Time in the Harry Potter franchise seems to function as usual for the most part. In each book and its film counterpart, Harry grows another year older, from 11 to 17. However, one question that isn’t answered is when the Harry Potter series takes place.
While we get plenty of glimpses of the muggle world through the films, there aren’t any clear features that could provide an exact date. Additionally, in the main Harry Potter series’ books and associated material, there is enough contradictory information and dates to keep fans guessing—even if Harry Potter does take place in a world that largely mirrors our own.
In this article, we’ll be sharing the best theory for when the series takes place.
When do the Harry Potter books take place?
On Wikibooks’ Muggles’ Guide to Harry Potter, the guide reveals events in the books take place between 1991 and 1997. The books’ epilogue takes place shortly before 2020.
Fortunately, there’s a plethora of evidence supporting this timeline. In the book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, it is stated that Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington (or Nearly Headless Nick) died on October 31, 1492. It is established in that book that he is celebrating his 500th death day, meaning the events are taking place in 1992.
According to the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, both Harry’s parents Lily and James Potter were killed by Voldemort on Oct. 31, 1981. Thanks to the fact that we know Harry was around 11 years old at the time of the first book, this backs up our timeline and places the book’s events in 1991, right before his 11th birthday.
Granted, there are some historical anachronisms that throw a wrench in the mix. Duddley owns a PlayStation years before its 1995 release, for example. However, this is the world of magic, so let’s write Duddley’s premature PS1 down to fantasy.
What about the Harry Potter movies?
Things get a little more complicated when comparing the Harry Potter books’ timeline to the films. Fans have long argued whether the films take place in the 2000s. There are signs that suggest this to be the case. The Death Eaters successfully demolish the Millennium Bridge in the films, which obviously didn’t exist before the 2000s. A real-life Privet Drive attraction puts Dudley Dursley in primary school during 2001. And of course, the Harry Potter cast look and appear in fashion contemporary to their films’ release.
It’s still possible, of course, that the Harry Potter films follow the books. Lily and James were both born in 1960 and still died in 1981 in the films, according to a tombstone seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. So while there’s certainly a fair amount of evidence to prove the Warner Bros. Harry Potter films take place during the 2000s, it’s entirely possible that the movies take some creative liberties with time—not unlike parts of the books.