Harry Potter Beat Sheet: A Plot Guide for Writers

In this article, we’ll explore and analyze a Harry Potter beat sheet for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, using Derek Murphy’s 24 Chapter Novel Outline. The Plottr template for this outline is perfect for writing a wide range of commercial fiction.

Act 1: Hero and Ordinary World

Really Bad Day

Beginning of Act 1:

Ordinary World, Empathy, Conflict. Flaw and Lack. Want, Problem, Need.

Harry Potter’s ordinary world is introduced. First, he loses his parents. Then he is left on the doorstep of his aunt and uncle, the Dursleys.

Harry becomes servant and scapegoat within the Dursley household, never truly welcomed into their world and always feeling so different. Harry finally gets to go to one of his cousin Dudley’s birthday parties, and some real fun begins.

Harry Potter 24 chapter novel beat sheet - First Beat in Plottr

Something Peculiar

Early in Act 1:

Something unique or strange happens, but characters dismiss it.

Harry is looking at a large snake — as one does when at the zoo — when it suddenly winks at him. He talks to it for a moment, but then Dudley hits him, and somehow the glass walls of the snake’s enclosure disappear. Mr. Dursley blames Harry, and he is banished to the cupboard beneath the stairs.

Harry clearly has powers, but he doesn’t know it or understand it. He also has no control over them, and it gets him into a lot of trouble. Even more peculiar is that letters start arriving for Harry, when he never gets any mail. Uncle Vernon destroys them, but they just keep coming.

Grasping at Straws

Mid Act 1:

Characters try to regain control of the Ordinary World, but setbacks mount.

Setbacks mount — for the Dursleys, that is. Uncle Vernon is trying to regain control, and Harry just wants the letters that keep coming for him.

After a series of hilarious events in which Uncle Vernon succeeds for a time, they head off to a little shack in the middle of a storm where at least no letters can be delivered to Harry. Or so the Dursleys think…

Call to Adventure and “A” Story: External – Inciting Incident

Mid Act 1:

Something extraordinarily different happens that the protagonist can’t ignore. Major setback.

At the stroke of twelve, or the moment Harry turns 11, a giant man named Hagrid bangs on the door and breaks in. He gives Harry his first birthday cake, cooks sausages, and makes himself at home.

Hagrid tells Harry he is a wizard, and Harry finally gets a chance to read the letter accepting him into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He learns how his parents really died, who Voldemort is, and how Voldemort gave him that scar.

Harry is well-known within the wizarding world. The boy who lived. He’s gone from an obscure boy living in the cupboard under the stairs to one of the most famous wizards of all time, and he knows nothing about that birthright, his potential friends, or his potential enemies.

Mid Act 1:

The Call to Adventure & Inciting Incident: External events

In most books, the inciting incident should happen in the first few chapters. For Harry, this is when Hagrid drops the wizarding world bombshell.

Head in Sand

Late Act 1:

The new interrupts the old and causes conflict. Reveals dissatisfaction with the ordinary.

The Dursleys resist Harry’s Call to Adventure and stick with denial about his invitation to attend Hogwarts.

Harry now knows he is a wizard. With every new spell Hagrid performs, the way the folks in the Leaky Cauldron respond to him, and the introduction to Diagon Alley (where the magical community does all their shopping), he realizes he ain’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Despite these many magical interactions, the month leading up to his attendance at Hogwarts is torture, and he receives little help and support from the Dursleys. Dissatisfaction abounds.

Pull Out Rug and “B” Story: Internal – First Plot Point

End of Act 1:

Stepping off the cliff or going into the rabbit hole. Protagonist accepts the call whether voluntary or involuntary.

Harry not only follows Hagrid into the unknown and preps for his stay at Hogwarts, but he literally steps off a platform and onto another — platform nine and three quarters — just to get to Hogwarts.

Harry’s fear of the unknown and the possibility that he might miss the train hits hard, but the Weasleys show up to save the day and help him get on the right one.

There are beautiful symbols of change such as the train taking Harry from his Ordinary World to his New World, as well as his increasing internal acceptance that he is part of something special.

