At the time that The Night Circus begins, Hector Bowen is a world-renowned magician, famous for his spectacular performances that outclass any other magician (the reason for this being Bowen's very real enchanting abilities). However, a long time before the events of the book, Hector Bowen was one of the first students of Mr. A.H- until a disagreement about Alexander's teaching methods lead Bowen to instruct students of his own, believing Mr. A.H-'s methods to be outdated. Consequently, Bowen began to pit his students against Mr. A.H-'s in increasingly complex challenges. By 1873 Bowen has fallen out of teaching and he mainly focuses on his performing career.
After a performance in New York, Hector is informed by the theatre's manager that a package had arrived for him. Hector is then taken to his office where he finds not a "package", but a five year old girl with a note clipped to her coat. Realizing immediately that this girl is his daughter, Hector takes the note from her coat and finds out that the girl, who's name is Celia, is in fact his daughter and that her mother has committed suicide; meaning that he is to look after her now. Showing no interest in her whatsoever, he says that Celia's mother should have named her "Miranda". However, to Hector's amazement, the young girl begins to use her innate magic abilities and shatters a tea cup. After restoring the cup in seconds, Hector states to his daughter that she might be interesting after all.
Several months later, Hector writes a letter to his old teacher, Mr. A.H-, wanting to rekindle the challenge between the two, confident that Celia's natural abilities will gain him a win.
In London, Hector performs a show with Mr. A.H- in the audience. Afterwards, whilst in his dressing room, Hector is visited by him, but instead of greeting his old adversary he asks him if he hated the show. Knowing confidently that Mr. A.H- hated every minute of his performance, Hector tells him that he knows he was in the audience. Mr. A.H- admits that he does not approve of such exhibitions, stating that he does not understand why Hector does what he does: "Passing of manipulations as tricks and illusion". Hector tells Mr. A.H- that no one in the audience can tell what he does is real, all they do know that he is the best at it.
After offering Mr. A.H- a drink, the latter brings up the reason why he is there: he received the letter addressed to him earlier that year. Hector asks Mr. A.H- if he is interested in a new challenge, but first introduces him to Celia, the reason for his return to teaching. He orders her to show Mr. A.H-, calling him "Alexander", what she can do, giving her his pocket watch to use. Hector then watches as Celia simply rotates the watch on the table and levitates it, which Mr. A.H- finds impressive but basic. However, after hearing his comment, Celia shatters the watch into pieces and then restores it in mid air. Hector's associate finds this much more impressive, but notes her temper. Hector states that her temper is just a product of her youth, but does inform Mr. A.H- that when she's older she would be incomparable. Mr. A.H- then tells Hector that he could take in any child from the street and teach them to be as comparable. Hector finds these comments to be a willingness to play the challenge, which Mr. A.H- agrees. They both also agree that the venue for this new challenge should be more complex than last. Mr. A.H- brings into account of the possibilities for Hector if Celia were to lose, he would lose his only daughter. Hector, however, is willing to take all the risks he needs in order to win. Hector then watches as Mr. A.H- gives Celia his silver ring and puts in on her finger, commencing the binding process in which the ring shrinks into her skin forming a scar. Mr. A.H- tells Hector that he would need time to find a young student of his own, which Hector readily agrees to, stating that he can have all the time he needs. In the discussion of venues, Hector states that he knows a theatrical producer by the name of Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre who may be up to the job of creating something wonderous, giving Mr. A.H- the producers card. Before they convene, Hector states to Mr. A.H- that he wants no time limits for this challenge, also giving the latter the first move, as well as his gold ring to give to Celia's future competitor.
Afterwards, Hector is told by Celia of "Alexander" not really being the names of Mr. A.H-. Hector finds her knowledge of this reassuring and tells her that she is more clever than he had hoped.
Over the years, Hector teaches Celia through physical methods, and by forcing her to use her magic, as well as teaching Celia how to heal herself. However, Hector's methods are abusive to Celia. Seen multiple times, he abandons Celia and shows her little affection. When Celia is sixteen, Hector parades her around as a medium, fooling people into thinking that she can see ghosts.
During his teachings, Hector attempts an experiment that will allow him to explore the world freely, but the experiment goes awry and Hector is left as ghost of himself - resulting the announcement of his death in 1885.
As the Night Circus becomes the challenge's venue, Hector makes Celia audition for the position of the illusionist so that she may travel with the circus. As the circus becomes a success, Hector remains near his daughter, and is shown to criticize her moves constantly, believing that she does not take the challenge seriously.
Hector becomes involved with a number of tragedies that strain the breaking points of the circus. Firstly in 1895, he and Alexander accidentally cause the death of Tara Burgess as their argument - as well as Hector's ghost-like appearance - distracts Tara enough for her to inadvertently step in front of an oncoming train. The second tragedy occurs on Halloween in 1901 after a conversation between Hector and Chandresh Lefevre leads the latter to try and kill Alexander, but instead killing Herr Friedrick Thiessen (a close friend of Celia's) when Alexander side-steps away from the oncoming knife.