The novels revolve around Harry Potter, an orphan who discovers at the age of eleven that he is a wizard, living within the ordinary world of non-magical people, known as Muggles. His ability is inborn, and such children are invited to attend an exclusive magic school that teaches the necessary skills to succeed in the wizarding world. Harry becomes a student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and it is here where most of the events in the series take place. As Harry develops through his adolescence, he learns to overcome the problems that face him: magical, social and emotional, including ordinary teenage challenges such as friendships, infatuation and exams, and the greater test of preparing himself for the confrontation in the real world that lies ahead.
Each book chronicles one year in Harry's life with the main narrative being set in the years 1991–98. The books also contain many flashbacks, which are frequently experienced by Harry viewing the memories of other characters in a device called a Pensieve.
The environment Rowling created is completely separate from reality yet also intimately connected to it. While the fantasy land of Narnia is an alternative universe and the Lord of the Rings'Middle-earth a mythic past, the wizarding world of Harry Potter exists in parallel within the real world and contains magical versions of the ordinary elements of everyday life. Many of its institutions and locations are recognisable, such as London. It comprises a fragmented collection of overlooked hidden streets, ancient pubs, lonely country manors and secluded castles that remain invisible to the Muggle population.Early years
When the first novel of the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (published in some countries as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), opens it is apparent that some significant event has taken place in the wizarding world—an event so very remarkable, even the Muggles notice signs of it. The full background to this event and Harry Potter's past is revealed gradually through the series. After the introductory chapter, the book leaps forward to a time shortly before Harry Potter's eleventh birthday, and it is at this point that his magical background begins to be revealed.
Harry's first contact with the wizarding world is through a half-giant, Rubeus Hagrid, keeper of grounds and keys at Hogwarts. Hagrid reveals some of Harry's history. Harry learns that as a baby he witnessed his parents' murder by the power-obsessed Dark wizard Lord Voldemort, who then attempted to kill him also. For reasons not immediately revealed, the spell with which Voldemort tried to kill Harry rebounded. Harry survived with only a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead as a memento of the attack, and Voldemort disappeared afterwards. As its inadvertent saviour from Voldemort's reign of terror, Harry has become a living legend in the wizarding world. However, at the orders of the venerable and well-known wizard Albus Dumbledore, the orphaned Harry had been placed in the home of his unpleasant Muggle relatives, the Dursleys, who kept him safe, but hid his true heritage from him in hopes that he would grow up "normal".
With Hagrid's help, Harry prepares for and undertakes his first year of study at Hogwarts. As Harry begins to explore the magical world, the reader is introduced to many of the primary locations used throughout the series. Harry meets most of the main characters and gains his two closest friends: Ron Weasley, a fun-loving member of an ancient, large, happy, but poor wizarding family, and Hermione Granger, a gifted and very hardworking witch of non-magical parentage. Harry also encounters the school's potions master, Severus Snape, who displays a deep and abiding dislike for him, and the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Quirinus Quirrell, who later turns out to be controlled by Lord Voldemort. The plot concludes with Harry's second confrontation with Lord Voldemort, who in his quest for immortality, yearns to gain the power of the Philosopher's Stone, a substance that bestows everlasting life.
The series continues with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets describing Harry's second year at Hogwarts. He and his friends investigate a 50-year-old mystery that appears tied to recent sinister events at the school. Ron's younger sister, Ginny Weasley, enrols in her first year at Hogwarts, and finds an old notebook which turns out to be Voldemort's diary from his school days. Ginny becomes possessed by Voldemort through the diary and unconsciously opens the "Chamber of Secrets," unleashing an ancient monster which begins attacking students at Hogwarts. The novel delves into the history of Hogwarts and a legend revolving around the Chamber that soon frightened everyone in the school. The book also introduces a new Defence Against the Dark Artsteacher, Gilderoy Lockhart, a highly cheerful, self-conceited know-it-all who later turns out to be a fraud. For the first time, Harry realises that racial prejudice exists in the wizarding world even before, and he learns that Voldemort's reign of terror was often directed at wizards who were descended from Muggles. Harry also learns that his ability to speak Parseltongue, the language of snakes, is rare and often associated with the Dark Arts. The novel ends after Harry saves Ginny's life by destroying a basilisk and the enchanted diary which has been the source of the problems.
The third novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, follows Harry in his third year of magical education. It is the only book in the series which does not feature Lord Voldemort. Instead, Harry must deal with the knowledge that he has been targeted by Sirius Black, an escaped mass murderer believed to have assisted in the deaths of Harry's parents. As Harry struggles with his reaction to the dementors—dark creatures with the power to devour a human soul—which are ostensibly protecting the school, he reaches out to Remus Lupin, a Defence Against the Dark Artsteacher who is eventually revealed to be a werewolf. Lupin teaches Harry defensive measures which are well above the level of magic generally executed by people his age. Harry learns that both Lupin and Black were best friends of his father and that Black was framed by their fourth friend, Peter Pettigrew. In this book, a recurring theme throughout the series is emphasised—in every book there is a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, none of whom lasts more than one school year.
