The Harry Potter Timeline
What we know so far
By Steve Vander Ark
Harry Potter was born in 1990. Harry Potter the character, that is. J.K. Rowling said she thought him up on a train journey in 1990, and then spent the next five years simultaneously writing the first book and creating the “rules” for her fantasy world. She wrote the stories to take place in the present, without making any particular effort to tie them to a particular span of years. So the first couple of books were written in the “present” of the mid-1990s.
Harry Potter was also born in 1980. Harry Potter the “real” boy, that is. His birthdate is the 31st of July, 1980. That date is a bit less clear cut and it provokes some rather strident debate among Harry Potter fans. Why 1980? That date is derived from a reference in the second book, the writing on the Deathday Party cake. The party, which took place on October 31, is the 500th anniversary of Nearly Headless Nick’s death by botched beheading, and according to the cake that sad event occurred in 1492. Therefore the Halloween of Harry’s second year was in 1992. While there are a number of other ways fans have invented to identify the years in which the stories take place, this is the only one which is directly from the books. For that reason, the Harry Potter Lexicon has developed its timelines using 1992 as the date of the first part of book two, and from that, 1980 as the year of Harry’s birth. The “official timeline” which appears on the DVD of the Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban movies also lists Harry’s birth year as 1980. Recently, Rowling included the specific year of 1980 for the birth of Draco Malfoy on her Black Family Tree, so this range of years is now canon.
While this isn’t a perfect way of creating a timeline of the stories, since Rowling herself doesn’t stick with the days and dates of any actual years while she writes, it does help to organize things. When we take all the clues in the books into account and also include comments Rowling has made, we can compile a detailed timeline of the entire 50-year saga told in the Harry Potter books. This timeline is presented in intricate detail on the Lexicon, complete with complete references and explanations. I won’t include all of those references here, but if you would like to learn where all these facts come from and how various events were dated, as well as clarification on which dates are known exactly and which are approximations, I recommend that you visit the Lexicon. The address for the main timeline is http://www.hp-lexicon.org/timeline.html.
The Beginning of the Tale—1900–1945
The first half of the twentieth century is the era of Tom Riddle, Rubeus Hagrid, and Minerva McGonagall. The story of Harry Potter really starts during these years with the birth of two unusual, non-pure-blood boys who would have an enormous impact on his life fifty years later. Half-giant Rubeus Hagrid is described during these early years as “big, blundering [...] in trouble every other week,” while half-blood Tom Riddle is the complete opposite: “poor but brilliant, parentless but so brave, school prefect, model student.”1 The two boys, as well as Minerva McGonagall, are born in the mid-1920s. They attend Hogwarts a year or two apart from each other, until Tom Riddle’s malevolent actions frame Hagrid for the death of a student and get him expelled. Tom Riddle during these years has learned several key secrets which will set the stage for the stories of the Harry Potter books: how to create Horcruxes, the location of the Chamber of Secrets, and the details of his heritage. These three dark secrets become catalyst for his eventual metamorphosis into Lord Voldemort some ten years later.
Minerva McGonagall, a Hogwarts student during those years, is a witness to these events, as is Albus Dumbledore, who is close to a hundred years old and a teacher at the time. Dumbledore’s influence on events is subtle—he suspects and distrusts Riddle and keeps him under close watch. Dumbledore restores Hagrid to something akin to a normal life. He also defeats the dark wizard Grindelwald at this time. These events will also resonate through the story of Harry Potter fifty years later.
Some important dates from this era (approximate):
1907 – Merope Gaunt is born to Marvolo Gaunt and an unidentified pure-blood mother (undoubtedly also a Gaunt and possibly a first cousin). Merope will become the mother of Tom Riddle eighteen years later. The Gaunt family members are the last remaining descendants of Salazar Slytherin.
1925 – In September, Bob Ogden visits the Gaunt house near Little Hangleton, subsequent to which the Ministry arrests both Marvolo and Morfin Gaunt. Minerva McGonagall is born on October 4. Late this year or early the next, Merope Gaunt uses magic to ensnare handsome Muggle Tom Riddle and marries him.
1926 – In March, Merope Gaunt becomes pregnant with a son. Some time later in the year, Tom Riddle leaves his wife and returns to Little Hangleton, claiming to the town that he’d been hoodwinked. Pregnant and desperate, Merope Gaunt ends up in London, where just before Christmas she sells a family heirloom, Slytherin’s locket, to Borgin and Burkes to get money to live. Tom Marvolo Riddle is born on December 31 in a Muggle orphanage. Merope dies shortly afterwards, living only long enough to name her child Tom Marvolo Riddle.
1927 through 1938 – Tom Riddle Jr. is raised in the Muggle orphanage in which he was born. He is an odd child, untrustworthy but clever at not getting caught. He frightens the other children.
1927 – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is first published by Obscurus Books.
1928 – Rubeus Hagrid is born on December 6 to a human father and Fridwulfa, a giantess.
1937 – In September, eleven-year-old Minerva McGonagall comes to Hogwarts and is sorted into Gryffindor.
1938 – Albus Dumbledore visits young Tom Riddle Jr. in the Muggle orphanage and offers him a place at Hogwarts. In September, Riddle starts his first year and is sorted into Slytherin.
1940 – In September, Rubeus Hagrid comes to Hogwarts and is sorted into Gryffindor.
1943 – Albus Dumbledore is the Transfiguration teacher at Hogwarts. McGonagall is in her seventh year. In the spring of that year, fifth year Tom Riddle opens the Chamber of Secrets and releases the basilisk within. In June, the basilisk kills Myrtle. On June 13, Riddle frames third year Rubeus Hagrid for the murder, and Hagrid is expelled. During the summer of this year, Tom Riddle learns his family history. He goes to Little Hangleton where he murders his father and grandparents. He frames his uncle, Morfin Gaunt, for the crimes. In September, Riddle returns to Hogwarts as a sixth year. He asks Professor Slughorn about Horcruxes and the older man tells him how to create them. Riddle uses this knowledge and his recent murders to create his first Horcrux, a diary.
1944 – Riddle begins his seventh year in September. He has already created a Horcrux and some of his friends are calling him Lord Voldemort, but outwardly he is a model student. He is Head Boy and a favorite of many teachers. Dumbledore, however, doesn’t trust him.
1945 – Riddle leaves Hogwarts and immediately asks to remain as a teacher. The Headmaster, Armando Dippet, refuses, saying he is too young. Instead, Riddle goes to work for Borgin and Burkes. During this year, Dumbledore defeats the Dark Wizard Grindelwald.
1947 – Tom Riddle, now working for Borgin and Burkes, discovers that Hepzibah Smith, an elderly witch, has possession of Slytherin’s locket and Hufflepuff’s cup. He murders her, takes the artifacts, and frames her House-elf, Hokey, for the crime. He then disappears.