Surely you’ve heard about the eighth Harry Potter “book,” as some are calling it, set for release to the masses on July 31.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is — first and foremost — a play, premiering in London this summer with an inspired cast and a top-notch creative team. But casual fans can’t casually jaunt overseas, so you’ll have to make do with Scholastic’s published script of the eighth Harry Potter story. (Don’t mistake it with some great generosity of fan service; pretty much every play gets physical publication, no matter the scale of the property.) For the millions of fans won’t get to experience the next chapter of Harry’s tale the way J.K. Rowling intended it (live, onstage, for some reason), they will get to revisit Harry’s world through reading, a miracle that few Potter-philes ever thought would happen again.
What’s perhaps most interesting, though, is how the July publication of Cursed Child brings with it the byproduct return of a bit of vintage Harry Potter mania unknown to fans of the series recruited in the last nine years: the waiting.
In the years since 2007’s release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, nascent fans haven’t quite experienced the pleasure agony of waiting for a new Harry Potter book. It’s an omission from the fandom experience that some might call blessedly lucky, but I would argue is something to be commiserated. The waiting may have been hard, to be sure, but perhaps hindsight allows me to suggest that it was also one of the undervalued treasures of being a Harry Potter fan.
Before Pottermore and J.K. Rowling’s Twitter decided to lay seige on canon (woah, breaking news, Ernie Macmillan was ambidextrous), the only furthering of the Harry Potter saga came through each book release, each one precded by a fluctuating quantity of idle months of varying torture. Now, fans will have to wait a mere five months for Cursed Child. Five months!
Here, I revisit my high and low points of a decade of counting down—because if anyone knows about being a cursed child, it’s any kid who ever had to wait for a Harry Potter book.
6. Waiting for Chamber of Secrets (September 1998 — June 1999**)
It would be unfair to blatantly disregard the plight of kids who beat everyone to the treasure chest and discovered Sorcerer’s Stone early enough that they actually had to wait for a second book. But surely, waiting for Chamber of Secrets had to have been more inconvenient than outright agony-inducing. It was too early. You didn’t know what you wanted! It’s like a toddler who’s cranky between snack time and afternoon nap. The toddler doesn’t even realize there’s, like, a whole saga of emotionally resonant and thematically rich coming-of-age afternoon naps waiting for him in the years to come. And there are even clues about his third-through-seventh naps laced into his very first nap in 1998!! I digress. There’s a reason you don’t hear anyone complain about having to wait for Chamber of Secrets.
5. Waiting for Prisoner of Azkaban (June 1999 — September 1999)
Truth: When I finally got sucked in and drank the butterbeer, the first two novels had long since been released but the third was just a few weeks away. In my experience, which is absolutely not canon (because J.K. Rowling didn’t tweet it), the anticipation for the third book wasn’t the kind of costume-crazed, midnight-release mania fans grew accustomed to for the back half of the series. There wasn’t a Harry Potter community yet; certainly, at least not for an 10-year-old who just got AOL. You were on your own in your expectancy. It was a calmer wait, a nuanced, solitary excitement, like a quiet farm girl watching a tornado approach her family’s ranch. We didn’t grasp the gravity of the coming storm that would accompany Prisoner of Azkaban. Delighted by the innocuous thrills of Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets, we didn’t — nay, couldn’t — know what would come from the series-changing Azkaban and beyond.
4. Waiting for Half-Blood Prince (June 2003-July 2005)
There was a lot working against Half-Blood Prince, which explains its ranking here as third easiest to stomach. After Order of the Phoenix, fans had just come off the shocking emotional hangover of hearing Harry scream in all caps. Sirius had just died, Umbridge now existed, and the series was officially headed into penultimate territory and could take any number of turns now that a major character (a real one — LOL, sorry Cedric) had been killed off. But more importantly, I was starting high school, and if anything was going to distract me from staying preoccupied with a book release for two years, it was actual, real high school, where life could not be more different from the early years of Hogwarts. Dumbledores and Gryffindors do not exist in real high school; real high school is a series of sexually active Slytherins and burnout Hufflepuffs eating lunch while Ravenclaws without Time-Turners take Professor Binns for every class. Half-Blood Prince, when it did arrive, presented itself as the miraculous post-pubescent escape you didn’t even remember you needed.
3. Waiting for Order of the Phoenix (July 2000-June 2003)
I did my waiting! Three years of it! In middle school! The mathematically longest gap between Harry Potter books was the very drawn-out interval bridging Goblet and Order in the early 2000s. Summer camps and the dulcet underscores of S Club 7 and Blu Cantrell couldn’t distract from the excruciating downtime between these two. Thankfully, the interval was made miraculously more tolerable by the calming presence of communities like MuggleNet and The Leaky Cauldron. Those years were some of the most magical in the fandom, to be sure. An interesting side effect also accompanied the countdown to book five: the film version of Sorcerer’s Stone, due out in November 2001, 16 months into the wait. The anticipation of the movie was in its own hellish class of agonizing, and you could argue it relieved some of the pressure on waiting for Order — or, conversely, that it made every week without a book or a movie doubly worse.
2. Waiting for Deathly Hallows (July 2005-July 2007)
I’ll simply say this: You desperately wanted Deathly Hallows to arrive — and somehow, in the exact same way, you absolutely didn’t.
1. Waiting for Goblet of Fire (September 1999-July 2000)
Straight-up, waiting for Goblet of Fire sucked. You knew it, I knew it, and finally, the world knew it. This was the first year Scholastic realized that it would be unacceptable for the UK to release the book before the U.S., and rightly so: the would-be riots from American teenagers would have made the Quidditch World Cup look like the inaugural meeting of S.P.E.W. By the arrival of book four, you were actually more of an anomaly among teens if you weren’t on the Hogwarts Express. Fans were wild, anxiety was prevalent, online communities were on the rise, and Borders (RIP) was celebrating so you didn’t have to. With its whopping 734 pages and its wildly enigmatic title, the halfway point of the series dovetailed with fans transitioning into their own adolescent second half. Dare I suggest that Goblet may very well have been one of the first times modern spoilerphobia eked its way into the ether? And even more frightening than that: If you didn’t get your hands on GoF as quickly as possible, you risked the very dangerous idea of being left out of the conversation.
** United States release dates, because I’m a disgusting NoMaj