The seventh and final Harry Potter book flew off the shelves on Saturday as fans the world over snapped up copies to discover the fate of the boy wizard and his Hogwarts pals.

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows looks set to become the fastest selling book on record based on early estimates, following months of hype and a carefully orchestrated launch designed to maximize sales and suspense.

Internet leaks of the book's contents and newspaper articles containing spoilers appear not to have dampened enthusiasm among readers old and young, thousands of whom dressed as characters from the book.

Some could not wait to see what lay in store for the characters they have grown up with over the last decade.

I couldn't stop myself from finding out the end first, said Vineet Sharma in Mumbai.

In Johannesburg, Liezl van Rensburg said: I usually read the last page first, but this time I'm going to try not to.

In London, thousands of Potter followers from dozens of countries dressed as witches, Hogwarts heroes, Death Eaters and plain non-magical Muggles for the midnight launch. Many more awoke at dawn in Australia and India to snap up early copies.

In New York, two teenaged boys disguised as wizards ran around with brooms between their legs, pretending to battle each other in a game of Quidditch.

Social worker Julia Schafer, 26, anxiously waited in line to find out her hero's fate. I would really hope that Voldemort dies. The evil has to end, she said.

In Australia, a fan had to be rescued from a lake in Canberra on Friday after he dived in to rescue a pre-purchase receipt necessary to pick up his book. In Pakistan, a bomb scare in Karachi forced a shop to cancel a Potter event.


Early reviews, some of them appearing before the official publication date, were overwhelmingly positive.

This chest-crusher of a book ends the Harry Potter series with a bang, said Kate Muir in the Times.

The plot hatched over 17 years of writing clicks into place, loose ends interlocking, all as complex as a magical lock at Hogwarts Castle.

Book store chains in Britain said first-night sales eclipsed even those of the sixth Harry Potter volume.

We've sold 100,000 copies in the first two hours across the business in the UK, said Fiona Allen of Waterstone's. That has outstripped anything we've sold before.

The WH Smith chain sold 15 books every second across Britain overnight, breaking the record set by the previous Potter installment of 13 per second in 2005.

Online retailer received 2.2 million pre-orders for Deathly Hallows, up 47 percent on book six, and 12 million copies were printed for the U.S. market alone.

The excitement came despite plot leaks on the Internet, some of which proved to be genuine. A mistake by one U.S. online retailer also meant up to 1,200 copies were sent to buyers several days early.

Rowling, credited with putting the fun back into reading for millions of children and adults, said she was staggered when two U.S. newspapers ran reviews on Thursday.

Just 13 years ago, the 41-year-old was an unemployed single mother, without a publisher or agent, but is now the world's first dollar billionaire writer having sold over 325 million books so far.

(Additional reporting by Krittivas Mukherjee in Mumbai, James Macharia in Johannesburg, Michael Smith in Sydney and Imtiaz Shah in Karachi)