Harry Potter - The Hogwarts Express
©sergey.miami2you.com / depositphotos.com

Act 2A: Exploring New World

Enemies & Allies

Beginning of Act 2A:

Protagonist explores new world; meets characters, finds their place and role. Introduces all main characters.

Ron, Hermione, the Weasley Twins, and even a central antagonist, Malfoy, are introduced as Harry accepts his call and heads to Hogwarts. By the end of the train ride we have most of the characters laid out with some fun interactions that give us insight into personalities and roles being played.

Upon arrival at Hogwarts, the first years are led to an area where they wait for their Sorting Ceremony to take place. Ghosts come out of the woodwork — literally — and make their presence known. Harry worries that this is all a mistake and the sorting hat won’t place him at all. That he might be sent home.

Fortunately, Harry is placed in Gryffindor along with Ron and Hermione. The first few days are all about Harry trying to get used to being the famous Harry Potter. The unwanted attention as he navigates his new world is difficult for him to process. A few more characters are introduced as well:

  • Snape, along with Drako, will be an enduring thorn in Harry’s side
  • Hagrid, Dumbledore, and Professor McGonagall are in some ways guides to Harry at different times, although McGonagall is more authoritarian in nature while Dumbledore gives Harry room to explore and make a few mistakes
  • Argus Filch and his cat, Mrs. Norris, are low-level antagonists patrolling the halls and cracking down on students

Games & Trials

Early in Act 2A

Struggle to belong. Frustration and doubt. Trials and challenges. The promise of the premise.

We get some detailed examples of training from Harry’s first week of classes, where he learns about Transfiguration and the Dark Arts. Potions is especially challenging since Snape hates him and seeks to tear Harry down at every turn.

We learn the layout of the castle, or rather the way in which you can easily be lost in it, as well as the role of the ghosts and the resident tattletale, Mrs. Norris, Argus Filch’s cat.

Hogwarts Castle

Earning Respect and “A” Story: External – First Battle / First Pinch Point

Mid Act 2A

Small victory as lead proves capable. Fun and games. Begrudging acceptance.

Harry has a small victory with his broomstick. He’s a natural at flying. During their flying lessons, Malfoy and Neville have an altercation. Harry swoops in to retrieve Neville’s Remembrall, but Malfoy flies high and launches it into the air.

Harry uses some sweet skills to retrieve it, and impresses McGonagall so much that she takes him to Oliver Wood — the eventual captain of the Quidditch team — and tells him she has found him the new Seeker for Gryffindor House.

The first major interaction with the Antagonist or the forces of evil.

Harry is still high on his most recent victory as the youngest Seeker, but Malfoy challenges Harry to a Wizard’s Duel. Ron accepts on Harry’s behalf before Harry even knows what a Wizard’s Duel is. But the challenge was a set-up by Malfoy, hoping to get Harry caught wandering the halls of the school after hours. He wants Harry expelled.

Harry and his friends are chased by Mrs. Norris and Filch who were obviously tipped off by Malfoy. They stumble into the forbidden corridor and find a three-headed dog guarding a trap-door. Harry surmises that the creature is guarding what Hagrid retrieved from Gringotts Wizarding Bank.

Forces of Evil

Mid Act 2A:

Stakes are raised, antagonists revealed.

Professor Quirrell warns the school that a troll is loose… and he promptly passes out. Harry and Ron seek out Hermione to warn her and see Snape slinking off. They accidentally lock the troll inside the girls’ bathroom and race back to save Hermione after realizing their mistake.

Ron and Harry work together to distract the troll, and in a surprise twist, Ron succeeds in casting a spell: Wingardium Leviosa! The troll’s club levitates and lands on its head, knocking it out. Victory “through sheer dumb luck” as Professor McGonagall says in the movie, not the book. But still… Victory!

Problem Revealed

Late in Act 2A:

Surprise problem or situation. Demanding answers.

