By the time Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth book in the Harry Potter saga, was published in 2000, the series had already become a smashing success. The first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (“Sorcerer’s Stone” in the United States) debuted in the UK in the summer of 1997 and was being turned into a movie; the Goblet of Fire book set a new record for Amazon.com pre-orders. Its popularity rampant, Potter’s trials and tribulations won fans of all kinds.
Among them was Natalie McDonald of Toronto, a nine-year-old girl who could not wait to hear how the story would end—but sadly, not because she was impatient. McDonald had a terminal case of leukemia and was all but certain to die before Goblet hit the bookstores.
A family friend, Annie Kidder, went to the publisher of the Potter series, asking them to pass a letter (and fax) on to J.K. Rowling, author of the books. Kidders’s request was a simple one: give this dying child a preview of the outcome of Goblet — yes, nearly a year before the rest of the world would be able to read it — as the Potter stories “had been [Natalie’s] respite from the hell of leukemia” and Natalie was, quite simply, not going to survive long enough to otherwise enjoy the story.
Rowling was on vacation when the requests arrived and replied, via email to Natalie’s mother, on August 4, 1999, detailing the fate, as would be told in Goblet, of the main characters, eleven months early. Unfortunately, Natalie passed away the day prior.
Nevertheless, Natalie’s mother Valerie and Rowling began a friendship from that day forward. Rowling, for her part, honored Natalie’s memory in print — on page 159 (or 180, depending on the version) of Goblet of Fire, a young witch by the name of Natalie McDonald, new to Hogwarts, donned the Sorting Hat and became a member of the House of Gryffindor.