I’m in the middle of my umpteenth re-read of the Harry Potter stories (albiet using the Jim Dale unabridged audio book versions). I also picked up a copy of Repotting Harry Potter: A Professor’s Book-by-Book Guide for the Serious Re-Reader by James W. Thomas, PhD. These have inspired me to look at some aspects of these stories in a semi-serious manner.
First, I’m going to look at time, especially three very important nights from Books 3, 4 and 5. (Since I’m still early in Book 6 (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince), I won’t talk about the important night in that book, at least not yet.
Before I go into my main observations, I am going to try to explain something that is, in truth, due to a combination of Rowling’s not worrying too much about dates, and the admitted fact that she is bad with math, and dates. This is to explain how the Hogwarts term seems to always – at least for the six years we pay attention – begin on Sunday September 1 with the journey on the Hogwarts Express and the first Feast. It also seems to consistently end in very late June, probably either June 27 (for 1992, the first book, and 1996, the sixth book) or June 28 which are also Sundays. This would be the return journey on the Hogwarts Express.
But, being a bit creative in covering minor holes, I’m going to assume that Hogwarts, and probably Hogsmead – and possibly all of Wizarding Britain – use a slightly modified calendar so that regardless what day of the week September 1st is in the outside, or at least muggle, world, it is always a Sunday. This could cause some problems with students who are devout practicers of faith systems – primarily the Abrahamic faiths as far as I know – who have a specific day of worship and rest. But I presume that, at least by the 1990s, the number of such witches and wizards in Britain would be small enough to not be a big issue.
So, we now move on to the three key nights late in the books: June 6th 1994, June 24 1995 and, and I’m extrapolating a bit here, June 17, 1996.
First is June 6th 1994, which is the day where Sirius Black is revealed to not be a Death Eater, but a wrongly accused member of The Order of the Phoenix; and Scabbers is revealed to actually be Peter Petigrew, or Wormtail as he’s called throughout the rest of the books, one of the people that Sirius was accused of murdering.
On June 6th 1994, at a location in Scotland somewhat randomly chosen to be the site of Hogwarts, (56,52797 degrees north, 4.3755 degrees west, using GMT with European Summer Time adjustments), Sunset would be at 22:01 (10:01 to us Americans). Alas, June 6th was not the full moon, and when the full moon does rise later in the month, it rises before sunset, so reconciling that part of the story is a bit more difficult. At least it would be a Friday on the modified Hogwarts calendar, so it being the date of the last final for 3rd year students isn’t too much of a stretch.
So when the trio set out, about 20:55, they had a good hour to spend with Hagrid. Of course the so-called Execution Party arrived some time before the scheduled sunset (20:01) execution, the trio had to leave early.
So, in spite of the length of the narrative (something that Thomas points out), the whole series of events after leaving Hagrid’s up to Harry and Hermonie waking up in the infirmary has to fit within a bit less than two hours. But, the long narrative could have been actually fairly quick (I don’t recall, and cannot easily look up, how long it takes Jim Dale to go through this narrative, which would be a good idea of how long it would have taken the characters – but I think it was under two hours, so no problem). Of course to Harry and Hermonie’s personal timeline, this day was an extra 3 hours long, but they had time to rest up afterwards – a whole weekend then the post-exam weeks of classes.
As a quick aside, I do notice that these key nights seem to fall on the last day for the Trio’s exams, so it is apparent that Hogwarts staggers the exam schedules for the different student years. And it appears that 4th years, and possibly 7th years, have the latest exams.
Moving on to June 24, 1995, the date of the last task in the 1994-1995 Tri-Wizard tournament. On that night, at my chosen location, sunset would be at 22:12 – which is kind of late for starting a competition, at least to my reasoning. We don’t have any real time-cues in this part of the story, except that it was dark in the maze, and in the graveyard. The darkness in the maze could, in part, be explained by a bit of magic. But this long, for Harry at least, night wasn’t actually as long as the one before, or probably not. All of the activity in the graveyard had to happen in a short enough time for the real panic over Harry and Cedric’s disappearances to set in. Also, the initial confrontation with the fake Moody had to encompass the hour since he had last taken the Polyjuice Potion. So, other than his disturbing dreams and stress, Harry actually could have gotten a good nights sleep that night.
Finally, moving on to my presumed June 17, 1996. Sunset on that day would be at 22:02, and the sunrise the next morning would be at 4:26. Since it sounds like Harry and company left that day sometime between 5:00 – the end of exams – and sunset at Hogwarts, they still have plenty of time. Sunset was a bit earlier (21:20) in London, and the description seems to have them arriving at the Ministry for Magic during the evening twilight, this still all fits. As does the most confusing part I’m sure to readers from lower latitudes than the Scotland, the fact that by the time Harry gets back to Hogwarts, twilight has just begun, about 3:12.
So, even if it appears that some nights are long and some are short for being that close to the summer solstice and that far north, I can make the times all fit.