Pottermania reached fever pitch in London last week, where the world premiere of the last Harry Potter film was held in Trafalgar Square. Tears were shed by Emma Watson and JK Rowling as thousands of fans waved placards, collected autographs and screamed their appreciation for the stars on Thursday afternoon. Some had slept on the streets for almost a week - braving torrential rain in order to secure a spot next to the red carpet - but the atmosphere was more elated than exhausted, with buzzing groups dressed up in stripy scarfs, wizards' hats and Harry's signature round glasses.
Speaking from the red carpet, the film's star, Daniel Radcliffe, struggled to express his emotions. "It's been the most amazing, inspirational, surreal, bizarre, wonderful 10 years that I will probably ever have in all my life," he said, adding that he owes any future success to "the fact that I got very, very lucky when I was 11".
Deafening screams went up from the crowd for Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, the film's other young stars, but perhaps the biggest cheer of the night went to the series' author, JK Rowling, who fought back tears throughout her speech. "You know what, maybe I'll just write another one," she quipped, adding quickly, "that is a joke - but I've never come closer than standing here tonight." She thanked the fans, saying that "no story lives unless someone wants to listen".
It was the biggest premiere event in London's history, with a red carpet that began in Trafalgar Square and stretched all the way to Leicester Square, where the film screened. Hundreds of police officers were present and a barrier separated lucky (and tenacious) fans who had managed to get the all-important red wristbands, which allowed access to Trafalgar Square for the red-carpet event, from all the other eager crowds who climbed on benches, chairs and nearby buildings to get a glimpse of the action from behind the wall.
Sixteen-year-old Eva Wharton was one of those who got to see the action up close. With melting red-and-yellow face paint (the colours of the Hogwarts quidditch team), and a huge poster signed by the cast, she said that she had started queuing on Tuesday night, sleeping on the street for two nights in a sleeping bag. When it rained, she huddled under a groundsheet.
"The worst part was trying to sleep," she said. "Everyone's talking and there's nowhere comfortable." The best moment, she said, was getting the stars' autographs - especially Grint, the actor who plays Harry's pal Ron Weasley and who seems to be the cast's main heartthrob, judging by the placards on display.
Fifteen-year-old Emily Cornelius, from Hayling Island in Hampshire, was there with her friend Sophie Good, who was carrying a placard, which read "Keep Calm and Marry Ron". The pair had arrived at Trafalgar Square on Wednesday morning with a handful of others, all dressed up with fake glasses and lightning-shaped scars, but they had all missed out on the wristbands.
"We're gutted," Emily said. "We've been standing here in the pouring rain all day - we had umbrellas but they started leaking." It wasn't all gloom, though, despite the girls' sadness that the franchise was coming to an end. "It's so good to be here and experience everything," Emily added. "Even if you can't really get a clear view, the atmosphere is electric."
It had only taken that group a little more than two hours to make the trip to Trafalgar Square, but there were plenty of fans who had travelled considerably farther. Five women in their mid-twenties, wearing witches' hats and carrying wands, had come from Italy. One carried a sign reading "Joanne, thanks for bringing the magic in our lives".
Another girl, Lou Ravelli, had travelled from Toulouse in the south of France to the premiere as a 14th birthday treat, although she hadn't managed to get red-carpet access. She said that the first Harry Potter book had come out the year she was born, so she had grown up alongside the characters. "It's incredible," she said. "I was so happy to see Draco Malfoy! I love Harry Potter."
The high emotional pitch of the evening came not just from the devotion of the fans to a story, but from the feeling that for many, it was the end of an era. Like Ravelli, many felt that they had grown up alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione, and were reeling from the realisation that this would no longer be the case.
"I started reading the books when I was eight, and I'm 21 now," said Nayiri Yardim, a fan dressed as Hermione, with a wand made from a rolled up sheet of paper wrapped with string and blackened with shoe polish. "It's been my entire childhood. When you're young, you imagine how cool it would be [to be at Hogwarts]. It's such a huge phenomenon; we're never going to get anything like this in our generation again. We're the Harry Potter generation."
Most of the thousands who crowded around Trafalgar Square will have to wait another week to see the film itself, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. A few lucky ones got to sneak into the premiere itself, and weren't disappointed. "Amazing," was the word repeated most often among those leaving the cinema, including the TV presenter Jonathan Ross and his family. Press reviews, too, have been glowing.
Despite pleas from fans and teasing suggestions from Rowling, it looks as though it really will be the final chapter of one of the most successful series in history. Except for the electronic release of the books via Rowling's website, Pottermore, in October, that is, when readers will be able to participate in Potter-related games and quizzes while reading the familiar stories.
Radcliffe preferred not to see the premiere as a farewell. "I don't think the end of the story happens tonight," he said on the red carpet, to rapturous cheers. "Because each and every person who has followed these films over the last 10 years will carry the story with them through the rest of their lives."
For anyone who's met a hard-core Potter fan, it's clear that this isn't an exaggeration.