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HARRY FOR THE HARRIED

How do you fake having read seven Potter books? Try Colette's Notes.

Wherever you go this week, everybody and his Aunt Petunia are yammering about Hagrid and horcruxes and Hogwarts.

Forget about Bratny and Brangelina. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the pop culture topic du jour.

But maybe you've never read a word of J.K. Rowling's seven books. Never even seen the movies. So you're feeling like a real Muggle.

Or you would, if you knew what that meant.

With Deathly Hallows selling at a rate of 50,000 copies a minute in the United States last weekend, you may be wondering: Do I really have to read a 759-page book just to hold up my end of the conversation?

Never fear, my little Butterbeer. Here are some Harry Potter talking points to help you fake it until the magical chatter dies down - probably not more than a couple of months from now.

- Harry Potter is an orphan whose parents were killed by the evil wizard Voldemort, also known as He Who Must Not Be Named, sometimes confused with Darth Vader and/or Dick Cheney. Voldemort tried to kill baby Harry, too, but his spell backfired and left him disembodied. This did not teach Voldemort to be nice. Don't hiss when he's mentioned, though. You'll sound like his pet, Nagini.

- Hogwarts is not a spell that causes an embarrassing skin condition; it's the name of the school Harry Potter and his friends attend to learn how to use their magical powers. It is way cooler than any school you ever went to. That includes you, Gators.

- Harry's best friends are Ron Weasley, who loves sports and isn't crazy about schoolwork, and Hermione (that's her-MY-oh-nee) Granger. Depending on your point of view, Hermione is a brilliant scholar or an annoying know-it-all. Certain women will love being told they're like Hermione; others emphatically won't. If you haven't really read the books, don't risk a guess.

- Harry and his pals are wizards and witches, which are human beings born with magical powers. Any human who does not have magical powers is a Muggle. Muggles can have magical babies; an example is Hermione, whose parents are dentists.

- Almost as compelling a character as Harry - and much more controversial - is Severus Snape, Hogwarts' Potions master and Harry's nemesis. Or is he? Whether Snape is revealed in Deathly Hallows as good, evil or something else is a much knottier question than Harry's fate. Attempting to fake this one is as perilous as petting a blast-ended skrewt; if pressed, shake your head and say you're still thinking about why Snape said "Look at me" to Harry in Chapter 32.

Finally, here are a few bons mots that will help you sound like just one more happy Harry geek.

After a bad day at work: "My boss is such a jerk, I'd rather work for Dolores Umbridge."

About a rookie having a bad year: "Yeah, he's got as much chance of a second season as a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."

When someone mentions Voldemort, gasp a little and say, "Please, don't say his name!"

To gracefully bow out of the conversation altogether: "Stop! Don't spoil it! I'm only on Page 245!"

That will work for about a week; after that, you'll just sound as dumb as Crabbe and Goyle.

Who? Sorry, Muggle, you're on your own.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at bancroft@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8435.

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Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they will play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of the news. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at mike@sptimes.com or (727)892-2924.

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