| Rowling with Daniel Radcliffe who plays the central character in the film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. (Reuters)
New York, Dec. 29: It is a story every bit as moving and magical as her Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling, the world’s most famous children’s author, has donated $100,000 to the memory of a young American girl whose battle against terminal cancer left, in the writer’s words, “footprints on my heart”.
The friendship between the Edinburgh-based writer and Catie Hoch, a Harry Potter fan from Albany, New York, is revealed for the first time today. It includes details of the touching emails between the two and of a transatlantic phone call in which Rowling — or Jo, as she signed herself — read Catie extracts of her latest, unpublished Harry Potter book.
The friendship between the millionaire author and Catie began in early 2000, some three years after the then six-year-old had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer that began in her kidneys and spread to her liver, lungs and spine.
Her mother, Gina Peca, had read the first three Harry Potter books to Catie, who was such a fan that she would wear her Harry Potter outfit, complete with big round glasses and a red cape, as she travelled to hospital from her home.
“I dreaded ending the third book as I knew that Catie would not be alive for book four,” Peca told The Telegraph last week. She sent an email to the book’s publishers with a message for J.K. Rowling, asking when the fourth book would be finished and telling of the joy that the books had brought to Catie’s life.
A few weeks later, a reply came that had Catie and her mother screaming for joy. It read: “I am working very hard on book four at the moment — on a bit that involves some new creatures Hagrid has brought along for the Care of Magical Creatures classes. He calls them Blast-Ended Skrewts — they look like headless lobsters.
“This is all top secret, so you are allowed to tell [some close friends] and your Mum, but no one else or you’ll be getting an owl from the Ministry of Magic. It is clear to me… that you are an extremely brave person and a true Gryffindor. With lots of love, J.K. Rowling (Jo to anybody in Gryffindor).”
After Catie replied, Rowling, whose daughter Jessica is nine, was back in touch: “I still haven’t finished book four and — oh, dear — it is long. Do you think people will mind' I seem to have collected an awful lot of characters along the way, and they all want to appear and of course, there are new ones, too.”
Catie told Rowling of her hope of getting a husky puppy, whom she would name after the Harry Potter books, to join her two golden retrievers.
Rowling responded by saying she had been bitten by a husky that “looked like a large wolf” while teaching in Mexico. “I’ve gone off huskies a bit now,” she wrote. “I am, however, very jealous that you’ve got two golden retrievers. I love dogs.”
Catie assured her new friend that her husky would be a good dog, generating the reply: “So now I know: Siberian huskies are the ones to buy! Maybe the husky that bit me was a wolf!”
Rowling sent Catie a stuffed toy of Pigwidgeon, an owl from the new book, and later responded to the little girl’s thank you message: “I’m so glad Pigwidgeon got there all right because (as you find out in book four) he’s not a very reliable owl — a bit over-enthusiastic.”
Catie’s condition began to deteriorate. Her mother emailed Rowling to tell her that Catie could no longer use her computer. A few days later, the author offered to read extracts to Catie from the then unpublished book four.
“Dear Gina,” she wrote. “I am so, so, so sorry. Is there anything I can do for Catie' Could I call her' If you give me a number and a time that would be convenient, I will do it, if you think she would enjoy it. I am thinking about you so much. Please let me know if I can do anything. Much love, Jo.”
So it happened that, at home in upstate New York, a little girl with cancer became the first person in the world to hear the latest adventures of Harry Potter, later published as The Goblet of Fire.