Fans queued up at bookshops at midnight to be the first to get their hands on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff
Loud cheers erupted as the clock struck midnight - and the waiting was finally over.
At last, after three long years, Harry Potter's legions of admirers had their hands on the book they had been holding out for.
At Waterstone's in central London, the boys and girls in their pointy hats and wizards' capes helped a giant Hagrid look-alike count down the seconds..."10, nine, eight, seven..."
Harry Mangan, six, clutches his copy of the book
As the witching hour duly arrived, it was just too exciting for some of the hundreds of youngsters who had waited for hours outside.
Shrieks of joy greeted the opening of the shop's doors as the queue surged forward and the first eager fans raced inside.
They emerged beaming, clutching the brightly-coloured 766-page adventure that had kept them up, in some cases, well past their bedtimes.
"Me and my friends are obsessed with it," said Louise Lawlor, 13, from Middlesex, barely able to contain her delight.
"We really love Harry Potter, and everything about it. We're his biggest fans."
Her friend Rachel Hardaway, 12, was equally caught up by the thrill of the evening.
"Some people say I'm stupid but it's a huge part of my life," she said. "I'm going to take lots of caffeine and stay up all night to read it."
Cars tooted their horns in response to cries of "honk for Harry" among the line of youngsters stretching hundreds of yards along Piccadilly.
The queue was punctuated here and there by grown-ups similarly entranced by Rowling's storytelling.
Brian Christenson, 43 and his wife Laura, 42, from Vancouver, Canada, gave up part of their holiday in London to spend five hours queuing for the book with their daughter Amanda, 12.
"It's probably one of the highlights of the holiday," said Mrs Christenson, a housewife.
"We love the characters and how you get into the inner workings of their mind."
Sinead Miller and her friends Stevie Finegan, Martha Kilpatrick, Savannah Mazda, Suzanna Dickson and Vienna Francis-Mullins, all 13, had waited eight hours at the front of the queue to get their books.
"I'd spend a thousand pounds on it if I had to," said Sinead. Happily for her, £11.99 was all she needed.
Henry Pipe (note the initials, Potter theorists) is a 26-year-old engineering manager, but could have passed for the boy wizard in his black shawl and glasses.
"Potter is utterly timeless, compelling and intelligent," he said, waving his wand in the air as he waited alongside his former university friend Nick Tucker, 24.
Meanwhile, inside the store, select invited guests and their children were enjoying the summer party circuit's must-have ticket at a lavish launch party reputedly costing £100,000.
Youngsters were kept entertained by actors dressed as Hogwarts staff, or awaited the midnight hour at stalls with names such as Weasley's Wizard Wheezes or Madam Malkin's Robes For All Occasions.
Dame Judi Dench praised Rowling's imagination and writing
Famous faces with their families included singer Sting, chef Gordon Ramsay, theatre director Sir Trevor Nunn, and actresses Dame Judi Dench, Meera Syal and Jenny Agutter.
Sir Trevor, accompanied by his actress wife Imogen Stubbs and their son Jesse, seven, told BBC News Online he was a fan of the books.
"I think Rowling writes very well and it's a fantastic achievement to bridge the generation gap in the way she has done," he said.
Dame Judi, with her daughter Finty and grandson Sammy, six, said: "It's wonderful for children because it's getting them reading. It's extraordinary what Rowling's done."
Jenny Agutter's son, Jonathan, 12, said: "What I love about it is that you can get into a world of your own. You can really believe in the characters and feel sympathy for them."
Meera Syal's daughter, Milli, 10, said Ron was her favourite character because "he makes me laugh".
As midnight chimed, Hagrid stooped to a wooden chest to retrieve an armful of copies of Order of The Phoenix.
First to receive the treasured book was five-year-old Clemmy Follett, who seemed thrilled if slightly bewildered.
Asked which character she liked the best, she said: "Hermione. She's pretty."