When Nicole Curè Williams met her new Bluffton neighbors, she made an impression ... but it wasn't magical.
She had just finished reading "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" after buying the final book in the series at a midnight release party the night before when the doorbell rang. Her hair -- dyed magenta to resemble Nymphadora Tonks, a colorful character in the books -- was a mess. She was wearing pajama pants on a summer afternoon. And she was beside herself.
"They had just killed one of my favorite characters, so I was a sobbing mess," she said. "I hadn't slept all night. The makeup from the party the night before was all over my face. I actually went back over later in the afternoon properly dressed and asked if I could have a do-over."
It's this emotional connection that's kept the 27-year-old and millions the world over enamored with the "Harry Potter" world for more than a decade. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the first book about the boy wizard by J.K. Rowling, hit the States in 1998. The movie of the same name followed in 2001. Seven-plus books, seven movies and a theme park later, another chapter closes Friday with the release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2."
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"I'm trying not to think about it," Curè Williams said.
FALLING FOR HARRY
A super fan of the highest level, Curè Williams was charmed when she read the first book at 15. She saw herself -- a middle-class outcast at a private, all-girls high school in Charleston -- in the students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
"I was not a popular person in high school," she said. "I wasn't picked on, but I had different interests. I wasn't into fancy clothes, I wasn't into pop culture. So I related to some of the characters in the books."
She even looked like bookworm Hermione Granger, one of Harry's best friends.
"I actually had elbow-length, ridiculously bushy, brown, wavy hair and big thick glasses. I related to her and how she didn't quite get along with people."
She immersed herself in the fantastical world. She helped sort and lead hundreds of like-minded fans through Hogwarts Elite, a selective online Potter community based out of the blogosphere Live Journal.
She attended a "Harry Potter" convention called Portus in Dallas with friends from the website. At the convention, she and a fellow Hufflepuff dressed as twins Fred and George Weasley and were followed by a gaggle of squealing girls. They also met up with other fans from Hogwarts Elite, many of whom she still considers friends.
"'Harry Potter' really fosters friendship among people," Curè Williams said. "That's what the whole series is based on -- friendship."
NEARING THE END
Curè Williams, who studied graphic design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, lights up when she talks about Hogwarts houses, book covers and wizard rock. Today she's traded her waitressing uniform for a Hufflepuff sweater, tie and robe.
Her husband, Sean, serves her cream soda in a souvenir butterbeer mug from The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Fla., where the couple visited in December. Sean is a Potter fan, too, of course. Curè Williams jokingly stipulated she wouldn't marry him until he read all seven books.
The couple have tickets to the midnight screening of "Deathly Hallows: Part 2." Curè Williams doesn't re-read the books before the movies to avoid frustration. The film adaptations, she said, don't compare to Rowling's written word.
"(The movies are) really a Cliffs Notes for the books. I can't see how somebody could watch the movies then not like the books if they tried to read them."
Still, she's excited to see the epic Battle of Hogwarts fought on the big screen. As she alluded, there will be blood. Harry and Lord Voldemort will have a final showdown. Tears will be shed. And that will be the end of one of the most successful book and film series of all time.
For Curè Williams, the moment will be bittersweet. But she's ready to move on.
"I think everybody that started the series at the beginning really grew up with Harry. ... But there's a certain point at which you kind of have to let it go."