Bookstores across Britain flung open their doors at a minute past midnight to admit hordes of would-be witches, warlocks and ordinary "muggles" -- Potter-speak for non-magical humans. They're all eager to get their hands on "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth installment of the boy wizard's adventures.
Shops in Singapore and Australia put the book on sale at the same time.
In Edinburgh, Scotland, author J.K. Rowling emerged from behind a secret panel inside the city's medieval castle. She read an excerpt from the sixth chapter to a spellbound group of 70 children from around the world.
It has become publishing's most lucrative, frantic and joyous ritual: Bookstores around the world planned to open just after midnight, when copies of the schoolboy wizard's latest adventure go on sale. Thousands of people in London were expected amid heightened security in the wake of last week's terrorists bombings.
"We're very much of the message that it's business as usual — London's open for business and we want to celebrate this book," said John Webb, children's buyer at bookseller Waterstone's, which expects 300,000 people to attend midnight openings at more than 100 stores across Britain.
British publisher Bloomsbury, which expects to sell hundreds of thousands of Potter books this weekend, was gathering 70 competition-winning children from around the world inside the thick stone walls of Edinburgh Castle for a midnight reading by author J.K. Rowling, who lives in the Scottish capital.
Elsewhere, summer camps were planning midnight wake-up calls and waiving package restrictions in anticipation of "Half-Blood Prince," the penultimate of Rowling's planned seven-book series. One camp in New Hampshire even planned to forklift books to kids.
Bookshops promised jugglers, fire-eaters, magicians and face-painters to entertain fans eager to unravel the book's hinted-at mysteries: Will Harry's teenage friends Ron and Hermione find romance? Which major character will die? What more will Harry learn of his nemesis, the evil Lord Voldemort?
In London, events were muted by the July 7 subway and bus bombings, which killed some 50 people. Book and magazine chain WH Smith announced it was scrapping a planned midnight launch at King's Cross Station, from whose fictional Platform 9@3/4 Harry catches the train to Hogwarts at the start of each term. At least 26 people died in a bomb blast on a subway near King's Cross, the deadliest of the day's four attacks.
Smith spokeswoman Sarah Hodson said it would be "insensitive and inappropriate" to hold the event at the station, but the store would remain open into Saturday morning so fans could purchase the book.
Since Rowling first introduced Harry and his fellow students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to the world in 1997, the books have become a global phenomenon, selling 270 million copies in 62 languages and inspiring a series of movies. Rowling is now the richest woman in Britain, with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $1 billion.