Madelyne Heyman began reading the new Harry Potter (search) book last Saturday morning and needed just a day to read all 672 pages. Getting over the ending may take a little longer.

"I was so depressed," said Heyman, 13, a resident of St. Paul, Minn., who purchased the book on a family trip to Berkeley, Calif. "I felt like I was going to cry."

J.K. Rowling (search) had been warning all along that "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (search)," the sixth of her world-conquering fantasy series, would include the death of a major character. Her promise was fulfilled, although it didn't make her fans, no matter the age, any more prepared when they learned for themselves.

"The awful betrayal!" said Katie Oxman, 13, of New Canaan, Conn., just minutes after reading the climax. It was so shocking, she said, she screamed out to her father. They had become attached to the characters over the years, worrying and rooting for them during difficult times.

"I loved the book. I hated the ending," said 39-year-old Shelly Blackmore of Centerville, Ohio. "There is a death. I sobbed. It was horrible."

With last weekend's midnight release of "Half-Blood Prince," Pottermania shifted from long lines and costume parties to the quiet, solitary adventure of taking in the new story. Some 9 million copies sold in the first 24 hours, and a good number of those had been completed by the following day.

"I really liked it," Heyman said Tuesday, noting that the book was shorter than "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the two previous releases.

"It didn't seem to drone on and on," she said. "There was a lot of stuff in the fourth book that could have been cut out, and the fifth book was really long. In the sixth book, everything fit in."

Fifteen-year-old Greg Coppolo of Cincinnati, Ohio, is another Potter veteran and speed reader, needing just 10 hours to polish off "Half-Blood Prince." He's been reading Potter since he was 11 and believes Rowling has adopted a more adult tone to appeal to fans, such as himself, who are growing up with the series.

"I thought the writing style was different. It was darker and more depressing. I liked it better," Coppolo said. "The previous books were more uplifting."

Ten-year-old Chloe Kaczvinsky picked up her a copy at a midnight bookstore pajama party in Monroe, La., and finished "Half-Blood Prince" the following afternoon. "It was very dark. And mysterious," she said. But the darkness didn't make it hard to read, and didn't make her cry.

"She (Rowling) manages to make some jokes," she said.

But George Gelzer, 10, of Wallingford, Conn., was "freaked out" by the ending. He likened the death in "Half-Blood Prince" to losing a Jedi knight in the "Star Wars" saga. "It's not going to be the same," he said.

Potter fans, of course, face a far darker prospect than the departure of a single character. The series itself must end — Rowling expects to start working on the seventh Potter book at the end of the year.

"I'm kind of afraid to read that book because I know that J.K. Rowling will have no pity for the readers about killing off characters we like," said Madelyne Heyman of St. Paul.

Like so many Potter readers, Heyman has filled time between new releases by rereading the older Potter books and trying out other fantasy series. She mentions Christopher Paolini's "Inheritance," for which the second of three planned volumes comes out next month.

"I love his work," she said. "I'm planning on setting up a tent outside the bookstore to get his book."

But Potter has been her world since second grade and she doesn't know how to replace it. The Potter movies have let her down, only reminding her of how much she loved the books. She's even thought of writing her own fantasy novel, but, again, Potter gets in the way.

"I'm just trying to think of a really good plot that isn't like Harry Potter," she said.