Spoiled

It’s 7 a.m. Friday morning outside the Barnes & Noble at the Grove, and the line for collecting wristbands allowing wearers to return and purchase a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at the stroke of midnight is growing steadily. With two hours to go before the store opens, conversations drift from theories about Snape (good or evil?) and whether J.K. Rowling could possibly kill off Harry, to speculation over who has been posting Harry Potter spoilers on the Internet and whether or not they are accurate.

The woman behind me in line — I’m 12th, she’s 13th — wonders, What are we to believe? I chime in with the crazy spoilers I’ve seen: Snape kills Ron, Ron kills Snape, Bellatrix kills Neville, Neville kills Bellatrix . . . Suddenly, I notice that the guy in front of me, lucky number 11, has his fingers in his ears and an annoyed expression. He is a serious Potterhead and more than a little spoiler-sensitive, particularly after the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, where it was easy to ruin the entire book with one simple sentence, hollered out of a car in a bookstore drive-by: “Snape kills Dumbledore!”

I wave my hands to protest my innocence. “I’m not sharing spoilers, I’m really not,” I say loudly. “I’m just saying how everything I read on the Internet contradicts everything else. None of it makes sense.”

The man takes his fingers out of his ears, looking a little skeptical.

“I wouldn’t spoil the book for you, not that I know anything that would spoil it anyway,” I say to reassure him. “I didn’t look at any of those photographs.” Everyone in line knows about the guy who created a media feeding frenzy when he got ahold of the embargoed book and photographed every page, then posted it all on the Internet.

As we discuss everything we know about the controversy — that the perp is most likely a man, that he is a sloppy photographer who let a Coke can and his own brown shoe show in nearly every picture — a reconnaissance man for Adam Carolla’s radio show surveys the line. We see him speak into a voice recorder, explaining to an unseen presence that he is the only black person at the event.

Then he looks a little closer at all of us and starts picking out people who look black to him, after all.

“Oh, he’s here to talk to all the ethnic geeks,” says a recently arrived friend of number 13. (Later, the newcomer proves to be a feisty line-cutting deterrent, promising to “put a spell on the ass” of anyone who tries any funny stuff.)

As the Carolla guy gets on with his purposely obnoxious questions, I look down and notice a gray-haired man with his fingers in his ears, sitting and working on a newspaper crossword puzzle.

I lean down to talk close to his face. “The interview he’s doing isn’t giving away any spoilers,” I say loudly.

“Oh, it’s not that,” he says. “I just don’t like the turn of the conversation.” Using his chin, he points up toward the Carolla guy and the girl he’s interviewing.

Nine a.m. arrives, and finally we are invited to the third-floor cash registers to get our bands. But when we arrive, an unfamiliar woman in a yellow shirt appears at the front of the line. Where did she come from? The people at the front of the line, the ones who have been waiting since 6 a.m., demand justice. But instead of throwing out the interloper, the store manager, already weary at the thought of 15 more hours of Harry Potter fandom, turns on the first-in-liners and gruffly tells them to calm down. The line-cutter refuses to budge. One of the wronged fans zooms to the register, ready to take down the manager’s name. No longer concerned about spoilers, I look back at the line woven like an angry snake throughout the entire third floor and begin to worry about my own safety. We could use that spell from number 13’s friend.

Then, miraculously, the yellow-shirted line-cutter steps to the side of the register and stays there. Was there a wizard in the house?

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