LONDON (Reuters) - Thousands of Harry Potter fans poured into book stores around the world on Saturday as the seventh and final volume in the series went on sale, and for many the secret of the boy wizard’s fate was only hours away.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” hit the shelves across most of the world at 2301 GMT on Friday, in a release carefully orchestrated to maximize suspense and sales from Tokyo and New York to Taiwan and Australia’s Outback.
Dressed as witches, Death Eaters and plain old non-magical Muggles, die-hard followers from dozens of countries braved torrential rain in London and got up at the crack of dawn in Australia and India to get hold of an early copy.
There was a mixture of excitement and regret among the crowds in New York, where stores decided to wait until midnight local time to release “Deathly Hallows”, leaving them several hours behind the rest of the world.
“It’s like losing part of my childhood,” said William Bishop, 16, dressed as Harry Potter complete with a scar on his forehead.
In Sydney, about 1,500 Potter fans rode two steam trains from the city centre to a secret destination where bookstore staff were preparing to hand out copies of the book.
Musicians and performers with pet rats, lizards and snakes entertained excited trainloads of children and their parents, most of them dressed as characters from the books.
One avid fan had to be rescued from a lake in the nation’s capital Canberra on Friday after he dived in to rescue a pre-purchase receipt necessary to pick up his copy of the book.
In Mumbai, children tried to guess what would happen to Harry after author J.K. Rowling said last year that at least two main characters would die by the end of the seventh book.
“I have a bet with my friends that Harry is not going to die,” said Abhigyan Jain, a young fan dressed as a Death Eater.
The excitement comes despite a series of plot leaks on the Internet, and a mistake by a U.S. online retailer meant as many as 1,200 copies were sent to buyers days ahead of publication.
Rowling, 41, said she was “staggered” when two U.S. papers ran reviews on Thursday, and on Friday, France’s Le Parisien published a short summary of the final book’s epilogue, printing it upside down to give readers a chance to look away.
The leaks and spoilers have been a major headache for Potter publishers, who spent millions of dollars trying to keep the book’s contents a secret.
But they may take comfort from the fact that most fans do not know and do not want to know what happens until they get a copy on what has been dubbed “P-Day”. Families are imposing news blackouts at their homes to avoid disappointment.
“I haven’t gone on the Internet for the past two months because I did not want to know the ending,” Eve Laurecon, a 25-year-old from France dressed as a witch, said in London.
Rowling staged a special midnight reading from “Deathly Hallows” to 500 children at London’s Natural History Museum.
Just 13 years ago she was an unemployed single mother, without a publisher or agent, but is now the world’s first dollar billionaire writer after the success of her first six novels and the Hollywood movies based on them.
The six books, starting 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.
Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York, Krittivas Mukherjee in Mumbai, Sylvia Westall in London, Michael Smith in Sydney and Ralph Jennings in Taiwan