Hogwarts, Harry Potter

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2016 was the year that spurned one thousand thought pieces. No one needs to tell you, dear reader, what it was like to sit on the sidelines observing the roller coaster of emotions without any ability to step in and say, ever-so-bluntly, WTF is going on here?

So we're not going to. We're not going to discuss the obvious you-know-what's that went down in 2016, because another wholly different yet fully important undertaking went down in between all the crazy. This was the year of Harry Potter

First the obvious: This totally wasn't the year of Harry Potter, because the last book hit shelves in 2007 and the final movie graced the big screen in 2011. It's been half a decade since the world closed that chapter of their lives. 

Except nobody actually closed it. 

Harry Potter fans, not the least of which includes creator, ingénue and practically divine being J.K. Rowling, never let this franchise go. This happened partially because, ever necessarily, books and movies live on for eternity. But HP also closed up shop during the Internet age, in which pop culture entities can continue to grow and expand and become the subjects of increasingly alarming obsession. (We swear we're not referring to Pottermore.)

Each year post-Deathly Hallows, the fervor seemed to grow, until it reached a total fever pitch this year. It was as though the fans had become so thirsty, and those behind the franchise so aware of the potential money-making opportunities, that the only option was to create all sorts of new content. The Potterheads rejoiced, but it wasn't all positive—in fact, that's the one thing that Harry Potter's 2016 and the rest of 2016 had in common. 

It all started, of course with Alan Rickman's tragic death. Learning the news of his unexpected passing was almost (almost!) as painful as learning that Snape actually did sacrifice everything in the name of Dumbledore. It ripped open a wound we never even knew we had. But if something good had to come of it, fans learned the healing power of the HP universe.

Rickman's goodbye letter to the series (and Rowling) after the last movie wrapped circulated on Reddit, giving us lines like "It is an ancient need to be told stories, but the story needs a great storyteller." 

Fans the world over took to social media to share tributes to the real-life Snape, with sentiments like "Snape taught us that heroes can hide in the most unlikely of places." The stars also came out to share their soothing feelings on what Alan (and Snape) meant to them. 

Then, happiness was found in the darkest of times (because, duh, someone remembered to turn on the light), because The Cursed Child came to life. It was real! After, like, years of living in a vast Harry Potter wasteland, Potterheads were given the promise of a new narrative about Harry, Ron and the gang. Sure, it was a play. And sure, it was in London and you had to be in London to see it. But it was still new material!

And that new material meant almost constant news stories about the play's development, like word of the wonderfully diverse casting decisions. Or the most heartwarming social media posts ever, in which the original Hermione and Ron met the new stage-only Hermione and Ron. How could a person possibly bother themselves worry about the goings-on of the world when this photo of Emma Watsonand Noma Dumezweni existed?

Oh, we know. By reading the screenplay of The Cursed Child. J.K. Rowling giveth and J.K. Rowling taketh away. 

Yes, friends, that book was...rough. If we could even call it a book. If you were one of the suckers who was suckily suckered into thinking that the screenplay was going to be a ripped-from-the-novels follow-up, then you were sorely disappointed. Sure, it was given Rowling's blessing. And sure, it used the names "Harry" and "Ginny" and the like. But literally nothing else in that fateful tome felt like it belonged in the HP universe. 

From the tired time-traveling butterfly effect main plot (seriously, guys, leave the universe alterations to Ashton Kutcherand Amy Smart) to the oddly fan fiction-esque tone, nothing about Cursed Child felt right. Did we still rejoice in attending the midnight book release? Sure. Did we still read the entire thing cover-to-cover immediately after purchasing? Of course, we're not monsters. But we did so while all the while feeling nostalgia for the old days. 

But alas, the roller coaster car keeps on chugging. And this time there was nowhere to go but up. Up right into the tender, loving arms of Eddie Redmayne.

We speak, of course, of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and its heart-numbingly adorable Newt Scamander. This movie came in just in the nick of time, when humanity's spirits were at its lowest. We were collectively crying out for a healing salve, and salve Eddie Redmayne did. 

Naysayers and skeptics will say that the Fantastic Beasts franchise is unnecessary, a step too far, greedy even. Five movies? Surely that's too far. To which we answer, give the people what they want. And what they want, it seems, is anything even remotely having to do with Harry Potter. 

Although the first movie in the series takes place across the pond from and decades earlier than our friends attended Hogwarts, there is so much HP to ogle at. Inside jokes and Easter eggs abound, from the opening credits to the moving Daily Prophet photos to the Quidditch jokes to the Dumbledore name drops to just the act of sitting in a movie theater in 2016, watching wizards cast charms. 

It says so much for what fans have to look forward to, as well. The first Fantastic Beasts set up so many Potterhead nerd discussion points, like whether Ariana Dumbledore was an Obscurus, what the heck the Lestrange family is up to, and what's going to happen with the Elder Wand. 

There are no answers, and there won't be for some time, but the fun for Harry Potter was always in the unknown. It can't erase the bad deeds from the rest of 2016, but it's a pretty good start to 2017.

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