Quidditch Through the (Weasleys’) Ages or, The Unusual Career of Charles Weasley by Philip Legge
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For some reason, Ron was looking gloomy. “I’m the sixth in our family to go to Hogwarts. You could say I’ve got a lot to live up to. Bill and Charlie have already left—Bill was Head Boy and Charlie was captain of Quidditch.”
(The first mention of Ron Weasley’s two eldest brothers, PS6.)
Considerable analysis has gone into the ages of the Quidditch-playing Weasley brothers, reaching the conclusion that most of the information which J.K. Rowling gives us regarding Gryffindor’s team prior to Harry’s arrival at Hogwarts is inconsistent. However, these arguments are based on a number of assumptions which are not provable one way or the other until more information is confirmed by Rowling. According to Fred and George, Oliver Wood was ostensibly Quidditch captain the year before Harry started at Hogwarts, and Gryffindor hadn’t won the Cup since their elder brother Charlie was Seeker.
It is evident from the books that Fred and George are two years older than Ron and Harry; Percy is two years older again than the twins; and according to Jo Rowling herself [WEB LINKJKR], Charlie is three years older than Percy, and the eldest brother Bill is two years older than Charlie (see footnote  for an exhaustive discussion of this ambiguous phrase). By simple addition Charlie is seven years older than Ron. It is often assumed that Jo Rowling overlooked the problem with respect to birthdays; Bill and Charlie are the only two of the Weasley siblings to have birthdays in the last four months of the year, so as new students at Hogwarts must be at least eleven years old by the start of the school year, they would have had to wait until their twelfth birthdays had nearly come around before they could start at Hogwarts. Hence Charlie should only be six school years ahead of Ron and Harry at Hogwarts, not seven as might be expected by their relative ages in calendrical years. Charlie should be in seventh year if Ron is in first year . . . so why isn’t he? Where is he, if he’s not at Hogwarts?
The answer is both obvious and elegant. In chapter 14 of Philosopher’s Stone, Charlie Weasley is in Romania, studying and working with dragons there, and not at Hogwarts. Consider: in Fred and George’s first year at Hogwarts, Percy was a third-year, and Charlie would have been a fifth-year, sitting his Ordinary Wizarding Levels. Charlie was almost certainly made a Gryffindor Prefect that year (as in Order of the Phoenix Ron is the fourth Weasley boy to receive that honour); he was sufficiently outstanding as Seeker to have been Quidditch captain at some stage, and I would not be surprised if he had achieved an Outstanding O.W.L. in Care of Magical Creatures, considering his choice of future profession as a dragon wrangler. Percy says as much in chapter 14 of Chamber of Secrets:
“[ . . . ] My brother Charlie was always more of an outdoor type, so he went for Care of Magical Creatures. Play to your strengths, Harry.” [CS14]
It would follow therefore that for some reason, Hogwarts’ curriculum did not best provide for any further development of his abilities, and so Charlie did not return to Hogwarts for at least part of his sixth year, or for any of his seventh year of school. There is similarity (if not technically a precedent!) with the twin Weasley brothers, who left Hogwarts halfway through their final year to start their own business, before having obtained their N.E.W.T.s.
The fact that Charlie is regularly mentioned as studying dragons indicates that he can not have forsaken his education entirely upon leaving Hogwarts, unlike the twins. As there is no university for wizards, it is not too far beyond the pale to speculate that Charlie might have been offered a scholarship to another school (outside the British Isles) with specialist teaching in dragon studies, or perhaps was offered an apprenticeship within the Ministry’s Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Either of these possibilities might have been a more attractive proposition, allowing Charlie to begin working with dragons immediately, rather than spending another two years at Hogwarts in pursuit of his wizarding N.E.W.T.s. Or perhaps Charlie had the best of both worlds, and by some special arrangement he was able to study for and sit his Care of Magical Creatures N.E.W.T. (amongst other subjects) by correspondence, whilst working in the field in Romania.
