The story of Harry Potter so far, from books 1 through 4 (but NOT book 5)...
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*** HARRY POTTER SPOILERS APLENTY ***
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You may want to read the following because:
(a) you read the first four Harry Potter books ages ago but now you've forgotten exactly what happened. You want a refresher before you tackle book 5.
(b) you can't be asked to read the first four Harry Potter books because life's too short but you fancy reading the fifth to find out what the fuss is all about.
(c) you can't stand Harry Potter but you want to be able to say with some authority what it is you hate
The following are synopses of the first four Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling:
"Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" - released September 1998
Welcome to the world of Harry Potter, a young English orphan with bright green eyes, glasses, unruly black hair and an odd scar on his forehead shaped like a lightning bolt.
Harry, whose parents died when he was 1, lives with the Dursleys - his odious aunt and uncle and their bully of a son - who tell him that his scar is a legacy of the car crash that killed his parents.
But on his 11th birthday, Harry gets a visit from Hagrid, groundskeeper at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and learns the truth: His parents were a witch and wizard. They were killed by the most evil wizard in the world, Lord Voldemort, who tried to kill Harry when he murdered Harry's parents. But Voldemort's curse rebounded, weakening him and leaving Harry with the scar.
Harry goes off to Hogwarts to study wizardry for the first of seven years. He makes friends with Ronald Weasley, Hermione Granger and headmaster Albus Dumbledore, and draws as his enemies Draco Malfoy and Professor Severus Snape. He learns many wizardry secrets - from playing Quidditch to transfiguration spells. But he also learns something else - that Voldemort is not dead but alive in spirit and is on the hunt to regain his physical form.
Voldemort has taken over the body of young Professor Quirrell and is looking for the Philosopher's Stone, which he needs to make a potion that will prolong his life. Harry and his friends thwart Voldemort, and the evil wizard's spirit flees to plot another day.
"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" - released June 1999
It's the end of summer, and Harry is at home with the Dursleys. He's feeling a bit lonely, wondering why he hasn't heard from any of his friends. The reason is revealed by a weird visitor, Dobby the house-elf, who is enslaved by the Malfoy family. With his bat-like ears and huge eyes, Dobby has sneaked away from the Malfoys to warn Harry that he is in much danger and must not return to Hogwarts. Dobby has been blocking Harry's mail to make the young wizard think that his friends don't like him anymore. But Harry returns to Hogwarts anyway.
Things are weird at Hogwarts - and dangerous. Harry hears voices that no one else can, and people start turning up in a petrified state. The hidden Chamber of Secrets has been opened, and a monster snake is attacking students who come from non-magical families.
Harry and his friends discover they're dealing with an old mystery, and when Ginny Weasley, Ron's sister, disappears, Harry finds the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets and goes to look for her.
What he finds is the spirit of young Tom Riddle, an old Hogwarts student who put his spirit in Ginny's diary. Riddle's spirit takes a keen interest in Harry, who learns it was Riddle who ultimately became Voldemort.
Harry defeats the spirit by destroying the diary. And before returning home, he engineers Dobby's freedom from the Malfoys.
"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" - September 1999
Harry is on his best behavior at the Dursley home, hoping he'll be able to get his awful uncle to sign a permission slip for school field trips. He promises not to annoy Uncle Vernon's horrible sister during her visit. But she's SO horrible that Harry blows her up like a balloon before fleeing the house.
Harry expects to be punished by Hogwarts because he has used magic around the non-magical. Instead, he is sent to an inn to wait out the rest of his vacation. On the eve of his return to Hogwarts, he finds out why: Sirius Black, an alleged supporter of Voldemort, has escaped from Azkaban, a prison for wizards and witches. Everyone is worried that he's on his way to Hogwarts to finish off Harry.
It's a tense year at Hogwarts, and Harry thinks he sees omens of death. Black finally shows up. But it's not Harry he's after - it's Scabbers, Ron's pet rat. Scabbers is a transfigured Peter Pettigrew, a Voldemort follower who committed the crime for which Black was wrongly imprisoned. And it was Pettigrew who told Voldemort where he could find Harry's parents all those years ago.
With Pettigrew back in human form, hopes are high that Black will be exonerated. Black is actually Harry's godfather and offers him a home away from the Dursleys. But Pettigrew escapes, and Black has to go on the run to avoid being sent back to jail.
"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" - July 2000
Book 4 opens with the story of how the aloof, obnoxious Riddle family died. Then the scene shifts to Voldemort, whose original name was Riddle. Voldemort has met up with Pettigrew and is hatching another plot to bring himself back to a physical form and full power. The plot requires blood and death - preferably Harry's. An evil minion at Hogwarts is in place to help the wizard get his hands on Harry.
Harry is entered in a dangerous magical competition with two other wizard schools. He survives, but another competitor, Cedric, doesn't.
Harry ends up temporarily in Voldemort's clutches, although the evil wizard's plan doesn't go quite as he had hoped. Harry and Voldemort end up in a duel, and the ghostly forms of those Voldemort has killed come back to aid Harry.
Once back at school, the minion is revealed, and Dumbledore realizes that Voldemort again is ready to cause trouble. Dumbledore tries to persuade the Minister of Magic to take steps to stop the evil wizard, but the minister refuses to believe him. So Dumbledore starts making preparations of his own to combat the battle he anticipates.
"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" - June 2003
Now that would be telling... (Available in all good bookshops, supermarkets, libraries, web sites, coffee shops, record stores, you name it...)