In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, the celebration — or lack thereof — of Harry's birthday often serves as the inciting incident. Something almost always seems to be happening on or around Harry's birthday, whether good or bad. It can be something minor or something major, and whether or not it's a birthday Harry will want to remember varies throughout the years.
Harry's birthday falls on July 31, a date he just so happens to share with Rowling herself. Born in 1980, Harry would turn 38 this year, and as a father of three, probably doesn't see as much excitement on his big day as he did back in the day. Still, with birthdays playing such a key role it felt like now was as good a time as any to look back at the birthdays Harry had through to the final installment, Deathly Hallows, and decide which were the greatest and which were the ones he probably wouldn't want to relive out of the bunch.
Here's how we would rank Harry's birthdays, from worst to best.
Birthdays from two to 10
These birthdays are the ones we don’t really learn much about in the books or films, but we know enough to think they were probably the worst in Harry’s life. During these birthdays, he was stuck with the Dursleys, who rarely if ever acknowledged the occasion for their nephew. He was living under the stairs and being treated horribly, with no idea that he’s part of another world or that there are people out there who actually care about him. He must have felt completely alone and without much hope for the future.
On his 11th birthday we saw him draw a birthday cake in the dirt before Hagrid arrived; who knows how many times poor Harry did that growing up. No matter how bad other birthdays were, at least Harry had other people around him and could hope that things would get better!
15th Birthday (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
Since he joined the Wizarding World and finding his friends, this had to be the worst birthday for the Boy Who Lived. This was the summer he knew for sure that the man who killed his parents was back and looking for him. Not only was he back, but Harry had the traumatic experience of actually seeing his return at the end of the last school year and watching Cedric die in front of him. Add to that a summer of Dementors attacking; worrying that using magic may have cost him going back to Hogwarts, the only place that has ever felt like home; and a lack of contact with his friends, and this was one of Harry's darkest birthdays.
12th Birthday (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
You would think this would be a fairly good birthday, after a year of finally finding friends and realizing you're a wizard. However, all of that good stuff made this birthday even worse, because suddenly after all of that connection with others, he’s back with the Dursleys. Compounding the issue is the fact that he hasn't received messages from any of his friends all summer long.
Then all of a sudden Dobby appears and causes trouble, with Harry learning that the House Elf is the reason he didn't hear from his friends! Dobby's actions lead to Vernon putting bars on his windows too. Sure, Harry's rescued by Ron, Fred, and George Weasley later which is a nice surprise, but until that moment, this was one of the worst birthdays on this list.
17th Birthday (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
Harry's birthday is celebrated at the Burrow right before Bill and Fleur’s wedding in the Deathly Hallows book. At this point, Voldemort and his followers are definitely back while Dumbledore and so many are dead. It's a bittersweet birthday because of the danger and loss, and yet Harry is able to at least celebrate with the people he loves and is not alone. They gather for dinner, Molly Weasley bakes him a huge Snitch cake, and he and Ginny share a kiss.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley give him a very meaningful gift in the form of a watch that belonged to Molly's brother Fabian, as it is traditional to give a wizard a watch when he comes of age. Despite everything dark around them, this birthday isn’t the worst on the list because Harry has his family around him and there’s some light in the dark to help him move forward. In the movie, it's all handled differently, but the book version earns this birthday this spot.
16th Birthday (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)
This birthday certainly had its darkness to contend with considering Harry had lost Sirius at the end of the previous year and Voldemort was on the move. However, Harry was able to celebrate with the Weasleys and even sad news discussed between guests could not completely make this a terrible birthday. Mrs. Weasley obviously wanted Harry to enjoy himself and made him a birthday cake. He was surrounded by people who loved and supported him, and offered some light and hope in the face of the coming troubles.
14th Birthday (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
We don't know much about the details around this birthday, but we do know one important detail: Harry received not one, but four birthday cakes! Sirius, Hagrid, Hermione, and Ron sent them and they helped Harry get through a terrible diet at the Dursley home.
While other details are scarce, at least the rest of the summer seemed to go fairly well, as well. He had some weird dreams related to Voldemort, but was also able to visit the Weasleys and go to the Quidditch World Cup. The World Cup didn't really end well, but at least that technically wasn't on his birthday, right? Plus a birthday where nothing much happened other than getting lots of cake is way better than some of the others on this list!
13th Birthday (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
While troublesome, this birthday could have been worse! Trying his best to finish his holiday schoolwork with the Dursleys being their usual pains, Harry at least receives presents and cards this birthday from Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid. It's said in the book that this was the first time in his life he felt glad that it was his birthday as he looked at what his friends sent him. Of course, things take a turn when Aunt Marge arrives and Harry promises to behave if Vernon will then sign his permission slip allowing him to go to Hogsmeade.
Unfortunately, Marge is as horrible as you might expect a relative of Vernon's to be and when she starts to insult Harry and his parents, the boy can't control what happens. He runs away, worried that he'll be expelled from Hogwarts for using magic, but ends up at the Leaky Cauldron learning that he won't be expelled and his friends are soon there too. Things start to look up even though it must have been scary at first thinking that he might not go back to Hogwarts.
This is a birthday that we don't see any signs of Harry actually remembering, but from how it sounds it was one of the best Harry ever had. We learn about the birthday in a letter from Lily to Sirius that Harry finds in Deathly Hallows. The birthday took place while the Potters were hiding from Voldemort and was just a quiet tea with James, Lily, and Bathilda Bagshot. The birthday sounds like it was a wonderful if small celebration, with the family together and Harry receiving a toy broomstick that made him very happy to fly around on.
11th Birthday (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
What can beat the very first birthday we see Harry celebrate in the series? This birthday changed everything. Harry learned he was a wizard and met someone, Hagrid, who truly cared for him and told him the truth about his family and who he was. It set him on the path to finding his family, his friends, and himself. There would be hard times and sadness ahead for him, but there would be more joy and hope than Harry probably ever imagined as a kid growing up in the home of the Dursleys. This birthday changed his life and it would be impossible for any other birthday in the series to come close to it!