Potter book under guard at secret U.S. warehouse

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The answer to whether Harry Potter lives or dies lies in a stack of sealed boxes, shrouded as if hidden beneath an invisibility cloak.

Barnes & Noble, the world’s largest book retailer, has started taking delivery of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final Harry Potter novel, at a warehouse somewhere in the northeastern United States.

With its ending wrapped in secrecy and high security surrounding its distribution, the book will go on sale around the world at midnight on Friday.

Taking care not to break its contract with Potter’s U.S. publisher Scholastic Corp., Barnes & Noble gave reporters a tour of its distribution center -- but asked them to keep the location secret.

“We have had security all around the building, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Barnes & Noble Chief Executive Steve Riggio told Reuters.

In Britain, The Sunday Telegraph reported trucks carrying books from warehouses to shops will be fitted with satellite tracking systems to ensure they stick to assigned routes, while pallets of books have been fitted with alarms in an operation estimated to cost $20 million. British publisher Bloomsbury would not comment.

Barnes & Noble would not even say when it started taking delivery of the books or when they would be sent to more than 700 stores across America.

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Hundreds of white boxes destined for retail stores were emblazoned in red with the book’s title and strict instructions “Do not open before July 21, 2007.”

Fans are desperate to know whether the teen-age wizard Potter lives or dies after 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.

At the Barnes & Noble warehouse, copies reserved for customers who ordered online sat temptingly on pallets during Monday’s tour, unwrapped and out of their boxes.


If anyone had dared sneak a peak at the much-anticipated ending, no one was saying. “We’re processing so many books there isn’t time to open the book,” Riggio said “So we’re very, very confident there will be no leak.”

Tens of millions of copies of the books are forecast to sell worldwide. Riggio said Barnes & Noble expected to take nearly 1.5 million pre-orders by Friday. Rival bookseller Amazon had recorded more than 1.3 million orders on Monday.

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Retailers in the United States and Britain have had to sign a legal embargo on the book with Scholastic and Bloomsbury which said it has lawyers poised 24 hours a day to deal with any breaches.

At the Northeast warehouse, copies had about as much chance of escaping as a prisoner at Azkaban. “We have done this before. We’re quite good at it and we expect that the book will remain under wraps until midnight Friday night,” Riggio said.

Two security guards patrolled the small enclosed area where the books were being repacked, keeping a watchful eye on workers and checking trolleys of rubbish for hidden copies.

Scholastic declined to comment on what security measures it has in place in America.

“It’s like a major logistics operation,” Riggio said. “The amazing thing we will see in our stores is that kids will buy the book and they’ll leave the cash register and they will open it immediately and start reading it.”

“So we expect word to get out quickly after midnight as to what’s in store for Harry,” he said.