For many Harry Potter fans, this week marks the end of an era.
Fanatics will begin queuing outside movie theaters on Thursday, July 14, for midnight showings of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II," the final chapter in an eight-film series that has captivated people of all ages worldwide.
But even after this final spike of excitement over Harry Potter fades, a solid core of enthusiasm for the seven books and eight films will likely remain for years, decades or even forever.
Kathy Schneider, 24, will be one of the people carrying the torch.
"My best friend in middle school introduced me to the books when I was 11 years old," Schneider said.
That's the same age that the main characters Harry, Hermione and Ron, were in the first book.
"For me, it's been more than half my life," Schneider said. "We see somebody in a trench coat and we see somebody in a robe, or you see certain colors and you think of which 'house' they belong to."
That's 'house' as in Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin — the four houses of the wizarding school where Harry Potter attends with his friends.
"It's more than just a book," Schneider said. "It becomes part of your life."
Indeed, Potter fans such as Schneider plan to make Potter a sort of life's work, for good. This spring, the 24-year-old Cockeysville resident founded the group, Potterwatch of Maryland, a local chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance, an international nonprofit fighting for human rights and social justice.
"We get together with other local fans, we do book donations, we've gone on some trips," Schneider said. "We educate people about literacy and human rights."
Or, as the Harry Potter Alliance website said, "The Harry Potter Alliance fights the Dark Arts in the real world by using parallels from Harry Potter. We work for human rights, equality, and a better world — just as Harry and his friends did throughout the books."
"Mostly, I started it because I'd been talking to my friends for years that Maryland ought to have (a chapter)," Schneider said. "I like the idea of young people coming together for a cause."
Schneider named it "Potterwatch" after the quirky and rebellious pirate radio program run by character Lee Jordan in the book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." The radio program was in support of Harry Potter against Lord Voldemort and the Dark Arts.
Schneider said Potterwatch of Maryland can create its own activities or participate in efforts organized by the Harry Potter Alliance. Already, the group participated in a book drive to help out a New York organization.
"Mostly, we've just been getting to know each other and getting started," Schneider said.
The group has more than a dozen members in Bel Air, Hagerstown, Jarrettsville, Reisterstown and elsewhere, but they generally meet in Cockeysville.
Members range in age from teens to 40-somethings, so there's no alcohol at their get-togethers.
"We have butterbeer, which is not actually beer," Schneider said. "We play games, do trivia."
And they're true Harry Potter fans.
In fact, the group was going to have a party Thursday to celebrate the release of the "Deathly Hallows, Part II" film, but had to reschedule it for Wednesday because so many of the chapter members were going to spend most of Thursday waiting in line at movie theaters.
Then, Friday, they plan to get together to discuss the movie.
A Hagerstown native, Schneider has a degree in mathematics from St. Mary's College of Maryland. She moved to Cockeysville about two years ago, married her husband, Christian, in April 2010, and currently works as a construction inspector for the State Highway Administration.
She's also a dancer, as well as a volunteer at the Baltimore Zoo. "I love animals," she said.
But Harry Potter is her serious hobby, which grew from a fascination with something strange yet familiar.
"I think some of it was just the magic and being in another world," Schneider said of her attraction to the books. She connected to the characters, who were age 11 when she was, and 18 when she was 20.
"I have a full costume," Schneider said. "I've been to three conferences."
But she didn't stop there.
"I have a Harry Potter tattoo," Schneider said — an image of the now famous "Deathly Hallows," a circle inside a triangle, bisected by a vertical line. The three parts represent the Resurrection Stone, the Cloak of Invisibility and the Elder Wand, three articles that supposedly give a wizard or witch power over death.
What does her family think of her enthusiasm for what are, essentially, children's books about magic?
"My mother is actually also a huge Potter fan," Schneider said.
Her husband isn't so much a fan, but he knew what he was getting into before they married.
"I've dragged him to so many events that he has learned to sort of enjoy it as well," Schneider said.
Her goals for Potterwatch of Maryland are modest. She wants to hang out with other Harry Potter fans, go to Potter events and do some good in the world.
"It'll sort of evolve after the movie is out," Schneider said.
So, why would a Harry Potter fanatic start such a Potter-themed organization years after the books came out and just before the final film is released?
"That's sort of a good reason for starting it, to discuss the books and movies, to continue celebrating it," Schneider said.
"I think for a lot of us, we grew up reading Harry Potter," she said. "It would really be a shame to let it die."
Schneider isn't worried that enthusiasm will fizzle.
"The movies were never as important as the books," she said, and added that the books have already been out for three years.
"We're still going after three years," she said. "The movie's not going to end it."
People interested in learning more about Potterwatch of Maryland may go to potterwatchmd.webs.com or email Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don't 'Obliviate' just yet …
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2," opens July 15 and the Towson Times wants to hear your thoughts on the end of the Harry Potter saga. Sad or happy to see it end? What have the books and movies meant to you? Let us know what you think. Send photos of you in Potter-themed costumes, with your memorabilia, or at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and we might print them in the Towson Times. Send to email@example.com.