At the beginning of the novel, Harry Potter is living in a cupboard under the stairs, suffering appalling maltreatment at the hands of the Dursley family, to whose care he was confided as an infant following the death of his parents; his mother was Mrs. Dursley’s sister. On his eleventh birthday, however, it is revealed to him, despite the Dursleys’ best efforts, that he has inherited magical abilities and is scheduled for education in wizardry at Hogwarts Academy, a key pillar of the British magical community, which lives in strict covert isolation from untalented “muggles.” This message is delivered by the intimidating Hagrid, who lives on the school grounds on the edge of a Forbidden Forest. Hagrid, who is fascinated by all manner of magical creatures, becomes Harry’s first fast friend.
Having obtained essential equipment from the magical mall in Diagon Alley, Harry catches the Hogwarts Express from platform nine and three-quarters at King’s Cross Station and is carried away to his new life. He finds that his reputation has preceded him to Hogwarts. While still preconscious in his cradle, he survived a magical assault by the infamous dark wizard Voldemort (whose name is so terrible in its effects that only Harry and Hogwarts’ headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, dare pronounce it), deflecting a killing spell back upon its sender and reducing Voldemort to helplessness. Despite the resentment generated by this reputation among the children of Voldemort’s former sympathizers—including fellow pupil Draco Malfoy and the disciplinarian teacher Severus Snape—Harry finds life at Hogwarts idyllic and makes two more firm friends in the bookish Hermione Granger and the hapless but willing Ron Weasley.
Initially, the only strong evidence of Harry’s talent is provided on the sports field, where he becomes an expert player of quidditch, a game played on flying broomsticks. Voldemort, however, is in hiding at Hogwarts, beginning to recover his powers and enthusiastic to get rid of his nemesis. Voldemort also wants to get hold of the philosopher’s stone, which was entrusted by the famous alchemist Nicholas Flamel to Dumbledore. With the aid of Hermione and Ron, and encouragement from Dumbledore and Hagrid, Harry contrives to thwart Voldemort’s ambition in a tense climax, but he realizes that he is engaged in a contest that is likely to be long and desperate.