The mystery surrounding the end to fictional British boy wizard Harry Potter's saga deepened on Wednesday with a computer hacker posting what he said were key plot details and a publisher warned the details could be fake.
The hacker, who goes by the name Gabriel, claims to have taken a digital copy of author J.K. Rowling's seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by breaking into a computer at London-based Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
For months now, leading up to the book's July 21 release, legions of Harry Potter fans have debated whether Rowling killed Harry or one of his best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, in the final book.
Gabriel has posted information at Web site InSecure.org that, if true, would answer that question.
We make this spoiler to make reading of the upcoming book useless and boring, Gabriel said in the posting.
Harry Potter publishers have taken great pains to keep the conclusion a secret and preserve the multibillion-dollar entertainment enterprise surrounding the boy wizard.
A Bloomsbury spokesman declined comment on the hacker's claims.
Kyle Good, a spokesman for U.S. distributor Scholastic Corp., would not say whether the posting was accurate, but did warn readers to be skeptical about anything on the Web that claims to have inside information on the book's plot.
There is a whole lot of junk flying around, she said. Consider this one more theory.
David Perry, a spokesman for computer security company Trend Micro, said there was a good chance Gabriel's claim could be a hoax.
We've had hypes like this on the last couple of Harry Potter books, he said. There is a very high level of spurious information in the hacker world.
But if true, it could be a problem for Bloomsbury. The Harry Potter books have been global best-sellers with fans buying some 320 million versions worldwide, and anticipation for Deathly Hallows is high.
In April, U.S. retailer Barnes & Noble said advance orders for the book had already topped 500,000 copies, setting a chain record. Scholastic plans to release a record 12 million copies of Deathly Hallows to meet demand.
A stolen copy of the sixth Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince surfaced in Britain about a month before its official release in July 2005. Two people were charged after reportedly trying to sell a copy to the London tabloid the Sun.
Four Potter movies made by Warner Bros. film studio, a division of Time Warner Inc., have brought in $3.5 billion in global ticket sales, and a fifth film is due in theaters in early July.
(Additional reporting by Bob Tourtellotte in Los Angeles and Kate Holton in London.)