Harry attempts to retrieve his Quidditch book from Snape who is in the staff room having his leg mended by Professor Filch. When Harry walks in, he hears Snape say, “How are you supposed to keep your eyes on all three heads at once?”

Harry races back to Hermione and Ron and tells them that Snape is trying to get past the creature guarding the trap door. They need to find out what that three-headed dog is guarding and why Snape is after it. Harry suspects Snape of setting the troll loose.

Truth & Ultimatum and “B” Story: Internal – Midpoint

End of Act 2A:

New information, vulnerable share. In or out?

Harry’s broom is out of control during his first Quidditch game, and Hermione realizes that Snape is casting a spell, using dark magic to unseat Harry. Hermione rushes to Harry’s aid, knocking Professor Quirrell over in the process, and magically sets a fire next to Snape to stop him.

Later on, Hagrid reveals that the creature, Fluffy, is his pet. Hagrid refuses to believe that Snape is after what’s being guarded and tells Harry, Hermione, and Ron to stay out of it.
After their discussion with Hagrid, they now know that a man named Nicolas Flamel is involved with the object being guarded by Fluffy. They are committed to stopping Snape.

About halfway through the novel marks the point where the Protagonist decides to be proactive. They decide to stop being a victim and vow to do whatever it takes to win.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide they are going to figure out who Nicolas Flamel is so they can find out what Fluffy is guarding and stop Professor Snape from stealing it. They decide to spend as much time as possible doing research in the library.

Harry Potter - illustration of library episode

Act 2B: Bad Guys Close In

Mirror Stage

Beginning of Act 2B:

Self-realization or a discovery. Protagonist goes from victim to warrior.

Harry receives a mysterious Christmas present with an invisibility cloak that used to be his father’s. That night, he takes the opportunity to go into the restricted section of the library and continue his search for information on Nicolas Flamel.

One of the books begins shrieking and he almost gets caught by Filch and Snape. He hides in a different room and discovers a mirror. The mirror reveals to him what his family looks like.
He is so caught up in what he wants most he temporarily forgets his original quest and plans to return that night with Ron to see his family.

On the third night, Dumbledore explains what the mirror is, and how so many have wasted away before it seeking that which they wanted most rather than living for what they had. Or before even recognizing that they already had it.

Dumbledore says, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”

Plan of Attack

Early in Act 2B

Plan of action to thwart the Antagonist’s forces or overcome the main problem.

After the Christmas break, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are back to figuring out who Nicolas Flamel is.Through a stroke of luck, Harry sees the name Nicolas Flamel on one of the Wizard cards he collects. Nicolas Flamel was Dumbledore’s partner when they worked together in the field of alchemy.

Hermione knows where to look for Flamel now. She grabs a book from her quarters and discovers that Nicolas Flamel was the only known creator of the Sorcerer’s Stone which can turn any object into gold. It can also create the Elixir of Life and make the drinker immortal. They know what Snape is trying to steal now.

Crucial Role and “A” Story: External – Second Battle / Second Pinch point

Mid Act 2B:

Protagonist is entrusted with an important task.

Snape is going to referee the next Quidditch game, and Harry fears that Snape will try to get rid of him again. Harry braves the odds stacked against him, knowing Dumbledore is in attendance, and he catches the Snitch in record time. He even shoots past Snape to do it.

Harry takes on the crucial role of winning the game, and now Gryffindor is in the lead for the House Cup. Not only that, Harry is still alive to stop Snape from stealing the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Antagonist defeats Protagonist’s forces or foreshadows what’s at stake in the next major encounter.

The next major encounter happens between Snape and Professor Quirrell. After the game, Harry sees Snape sneaking off into the Forbidden Forest and follows him on his broom. He overhears Snape threatening Quirrell, asking him if he has figured out how to get past Fluffy yet.

It’s obvious Snape is threatening Quirrell, and Harry believes he is coercing Quirrell into helping Snape steal the Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry shares this with Ron and Hermione, and they come to the grim conclusion that Quirrell’s spells must be keeping the Stone safe. If Quirrell can’t stand up to Snape, then his defensive spells meant to help protect the stone will be jeopardized.

