Jim Dale was having dinner with his wife at a New York restaurant when his rich English accent caught the ears of two girls nearby.

"They came over to us and said, 'Are you . . . are you HIM?' " Dale recalled with a laugh.

"I assured them that I was HIM and proceeded to order a hamburger as Professor Dumbledore: 'I think I'd rather like a cheeseburger -- well done, with onions on the side,' " Dale said, slowing his voice and stretching out his words to sound very much like an ancient wizard. "The girls were amazed."

Jim Dale, you see, is the voice of Dumbledore. He's also the voice of Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy and the more than 200 other characters who populate J.K. Rowling's books about the boy wizard.

Dale has recorded all six books in the series so far, for tape and CD. He talked with KidsPost's Tracy Grant last week over lunch (it was a bit like dining with Vernon Dursley, Dobby and Severus Snape all at once) about what it's like to read a 652-page book aloud, how he keeps a secret and how he comes up with all those voices.

How do you go about doing the audiobooks?

Imagine sitting in a closet with a glass window and a microphone and having three people on the other side of the glass waiting for you to make a mistake and telling you to start over. And there are lots of things that are mistakes, for example:

* My stomach rumbles.

* I turn a page [too loudly].

* I fluff a word.

* I forget whose voice I'm supposed to be doing.

How long does it take?

I'll get a thick manuscript of the book on a Saturday and will go into the studio to start recording the next Monday. I'll read from 9:30 to 4, six days a week for several weeks, to complete a book. Each night, I'll go over the pages I'm to read the next day. I'll invent new voices and try not to take phone calls or talk to my wife -- to rest my voice.

You get to read the book before just about anyone else. What's it like to have to keep that kind of secret?

One of my grandchildren said to me: "Tell me who's going to die."

I told him, "I'm not allowed to tell."

He said, "You don't have to tell me; you can write it on a piece of paper."

Truthfully, having a secret like this makes you want to stand on the rooftop and shout, "I know something you don't know."

Do you have a favorite book in the series?

This one . . . the Half-Baked Prince [he laughs]. It's more grown up. When the series started, [Rowling] was writing about young kids. But in this book they're a little older and a little deeper.

Do you have a favorite character?

I don't really. I've been in each of their heads. I love each and every one of them.

Jim Dale has voiced more than 200 characters for the Harry Potter audiobooks.