Gassner, who started reading the books when she was 11, said that although the writing was "gripping," it was the characters who drew her further into the wizarding world, especially as Harry, Ron and Hermione dealt with many of the same issues she was experiencing.
"It was kind of amazing that Harry was someone who was so important in this magical world but he could still have the same problems that every teenager faces," she said.
Jenny Lopez, a 19-year-old freshman at Western Michigan University, said having the characters' ages correspond to her own made them more relatable.
"They were characters we grew up with ... so that was an interesting dynamic," Lopez said. "The issues the characters experience with their friendships and dating made their experiences seem more realistic."
Molly Gladieux, 20, a student at Indiana University South Bend, said she became a Potter fan because of the combination of magical elements with real human emotion.
"In the last movie ('Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'), Hermione got her heart broken, and you just had to feel for her," Gladieux said. "Every girl's been there. It was moments like that in the series that made the characters so real even against the backdrop of this magical world."
Maguire Padley, 20, a junior at Notre Dame, said she began reading the books at age 9 and was immediately drawn into the world of Hogwarts and all the magical elements Rowling created.
"It was unlike anything I had ever read," Padley said. "Rowling created this whole different world, but what was amazing was that she made you feel like you were a part of it."
Tim Brazelton, 18, a freshman at Notre Dame who read his first Potter book when he was 7, said the release of the film versions always seemed to fit with his own life.
"The movies were definitely in sync with my life. I'm pretty sure I was going through my awkward teenage phase at the same time Harry and Ron were," he said.
Both Padley and Brazelton participated in a Quidditch match on Notre Dame's campus Sunday.
Quidditch, the popular wizarding sport played in the air on brooms in the "Potter" series, has been modified on campuses across the United States as students attempt to bring more elements of "Harry Potter" to life.
"The world of Harry Potter is such a highly developed world and you just want to explore it," Brazelton said. "The fact that we're playing Quidditch out here is evidence of that."
When the seventh and final novel was released in July 2007, many of these readers felt that a huge chapter in their lives was ending.
"It was devastating when the last book came out," Gassner said. "It was sad to watch the pages of the book turn away. The series was something that kept my interest for all those years. I didn't want that part of my childhood to end."
Other Potterheads anticipate a similar feeling when the final film, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II," hits theaters in July.
"I'll be really sad when it's over -- it's been 10 years," Gladieux said. "My relationship with these characters will be over."
The end of "Potter" marks the end of something much more significant than a book or film series.
"The Harry Potter series was a defining feature of my childhood," Padley said. "It was always a huge event when a new book or movie came out."
"It's sad to think I won't have any Harry Potter to look forward to anymore," she said. "There will be nothing left."
It appears fans will make sure the magic of Harry Potter lives on for years to come.
"I plan on making my kids read the books," Gassner said. "It was an important part of my life that I would want to share with them."
Staff writer Molly Madden: