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Fans, sellers prepare for Harry Potter magic

Midnight celebrations will welcome latest volume
/ Source: The Associated Press

From a medieval castle to suburban shopping malls to rural summer camps, fans were getting ready Friday to dress up, line up and stay up to nab the first copies of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

“We’ve been waiting so long, the idea of waiting one minute longer than necessary to get it is dreadful,” said 15-year-old Potter fan Sinead Miller, who lined up outside a London bookstore at 6:30 a.m. along with seven friends.

It has become publishing’s most lucrative, frantic and joyous ritual: Bookstores around the world planned to open just after midnight, when copies of the schoolboy wizard’s latest adventure go on sale. Thousands of people in London were expected amid heightened security in the wake of last week’s terrorists bombings.

“We’re very much of the message that it’s business as usual — London’s open for business and we want to celebrate this book,” said John Webb, children’s buyer at bookseller Waterstone’s, which expects 300,000 people to attend midnight openings at more than 100 stores across Britain.

British publisher Bloomsbury, which expects to sell hundreds of thousands of Potter books this weekend, was gathering 70 competition-winning children from around the world inside the thick stone walls of Edinburgh Castle for a midnight reading by author J.K. Rowling, who lives in the Scottish capital.

Elsewhere, summer camps were planning midnight wake-up calls and waiving package restrictions in anticipation of “Half-Blood Prince,” the penultimate of Rowling’s planned seven-book series. One camp in New Hampshire even planned to forklift books to kids.

Bookshops promised jugglers, fire-eaters, magicians and face-painters to entertain fans eager to unravel the book’s hinted-at mysteries: Will Harry’s teenage friends Ron and Hermione find romance? Which major character will die? What more will Harry learn of his nemesis, the evil Lord Voldemort?

In London, events were muted by the July 7 subway and bus bombings, which killed some 50 people. Book and magazine chain WH Smith announced it was scrapping a planned midnight launch at King’s Cross Station, from whose fictional Platform 9 3/4 Harry catches the train to Hogwarts at the start of each term. At least 26 people died in a bomb blast on a subway near King’s Cross, the deadliest of the day’s four attacks.

Smith spokeswoman Sarah Hodson said it would be “insensitive and inappropriate” to hold the event at the station, but the store would remain open into Saturday morning so fans could purchase the book.

Rowling is richest woman in BritainSince Rowling first introduced Harry and his fellow students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to the world in 1997, the books have become a global phenomenon, selling 270 million copies in 62 languages and inspiring a series of movies. Rowling is now the richest woman in Britain, with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $1 billion.

**FILE**This photo supplied by Scholastic publishers shows the dust jacket cover of the U.S. version of  \"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince\" by J.K.Rowling,  which is expected to be the runaway hit of the summer. The contents of the book, officially set for release this coming Saturday, July 16,2005, has been shrouded in secrecy and its debut has been highly orchestrated to enable everyone -- readers, reviewers, even publishers -- to crack it open all at once. It's the sixth in Rowling's seven-book fantasy series on the young wizard.(AP Photo/Scholastic)
**FILE**This photo supplied by Scholastic publishers shows the dust jacket cover of the U.S. version of \"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince\" by J.K.Rowling, which is expected to be the runaway hit of the summer. The contents of the book, officially set for release this coming Saturday, July 16,2005, has been shrouded in secrecy and its debut has been highly orchestrated to enable everyone -- readers, reviewers, even publishers -- to crack it open all at once. It's the sixth in Rowling's seven-book fantasy series on the young wizard.(AP Photo/Scholastic)SCHOLASTIC

With only brief interruptions, “Half-Blood Prince” has topped the charts of Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com since last December when Rowling announced that she had completed it. Pre-orders worldwide already are in the millions and other Potter products are selling strongly, including the audio book narrated by Jim Dale, a “deluxe” edition of “Half-Blood Prince” and a box set of the previous five books.

Events are planned from New York City — where Dale will read at a Barnes & Noble in Union Square — to Mexico City, where the Libreria Gandhi book store scheduled a midnight sale and a daylong Potter festival on Saturday, even though the book will be available only in English.

Publication has sparked a price war in England, with many chains selling the book for about half the $29.95 cover price. In the United States, the online retailer Alibris.com is offering $5, plus postage, for used copies.

Scholastic Inc., Rowling’s U.S. publisher, is releasing more than 10 million copies. Waterstone’s predicts 2 million copies will be sold in Britain and 10 million worldwide in the first 24 hours.

Amazon reported that advance orders of the “adult” edition, which bears a more muted cover than the children’s version, were up 17 percent from the last book.

The new work has been preceded by months of carefully orchestrated publicity, hype and plot leaks, and surrounded by intense security. Amazon.co.uk has a secure 200,000-square-foot warehouse to pack the books. Canadian publisher Raincoast sought a court injunction after a Vancouver store accidentally sold 14 copies last week. A judge ordered customers not to discuss the book, copy it, sell it or read it before its release.

Even the pope is part of Pottermania. Writer Gabriele Kuby (author of “Harry Potter — Good or Evil?”) said that Pope Benedict XVI told her in letters written in 2003, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, that the books “deeply distort Christianity in the soul.” The Vatican had no comment.