(AP Photo/Warner Bros., Jaap Buitendijk)
Meet Harry Potter, an 11-year-old orphan who lives in a closet under the stairs at his aunt and uncle's home. On Harry's 11th birthday he learns he is actually a wizard and is whisked away to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Exposed to the magical community for the first time, the young wizard discovers he is actually quite famous. He is the only wizard to survive the killing curse of the evil Lord Voldemort, who murdered Harry's parents when he was a baby. With the help of his classmates Ron Weasely and Hermione Granger and Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper, Harry takes on a troll, a three-headed dog and foils an attempt by Voldemort to regain power.
n Also: Harry discovers he has a talent for quidditch, a high-flying wizarding game; finds a mentor in Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore; runs afoul of potions Professor Severus Snape and makes an enemy of Draco Malfoy, a fellow Hogwarts student.
Harry begins his second year at Hogwarts despite a warning from Dobby, a Harry-loving house elf who works for the Malfoy family, that something terrible will befall him at the school. Soon Hogwarts students who are mudbloods -- wizards whose parents are not magical -- begin turning up petrified and mysterious writings appear on the walls warning that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Amid fears that the school may close, Harry must use an old diary to uncover the chamber's secret. Harry learns that Tom Riddle, the first owner of the diary, has been using it to control Ginny Weasely. What's more, Riddle is the young Voldemort preserved in the diary's pages. He uses Ginny to open the chamber and release the basilisk, a giant serpent with a deadly gaze. With a timely assist from Dumbledore's pet phoenix Fawkes, Harry defeats the basilisk and destroys the diary, saving Ginny and the school.
n Also: Harry is a Parsel-tongue, meaning he can speak to snakes, a trait shared by Voldemort; Hermione, a mudblood, falls victim to the basilisk; Lucius Malfoy, Draco's father and a follower of Voldemort, plants the diary among Ginny's books; Harry frees Dobby.
After a tumultuous summer with his aunt and uncle, Harry looks forward to returning to Hogwarts. He soon learns, however, that notorious murderer Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban prison and is coming after Harry. Dementors, Azkaban's otherworldly guards, surround the school, on the watch for Black. When Harry falls victim to a dementor attack, Remus Lupin, the school's newest defense against the dark arts professor, teaches him to cast a protective patronus spell. With the help of Lupin and his friends Ron and Hermione, Harry begins to unravel the night his parents died at Voldemort's hand. While filling in the holes in his past he learns Black was framed for murder and was in fact his parents' closest friend. Armed with that knowledge, Harry and Hermione rush to save Black and bring the true killer to justice.
* Also: Harry learns Black is his godfather; Remus Lupin is revealed to be a werewolf; it was their friend Peter Pettigrew who betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort; Pettigrew, who had disguised himself as Ron's pet rat, escapes.
After the Quidditch World Cup ends in chaos with the mark of the Death Eaters -- Voldemort's followers -- in the sky, tensions are high when Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts gets underway. Despite the threat, Dumbledore announces that the school has been chosen to host the prestigious Tri-Wizard Tournament, a yearlong battle between chosen champions of three schools. Everyone is surprised when a fourth name is chosen from the goblet of fire: 14-year-old Harry, even though the contest was closed to anyone younger than 17. With some assistance from defense against the dark arts professor Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody, Harry survives the tournament's first two rounds. For the final challenge, the competitors rush through an enchanted maze seeking the Tri-Wizard Cup. Unknown to anyone, Moody -- who is actually a disguised Death Eater -- has turned the cup into a port key. When Harry and fellow Hogwarts student Cedric Diggory touch the cup they are transported to a graveyard, where Peter Pettigrew is waiting to take Harry's blood to resurrect Voldemort. For the first time, Harry comes face to face with the dark lord, who immediately kills Diggory. Harry escapes using the port key, returning to Hogwarts to tell Dumbledore that Voldemort is back.
* Also: Harry develops a crush on Hogwarts student Cho Chang, but she is dating Cedric; Sirius, who is still in hiding, communicates secretly with his godson.
Harry has spent an unhappy summer cut off from his friends and Dumbledore and tormented by thoughts of Voldemort. Mad Eye Moody and other wizards deliver him to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, an organization started by Dumbledore to battle Voldemort. Harry is delighted to be reunited with Ron and Hermione as well as Sirius, whose home serves as the group's headquarters. Harry soon learns that most of the wizarding community doubts his claims that Voldemort has returned. Harry starts his fifth year at Hogwarts angry and distrustful. He soon begins having nightmares, including one where he sees an attack on Arthur Weasely, Ron's father and a member of the Order. Dumbledore deduces that Harry and Voldemort can read each other's thoughts. Through this connection, Harry learns that Voldemort is after a mysterious object hidden in the Ministry of Magic. With the help of his friends, he sets out to claim it before Voldemort can. In the ensuing battle, Sirius is killed and Dumbledore and Voldemort go head-to-head.
* Also: A prophecy reveals that neither Harry nor Voldemort can live while the other survives; Sirius' cousin Bellatrix Lestrange, a devoted Voldemort follower, escapes from Azkaban; Harry teaches his classmates defensive magic in secret in defiance of the new ministry-appointed defense against the dark arts professor.
After the showdown at the Ministry, Voldemort's followers have become more bold. Draco Malfoy, Harry's longtime nemesis, has been given a secretive project at the school, one that Professor Snape, a former Death Eater, vows to finish if Malfoy can't. Harry and Dumbledore have a project of their own. Dumbledore learns that the young Voldemort preserved pieces of his soul in seven "horcruxes." Until these items -- of which Tom Riddle's diary was one -- are destroyed, Voldemort cannot be killed. Harry and the headmaster set out looking for the remaining horcruxes. After a dangerous trip to destroy one of the objects, a weakened Dumbledore and Harry return to the school, where Death Eaters have invaded thanks to a vanishing cabinet Draco repaired. When Draco fails at his task to kill the headmaster, Snape casts the killing spell, throwing Dumbledore off the side of the building. The Death Eaters flee, destroying much of the school in the process. Harry determines to track down the rest of the horcruxes on his own, completing Dumbledore's mission.
n Also: Snape is the half-blood prince, whose potions textbook gives Harry an edge in the subject; romance blossoms between Ron and Hermione and Harry and Ginny.
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