EDINBURGH, Scotland – As midnight drew near, Harry Potter's creator arrived at the glowering medieval castle, prepared to crack open the next adventure the world has been waiting for.
J.K. Rowling (search) refused to give away plot details from "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" as she walked the red carpet Friday outside Edinburgh castle (search), where thousands of fans eagerly waited to watch her read on large video screens.
"You get a lot of answers in this book," Rowling said. "I can't wait for everyone to read it."
Seventy lucky young fans from around the world were spirited in carriages up cobbled streets into the 11th-century fortress, which was illuminated with neon lights and blazing torches. The carriages were drawn by black and white horses adorned with ostrich plumes, and driven by coachmen wearing capes and black top hats.
Inside, lantern-bearing prefects led the 70 to the Queen Anne building, transformed for the evening into the entrance hall of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
When the clock struck 12, Rowling emerged from behind a secret panel, settled into a leather easy chair and read an excerpt from the sixth chapter to the spellbound group. After the brief reading, the children erupted in screams and applause.
The 70 won competitions to report on the book launch for their local newspapers. The fans outside were drawn from schools here in the Scottish capital, where the 39-year-old Rowling lives.
Along with her best friend, Minnie Mass, an 18-year-old from Miami, Florida, found her way to the launch party through hard work. They weren't competition winners, but were allowed inside the castle after lining up for several hours and stopping Rowling for a chat as she made her way down the red carpet.
"We are waitresses in Miami Beach. We worked for a year to get over here. We came last night and we are leaving tomorrow," said Mass, who is originally from Parana, Brazil.
She said Harry Potter (search) was the first book she read in English after learning the language in the United States: "I told (Rowling) it was the first book I read in English and she was really touched."
Chelsea Kennedy, 16, from Toronto, Canada, had only one criticism of the extravaganza.
"I wished it had been longer," she said.