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LONDON (Reuters) - The new Harry Potter film had its world premiere in London on Tuesday, ending a two-year wait for faithful fans who have been counting down the days before its theatrical release on July 15.
Hundreds of people braved heavy rain in central London to watch the teenaged stars of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth of eight films based on the novels by British author J.K. Rowling, walk down a sodden red carpet.
Fan Sharon held up a sign which read "Dan Marry Me," a reference to Daniel Radcliffe who has played Potter throughout the movie franchise.
"I've been here every year and he hasn't given me a reply yet, so hopefully today," she said.
Half-Blood Prince was originally scheduled to be shown in 2008, and followers of the boy wizard and his adventures at Hogwarts school were disappointed when Hollywood studio Warner Bros. decided to push it back.
Two years ago the fifth movie and the seventh and final book in Rowling's bestselling series combined to trigger an unprecedented wave of "Pottermania" around the world.
That film, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," earned an impressive $938 million in international ticket sales, making it the second biggest picture of 2007.
And the final book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was the fastest-selling book on record, underlining the popular appeal and commercial value of Rowling's tales.
At the Half-Blood Prince premiere on Tuesday, some of the young stars wore white ribbons as a tribute to Rob Knox, who performed in the film before he was murdered in 2008, aged 18, in a knife attack in southeast England.
"I won't pretend that I knew Rob incredibly well, or that I was one of his best friends on set, but I knew him, I liked him, and what happened to him was obviously tragic and awful," Radcliffe told a news conference this week.
In Half-Blood Prince Hogwarts school is increasingly vulnerable to attack from the evil Lord Voldemort.
Professor Slughorn, played by Jim Broadbent, joins the cast, and Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore places more and more trust in Potter, determined to prepare him for his inevitable showdown with Voldemort.
Meanwhile, love blossoms, with Harry falling for Ginny and Ron attracting the attention of Lavender Brown as a heartbroken Hermione looks on jealously.
"I think there's a much richer comic vein in this film than we've seen before," Radcliffe told reporters on the red carpet. "I think it's a really good film. I hope everyone comes and sees it and enjoys it as they have the last five."
The first five films have earned $4.5 billion at the box office, and Rowling's Potter books have sold an estimated 400 million copies worldwide.
There will be eight films in all, with the final volume divided into two. The seventh film is scheduled to hit cinemas in November, 2010 and the eighth in the summer of 2011.
Additional reporting by Mirja Spernal; Editing by Charles Dick