Warning: This article contains spoilers for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
The release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling’s new play which is currently running at London’s Palace Theatre, has taken us back to the Wizarding World in a story not only inhabited by Harry himself, but also by many of the other characters from the Harry Potter books and films. This time, however, they’re adults.
There’s the introduction of new characters, too - specifically, Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, sons of Harry and Draco, respectively, though Rose Granger-Weasley features to a lesser extent. There’s also the introduction of Delphi (more on her in a moment), who affects the canon timeline of the existing Harry Potter franchise. Though ostensibly the play focuses on Albus and Scorpius’ adventures through time, Cursed Child is really about Harry’s own journey as a father, as he seeks to reconcile his tumultuous childhood with the man he has become, and the effect it has had on his son.
The plot to Cursed Child is a complicated one, and to really do it justice, you need to read the entire script. However, as brief a synopsis as there can be follows: Harry and Ginny have three children - James, Albus, and Lily - and Cursed Child opens with Albus boarding the Hogwarts Express for the first time. He is a nervous child, and firmly taken charge of by his cousin, Rose, who is a more extreme and obnoxious version of her mother. When Albus makes friends with Scorpius Malfoy on the train, she walks away, leaving them to it. Albus and Scorpius both find it difficult to live with their father’s legacies, and so they share a common bond, which is strengthened when Albus is sorted into Slytherin alongside his new friend.
From there, the years move quickly, and we find out a little more about Harry, Ron, Hermione and Draco. Harry is struggling to connect with his son, as well as drowning under a mountain of paperwork from his job as Head of Magical Law Enforcement for the Ministry of Magic. Ron and Hermione are happy; he runs a joke shop, while she is Minister for Magic. Draco, meanwhile, is anxious to stop the rumors that his son is actually Voldemort’s child. The rumor is that the Dark Lord used a Time Turner to impregnate Draco’s wife, and Draco now wants Harry to put out a statement reminding everyone that all Time Turners have been destroyed, and that the rumor about Scorpius’ parentage is not true. Harry refuses.
Just as Albus is about to start his fourth year at Hogwarts, he and Harry have a huge argument when Harry gives James his invisibility cloak, and Albus the last memento he has from his mother: the baby blanket he was found in. Harry is angry at Albus’ attitude to the gift, and says he wishes he wasn’t his son. Harry is then visited by an ageing Amos Diggory and his niece, Delphi. Amos wants Harry to use the last remaining Time Turner to go back to the Triwizard Tournament (From Goblet of Fire) to save his son, Cedric, from getting killed. Harry refuses.
In an act of rebellion, Albus decides to right the past that (he thinks) his dad messed up in the first place, so he and Scorpius jump from the Hogwarts Express, steal the Time Turner, go back to the first task of the tournament and sabotage Cedric’s chances. The Time Turner has a slight fault, and will only allow the users to return for five minutes each time. Albus and Scorpius are pulled back to the present, and Albus finds himself in the sick bay with a broken arm. Harry visits and tells him to stay away from Scorpius and Albus quickly discovers that things are different. Ron married Padma Patil, Hermione teaches at Hogwarts, and Albus himself is in Gryffindor but still doesn’t get on with his dad.
Albus and Scorpius go back again to try and fix things, and they sabotage Cedric’s chances in the lake task. When they go back to the present this time, only Scorpius is there. Dolores Umbridge is head of Hogwarts and says there have been no Potters there since Harry was killed in the Battle of Hogwarts. Voldemort reigns supreme, Snape is still alive, and Scorpius is worshipped by the other students who want to do anything to be in his favor. Mudbloods, meanwhile, are kept in the dungeon.
Scorpius tells Snape there’s an alternate universe where Harry is alive and Voldemort dead. In their current realm, Hermione and Ron are wanted wizards. Hermione agrees to go back to the Triwizard tournament to stop Scorpius from casting his initial spell, but Ron and Hermione are enveloped by Dementors and killed. Umbridge confronts Snape and Snape kills her, then sacrifices himself to the Dementors so Scorpius can escape.
Back in the present, Albus and Scorpius make it out of the lake and Harry is fuming. Albus and Scorpius find Delphi to explain why they can’t save Cedric, and she binds them together and snaps their wands. As this is happening, Harry asks Amos where his niece is, and he says he doesn’t have a niece. It turns out that Delphi wants a world of pure magic where mudbloods don’t exist, and takes Albus and Scorpius back in time again to try and achieve this. Hermione, Ron, Harry and Draco discover a prophesy written in parseltongue, saying Delphi will bring her father back - yes, it turns out Voldemort and Bellatrix had a daughter.