At any rate, if Charlie did not return to Hogwarts for all of his sixth year, it was a decision he was entitled to make for himself once he reached wizarding adulthood, which would have been about three months into the new school year, just after the start of the Quidditch season. We know of Molly Weasley’s frequent complaints that Bill, Charlie, and Percy never gave her nearly so much grief as Fred and George in their school careers (cf. chapter 3 of Chamber of Secrets and chapters 5 and 6 of Goblet of Fire), so whatever decision Charlie took, he was no doubt supported by both his parents, whom we learn in chapter 12 of Philosopher’s Stone have gone to visit him in Romania, preventing Percy, Ron, and the twins from returning to the Burrow for Christmas. In his first-year Ron had already seen the burn damage Romanian dragons can leave on skin, so Charlie must have visited Romania at least once and subsequently returned to the Burrow in the previous year, i.e. before Ron left for Hogwarts.
We can immediately guess the partial composition of the Gryffindor Quidditch team once Charlie left, almost certainly after the team’s victorious first match of the Quidditch season:
Oliver Wood: fourth-year, Keeper and Captain;
Angelina Johnson: second-year, Chaser;
Fred Weasley: second-year, Beater;
George Weasley: second-year, Beater.
Katie Bell is a first-year student and thus ineligible, whereas Lee Jordan’s match commentary (during Harry’s first match, a year later) mentions that Alicia Spinnet spent the year as a reserve player, though as a second-year she was eligible to play [PS11]. So in addition the team needs two Chasers and a new Seeker, all of whom are unknown from the novels, presumably being either extremely ineffectual players, or older students who do not return the following year when Harry arrives; in all probability, both. Without a top-notch Seeker after the first match of the season, and with a team of young or inexperienced Chasers and Beaters, it is hardly an unexpected outcome that Gryffindor lost all of their remaining games.
This now resolves almost all of the issues previously raised as being “errors” in J.K. Rowling’s chronology, and is confirmed by various statements in the book. First, Professor McGonagall in Philosopher’s Stone, chapter 9:
“I shall speak to Professor Dumbledore and see if we can’t bend the first-year rule. Heaven knows, we need a better team than last year. Flattened in that last match by Slytherin, I couldn’t look Severus Snape in the face for weeks. . . . ” [PS9]
If most of the side were either second-years or untalented players, we may guess the reason for the Gryffindor team being outclassed so badly, particularly when Slytherin is renowned for selecting players based on their intimidating size and outright brutality rather than sophisticated technique and fair play.
On the very next page, we find one of the Weasley twins confirming their losing streak since Charlie’s departure:
“I tell you, we’re going to win that Quidditch Cup for sure this year,” said Fred. “We haven’t won since Charlie left, but this year’s team is going to be brilliant.” [PS9]
The obvious implication is that Gryffindor have not won a single game of Quidditch since Charlie left almost a year ago. It is an assumption, but probably a well-founded one, that Fred and George would regard Slytherin’s domination of the Cup year after year as a tacit fact. In fact it can be surmised from Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter eight, that Charlie might never have played for the most recent Gryffindor team to win the Quidditch Cup eight years previous from that point, when Charlie would have been in his first year (i.e., two years before Oliver Wood started as a first-year at Hogwarts).  Or perhaps the first-year rule was bent for Charlie in (at least) one match of that season; as Charlie turned twelve soon after entering Hogwarts such a young début would not alter Harry’s status as the youngest Gryffindor player in a century. (More on this below.)
In the following chapter of Philosopher’s Stone, Harry attends his one-on-one Quidditch training session with Wood, at the end of which Wood exclaims:
“That Quidditch Cup’ll have our name on it this year,” said Wood happily as they trudged back up to the castle. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you turn out better than Charlie Weasley, and he could have played for England if he hadn’t gone off chasing dragons.” [PS10]
Wood’s comment is not as hyperbolic as it sounds: if Charlie weren’t out of the country “chasing dragons” at present, he would now be eligible to play for England, having come of age the previous year on December 12th.
