Absence may indeed make the heart grow fonder, but when it comes to Harry Potter, it also makes the imagination grow wilder. As the July 8 release date for the fourth of J.K. Rowling's series of children's books grows closer, and the anticipation of readers young and old mounts, rumors about what the new book holds in store for the eponymous boy wizard are proliferating.
Until last week, it looked like the people in charge of security at Rowling's American and British publishers could have taught the folks at Los Alamos a thing or two. Even the book's title was a mystery. Pressmen were sworn to secrecy. Booksellers had to sign contracts agreeing not to open their boxes of "Harry Potter IV" until 12:01 a.m. on July 8 (the penalty for violating the agreement was a complete cutoff in future supplies of the book). Supposedly, only six people had read Rowling's manuscript, which was kept in a safe in her publisher's London office.
Then, on June 25, a British newspaper reported that it had been leaked the title -- "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" -- and on June 30, a Wal-Mart and an unidentified chain bookstore in Virginia mistakenly sold about 20 copies before staff members realized the error (an incident that does tend to confirm all the nasty things independent booksellers say about the cluelessness of employees at the chains). A Wal-Mart in Millville, N.J., made the same blunder a few days later.
So far, however, there have been almost no unofficial leaks about the actual contents of the 752-page novel. Nine-year-old Laura Cantwell, who got one of those prematurely sold copies (and her picture in the Washington Post as a result), will only say that the first chapter is "a little scary" and that she doesn't advise reading it "in the dark."
Surprisingly enough, Rowling herself has dropped many hints about the events in "Goblet" and the three books that will follow it in the series. Most of the speculation now flowering on the many Harry Potter Web sites and message boards springs from those hints.
The big developments in the fourth book have to do with perhaps the two most daunting aspects of human existence: love and death. Rowling has said that Harry's "hormones will kick in" in "Goblet" and that a favorite character will die. More deaths will follow in later books. "If you are going to examine evil actions," Rowling told the Times of London last week, "then you have a moral obligation not to fudge the issue."
Who will die?: "It's so SSSSSSSSSSAAAAAAAAAAADDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD" posts Ariana on one message board about the impending demise. Fans have guessed that the doomed character might be anyone from Harry's close friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger (which seems unlikely) to relatively minor characters like Vincent Crabbe, a sidekick to Harry's nemesis Draco Malfoy (unlikely for entirely different reasons). Most seem to think that it will be one of the two mischeivious Weasley twins, specifically George. Several fans have also argued that Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts, the wizardry school where the books are set, make take the hit, on the principle that he resembles Obi-Wan Kenobi of "Star Wars," who was also killed off.
Who will fall?: Rowling has stated that not only will her characters fall in love in the fourth book, but they will be smitten by "all the wrong people." In the third book, Harry's kindling interest in Cho Chang, a fetching quidditch player, makes her the most obvious choice for his inamorata, but most fans also assume that Ron and Hermione will begin to see each other in a whole new light. Rowling has said that she will introduce the first really evil female character; rumor has it that her name will be Icicle and that she might be the object of Harry's ill-advised affection.
One fan on the Harry Potter Message Board has adopted "icicle" as her alias and has strong feelings about the potential pairings:
First of all I know there is going to be Ron/Hermione. I particuallay(sp) don't like that idea, but I know it will happen. Come on, Ron has a major crush on Hermione! I also am pretty sure there will be Harry/Cho. That is disgusting! Cho Chang is older! She is in her 5th year in the 4th book! I hope they break up! I also do not believe that Draco and Hermione will ever go out. They hate each other. Hermione hits Malfoy, and Malfoy calls Hermione a Mudblood, come on. I hope that Harry and Hermione go out. I truly don't know why, but you can see that Hermione likes Harry a little.
Cho is not a universally popular choice, apparently. "I think the only reason that Harry and Cho would go out on a date," writes Jess S. on the same board, "is if Harry asks Cho out and she says yes out of pity. There's just not any chemistry between them."
The quidditch report: Rowling has confirmed that "Goblet" will include a description of the Quidditch World Cup, in which Hogwarts' team will compete against teams from other wizardry schools. The finalists are said to be Ireland and Bulgaria. Some fans speculate that the goblet in the book's title may be the trophy awarded to the winner. Rowling's vague references to "crowd trouble" at the match caused one poster at fandom.com to predict a battle "between Ron's father and Draco's father"
The new teacher: Hogwarts yet again needs a new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, and Rowling has said that the new one will be "impressive" and will have "a magic eye." This incited one fan to construct an elaborate and far-fetched theory involving one Davey Gudgeon, a character so minor he is only mentioned in passing in the third book in connection with a dangerous tree called the Whomping Willow. The theory has not been seriously entertained.
Muggles in trouble: Harry's unmagical and insufferable relatives the Dursleys are rumored to fall on hard financial times in "Goblet." Tom Riddle, who sends tips to the rumor page at the Unofficial Harry Potter Fan Club site, says that Harry's beastly cousin Dudley will become so fat that he'll be forced to go on a diet. ("Tom Riddle," it should be noted, is an alias used by Lord Voldemort, the villain of the series.) Harry will be put on the same diet, but Hermione and Ron will sneak food to him during the summer.
A home for Harry: Fans who wish that the orphaned Harry could find a more congenial family to live with are delighted to learn that Rowling has promised he will communicate further with Sirius Black, a friend of his father, in "Goblet." They hope that Harry will be adopted by Black.
On a sillier note, in a Fandom.com poll asking members to vote for their favorite prospective title for Harry Potter IV (before "Goblet of Fire" was announced), the title "Harry Potter and the Pile of Clean but Unfolded Laundry" came in eighth place.
Finally, for those who just can't stand the wait between Rowling's books, there are Harry Potter role-playing games and a growing body of fan-written Harry Potter fiction on the Web, much of it intended for adults. If the tentative rumblings of pubescent romance aren't strong enough for your tastes, there's "Harry Potter and the Paradigm of Uncertainty," a story in progress to be found at eGroups. Author Lori Summers describes it as "a PG-13 story intended for adult fans of the HP series. It's set 9 years after Hogwarts graduation."
In Summer's story, Hermione has become a beleaguered academic sharing a large house with several other young witches and wizards, Harry Potter included, and recovering from a yearlong romance with Ron, who has been murdered by Voldemort. In the long tradition of "shipper" fan-fiction (in which fans imagine romantic relationships between fictional characters from books, TV and movies), this tale concerns itself with the complicated and often painful romantic tension between Hermione and Harry. It's a strangely prescient-seeming work, though not, as Summers stresses, recommended for children -- or for those who relish Rowling's books specifically because the characters don't resemble angst-ridden grad students.