The Harry Potter universe continues to expand beyond the seven books written by J.K. Rowling and the eight feature films that they inspired. There’s the live sequel to it all, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which was presented on both London’s West End and on Broadway; and there’s the prequel film series under the umbrella title Fantastic Beasts, the second entry of which, The Crimes of Grindelwald, reaches theaters on Nov. 16. 

All told, it’s an incredible saga that’s been unfolding since the publication of the first Harry Potter novel back in 1997 and the release of the first film in 2001 (both titled in the UK Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone). What you’re reading is the kick-off in a series of retrospective articles, told in oral history format through a combination of exclusive interviews and studio-provided quotes, which will be presented weekly and go right up until the release of the new Fantastic Beasts

“Where the idea for Harry Potter actually came from, I really couldn’t tell you,” admitted J.K. Rowling. “My boyfriend was moving to Manchester and wanted me to move, too. It was during the train journey back from Manchester to London, after a weekend of looking for a flat that Harry Potter made is appearance. I have never felt such a huge rush of excitement. I knew immediately that this was going to be so much fun to write. I didn’t know then that it was going to be a book for children, I just knew that I had this boy, Harry. I also saw it as a series which would follow Harry to the end of his school days at Hogwarts, which would be seven years. So in the final book, Harry will have come of age in this wizarding world.

harry potter poster
Warner Bros

“It was the weirdest feeling,” she added. “I was on the train and it seemed like the idea was just floating in my head; it was like the idea had been floating around, waiting for someone to write it, and it chose me. It was like an explosion in my head, like magic. I know that sounds corny, but it was like pure inspiration. You can always tell when you have a good idea when you are writing, because you get this physical response to it; a surge of excitement. I never felt such excitement. And during that journey, I not only discovered Harry, but also Ron, Nearly Headless Nick, Hagrid, and Peeves. But with the idea of my life careening round my head, I didn’t have a pen that worked. And I never went anywhere without my pen and notebook. So rather than trying to write it, I had to think it. And I think that was a very good thing. I was besieged by a mass of detail, and if it didn’t survive that journey, it probably wasn’t worth remembering.”

Obviously it was.

Our look at The Sorcerer’s Stone, focusing on how the various elements came together, begins below — scroll down to see!