During Harry's fourth year of school (detailed in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) Harry is unwillingly entered as a participant in the Triwizard Tournament, a dangerous contest where Harry must compete against a witch and a wizard "champion" from visiting schools as well as another Hogwarts student, causing Harry's friends to distance themselves from him. Harry is guided through the tournament by their new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, who turns out to be an impostor—one of Voldemort's supporters named Barty Crouch, Jr. in disguise. The point at which the mystery is unravelled marks the series' shift from foreboding and uncertainty into open conflict. Voldemort's plan to have Crouch use the tournament to bring Harry to Voldemort succeeds. Although Harry manages to escape, Cedric Diggory, the other Hogwarts champion in the tournament, is killed by Peter Pettigrew and Voldemort re-enters the wizarding world with a physical body.
In the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry must confront the newly resurfaced Voldemort. In response to Voldemort's reappearance, Dumbledore re-activates the Order of the Phoenix, a secret society which works from Sirius Black's dark family home to defeat Voldemort's minions and protect Voldemort's targets, especially Harry. Despite Harry's description of Voldemort's recent activities, the Ministry of Magic and many others in the magical world refuse to believe that Voldemort has returned. In an attempt to counter and eventually discredit Dumbledore, who along with Harry is the most prominent voice in the wizarding world attempting to warn of Voldemort's return, the Ministry appoints Dolores Umbridge as the High Inquisitor of Hogwarts and the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. She transforms the school into a dictatorial regime and refuses to allow the students to learn ways to defend themselves against dark magic.
With Ron and Hermione's suggestion, Harry reluctantly forms "Dumbledore's Army," a secret study group aimed to teach his classmates the higher-level skills of Defence Against the Dark Arts that he has learned from his previous encounters with Dark wizards. An important prophecy concerning Harry and Lord Voldemort is revealed, and Harry discovers that he and Voldemort have a painful connection, allowing Harry to view some of Voldemort's actions telepathically. In the novel's climax, Harry and his friends face off against Voldemort's Death Eaters at the Ministry of Magic. Although the timely arrival of members of the Order of the Phoenix saves the children's lives, Sirius Black is killed in the conflict.
In the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Voldemort begins waging open warfare. Harry and his friends are relatively protected from that danger at Hogwarts. They are subject to all the difficulties of adolescence—Harry eventually begins dating Ginny, Ron establishes a strong infatuation with fellow Hogwarts student Lavender Brown, and Hermione starts recognising her loving feelings for Ron. Near the beginning of the novel, lacking his own book, Harry is given an old potions textbook filled with many annotations and recommendations signed by a mysterious writer; "the Half-Blood Prince." This book is a source of scholastic success and great recognition from their new potions master, Horace Slughorn, but because of the potency of the spells that are written in it, becomes a source of concern. Harry takes private lessons with Dumbledore, who shows him various memories concerning the early life of Voldemort in a device called a Pensieve. These reveal that in order to preserve his life, Voldemort has split his soul into pieces, creating a series of horcruxes - evil enchanted items hidden in various locations, one of which was the diary destroyed in the second book. Harry's snobbish adversary, Draco Malfoy, attempts to attack Dumbledore, and the book culminates in the killing of Dumbledore by Professor Snape, the titular Half-Blood Prince.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book in the series, begins directly after the events of the sixth book. Lord Voldemort has completed his ascension to power and gains control of the Ministry of Magic. Harry, Ron and Hermione drop out of school so that they can find and destroy Voldemort's remaining horcruxes. To ensure their own safety as well as that of their family and friends, they are forced to isolate themselves. As they search for the horcruxes, the trio learns details about Dumbledore's past, as well as Snape's true motives—he had worked on Dumbledore's behalf since the murder of Harry's mother.
The book culminates in the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry, Ron and Hermione, in conjunction with members of the Order of the Phoenix and many of the teachers and students, defend Hogwarts from Voldemort, his Death Eaters, and various dangerous magical creatures. Several major characters are killed in the first wave of the battle, including Remus Lupin and Fred Weasley. After learning that he himself is a horcrux, Harry surrenders himself to Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest, who casts a killing curse (Avada Kedavra) at him. The defenders of Hogwarts do not surrender after learning of Harry's presumed death and continue to fight on. Harry awakens and faces Voldemort, whose horcruxes have all been destroyed. In the final battle, Voldemort's killing curse rebounds off Harry's defensive spell (Expelliarmus) killing Voldemort.
An epilogue describes the lives of the surviving characters and the effects of Voldemort's death on the wizarding world.