Let’s pretend for a second that you and your friends aren’t gathering together at noon local time to make a bunch of pizza rolls and throw in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for what promises to be a very long, very Potter-filled day of marathoning through all the films leading up to the premiere of Half-Blood Prince tonight at midnight. Let’s pretend you aren’t doing that. Let’s pretend that, instead, you need a quick refresher course in all things Potter from someone who has already seen the new movie (twice) and enjoys bragging about that fact (in parentheses).
Luckily, you’ve turned to us at Film School Rejects who can provide you all you need to know about the Potter universe so that you can walk into the sixth film with confidence. After all, Yates is a sneaky director who loves throwing in minor details, and you want to be able to catch all the nuances right?
As a quick note, I’ll mention that there are spoilers aplenty from the other films, so if you really haven’t seen the movies but plan to, you might want to avoid reading this. As another quick note, I’ll point out I’ve done my best not to spoil anything in the new film because I’m not a heartless person. The details that I’m writing about from the previous films may or may not have any significance for Half-Blood Prince, but you shouldn’t think that just because something’s included in this refresher course, that it’s meaningful or important in the upcoming flick.
Everyone on board? Excellent. Without further ado, let’s go back, all the way back to the beginning. Starting with the same film that you and your friends plan on starting with for your marathon. (We can stop pretending like it isn’t happening).
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
More than anything, this movie serves as an introduction to the characters and some of the rules of the universe. So first, the players:
- Harry Potter – Obviously the main character of the film, he was almost killed by The Dark Lord Voldemort as a child, but survived the attack while Voldemort lost all of his powers. He has lived with his cruel Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia (and their bratty son Dudley) since the attack when, while he lived, his parents were both killed. Thinking himself a normal kid, he learns on his eleventh birthday that he’s actually a wizard – and a very famous one already. He’s taken from his Aunt and Uncle, and whisked into a magical world of spells and witchcraft. And a world where the Dark Lord seeks to return to take his revenge.
- Ron Weasley - The second-youngest of a large wizarding family, Ron quickly becomes Harry’s best friend when they meet each other on the train tracks to Hogwart’s (the school of wizardry that they attend). He carries around a rat named Scabbers as a pet and is generally clumsy, probably not the most talented wizard in the bunch.
- Hermione Granger - A know-it-all and quick to become the smartest in their year, Hermione becomes Harry and Ron’s friend after they save her from a troll that attacks the school. She then becomes the third part of an inseparable trio of friends that attempts to find out what the school is hiding and how Lord Voldemort attempts to use it to return.
- Albus Dumbledore – The Headmaster of Hogwart’s and the most powerful wizard in the world, he looks after Harry while at Hogwart’s and becomes a major mentor figure for the young boy, helping him cope with the memory of his parents and the dark times that seem to threaten from the future.
- Severus Snape – The potions teacher and head of rival Slytherin House that holds a grudge against Potter because of a longstanding hatred for his father. He was formally a Death Eater (a follower of Voldemort’s), but gained Dumbledore’s trust.
- Rubeus Hagrid - The groundskeeper of the school who befriends Harry, helping him get his school supplies and generally helping him and his friends along whenever they need advice. He has an affinity for magical creatures and is a half-giant.
- Draco Malfoy – A young wizard from a wealthy family of pure-bloods, he is a consummate bully who feels scorned by Harry and becomes the schoolyard enemy of Harry and his friends.
- Minerva McGonagall – The assistant headmistress for Hogwart’s, and head of Gryffindor (the house that Harry, Hermione and Ron belong to). She constantly catches the trio as they get into trouble, but she’s fair-minded and even suggests Harry become the Seeker for their house Quidditch team.
- Professor Quirrell – The Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who frequently stammers, wears a turban and is secretly concealing the almost-dead figure of Voldemort underneath. He is desperately trying to find the Sorcerer’s Stone – an object that Dumbledore has hidden in the school and that promises to give its owner eternal life. Or enough life to bring back Voldemort from the edge of death.
A few key points to remember:
Harry is the only person alive to have survived a Killing Curse, and his survival drained the powers of Lord Voldemort.
Harry, as well as most other students, get their school supplies from the shops of Diagon Alley.
Connected to Diagon Alley is the darker Knockturn Alley, an area where a large Dark Arts store called Borgin and Burkes sells dangerous magical objects.
Throughout the story, Harry believes that Snape is trying to kill him when, in fact, Snape is actually trying to save him from Professor Quirrell.
Unicorn blood has healing powers, but it takes a toll on the soul to kill one.
Harry is made the youngest Seeker in a century for the school sport of Quidditch – a blend of rugby and soccer on brooms played with three balls and a Snitch. The Seeker’s job is to catch the Snitch.
Harry, Ron and Hermione track down where the Sorcerer’s Stone is being hidden and go after who they believe is trying to steal it, but only Harry makes it to the final room to confront Quirrell.
