How does Harry Potter’s school years compare with a muggle’s (mine)?

The twentieth anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone this week has prompted the questions ‘Where were you 20 years ago? And what were you doing?’

Well, I was reading Harry Potter. My mum was a bookseller at the time and had, in fact, turned down the opportunity to read the advance copy of Philosopher’s Stone provided by the publisher because she didn’t specialise in children’s books and already had a stack of pre-publication proofs to get through. Yes, she regrets it now and yes, the moment that she told me about it some years later whilst in the queue to see the fourth Harry Potter movie was more than a little tense, but forgiveness is freeing. Besides, she did remember thinking I might like it and brought the book home for me as soon as it was released.

So, twenty years ago, the summer before starting secondary school, I read about a boy called Harry who was also getting ready to move to a new senior school and I hoped a friendly giant called Hagrid would break down doors to save me from the mundane girls’ school I was due to attend. He didn’t. And although (rather depressingly) I aged quicker than Harry as the book release dates grew farther apart, I have always felt an affinity with him because we set out on our school careers together. Let’s see how those careers compare shall we?


Harry’s world is rocked by the discovery that he is a wizard whose parents were not killed in a car crash but murdered by a dark wizard who immediately vanished and is now believed dead.

He arrives at Hogwarts to discover that everyone knows who he is, and instantly finds a best friend in Ron and an enemy in Malfoy.

He discovers that Professor Quirrell is being controlled by VoldemortΒ  and is attempting to steal the Philosopher’s Stone to restore his powers.

In a bid to reach the stone before Quirrell can, Harry, Ron and Hermione overcome a series of obstacles that even an accomplished adult wizard would struggle with, including Quirrell/Voldermort himself.

Harry and his friends win the house cup for Gryffindor.

My world is rocked by the discovery that I will be walking home from school, a journey of some 25 minutes.

I arrive at school to discover that it is double the size of my primary school and nobody knows who I am. I struggle to find my place and form a number of short but intense friendships that all end when we actually get to know each other. I am taunted during my walk home for my posh school uniform.

I am convinced that all teachers are being controlled by some evil being. Except my English teacher, Miss Smith, who nobody else seems to like so I am rude to her in an attempt to make more lasting friends.

In a bid to rebel against..actually I’m not sure what exactly, I create a number of obstacles for myself, most of which I do not manage to overcome.

I fake sickness on sports day. I don’t know if my house won.


Harry and Ron are given detention when they arrive late to school in a flying car, crash landing in the grounds during the start of term feast.

After talking to a giant spider and a ghost, Harry enters the Chamber of Secrets. Harry defeats the Basilisk and the shadowy form of young Voldemort with the help of a phoenix and a bejewelled sword, saving Ginny’s life.

Harry becomes the youngest Gryffindor Seeker for 100 years. Harry and his friends win the house cup for Gryffindor.


Hogwarts in all its glory

I am given detention when I arrive late for nearly every lesson, dawdling in the halls between classes.

After sending time with some older students on a Spanish Exchange trip, I am caught smoking on a Spanish exchange trip and spend the rest of the year having to empty out my pockets when I return home to prove I don’t have any cigarettes (I store them at school).

I fake sickness on sports day. I don’t know if my house won.

Kings High

My school – not nearly as impressive!


Hogwarts is guarded by Dementors to keep the murderous Azkaban escapee, Sirius Black, away. Harry sneaks out of the castle despite the danger of death and discovers that Black is believed to have betrayed his parents to Voldemort.

Harry fails to save Hagrid’s Hippogriff from execution, loses custody of the man that actually betrayed his parents (who used to be a rat) and is attacked by his favourite teacher (who is also a werewolf). He awakes to find out that Black, innocent of wrong doing and actually his doting godfather (who is also a dog) has been sentenced to die a horrible death.

He and Hermione are given a time machine in the form of an old fashioned watch and able to re-do the last few fateful hours so that all is well again.

Harry’s Quidditch skills win Gryffindor the Quidditch Cup and the House Cup.

I regularly sneak out of school, despite the danger of detention/extra work to smoke in the park and discover boys.

My friend and I get so drunk in a park one night that she is taken to the hospital to have her stomach pumped and I am driven home in disgrace. My birthday party is cancelled and I am grounded for a month. My friends’ parents blame me and label me a bad influence. We are not given the chance to re-do that fateful night.

I fake sickness on sports day. I don’t know if my house won.







Harry is chosen to compete in the Triwizard Cup. After defeating a dragon and saving not one, but two people from the Black Lake, he goes into the third task in joint first place despite being the youngest and less experienced contestant.

A gossiping journalist prints a series of articles about Harry that prompts vicious rumours and lies to circulate, making Harry feel completely alone.

After sharing the win with Cedric, Harry is transported to a graveyard where he watches Cedric die and Voldemort rise from the dead, only just escaping with his life.

