Vacation rental in Chickamauga, Georgia, offers chance to stay in Harry Potter's universe

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / A Ford Anglia, much like the car owned by the Weasley family in the Harry Potter series, sits parked outside of Kristi Bubrig's Harry Potter-themed vacation rental unit in Chickamauga, Ga.
Staff photo by Troy Stolt / A Ford Anglia, much like the car owned by the Weasley family in the Harry Potter series, sits parked outside of Kristi Bubrig's Harry Potter-themed vacation rental unit in Chickamauga, Ga.

The last time we saw the Weasley family car from the Harry Potter canon, it was loose in the Forbidden Forest near Hogwarts castle.

"Harry gave the car a grateful pat as it reversed back into the forest and disappeared from view." - from "Chamber of Secrets"

Yet here it sits at the edge of a farm in Chickamauga, Georgia.

At least you'd think it's the same light blue Ford Anglia. There's a caged (stuffed) owl inside the tiny car. That seems right. And chickens scratch nearby like they do at the Burrow, the Weasley home on the outskirts of Ottery St. Catchpole in Devon, England.

The compact interior feels cramped even when it's nearly empty, but the enchantments devised by Arthur Weasley render the car with the ability to fly, become invisible and fit eight people, six trunks, two owls and a rat comfortably. Who are we to second-guess where this magical transport came from or where it might be going?

This replica of the car at the center of more than one pivotal scene in J.K. Rowling's literary kingdom is the eye-catching prop that lets visitors know they've arrived at a "Harry Potter Fan's Dream," the so-named short-term vacation rental owned by Kristi Bubrig. Except for the car, the chickens and a few rusty cauldrons out front, this tidy cottage attached around back of a larger house doesn't necessarily resemble the ramshackle Weasley dwelling.

"It looked as though it had once been a large stone pigpen, but extra rooms had been added here and there until it was several stories high and so crooked it looked as though it were held up by magic (which, Harry reminded himself, it probably was)." - from "Chamber of Secrets"

Then the door opens.

It feels as if Bubrig has taken her cues not only from J.K. Rowling but Lewis Carroll to deliver us not through a simple cottage door but through a looking glass into another realm. The space is saturated with all things Harry Potter, 360 degrees of embellishments and baubles, notions and novelties, gadgets and whatnots, curiosities and conversation pieces that borrow from every element of past, present and future at work in the Potter universe.

Crossing the threshold is a sensory overload - murals on the ceiling, flickering lights, portraits lining the walls, even the ethereal sound of a celesta playing the movies' theme song, "Hedwig's Flight," as the first film in the series cues up on a television screen. There are cabinets and desks and tables and shelves and baskets and trunks, all poked full of ephemera for guests to discover. Here's Hermione's handbag from the Yule Ball Hagrid's umbrella Molly Weasley's sweater on a kitchen chair.

Many of the pieces have been brought back from England, giving them an added hint of authenticity. Bubrig's job requires travel - she's CEO of Accelerated Workflow Solutions, which specializes in Dragon brand voice recognition software.

But she doesn't go looking for mass-produced souvenirs, whether shopping locally or abroad. With a few exceptions, all of these adornments are found objects, purchased at vintage shops, thrift stores, tag and estate sales, and online auctions. The eBay-purchased Anglia, for instance, cost her $950. The Arkansas seller "had 27 watchers" on the site, "and nobody bid on it," she says. "Can you believe that?"

Some of the pieces she's accumulated are simply evocative of the story's time and place, such as Hogwarts-style quills and a bread tin for the Weasley-inspired kitchen.

Others are plot devices.

"All of the Horcruxes are here," Bubrig says.

"Of the Horcrux, wickedest of magical inventions, we shall not speak nor give direction" - from "The Half-Blood Prince"

For all you non-wizard Muggles, who may be unfamiliar with these objects of dark magic, the Horcruxes include a diary, a locket, a goblet and a diadem. Avid fans will certainly find all seven, even if it takes a refresher scan of the books or movies, all available for reading or viewing during their stay. Guests can relax in a couple of armchairs at either side of the fireplace, its electric embers aglow; or on the sofa, which converts to a queen-size bed for sleeping.

But there's plenty to see beyond the books and movies.

The walls are covered in various designs of wallpaper and textiles. Their muted colors add shadows in the corners.

Lining the walls is a gallery of vintage portraits. The people in the paintings appear ready to communicate, like they do in the Potterverse. Each warrants closer inspection to see which ones might fix their gaze upon you as you move about the room.

