(CNN) -- Like the moment that Harry Potter first learned he was a wizard, Raleigh Browne can vividly recall when he first heard of the adventures of the "Boy Who Lived."
"It was the summer between my kindergarten and first-grade years when my mom returned home from the bookstore with a copy of 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone,' " he said. "She laid the paperback down on our kitchen table and told me that a number of her friends had told her that the 'Harry Potter' books were wonderful stories, and she wanted me to try 'Sorcerer's Stone.' My mom offered to read it aloud to me."
He said he was instantly mesmerized once she started reading it to him. "After a few more nights of reading with my mom, I could restrain myself no longer, and I picked up the book and began to read it on my own."
He was about to enter first grade, but the Mechanicsville, Virginia, resident soon devoured the first four "Potter" books, and a few years later, he made that fateful journey to the bookstore to pick up the final book, "Deathly Hallows."
He can even remember the number of the reserved copy that the store called for him to pick up: 372. He said the dedication spoke deeply to him, and he recalls reflecting on the series after nine hours of reading the final part of the story.
"These fantastic books have made a profound impact on my life," he said. "These books have shaped the way I think, act and live."
He sees Harry Potter as a friend whom he knows better than some of his real friends, and Dumbledore as a mentor.
Browne is one of many iReporters who said that they felt a kinship to Harry Potter, having literally grown up with the character.
A lasting friendship
Anna Venckus of Memphis met her best friend, Madeline Trantham, through "Harry Potter": "When we were in third grade, we were hanging out in her room (I was already obsessed with 'Harry Potter'), and I asked her if she'd ever heard of 'Harry Potter.' She said yes, she'd seen a couple of the movies. Somehow I got her to read the books and she began to love it, too. We became so close so quickly -- all because of 'Harry Potter.' "
Since then, the pair has seen every movie since "Order of the Phoenix" together, and went on Thursday night to see the midnight showing of the final film. She describes their relationship as "closer than sisters."
"Her 'alter ego' is Hermione, and mine is Ginny," she said. "Thank You, J.K. Rowling. Because of you, I have the best friend a girl could ask for."
The lessons of 'Potter'
For Katie Mahoney, it was an encounter with Rowling that started her on the way to making Harry a significant part of her life. The author was signing books at her elementary school, and her friend got a signed copy of one of the "Potter" books, which peaked Mahoney's interest. "Once I started reading 'The Sorcerer's Stone," I couldn't put them down," she said. "I loved that the hero was young and easy to relate to. Harry could be anyone, since he is grounded in the real world, but is then whisked away to the wizarding world."
The West Lafayette, Indiana, resident said she has learned many life lessons from the stories: "(The books) taught me about right and wrong, and how the ends do not justify the means. The books also taught me about human nature, how your actions can have a significant effect way down the line."
She would greatly anticipate every new installment, going to sites such as Mugglenet.com to find out anything she could about the next book.
Now that the books and movies have come to an end, she doesn't see them going away anytime soon. "Certainly Harry will live on in events like Quidditch, which I don't see slowing down anytime soon. Many colleges have already recognized it as a sport," she said. (In fact, she took part in the 2010 Quidditch World Cup in New York.)
"With bands like Draco and the Malfoys, the Whomping Willows, the Parselmouths, the Ministry of Magic and Harry and the Potters, Harry will have a place in music as well."
An 'Army' of friends
Laura Bucklin from Solon, Iowa -- who, at 21, is the same age as Harry Potter would be now -- remembers the moment in 1998 when her friend lent her the first book.
"I've been captivated ever since," she said.
In high school, she and a group of friends would constantly discuss the books and movies, and dressed up as "Dumbledore's Army" during their school's homecoming week. This tradition extended to the openings of each film.
"I love Ron, so I tied up my long hair in a bun and stuffed it under a red wig that my mom and I cut ourselves from a 'Scooby-Doo' Daphne wig," she said.
She said that she posted an iReport to let her friends know that she was thinking of them when she went to see the final movie since she is doing an internship out of town.
Inspired by the wizarding world
Dylan Hurwitz remembers being disappointed at age 11 -- soon after he began reading the books -- when an owl didn't arrive to whisk him away to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Instead, the books inspired him to create more art. He made a stop-motion animated film of the first book. He drew scenes from the books, or created new scenes he hoped to see in future books. He wrote fan fiction and went on to write his own 200-page fantasy story.
"I would often play the movies on TV and mute it, and watching the action onscreen, improvise new songs," he said, adding he's interested in a career in writing musical scores for movies.
He said Rowling's rags-to-riches success and the imaginative stories stirred a passion for artistic expression.
Whether "Harry Potter" influenced art, relationships or simply the pure joy of reading, it's clear the books and movies won't soon be forgotten, especially for those who grew up with them.
As Browne put it, " 'Harry Potter' has defined my generation, and while our 'Harry Potter' era may be drawing to a close, the series will live on forever."