Hundreds of customers, most who had been waiting for hours, rushed counters at the stroke of midnight at Barnes & Noble bookstore in Amherst, screaming with delight at the chance to finally hold a copy of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the final installment in J.T. Rowling's monumental series.
The aisles inside were quickly packed with throngs of jittery children, many dressed as witches, wizards -- all eager to start reading the 759-page book.
"I wondered if we'd ever make it in on time," said Divya Penumaka, 11, of Amherst, as she clutched a copy of the book to her chest.
"I'm so scared of what's going to happen to Harry."
Store owner Dawn Everett marveled at the phenomenon.
"We went through at least a quarter more children than we thought we were going to," she said early this morning.
Many of the customers grabbed copies and quickly left the store, eager to get started reading.
Rumors had been flying in the line of those who had been waiting to be among the first to grab the book.
"I'm pretty excited, but I don't want to look ahead because I don't want to know what happened [yet]," said Maggie Donnolly, 11, of Williamsville.
The grand finale of the most popular series of fantasy books ever was no ordinary occasion.
On Friday night, J.K. Rowling devotees celebrated the release of the last book in the decade-spanning series, with parties around the world, from Piccadilly Circus to Hong Kong. Local Potterites flocked to area bookstores to let out their inner witch and wizard and cast their mundane muggle lives aside -- if only for the night.
"Have your wands at the ready," cautioned one store employee at the Barnes & Noble in Amherst, as the doors opened at 9 p.m. to let in small groups.
Inside the store, matters were more subdued, as kids passed through a series of Potter-themed activities like crafts, trivia, fortunetelling with a batty Professor Trelawney, and, of course, getting placed into a Hogwarts house by a the legendary Sorting Hat.
Wadha Al Dabbous, 10, of Buffalo jumped into the sorting chair and donned the Hat, only to be (disappointingly) placed in Hufflepuff by the Hat's disembodied command. But when she jumped back under the hat for a photo opportunity, she received better news.
"Hmmm, this is interesting," said the Hat. "Gryffindor!"
"I didn't want Hufflepuff, but I thought I would get it," she said, beaming as she received an honorary badge and diploma. "But I got Gryffindor, that was the house I wanted!"
Outside, the excited crowd of several hundred people shouted and shrieked whenever the store's door opened.
Nicole Hennessy of Buffalo, who brought her son, Noah, 7, was one of the many adults who got into the spirit, dressing up as Bellatrix Lestrange, the evil witch in league with Lord Voldemort. "We got here about six hours ago," she said. "It's great. He likes the movies and just started getting into the books, and I love the books. So it's something that we can share."
Noah nodded as he cast spells at innocent bystanders with his wand. At the Borders bookstore in Orchard Park, people started arriving more than 15 hours before the night's party began.
"People were here when I got here at 6 [a.m.]," said bookseller Roz Mayerat. "By 9 the line was starting to turn the corner, and this is a pretty big building."
Mayerat said store workers brought free coffee to the super-fans, many of whom were already in costume and had made themselves comfortable in chairs in anticipation of the evening's festivities, including a Grand Hallows Ball.
"We're going to stay open until the last person checks out -- probably 4 or 5 in the morning," Mayerat said.
The lines that snaked around major bookstores were largely made up of fans who had already ordered the book and were guaranteed a copy -- and just wanted to make sure they wouldn't miss anything.
"People registered as far back as February, March," said Eric Leonberger, manager of the Cheektowaga Borders. "Some people were asking about it at Christmas."
Nichole Montalvo, 11, along with a group of about a dozen siblings, friends and parents, arrived just after 3 p.m. -- six hours before the doors opened -- to make sure she'd be the first person in the line for the party. A friend had joined the wrist-band line earlier in the day.
"We wanted to get here before it filled up, so we know we're going to get in," said Nichole, who plans to finish the book by tonight, although her mother, Beverly, told her she couldn't stay up to read it.
"We'll beg," she said. "My friend said she's going to chug pop."
At at their age, she and her friends can't remember life without Harry Potter, which Rowling started writing when they were infants.
"My mom read them to me when I was really little, and then I started reading them when I was about four," said Carolann Walters, 11, wearing a cape and bright pink lipstick for the occasion.
At area libraries, the demand to check out the book, priced at an average of $27, has been equally overwhelming.
"We had ordered 300 copies . . . and they're all reserved," said Stanton Hudson, communications director for the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.
Card-holders used the Internet to request the book, he said, which is available for checkout as of this morning.
A reported 2.2 million copies were pre-ordered on Amazon alone.
Local post offices were crammed with copies of "Hallows." Eight thousand were ordered in Buffalo and nearby suburbs.