Harry Potter fans in Switzerland have finally got their hands on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and last volume in the boy wizard saga.
Hordes of would-be warlocks, sorcerers and ordinary, non-magical "Muggles" lined up outside Swiss bookstores for the English version of the new novel, which officially went on sale across Switzerland at 1am on Saturday.
Midnight parties were held at bookshops in Zurich, Basel, Interlaken, Lucerne and Lenzburg. Elsewhere many stores opened their doors early on Saturday to meet the rush of readers, both young and old.
"There's been a bigger hype than for previous books; you feel it's special. People know it's the last one and want to know what is going to happen – whether he will die," Fabienne Schaller from Basel's Bergli bookshop told swissinfo.
"Lots of Swiss people read in English and most don't want to wait until October when it comes out in German," she explained, adding that the city also has a big English-speaking expatriate community.
A decade after he made his debut, Harry Potter has become a global phenomenon with 325 million books already sold. That number will grow as millions of copies of the new novel are snapped up at the weekend.
Deathly Hallows is being released simultaneously in 93 countries, with a print run of 12 million in the United States alone and more than 2.2 million copies ordered in advance from internet retailer Amazon – 47 per cent higher than the pre-order for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
According to the Bern-based Universal Postal Union, American and British postal services will distribute 2.4 million copies of the new novel on Saturday.
Last night's hot ticket for Potter fans was the Natural History Museum in London, where Harry's creator, JK Rowling, gave a midnight reading to 500 competition-winning children in the grand Victorian surroundings.
Another place to be for die-hard fans was Waterstone's bookshop in Piccadilly Circus in central London, a traditional hub of Pottermania. An assortment of wizards, witches and at least one house elf, from as far afield as Finland and the United States, staked out their places outside the shop, hours – in some cases days – before the midnight opening.
Security was tight, with books shipped in sealed pallets and legal contracts binding stores not to sell the book before the midnight release time.
But despite the embargo, some copies were sent out early by mistake and reviews have appeared in several newspapers.
Deathly Hallows is the last book in a series that began a decade ago with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the story of an orphaned boy who learns on his 11th birthday that he is a wizard.
The previous six books have been building to a final confrontation between Harry and his evil nemesis, Lord Voldemort, scourge of the wizard world. Fans are on tenterhooks because of the prophecy, revealed in book five, that one must inevitably kill the other.
A British children's helpline has asked volunteers to take on extra shifts to cope with an expected surge of calls from distraught youngsters after reading the book.
The expected death of a key character could spark feelings of loss and bereavement among young readers, it has warned.
Rowling recently admitted she felt "devastated" as she penned the final words of the book.
swissinfo with agencies
JK Rowling completed the manuscript of her first Harry Potter story, called Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, in 1995, having written some of it in local cafes in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she was a single mother drawing state benefits.
After being rejected by a series of publishers, Barry Cunningham, then of Bloomsbury publishers, signed up Rowling, and the author and company never looked back. Rowling is known as the world's first billion-dollar author.
Rowling has sold 325 million copies of the first six books of the seven-book series about Harry Potter, his adventures at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and his battles with evil foe Lord Voldemort.
Warner Brothers have distributed five Harry Potter movies so far, amassing a worldwide box office tally of around $4 billion (SFr4.8 billion) and counting.
Daniel Radcliffe, who soon turns 18, has played the central role of Harry throughout the film series, turning him into a household name in Britain. He has signed up to star in the final two films.
French and German versions of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be published on October 27.
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