Gate Shopping Center, 4300 Montgomery Rd.; 410-203-9001) and the Baltimore Power Plant store (601 E. Pratt St.; 410-385-1709). At other stores, activities and party times vary, but all begin by 9 p.m. and promise games and activities for the whole family. On Monday, Barnes & Noble announced its pre-order sales in stores and online surpassed 1 million.
Vertigo Books (7346 Baltimore Ave., College Park; 301-779-9300) will entertain customers beginning at 10:30 p.m. with a magician and fortuneteller. There will be refreshments and activities for children.
Politics and Prose (5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-364-1919) will close its store at 11 p.m. and party in the back parking lot til midnight as customers line up for the book. There will be snacks, a costume contest, magic acts, crossword puzzles, trivia questions and refreshments. When "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" was published two years ago, a fan arrived by taxi at 1:10 a.m. to buy a copy, said Jewell Stoddard, head of the children's department. Please, let the booksellers conclude sales by 12:30 a.m. or so and get some rest -- they'll have a busy Saturday.
The 11 Books-a-Million stores in the metropolitan area also have plenty of activities in store. Starting at 8 p.m., expect trivia games, magic shows, a costume contest, a drawing for a free copy of the "Half-Blood Prince," crafts projects and more. Harry Potter-licensed merchandise will include Quidditch goggles, Harry's spectacles, Gryffindor scarves, LightWedge Lumos book lights, Droobles Best Blowing Gum (intense blue gum balls) and Fizzing Whizbees (popping candy).
Library patrons will have to wait until Saturday morning to borrow the book. The Fairfax County Public Library will open at 10 a.m. as usual to start lending copies, beginning with the 90 foresightful library patrons who reserved the book Dec. 21, when the publisher announced the release date. As of Tuesday, the library had 1,459 requested holds on its 327 hardcover copies, 321 holds on its 53 audio copies and 72 holds on its 20 large-print copies.
-- Jeanne Maglaty