The house cup is cancelled this year but Harry wins the Triwizard Tournament (he gives his winnings to Ron’s twin brothers because he doesn’t need more gold).

I lose my virginity to what turns out to be the least deserving boy in the world. Rumours and lies circulate at school and I find a note written by two of my “best friends” that makes me feel completely alone.

Teachers are gearing up for GCSEs and everything is suddenly much harder and more serious. Everyone is convinced that they are out to get them and we are repeatedly threatened with everlasting unemployment if we don’t pass these exams.

I don’t even bother faking sickness on sports day, I just walk out.





The Ministry of Magic is in denial that Voldemort has returned. Harry is repeatedly punished by Professor Umbridge for “lying” about Voldemort’s return.

Harry is forced to have extra Occlumency lessons with Snape after it becomes apparent that has a mental link with Voldemort, resulting in an argument with Snape and Harry not practising the skill.

After a vision of Sirius being tortured by Voldemort, Harry breaks into Umbridge’s office, leaves her for dead in the Forbidden Forest and steals a group of thestrals to carry him and his friends to the Ministry of Magic where they duel with Voldemort’s Death Eaters.

Harry’s godfather Sirius dies in the battle and the wizarding world is shaken by the sight of Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic. Nowhere feels safe anymore and panic ensues.

Harry passes his OWLs. He doesn’t care much about the house cup this year.


Harry’s OWL subjects:
Astronomy, Care of Magical Creatures, Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Divination, Herbology, History of Magic, Potions, Transfiguration
I am in denial that GCSEs are at the end of the year, and spend most of my time colouring in a revision timetable rather than actually doing work. I am repeatedly punished for not taking it seriously.

I am forced to take extra maths lessons with Miss Court after it becomes apparent that I am terrible at it, resulting in my hatred of what was once one of my favourite teachers and a desire to never see a triangle again (to this day, I stop listening as soon as someone mentions numbers).

After a serious talk with my parents, I decide to leave this school and go to a different one for Sixth Form, and suddenly my world is a happier place.

The world is shaken by the sight of two planes being flown into the World Trade Centre. Nowhere feels safe anymore and panic ensues.

I pass my GCSEs. I have already left school before sports day this year.



My GSCE subjects:
English Literature, English Language, Maths, Geography, History, French, Spanish, Biology, Physics, Chemistry


Harry and the gang are convinced that their sworn enemy, Draco Malfoy is a Death Eater. They are right.

Harry falls madly in love with Ginny Weasley, his best friend’s sister and they spend a lot of time in empty classrooms “snogging”.

Harry discovers that Voldemort has split his soul into various inanimate objects and that the only way to kill him is to find each one and destroy it. THEN kill the man himself.

Harry watches helplessly as Dumbledore is betrayed by Malfoy and then killed by Snape (proving that he had been right about him all along), and understands that he will have to find the rest of the Horcruxes himself in order to defeat Voldemort, trusting nobody.

Harry breaks up with Ginny, knowing that he will have to go and save the world. Nobody really cares much about the house cup this year.

I start my new school and am convinced that my new friends are the nicest people in the world. I am wrong.

I am madly in love with a boy and I spend a lot of time with him rather than at school.

I discover that the people I had thought were my friends have been spreading unpleasant rumours behind my back and so finish the year trusting nobody.

My boyfriend breaks up with me, knowing that he is going on a lads holiday. Sixth formers don’t have to attend sports day.







Harry stops going to school to track down the remaining Horcruxes with Ron and Hermione. Harry and Ron argue. Ron leaves and then finds his way back with the help of Dumbledore’s deluminator.

Harry is attacked by Voldemort’s snake, disguised as an old lady in Godric’s Hollow, kidnapped by snatchers and manages to break into a Gringott’s maximum security bank vault and escape on the back of a dragon.

The gang return to Hogwarts in search of the final Horcux and a great battle is fought.

Hedwig dies.

Dobby dies.

Moody dies.

Fred dies.

Tonks and Lupin die.

Snape dies.

Harry dies.

And then comes back to life after a chat with Dumbledore in King’s Cross station.

Voldemort dies.

Harry discovers that he is the master of all three of the Deathly Hallows but drops the stone in the forest and throws the wand in the lake because he just wants to be “normal”.

Nobody even remembers the house cup this year.

I stop going to school to avoid being there as much as possible.

I return to school to take my exams and it feels like a great mental battle is fought.

I spend the year dreaming about the freedom that university will allow and looking forward to starting again because I just want to be “normal”.

I don’t even remember that sports day exists this year.

















I think we can all agree that my muggle school career is somewhat underwhelming when compared with Harry’s (not least because of the lack of dragons, house elves and magic), but it really wasn’t difficult to find places where our teenage lives resembled each other’s and that’s why I loved reading Harry Potter then, and still do now, and why millions of young people the world over will continue to love The Boy Who Lived.

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