Now that the script book for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is out for Muggles, we can finally come out and say that this most recent foray into the wizarding world is . . . eh, Harry Potter enough.
To be fair, presenting the story as a play means sacrificing the pacing, world building, and character development that were touchstones of the J.K. Rowling novels. With barebones stage directions and only a handful of official images from the West End production (which, even with its inevitable Broadway run, will likely become as impossible to get tickets for as Hamilton), readers are left to their own devices to fill in the gaps and flesh out this world Rowling created with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany.
Still, this is the official eighth story in the Harry Potter series, and as with any Potter story, Cursed Child is packed with twists, bombshell revelations, and the lightest touch of fan pandering. Here’s what we learned.
Warning: Spoilers ahead. Your Patronus won’t save you here.
If Cursed Child doesn’t have enough time to dedicate to secondary characters the way the novels did, then at least it does a fabulous job of establishing its main duo and building upon our first impressions of them in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ epilogue. Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy are the heroes and best friends in this next-generation story of children struggling under the weight of their respective fathers’ reputations—Albus with Harry’s whole Boy Who Lived-ness, and Scorpius with Draco’s past as a Death Eater. Albus grapples with being the first Potter sorted into Slytherin, while Scorpius fights off rumors that he’s actually Voldemort’s son (not entirely impossible, given the play’s whole time-travel plot).
Unfortunately, the rest of Rowling’s post-Hallows world building doesn’t impact this story. Where are the other next-generation children? Where’s Teddy Lupin? Even Hugo Granger-Weasley, who showed up in the epilogue and whose older sister Rose shows up intermittently in the play, fails to make an appearance here, leading us to believe he’s in a chamber pot somewhere, clandestinely eating chocolate frogs and pumpkin pasties where his parents can’t find him.
If Albus is the one responsible for the plan to use an illegal Time Turner and save Cedric Diggory from dying during the Triwizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire, then Scorpius is charged with cleaning up the Back to the Future II-type mess when doing so actually kills Harry—and effectively, Albus—and brings Voldemort back in an alternate timeline (seriously).
More than that, however, Scorpius is the heart of this story, which might fool you into thinking of Albus, being the son of Harry Potter, as its focal point. But at the end of the day, Scorpius reminds Albus that he’s just another whiny teen “with his chip on his shoulder” and a point to prove to his famous dad—all the while Scorpius must contend with the actual hardships of his infamous father, the death of his mother, and the alienation that comes from people thinking he might be Voldemort’s son. In truth, it’s Scorpius’s loneliness—not Albus’s— that most closely echoes Harry’s.
One of the most important things Cursed Child accomplishes is that it upends the happy-ending notion of the series’ last line, “All was well,” which would have painted a tidy picture of the Boy Who Lived coasting on the admiration of his peers 19 years later. While the magnitude of his heroism to the wizarding world hasn’t been forgotten, neither have the losses and sacrifices that made it possible. Harry remains traumatized by his past—from his parents’ death and the abusive Dursley home to the war and death of his teenage years—well into his adulthood.
Those ghosts manifest themselves in nightmares and moments of insecurity (“I shouldn’t have survived”), but are demonstrated most keenly in how he behaves as a concerned but hapless father. As Ginny tells him, Harry’s hero complex makes it difficult to distinguish his sense of sacrifice as general nobleness or “specific love” for Albus. It’s that trauma that gets the best of Harry in a pivotal argument, answering Albus’s teenage taunts of “poor orphan” and “I just wish you weren’t my dad” with an unforgivable “I wish you weren’t my son.” Ginny—and readers—know Harry doesn’t mean what he says, but it’s a reminder that his invisible scars haven’t quite healed, and that perhaps they never will.
Of course Hermione Granger became Minister for Magic. It just makes sense. And it also makes sense that, even in a position of authority that finds her spending more time with her secretary than anybody else in her life, she continues to tease Harry about his lack of work ethic as Head of Magical Law Enforcement. She remains a steadfast friend (focusing the Ministry’s resources on recovering Albus and Scorpius after they go missing) and an equal partner (keeping Ron in check with her signature withering glares).
