J.K. Rowling wasn’t lying when she said her new play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, isn’t a prequel. Because it’s actually a sequel, set 19 years after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
The official synopsis of the play, which opens in London next year, was finally shared on Pottermore late on Thursday night:
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.
While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: Sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.
There are a few (not mutually exclusive) ways to interpret this news. One: Joy! Fans are getting another Harry Potter story. Two: Relief that the Deathly Hallows epilogue, which featured Harry and his friends all grown up with kids, won’t remain a nice but incomplete bit of fan service for mourning readers. Three: Uncertainty at the thought of seeing Harry Potter—The Boy Who Lived, who once slept in a cupboard under the stairs, the tormented and heroic teenager—as a weary, frumpy civil servant.
Imagine the possibilities. For once, a Harry Potter story with no Voldemort (or a chunk of Voldemort’s soul trapped in a person/book). And a new hero in Harry’s middle child, Albus Severus (admittedly a real albatross of a name, however well-intentioned). It’s one thing to be named after two noble but flawed men, and another for one of those men to have killed the other, and yet another for your father to have witnessed both of those men die. And then, there’s Harry himself: What’s worse, having the most evil wizard of all time trying to murder you and everyone you love, or not being able to make it home in time for dinner?
But for fans who are ready to move on from Harry Potter stories solely about the young wizard himself, Cursed Child could explore some interesting territory. Harry’s only sense of his father came through other people’s memories or fragments of magic, but now he gets to be a father to his three children, which poses its own challenges. And Rowling so thoroughly captured the thoughts and feelings of young Harry earlier in the series, it’ll be exciting to see her revisit the complexities of childhood again, after the books became less and less innocent.
Are Harry and his friends still deeply haunted by those they lost? Will Harry ever be drawn to Dark Magic? Will Albus Severus? Will Harry learn more about his past, or are there secrets he’s been keeping from his family? Is Albus Severus actually the titular “cursed” child in some way? As fans ponder those questions, they can try and interpret clues from the play’s new artwork (which features Albus Severus sitting inside a nest in the shape of a Golden Snitch), or guess which of their favorite characters might be played by one of the show’s 30 actors.
Unfortunately, only a lucky few will manage to snag tickets to both parts of the play (the decision to split it into two parts caused consternation among fans worried about the expense). Still others might manage to find scalped tickets. But the nature of the theater experience means the vast majority of fans won’t get to experience the communal joy of seeing what Rowling’s dreamed up for them. They’ll be trying not to feel too sad that the first new Harry Potter story in almost 10 years won’t be one they can binge-read the day it comes out.