THE local rumour mill had been working overtime, with everyone from the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles to Ewan McGregor in the frame as new owners of Killiechassie House in Aberfeldy, Perthshire.

However, the speculators were put out of their misery yesterday when the buyer of the country mansion was revealed as JK Rowling, the author of Harry Potter.

It is understood the writer bought the 136-year-old house on the banks of the Tay a few months ago and has visited two or three times over the summer. The price was reported to be around half a million pounds.

News of the purchase emerged yesterday amid reports that contractors working on the house had been asked to sign contracts with clauses banning them from speaking to the media.

Neighbours who discovered the identity of the new owner were understood to have been asked to keep Rowling's secret at least until the massive publicity surrounding the first Harry Potter film, which opened last week, had died down.

William Jackson, of CKD Finlayson Hughes, the Perth-based selling agents, yesterday confirmed the author had bought the ''retreat''. He said: ''Killiechassie House is a most attractive family home. This area of Perthshire is highly sought after.''

Neither he nor Colman Getty, Rowling's PR firm based in Edinburgh, would comment further and refused to clarify if Killiechassie would now become the main home for the author, her daughter, and Neil Murray, her partner. Rowling currently lives in London.

One of Rowling's new neighbours, who did not wish to be named, said: ''She has been up two or three times during the summer to the house although I have not seen her myself. Most of the area knew she was going to live here already and we just hope she settles in well.''

While Rowling's new home may not be as vast as the castle, housing Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry, its stunning location may provide inspiration for new stories for the fifth Harry Potter book or other instalments.

It is rumoured a sycamore tree on the estate, which was broken up years ago, gave shelter to Bonnie Prince Charlie during the ill-fated Jacobite Rising of 1745.

The house is located around two-and-a-half miles down a quiet lane from Aberfeldy although, as the broom flies, it is only just across the river from it and sits close to historic Menzies castle and General Wade's Aberfeldy bridge. The house is protected by 6ft electronic gates and a CCTV camera.

Helen Foley, 40, who worked at Killiechassie as a domestic for two months during the summer of 1999, said Rowling has bought a ''gorgeous house''. She said the previous owner was an ''Italian in the music business'' but would not give his name.

John Allan, 37, said his children, who already have seen the Harry Potter film twice, would be delighted: ''I haven't seen her around myself but a few people have told me she's been seen in town.''

Meanwhile, Harry Potter has matched another record, tying with the last Star Wars movie for fastest film to gross $100m domestically.

By the end of Tuesday, distributor Warner Bros projected Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (as the film is titled in the US) would hit $105m after five days. That would equal the amount Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace took in 1999.