Warning: this article contains spoilers for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. If you haven’t seen or read it yet, whip out your Time-Turner and spool backwards now.
The time has come for yet another article reacting to the strange tale that is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I’ve been an avowed Potterhead ever since I received The Philosopher’s Stone as a gift for my thirteenth birthday. As such, I have been nervously anticipating the release of Jack Thorne’s The Cursed Child script book, which J.K. Rowling has dubbed the “official eighth instalment” of the Harry Potter series. As a Deathly Hallows Epilogue-denier, I had at one time convinced myself not to read this new addition. For me, the Harry Potter canon is, and will always be, limited to the original seven books. No Fantastic Beasts, no Pottermore, no Rowling Tweets. But, I couldn’t help myself. Much like the Imperius Curse, the curiosity I had about the theatrical production was too difficult to resist. So, after picking up my copy of The Cursed Child and finishing its final scene, I’m ready to share my thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Like everyone, I too fell in love with the delightful dork Scorpius Malfoy. Similar to his father, Scorpius grew up with an intense cross to bear: it is widely rumoured he is Voldemort’s progeny, conceived when Draco sent Astoria back in time to produce a strong Malfoy heir. Despite this burden, Scorpius is a sweet, sensitive child, a Hogwarts history enthusiast, and a big time admirer of Harry Potter. The (Scorpion) King of bad puns, Scorpius is the breakout star of The Cursed Child and everything I never knew I needed in a next-generation character. Squeak. Our geekness is a-quivering!
Emotionally Resonant Scenes
The Cursed Child had many emotional scenes that warmed the cockles of my heart. I’m thinking specifically of the First Hogwarts Express Ride, the Separation Montage, the Drarry conversation in Harry’s office, and any scene with Scorbus sweet nothings and hugs. Against my better judgment, I was also incredibly moved by the scene where Harry witnesses his parents’ deaths. An immense sadness swirled inside me as Harry grasped hands with Ginny and Albus, watching helplessly as Voldemort destroys his family.
The Albus / Scorpius Friendship
This one is difficult because I have so many conflicting feelings about these two boys (see also: The Ugly). I loved the relationship between Albus and Scorpius. From the first moment they met on the Hogwarts Express (Scorpius brought sweets to help make friends), the narrative rocketed forward, flying high on the intense chemistry between these two. When the best friends are ripped apart by an insistent (and strangely aggressive) Harry Potter, who believes Scorpius is to blame for the “dark cloud” surrounding Albus, you really feel the emptiness. As well, when Scorpius gets stuck in the “darkest timeline” alone, it becomes overwhelmingly clear the story should – must – be about their relationship. Like Delphi says, they belong together.
This one they screwed up bad. I was hard-pressed to recognize any of the characters from the original story. They all felt strange and unfamiliar. Since when is Harry Potter an aggressive arsehole who tells Albus he sometimes wishes he weren’t his son? Maybe it’s because he’s “off sugar,” but I refuse to believe the man who was himself abused and neglected as a child would say such a horrid thing to his own son. And the rest of the Trio weren’t much better. Since when did Ron Weasley become a lame purveyor of tricks and Dad jokes, not to mention the whack-a-doodle confession that he was pissed drunk when he married Hermione? And since when does Hermione, the logical, strong-headed witch, swoon at the “romantic” prospect of him “marrying her again,” this time stone sober? The only redeeming quality of this entire mess is the fact that Draco Malfoy has, if only by necessity, convinced himself to fight alongside the original Trio.
For me, the most jaw-dropping moment in the entire story was when Albus Potter was sorted into Slytherin house. This action immediately sets him apart from the rest of the Potters, especially his father, and it peaked my excitement to see what sort of “curse” had caused such an egregious error by the Sorting Hat. Unfortunately, the story quickly shifted to a clichéd Time-Turner fic and Albus’ tenure in Slytherin was pushed into the background.
In addition to the “A Potter in Slytherin” intrigue, the story went out of its way to foreshadow (multiple times!) that Scorpius Malfoy is the son of Voldemort and our eponymous “cursed child.” This rumour deliciously percolates for the entire first half of the script, making all of us wonder if this sweet and geeky child could, in fact, be the heir to the Darkest Wizard of all time. Imagine how heart-wrenching it would have been to see Scorpius, the Harry Potter fanboy, discover that the vicious rumour was true all along. Be still my beating heart. This foreshadowing, however, led us down a road to nowhere and, to me, qualifies as another wildly missed opportunity.
