It's Harry Potter's birthday! By the timeline set in the books, J.K. Rowling's beloved boy wizard would be 34 years of age today. And to celebrate the occasion, we've come up with a list of challenges the character has overcome over the course of his documented life.
In compiling this list, it became clear almost immediately that we were compiling a list of some of the worst things this character has had to endure. And what is that for a birthday celebration? But in the end, what we saw out of each of these challenges was the construction of a hero's character, which started when he was just a baby and continued to evolve over the course of his youth. These are some of the challenges Harry Potter faced and overcame over the course of his life.
His parents' deaths.Harry had about a year of a "normal" life before his parents were brutally murdered by Voldemort. The two people who loved him most were taken from him far too soon. But that love left an impression on Harry, protecting him from Voldemort and offering him the strength he needed when the end was near.
Voldemort tried to kill him when he was a baby - Moments after losing both of his parents, Harry was nearly murdered in his crib. Scarred and no doubt terrified, Harry was buried in the rubble of his family's home. But he survived, and it wouldn't be the last time he faced off against Voldemort and lived.
The Dursleys - Harry grew up feeling unloved and unwanted by his aunt and uncle, and bullied by his cousin Dudley. As a bonus, he lived off his cousin's leftovers for ten years, and had a closet for a bedroom. Somehow, he didn't let this abuse or neglect turn him into a bad person. In fact, Harry's compassion is one of his most admirable traits.
Being new to magic - Ok, in fairness, this puts Harry at the same level as any muggle-born who came into Hogwarts new to the magic scene. But being "the boy who lived," expectations for Harry's abilities were set much higher. So there was a fair amount of pressure on him to perform from the start. And yet he rose to the occasion time and again, thanks in large part to Hermione's diligence and support.
Bullies at School.Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle were the ultimate school jerks. As if being at the top of Voldemort's list wasn't making Harry's life hard enough, having to face these three haters on a regular basis throughout his adolescence didn't make life any easier. Harry didn't always come out the bigger person when facing Malfoy. Let's not forget sectumsempra -- not entirely his fault, but still, that was bad. But more often than not Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle were the bad guys in any given situation.
A Mountain Troll - The Halloween mountain troll was one of numerous challenges to overcome at Hogwarts, but this one was particularly notable not only because Harry, Ron and Hermione faced it with limited magical ability, but also because its defeat was a bonding element in their friendship.
The Forbidden Forest - Whose idea was it to set a school next to a forest full of dark and dangerous creatures? Regardless, Harry and his friends have faced off against acromantulas, inhospitable centaurs and Hagrid's half-brother Grawp in there and lived to tell about it. Barely.
Snape - Ok, we know Snape had his reasons for loathing Harry, but that didn't make it any easier for Harry when he was attending Hogwarts and constantly under the watchful glare of his professor.
The giant snake in the basement. - At the tender age of twelve, Harry faced more than his fair share of struggles, thanks in large part to a horcrux'ed diary, a possessed Ginny Weasley and the positively petrifying basilisk, Harry's second year had no shortage of challenges. And he had to face off with Voldemort -- in Tom Riddle form -- once again.
His teachers tried to kill him.We're leaving Snape and Umbridge off this particular item, as neither of them put Harry in mortal peril... unless you count Umbridge setting dementors on Harry, but she's getting her own spot on this list, so let's focus on Quirrell and Barty Crouch Jr., both of whom acted on behalf of the dark lord while serving as faculty at Hogwarts. For Quirrell, it was carrying around what was left of Voldemort in his head while putting Harry in danger, both on the Quidditch field and then again at the end of Philosopher's Stone. And for Crouch, it was being disguised as Mad-Eye Moody and forcing Harry into the Tri-Wizard Tournament. And then later putting Harry in danger at the end of Goblet of Fire. Both managed to slip past the everyone's attention, and school was that much harder for Harry because of it.
Aunt Marge - As if the Dursleys weren't bad enough, Vernon's sister proved to be even worse, coming in with a lot of opinions and treating Harry like garbage.
Dementors - There are few things worse in this life than the feeling of complete despair. Hope is what pushes us through hardship, after all. Dementors suck all the hope and leave a person with nothing but their worst memories and fears. Harry has a lot of bad memories and plenty to be fearful of. The fact that he could conjure a Patronus in the presence of one or more of those things is a mark of the strength of his character and bravery.
