Harry Potter's final chapter now public, but not everyone could wait for the release

Does Harry Potter die?

It's the biggest question in popular media since "Who shot J.R.?" OK, so I'm dating myself with that one, but the truth is, I didn't watch "Dallas," and I'm not a "Harry Potter" reader.

I'm writing this before the official release of the seventh -- and final -- book in the Potter series. But rumors, speculation, copyright violations, hacker activity and the buzz-of-the-year surrounded the literary finale, that became available on Saturday.

I'm guessing that anyone who really cares about the boy wizard and his fantasy world has already finished "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," and has come to accept the outcome.

One account last week said Potter author J.K. Rowling broke down into tears as she finished the final chapters, writing alone in a hotel room.

"I was sobbing my heart out -- I downed half a bottle of champagne from the minibar in one and went home with mascara all over my face," Rowling told the BBC. "That was really tough."

She must be crying all the way to the bank. More than 325 million copies of the first six Potter titles have been sold worldwide, making Rowling the first billionaire author. Amazon.com said it took more than 2.2 million preorders for the seventh title. Not a bad payday, hey, J.K.?

She, and her U.S. distributor, Scholastic Corp., went to great lengths to protect the finale from leaking into anyone's hands before Saturday's release. That might have been possible in the pre-Internet days, but nothing is a secret in cyberspace, folks. I did a Google search for "Harry Potter ending" and found more than 4 million entries.

A hacker named "Gabriel" claimed to have cracked the security systems of London's Bloomsbury Publishing company to obtain a digital copy of the book. He posted a summary of the book's ending at (www.insecure.org). It said, in part: "Then, to make a long story short, Harry came up, killed all the bad guys and Hogwarts against (sic) became a good place to stay and have fun.

Is that the way it played out?

Did readers who "knew" the ending in advance read the novel anyway? Did readers take a sneak peak at the final chapter before finishing the book, to make sure they had good information?

Online retailer DeepDiscount.com apparently shipped the Potter finale to 1,200 customers four days early. Scholastic asked recipients of the book to keep the packages hidden until the stroke of midnight Friday.

I'm sure they did. Wink, wink.

For more on the Potter frenzy, visit the official Harry Potter site: (www.scholastic.com/harrypotter/home.asp

Next summer, you'll need find something else to read.

Share your Internet story with me at agibes@reviewjournal.com.