December 30, 1999
Ms. J.K. Rowling
c/o Scholastic Publications
New York, NY 10012
Dear Ms. Rowling,
I'm writing to you for two reasons. First, to tell you that,
like most of the rest of the world's population, I very much enjoy the
books in your Harry Potter series. I work as a Youth Services Librarian
(a fancy title for a Children's Librarian) at the Public Library in Everett
City, New York. I've been reading the books not only because of
their popularity with children, but because I like the stories and characters.
Thank you so much for telling their tales.
Second, I'd like to relate two incidents I think you'll find of interest.
Our library recently planned the first of several programs based
on your books, and three days ago I was in an upstairs office in the library,
cataloging some of our new materials, when one of our clerks on the front
desk called up and told me there was a patron at the desk and would I
please come down to talk to him. Right now.
When I got to the bottom of the inside front stairs, I found the clerk
with a tall, lean man with dark hair and dark eyes. Although he
was well-dressed in black slacks, a dark green turtleneck sweater, and
a long black coat, there was something rather, well, unsavory about him.
I could see why he was making the clerk nervous. Nevertheless, I
put on my best public-service smile and introduced myself.
"I'm the Children's Librarian," I told him. "What can I do for
As I spoke, the man was pulling off a pair of black leather gloves.
With a jerk of his head, he remarked in an accented voice, "You can explain
"That" turned out to be our flyer for our Harry Potter program, which
we had entitled "An Afternoon at Hogwarts". "Oh," I said, "that's
a program we've been planning. It's based on the Harry Potter books.
Have you read any of them?"
"No," the man replied irritably, tilting his head back so that he was
staring at me down his nose. "But I am...familiar...with them."
"Do you have any children who've read them?"
I was beginning to wonder if he was one of those people who wanted to
ban the books because of the whole magic-and-the-occult issue. "Then
you know about them--"
"I teach," he interrupted.
"Oh," I said, smiling, "then you're probably inundated with them at school."
At this point the clerk scurried away from the desk to help a patron who
was waving at her frantically from the computer across the room, leaving
me to deal with our visitor. "Well, the program is a variety of
activities based on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
The man muttered, "The Sorcerer's Stone," sourly, and frowned at me.
"It's called The Philosopher's Stone in most of the rest of the
world," I explained. "We've got 28 children signed up, and we'll
be taking them upstairs to the dining room and the back of the library.
We'll start with a reading from the book, then 'sort' them into the four
houses at the Hogwarts School. I know that some of my fellow librarians
have chosen not to include Slytherin--"
"NOT include Slytherin?--"
"Well, yes; some people seem to think that Slytherin has a, ah, bad reputation.
But that's not the case here," I said firmly. I noticed that his
chin had come down about half an inch at this. "We wanted to be
as true to the books as we could. And there are, after all, some
children who we figure will actually want to be in Slytherin.
Besides," I added, smiling, "I get to be acting Head of House for Slytherin
for the afternoon." The reason behind that was that no one else
on the staff had wanted the role, and I didn't mind playing the "bad guy"
for a couple of hours.
The man's chin came down another half an inch. "You?" He
folded his arms and stared at me. "Forgive me, but you don't seem
At that I laughed. "Well, some of my former students, from when
I was a school librarian, would probably argue with you about that.
They would tell you that I'm admirably suited to be in Slytherin because
I'm a mean, rotten, miserable person with a terrible personality."
I paused and shrugged. "Of course, if they hadn't insisted on coming
to the library and sitting around with their feet up on the tables and
yelling things at each other across the room and stealing the daily newspaper
and making obnoxious, insulting comments to the faculty members, they
might not have had to see the dark side of my personality."
By now the man had lowered his head to the point where he was actually
looking me in the eye instead of at me down his nose. There was
a hint of a smile around his mouth. "It's all a matter of perspective,
isn't it?" he asked dryly.
I nodded and chuckled. "I'll say."
"So. What else will be happening at this program?"
