"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the final installment in a children's book series you may have heard about, arrives in stores at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. So, you might ask, why is this a big story?
No, we aren't going to suggest that you stay hydrated while waiting in line for the Muggles to release the magical books at the witching hour - although, it's a fine suggestion.
Instead, we want parents to be aware of what may happen in book seven. Author J.K. Rowling has said two major characters will die in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." No one, except Rowling and her publishers, knows who these characters are, or whether it's just pre-release hype, but speculation is rife that hallowed Harry Potter himself may meet his maker.
This could be devastating for some impressionable children who have grown up with the bespectacled boy wizard for the past 10 years.
"I'm an older person and I feel, let them have a nice ending, let's `imagine' what happened to them all grown up and married and that they went on with their lives," urges Esther Segelman, a Miami Beach mother of eight children ages 12 to 32.
"I wouldn't want my kids to read it, and after all these years they die. They become so involved it becomes a little hard to take. I wouldn't want my 12-year-old to feel cheated, almost. I know they have to learn about a certain part of life but today's children grow up too fast. They should be entitled to enjoy it and dream about it when they are finished reading it."
The sense of loss, dealing with death, even the passing of a fictional character, can have a profound impact on children, experts warn, and parents should be prepared to handle questions and pay attention to behaviors that could arise come 12:02 Saturday morn.
"Different people identify with different characters in all forms of literature. Parents should be cognizant of whom their child deals with in any book," says Dr. Mitch Spero, a licensed psychologist at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood.
"With loss issues, if a child is prone to separation disorder, any type of loss will kick up any other loss this child has experienced in life," for example, flashbacks to the death of a relative or other loved one.
Problems can include depression, sleeplessness, temper tantrums, reverting to bed wetting. Older kids could become irritable, frustrated.
The key is communicating openly and honestly with your children. But the wildly popular "Harry Potter" series poses a somewhat different scenario from other youth-oriented classics tackling death and loss such as "The Diary of Anne Frank," "The Yearling," "Little Women," "Old Yeller" and such.
"The hardest thing for kids with "Potter" is that having a legitimate discussion about the reality of death and dying may be difficult because so much of "Potter" is surrounded by magic," says Dr. Daniel Armstrong, director of the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami. "Some children are going to be asking questions - What is life? What is death? And ... what magic happened and is he going to be rescued?"
It won't be a problem if you're prepared. "This can lead to a discussion about the mind of an author and how authors put stories together," Armstrong says.
However, it's not just kids who may have a problem dealing with the demise of a popular fictional character.
Adults of a certain age can think back to how they felt when Mary Richards shut the lights off for the last time at WJM studios on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Or, more recently when plasma screens went blank and you knew you'd never see Tony Soprano and his family again on HBO. Will you ever listen to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" in the same way and not have an emotional response?
"I'm going to be more distressed the entire series is ending than if any particular character dies," says Barbara Overton, mom to a household of "Potter" fanatics in Coral Gables, Fla. "If Harry died, or Ron, or Hermione, you'd have to imagine it's because they are saving someone else, ultimately the battle between good and evil."
Overton, who says she has been living with "Potter" for seven years, figures this will be her strategy should her kids experience "Potter" trauma if the rumors prove true.
"I'd like to think good will win out, but there are some costs to it," she says. "If someone has to die for good to triumph it can be a positive story. There is sacrifice sometimes. They are not real people but it's nice to use them to tell our stories."
Her daughter, Sarah Murray, 10, a sixth-grader, says she thinks it makes sense to kill Harry in the final book. "I'd be sad if he died. It would probably be Ron saving Hermione. I can't think of a way Hermione would die. ... But if Harry's dead she wouldn't have to write another one."
Not that Rowling intends to add an eighth book. Whatever may happen, Sarah's facing it head on. "We're having a party and then going to Books & Books at midnight."
Ryan Marsh, who awaits the release of "Deathly Hallows" in his hometown of Vancouver, Wash., is also thinking practically. "It would be sad, but it's her story and ... I'd be sad and lots of people would be sad, but it would be a good emotional point in the story. It would be a good ending so no one could steal it in future years," the 14-year-old ninth-grader says.
Despite her mother's hopes for a brighter ending, Nechama Segelman, 16, hopes for a "melancholy" ending, not a "cookie-cutter happy one" and feels some loss could spur the survivors on to greatness, much in the way young Harry rallied after his parents were slain by the evil Voldemort.
So far, these kids are all right. What about yours?