Dumbledore lowered his hands and surveyed Harry through his half-moon glasses. "This," he said, "is a load of cobblers." Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was about to become the fastest selling book in history with copies crossing the tills at eight copies a second. "They're great stories but the hype is absurd."
He was still queuing, though. As the pretend Professor Dumbledore stood on the draughty concourse at King's Cross waiting for the iron shutters of WH Smith to open, the book was about to be released simultaneously in North America, Australia and in English editions across a world gone Harry potty. There were fire-eaters outside book stores in Johannesburg, witches in Padua and wizards in Paris. They were riding a replica Hogwarts Express through Sydney, queueing in Beijing and playing quidditch on the sidewalk in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. If the publishers don't sell all the 13 million copies printed it will not be for lack of effort.
"It's all bloody nonsense," said the bearded man with a beery chuckle as a six-year-old boy called Guy posed for the photographers in his velvet Hogwarts school coat and Harry Potter glasses. "I'm here because I want to know what happens next and I want to read it before my son," said the fake Dumbledore, who was in disguise "because I don't want my wife to know I'm here". She would probably have found him out otherwise, as the press almost outnumbered the customers. "This is absolutely daft. It is a triumph of globalisation. You can quote me as a man in a ridiculous beard."
Nobody was quite sure when midnight came. "You can't trust a station clock any more," said an elderly woman in a starry robe.
"I'm not going to wait to be told," said a compère in bright orange trousers, the fiendish love child of Timmy Mallet and Arthur Askey, as he led the countdown and the shutters came up. Shop staff were still ripping open the boxes and stacking the shelves as Gillian Hammerton grabbed her copy. She was first in line, and therefore one of five customers to take away a bookplate signed by J K Rowling. As a woman in her 50s who was carrying a witch's broom and with a son who looked not unlike an older Harry, she was soon surrounded by photographers.
"The reason I think Harry Potter is so successful is that he is a victim," she said. "He has been a marginalised and lonely child - there are many of those - and he makes himself into a hero by taking risks and being adventurous."
As she spoke the police were arresting a man in a linen suit for being abusive. A suited commuter sat with his head in his hands having missed the 23.41 to Welwyn Garden City, while a lad with a shaven head tried to persuade a security guard he should be allowed on to platform nine and three quarters. King's Cross was where J K Rowling once stepped off a train from Manchester with an idea for a character called Harry in her head, and it is where the Hogwarts Express leaves from. The children find the hidden platform by pushing their luggage trolleys through a brick pillar, an adventure replicated outside the store.
"You can't go on it," said the guard, two feet shorter than the drunk.
"But it's my dream," he said, biting a burger.
She smiled. "Then dream on."
At Waterstone's in Piccadilly they had 1,000 people and celebrities such as Meera Syal. At King's Cross we had a queue of not many more than 100 people and the man in the blue overalls whose job it was to keep the station clean. Oh, and Linda Robson from Birds of a Feather who had brought her children. The concourse was empty within the hour.
Jesse Turner, seven, had come from Hackney with her dad, who read the books to her at bedtime. "Hermione is my favourite," she said. "She's funny, and bossy." Andy Turner, her father, was disappointed by the book launch. "It feels like a fairground without any rides. I can't believe I have been watching people push a shopping trolley through a fibreglass pillar and getting cheered for it."
But that's the power of Potter: the ability to make children and adults alike suspend disbelief and enter another world. As Jonah Thompson, one of many children smart enough to wait until morning before besieging the shops, said at Waterstone's yesterday morning: "I like Harry Potter books because they are magic. I don't have magic, so I like reading about it."
Additional reporting: Maureen Isaacson
A BIG fan's verdict
Imogen McSmith, Aged 11
We've waited three years for the fifth Harry Potter book and now it's come out, is it worth all this fuss? Well, I can tell you for a fact that it is.
I've been a BIG Harry Potter fan ever since I was six, when my mum first read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to me. I have all five books and the two Comic Relief books (Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), all of the series on audio cassette, as well as a board game, video, computer game, socks and toothbrush!
This book might not have murderous rats, three-headed dogs or 50ft dragons but I still think it's the best so far because it's got so much more action and things happening.
Harry's now 15 and is turning into an angry, sulky teenager. The summer holidays, which are usually pretty awful for poor Harry, seem to be his worst. Ron, Hermione and Sirius are writing annoyingly short letters which don't inform him of what is happening with Voldemort and the wizarding world (and the Daily Prophet and the Muggle News aren't much help either). Meanwhile, Harry finds out that one of his hated neighbours is a "squib"; Aunt Petunia refuses to tell him about her mysterious contacts with the magical world and there is a less than pleasant surprise for Harry and Dudley near Privet Drive.
Then a band of wizards turns up at his house and takes him to the home of Sirius, his wrongly convicted godfather ...
Harry's school life becomes very hard with half the school thinking he and Dumbledore are loonies and the strange new defence against the dark arts teacher (female, for once) who insists on giving Harry the sickest and most twisted detentions imaginable.
This is a brilliant piece of writing. Humorous, emotional and scary are rolled into one and there are even a few romantic bits. (Like when Cho and Harry were left in a concealed room all alone ...)
People thought that the reason J K Rowling took so long was because she'd got bored so the book was going to be boring, but that can't be the reason, and I've seen the living proof!