If you’re a regular person, your birthday probably consists of cake, balloons, maybe a present or two.
But if you’re Harry Potter, your birthday is likely rife with Dark magic, life-changing revelations, and near-death experiences. And because today is July 31, the day not just Harry Potter but his creator, J.K. Rowling, blows out their birthday candles (or battles their demons), we’ll be ranking each of Harry’s birthdays from worst to best—or, to be more specific, from worst to “objectively not as terrible.”
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Harry’s twelfth birthday
I don’t want to exaggerate, but I’m pretty sure Harry’s twelfth birthday invented anxiety. Prior to reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, I can remember having maybe three or four feelings total, and none of them were the sort of ABSOLUTE, PULSE-POUNDING DREAD I experienced when Dobby showed up, ruined the punchline to Uncle Vernon’s golf joke, and dropped that pudding on Mrs. Mason while Harry could only watch in horror.
Not only did Harry get into trouble, but he didn’t receive any letters or presents because Dobby had taken them. All in all, not one of the Chosen One’s better birthdays. The best thing that can be said of this one is that nobody actually died.
Harry’s fifteenth birthday
Nobody is their best self when they turn 15. Most of us are moody, covered in zits, and doing weird things with our hair. Harry had the added burden of trying to tell people Voldemort was back, to disbelief and general mockery. He throws away all his cards and presents in a fit of roiling teenage angst, and can we blame him?
Harry’s second through tenth birthdays
We don’t know what Harry was doing during these birthdays. Given that he was living with the Dursleys and didn’t know about the existence of wizards, I’m guessing they sat on a spectrum between uneventful and completely miserable.
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Harry’s seventeenth birthday
Here are the worst things that can happen to you on your birthday, categorically: your pet dies, your birthday party sucks, someone yells at you. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, every single one of these happens to Harry. Hedwig is killed just a few days prior (along with Mad-Eye Moody, who was not a beloved childhood pet, so I didn’t count him). As a result, Harry’s party is more gloomy than not. Then the Minister of Magic himself comes along, doles out the contents of Dumbledore’s will, and shouts a lot. Most of this is directed at Harry, who is a stronger man than I am didn’t slip off to the bathroom to cry quietly into a hand towel, not even once.
Harry’s sixteenth birthday
The birthday in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was just peak Harry Potter. Mrs. Weasley wants to have a nice sit-down dinner; Remus Lupin, Bill Weasley, and pretty much everyone else just wants to talk about Voldemort, missing persons cases, and murder. It wasn’t the best birthday you could ask for, but it wasn’t the worst.
Harry’s thirteenth birthday
Kid was doing his homework in the dead of night when he turned thirteen, but he got a few birthday cards, so by Harry’s standards it was downright delightful. This was also the first time Harry got actual presents on his birthday instead of, you know, a half-giant kicking down his front door, or a house-elf dropping pudding on people willy-nilly.
Harry’s first birthday
We don’t see this happen, but Lily describes it in a letter to Sirius in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. She says Harry got a toy broomstick and that everyone was mostly happy, which is lovely but also extremely sad, considering what will happen just a few months later.
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Harry’s fourteenth birthday
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry got FOUR CAKES. What do I have to do to get four cakes on my birthday? Defeat a wizarding world overlord in my infancy? Live with my awful aunt and uncle? Tell everyone I’m living grapefruit to grapefruit because my family is dieting hardcore? I’ll do it, don’t think I won’t. Four cakes is a lot of cakes.
Harry’s eleventh birthday
Yes! At last! The birthday to end all birthdays. The birthday none of us got, but all of us wanted. The birthday that changed everything. Pretty much the second Harry turned eleven (the timing on this was very impressive), Hagrid barged in, gave him a slightly flattened cake, and spoke these immortal words: “You’re a wizard, Harry.” Think about the best birthday you’ve ever had. I bet it doesn’t hold a single floating candle to learning you are an actual wizard. No offense to other birthdays, but if no one tells you magic is real, gives your bullying cousin a pig’s tail, and then takes you to Diagon Alley, what’s even the point?