"We'll be decorating 'magic wands'," here I wiggled the first two fingers
of both hands in the air to signify the quotation marks around the words,
"and making owls out of paper bags; then we'll have refreshments and a
team trivia contest, with questions based on the first book. We've
got puzzles and book marks and stickers for people to take home.
There's more than that, but those are the high points."
"I see." By now he was leaning against the circulation desk, which
brought his eyes a little closer to my level.
"We're in the process of decorating the dining room to look like the
Great Hall at the school," I continued. "We're putting stars on
the ceiling to simulate the night sky, we've found a really neat painting
of a desolate castle that could be Azkaban," here he quirked his eyebrows
at the mention of the prison's name, "and we're making owls to go in an
owlrey off the main room. We've also got a lovely carved wood cabinet
we're going to turn into a Potion Supply Cabinet."
One corner of his mouth had twitched upward into a half-smile.
"Really." He straightened and stepped away from the desk.
"Would you by any chance have a moment to show it to me?"
"Um, sure." I told the clerk we were going up to the dining room
and led the way to the back staircase. Getting a look at him in
profile, I could see that his hair was actually shoulder-length and had
been pulled back into a small ponytail. As we neared the stairs,
I tried some small talk. "Sounds like you're from Great Britain.
I'll bet the Harry Potter books are even more popular there than they
are here," I remarked, unhitching the rope with its "Staff Only" sign
from its hook. "What in the world are you doing here?"
He was a step behind me going up the stairs. "I'm attending the
Educators' Conferences at the local university. It's our Christmas
I unhooked the second sign at the top of the stairs. "And you just
wandered over to our library?" I was turning on the lights and leading
the way into the dining room.
"Someone mentioned your program, and I was...curious," he replied as
we halted in front of the cabinet.
The cabinet had come from Italy, and was over a hundred years old.
There were all kinds of leaves carved in the wood frames around the glass
doors of the upper half of the cabinet, and figures of what looked like
knights around the bottom half. The clawed feet looked like small
dragons' or gargoyles' paws; on the whole, it was a perfect Potions Supply
Cabinet. Usually filled with old, classic books and the busts of
famous authors whose names no one remembered, the cabinet now held an
assortment of glass bottles, curiously-shaped canisters, a frog-shaped
pitcher donated by our library director, and tiny labels explaining what
was supposed to be in each container.
My visitor bent down and squinted at the bottom shelf of the cabinet's
contents. I began giving him the background on the labels.
"We tried to find ingredients that were either listed in the books themselves
or in other texts on magic." He was nodding at this, still examining
the labels. "We actually had one jar labeled 'monkshood' and another
as 'wolfsbane', but then I remembered from the account of Professor Snape's
lecture in the first book that they were both the same thing, so I removed
one and put a different label in instead."
The man straightened. "Just so." He actually smiled this
time. "You appear to have done your homework. But I don't
see any of the ingredients for the more advanced potions. No powdered
bicorn horn or, ah, shredded boomslang skin?"
I thought for a moment. "Oh, no, those wouldn't be out here," I
told him in my best lecture voice. "This is meant to be a student
supply case. If I recall correctly, the ingredients you're talking
about were mentioned in Book Two as being in Professor Snape's private
stash. You know, when Harry and his friends had to create a diversion
so they could steal them for a potion they were making?"
All of a sudden the man's eyes narrowed and his mouth hardened.
"So that's where --" He stared at me for a moment, then turned his
head to glare out the window.
I put a hand over my mouth. "Oh, I'm sorry," I apologized.
"I forgot you haven't read Book Two. I'm sorry if I spoiled something
For a moment he was silent, still staring out the window. Then
some of the tension left his face and he looked back at me. "Not
at all," he said in a reasonable tone. "Actually, I'm grateful for
the information." He glanced around the room, and his gaze came
to rest on the clock. "Well, I won't take up any more of your time,
His eyebrows twitched. "Emigrated from Scotland."
"Four or five generations back." We headed down the back stairs.
