Long lines of anxious moviegoers in dresses, ties, robes and other wizard clothing gathered outside the Regal Cinemas at the Augusta Exchange on a rainy Thursday night in preparation for the end of an era.
Erin Cohen, who arrived with her sister Jill at about 7 a.m., stood near the front holding a sign that read "To Say Farewell to Your Childhood: LINE BEGINS HERE," which she said was given to her by another fan.
That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment among those gathered for the eighth and final installment of the Harry Potter series. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 opened in Augusta at 12:01 a.m. on 14 screens, nine of which were sold out.
"We grew up with Harry Potter," said Cohen, who plans to put the sign on her wall in her dorm room at Salem College in Winston-Salem, N.C. "It's one of those things where the values that we've learned by reading Harry Potter when we grew up will stay with us forever; so even after the movies and the books end, that's something we can keep going back to."
Corinne Deale, of Augusta, who got in line with three friends at 8:30 p.m., said talking with other fans about their costumes was one way to pass the time before the doors opened shortly after 10 p.m. Deale came as Hermione in a bright red dress, and stood with Chloe Kyle, of Hephzibah, who was dressed as Luna Lovegood.
The other two girls, both from Martinez, said a love of the Harry Potter books was the reason they became best friends. Eliana Dubin wore a long, black dress as Bellatrix Lestrange, and Medirah Nakashia was the movie's hero, complete with a Gryffindor robe and a lightning "scar" on her forehead.
Most of the fans in line had already read the seven books and watched the first seven movies, but three Harry Potter fans who got to the cinemas relatively late -- at about 9:15 p.m. -- took it a step further.
"We have been watching all of the Harry Potter movies," Savannah Strom said proudly as she and two friends headed toward the back of line.
Strom, Matthew Williams and Taylor Turnbull, all of Aiken, said they started their own Harry Potter marathon at 8 p.m. Wednesday, and slept just four hours to finish them all before going to watch the finale.
Even though most fans said they expected to cry before the movie was over, nearly all expected it to live up to the hype.
As the cinema employees finally started letting people in, causing some anger and confusion among those who had been split into multiple lines, the scene felt more like a concert than a movie premiere.
Perhaps the only people to wait longer than the Cohen sisters were Shannon and Olivia Holmes, two sisters from Augusta who had set up their own 7-foot-by-7-foot tent.
As the doors finally opened, Shannon Holmes hugged Erin Cohen, her newest friend.
"We are now finishing each other's sentences," Cohen said, as Shannon Holmes joined her right on cue, "and we've only known each other for a day."
Not everyone had read the Harry Potter books, or even knew what was going to happen in the movies. Nicole Ward said in mock frustration that she had stopped picking favorite characters, because each of her previous three had died.
Ward had plenty of food and supplies with her as evidence that she and her sister, Nicole, had been in line since about 10 a.m. Thursday. They sat with Robert Rotger, who said he hadn't planned on going until his sister gave him a ticket earlier in the day.
Sarah Wexler, of Augusta, was still waiting for friends to arrive to join her just 35 minutes before going to the 12:20 a.m. showing, but she couldn't imagine a scenario in which she would leave the cinemas disappointed. In anticipation of the premiere, she said, she read all seven books in two weeks, starting about a month ago, around the same time she bought her movie ticket.
"I'm so excited," she said. "It's sad. It's been a long 12 or so years."
The Phifer family from North Augusta has made Harry Potter movies a tradition, and Julia Phifer made sure she got off her normal night shift so she could join her husband and their two children in line at 6 p.m. Her 20-year-old daughter, Lindsey, called the end of the series "depressing," and her 27-year-old brother, Shiloh, agreed.
"I just can't wait till it comes out on DVD so I can watch it all the time," said their dad, Ron, who said the family even waited in the rain for a little while before the lines were moved together under the roof.
A large group of family and friends agreed that Ashley Pope, of August,a was the biggest Harry Potter fan they knew. It would be hard to argue against the 15-year-old, who was covered in a long, black robe with Gryffindor colors (red and yellow) and held a wand and a stuffed owl that resembled Hedwig, Harry's pet in the movies.
Ashley admitted a bit sheepishly that she had even worn the costume for book releases, and she doesn't expect this to be the last time she becomes a wizard. One thing was absolutely certain for Ashley, and this time she had no shame: She would be in tears before the end of the night.