Direct Conflict

Mid Act 2B:

They execute the plan and come into direct conflict with the Antagonist’s forces.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione realize that Snape and several other professors have been tasked to protect the Stone after Hermione sweet talks Hagrid into giving them more information.

Snape has been figuring out each piece of the defensive puzzle, and they worry that he has found out how to get past all of the defenses put in place. They ask Hagrid if anyone else knows how to get past Fluffy, and he claims they don’t.

They discover that Hagrid has a dragon egg, and that a mysterious stranger gave it to him. While this doesn’t leave them in dire straits just yet, it eventually will. At the moment, they are preoccupied with how to help Hagrid get rid of his dragon before it gets too big to handle.

Surprise Failure

Late in Act 2B:

The plan goes horribly wrong, faulty information or assumption. Consequences.

Malfoy finds out about Hagrid’s dragon and hangs it over their heads, especially after Ron gets bitten on the hand while trying to help Hagrid take care of it. Malfoy knows too much, having found a note from Charlie about the meeting to hand off the dragon.

The friends have a small victory when Malfoy is caught in the tower late at night, given detention, and taken away by Professor McGonagall, and they get the dragon sent off safely. Unfortunately, they forget the invisibility cloak, and Filch meets them at the bottom of the stairs. They’ve been caught.

They are massively depressed at how they let their House down and lost the respect of their peers and their station among the House itself. The entire school hates them, and they still have detention with Filch.

Shocking Revelation and “B” Story: Internal – Second Plot Point

End of Act 2B:

The Antagonist’s full plan/true identity is revealed. Stakes are raised.

Harry overhears Snape coercing Quirrell again, and this time Quirrell finally agrees. Now Snape knows how to get past Quirrell’s protective spells guarding the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Harry talks to Ron and Hermione about it, but they say that at least Fluffy is still there. There’s no way to get past him. Yet they still worry that Snape has somehow figured it out.

The plan fails. The secret weapon backfires. The worst has happened. Everything the Protagonist feared could happen has happened.

Internally, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are smarting from their latest setback. Letting down their house and losing Gryffindor 150 points has made it impossible for them to win the House Cup. They become social pariahs within the school and that sense of belonging Harry has been seeking is definitely threatened.

The invisibility cloak that was meant to help them succeed is more of a symbol now of how far they have fallen and how invisible they wish they could be in this moment.

Act 3: Defeat and Victory

Giving Up

Beginning of Act 3

Protagonist loses confidence; the forces are too great. What they want is unattainable.

Harry ignores the fact that Snape has now coerced Quirrell into giving up his secrets. He decides they have done enough damage to their house and themselves. In this instance, they made mistakes and underestimated Filch.

They feel the detention they are about to experience is something they definitely deserve, but another reason for this debilitating sense of defeat is the thought that no one will believe their theory concerning Snape and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Pep Talk

Early in Act 3:

Encouragement from an Ally. Vulnerable share, inclusion. What’s at stake; choice.

During detention, Harry locates a fallen unicorn as well as a creature drinking its blood. The centaur who chases the creature off takes Harry to safety, but not before explaining that unicorn blood is meant to keep someone from the brink of death, but barely, and it comes at a terrible price.

Harry wonders who would do such a thing until the centaur reminds him of what is being guarded in Hogwarts. What has the power to offer someone eternal life? Harry realizes that Voldemort is the one who is truly after the Stone. The centaur hints Harry will die at the hands of Voldemort just as the stars have foretold.

This isn’t just about Snape getting hold of the Stone and living forever. This is now about preventing one of the most dangerous and feared wizards from returning and becoming immortal. It’s about stopping the wizard who killed Harry’s parents from killing the people he loves.

There is no way Harry can turn a blind eye to that. He must stop Voldemort.

Seizing the Sword and “A” Story: External – Final Battle

Mid Act 3:

Deliberate choice to continue, even if slim chance of success.

The next morning, Harry finds that his invisibility cloak has been returned to him with a note that says, “Just in case.”

