I will never forget that day when I was eleven years old and my hometown transformed itself into a magical village for the release of some apparently very important book.

Witches and wizards roamed the streets. Restaurants got special menus and changed their names (Potter’s Place remained Harry Potter’s Place for a solid six or seven months). Barnes & Noble was easily the most visited store in the entire downtown area, and the only books that you could find were the ones with “Harry Potter” written on the front cover.

I loved to read. I always had ever since I turned six-years-old. But never once had I set my sights on the books about the boy wizard. I knew the premise — everyone did — yet I did not decide to finally give them a try until my mom took me to Barnes & Noble and told me I should try them out.

I remember being clueless and standing there with my mom while she asked the woman who worked at the bookstore what order the books went in. Even if there were four movies out at the time, I hadn’t seen those either, so I was about as oblivious as could be when it came to starting what would become my favorite book series of all time.

I did not read them fast. I remember taking two weeks to complete the first book, about the same time to finish the second, a few days to read the third (most of which was done at a sleepover with one of my best friends when I basically forced to sit down and find her own book so I could read mine), and then around a month or two for the subsequent novels (they’re really long, okay?).

Every character; every fact; every little teeny-tiny detail — I knew it. When my dad started reading the series after I completed the first four books, I would have him quiz me, just so I did not forget anything about this incredible story. I could name every detail starting with who Harry’s relatives were all the way down to what the third years studied in History of Magic.

I was eleven at the time. Now, twenty years later, I can still say that Harry Potter is one of the most influential, magical, and outright incredible series I have ever read. Twenty years later, as the first book, Sorcerer’s Stone, ironically celebrates it’s twentieth anniversary, I can still not express how much Harry Potter means to me.

These stories took me on adventures I could never imagine. They made me feel legitimate sorrow when the characters I had grown to love got hurt or sick or killed. I felt worried each time Harry or one of his friends went up against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. And I fell in love with the friendship that the Golden Trio exhibited.

Harry Potter taught me so much about who I am. When I found my house (go Slytherin!) and looked at the qualities students in those houses normally exhibit, I was able to see that those are qualities I can find in myself. It taught me that family and friendship will triumph and that no matter what, evil will never win. It taught me that even when you find yourself in the darkest of times, there will always be a light.

Twenty years is a long time for a book to stay in the spotlight, but it does not surprise me one bit that the book that managed to do it was Harry Potter. And I can imagine that the magic will continue on for generations to come — dare I say always? — as more and more people discover the stories that are capable of unifying so many people. Because Harry Potter did not only bring my hometown together for a celebration, it brought the world together — a special kind of magic in and of itself.

So, thank you Harry Potter, for everything. Here’s to twenty years of magic and many, many more to come.