During that confrontation, he touches Quirrell which causes Quirrell’s body to deteriorate – leading to death. That power stemmed from his mother’s love and sacrifice for him – the same reason that Voldemort was severely weakened when trying to kill Harry.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Some new players:
- Ginny Weasley – The youngest of the Weasley clan, she is headed to Hogwart’s for her first year and is sorted into Gryffindor House with her brothers, Hermione and Harry.
- Lucius Malfoy – Draco Malfoy’s father, a former Death Eater who wants to see Dumbledore fired as Headmaster. He is the one who slips Tom Riddle’s diary into Ginny’s book bag at the beginning of term.
- Dobby The House Elf – Dobby is a servant of the Malfoy family and warns Harry not to go back to school because there are forces out to kill him
- Tom Marvolo Riddle – A former student at Hogwart’s that leaves behind an enchanted diary. It’s revealed later that Tom is actually Lord Voldemort attempting to return to power by taking Ginny’s life force for his own.
- Aragog – A giant spider that lives in the forest behind the school. He’s one of Hagrid’s oldest friends and has a ton of offspring that aren’t nearly as friendly.
A few key points to remember:
Harry begins to hear voices and learns that he can speak to snakes in a language called Parseltongue. This is a very rare gift and one that Voldemort also possessed.
As it turns out, Voldemort himself transferred the power to Harry when he tried to kill him.
Messages written in blood appear on the walls warning people that the Heir of Slytherin has returned and is opening the Chamber of Secrets. The last time that happened, a girl died.
Harry wrestles with the idea that he may be the Heir of Slytherin since he can talk to snakes. He also suspects Draco.
Harry and Ron use Polyjuice Potion (which gives the drinker the appearance of someone they need to imitate) in order to confront Draco about the Chamber.
Hermione is petrified by the monster that’s been set loose from the Chamber along with several other people. A note in her hand leads Harry and Ron to find out that the monster is actually a basilisk, a giant snake that kills people when they look into its eyes. Since none of the victims looked directly into its eyes, they were only stunned.
Harry and Ron talk to Aragog, a giant spider who tells them that Hagrid, previously thought to have opened the Chamber all those years ago, is actually innocent. But Aragog turns on the boys and sends his children to attack them.
Ginny is stunned and taken down into the Chamber where Harry ultimately has to fight the Basilisk while the memory of Tom Riddle (who reveals himself to be Voldemort) watches on. Harry succeeds in killing the Basilisk, and uses one of its fangs to stab Tom Riddle’s diary which was holding the memory of the teenage version of Lord Voldemort – foiling his plan to return yet again and saving Ginny’s life.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Some new players:
- Sirius Black – The prisoner from the title, Black is thought to be a notorious mass murder that is escaping from Azkaban prison in order to find and kill Harry. He’s also a suspected Death Eater, but he’s actually Harry’s Godfather, escaping prison to try to protect Harry and keep him safe from the dark forces trying to kill him
- Remus Lupin – The new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Lupin is also a werewolf and an old friend of Harry’s father James. James, Sirius, and he were best friends throughout their school days.
- Peter Pettigrew - A wizard who has hidden as Ron’s rat Scabbers since Voldemort’s disappearance and plans on killing Harry. He was also a school-age friend to James Potter, but betrayed both of Harry’s parents to Lord Voldemort – leading directly to their death.
- Cornelius Fudge – The Minister of Magic, he takes a liking to Harry and keeps him from getting expelled.
- Professor Trelawney - A seer who predicts the attempted return of Lord Voldemort and predicts grave danger for Harry.
- Dementors – The guards of Azkaban prison who feed on happiness and frequently attack Harry as they look for Sirius Black.
A few key points to remember:
Professor Lupin teaches Harry the Patronus charm which acts as a shield against the Dementors.
The twins, George and Fred Weasley, give Harry a blank piece of parchment that, when called upon, turns into a map of the entire school showing where everyone is at any given point in time.
It’s because of this map that Harry sees Peter Pettigrew wandering the halls, despite being previously believed to have been murdered by Sirius Black.
Despite cornering Peter Pettigrew, Lupin turns into a werewolf at the sight of the full moon and allows the killer to escape.
Sirius bonds with Harry as his Godfather and invites him to come live with him.
Sirius also sends Harry a Firebolt, the fastest broom in the world.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Some new players:
- Lord Voldemort – Although he’s appeared in other movies as a significantly weakened entity or as a memory, he returns here to full force. He is one of the world’s most powerful wizards and certainly the most evil, seeking through what ever means necessary, the ability to live forever.
- Cedric Diggory – One of the most well-loved boys at Hogwart’s, he competes in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, but is killed by Peter Pettigrew in a graveyard while Voldemort attempts to return to full strength.
- Cho Chang – Cedric’s girlfriend who Harry has a crush on.
