Long after the dogs and cats were called home last Friday night, after the curtains were drawn and the windows went dark - Roland Park fell silent. Except for the rustle of a slight summer breeze, everything was still. And everything, it seemed, was ordinary.
Then, exactly five minutes before midnight, things in the leafy North Baltimore neighborhood took a peculiar turn.
The doors of the Children's Bookstore on Deepdene Road flew open, and out of the tiny shop burst 17 men, women and teen-agers, arms filled with cardboard boxes and plastic bags. Dividing themselves among seven cars, the small army sped off in different directions, equipped with a list of names and addresses and hand-drawn maps. Each of the volunteer delivery people wore a black baseball hat on which was written in neon yellow letters: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
At about the same time, porch lights were aglow at the home of 11-year-old Eva Metz. Rather than closed, the curtains here were still open. The beloved family dog was turning nervous circles in the dining room, and the front door - marked with a hand-drawn sign reading "Please knock, bell broken" - was ajar. Although it was two hours past her bedtime, Eva showed no signs of sleepiness. Dressed in pajamas and giant, fuzzy slippers, she peered out the door, quivering with anticipation.
"She's been waiting months for this," explained her mother, Mary Porter. "She's read the first four books about seven times."
"Like, 10 times," Eva corrected, her eyes fixed on the street in front of the house.
To prepare for the arrival of the fifth in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, Eva and her mother had filled a cooler with enough snacks to last the little girl through the night: four Coca-Colas, one Sprite, one Gatorade, several Jell-O pudding cups, pretzels, mini-muffins and cookies.
"I'm going to stay up all night reading," Eva declared. "And if I start to fall asleep, I'll just have another Coke."
In the three years since she read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the first book in the series, Eva has grown from a little girl who was easily made nervous into a stalwart Harry Potter aficionado. "I remember when I used to have to read some parts really fast because I was scared to know what happened," she said. "But that was, like, three years ago. Now I'm not scared."
Like the heroine Hermione, her favorite Harry Potter character, Eva is chestnut-haired, brown-eyed and precocious. "I like Hermione because she's really smart and nice, and she likes animals," she said.
In the weeks leading up to its release, rumors about the book's plot - which was reportedly known only to five people - were rampant. Rowling herself revealed that one of her main characters dies in this book; Eva hopes it's not RonWeasly, Potter's best friend at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
`What time is it now?'
By 12:30 a.m., Eva had nearly finished her first bottle of soda. She tugged at her mother's arm. "What time is it now?" she asked. Her mother, an attorney, looked weary.
Then, the sound of a car engine came from the street. Eva froze for a moment, then rushed out of the house and ran down the front walk. Seconds later she appeared in the foyer, clutching a neatly wrapped, brown-paper package topped with two Harry Potter posters and a small golden Quidditch ball - of the sort used in the fantastical game played by Harry and his schoolmates while flying on broomsticks. Ripping the paper off the package, Eva let out a high-pitched squeal. With the big blue book in her hand - 870 pages, 2.2 pounds - she bounded up the stairs and disappeared into her bedroom.
Throughout the city, similarly happy children - and some adults - were eagerly opening their copies of the new Harry Potter book. Like the Children's Bookstore, other booksellers also marked the occasion by throwing parties or staying open past midnight.
At each, the owners had signed a contract with Rowling's publisher, Scholastic, in which they agreed not to sell any books before Saturday morning at 12:01. Until Friday changed to Saturday, then, JoAnn Fruchtman, the owner of Children's Bookstore, kept her copies safely packaged in boxes that remained hidden beneath the shop's stairwell. Each box was marked with the instructions: "Do not open until June 21, 2003."
Although the bookstore has never before delivered books, Fruchtman said, "I wanted to do something special for our customers, and I thought it would be fun."
The delivery team
The members of her delivery team seemed to agree. Debbie Nelson, an employee of the store dressed in a gray sweat suit and running shoes, said she had been looking forward to delivering the books all week. "The thrill of getting a new book into kids' hands this fast is something I've never experienced," she said. "Plus, it's Harry Potter history."
Although many of the delivery people met with bathrobe-clad parents, some had the delight of handing the book over to wide-eyed children like Eva.