HARRY Potter enthusiasts are facing further disappointment after waiting two years to learn what happens in the schoolboy wizard’s fifth year at Hogwarts School.
Publication of the next book in the series by JK Rowling looks set to slip further behind schedule and could even be delayed until next year.
Rowling, who married Dr Neil Murray, an anaesthetist, last December and has made 220 million from worldwide sales of Harry Potter, has still not delivered the manuscript for the book to her publishers and has refused to give any hints about when it will be ready.
But unless it is completed within the next few weeks, her publishers, Bloomsbury, will fail to meet their target publication date of September this year.
Bloomsbury is estimated to have relied on Harry Potter for half of its 9.3 million profits last year and the timing of the arrival of the fifth book will be critical for the publishing industry.
The company has refused to give a definite date other than to say: "In a perfect world the date would be early autumn 2002, but we will wait until the book is written before making a decision."
However, Rowling’s publishers in the US, Scholastic, is now reported to have told shareholders to expect the book some time before June 2003 and that publication cannot take place until four to five months after the manuscript is completed.
The delay in the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, comes as the Potter publishing phenomenon is finally showing signs of running out of steam. For the first time in four years, not one of the Potter books appeared in the top 20 of the list of UK bestsellers, released last week.
The first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, has now slipped to number 80 in the chart, compiled by Whitaker’s BookTrack, after spending more than 200 weeks in the top ten.
Rowling has always said there will be seven books in the Harry Potter series, each one of them describing a year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
In an interview earlier this year, Rowling revealed that she had already written the final chapter of the last book.
The first four books were all published in consecutive years up until July 2000, but Rowling then said she was taking a year out in 2001.
During her gap year, she helped promote the film version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which took 650 million at the box office and became the second biggest box-office hit of all time after Titanic. It is expected to become the biggest selling video of all time when it is released this Saturday.
Rowling, 35, also moved into a 1.9 million home, Killiechassie House, near Aberfeldy, Perthshire, where she lives with her husband and her daughter, Jessica, from her first marriage.
Many of the 200-plus websites set up by Harry Potter readers are filled with speculation on reasons for the delay in publication of the fifth book, but Rowling has strongly rejected the theory that she may be struggling to finish it because of the massive weight of expectation generated by the global success of the first four books.
In a letter to The Scotsman last year, she said: "There is no writer's block. On the contrary, I am writing away very happily."