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The country's booksellers were better prepared for the legions of Harry Potter fans who flocked to stores this weekend for the latest instalment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

There was no repeat of the "sold out" signs that greeted many buyers in 2003, eager for a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

The Half-Blood Prince, J. K. Rowling's penultimate book in the seven-part fantasy series, was expected to sell more than 10 million copies round the world in the first 24 hours, with demand taking publishers and sellers by surprise and leaving many with bare shelves.

Borders Books general manager Justin Barratt said both the company's Auckland and Christchurch stores had "a very big day".

The book had been one of the biggest one-day sellers in the group's New Zealand history. Mr Barratt said the company had made sure to order big quantities this time round.

A spokesman for The Warehouse said the company still had plenty in stock despite strong sales all weekend.

At Whitcoulls, despite managers sticking to a no-comment policy, a staff member at the Courtenay Place branch in Wellington said sales were "huge", with the company selling over half its stock.

Demand has been matched round the globe, with online bookseller Amazon.com claiming a record 1.5 million orders.

Chainstore Barnes & Noble, the world's largest bookseller, reported 1 million pre-sales, surpassing the 896,000 Potter books it sold in the first day in 2003.

Children descended on the Scottish city of Edinburgh to hear Rowling read from the book the moment witching hour passed at one minute past midnight, local time.

"I am excited," she said on her way into a dramatically lit Edinburgh Castle. "You get a lot of answers in this book."

Britain's Royal Mail had 150 extra trucks to carry 500,000 copies to customers shivering with anticipation.

WH Smith reported that the book was selling at the rate of 13 a second at its 390 stores. Katrine Skovgaard, 18, who travelled from Denmark and waited in line for six hours at a central London bookstore, said she was going to read the 607-page tome in one sitting.

In Australia, thousands of "Pottermaniacs", some carrying live snakes, besieged bookstores in the Outback. Before dawn in Sydney, 1000 fans boarded a special train called the Gleewarts Express, which took them to a secret location outside the city where they received their copies in the early morning.

Kate Suthers flew out from Britain to take the train.

"I did it three years ago and it was fantastic," she said of a similar launch of an earlier Potter book.

The Harry Potter phenomenon

* Global sales of the first five books in the Harry Potter series have topped 270 million.

* The books are available in 200 countries and 62 languages.

* The three movies have grossed more than US$2.5 billion ($3.7 billion).

- additional reporting: INDEPENDENT, REUTERS