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Harry Potter conclusion has fans sweating

LONDON (Reuters) - Does Harry Potter die? Fictional or not, the question of what happens to the boy wizard at the end of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, the seventh and final book in the series, is on millions of lips five days before it goes on sale.

Publishers have spent a small fortune protecting the secret, thousands of Potter readers have voted in online polls, and bookmakers are shifting odds to reflect what gamblers think.

Book six left many questions unanswered: What and where are the remaining Horcruxes? What are the Deathly Hallows? Who is the mysterious R.A.B.? Where do the true loyalties of Severus Snape lie? Will Ron and Hermione get together?

But as soon as author J.K. Rowling revealed in June last year that she would kill off at least two characters in book seven, and that a third got a reprieve, the guessing game began.

Security measures in place to protect the contents of book seven, expected to sell tens of millions of copies worldwide, sound like something from a heist movie.

The Sunday Telegraph reported trucks carrying books from warehouses to shops this week will be fitted with satellite tracking systems to ensure they stick to their assigned routes.

Pallets of books have been fitted with alarms, it said, in an operation estimated to cost 10 million pounds ($20 million).

Bloomsbury, Potter’s British publisher, would not comment on specific security measures, but outlined what it would do should retailers break a legal embargo they all have to sign.

“We have an in-house media litigation specialist who is poised 24 hours a day, seven days a week to deal with any breaches,” it said. “It is our intention vigorously to enforce the embargo and seek an immediate injunction if required.”

A girl walks past a poster of the book 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' at a bookstore in Mumbai July 14, 2007. Fans' web sites are buzzing with speculation over the possible ending of the book, the seventh and final installation in the series which will be released on July 21. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

PAST PROBLEMS

Publishers have cause for concern.

On Monday, photographs purporting to show a seven-page epilogue of the seventh Harry Potter book appeared on the Internet, which, if genuine, give away many key secrets.

“There is a lot of fan fiction and a lot of dreamers on the Internet, and people are very clever about what they put together,” said a Bloomsbury spokeswoman, declining to be drawn on whether the pages in question were genuine or not.

“We would ask everyone to work with us to keep the secrecy of the plot safe until July 21 ... We are amazed people want to spoil it.”

In 2003, a printing plant worker in Britain was sentenced to 180 hours’ community service after offering to sell three chapters of Potter book five to a tabloid.

And two years later a handful of copies of book six were sold early in Canada, prompting the distributor there to apply for a court injunction barring buyers from disclosing the plot.

Potter experts say they are surprised more leaks have not marred the release of “Deathly Hallows”.

“It seems to have got to the publishing phase without a spoiler, and if it gets through to the bookstore phase without having it spoiled, that’s amazing,” said Melissa Anelli, editor at top Potter fan site www.the-leaky-cauldron.org.

“I expect there will be one big spoiler,” she added.

Even if Potter publishers do preserve the secrets until Saturday, Anelli expects answers to big questions to appear on the Internet within hours of the book’s release.

Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry in the Potter films, recently recalled a “drive-by spoiler” when a reader passed fans queuing for a copy of book six proclaiming “Dumbledore is Dead!”, thus giving away the main surprise.

“Horrible pigs, vile scumbags,” he jokingly told Reuters.

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