Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Release Party
Saturday, Aug. 30
The Regulator Bookshop, Durham

There was magic in the air on Saturday night at the Regulator Bookshop. An hour before midnight, the store was filled with an assortment of witches, house elves, Hogwarts professors, stuffed owls, and no shortage of nostalgia. The Regulator—along with bookstores across the country—was hosting a midnight release party for the eighth Harry Potter installment, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It’s been nine years since the last book came out.

Katherine McNulty has read all seven books twice—and out loud. She attended the Regulator’s party with her two daughters, Lucy and Georgia, ages thirteen and ten.

“I read them all to Lucy when she was about eight,” McNulty said. “Once you read the first, you just wanted to keep going. Georgia was too young at the time, so then I read them all to Georgia, too.”

She remembers wishing that her daughters had been old enough to attend the original midnight release parties, which drew thousands of people, often in costume, and represented the pinnacle of Potter-mania. This weekend was a chance for a new generation of readers to get in on the phenomenon.

McNulty and her daughters had scoured Durham’s thrift stores to come up with apt costumes for Saturday’s party: a head scarf, big glasses, and artsy jewelry for Lucy’s Professor Trelawney costume, and an all-pink ensemble for Georgia’s Professor Umbridge.

“I’m very excited for the release. I want to learn more about Harry’s kids,” Lucy said. She added that she intended to start reading the book as soon as she gets home.

Cursed Child takes place nineteen years after the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry has three kids and works at the Ministry of Magic while struggling with his complicated legacy. This book is quite different from the original seven, however. Instead of a novel, it’s the script of a play by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne, which premiered in London’s West End on July 30.

At the Regulator, Professor McGonagall, presiding over a sorting hat, greeted guests. Downstairs, there was a Platform 9 ¾ photo booth, a Muggle Wall (for writing “what Harry Potter means to you”), and a Polyjuice Potion game that gave attendees the chance to interact with each other.

As the clock rolled toward midnight, guests were separated into their Hogwarts houses to play a Harry Potter trivia game. “What does S.P.E.W. stand for?” the emcee asked. A member of Gryffindor rang in to answer, “Society for the Protection of Elfish Welfare,” which was met with scoffs and an indignant “Promotion of Elfish Welfare” from the Ravenclaw side of the room.

Many children were in attendance, but most of the hundred-odd people there were Harry Potter fans in their mid-twenties who had grown up with the books.

Lizzie McManus-Dail, age twenty-three, came to the Regulator dressed as a “femme Professor Lockhart.” She started reading the Harry Potter books when she was in second grade. She says she’s reread them hundreds of times since, and has attended every midnight book release and movie premiere.

“It’s a story that taught me about the importance of friendship and love and compassion triumphing over racism and sexism. It’s a story that I think our generation still needs,” she said.

She has no problem with Cursed Child being a stage play.

“The books were magic without special effects, so it makes complete sense to me that [Rowling] wants to take the magic of her storytelling into a visual element,” she said. “I’m a little nervous, of course. But I was nervous before all the books.”

McManus-Dail attended the party with her husband, Jonathan McManus-Dail, who read—and came to love—all seven books only after he met Lizzie. The couple had Harry Potter references in their wedding.

Maggie Ivancic, twenty-three, also grew up going to the midnight release parties. She described Saturday’s as “a little tame” in comparison.

“It was a whole family experience,” she said of the original parties. “They were nuts, jam-packed, with lines out the door and a lot more kids. But there’s definitely a nostalgia factor. I kind of wish my dad was here right now.”

But not everyone had grown up a diehard fan. Kim Johnson, twenty-four, dressed as a house elf, binged on all seven books this summer.

“I’m excited, but I have mixed feelings,” she said. “I’ve just had the whole experience and finally Voldemort is defeated and we can rest, but now there’s another book!”

Mike Newins, twenty-eight, opted for Muggle attire, although he had made himself a S.P.E.W. pin. And while he read all seven books when he was twenty-four, he wasn’t buying a book on Saturday because he doesn’t like reading plays.

“I just wanted to be here for the spectacle. I had never participated in the Harry Potter hoopla when the books were coming out,” he said. The Regulator’s party met his expectations. “It’s such a great, safe space for all-age extreme nerd-dom. It’s wonderful.”

The Regulator sold the 100 books it had in stock on Saturday night, with 200 more copies going on sale early this week. Tom Campbell, the Regulator’s owner, remembers selling thousands of copies at these parties back in the day.

“This was a big event, but it wasn’t on the scale of the novels. I think that’s probably to be expected,” he said. “But that said, the people who came were really up for another Harry Potter celebration. It’s just nice to see people excited about a book.”

Midnight arrived with little fanfare, as witches, wizards, elves, and Muggles all lined up to receive their copies. Some people began to read before they even left the store.

Eleven-year-old Josie Haile, dressed in Gryffindor garb, clutched her copy just after midnight.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I read all of them in first grade, but I’ve never read a play before.” She looked like she was ready to fall asleep, but Harry Potter was calling.