Harry Potter's Red Herrings

Author J.K. Rowling sued the New York Daily News for $100 million Wednesday after the newspaper obtained an early copy of her new Harry Potter novel and published a preview, the book's U.S. publisher said.

"I don't want the kids to know what's coming, because that's part of the excitement of the story," Rowling said. "Having sweated blood to create all my red herrings and lay all my clues ... it is a very important part of my life."

The News published details of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" after buying a copy from a Brooklyn health food store that had mistakenly put the book out for sale before its Saturday release.

"There were two books in the window," said Janet Moore, who bought one of the early releases in New York. "And I stopped and the young man, who I think owns the place, was standing out front, and I looked at the books and I looked at him and I said 'Are those the new books?' and he said 'Yes' and I said 'You're selling those?' and he said 'Yes' and I said 'Oh, I didn't think they were out yet' and he shrugged his shoulders and said 'Well, we have them', and so I went in and I bought a book."

Moore wasn't the only lucky fan. A 14-year-old Florida girl expects to have "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" read before any of her friends can even buy the latest adventure in author J.K. Rowling's blockbuster series.

Kaitlin Webster stumbled across the wildly anticipated and highly secretive book at a Walgreens drugstore in Daytona Beach on Wednesday and purchased it for $24.99.

"I'm shaking because I'm so excited," she said. "I feel like I'm the luckiest kid in America, and Britain."

Kaitlin and her younger sister spotted a small display of the series' fifth installment, complete with the signature blue cover, and initially thought it was a joke. She knew the book wasn't supposed to go on sale until Saturday at 12:01 a.m.

So she asked the cashier, "Are you sure you can sell this to me?"

The cashier said yes, and Kaitlin's mother, Judy Webster, bought a soda and a copy of the book.

"I debated about buying them all," said Webster, adding there were only three to four copies on the shelf. "But we took down one and left very excited. We only needed one."

In Indiana, a few Osco drugstores accidentally have sold copies of the much anticipated book in the Harry Potter series.

Members of the Rasmussen family were excited when they stumbled upon it Tuesday night at an Osco in Fishers. They bought two copies, one for themselves and another for family friends who also are Potter fanatics.

Thieves made off with a tractor-trailer in northern England containing 7,680 copies earlier this week.

The suit against the New York newspaper, prepared by lawyers for Rowling and Scholastic Inc., claims the News damaged Rowling's intellectual property rights and harmed Scholastic's $3 million worldwide marketing campaign.

The book — the fifth installment of the adventures of the boy wizard — has been under extraordinary security ahead of the release. In a statement, Scholastic said it hoped "this unfortunate situation will not spoil the surprise for millions of children around the country who have been eagerly awaiting the book."

"We will vigorously defend any action and are confident we did nothing wrong journalistically or legally," Daily News spokesman Ken Frydman said.

The News story contained what it called a "brief glimpse into the 870 action-packed pages" of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."

"If you don't want to know anything about how Harry and his pals spend their fifth year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, stop now and buy the book when it's officially released Saturday," the News said.

An accompanying graphic displayed, with legible text, two of the novel's pages.

Rowling herself revealed one key event in the book — one of the main characters dies — and said it was difficult to write.

"I had rewritten the death. And I had rewritten it and that was it. It was definitive. That person was definitely dead," she told the BBC. "And I walked into the kitchen crying."

The News said the store owner received a shipment of four books from a wholesaler and decided to put them in the window. The owner told the paper he didn't know he was supposed to wait until Saturday. The paper withheld the name of the store and its owner.

What was good for the Rassmussens in Indiana and others who bought the book early may turn out to be bad for the retailers.

Retailers signed agreements not to put the book on sale early, with its publisher Scholastic Inc. threatening to punish violators by withholding timely shipments of future Potter books.

Osco said the early sales were an unfortunate mistake caused by the company that stocks Osco's shelves.

"It was not an intentional thing on anybody's part," Karen Ramos, a spokeswoman at the retail chain's Scottsdale, Ariz., headquarters, told The Indianapolis Star.

Walgreens employees in Florida referred questions to a corporate spokesperson, who could not be reached for comment. They did say the store had received a corporate-wide e-mail detailing when the books should be sold.

Scholastic has commissioned a first printing of 8.5 million copies. The books are making their way from printing presses to distribution facilities to retailers and private homes under tight security.

Advanced Marketing Services, a San Diego-based distributor that expects to handle about 2 million Potter books between Saturday and January 2004, has hired security guards in the United States and added guard dogs for a Canadian distributor it partially owns.

"We want to make sure that kids are all delighted on Saturday and they can discover the book for the first time on their own," said Bill Carr of Amazon.com

"It's such a great book so far," early reader Kaitlin Webster of Florida said, not wanting to divulge any of the book's details. She plans to finish the book by Thursday. "I'm going to stay up all night."