The seventh and final Harry Potter book goes on sale at midnight, a publishing milestone that will end months of fevered speculation among fans over the fate of the fictional boy wizard and his wand-wielding friends.
Readers young and old were lining up outside bookstores around the world on Friday, many dressed like their heroes, for the grand finale of the Potter saga, which experts believe will be the fastest-selling book of all time.
Author J.K. Rowling was an unemployed single mother without a publisher or agent 13 years ago, but is now the world’s first billionaire writer after the huge success of her first six novels and the Hollywood movies based on them.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” hits the shelves at a minute past midnight Saturday in a carefully orchestrated release designed to maximize suspense and sales from London and New York to Mumbai and Australia’s Outback.
But it has been marred by leaks of the contents of the book on the Internet, both real and fake, and by a mistake made by a U.S. online retailer that meant a small number of hard copies were sent to buyers days ahead of publication.
Rowling reacted angrily when two U.S. newspapers ran reviews on Thursday based on copies they obtained ahead of publication.
“I am staggered that some American newspapers have decided to publish purported spoilers in the form of reviews in complete disregard of the wishes of literally millions of readers, particularly children,” the 41-year-old said.
On Friday, French newspaper Le Parisien published a three-paragraph summary of the final book’s epilogue, printing it upside down to give readers a chance to look away.
Potter publishers will take comfort from the fact that the majority of fans do not know what happens in book seven, and do not want to until they get their hands on a copy on what has been dubbed in the media as “P-Day.”
Families are imposing news blackouts in their homes, and lines began to form outside bookstores as early as Wednesday.
More than 100 die-hard Potter fans, including several from overseas, had gathered outside a book shop in central London on Friday, braving torrential rain at one point.
“Everyone says he (Harry) is going to die,” said Sinead Kelly, who traveled from the Netherlands with her boyfriend to be at the epicenter of Harry hysteria.
“I think he’s going to live. J.K. Rowling says at least two characters are going to die, so I think it’s going to be Hermione and Hagrid.”
In Britain, a phone counseling service for children expects a surge in calls when readers learn who is killed off.
Stores in Taiwan and India are laying on “magic breakfasts” for early customers and a Sydney shop is taking fans aged from two to 84 on a train ride to a secret location to get the book.
The statistics of Rowling’s success are staggering.
The first six books in the series, which began with “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” in 1997, have sold 325 million copies and the first five movies in the film franchise have amassed around $4 billion at the global box office.
“Harry Potter has made people look at the children’s book world in a way they wouldn’t have before,” said Caroline Horn, children’s news editor at the Bookseller publication. “It also raised expectations of the amount of money a writer can earn.”