Delphi heads to Godric’s Hollow in 1981, to stop Voldemort from killing Harry and thereby harming himself. Albus manages to get a message to his father in the present, and Harry then uses a transfiguration spell to disguise himself as Voldemort and lure Delphi away. The spell wears off and Delphi realizes who Harry is. She’s just about to kill him when Albus gets a wand to him and they overpower Delphi. Voldemort walks past them on his way to kill Harry’s parents, and all Harry can do is watch it happen, since he can’t mess with time again. The play ends with everyone back in the present, with Draco a tentative friend of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. The final scene is of Albus and Harry talking in front of Cedric’s gravestone.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play that demands to be seen; on paper (or screen) the plot has been accused of sounding like a badly written fan-fiction. To read it as a script makes the whole storyline much more enjoyable and, next to being able to grab a ticket to the sold out run, it’s the next best thing. Reading the script of Cursed Child also raises some interesting questions, theories and - perhaps most importantly - additions to canon.
Firstly, Cursed Child gives a glimpse at what would have happened had the Battle of Hogwarts been won by Lord Voldemort instead of Harry Potter; in the universe that Scorpius enters, Cedric Diggory survived the Triwizard Tournament and went on to become a notable Death Eater. In fact, we learn from Snape that Cedric killed Neville Longbottom, reiterating just how important Neville’s role was in the Battle of Hogwarts; Scorpius realizes that because Neville was dead, he couldn’t kill Nagini and, therefore, Voldemort couldn’t die.
Secondly, and most importantly, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child makes changes to canon events that fans were previously unaware of. When Delphi forces Albus and Scorpius to travel back to the Triwizard Tournament again, they return to the maze where the cup was placed, and Cedric finds them. Convinced they are some kind of magical apparition, he tries to disarm them, but Albus steps up and tells Cedric that his dad loves him. While there’s not necessarily any doubt that Cedric knew this before he died, there is no mention of his meeting with Albus, Scorpius and Delphi made when he later meets Harry in the maze.
Then there’s Delphi herself. The child of Bellatrix and Voldemort, Delphi would have been conceived around the time of the events of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when Voldemort’s uprising was in full swing. It’s easy to tell from the books and the films that Bellatrix was obsessed with Voldemort, and talked to him with the reverence of a lover. However, there is no denying that it’s strange to think that Voldemort - whom Dumbledore frequently said was incapable of love - was capable of or even interested in having sex with anyone. Remember, this is a man whose soul was split into eight pieces, a mere shell of a person.
Another relationship that is altered in Cursed Child, although not in the past, is that of Harry and Dumbledore. Throughout the play, Dumbledore appears in portraits to Harry, giving advice and engaging in deep discussion much like always. However, when Harry is at his lowest point with Albus, he turns on Dumbledore and asks why he was left with his aunt and uncle for so long when Dumbledore knew where he was. Dumbledore’s response is that he was protecting Harry, which is fairly logical since even when Voldemort wasn’t around there were still notable Death Eaters which would have posed a threat to the Boy Who Lived. Yet Dumbledore doesn’t cite that as the reason. Instead, he says he left Harry at Privet Drive because he loved him so much, and he knew that his loving him would cause irreparable damage. To quote his own words: “I have never loved without causing harm.”
Did Dumbledore know, then, that ultimately his loving protection of Harry would cause such a huge fallout? Would it have been avoided if Dumbledore had left Harry to a completely Muggle upbringing?
Finally, there’s the character of Harry. In Cursed Child we see him steadily working to mend his relationships with both Albus, and Draco Malfoy, but both of those events occur toward the end of the play. For the rest of the time, Harry is deeply flawed. Though he was flawed in the Harry Potter franchise (no hero should be perfect), he was still ultimately a good, caring friend, and certainly all the hints were there to suggest that he would turn into a caring husband and father too. In fact, it is often mentioned that he’s inherited his mother’s compassion. But somewhere along the line, Harry dropped the ball and became remote, distracted, and rather full of his own self-importance. It’s no wonder that Albus struggles so much with his father’s legacy. The events of the play give rise to Harry finding himself once again and, thankfully, becoming a much nicer person by the end of it.
There are many, many questions surrounding Cursed Child’s plot - to start with, who knew the Trolley Witch was so menacing? And how come Transfiguration can suddenly be used to turn into someone else? But it’s the events that alter canon or fit into it that are the most interesting to explore. Did Rowling have all of this in mind when she was writing the Harry Potter books? We might never know, but given that she has already formulated a timeline that connects the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them with Harry Potter (Newt Scamander’s grandson marries Luna Lovegood), it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that Rowling has indeed written an entire timeline of events, from the founding of Hogwarts and Ilvermorny in the USA, right up to the ending of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
The script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is on sale now. The play is currently running at London’s Palace Theatre until December 2017.