Though details of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" have been kept under the tightest of wraps, fans on Wednesday stumbled across an unexpected and tantalizing preview of J.K. Rowling's latest book on Amazon.com.
The online retail giant posted an audio excerpt from the fifth book in the Harry Potter series, which is set to be released at midnight Friday, June 20, with an initial printing of 8.5 million books, according to publisher Scholastic Inc.
Fans were stunned and excited by the nearly two-minute clip, the first juicy tidbit they've gotten since the fourth book, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," was released in July 2000.
"After the initial, 'Oh, my God, how did this get out legally?' now I'm three times as excited about the book," said Melissa Anelli, managing editor of the Leaky Cauldron, a Harry Potter Web log. "It reveals a lot of details. It gives us a setting. It gives us a lot of clues to work with."
Within two hours of posting the excerpt at noon, Amazon.com recorded six times the number of downloads for media clips, sound samples and trailers than usual, spokeswoman Kristin Schaefer said.
Readers who want to be surprised should skip the next two paragraphs.
In the excerpt, the boy wizard finds himself in a house "that looked as though it belonged to the darkest of wizards," where he runs into his partners in intrigue, Hermione and Ron, after a monthlong separation. His friends assure him that the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry can't expel him because "there's a provision in the decree for the restriction of underage sorcery for the use of magic in life-threatening situations.
And there's a reference to indicate that the mysterious, creepy Dementors are back in Harry's life.
Anticipation over the book has been so high that in December 2002, an unidentified American paid more than $45,000 in a charity auction for a card on which Rowling had handwritten 93 random words of clues about the plot of "Order of the Phoenix," including Ron ... broom ... new.
Scholastic is known for keeping a lid on even the most innocuous details of the Harry Potter books; booksellers, printers and all others who handle the books must sign agreements saying they will not disclose anything about the book before publication. So far, very little information has been released on the content of "Order of the Phoenix," other than the opening line and a couple other sentences.
Security concerns have been heightened lately with a couple recent reports of breaches; in England, for instance, a printing plant worker stole pages from the book last month and tried to sell them to a newspaper. Last week, a court sentenced him to community service.
Fans first stumbled across the audio excerpt Wednesday through America Online and the Leaky Cauldron site, then began posting comments on the clip, Anelli said.
The comments later were removed because Anelli and other editors of the Internet blog didn't want to spoil any surprises, she said.
Scholastic spokeswoman Judy Corman declined to comment on Amazon.com's excerpt. Amazon said it received the clip from the children's audio imprint of the Random House audio group, which could not be reached for comment.
The audio book is read by Jim Dale, the Grammy Award-winning narrator of the four previous Harry Potter North American audio editions.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times