There are Harry Potter fans — many millions of them.
And then there's Melissa Anelli.
She's the longtime webmaster and blogger for the Leaky Cauldron, one of the most popular Potter fan sites on the Web (praised by none other than J.K. Rowling herself), and the author of the 2008 bestseller Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon. She spent most of a decade at the epicenter of the biggest phenomenon in pop culture.
So how does Anelli feel three years after the publication of the seventh and final novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with no more midnight book releases and feverish online forum debates to look forward to?
"I thought I would miss it so much, but I'm not nearly as bereft as I thought I'd be," she says cheerfully in a phone interview. "Harry's with me. He's always with me. He always will be." And Harry is still the former journalist's full-time job.
Of course, there are at least two more major events poised to provoke Pottermania: the release of the final two films, based on the last book. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 opens Friday, and Anelli, who lives in New York, will be in Tampa on Tuesday to talk about all things Potter as part of the University Lecture Series at the University of South Florida.
By the time she arrives, she will have seen a press screening of the film. "I was on the set for (films) three, four, five and six, and that's enough," she says. This one will be a surprise — although she says she does know where the filmmakers split the plot. "It's perfect," she says. "It means the last one will be full-on action, all the time."
Being on set was "like being a kid in a candy store, just running around saying, 'It's real!' Even if that's not a live fire-breathing dragon, there's no time to be disappointed."
That quality translates too, Anelli says, to Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which was created by many of the same people who designed the films. "Nothing can live up to a book, because a book is half you. But the movies do a really great job of getting inside your head."
Anelli has scored one achievement countless fans long for: She met author J.K. Rowling, for a 2005 interview. "We're pen pals," Anelli says, "and when we're in the same city we see each other."
She calls Rowling "a genius" and says the multimillion-selling author has even offered her writing advice.
Of Rowling's hints during a recent appearance on Oprah Winfrey's show that she might write about the Potterverse again, Anelli says, "I hope she'll actually write a new (unrelated) novel. I'm excited to see what else she does.
"But I also want her to write everything about Harry she possibly can."
Anelli's own writing is on hold for the moment. She's caught up in the planning for LeakyCon 2011, a fan convention to be held at Universal Orlando in conjunction with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 in July.
Anelli says they expect to cap attendance for the five-day event at 2,500. "It's going to be really insane, really awesome. And it's all for charity." (For information, go to leakycon.com.)
In the meantime, she's gearing up for several personal appearances like the one at USF as Part 1 opens. "It's something I never thought I would do in my life," she says of speaking to big audiences, but she has found she enjoys it.
Those audiences are most interested, she says, in "the future of fandom" and enjoying everything related to Harry. "Once I got everyone up on stage for a re-enactment of The Mysterious Ticking Noise," a popular, quirky YouTube video featuring singing puppets of the Harry Potter characters.
Fans still love to get into intense discussions about elements of cannon, as Rowling's books are called. The most common subject of debate, Anelli says, is whether Hogwarts professor Severus Snape, Harry's nemesis and protector, is good or evil.
"He's a very brave guy," the uberfan says, "but he's not a nice man."
Colette Bancroft can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. She blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/critics.