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Originally published July 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 21, 2007 at 7:29 AM

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Magic ends, mourning begins with release of final "Potter" book

With today's release of the seventh and final book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," hard-core fans face the literary equivalent of a world with no more Christmases.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Every season, there's that letdown moment after all the Christmas gifts are opened, when the last bite of Halloween candy is chewed, when the birthday candles are blown out. But there's always the consolation: next year.

That's how Harry Potter fans usually feel when they finish their much-anticipated copy of the latest installment in the phenomenally popular series. But this time, it's The End. With today's release of the seventh and final book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," hard-core fans face the literary equivalent of a world with no more Christmases.

"It'll feel empty," said Federal Way resident Stephen Barbarossa, 15, who has read the previous books "I can't count how many times." "I started the series when I was little, and now it's over."

As excited as readers are to discover the fate of Harry, Hermione, Ron and the devious (or not) Snape, nearly two-thirds of fans expected to feel sad after reading the final book, according to a small online poll by AbeBooks.com. Only a quarter anticipated feeling happy.

"I've always read the books really fast because I knew there would be another," said Michael Barbarossa, 11. With "Deathly Hallows," "I'm going to pace myself so I won't finish it so quickly."

Stephen and Michael's mom, Chris, is also a fan. "It's going to feel sad because there's nothing to look forward to anymore," she said at the Federal Way 320th Library's recent "The Mysterious End of Harry Potter" event. "This material can be loved by all ages. You form a relationship with these characters."

"Devastated" is how 10-year-old Camille Opena will feel after the final page. "I don't want it to end," she said.

Parents can expect sighs or even tears as Harry and his devoted readers say goodbye to his childhood (and for longtime readers, perhaps their own). "The ending of a series that children enjoyed, and identified with the characters and found comfort in, that's a lot of loss," said Mel Erickson, program director of Auburn-based GriefWorks. "They'll miss their friends."

They're not alone: In an interview with the BBC earlier this month, author J.K. Rowling said she sobbed "my heart out" after completing one of the last chapters. In the same interview, she wouldn't rule out ever writing another Harry Potter book, since she might feel differently in 10 years (not much help for fans now). But, she said, "I think it's unlikely."

"I disagree with the kids who want Harry to go on forever," said Chauni Haslet, owner of Seattle's All for Kids Books & Music, which may host annual anniversary parties to celebrate the series. "J.K. has given us an epic story, which she had outlined from the beginning. It is complete. She is capable of giving us more stories, but I feel she deserves the freedom to choose if and what she wants to write about in the future."

The United States boasts more than 120 million copies of Harry Potter books in print, according to U.S. publisher Scholastic; worldwide sales top 325 million. The sixth book, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," was the fastest-selling book in history, with 6.9 million copies sold in the first 24 hours. Scholastic plans a record U.S. print run of 12 million copies for "Deathly Hallows."

The first book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," came out in the United States nearly nine years ago, in September 1998. A generation of kids — and parents — came to expect a new book every two or three years.

Jackie Leibsohn read the first four books aloud to her oldest son, now 14, sometimes keeping him up past his bedtime for "one more chapter." The last two installments they each read then discussed afterward.

"There is that connection that we've gone through it all together," said Leibsohn, a professor of psychology at Seattle University. "There's not any other series we both enjoy. It was a unique experience to have something so powerful for children and adults."

Librarians and booksellers hope Harry will continue to spark interest in reading. "We'll go back to saying, 'So you like Harry? Here's something else,' " said Christy McDanold, owner of the Secret Garden Bookshop in Ballard. "We're grateful for this series, but it's so not about one book. Any time you close a book, you just open a new one."

That's not much consolation to Federal Way fan Joshua Butt, 16. "I won't read anything that's not by J.K., unless I have to for school," he said. After he plows through the new book three times in succession, "I'll just keep re-reading the series, looking for clues."

Devoted fans will likely finish the book this morning, having stayed up all night reading it. They'll debate their satisfaction with the conclusion of the beloved series. But as Potter fan (and fellow author) Stephen King noted in his Entertainment Weekly column earlier this month, "No ending can be right, because it shouldn't be over at all. The magic is not supposed to go away."

Stephanie Dunnewind: sdunnewind@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2091.

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