- Alastor Moody – A former Auror (essentially the detectives of the Wizard World) who becomes the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Unfortunately, he is captured by a Death Eater who poses as him throughout the school year and puts Harry into mortal danger in order to get him into the graveyard where Voldemort awaits.
- James and Lily Potter – Harry’s parents who were killed when he was just an infant.
- Nagini – Voldemort’s pet snake.
A few key points to remember:
The Death Eaters are getting stronger and more open, attacking a huge crowd at the Quidditch World Cup and leaving a Dark Mark in the sky.
At school, they are hosting a famed wizard sporting event called the Tri-Wizard Tournament. This involves two other schools from different parts of the world. It also involves a dance where it becomes clear that Ron has feelings for Hermione.
Harry begins having dreams of Voldemort, which he believes may come true.
At the end of the tournament, the Tri-Wizard cup turns out to be a portkey (an object that transports those that touch it) to a graveyard where Peter Pettigrew and Voldemort await Harry to attack him.
They use Harry’s blood to bring back Voldemort.
By dueling with Voldemort, Harry is able to see the ghosts of his parents James and Lily who help him escape the graveyard back to Hogwart’s with Cedric Diggory’s body.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Some new players:
- Dolores Umbridge – The new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, positioned there by the Ministry of Magic to keep an eye on the school. She refuses to actually teach practical defense and through ministry decrees, moves up the ladder to become Headmistress in order to create a police state in the school.
- Bellatrix Lestrange – The cousin of Sirius Black and Aunt to Draco Malfoy, she is an incredibly dangerous witch that is fiercely loyal and highly trusted by Lord Voldemort
- Luna Lovegood – An eccentric student who befriends Harry, Hermione and Ron. Her father publishes The Quibbler, the only publication that believes that Voldemort has returned. Harry connects with her because they have both known close personal tragedy.
- Nymphadora Tonks – A young Auror who helps Harry escape the his Aunt and Uncle’s and who becomes a vital fighter for the Order.
A few key points to remember:
Remus, Sirius, Snape, Tonks, Moody, The Weasleys and several others are part of an organization called The Order of the Phoenix that formed when Voldemort first rose to power. They are reforming after Harry confirmed that The Dark Lord finally was able to return.
The wizard world is split as Dumbledore spreads word that Voldemort has returned, but Minister Fudge actively denounces this in order to save political face. This split goes all the way down to the student level where several students have stopped talking to Harry because he keeps claiming that Voldemort is back.
Because Fudge is paranoid, he appoints Dolores Umbridge to teach at Hogwart’s in order to make sure that Dumbledore isn’t trying to steal Fudge’s job.
This leads her to begin taking over the school and enforcing arbitrary rules, cruelly punishing students and desperately seeking out a conspiracy that doesn’t seem to exist.
Since Umbridge also refuses to teach Defense in any real way, Harry becomes the true Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher as he holds secret meetings where he shows students how to use spells like the Patronus.
During these sessions, Ginny proves to be an incredibly powerful witch. She also shows that she has feelings for Harry even though he is dating Cho Chang.
This secret group is named Dumbledore’s Army, and when it is discovered, Fudge attempts to have Dumbledore arrested for treason, but he escapes (with style) and goes into hiding.
Harry continues to have nightmares about Voldemort which prove a connection between the two minds.
This connection is dangerous because it might allow Voldemort to spy on, torture or control Harry. This, along with the blood that they both share, is another connection between the two. It makes Harry question whether or not he could just as easily turn over into the Dark Arts.
Snape teaches Harry the art of Occlumency in order to shield his mind from invasion, but these lessons stop when Harry invades Snape’s memory and sees a scene where Harry’s father bullies Snape in the schoolyard.
Bellatrix escapes from prison and leads a battle against Harry and his friends inside the Department of Mysteries, brought there by a false image of Sirius being tortured by Voldemort.
During a fight between the Order and the Death Eaters, the Order gets the upper hand, but Bellatrix kills Sirius in front of Harry, causing him to panic, chase her and attempt to torture her.
Dumbledore saves Harry’s life by fighting Voldemort.
By the end of the fight, Fudge and several other ministry officials see Voldemort, having to admit that he’s returned.
With that information out in the open, and feeling the strength of numbers, the Death Eaters are now free to actively, openly attack the wizarding world.
Closing the Book
Hopefully this refresher course will be a solid foundation for enjoying the movie if you aren’t able to rock through the other five before you have to draw Dark Marks on your forearm in Sharpie and head to the theater line. You might also check out my spoiler-free review of Half-Blood Prince. The sixth film certainly stands on its own, but who are we kidding? With this many characters and so much information to remember, this cheat sheet of quick facts seems to give an edge over the casual movie-goer.
Also be sure to check out our Ultimate Half-Blood Prince Picture Gallery and wear your Gryffindor colors with pride. Even if you’re, like, 38-years-old. There’s no shame in it, brother! What you do in your free-time is totally up to you, no matter what those other adults say.