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With new book, Potter casts spell on Web yet again

New J.K. Rowling title, not to hit shelves until July, hits pre-release No. 1 and boosts Christmas sales.

Stand down, Bill Clinton. Take your seat, Da Vinci Code-ers.

The next Harry Potter book has just been announced, and it's rocketed--or broomsticked--to No. 1 on's best-seller list. Author J.K. Rowling posted official word of her sixth book's completion Wednesday on her Web site. Titled "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the book will be shorter than the last 38-chapter whopper and will hit shelves on both sides of the Atlantic on July 16 of next year.

"I have a great feeling of release in being able to talk freely about the fact that the book is finished; it has been a weighty secret to carry around, as you can imagine," Rowling wrote on her site. "But finally sharing it with you was wonderful--much more fun than wrapping presents and tidying the house before the family arrives, which is what I am supposed to be doing at the moment."

For fans who have been waiting eagerly since the last release (it's been 549 days since the last installment), the announcement is certainly a Christmas treat, but it's not such a shabby gift for online retailers, either.

Barnes & Noble's Web site also has the book listed as its top-seller, nearly seven months before release. Amazon said it sold more than 1.3 million pre-release titles of the last book, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," setting a record for early orders and accounting for more than $23 million in sales--even at a 40 percent off discount.

For those who truly can't wait until July to feed their Potter mania, there are dozens of fan sites, such as MuggleNet and The Leaky Cauldron.

There's also the "Unofficial Half-Blood Prince Update," a regularly updated e-book available from Amazon for $11.94, which serves as a one-stop guide to all the real information, fan speculation and mysteries surrounding the identity of the mysterious half-royal in the book's title.

For those less manic, a quick trip through Rowling's own site has a few nuggets, such as information on characters expunged from previous books and efforts to dispel rumors that serve as tantalizing new hints on their own.

"This is where I can tell you the truth about rumors or news stories, where I can share the extra information I haven't put in the books, where I can give you hints and clues about what's going to happen to Harry next, and where I can announce I've finished book seven," Rowling writes in her welcome. "And no, that's not going to happen very soon."