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Potter & prince ready for print

London, Dec. 21 (Reuters): Christmas came early for fans of the fictional boy wizard Harry Potter today, with news that author J.K. Rowling has finished the sixth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The book, set to be published on July 16, 2005 in Britain, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, picks up the story of Harry Potter's sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as his evil foe Lord Voldemort's 'power and followers are increasing day by day,' publishers Bloomsbury and Scholastic said.

'I know you all expected this to happen on Christmas Day, but I was sure that those of you who celebrate Christmas have better things to do on the day itself than fight your way into my study, whereas those of you who don't celebrate Christmas would definitely prefer not to wait until the 25th,' she said in a message on her website, accessible only after fans solve several riddles.

The book, which has been delivered to the publishers, opens with a chapter that 'has been brewing in J.K. Rowling's mind for 13 years,' Bloomsbury and Scholastic said. The author has said the 'half-blood prince' of the title is neither Harry nor Voldemort.

'I am so excited!!! We've all waited so long!!!! Thank you JK!!!!!!!!!!' one fan gushed on a Harry Potter website.

More than a quarter of a billion Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide in 60 languages ranging from Gujarati to Ancient Greek.

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