Time Travel Plot
The impetus for Albus Potter to time-travel back to save Cedric Diggory from being murdered by Voldemort is weak and ineffectual. Why on earth would Albus, who has outright disdain for his father, feel at all motivated to alter time to correct one of the unintended consequences of Harry’s actions? It just doesn’t make sense. Nor does it make sense that a bright young lad like Scorpius, who knows every bit about magical law and wizarding history, would agree to this asinine plan.
In any case, the boys decide their best course of action is to travel back to the Triwizard Tournament in Harry’s fourth year to prevent Cedric from touching the cup with Harry. Inexplicably, they start at the first task, casting a Disarming Charm to rid Cedric of his wand while facing the Swedish Short-Snout. Of course, upon their return to the present, they discover this little thing called “the butterfly effect” and that their reckless actions have altered the entire course of history. In this alternate timeline, Hermione is a frigid, mean-spirited Hogwarts professor and Ron is a blibbering dolt who parts his hair at the side.
So, Albus and Scorpius try again, venturing back to correct their mistake, this time during the Second Task. Their plan is to – get this – humiliate Cedric Diggory out of contention. Humiliate him. So very compelling. Not to mention that Scorpius just happens to have some Gillyweed in his pocket. (Dobby had to break into Snape’s highly-secured potion stores for that shit.) But Albus and Scorpius continue on, casting an Engorgio on Cedric’s Bubblehead so he floats to the top of the lake. (What a humiliated idiot!) When time spools back to the present, however, Scorpius discovers they’ve entered the proverbial darkest timeline: Voldemort is alive, Dolores Umbridge is Headmistress, Cedric Diggory became a Death Eater (because he was so “humiliated” at the Triwizard Tournament), Harry Potter is dead, and his best friend Albus was never born at all. Happy Voldemort Day! Squeak.
It’s not that I dislike time-travel narratives. In fact, I find many of them rather enjoyable. But The Cursed Child makes time travel the most easy and most boring thing in the world. Soon, Draco Malfoy whips out yet another Time-Turner from his pocket (Time-Turners for everyone!) and the whole gang travels back to the night Harry’s parents were murdered to stop Delphi from joining forces with Voldemort. It’s all very muddled, unoriginal, and, dare I say, triflingly dull. All this rehash of events from previous books and dredging up characters from the past – Cedric Diggory, Severus Snape, Dumbledore, Moaning Myrtle, Dolores Umbridge, Voldemort, even – feels like a tiresome and misguided attempt at “fanservice.” For an “official eighth instalment,” Potter fans want to see a new story – one that explores the lives of the “cursed children” in the aftermath of the wizarding war – not a sanitized repeat of the defining events of the series. We’ll always have those.
Part of what’s so great about the Harry Potter series is that the wizarding world’s magic always followed a strict logic. In Prisoner of Azkaban, it was imperative Harry and Hermione remained “unseen” while using the Time-Turner, lest history be altered. In Chamber of Secrets, Harry could speak fluent Parseltongue because he had a Horcrux-esque connection with Lord Voldemort. It was an invented logic, but the rules always made sense.
In The Cursed Child, we see much of that logic broken, if not completely turned on its head. In the larger sense, it is difficult to envision a scenario where someone, even a Dark Wizard, built a Time-Turner that would only allow the user to spend five minutes in the past. Okay. I can (reluctantly) suspend my disbelief on this one. However, just when we’ve accepted this is the last Time-Turner in existence, Draco Malfoy pulls another, fully-functional Time-Turner out of his pocket. Please. Stop the madness.
On a smaller, yet still significant, scale, in the original series we saw Hermione spend months, months, brewing Polyjuice Potion so the Trio could gain access to the Slytherin common room. And in Deathly Hallows, when the Trio disguised themselves as Ministry employees, you felt the careful planning and execution that went into that decision. We feel none of the same carefulness here. Instead, Albus, Severus, and Delphi acquire Polyjuice Potion at the drop of a hat, transform into Harry, Ron, and Hermione (of course they do), and break into the Minister for Magic’s office to steal the not-so-well-hidden Time-Turner.
Harry Potter’s Transfiguration
I take huge issue with the fact that Harry Potter willingly Transfigures himself into Lord Voldemort to lure Delphi into their trap. When Hermione used Polyjuice Potion to transform into Bellatrix Lestrange in Deathly Hallows, it felt like a burden – weighty and important. There are no such stakes here. And, somehow, the very act of Transfiguring into Voldemort cheapens the evil villain the Order of the Phoenix worked for years to destroy. No. Just, no.