Finally in chapter 11 of Philosopher’s Stone we reach Harry’s first Quidditch match playing Seeker for Gryffindor, and Fred and George Weasley have “been there, done that”, listening to their captain’s pre-match spiel:
“We know Oliver’s speech by heart,” Fred told Harry. “We were in the team last year.” [PS11]
Oliver Wood became captain the previous year when Charlie Weasley left Hogwarts soon after the start of the Quidditch season, and not long after Bill finished seventh year; so unlike Bill before him and Percy after him, Charlie never became Head Boy, because of the simple fact as Harry puts it in chapter 14:
“No—Charlie—your brother Charlie. In Romania. Studying dragons.” [PS14]
Or to quote Ron again, “Bill and Charlie have already left—Bill was Head Boy and Charlie was captain of Quidditch.” [PS6]
Quod erat demonstrandum.
 Rowling’s statement on the Weasley’s ages is not completely free of ambiguity, so I will try to justify the logic employed here. Let us suppose some hypothetical children named Fred and Freda were born in 1999, and George and Georgina were born in 2000; without knowing their birthdays, we would assume Fred and Freda are about a year older than George and Georgina, give or take a number of months. This is obviously the common-sense way to calculate age differences as a first approximation; the maximum possible error is twelve months.
So let us consider an unusual but not impossible family: Freda is born five minutes past midnight on New Year’s Day, 1999. Nearly a year later, Freda’s mother gives birth to twin boys: Fred is born five minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1999, and George is born five minutes past midnight on New Year’s Day, 2000. Finally, nearly another year later, a second girl, Georgina, is born at five minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve, 2000. We have exactly the same situation as before with respect to birth years, but the girls are two years apart (minus 10 minutes); and the boys are zero years (plus 10 minutes) apart in age! In line with the average however, Freda is exactly one year older than George, and Fred is exactly one year older than Georgina. So it is typical to say as in the first case, that Fred and Freda are older than their younger siblings by one year, give or take a (large or small!) number of months.
The birthdays of all seven Weasley children have been given by Rowling in various forums as follows in the second column:
Year zero, or Y0, is the year of Harry Potter’s birth, and PS is the school year depicted in Philosopher’s Stone, which spans the final third of Y11 (September to December) and the first half of Y12 (January to June).
With this in mind I am therefore interpreting Rowling’s statement in the following way. Bill is two years older than Charlie; but we know from their respective birthdays that the exact age difference is actually two years, plus thirteen days. Charlie is three years older than Percy, but the exact age difference is three years, minus three months and twenty-one days. Percy is older than Fred and George by two years, minus four months and twenty-one days. Fred and George are exactly one month short of being two years older than Ron. Finally, Ron is older than Ginny by one year, plus five months and ten days. In terms of deviation from the approximated age gap of a whole number of years, the largest discrepancy in both months and overall proportion between successively younger siblings is the year plus five month gap between Ron and Ginny.
The suggestion that Charlie is nearly four years older than Percy, and therefore three school years ahead, seems to be a desperate attempt to reconcile assumptions masquerading as facts concerning when Charlie attended Hogwarts. So suppose Jo Rowling’s terminology is a little skewiff, and Charlie is actually three years, eight months, and ten days older than Percy; nearly four years. In this case, Charlie’s seventh year would have been the year before Harry started: Charlie would have had to have left Hogwarts after his first match of the season, and Gryffindor lost their remaining games to mesh with various statements by Fred and George cited above. An older age for Charlie might not cause any further contradictions, but it emphasises that more often than not, or for two-thirds of the year, Charlie’s age in years will be four greater than Percy’s.
As is well known, during an Internet chat on WEB LINKWorld Book Day 2004, J.K. Rowling mistakenly specified the age difference between Charlie and Percy:
Louisa: How old are Charlie and Bill Weasley in relation to their other siblings?
Jo Rowling: Oh dear, maths. Let me think. Bill is two years older than Charlie, who is two years older than Percy.
She subsequently corrected this on her WEB LINKwebsite, and said the difference was in fact three years. Arguably if the exact difference is two years, eight months and ten days then Rowling’s original statement is not wildly far from the mark, as disregarding the number of months Charlie is two years older than Percy for about one-third of any given year, after Percy’s birthday and before his own. She may have answered two years in the first place by thinking in terms of Hogwarts school years rather than calendar years.
