Harry Potter returns with grey hairs in new JK Rowling story

In an article on the “Pottermore” website written in the form of a gossip column, Harry and his friends reunite at a tournament of the broomstick-riding game quidditch.

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Harry’s red-haired friend Ron Weasley is said to be thinning on top, while the 1,500-word story raises questions over the state of Harry’s marriage to Ron’s sister Ginny Weasley.

   

Millionaire author Rowling meanwhile gives a teaser when she writes that Harry — played by the actor Daniel Radcliffe in the films spawned by the book — sports a new scar on his cheek to go with the lightning-shaped one on his forehead.

   

“About to turn 34, there are a couple of threads of silver in the famous Auror’s (high-level wizard’s) black hair, but he continues to wear the distinctive round glasses that some might say are better suited to a style-deficient twelve-year-old,” the story says.

   

There is a further hint of things to come when the story asks whether the “chosen one” might be “embroiled in fresh mysteries that will one day explode upon us all, plunging us into a new age of terror and mayhem.”

   

Rowling has sold more than 450 million copies of the Harry Potter books — which tell the story of the young wizard and his friends at the Hogwarts school of magic — while they have also spawned a string of hit films and the Pottermore website.

   

Her latest piece is written in the form of a gossip column by Rita Skeeter of the Daily Prophet, a character from the Potter books who draws on the author’s own vocal criticisms of British tabloid journalism.

   

In the story, Harry brings his two sons James and Albus — last seen in the epilogue to the seventh and final instalment “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” — to see the “2014 Quidditch Cup”.

   

But the story hints at problems in his marriage to Ginny, now a journalist covering the tournament, asking: “Are cracks beginning to show in a union that the Potters are determined to promote as happy?”

   

Meanwhile Ron Weasley — played by actor Rupert Grint in the films — has gone to work at the family magic shop but the columnist whispers about “mental illness”.

   

Ron and Hermione Grainger — played by actress Emma Watson — also have two children in the new story, son Hugo and daughter Rose.

   

Hermione has enjoyed a “meteoric rise” to Deputy Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement but the gossipy writer asks: “Does Hermione Granger prove that a witch really can have it all? (No – look at her hair.)”

   

There is no sign however that Rowling has acted on her admission earlier this year that she should have married off Hermione to Harry, and that Ron and Hermione would probably have ended up in marriage counselling.

   

The new piece is part of a series about the Quidditch Cup — a nod to the football World Cup in Brazil — that are set to appear on Pottermore. The final article will be published on Friday and will see Ginny Potter cover the cup final, between Brazil and Bulgaria.

   

Rowling has been keeping busy since the seventh and final novel in the series was published in 2007.

   

She published her first adult novel, “The Casual Vacancy”, to mixed reviews in 2012 and has also released two big-selling crime novels under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith.  

   

She announced last year that she will make her screenwriting debut by penning a series of spin-off films set in the Potter world, starting with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”.

Cook aiming for much-needed runs against India

But he told a news conference on Tuesday that he does not feel out of form, despite coming under pressure not just for his paucity of runs but also a perceived lack of attacking instinct as captain.

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Having spent 10 days away since losing the second and final test to Sri Lanka, the left-hander said he was ready to start contributing with the bat.

“I never have felt that I’ve been hitting the ball particularly badly this summer – I scored some runs for Essex at the beginning of the season and I haven’t managed to transform that into runs for England,” he said.

“I know how important it is at the top of the order to do that and I’m desperately keen to lead from the front and score some runs.

“As a batter especially, you’re in there because you are one of the top six batters in the country and your job is to score the runs to set up the game for England. Doesn’t matter if you’re captain or not.

“I haven’t been doing that over the last year or so, and no-one’s keener than me to put that right,” he added. “I know I’ve got to score runs at the top of the order in this series.”

Cook did not think leading the team had interfered with his job of laying a strong platform for England’s middle order, having seen his side fail to register a win in their past eight tests and slump to series losses to Australia and Sri Lanka.

HUGE HONOUR

“It’s a huge honour to do this and I can go to sleep knowing I’ve thrown everything I’ve got into it,” he said.