When I first sat down to read The Cursed Child, the only spoiler I had come across was that of a Scorpius and Rose pairing at the story’s end. I knew from the get-go that a romantic relationship between Albus and Scorpius (or “Scorbus”) was out of the question due to a) there never being queer relationships in popular texts (because people don’t like nice things) and b) the one or two stilted lines of “flirting” between Scorpius and Rose.
Nonetheless, I was shocked and supremely disappointed by the outrageous amount of queerbaiting in this text. No, there is nothing wrong with a story portraying an affectionate, platonic friendship. I am all for that. However, Albus and Scorpius were not friendship. They were completely and obviously so much more than that, hence the widespread outcry from Potter fans gay and straight alike. The chemistry between these two characters sparked off the page with every lovelorn glance (“one full of the guilt, the other full of pain”), lingering embrace (“they hugged with fierceness” … fierceness!), and heart-wrenching exchange:
ALBUS: No. They’re not true. And I’ll tell you why. Because I don’t think Voldemort is capable of having a kind son—and you’re kind, Scorpius. To the depths of your belly, to the tips of your fingers. I truly believe Voldemort—Voldemort couldn’t have a child like you.
Beat. SCORPIUS is moved by this.
SCORPIUS: That’s nice—that’s a nice thing to say.
ALBUS: And it’s something I should have said a long time ago. In fact, you’re probably the best person I know. And you don’t—you couldn’t—hold me back. You make me stronger—and when Dad forced us apart—without you—
SCORPIUS: I didn’t much like my life without you in it either.
COME ON PEOPLE. These are not things fourteen-year-old boys say to each other out of friendship. In addition, the Separation Montage (aka the staircase scene) is the most romantic scene in the entire Harry Potter canon and was much more emotionally-fraught than a friendship would be. As pointed out by a Tumblr user who saw the theatrical production, this scene was one of love lost:
Albus and Scorpius are forbidden from seeing each other and it tortures them. This is portrayed through a lengthy montage accompanied only by music. Two sweeping wooden staircases glide and spin around the stage, creating walkways, corridors, balconies, etc. for the boys to interact with. The sequence is almost like a dance; both boys desperately wanting to reach each other, but never quite being able to. At some points, they’re close enough to touch but separated by a bannister or beam; at others, they’re miles and miles away from each other across the stage, just gazing across this huge chasm, or one is stranded on top of a staircase and the other trapped beneath it. It sounds hokey, but it conveyed the pain of their separation so effectively. Every time they missed each other, you’d let out a breath you hadn’t realised you’d been holding. You felt their longing in this insanely raw, visceral way.
No author should feel obligated to romantically pair two of their same-sex characters together, despite how incredible the opportunity for queer representation might be. However, it works the other way as well. Since there was zero chemistry between Scorpius and Rose during this story, why on earth did the writers feel it necessary to lock them into a romantic pairing at the story’s end? Not only did they not have the guts to commit to pairing up the most obvious couple in the story, they pulled a cowardly bait-and-switch in final pages to satisfy heterosexual readers. “But tell me this, Queer Reader,” they ask, “Aren’t you satisfied with all of this queer subtext we’ve given you?” No. I’m not bloody satisfied. I’m freakin’ angry. You can take your subtext and shove it. As with the Deathly Hallows epilogue, this tale, too, wraps everything up in a neat little heteronormative package by the end. Gag me with a spoon.
Delphi is another enigmatic character that ultimately falls flat. Even if you can get past the premise that Voldemort had a child with Bellatrix Lestrange (I cannot and will not envision this horror), it seems unlikely she would be lying in wait to bring about a prophecy that would allow her to see her dear old dad. Voldemort as a father just feels so fundamentally wrong. No, no, never. EVER.
The Trolley Witch
Perhaps the most egregious departure from the Harry Potter canon (other than Voldemort and Bellatrix getting it on) comes in the nightmarish figure of the Hogwarts Express Trolley Witch, who becomes a full-fledged terminator (yes, you heard me correctly) in a scene so outrageous that it feels like some sort of bizarre crossover fic. A world where Pumpkin Pasties transform into hand grenades is not the wizarding world I know and love.
Despite taking issue with the vast majority of The Cursed Child, I must admit, I did enjoy reading it. It took me back to the days when I stood in line for Goblet of Fire and then read non-stop until my eyes went blurry. In my view, however, what the story missed most was Hogwarts. I can only imagine what The Cursed Child might have been like had we forgone the whole Time-Travel saga and, instead, focused on a character-driven exploration of how Albus copes with being “cursed” into Slytherin. But, thank Dumbledore, we’ll always have fanfiction for that.