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The buzz and the book

Records set to tumble as new Harry Potter goes on sale

— Photo: AP

HERE COMES HARRY: Children buying the latest Harry Potter book at the Xinhua bookstore in Beijing on Saturday as it went on sale as part of a synchronised global launch. Though only English copies were available, the Chinese version of `Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' is expected in three months.

SYDNEY/LONDON: Witching hour passed and Harry Potter fans poured into bookshops around the world on Saturday, snatching up copies of the latest instalment in the series that promises to be the fastest-selling book in history.

Ending months of hype, and elaborate measures to prevent details of the boy wizard's latest adventures leaking out, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince hit the shelves at one minute past midnight London time (4:31 a.m. in India).

Children from around the world descended on the Scottish city of Edinburgh, where Potter author J.K. Rowling read from the latest book the moment the deadline passed. On Sunday, 70 aspiring cub reporters representing international newspapers and broadcasters will hold a press conference with Rowling.

Bookstores besieged

In Australia, thousands of "Pottermaniacs", some carrying live snakes, besieged bookstores in the outback, in the country's snowfields and along its beaches.

There were crowds at bookstores in Singapore and in New Delhi, where attendants wore black capes and magician's hats.

Before dawn on Saturday morning in Sydney, more than 1,000 fans boarded a special train called the Gleewarts Express, which took them to a secret location outside the city where they received their copies.

Dressed as their favourite characters, fans poured over their copies in a cold and eerie country mist.

Kate Suthers flew out from Britain to take the train. "I did it three years ago and it was fantastic," said Ms. Suthers.

Minutes after its release in Sydney's central business district, non-magic "muggles" and wizards, young and old, scurried down empty streets clutching their precious books. Some dressed as witches, caps flapping, stood reading as they waited for a bus. Others did not even get out of the bookstore.

In Britain, thousands of parents and children queued outside bookshops.

"Every book just gets bigger and bigger," said David Roche of Waterstone's book retailer in central London. A Portuguese girl called Carlotta was the first in the chain's flagship store to buy the new book.

Staggering sales forecasts explain why so much time and effort has gone into promoting the sixth and penultimate book in the Harry Potter series, and into protecting its contents. Waterstone's predicts over 10 million copies of the book will be sold worldwide in 24 hours. Global sales of the first five books in the series have topped 270 million and the three Harry Potter movies to date have grossed more than $2.5 billion.

With sales of the latest edition set to run into tens of millions, when a handful of copies were sold before the deadline in Canada, purchasers were ordered not to disclose its contents, and, according to media reports, even not to read it. A website offering what it claimed was an electronic version of the book was closed down, and two British men were charged last month after allegedly trying to sell a stolen copy of the Harry Potter book to a tabloid newspaper.

Rowling thought up the Harry Potter character in 1990. The adventures of Harry and his friends at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft have won over a new generation of young readers. They have also made Rowling the richest woman in the U.K., with a personal fortune estimated in 2004 at $1 billion.

From the author

Settling into a leather easy chair deep inside the bowels of Edinburgh castle, Harry Potter's creator opened the penultimate volume of the best-selling boy wizard series, revealing the next adventure the world has been waiting for.

As midnight drew near, Rowling arrived at the 11th century castle in the Scottish capital brandishing a hardback of the much-awaited book.

Refusing to give away details of the plot, Rowling said only that she expected her latest tome would provide many answers.

"I'm excited about this book," she said as she walked the red carpet outside the castle, where thousands of fans eagerly awaited the stroke of midnight to hear her read from the latest Harry Potter instalment. "You get a lot of answers in this book," Rowling said. "I can't wait for everyone to read it."

Seventy young Harry Potter fans from around the world were spirited into the glowering medieval castle for the exclusive midnight reading by Rowling. Travelling by carriage instead of broomstick, the youngsters arrived at the castle to cheers from thousands of the boy wizard's fans gathered outside. They came from all over the world.

Carriages, drawn by black and white horses adorned with ostrich plumes and driven by coachmen in black capes and top hats, brought the children up cobbled streets to the imposing castle perched above Edinburgh's old quarter and illuminated with neon lights and blazing torches.

The 70 won competitions to report on the book launch for their local newspapers. The fans outside were drawn from schools in the Scottish capital, where the 39-year-old Rowling lives.

Maxine Clark, 16, of Edinburgh who dressed in a purple velvet witch's cape for the occasion, planed to rush out to pick up her own copy and described the wait since the last Potter book in 2003 as "two years too long." "I've been jumping up and down a lot this week, but there's also anxiety as well — what is going to happen in this book, and will it be as good as what I'm expecting," she said. — Reuters, AP

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