At one minute after midnight Friday, the ringing of bookstore cash registers will toll the end of the wait for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." And as the witching (and wizarding) hour nears, local booksellers are bracing for record-setting sales of the seventh and final book in the 10-year saga of the boy wizard.
The drama has ratcheted up because author J.K. Rowling has said some characters will die in her final book. Devoted fans are hoping it's not Harry, the endearing teenager who has been growing in power and knowledge for a final showdown with the evil Lord Voldemort.
With millions of books under lock and key, all anyone can do is wait to learn the fate of Harry and his pals Ron and Hermione, not to mention the rest of the captivating fantasy world. But when the clock strikes 12, boxes will be ripped open, and copies of the 784-page finale will fly into eager readers' hands.
"The mood is anxious, because there's so much speculation," says Dawn Everett, community relations manager at Barnes & Noble on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst. "It's all abuzz, definitely. You can actually call it anxiety."
At Everett's store, throngs are expected to show up for Friday night's final Potter Party. Hundreds of people attended the store's last Potter party in 2005, when "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" was published.
At Talking Leaves Books, "It's usually kind of chaotic and then . . . over," says owner Jonathon Welch. "Everybody just grabs a book and runs. They want to go and read, and I suspect even more so this time, since it's the last one. Everybody needs to know what happens."
Although previous books in the Potter series have broken publication records, this one looms as large as Hagrid. Its 12 million-copy first printing is the largest of any book in history, says Kris Moran, spokesman for Scholastic, the United States publisher for the series.
Local Potter fans can choose from parties at five bookstores:
*Barnes & Noble, 1565 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst: Everett says wristbands will be handed out starting at 7 p.m. At 9, the party will start, with customers called in 25 at a time to participate in Potter-related activities. Potter-themed costumes will be judged, and prizes will be given after the party.
Youngsters, who must be accompanied by a parent, will be sorted by the Sorting Hat into four Hogwarts houses, then participate in crafts, trivia and games. Children will be given goodie bags with activities to keep them busy while they wait. At 11:30, everyone will be moved outside, to be admitted in small groups to buy the book.
The first eight people to purchase their books are the lucky holders of Golden Tickets. They include "children who have been recognized by schools for doing a great job reading," Everett says, or people who won the tickets through fundraisers to aid literacy-based agencies.
*Borders, 2015 Walden Ave., Cheektowaga, will be the site of a Grand Hallows Ball. Stacy Orlando Lopez, sales manager, says the store will begin to hand out wristbands to those who have reserved copies of the book at 9 a.m. Friday.
At 9:30 p.m., the party will begin, with an audience vote for the best costumes, says Orlando Lopez.
Customers can also participate in a Potter Bee, "a spelling bee based on different Harry Potter characters and spells," and a Great Snape Debate, "where all . . . will be able to argue their position on whether Snape is a friend or a foe," says Orlando Lopez.
A raffle will be held to determine who gets to buy the first book. Everybody who pre-ordered a book will get a poster; one lucky raffle winner will get a poster signed by Rowling.
"Then at midnight, our grand reveal," says Orlando Lopez. "All the registers will be running."
*Barnes & Noble, 7370 Transit, Amherst: The party starts at 10 p.m. with a trivia scavenger hunt, a character look-alike contest, crafts and games. Wristbands will be handed out starting at 9 a.m. Friday. Assistant store manager Jill Marquis says that at a minute before midnight, "We'll start a countdown to the official release of the book, and then we're going to start selling."
*Borders, Quaker Crossing, 3480 Amelia Drive, Orchard Park: This is the new store's first Potter party. Amanda Eckert says wristbands will be handed out starting at 9 a.m.
A Grand Hallows Ball starts at 9:30 p.m. with a costume contest. A raffle will select the first person in line to get their book, says Eckert.
*Talking Leaves on Elmwood Avenue near Bidwell Parkway will close at 9 p.m. for party preparations, then reopen between 11 and 11:30 with goodies, festivities and a raffle for people who have pre-ordered the book.