"I'm planning a trip to Scotland for next fall, after our summer
reading program here is finished, and I thought I'd take a few days to
ask around over there." I smiled, mostly to myself. "I'd also
like to take a couple of days to swing over to England and do the tourist
My visitor paused at the bottom of the stairs as I replaced the "Staff
Only" sign. "Of course," he said. "I'd certainly recommend
it, especially when you've come all that way already." He smiled,
a smile that finally reached his eyes, if only for a moment. "I
thank you for your time. Good luck with your, ah, program."
"Thanks," I said, putting a hand on the door handle. "I'm looking
forward to it, actually, even though I expect I'll end up with a stress
headache from it afterwards."
"Children can have that effect. Good afternoon to you." He
bowed slightly and swept out the door. As he disappeared around
the corner of the back entrance, I saw him pulling on his gloves.
I have no idea where he went from there, since the building blocks my
view of the parking lot.
To be honest, Ms. Rowling, I'd have written the whole episode off as
one of those entertaining but hardly monumental experience people in public
service have from time to time -- if it hadn't been for the package that
arrived this morning at the library.
We found it on top of the book return box. It was wrapped in brown
paper and tied with white twine. Written on the front was my name,
the library's name, and the street address -- no town, state, or zip code.
There was no return address and no stamps, so someone must have dropped
it off. Along two of the sides there were several small punctures,
as if someone with long fingernails had pierced the paper, but we put
that down to rough handling by whoever had delivered it.
I took it to my office, untied the twine, and pulled off the paper.
The box itself had a cover that slid down over the bottom, and I lifted
it. A breeze ruffled the papers on my desk. When I looked
in the box, I was startled to find not a scrap of packing material.
No crumpled paper, no styrofoam shapes, only the four items the sender
had packed. Given the nature of the items, the lack of packing was
The first item was a dark blue glass bottle with a glass stopper.
Tied to the bottle was a note printed in meticulously neat writing:
two swallows (irregardless of size)
needed more than twice in two days, see a physician.
The second item was a small book with a dark brown cover, entitled Elementary
Potions. Turning the pages, I found instructions for exactly
what the title promised, many of which required ingredients I had no way
of acquiring (although from the descriptions of what the potions did,
it was probably just as well).
The third item was a long, thin box. Inside was a flute-like instrument
that made no sound when I blew into it. The note in the box read
Use this when you get to Scotland.
The final item was a parchment envelope containing a single folded piece
of heavy paper. On the paper was a simple message:
might find these of use. Thank you again for your hospitality and
The signature was an unreadable scrawl.
I took the package and contents out to the front desk and showed them
to the library director and the clerk on duty. We all puzzled over
them, chuckling, and I blew on the flue again to show it didn't work.
Since the director had her back to the window and the clerk was peering
into the box, neither of them saw the brown shape float up from the parking
lot and land on the back entrance railing.
It was an owl.
It stared at me, and for a moment I stared back; then I wiggled my fingers
at it in a kind of wave. It blinked at me, then ruffled its feathers,
launched itself into the air and sailed back around the corner of the
library. I put the flute back into the box.
I'm pleased to report that the program was a great success and that 28
happy children went home from the library that day. As for the items
in the mysterious box: the book was placed in the cabinet upstairs, and
was an object of curiosity for the children who took the time to examine
our display; the bottle of headache medication is sitting on a shelf in
my office, as I haven't needed to use it yet; and the flute is now packed
carefully in one of the side pockets of the suitcase I plan to take to
Scotland next year. I'm very much looking forward to that trip;
I'm quite sure it will be endlessly fascinating.
Thank you very much for your time, Ms. Rowling. My staff, my patrons
and I await with great anticipation your fourth book.
Most sincerely yours,
Youth Services Librarian
Everett City, NY
Author's Note: Any characters and/or situations that sound as though
they came from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books are the property of Ms.
Rowling. Such items would include Hogwarts, Slytherin House, the
Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone, and the concept of postal owls. This story suggested
itself last December when the library for which I work hosted a Harry
Potter program based on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
The descriptions of the library facilities are fairly accurate (although
Everett City is a fictitious place), with some adjustments made for story-telling
purposes. As for the mysterious visitor mentioned in the story,
well, public libraries really do get their share of unusual patrons....