However, it is clear that the substance of the original need for clarification was valid: Charlie Weasley ought to have been a seventh-year student in Harry’s first year at Hogwarts, and if this had been the case Harry would have been a reserve Seeker at best. Rowling needed Charlie out of the way for several reasons (the resolution of the Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback sub-plot springs to mind), and so conveniently for Harry he has gone off to Romania rather than completing his education at Hogwarts.
Finally, it is interesting to note that just prior to the Third Triwizard Task—held on the 24th of June, Y15—Bill Weasley mentions to Harry that he hasn’t seen Hogwarts for five years. This is entirely consistent with him beginning his schooling in September of Y3 [PS–8] prior to his twelfth birthday, and his seventh year finishing in June of Y10 [PS–2] at the age of eighteen. Thus Bill’s seventh year at Hogwarts (N.E.W.T.s; Head Boy), Charlie’s fifth year (O.W.L.s; Quidditch Captain; Prefect), Percy’s third year, and Fred and George’s first year, must have all coincided; and in relation to the essay by Troels Forchhammer, Bill would then have been twenty-three years old upon meeting the seventeen or eighteen-year-old Fleur Delacour for the first time—a not at all unreasonable age gap.
[Return to the essay.]
 In keeping with the (often flawed) reasoning surrounding the dating of Charlie’s years on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, it has sometimes been assumed that the Cup was last won by Gryffindor a year earlier than is reckoned to be the case in terms of school years. The assumption goes that Wood allegedly did not count the previous year’s tournament (which had been called off prematurely) when he says Gryffindor haven’t won the Cup for seven years. However, there is no reason for Wood not to count the year except as another wasted opportunity, given that Gryffindor had the best team, had won their first match, and yet could not go on to win the Cup. This is underlined by the context:
“This is our last chance—my last chance—to win the Quidditch Cup,” he told them, striding up and down in front of them. “I’ll be leaving at the end of this year. I’ll never get another shot at it. Gryffindor haven’t won for seven years now. OK, so we’ve had the worst luck in the world—injuries—then the tournament getting called off last year . . . ”
(PA8, emphasis added)
It seems clear that Wood’s figure of seven includes the cancelled tournament of the previous year; but when he says “seven years now” is he also including the current year? If so, this would resolve in an instant the question of whether Charlie Weasley played on a successful Gryffindor Quidditch team!
Unfortunately, another quote later in the same book knocks this theory on its head:
“Seriously,” said Professor McGonagall, and she was actually smiling. “I daresay you’ll need to get the feel of it before Saturday’s match, won’t you? And Potter—do try and win, won’t you? Or we’ll be out of the running for the eighth year in a row, as Professor Snape was kind enough to remind me only last night . . . ”[PA12]
Taking both quotes at their word, the school year represented in Prisoner of Azkaban is the eighth year (i.e. in the numerical system used above, this is equal to PS+2), and so the year that Gryffindor last won is PS6—Charlie’s first year. Unless J.K. Rowling makes an editorial change (such as one dispensing with two successive Mondays) then the best assumption to reconcile these facts is that Charlie played for and won the Cup in his first year, under a similar dispensation to that accorded to Harry.
Despite not having won the Cup for so many years, on no occasion during that time does Gryffindor appear to have come last in the tournament:
[N]obody, Harry thought, would ever, ever let him forget that it had been he who had captained Gryffindor to their first bottom-of-the-table defeat in two centuries.
In a round-robin format it is rather easy to finish bottom-of-the-table: lose every match, so that every other team has at least one victory. Allowing some latitude for exaggeration on Harry’s part, it implies that Gryffindor must have won at least one match in the year before Harry arrived at Hogwarts, or else Gryffindor would definitely have finished last when Wood first took over the captaincy. Thus Charlie Weasley must have played for the last time in one of the two opening round matches of his sixth year before he turned seventeen, if the twin Weasley’s comments are correct, and then having reached adult age, he had the freedom to go studying in Romania, “chasing dragons.”