Grayson Berry

Two local bookstores &

Bloomsbury on East Main and Tree House in the plaza &

are preparing for record crowds Friday for the midnight unveiling of the final installment in J.K. Rowling's fantasy series, Harry Potter.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Bloomsbury Books had sold 350 copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" and many of the buyers are expected to attend the "Potter Party" that precedes the actual release.

The festivities, which begin at 11:30 p.m., will include a broomstick parade by participants of Bloomsbury's broomstick design contest, refreshments and a special appearance by a guest wizard. The event for the last book attracted more than 200 people, according to clerk Anita Isser, who expects the crowd to be even larger this time around.

"The place was packed," Isser said.

Tree House Books has also taken many orders, the first of which was placed almost a year ago, before the release date had even been announced. Their party will be held outside in the plaza and, in addition to refreshments provided by Pilaf, will feature the "Night bus," a double-decker bus which fans will be encouraged to board and explore.

Muriel Johnson, the owner of Tree House, has recruited her nieces and nephews to dress up as the main characters and has spent the last year gathering official Harry Potter collectibles such as the Golden Snitch and the Sorting Hat for the 102 door prizes to be given out. The store began holding these parties in 1999 and attendance has increased with each release as the readership has grown to include several generations of readers.

Anticipation has been building since Rowling revealed in late 2005 that this would be the last book of the series. Readers are especially eager to find out the ending, as Rowling also divulged the fact that two of the main characters would be killed.

"I hope Snape turns out to be a good guy," said Savarino Parisi, 27, of Ashland.

Parisi was exposed to the phenomenon when he took his seven year old cousin to see the first Harry Potter movie. Parisi, whose birthday happens to be on the 21st, says he is excited to be among the throngs Friday night.

"It's really great, in this age of instant gratification, to see people of all ages go out at midnight to stand in line for a book," he said.

Organizers are confidant that they will be able to maintain order after midnight; since the bulk of the books are paid for, it is just a matter of handing them out to the anxious readers. Both shops are pre-selling the books for a discount, but will also have plenty on hand Friday night for those who have not yet purchased a copy.

While these activities may appear to be about making money for the shops, Johnson says that there is more to it.

"It is almost impossible for independent bookstores to compete with national booksellers such as Amazon and Cosco, so I take the attitude that we should have fun with this and provide a memorable experience for the children and the Ashland community," she said.