Harry Potter has had a lot of shitty birthdays. Having grown up as Vernon and Petunia Dursley’s reluctant ward following the death of his parents, Harry never really experienced much love, affection, or celebration of his existence. But before he grew up into the perfectly adequate protagonist and family man that he is today, Harry had to make it through his adolescent birthdays.
The seven birthdays we hear about over the course of the seven Harry Potter books run the gamut of quality. Did he spend part of it in a cold hut or learn of an ally’s murder over dinner? Did he get a buttload of gifts, some too NSFW for common eyes? To celebrate Harry’s 39th birthday — basically his entry into middle-agehood — we’ve taken a deep look at his previous big days, primarily by distilling them down to the most basic capitalistic signifier of affection: material gifts.
7. Harry’s 12th Birthday
Book featured in: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Presents received: We don’t know.
This was the year that Dobby intercepted all of Harry’s mail, including some heartfelt birthday cards. The first chapter of Chamber of Secrets is literally entitled “The Worst Birthday,” so we have to honor that. We don’t really know what it was that Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid got Harry this year. Were they hesitant, entry-level gifts because they’d only known each other for a year or so? Or were they deeply thoughtful gifts because they’d gone through some life-or-death experiences with one another? We may never know. What we do know is Dobby is a little bitch and Harry’s 12th birthday sucked ass.
6. Harry’s 16th Birthday
Book featured in: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Presents received: He got a nice party thrown by the Weasleys.
With the gang all gathered at the Burrow, Harry gets his first ever birthday party. There are no presents explicitly given, but there’s reason to think someone gave him a card or something. People showing up is better than nothing! A party means good food and good cake and we know Mrs. Weasley is a great cook.
Unfortunately, during the events of this party, Harry learned of two kidnappings (Florean Fortescue, the ice cream shop owner; Ollivander, the wand dude) and one murder (Igor Karkaroff, the headmaster of Durmstrang), which put a damper on the whole mood. Them the harsh realities of Wizard War.
5. Harry’s 15th Birthday
Book featured in: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Presents received: Honeydukes chocolates from Ron and Hermione — Harry threw them out.
This was the summer that Dumbledore decided to totally ghost Harry and the summer where his friends followed suit. Harry was going through some really tough times, basically suffering PTSD from watching Cedric Diggory die and Voldemort rise again. Even though Harry gets real whiny in Order of the Phoenix, that was tough shit, and his behavior was justified.
On his 15th birthday, Harry got some chocolate, which is nice, but c’mon — he’s been friends with Ron and Hermione for four years at this point and just went through some terrible trauma. The least they could do is spring for something fancy.
4. Harry’s 14th Birthday
Book featured in: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Presents received: Four cakes! FOUR! Gifted by Sirius, Hermione, Hagrid, and the Weasleys.
For context, during this summer, the Dursley’s collectively went on a diet because Dudley could no longer fit into the largest size of his school uniform (the rage of this caused him to chuck his PlayStation out of the window, but that’s another story). So while Vernon, Petunia, and Duddy-kins were all surviving on carrot sticks, Harry had four thicc cakes stashed under his floorboards to chip away at. How did they stay good for so long? Magic, probably.
3. Harry’s 13th Birthday
Book featured in: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Presents received: A pocket sneakoscope from Ron; a broomstick servicing kit from Hermione; The Monster Book of Monsters from Hagrid; and a permission letter to go to Hogsmeade from McGonagall.
Despite the massive bummer of getting sent a permission letter for a fun school trip that his adoptive family would absolutely not sign, Harry still got some baller gifts for his 13th birthday. Hermione’s practical gift was sure to help out with not only Harry’s current Nimbus 2000 (until it was, uh, smashed by the Whomping Willow several months later) and eventually with his new Firebolt, a clandestine Christmas gift from Sirius Black. The Monster Book of Monsters was a nice, solid educational gift and perhaps the most painfully Hagrid thing that Hagrid ever gave Harry. Not only does it provide knowledge, it also keeps trying to eat him! Nice!
However, the most practical gift that Harry received was his first sneakoscope, courtesy of Ron, who bought the gift during a family trip to Egypt. Theoretically possessing the ability to notify the user when something untrustworthy is happening nearby, it feels like a gag gift. The gadget whistles all the time, but eventually Harry realizes that it’s not broken, he’s just surrounded by lies. He realizes that it was going off because of Scabbers — Ron’s rat who is actually Peter Pettigrew in disguise. Nothing like a screaming spinning top to tell you that your best friend’s pet was actually the middle-aged man who sold your parents out!
2. Harry’s 17th Birthday
Book featured in: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Presents received: Molly Weasley’s deceased brother’s watch from Molly Weasley; 12 Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches from Ron; a new Sneakoscope from Hermione; an enchanted razor from Bill Weasley & Fleur Delacour; chocolates from Monsieur and Madame Delacour; a big ol’ box of joke shop merch from Fred & George; a pouch from Hagrid; the first Golden Snitch Harry ever caught from Dumbledore, if we count his will as delivered by Rufus Scrimgeour; and a smooch from Ginny.
Harry’s 17th birthday overflowed with gifts. The largely sentimental (and honestly, kind of horny) haul served as a testament to the bonds he forged over the previous six novels. While some of them are particularly meaningful — like Mrs. Weasley stepping in to ensure Harry received a watch on his birthday as is per tradition — others, like the Delacours’ chocolates or Fred & George’s gag gifts, are pretty standard gifts. (In fairness, Harry hasn’t gotten a lot of those in his lifetime.) This was topped off by Rufus Scrimgeour begrudgingly delivering the contents of Dumbledore’s will to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Nothing like the first snitch you almost choked on as an 11-year-old to remind you of your dead mentor.
This birthday would be a sellout, but the long-term impact and the significance doesn’t quite hold up against...
1. Harry’s 11th Birthday
Book featured in: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Presents received: Hedwig from Hagrid; a smashed birthday cake Hagrid; and a letter to Hogwarts!!!!!
Harry’s 11th birthday started off rough. In the midst of Vernon’s wizard paranoia, Harry is stuck in a cold hut on a tiny island all alone and left to draw his own sad birthday cake in the dust layered on the floor. That objectively sucks. Hagrid manages to turn things around pretty quickly, starting with a slightly smashed birthday cake that eventually led to Dudley growing a pig tail.
Harry’s 11th birthday was also the most pivotal for a few reasons. It was the day he was finally exposed to the reality of the wizarding world. Hagrid gifting Harry his Hogwarts acceptance letter is a major narrative turning point that finally kicks off the series as a whole. And jeez, give the kid some hope. His life is pretty bleak.
However, the best gift Harry received on his 11th birthday was, without a doubt, Hedwig. Harry’s loyal companion stuck with him through the balance of six books until she was killed en route to The Burrow in Deathly Hallows. Hagrid gave Harry two things on his 11th birthday: a community and his first friend.