It occurs to Harry how odd it was for a stranger to randomly offer up a dragon egg to Hagrid. They find out that Hagrid did, in fact, share exactly how to calm Fluffy down and get past his defenses. There’s nothing stopping Snape now from getting the Stone for Voldemort.

When they go to warn Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall informs them that Dumbledore received a message from the Ministry of Magic and left. It’s the perfect time for Snape to sneak off and steal the Stone. It’s up to Harry, Ron, and Hermione to stop Snape once and for all.

Something big changes. Impacts the Protagonist.

The new information concerning Hagrid’s encounter with that mysterious stranger and the fact that Dumbledore is no longer present at Hogwarts tips the scales and sends Harry, Ron, and Hermione head-long into the Final Battle.

The main conflict of this entire story has been leading up to this moment, and no matter the risks, they are going to go for the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Ultimate Defeat

Mid Act 3:

Triumph of villain. All hope is lost. Confront fatal flaw.

Harry initially decides to take on Snape all on his own. His fatal flaw is this idea that he must go it alone since that is how he has always operated until landing at Hogwarts, but Ron and Hermione are there to remind him that he has them.

Together they are more powerful than they are apart. Harry, Ron, and Hermione experience a series of tries, fails, and tiny wins as they work through the defenses meant to keep the stone protected.

  • Hermione uses her knowledge to defeat the plants
  • It takes teamwork to find the right key to get through the next obstacle, but Harry uses his skills as a Seeker
  • Together they play Wizard’s chess and Ron’s prowess wins them the game
  • Hermione uses logic and her wit to solve the potion riddles

Harry is not quite defeated yet, but he has to break off his network of support by sending Hermione back through purple flames to help Ron and call in the cavalry.

In this, we find the triumph of our villain since Harry in many ways is on a Heroine’s Journey rather than a Hero’s Journey, and he is most powerful when he is fighting with friends and family by his side.

Harry realizes Snape wasn’t the culprit. It was Quirrel all along, and he has been waiting there for Harry, binding him with ropes and leaving him helpless.

Unexpected Victory

Late in Act 3:

Secret weapon or ability, deep resolve, new understanding, unlikely ally. A glass shard is removed. There is sacrifice.

Harry knows the power of the Mirror and what it actually shows you. He sees his reflection showing him the blood red Sorcerer’s Stone, as well as him putting the stone in his own pocket.

Instead of his ”desires” being all about the family who has already passed, Harry is fighting for those who still live. Harry realizes that Voldemort is like a parasite, sharing Quirrell’s body, and when Quirrell attacks him, somehow Harry is able to seriously wound him. Contact with Harry’s skin is poisonous for Quirrell.

Harry doesn’t understand this new ability, but he takes full advantage of it, going on the offensive and smashing his hands against Quirrell’s face to inflict more damage, but the pain in his own head from the scar is unbearable. Even though it nearly kills him, Harry holds onto Quirrell until he finally blacks out.

Bittersweet Reflection and “B” Story: Internal – Rebirth (Return to Ordinary World)

The protagonist returns, changed. They’ve won – though if this is a series, it’s probably temporary.

Harry has gained friends, community, a sense of identity, confidence, and a better understanding of his place in this world and what is most important. It’s enough to sustain him as he returns to the Ordinary World for an entire summer with the Dursleys.

Harry’s parting shot before saying good-bye to his friends is, “They don’t know we’re not allowed to use magic at home. I’m going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer…”

Death of Self (Optional Beat or Scene Card)

Hints of future challenges or that the antagonist still lives.

This optional scene card is usually best utilized when writing a series. Harry will face Voldemort again in book two as Dumbledore confirmed that Harry was unable to kill Voldemort.

The issue of why Voldemort originally tried to kill Harry when he was a baby is not something Dumbledore is willing to discuss with Harry, so we also leave that for the series arc.

If you enjoyed this Harry Potter beat sheet, you may enjoy these others that explore classic stories:

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Harry Potter 24 Chapter Novel Beat Sheet

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