Moony at his worst - Lupin may be a true friend and ally when he's at his best, but at his worst -- during the full moon -- he's a monster. Harry learned that the hard way in the third book, and fortunately he and his friends managed to survive it unscathed.
Losing Sirius - We're not even referring to when Harry really loses Sirius. That comes later. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry discovers that he has a family member who loves him and wants to give him a home... and the Sirius has to go into hiding. It made the ending of Prisoner of Azkaban a bittersweet victory, as Harry successfully helped Sirius escape, but in the process, had to let go of a friend.
The Tri-Wizard TournamentFor many, the Tri-wizard cup was a coveted prize and the tournament, the ultimate opportunity to show off ones skill and magical dominance. For Harry, it was one more challenge to overcome. Being well under the age requirement and thusly, less prepared for the challenges, Harry spent his fourth year facing dragons, the dangers of the lake, and a maze full of challenges, which would eventually lead him to the worst kind of danger.
Rita Skeeter and bad media attention. - As if it weren't enough to be the boy who lived, Harry had to face being in the public eye, and worse, to have the attention of gossip blogger Rita Skeeter, who never resisted an opportunity to sensationalize his personal life.
Cedric Diggory's brutal death - Perhaps one of the most brutal moments in Harry's childhood was watching Cedric Diggory, a young, friendly, promising wizard, cut down in his prime simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The incident haunted Harry afterwards, understandably so, as he watched it happen but couldn't do anything to stop it.
Voldemort's attempt to kill Harry in the graveyard. - Shortly after witnessing Cedric's death, Harry was subjected to Voldemort's dark ritual of restoring his own body, surrounded by the masked Death Eaters. A fearful moment to say the least, Harry managed to survive it, facing off against Voldemort once again and also managing to escape.
The Ministry of Magic's denial when things got bad. - As if the attention Harry had to endure weren't enough of a challenge, Harry also faced scrutiny from the Ministry of Magic, particularly in the aftermath of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. That included being subjected to a disciplinary hearing after he and his cousin were attacked by dementors, but also the wizarding government's refusal to face facts. When it came down to it, the Ministry of Magic proved to be more of a hindrance than a help in the fight against Voldemort than anything else.
Dolores Umbridge.Dolores Umbridge is a prime example of the gray area of evil. There are good witches and wizards like Dumbledore and McGonagall, and there are Death Eaters like Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange. And then there are people in between, who consider themselves on the right side of good and evil, but do terrible things in the process, like torturing a kid by forcing him to carve "I must not tell lies" into his hand over and over. Umbridge was a lesson in how some people with authority abuse it, even if they think the ends justify the means.
Being called a liar. - It's hard enough having to face one near death experience after another, but being called a liar makes it that much worse. People didn't want to believe that Voldemort was back, and part of their denial meant believing Harry must be lying. So Harry spent a good part of his fifth year at Hogwarts as an outcast. At the very least, he learned who his true friends were.
Voldemort possesses Harry at the Ministry - What's worse than facing off against your worst enemy? Having that enemy climb into your mind and saturate it with evil and pain. But Harry overcame that, drawing on the love he felt for the people who mattered to him. In the end, that was his greatest weapon against Voldemort at the end of Order of the Phoenix.
The Prophesy. - Learning the truth behind the prophesy added a layer of doom to Harry's situation. No longer could he chalk up all of his struggles to a bad series of events. Now he has to add the dark destiny of knowing that "Either must die at the hands of the other, for neither can live while the other survive." It's a dark reality to face, and a life-changer that could have sent Harry straight toward despair. And yet, he rose above and faced his destiny.
Sirius dies.Hard enough as it was having to let go of Sirius at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban, nothing could have prepared Harry (or us) for Bellatrix Lestrange sending him through the veil at the end of Order of the Phoenix. Harry and Sirius never got to fully realize the godfather/godson relationship they deserved, and Sirius spent too many years locked up on in hiding to deserve such a swift exit from this life. Getting over that was no easy task for Harry, but he was probably stronger for it, as painful as it was to watch him endure it.
