Harry Potter's Hour Has Come

Like a Stanley Cup-winning hockey player relishing in the sport’s greatest victory, 12-year-old Alexandra Korves smiled proudly while hoisting the new Harry Potter (search) book over her head.

"I've been waiting so long for this,” said Korves, who, like countless others around the world, waited feverishly outside a book store in order to be one of the first to grab hold of the much-anticipated Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix -- the fifth installment of the wildly successful Harry Potter franchise.

The book, which made its debut in Britain, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand at 7:01 p.m. EDT, was launched here at 12:01 a.m., and was to be released across the country at 12:01 a.m. in each time zone. Parties, parades and costume events celebrated the book's arrival.

Bedtimes were pushed back, or even eliminated, as readers got cracking on Book five of J.K. Rowling's (search) children's series. At the Learned Owl Bookshop in Hudson, Ohio, at least one fan indicated she wouldn't need long to polish off the new Potter. Fifteen-year-old Nicole Rosales, wearing a black T-shirt that said "ROWLING IS A GENIUS" and a black wizard hat, had an obvious timesaving solution.

"We're not going to sleep tonight," said Rosales, sitting with her cousin, Sarah Murdock, 14. Rosales predicted an overnight reading marathon for the new book, Rowling's first in three years and the longest yet in the tales of Harry and his pals at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Rosales was first to get a copy of the $29.99 book. She hugged hugged the book as tears streamed down her face.

"I don't know what to do, why am I crying?" she said.

Anticipation had verged on hallucination. "I can hear the book saying, 'Buy me, buy me, buy me; read me, read me, read me,'" said Kaitlin Skiba, 8, standing in line at a Borders bookstore in Raleigh, N.C. Minutes later she was hugging the book to her chest. "I think I'm going to peek at the end," she confided.

The British publisher, Bloomsbury, guarded the book’s plot closely and security at times gave Order of the Phoenix the aura of the Elgin Marbles (search).

A safe was installed at the New York offices of Rowling's U.S. publisher, Scholastic, Inc., so that samples sent from the printer could be stored securely. A signed copy donated to the New York Public Library arrived by armored car, was carefully handled first by an attorney with two security guards at his side and then by a man clad in spotless white gloves.

Yet leaks occurred. A store in Fishers, Ind., and a New York health food store were among those that mistakenly put copies out for sale. The Daily News in New York City, which bought a copy and published a preview, is now facing a $100 million lawsuit from Rowling and her publishers.

In England, 7,680 copies of the book were stolen from a truck parked outside a warehouse late Sunday night. Earlier this month, a print worker was sentenced to 180 hours community service for attempting to sell three chapters of the book to a tabloid newspaper.

Rowling said she was pleased that so little about the story has gotten out. "I think it's miraculous, given the number of books that we produced and the number of people involved," she said Saturday, looking relaxed and happy as she paid a visit to a Waterstone's bookshop in her home town of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Harry is 15 in the new book, and Rowling has disclosed that he will get to be a real adolescent, with his share of anger and some confusion over girls. There is much emotional interplay in the new book, which goes well beyond the children's genre.

Early reviews praised the book. USA Today cited Rowling's "wonderful, textured writing." The Associated Press said, "It was worth the wait. And then some."

Harry was 11 in the first volume, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone — released in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Published in 1997, it was followed each year by another adventure — Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Rowling's four Potter books have sold an estimated 192 million copies worldwide and have been published in at least 55 languages and distributed in more than 200 countries. Blockbuster movies were made of the first two books and the movie based on the third will be released next year.

In the United States alone, the new book had a first printing of 8.5 million, more than 10 times the first printing of Oprah Winfrey's latest book club pick, East of Eden. Amazon.com posted a "Harry Potter Meter" on its Web site that offered hourly sales updates. However, Scholastic Inc., U.S. publisher of the Potter books, said Saturday it was too soon to know exactly how many copies had sold.

But fans were so wild about Harry that some stores, including a Barnes & Noble in Philadelphia, reported the book had sold out. Borders Books and Music in Plano, Texas, received a second shipment of books Saturday after the store sold out.

Cover To Cover Bookstore in Columbus, Ohio, quickly sold out its 20 available copies. Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore had only eight copies left out of more than 300. A Barnes & Noble in northeast Detroit sold out its allotment shortly after putting the book on sale a little after midnight.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.