Like much of the world, this past weekend I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. The movie was absolutely fantastic—emotional, exciting, and visually stunning. It was exactly the kind of movie I had hoped would bring this great series to an end. The film also got me thinking about what Harry Potter has meant to me since I read the first book in 2000, and I’d like to talk a bit about that now.

Harry Potter didn’t make me love reading; I loved to read long before I ever heard of these books. It didn’t get me interested in other fantasy fiction. I read each of the seven books only once and don’t remember many of the details as well as some other fans do. I never attended a book release or a midnight showing of a new movie, let alone dress up as one of the characters for such an event. Harry Potter didn’t change my life and was never really a central part of it. Nevertheless, the series is still special to me for all the entertainment it provided for the past eleven years.

The universe J.K. Rowling created, full of rich details, suspense, and humor, is one that I always enjoyed visiting. I loved how intricate the magic was and how much Hogwarts students had to learn. The wizarding world proved to be as complicated and full of drama and politics as the real world, and just as gripping, if not more so. I can still remember being so absorbed in the final chapters of several of the books that I couldn’t even move from my chair until I finished reading. Harry’s showdown with Voldemort in the Chamber of Secrets, the Dark Lord’s return to power at the end of the Triwizard Tournament, and, especially the Battle of Hogwarts were all especially captivating and suspenseful for me. On the lighter side of this universe, I always loved that the portraits talked and moved and even left their frames to visit other portraits, that Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans really did come in every flavor (including a few you wouldn’t want to think about…), and that the Weasley twins always knew the perfect prank or joke for every situation. The Harry Potter books could certainly be very dark, especially later in the series, but it’s things like these that I remember most fondly about the books, and they still make me smile.

While I don’t think I’d go so far as to say that I “grew up” with the Harry Potter characters, I always liked that J.K. Rowling made them relatable and gave them many of the same problems that adolescents face in the real world, from unrequited crushes to fights with friends to the obsessive drive to be a brilliant student.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione could sometimes be irritating, and they didn’t always get along perfectly, but I never stopped rooting for them or their friendship. I found Luna Lovegood hilarious and appreciated that Rowling made her deeper than her eccentric behavior and beliefs. But I think the Hogwarts student I came to love most was Neville Longbottom, who started off as awkward and fearful as could be, but grew up to be a brave and loyal friend who played a critical role in protecting his classmates and bringing down Voldemort once and for all. Then there are the teachers and staff at Hogwarts, especially the now iconic Professor Snape, who is easily one of the most complex characters ever included in a series written for children. The characters, though not all as well-developed as I would have liked, never seemed remote to me; they reminded me a lot of myself and people I knew, except that, well, they could perform a lot more magic than anyone I ever met.

What I appreciate most about Harry Potter as I look back, though, isn’t simply reading the books and watching the movies. It’s the memories my friends and I have from being fans of the series. Harry Potter led to so many jokes and discussions among my friends that I couldn’t possibly name them all here. We spent a lunchtime trying to match our high school teachers with the Hogwarts professors they were most like. We debated our favorite characters and which of the books and movies were the best—or worst. At one birthday party we sampled some of the candy based on the series, though I don’t remember what conclusion we came to about it now. We imagined what it would be like to go to Hogwarts and joked about transferring there when frustrated or bored with our classes in the real world. Sometimes we even mused over which male characters were the cutest, though as I recall, I never really thought of any of them that way. There was always a lot of spirited conversation and laughter when the subject of Harry Potter came up, and our shared enjoyment of the series was a wonderful addition to the camaraderie we already had. I’m still hoping to get to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter down in Orlando with a few friends someday; I can’t even begin to imagine how much fun that could be.

There’s been a lot of analysis of Harry Potter over the years, just as there usually is with any book series or any successful entertainment franchise. People have accused the books of promoting witchcraft, debated their literary merits, drawn parallels between the Death Eaters and Nazi Germany, suggested other symbolism, and talked about the moral lessons that one could glean from them. The controversies and commentary on the book are interesting and worthy of discussion. But ultimately, I think what matters most about these books is that they were entertaining. While I already loved to read by the time I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in fifth grade, I know that Rowling’s powerful imagination and her ability to mix humor and suspense are what got many children interested in reading. The books were not only fun, but also a major turning point in their lives; reading was no longer a chore to them, but something they enjoyed and of which they wanted more. For me, the series was simply a joy to read and, for the most part, to watch. It was a fun experience to share with friends and gave me a lot of great memories. I hope Harry Potter will continue to entertain both children and adults for generations to come, and that they will get as much out of it as I did—and maybe even more.