LONDON (Reuters) - Millions of Harry Potter fans around the world are just hours away from learning the fate of the fictional boy wizard and his Hogwarts friends as the final installment in the seven-book series hits shelves at midnight.
Readers young and old lined up outside book stores in major cities on Friday, many dressed like their heroes, for the grand finale of the Potter saga that is widely expected to be the fastest-selling book of all time.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” reaches the shelves at a minute past midnight Saturday (2301 GMT Friday) in a release orchestrated to maximize suspense and sales from London and New York to India and Australia’s Outback.
In New York City, Barnes & Noble, the world’s largest book retailer, is throwing a “Midnight Magic Costume Party” at its Union Square store that will be webcast live, while Borders Group is holding a “Grand Hallows Ball.”
More than 200 die-hard Potter fans, including several from overseas, gathered outside a book shop in central London.
Many were guessing who author J.K. Rowling meant when she said last year that at least two characters would be killed off in book seven and one given a reprieve.
“Everyone says he (Harry) is going to die,” said Sinead Kelly, who traveled from the Netherlands with her boyfriend. “I think he’s going to live.”
In Britain, a phone counseling service for children expects a surge in calls when readers learn who is killed.
Stores in Taiwan and India are planning “magic breakfasts” for early customers and a Sydney shop is taking fans aged from 2 to 84 on a train ride to a secret location to get the book.
The anticipation has survived a series of leaks of the contents of the book on the Internet, both real and fake, and a mistake made by a U.S. online retailer that meant hard copies were sent to some buyers days ahead of publication.
Independent book stores also complain they cannot compete with aggressive price discounting by supermarkets and online retailers willing to sell at a loss to attract customers.
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 author 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.
But Potter publishers will take comfort from the fact that most fans do not know what happens and do not want to until they get 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.
Just 13 years ago Rowling was an unemployed single mother, without a publisher or agent, but she 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, Ben Wilson in Sydney and Ralph Jennings in Taiwan