NEW YORK – Harry Potter fans, the end is near.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the last of seven installments of J.K. Rowling's mega-selling international phenomenon, will be published July 21 -- at midnight, of course, a time to be marked by celebrations and more than a few tears, as Rowling wraps up the magical adventures of the boy wizard, his friends and his enemies.
The author posted a brief announcement on her Web site Thursday, followed soon by releases from her British publisher, Bloomsbury, and U.S. publisher, Scholastic Inc.
Readers immediately rejoiced, with dozens of ecstatic messages posted on the Potter fan site, www.the-leaky-cauldron.org, within minutes of the announcement.
"OMGOMGOMGOMG!!!!!!!!! I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS!!!!" read one typical message.
"WAH!!! I think I'm going crazy!!!! We finally have a date!!!" added another fan.
Other comments were sadder, noting the series' conclusion.
"I can't wait to read the book, but at the same time, I'm afraid to read it," read a message from a fan named Christine, who identified herself as a "30-something" mom. "I can't stand the thought of anything happening to the characters that I've grown to love! What an odd feeling."
Potter readers have a lot to look forward to, and to fear. Rowling's stories have darkened considerably over the years and the author has said two characters will be killed off in Book 7.
"I don't always enjoy killing my characters. I didn't enjoy killing the character who died at the end of Book 6," Rowling said during a reading last summer at Radio City Music Hall, declining to name that person in case someone had yet to finish the book. "I really didn't enjoy doing that but I had been planning that for years so it wasn't quite as poignant as you might imagine. I'd already done my grieving when I actually came to write it."
The print run and number of pages have yet to be revealed, but judging from the suggested cover price, a meaty $34.99, $5 more than Potter 6, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the last book will likely match or exceed the 600-plus page length of previous releases.
"We have held the price for the past four years," Scholastic publicist Kyle Good told The Associated Press. "In that time, costs of production, paper, trucking, gas and security -- to be sure all readers can enjoy the book at the release time -- have all increased."
Many fans will pay much less for "Deathly Hallows," with Amazon.com quickly announcing the book would be sold for $18.89, a 46 percent discount. Price competition has been so intense over the years that many retailers have acknowledged they don't make money on the fantasy series, depending instead on customers buying other books along with Potter.
Since Rowling first introduced Harry and his fellow students at Hogwarts to the world 10 years ago, with a now comically modest promotional campaign, the books have sold more than 325 million copies in 64 languages and inspired four hit movies.
The fifth film, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," is scheduled to come out July 13, just eight days before the final book's release.