For Harry Potter fans, July 31 is more than just the last day of the month.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book in J.K. Rowling’s seven-part series, begins as Harry turns 11 and is invited to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Each book and subsequent film begins around Harry’s birthday—which falls on the same day as Rowling’s—so it only makes sense that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the so-called eighth story in the series, will be released on July 31, 2016.
Rowling has never clarified Harry’s actual birth year, but fans have guessed that the character would be turning 36 in 2016. We first got a glimpse of Harry, Ron and Hermione as thirtysomethings in 2014, when Rowling released a short story about them, written from the perspective of gossip columnist Rita Skeeter, on fansite Pottermore.
Now, readers will have a full play to explore that universe—and that isn’t all that’s coming to Harry Potter fans this year. There’s also an illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets coming in October and the November release of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, with a screenplay written by Rowling. Muggles can also look ahead to updated editions of Fantastic Beasts, Quidditch Through the Ages and The Tales of Beedle the Bard in 2017, featuring new content from Rowling plus Hogwarts-themed editions of Harry Potter in the Philosopher’s Stone in the U.K. to the mark the 20th anniversary of the book’s publication there (it wasn’t published in the U.S. until 1997).
While fans rejoice in all these additions to their beloved canon—even though some critics have lamented Rowling’s inability to leave her blockbuster franchise alone—her persistent meddling in Potterworld has made at least one thing clear: July 31 might mark Harry’s biggest birthday yet.
A lot has changed since 1997 when Sorcerer’s Stone was published in the U.S. — and even in the nine years since the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007. Gone are the days of waiting in line at midnight to get your hands on a book—now those who have preordered Cursed Child can download it at midnight in their local time zone.
Of course, some fans (myself included) will still venture for a hard copy, but people will be Instagramming the text, Snapchatting their reactions and avoiding social media for fear of spoilers. Rowling already addressed the spoiler problem, issuing a plea for fans lucky enough to see the play in London to #KeepTheSecrets.
For some, the date is a pleasant and nostalgic reminder of Harry’s first birthday in the series, when Hagrid brought Harry a cake on the same night he told the boy wizard that he was capable of magic.
For others, though, July 31 is not just a nod back to the beginning of the series but a way to continue celebrating Harry as if he, and his birthday, were real.
‘The Boy Who Lived’ is the first chapter of the Potter series, wherein readers meet Harry as a newborn shortly after surviving a killing curse. Harry survived this, and other battles, despite the odds stacked against him. It seems that this July 31, he’ll simply start doing it again, reminding Potter fans and critics alike why he’ll forever be The Boy Who Lived.