BRUSSELS From the Indian metropolis of Mumbai to the dusty plains of Texas, frenzied fans across the globe are barely a week away from the release of the eighth and final film in the Harry Potter series.
For those who have spent nearly 15 years with the books and movies, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2," which premieres in London July 7 and opens worldwide from July 13, is the end -- a final curtain falling on a narrative that has held them rapt for the bulk of their lives.
Since 1997, the fictional boy wizard has gathered a massive global following -- there are 28 million followers of the movies alone on Facebook -- often dubbed the "Harry Potter generation."
"Some of the most ardent fans feel that they grew up right alongside Harry; as he aged, so did they," said Edmund Kern, a professor who teaches a Potter course at Lawrence University in Wisconsin and the author of "The Wisdom of Harry Potter."
The seven books in the Potter series have sold nearly half a billion copies worldwide and the first seven movies have grossed $6.4 billion for Warner Bros. since the release of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's (Sorcerer's) Stone" in 2001.
J.K. Rowling, the author of the books, has amassed more money than the queen of England and is heralded as a visionary for creating an alternative world to rival great works of fiction such as J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings."
For many fans, the release of the final book in 2007 was the end of Harry Potter, but others have clung to the movies as a way to keep Pottermania alive, and this Thursday's movie premiere will give loyalists a second chance to say goodbye.
"I'm just really excited to see the end of the series play out on the big screen and go out with the bang it deserves," said Paul Torres, 19, of Dallas, Texas, who said he had got chills seeing the trailer for Deathly Hallows.
"It's kind of cool to be able to look back and say that I remember each book being released, each movie coming out. It was without a doubt a large part of my childhood."
Martin Richardson, a professor at Durham University and one of the first in Britain to teach a Harry Potter college course, said it was unlikely that the series' sensational popularity would see an immediate drop-off after the final film.
Promises of a Harry Potter encyclopedia and interactive website, let alone Potter-themed events and a theme park in Florida, will sustain fans immersed in the wizard's world.
"'Pottermania' will not end in the foreseeable future: It is too deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of what has been dubbed 'The Harry Potter Generation'," Richardson said.
As an example of the book's influence, Richardson noted that about a quarter of the students on his course admitted that they were disappointed on their 11th birthdays when they didn't receive letters of acceptance to Hogwarts, the magical school of witchcraft and wizardry, as characters in the books do.
"What is understandably lost to adults is the most gloriously subversive concept at the heart of the Harry Potter series -- the notion that there might just be a magical world out there that we Muggles cannot see," he said.
For academics, the story's worldwide popularity -- the books have been translated into more than 60 languages, from Tibetan to Khmer -- stems from the universal themes woven into the plot.
"When reading or watching the characters in the Potterverse, we are also reading about and watching ourselves -- and in particular our relationships, our sense of duty and our identity," said Richardson.
"These timeless themes cross all cultural and national divides."
There is also a moral dimension, which gives the books the sense of offering guiding principles for young readers, simple messages anyone can identify with, said Kern, the professor at Lawrence University. These lessons aren't wasted on fans, who can point to the ways the story has altered their lives.
Andrea Lolita Cardenas, a 19-year-old from Los Angeles, chose her degree because of what she learnt from Potter.
"I'm a criminal justice administration major in part because of Harry Potter; the battle between 'good' and 'evil' plays out every day," she said.
WIZARDRY ON THE WEB
Rowling's novels and the subsequent movie hype triggered some of the first fan sites in the late '90s, and the online fan base has exploded since, encouraging fan-written fiction based on the characters, discussion forums and the news.
The websites have played a major role in keeping Pottermania alive, Kern said, noting that "never before have book fans had the opportunity to communicate with one another as quickly and extensively about matters related to their interests.
"The phenomenon we call Harry Potter grew out of this ability to communicate almost instantaneously through the Internet -- both among fans and between fans and author."
Rowling has unveiled a new website called Pottermore, which will develop characters and storylines from the books and allow readers to interact with and navigate her magical world.
There are around 18,000 words of new material in the form of background on characters' lives and the history of the houses at Hogwarts school, for example. The free site opens for registration on July 31, the fictional Harry Potter's birthday.
Despite Pottermore, traditional fan sites and fan activities will likely see a decline, but that doesn't mean Potter will disappear from the Web, said the webmaster for Potterish, the Brazilian fan site Rowling has named one of her favorites.
"The fact is that Potterish is like a son for our team and would be a huge loss of content if we shut it down," said Daniel Mahlmann, 24, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Kern predicts that while music genre Wizard Wrock, themed parties and big releases will fade, the Internet will provide a forum for web-based subcultures, and the Harry Potter love will be passed on from one generation to the next.