"We chose ones that looked like they could talk to you or follow you with their eyes," Bubrig says.

"The subjects of the portraits lining the room were no longer pretending to be asleep; they were shifting around in their frames, the better to watch what was happening." - from "Order of the Phoenix"

And nothing in this carefully curated mini-verse is off-limits. "It tickles people to be able to touch all these things," she says. "So touch what you want to touch. Just put it back when you're done."

Grounding the whimsical collection are two four-poster beds at the back of the room. These sturdy structures were hand-built to resemble a Hogwarts dorm room. Above them hangs a Hogwarts flag, along with the flags of each of the school's four houses.

Bubrig assumes that her overnight guests already know the house to which they've been assigned by the narrative's Sorting Hat, either gleaned from careful reading or determined by a quiz on one of the many websites that cater to Potter fans.

"There's nothing hidden in your head the Sorting Hat can't see, so try me on and I will tell you where you ought to be." - from "The Sorcerer's Stone"

She requests this information from each guest so that she can leave out the correct colors of linens for their stay - scarlet and gold for Gryffindor, yellow and black for Hufflepuff, blue and bronze for Ravenclaw, emerald green and silver for Slytherin.

"All the towels and sheets are house-appropriate," she says.

Bubrig doesn't dare show favor to one house over another. "You have to be house agnostic," she says of her duties as a host. "But you do have to watch out for the Slytherins," acknowledging what every Harry Potter fan already knows.

Between the two four-poster beds is a door leading to the bathroom. A clawfoot tub adds period charm, and flickering sconces add Potter appeal. But it's the collection of ornate, gold-framed mirrors - at least 29, placed at varying heights on every wall - that leave you dazzled. Consider this a chamber of no secrets.

Bubrig leaves a scavenger hunt on the kitchen table for guests to complete when they enter the cottage. They can snack on individual boxes of Bertie Bott's Beans, the jelly beans that taste like blueberry, lemon and watermelon if you choose your flavors wisely, or earwax, earthworms and dirt if you don't.

Bubrig has operated the vacation house for about two years, welcoming hundreds of guests into its magical realm. She was captivated by the novels and saw a business opportunity in the continued interest in Harry Potter in the generation since the first book was released.

"You sort of start thinking anything's possible if you've got enough nerve." - from "The Half-Blood Prince"

Bubrig says she has been a fan of the books since her children, now ages 26 and 30, first asked to read them.

The first in the series, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," hit shelves in the U.S. in 1998, triggering a literary tsunami. Six more books would follow, until the story of "the boy who lived" culminated in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" in 2007.

The eight movies based on the books have earned more than $9 billion in worldwide receipts, making it the third-highest-grossing movie franchise of all time behind the 28 (and counting) films in Marvel's superhero universe and the nine films in the Star Wars pantheon.

Bubrig was at first hesitant to let her children read the books after some religious groups objected to the series' themes of magic and witchcraft. Some friends and family members questioned whether they were appropriate. "As a Christian, I wrestled with this," she says.

Her solution was to read the books herself before deciding whether her children should read them. "I loved the stories, the themes of sacrifice and loyalty," she says.

Rowling, who also identifies as Christian, has said she intentionally expressed Christian themes, such as loving your neighbor and the fight of good against evil. Bubrig says she saw similar themes in C.S. Lewis' fantasy series, which is widely praised for its spiritual aspects.

"If you're going to ban Harry Potter, you might as well ban 'The Chronicles of Narnia,'" she says. "It happens to have a witch in it."

"We've all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That's who we really are." - from "The Order of the Phoenix"

Bubrig's visitors, of course, are already converts looking to satisfy a longing to saturate themselves in the world of Harry Potter beyond a theme-park experience. Guests often leave rave reviews on her Airbnb, Vrbo and related rental sites, as well as in the guest book in the desk by the door. They sign in with their name and Hogwarts house and detail their favorite quotes and characters.

Bubrig, who lives around the corner from the cottage, also operates other rentals, including an Indiana Jones-style adventure, a fairy-tale cottage and a wedding venue, and is always fine-tuning the details. At some point, she hopes to add a Hagrid's Hut on the 40-acre farm to further enhance the Harry Potter experience and get her closer to her initial goal.

"We really wanted people to feel like they were in a movie," Bubrig says. "Like they were part of the story."

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