From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
She was just 9 when it all began-and on July 7, surrounded by more than 8,000 emotional fans in London's Trafalgar Square for the premiere of the final Harry Potter movie, Emma Watson was ending a chapter that spanned more than half of her young life. Dressed in a princess-worthy Oscar de la Renta gown, the 21-year-old was "completely overwhelmed," she said. "I am feeling so many different emotions." But when Watson picked up a mic to address the crowd, she couldn't hold back her tears. She turned to costars Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint, her voice choking: "I will miss you so much."

Watson's days as Hermione Granger, the brightest whiz kid at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, are over. Now she's just Emma: a promising actress, budding style icon and college undergrad with some big choices to make about her future. While filming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, "I was able to use my own genuine emotions that I felt about loss and all of it coming to an end," she says. Now, "I'm excited about what's next-to take everything I've learned and stretch my wings a bit."

In her first major post-Potter move-besides that famous short haircut-Watson took on a sorcery-free role in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a dark drama based on a young-adult novel. "I was so nervous being on a new movie set," she says. "There is a scene where I have to mimic Susan Sarandon in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I'm standing in a corset in front of all these extras trying to do the dance, and I felt ridiculous." But the job "convinced me acting was what I should be doing."

Still, she's not giving up on college. The daughter of two lawyers from Oxfordshire, England, the straight-A student enrolled at Brown University in 2009. This fall, she says, she plans to study English at Oxford University for a year before returning to Brown for her senior year. Contrary to rumors she was teased on campus, says Potter producer David Barron, "Emma told me she was really enjoying it. She was sharing a dorm with seven or eight other girls and was being completely normal."

Single since splitting with British rocker George Craig in 2010, Watson has also dived into the fashion world, designing clothes for eco-friendly label People Tree and starring in ad campaigns for Burberry and Lancome (this fall). She was eager to learn the business, says Lancome International president Youcef Nabi: "She wants to get involved."

And that's her biggest challenge: "I think the struggle for Emma will be deciding what to do," says Potter producer David Heyman. "She can be a lawyer, a model, a fashion designer, an artist, an actress." On Potter's last day of shooting, Watson, Radcliffe and Grint had to fling themselves into a fireplace. "David [Yates, the director] made the point that we were leaping into the great unknown," says Watson. "It's the perfect metaphor for what we're all about to go into."