There are moments in everyone's life when everything changes, and nothing can go back to being the same way it was before. For Harry Potter, that moment came at breakfast, one week before his eleventh birthday, when the first letter arrived. Before, Harry had been ordinary, average, not outstanding in any way. A week later, when he turned 11, and discovered who he was, and who his parents had been, he also discovered that he was famous, respected, revered, and known to everyone — but in a different world.
Harry had lived with his Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia since he was a baby and his parents were killed in a car wreck. They doted on their son Dudley, who was almost exactly the same age as Harry, and they put up with the inconvenience of having Harry live with them, because he had no other family. Dudley had two bedrooms, because he had so much stuff. Harry slept in the cupboard under the stairs with the dust and the spiders. He was little and skinny, with a mop of dark hair that always looked like it needed cutting. The only outstanding thing about him was the scar on his forehead shaped like a bolt of lightning. Aunt Petunia told him it had happened when his parents died.
Harry couldn't believe his eyes when he went to get the mail that Tuesday morning in July, and saw a letter addressed to him. Who could be writing to him? Whoever it was knew he lived under the stairs, for that was what the address said: "Mr. H. Potter, Cupboard under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whingding, Surrey, England." The bright green letters seemed to glow on the thick, yellowish parchment envelope. Harry was about to unfold the letter when Uncle Vernon snatched it out of his hand. When he read what it said, his face went from red to green to an ugly pasty-white in just seconds. "Petunia," he quavered, holding the letter out to her. When she read it, she looked as though she might faint.
Uncle Vernon stuffed the letter back into the envelope, refusing to let Harry see it. He didn't see the second one the next day, or the ever-increasing floods of them that continued to arrive daily for the next seven days. Uncle Vernon seemed to have gone mad, because on Sunday, when 30 or 40 letters whizzed out of the fireplace, he ordered everyone to pack their bags. They were going on a trip to get away from the letters. But it didn't matter where they went, the letters followed them. Uncle Vernon was having a hard time dealing with them, and keeping Harry away from them. In the end, the only letter that Harry got to see was the one that was delivered in person, just at the stroke of midnight, as he turned 11.
It said that he had been admitted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the finest school of magic in the world, and was to arrive by September the first. What his aunt and uncle had not told Harry was the he was the son of the most powerful witch and wizard in the world, and that he had survived the attack that killed them, the only person to ever survive an attack by Voldemort, a powerful wizard who had gone over to the Dark Side. As a result, everyone in the magical world, which Harry had never known existed, had been waiting for 10 years for him to turn 11, so he could begin his wizard's training. Hagrid, who worked at the school, and had brought Harry his letter, explained everything. The next day, Hagrid took Harry shopping for wizard's robes, a pointed hat, pewter cauldron, brass scales for measuring potions, a stack of textbooks, a magic wand, and finally a beautiful snowy white owl. Harry was on his way.
But there was no way he could have expected all that would happen to him during his first year at Hogwarts. He had classes in potions, spells, herbology, transfiguration, defense against the black arts, charms, and broomstick riding. He also learned to play the favorite sport in this world, Quidditch, which was played 50 feet in the air, on broomsticks, with flying balls of all sizes and colors. There were school ghosts, poltergeists, and the strangest faculty that Harry had ever seen.
And there's also a mystery, a locked corrider guarded by a huge three-headed dog, and behind it, Harry's destiny, his heritage, his place in the magical world. Will he be able to survive a second encounter with Voldemort? The most powerful and evil wizard in the world, and a short, skinny first year wizardry student — does Harry even have a chance?
This booktalk was written by librarian and booktalking expert Joni R. Bodart.