Inferi and the retrieval of the Locket - Few things were more disturbing in this series than Harry and Dumbledore's trip to that little island to retrieve the locket Horcrux. The reanimated corpses set to defend the locket were terrifying, but worse was the sight of Dumbledore, suffering from the Drink of Despair. Dumbledore's agony was somehow worse than nearly being dragged into the lake by the Inferi. But Harry and Dumbledore survived and managed to get back to Hogwarts.
Snape kills Dumbledore - After facing the Inferi, Harry had to endure watching Snape outright kill Dumbledore before his eyes. More than just one more loss, the incident fed fuel to the fire of Harry's hatred of Snape, and left him once again grief-stricken, except this time, Dumbledore wasn't there to ease him through the aftermath with a few wise words.
Hedwig dies. - Hedwig's death was one more piece of evidence that no one and nothing was safe from danger in Harry's world. The owl didn't always have it easy, having suffered a similar level of incarceration at the Dursleys during the summer as Harry. But it was a devastating loss to see her killed so quickly during Harry's final escape from his aunt and uncle's home. Harry didn't even get to bury her, as he had to cut the sidecar loose during his escape from the Death Eaters.
Nagini's attack - The hunt for horcruxes and information proved to be one challenge after the next. That included breaking into and out of the Ministry of Magic. But few adventures were quite as terrifying as Harry and Hermione's encounter with Bathilda Bagshot, whose body had been inhabited by a giant snake. Gross. Harry and Hermione nearly didn't make it out of that ordeal, and Harry's wand paid the price for it.
Ron leaves.It was bound to happen. In fact, we saw signs of Ron's occasional frustration at being in Harry's shadow in previous books. Likely due to the effects of the Horcrux they were carrying, Ron let insecurity and jealousy overcome him in the seventh book, and in a moment of weakness, he parted ways with Harry and Hermione. He came back to them as soon as he could, but his exit left a noticeable hole in the trio, which impacted Harry and Hermione as they trudged forward in their search for Horcruxes.
Escape from Gringotts - Harry, Ron and Hermione faced many challenges throughout their friendship, but breaking into Gringotts may have been their finest and most dangerous adventure. Not only did they have to fool the goblins, but they had to get into the vault full of danger, find the Horcrux and make it out alive, which they did. On a dragon. We could argue that six years of getting away with stuff at Hogwarts prepared the trio for this incredibly difficult task. In the end, it proved Harry, Ron and Hermione were an unstoppable trio.
Dobby's death - There have been a lot of painful deaths throughout this series, but Dobby's exit was one of the most heartbreaking, as he died protecting Harry, literally putting himself between a knife and wizard who helped give him his cherished freedom. Dobby's death proved to be even more of a challenge to get over, as it happened amidst Harry's efforts to seek out the remaining Horcruxes. Grief and anger may have clouded Harry's judgment, but in the end, he found the strength to go on, and to keep his priorities in check.
The Battle of Hogwarts. More death. - Fred Weasley. Remus Lupin and Tonks. Lavender Brown. Colin Creevey. Severus Snape. The Battle at Hogwarts took too many good people from Harry. There was no way for him to be truly prepared for those losses, or the effects they would have on the people he loved.
Death - In the end, Harry stood up to his own death, prepared to accept the sacrifice if it meant destroying Voldemort. Giving his own life for the greater good proved he was essentially the opposite of Voldemort, who would have sacrificed countless lives for his own immortality. Harry's almost-death was the ultimate challenge, and it demonstrated both bravery and goodness in the face of evil.
Life after death.The events of his youth didn't break Harry Potter. One of life's greatest challenges isn't simply enduring hardships, it's overcoming them. The epilogue and what we've learned about Harry since the end of Book 7 is one more demonstration of his character, as Harry went on to live a happy life, married with children and working as an Auror for the Ministry. The challenges he faced didn't break him. Through bravery, love and the support of good people, he came out of these challenges a strong person.
Harry Potter was put to the test more than 34 times. There were a few more deaths featured in the story that weren't included but also weren't forgotten -- RIP Mad-Eye Moody and the other fallen witches, wizards and muggles -- but the ones we mentioned are the ones that stand out as true demonstrations of Harry's character. It's what makes him such a wonderful and inspirational character. We all face hardship in life. It's overcoming it that makes us who we are. With that, happy birthday, Harry!