Cook was confident Matt Prior would be fit to keep wicket, despite hurting his thigh in training on Monday, and said the selectors faced a tough choice regarding Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes, back in the squad, having taking 10 wickets for his county.

The place of newcomer Chris Jordan, who performed well in his first two tests against Sri Lanka, appears most at risk should Stokes be selected.

India have only three players in their 18-strong squad – captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, seamer Ishant Sharma and opener Gautam Gambhir – who have played a test in England previously.

Rahul Dravid has been asked to mentor the younger players as they look to win their first test overseas since 2011.

“We wanted a mentor with the side who can talk about his past experience, a lot of stuff but not just talking about technical things,” wicketkeeper-batsman Dhoni told reporters.

“A lot of it is [Dravid] interacting with the youngsters, and they are comfortable talking to him.

“We noticed that in South Africa. He was part of the commentary team and they’d go up to him and approach him, have a chat whether it’s cricket or something else.”

(Reporting by Josh Reich, editing by Neville Dalton)

Gaza conflict: Israel steps up military offensive

Israeli warplanes have killed at least 16 Palestinians, Palestinian officals say.

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The strikes are pounding the Gaza Strip in a new campaign to stamp out Hamas rocket fire as the two sides slide toward major conflict.

In the most serious flare-up over Gaza since November 2012, Israel was on Tuesday struggling to contain a wave of violence in Arab towns over the grisly murder of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas demanded Israel “immediately stop” its air campaign, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, and asked the world to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

But Netanyahu was expected to order a “significant broadening” of the operation and instruct the army to “take off the gloves,” army radio said, quoting a source close to the premier.

Israel calls up 40,000 reservists

After nearly four weeks of intensifying rocket fire on the south, Israel appeared bent on dealing the Islamist Hamas movement a heavy blow, with the cabinet reportedly authorising the call up of some 40,000 reservists.

In central Gaza, one man was killed near Nusseirat refugee camp. Witnesses said he was a member of Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Shortly after, another four people were killed when a missile slammed into a car in Gaza City.

Relatives said the victims were all Hamas militants. One was identified as Mohammed Shaaban, 32, who ran the Brigades’ naval unit.

Seven others were killed and at least 25 wounded when a missile struck a house in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, medics said.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri warned Israel was “playing with fire” and would pay.

Israeli army launch Operation Protective Edge

The Israeli army was preparing all options to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza, including a ground assault, a senior official said.

“The army is preparing for all possible scenarios, including an invasion or a ground operation,” he said.

Military spokesman General Moti Almoz told the radio “we have been instructed by the political echelon to hit Hamas hard”, saying the operation would take place “in stages”.

He also confirmed Israel was preparing for a possible ground offensive.

“All options are on the table; all these steps are being considered. Two brigades, which are currently stationed around the Gaza Strip, are prepared and ready, and in the coming days, more will arrive.”

Around Gaza, dozens of tanks and soldiers could be seen massing along the border.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon warned it was likely to be a protracted campaign.

“We are preparing for a campaign against Hamas, which will not end in just a few days,” he said, with the aim being “to exact a very heavy price from Hamas”.

Since June 12, when the current round of tit-for-tat violence began, more than 250 rockets have hit southern Israel, with another 40 intercepted by the Iron Dome air defence system.

So far no Israelis have been killed.

Since midnight, militants had fired more than 100 rockets, an army spokeswoman said, with about a third hitting Israeli territory.

The rocket fire has drawn a strong reaction from Washington and Brussels.

The latest flare-up comes as Israel arrested six Jewish extremists in connection with the grisly kidnap and murder of the Palestinian teenager, burned alive in a suspected revenge attack the killing of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank.

UN urges Australia review refugee handling

Australia should hold a wide-ranging judicial review of its treatment of asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka, the United Nations’ human rights office said amid uproar over Canberra’s handling of the issue.

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The office’s spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said it welcomed an interim injunction granted late Monday by Australia’s High Court to prevent the handover of a boatload of 153 Sri Lankans, including 37 children.

“We understand that since their interception more than a week ago, the individuals on this vessel have not been able to make contact with family members or refugee organisations,” she told reporters on Tuesday.

