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How Old Is Harry Potter & How Is His Birthdate Connected To The Prophecy?

If Harry Potter was a real person, he'd be forty-three years old today, as fans of this pioneering and enduring book series know all too well. Penned by Joanne Rowling (who shares a birthday with her main character), "Harry Potter" tells the story of the titular boy wizard born on July 31, 1980, who learns, at age eleven, that he's one of the most famous wizards in the world. Why? Because Harry's parents are dead, and the guy who murdered them also tried to commit infanticide and kill him too.

Nobody's quite sure, at first, how Harry — played onscreen by Daniel Radcliffe — even survived the attack in late 1981, when he was just one year old. Why did Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) even attack a small child in the first place? Well, it all comes back to a prophecy made by the eccentric Divination professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Sybil Trelawney (Emma Thompson). Shortly before Voldemort killed Harry's parents, James and Lily Potter, one of his acolytes, Severus Snape (the late Alan Rickman) overheard part of a prophecy Professor Trelawney made in front of Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), saying that "the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies." The prophecy also said Voldemort would "mark" that person as his equal, "but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives."

Why is the prophecy so important within the narrative of Harry Potter?

Prophecies are a pretty big deal within the "Harry Potter" universe — as we find out in the fifth book and film, "Order of the Phoenix," the Ministry of Magic has an entire room devoted to storing them deep within its Department of Mysteries. It's this room that Voldemort uses as a trap, luring Harry there by sending him a false vision of his beloved godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) being tortured there... so Harry and a handful of loyal friends all head there, intending to free Sirius. All of that was a lie, though; Sirius isn't there, and Voldemort and his Death Eaters simply needed Harry, as one of the two subjects of the prophecy, to remove it from its resting place.

See, after all this time, Voldemort still hasn't heard anything past the first sentence or so of the prophecy. Snape, who was spying for Voldemort at the time, was caught eavesdropping and ejected from the premises, so only Dumbledore knows the full contents of the prophecy. (Snape also becomes a double agent at this point, but that's an entirely different article.) Voldemort missed the part about the person he marks becoming his equal, as well as having a power Voldemort does not, giving Harry somewhat of a strategic advantage. (The "power," by the way, is love; specifically, Lily's love, because she sacrificed her life to protect Harry from Voldemort.) Not only is this prophecy the inciting incident for the entire story, but it's also really complicated... especially because it didn't even have to be about Harry.

Sybil Trelawney's prophecy actually could have been about a totally different person

Remember that stuff about how the Dark Lord's nemesis would be born at the end of the seventh month — July, obviously — and born to people who fought Voldemort three times? All that stuff applies to Harry, but it also applies to one of his fellow Hogwarts students and dorm-mate Neville Longbottom. Played by Matthew Lewis in the films, Neville starts out as a shy, anxious boy deeply intimidated by Snape and who is often too overwhelmed and nervous to perform particularly well in his classes. Once he comes into his own as a fighter, though, he's there to fight Voldemort alongside Harry, and even takes down Voldemort's pet snake by chopping its dang head off.

Neville was born one day before Harry — on July 30, 1980 — and his parents, Frank and Alice Longbottom, also fought and evaded Voldemort three times. Unlike Harry's parents, they survived, but they were tortured into insanity by some of Voldemort's more sadistic followers. They no longer recognize Neville, and when Harry meets them in the fifth book, they are hospitalized permanently and unable to even functionally communicate with their son. Harry and Neville both lost their family to Voldemort and they both fight against him in the end... but because Voldemort "chooses" Harry, he's the one who has to bring him down in the end.

The prophecy leads Harry and Voldemort to their final confrontation

Ultimately, Harry and Voldemort fulfill their prophecy when they fight at the end of "Deathly Hallows," though there's a missing step neither one of them could have anticipated. As it turns out, Voldemort has been turning pieces of his soul into "Horcruxes," dark magical creations that can only be crafted in the aftermath of committing murder (the only act evil enough to split one's soul into pieces). This sends Harry on the world's worst scavenger hunt as he tries to track down and destroy all of the Horcruxes, which include an old cup, a really mean locket, that snake Neville demolished, and an ugly tiara. Unfortunately for Harry, one of the Horcruxes is him; when Voldemort tried to kill Harry as a baby, he unintentionally made Harry into a Horcrux.

Harry sacrifices himself to destroy the Horcrux within him and returns to the realm of the living to take Voldemort down once and for all, and thanks to the systematic destruction of the Dark Lord's Horcruxes and the power of love and such, Harry is the victor, and the prophecy can finally be left behind for good. That's why the prophecy and date of Harry's birth are so incredibly important to "Harry Potter" — without Trelawney making it and Snape overhearing only part of it, Voldemort never would have committed a brutal double murder on Halloween night in 1981, and Harry could have just lived a normal life without a telepathic scar and worldwide fame.