Potter fans spellbound by London world premiere

Excitement reached fever pitch in central London as thousands of spellbound Harry Potter fans waited to see the stars on the red carpet Thursday for the world premiere of the final film.

Actors from the epic series were gathering for the launch of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2", the action-packed finale to one of the most successful movie franchises of all time.

The film sees boy wizard Potter take on the evil Lord Voldemort in a climactic showdown, the second of two movies based on the seventh and final Potter book by British author J.K. Rowling.

Fans from around the world have slept out in London's Trafalgar Square, some for more than six days, desperate to catch a last glimpse of the film's stars all together.

Some wore sorcerers' capes, while others waved magic wands or were dressed as their favourite characters.

Despite the excitement, some fans were sad to wave farewell to the Potter magic.

Rowidah Alnajar, a 20-year-old Saudi woman who lives in London, said she had slept on the floor in a sleeping bag.

"It's really important for me. It's the end of my childhood. I can't believe it," she told AFP.

"I was 11 when I saw the first one. I was fascinated. I've seen all the movies. I was here at all the premieres but I was never able to get in."

Lou Ravelli, 13, waving a fake wand, and wearing a sorcerer's cloak, said: "It's the greatest day of my life. I'm a lifelong fan. I'll be so happy if I get to meet them!"

It was an emotional time for the actors too, said Rupert Grint, who plays Potter's sidekick Ron Weasley.

"We all cried. Everyone," he said, recalling the final day of filming. "It was realising that this 10 years have come down to this one shot and we'd never be coming back."

Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Potter, is taking time off from appearing in a Broadway musical to attend the premiere, along with Hermione Granger actress Emma Watson and Grint.

Cast members, comprising some of the best-known names in British cinema including Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Michael Gambon, John Hurt, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters and Tom Felton were also expected to attend.

They will walk from Trafalgar Square to Leicester Square - the traditional home of movie premieres in Britain - through streets transformed into Diagon Alley, the London hub of the fictional wizarding world.

Stars were due to start arriving from 4:00 pm (1500 GMT), with the film screenings - in three Leicester Square cinemas - some three hours later.

The premiere of what is the darkest film in the series could be accompanied by thunder and rain, forecasters said.

The three main stars have accumulated huge fortunes on the back of the decade-long series, but must now discard the capes and wands as they plot careers outside the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The film will hit British and US cinemas on July 15 and is the first Potter movie in a 3D version as well as the regular 2D release.

The first Harry Potter film was released in 2001 and the seven movies so far have earned 6.4 billion dollars (4.4 billion euros) globally.

"Part 2" covers the final third of the book and is a fast-paced adventure, in contrast to "Part 1" which served as a scene-setter for the explosive final battle.

More than 400 million copies of the Potter books have been sold since struggling single mother Rowling published the first instalment, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone", in 1997.

The young sorcerer's exploits soon became a global phenomenon with the books now available in 69 languages and the films mesmerising audiences worldwide.

As the curtain comes down on the series, Radcliffe, 21, said he hoped it was not the end of the friendship between the co-stars.

"Myself, Rupert and Emma have spent 10 years with each other... I do think the bond is pretty unbreakable," he said in New York on Wednesday. "Hopefully, we'll work together again."

Watson, also 21, said: "Hermione has been like my sister and I'll actually miss being her.

"Hermione is such an incredible young woman. She made me a better person."

Despite the films and books coming to an end, Rowling last month unveiled an interactive website featuring new material about Potter's world.

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