LAWRENCEVILLE - Just a week ago, Lora Moulin was sure the ending of the final Harry Potter book would remain a secret until its release at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
"Nobody is going to be able to spoil the end because no one but Ms. Rowling (the author) herself knows that," said Moulin, assistant store manager at a Duluth Barnes and Noble and an avid fan of the hugely popular series. "Anyone who claims to know the end, it's just their opinion."
What a difference a week makes.
Since that conversation, newspapers have obtained copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" and written advance reviews, purported endings have been posted on Web sites and two distributors are facing legal trouble for delivering copies ahead of schedule.
All this information surrounding the conclusion to the series poses a major conundrum for fans who want the end to remain a secret but still look at the book's release as a very communal event.
Many fans enjoy getting together on Internet message boards to share their Harry Potter experience. Those looking to ruin the book know these Web sites are perfect places to find fans who just can't stay away.
"It looks like the spoilers have slowed down today (Thursday)," one blogger on mugglenet.com posted. "Yesterday was awful. ... I know I should just quit reading but I can't."
Another prime location for spoilers to execute their attacks: Harry Potter parties at local bookstores.
A video on Youtube.com filmed during the release of the last Harry Potter book shows a person in Dallas, Texas, driving by a line of people outside a Barnes and Noble and yelling "Snape kills Dumbledore" - the book's surprise ending. Several distraught fans are heard responding in disgust.
Many local stores said they haven't had any problems at past Harry Potter parties and aren't expecting any this year.
"We had a big party here from 7 p.m. through 1 a.m. and didn't hear of any problems (last time)," said Robert Johnstone, general manager of the Borders bookstore in Snellville. "There could've been some, but we didn't hear of any."
Wal-Mart will hand out ear plugs at a number of metro Atlanta stores to help fans avoid any chance of having the ending ruined. The Stone Mountain store on Rockbridge Road is the only one in Gwinnett giving out ear plugs.
"It's a hugely popular book and it's the last one in the series, so that's the reason we've made the special effort to keep the magic alive for everyone who wants to read it," said Marisa Bluestone, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart has made employees pledge not to talk about the ending at registers even after the book's release. The company also started a Web site (www.makethepledge.net) where more than 20,000 fans have agreed not to spoil the ending for fellow customers.
"A lot of muggle (non-magic) Wal-Mart customers out there believe in keeping it a secret as well," Bluestone said.
But the New York Times and Baltimore Sun have not been overly concerned with keeping everything a secret. Both newspapers obtained advanced copies of the book and published reviews giving away some of the book's plot.
Sandy Lenahan, a Loganville resident, couldn't help but read one of the reviews on Thursday so she'd know her prediction, and not her children's, was right.
"There's all the stuff between the beginning and the end," Lenahan said. "It's not a big deal to find out the end ahead of time."
But the actions drew the ire of Rowling on Thursday.
"I am staggered that American newspapers have decided to publish purported spoilers in the form of reviews in complete disregard of the wishes of literally millions of readers," Rowling said in a press release.
Those words sound far less threatening when compared to a statement from Scholastic Corp., the United States distributor of Harry Potter books. The company plans to take legal action against two Illinois companies, Levy Home Entertainment and DeepDiscount.com, which began distributing copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" through the mail Tuesday. Such an action was a breach of their agreement not to distribute copies before 12:01 a.m., according to a press release from Scholastic.
Scholastic has also worked over the last several days to remove pictures from the internet that show each page of the final book. It's unclear whether the pictures are authentic.