“We hope the matter will be subject to a full judicial review in light of Australia’s obligations under international law,” she added.

Among the areas that need checking are whether Australia respects the principle of “non-refoulement” – UN-speak for not turning away a refugee without a fair hearing, a key tenet of the 1951 Refugee Convention.

In addition, Shamdasani said, Australia needs to assess its compliance with the UN Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

On Sunday, another vessel was returned to Sri Lanka following a week of secrecy.

The adults among the group of 41 – 28 men and four women – were charged on Tuesday with having attempted to leave Sri Lanka illegally, a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to two years.

A court in the southern Sri Lankan town of Galle granted bail to 27 of them while five were remanded in custody for two weeks. The nine children were discharged.

Shamdasani said the UN rights office was “deeply disturbed” by their return, given an apparent lack of adequate screening of each of the would-be refugees – most of them ethnic minority Tamils fleeing persecution at home.

The process reportedly involved a four-question interview via video link with the applicants denied the means to challenge it.

“International law requires that each and every case be properly and individually examined on its own merits. This is not something that can or should be done hurriedly, remotely and on the high seas, without procedural safeguards and due process guarantees for those involved,” Shamdasani said.

“Any returns, even from the high seas or in the territorial seas of other states, must be carried out in accordance with international law, under which refoulement and collective expulsions are strictly prohibited,” she added.

She said it was also unclear whether Australia had received any assurances that the returnees would not face ill-treatment in Sri Lanka, nor how Canberra would monitor their fate.

Executive freed as World Cup hospitality probes continue

But his company, MATCH Services, remains at the centre of two investigations that once again raise questions about the business and commercial practices of FIFA, soccer’s governing body and an organisation long tarnished by allegations of corruption and a lack of transparency.

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In addition to the ongoing police probe over a scheme to illegally resell tickets, Brazil’s antitrust authorities for the past year have been investigating whether MATCH, appointed by FIFA to provide ticketing, accommodation and event information technology, unfairly sold hotel bookings at inflated prices.

While the ticketing investigation has gained steam over the past week, with the arrest of 11 suspected scalpers in addition to Whelan, Brazil’s antitrust authority said it will continue analysing MATCH hotel packages at least through the end of the tournament, which ends Sunday.

Cade, as the antitrust authority is known, said on Tuesday that the probe seeks to determine whether the prices charged by MATCH for some of its hotel packages, and exclusivity clauses that enabled the company to reserve large batches of rooms, had any adverse effect on overall pricing for World Cup lodging.

Though Cade said MATCH has cooperated with the investigation since it began, the authority in a statement Tuesday said it “considers it relevant to maintain the investigation open.”

MATCH, for its part, in a statement said it followed “transparent” pricing practices and made block reservations in line with “standard practice for any major event.”

Earlier Tuesday, MATCH said Whelan, an Englishman, was released in Rio de Janeiro and that he will assist police with further enquiries into the ticketing investigation.

That probe seeks to determine whether Whelan enabled a scalping ring by giving them access to tickets that were originally allocated to soccer federations and other VIPs but later resold in violation of Brazilian law. “MATCH have complete faith that the facts will establish that he has not violated any laws,” it said in a statement. Whelan was arrested at Rio’s beachfront Copacabana Palace hotel Monday as a result of the investigation, known as Operation Jules Rimet. The probe has further sullied the reputation of FIFA, which has been subject to previous ticketing controversies at prior World Cups and faces allegations of bribery surrounding Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 tournament.

FIFA on Tuesday also said it is cooperating with Brazilian authorities. Rio de Janeiro police said in a statement that Whelan will be expected to appear for further questioning at a date to be arranged. He has been charged under the Brazilian Supporters’ Statute with “supplying or facilitating the distribution of tickets for a price that is superior to the one printed on the ticket.” MATCH is the main provider of hospitality packages for the World Cup and paid $240 million for the exclusive rights to sell corporate hospitality at the 2010 World Cup and this one.

(Additional reporting by Paulo Prada; Writing by Mike Collett, Editing by Nigel Hunt)