This post contains contextual spoilers for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, reaped from what we think you need to know about the new story. If you want to go in like an Obliviate spell victim, hold off.
In June, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opened to previews on London's West End, causing American Potter fans to weep. Unless they shelled out for plane tickets, they weren't seeing the two-part play that continued Harry Potter's story, 19 years after defeating Voldemort. Thankfully, those of us Stateside won't have to wait too much longer to find out what Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest of the gang have been up to; the script of the play will arrive in book form at 12:01am on July 31st (Harry’s and Rowling’s birthday). Time to dig out your Gryffindor scarf, head to a midnight release party, and stay up reading for two days straight.
Rowling has urged anyone that has seen the play to avoid revealing any spoilers on the internet. But thanks to a little owl, we have an idea of how Cursed Child builds on the previous books, and the base knowledge required to enjoy it. No need to dust off your Potter boxed set -- here's a study guide we imagine Hermione would approve of:
Where we last left Potter & Co.
The epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was literally called "Nineteen Years Later," making the basic details of everyone's life in that chapter essential to the play, which starts in the same time frame. Quick refresher: Harry and Ginny are married and have three kids (pay attention to Albus Severus the most), Ron and Hermione are married and have two kids, it seems like Draco and Harry are on respectful terms, and the epilogue ends with the words "All was well." That's what they thought.
J.K. Rowling's post-Deathly Hallows reveals are foundational
Rowling loves teasing details about Potter, and a few should inform Cursed Child. Turns out that Harry and Ron work as Aurors at the Ministry of Magic, and before that, the middle Weasley spent time working at George's joke shop (which is quite successful these days). Hermione also works at the Ministry, fighting for nonhuman magical-being rights. Oh, and apparently there's been an American school for magic all this time?! Must have lost my acceptance letter in the mail.
Harry had issues on his first night at Hogwarts
Way back in The Sorcerer's Stone, the Sorting Hat places Harry in Gryffindor, but only after he begs the magical garment to give him "anything but Slytherin." Fast-forward to Deathly Hallows' "Nineteen Years Later," where Harry tells his son Albus that a person can ask the Sorting Hat which house to place you in, and that joining Slytherin would be an honor. So, could the Potter legacy actually delve into the Slytherin world? Very possible.
What happened to the Death Eaters after Voldemort died?
After Harry defeats He Who Must Not Be Named, the Ministry arrested many of the surviving Death Eaters. Others remained in hiding. The government pardoned the Malfoys due to Lucius giving up much information about the whereabouts of Death Eaters. Still, there's no living down the past; after Voldemort's fall, Dark Marks on surviving Death Eaters' arms turned into scars. And we know scars mean a lot in this world.