The Movie Watcher’s Guide to the Harry Potter Universe

By  · Published on July 14th, 2009

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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.

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