Yet while Hermione has stayed the same where it counts most, she seems to have forgotten herself in small ways. For one, she collectively classifies trolls, giants, and werewolves as allies of Voldemort, a wide-ranging generalization that the onetime champion of magical creatures would never have made in her youth. More concerningly, Hermione kept the Time Turner guarded in a bookcase (a decision Professor McGonagall lambasts her for) in an office easily unlocked by Alohomora—a charm she’d already mastered when she was 11. Given her high government standing and experience with protective spells, one would think she would have taken extra security measures.
If Hermione’s ambition, talent, and diplomacy eventually led her to the highest office in the wizarding world, then Ron’s strong familial bonds made him the obvious candidate destined to inherit Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. Unfortunately, that pigeonholes him into Cursed Child’s comic relief—a role that he shares with Scorpius, whose charm and innocence wind up stealing the spotlight from the youngest Weasley brother. What’s left is a creeping sense that Rowling and team don’t quite know what to do with Ron now that he’s no longer the hero’s sidekick. A more fascinating angle would’ve been exploring Ron’s role as a father, something readers only end up examining through Harry and Draco.
Rowling and team had a Darth Vader-sized problem from the beginning in trying to come up with a villain more iconic and captivating than Lord Voldemort. The solution, at first, seems simple: Forget the villain altogether and make Albus’s biggest challenge escaping his father’s shadow. Alas, the story can’t help but fall into its old patterns, eventually distilling the father-son tension and instead offering up an equally watered down version of the Dark Lord, courtesy of a kooky, convoluted plotline in which he . . . fathered . . . a daughter . . . who hopes to bring him back to life by . . . changing . . . time.
Voldemort in the original series is a constant presence, injecting an undercurrent of dread even in novels where he doesn’t physically appear. And though Cursed Child conjures up a hint of that foreboding through Harry’s nightmares, the possibility of Voldemort’s return never feels like a legitimate threat, not when he’s already been defeated once, and especially not as a part of a clunky secret love child plotline (How did Bellatrix Lestrange conceal her pregnancy? Why would someone who believed only in his own absolute power and immortality ever father an heir?). Even the hints we get of him in the alternate timeline are decidedly out of character. Voldemort—who once put a Taboo curse on his own name to prevent its use—would never encourage a Voldemort Day, much less a greeting as cartoonishly dystopic as “For Voldemort and Valor.”
A better approach would have been to do away with Voldemort and long-lost daughter Delphi wholesale, and focus instead on the far more compelling character studies of Albus and Scorpius . . . or at the very least, a series of smaller hijinks and misadventures between our new heroes.
A big part of Harry’s victory in Deathly Hallows comes down to Severus Snape’s sacrifice—something J.K. Rowling undoubtedly hoped would absolve the former Death Eater of his previous sins. Dumbledore vouched for him; what more could you want? Still, a small but vocal contingent refuses to buy into the Potion master’s redemption, acknowledging that yes, Snape was brave, but he’s certainly far from a hero. After all, the only reason he ended up protecting Harry was because he was in love with his mother, Lily . . . who ultimately dumped him after he was a huge jackass to her.
That, combined with the accusations that Snape was remorselessly cruel and abusive to Harry and his friends throughout their tenure at Hogwarts, is surely why Cursed Child doubles down on Snape’s redemptive arc, showing that, no matter the timeline, Snape is irrefutably a good guy, and would have found a way to help defeat Voldemort.
From Fawkes the phoenix appearing in the seemingly impossible-to-locate Chamber of Secrets to the the Horcrux-destroying fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement, the Harry Potter series is no stranger to contrived plot devices in the face of overwhelming odds. Cursed Child continues the trend with Draco Malfoy’s secret Time Turner, which shows up conveniently after the destruction of the other Time Turner, leaving Albus and Scorpius stranded in 1981. We’re not arguing that other, more powerful Time Turners couldn’t have been created in tandem with the one that sends Albus and Scorpius back in time; we’re just wondering why Draco waited until the most dire point to make his grand reveal.
By each of the original novels’ end, readers knew unequivocally what the title referred to. This time, however, we’re still unclear on who the titular “cursed child” might be. The likeliest candidate is Delphi, cursed by virtue of being Voldemort’s daughter. But the case could also be made for Albus, cursed by the weight of his father’s legacy, or Scorpius, cursed by the rumors surrounding his family and parentage. Another alternative? Harry Potter himself, cursed with a childhood bound to haunt him forever.