Note: This review is filled with major spoilers. Please do not read this review until you have read or seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This is the only spoiler warning you will receive.
The person I was when I read the seventh Harry Potter book is different from the person who’s writing this review. I had just graduated high school and was college-bound. I was full of specific hopes and ambitions. I had expectations for what my newly fledged adult life will be like. In many ways, when I turned the final page of the last Harry Potter novel, I was also closing out my childhood with an “All was well” too. It was well, but life happens. In the years between then and now I’ve experienced heartache, disappointment, big life-altering detours, these moments – all so not part of my plan and many so not well – has given me a better understanding of who I am and what I can do with that. It’s a similar path that we find Harry and his son, Albus Severus, on as we venture into this new Potter installment. With that said, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is something utterly unexpected. Even its scripted form, it’s an emotional journey and magical addition to Harry’s story that doesn’t play it safe. (Get ready to have several mini heart attacks, Potter fans.)
Picking right back up at Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’s final pages, we once again fall back into J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world. Only this time, the story is now a play, based on an original story from Rowling and John Tiffany, but written by playwright Jack Thorne. Any concern that a different voice will change the feel of the world is almost immediately vanquished. These are very much the characters we grew to love over the course of seven books, but now they’re older, somewhat wiser, but still as flawed as ever.
We see that through the eyes of Albus Severus and Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius, two boys who, despite their family background, form a strong friendship. Living up to his father’s legacy and his namesakes is a hard burden on Albus, only made worse when he’s sorted into Slytherin, instead of Gryffindor. Scorpius has it just as hard, with his father being a former Death Eater and a pervasive rumor that claims through time travel via a Time Turner, he is the son of Voldemort. Through their first three years at Hogwarts, their unpopularity grows as does their friendship and Albus’s resentment for his father.
On the eve of their fourth year, Albus learns that Harry had found an illegal Time Turner through one of his investigations, when Amos Diggory, father of Cedric, comes knocking, begging Harry to use the Time Turner to save his son from getting killed by Voldemort. Knowing the effect time travel can have on the present, Harry as gently as possible refuses Amos’s request. Not understanding why he would do that and after a particularly bad fight with his father, Albus decides he’s going to save Cedric himself. Convincing Scorpius to join his heroic plan, the boys steal the Time Turner from Hermione’s office, who also happens to now be the Minister for Magic, and travel back in time. They quickly learn that they are no exceptions to the rules of time travel, and their actions come with grievous costs.
Once time travel is introduced, all bets are off, and this is when Cursed Child takes its biggest risks with canon. It’s a naturally alarming feeling for fans of the series who don’t want to see any more of their favorite characters unhappy or, you know, die. By the end of the first part, we receive the biggest twist of all: a world where Harry Potter is dead and Voldemort rules the world. The stakes become immeasurably high. Yet, these risks do pay off because we get moments that we would have never think we’d receive. We get a beautiful scene between Scorpius and Severus Snape. We revisit that fateful day at Godric’s Hollow and see Lily and James again. This is all more than just nostalgia, but real moments that shape the characters both new and old.
Cursed Child is not without its hiccups. The new character Delphi is predictable from the start. It’s easy to piece together that she’s the real child of Voldemort; I still find it strange that Voldy fathered a child though in the first place. If he did, I’m not surprised that it was with Bellatrix Lestrange. Regardless, it felt like a stretch, one that I’m able to accept as part of this story, just not enthusiastically. In addition, the story presented in this scripted medium leaves one wanting. I couldn’t help but think throughout about how I wished I first experienced this story as it’s meant to be seen, performed on stage. It does require more imagination on the reader’s part to conjure up this world, but luckily we have so much material already, that it really isn’t too difficult.
Albus and Scorpius may be the two characters who take us on this whirlwind journey; yet, this is just as much Harry’s story as it is theirs. Harry has trouble connecting with Albus, who is difficult and refuses Harry’s efforts at trying to bond with him. It’s frustrating, sad, and relatable. We see Harry act in ways that makes us mad at him; we see Albus act in a way that makes us want to Stupefy that chip on his shoulder. The boys’ friendship makes up a big and important piece of this journey, and it’s wonderful for how it exemplifies that male friendships can also be tender and loving.
However, it’s the father and son relationship that ultimately is its heart: to achieve that true understanding of a parent or of a child. It takes acts of vulnerability from both Harry and Albus to finally see who they are to themselves and to each other. It’s the first major step in healing the wounds their relationship has wrought over recent years. As much as I would have adored this book ending with a light-hearted moment between Albus and Scorpius talking about how the latter will one day win over the affections of the clever (and awesome!) Rose Granger-Weasley, that final scene between Harry and Albus spoke so much more volume than “All was well” ever did. There’s no promise that all will be well or perfect. There are no promises that everything will always be good or that evil will never find a way back to them. No promise that the pain of the past won’t ever stop hurting. The only promise made between Harry and Albus Severus is that there will always be, at the very least, love. And that’s an ending worthy of any great story – magical or real.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One & Two, Special Rehearsal Script Edition is now available wherever books are sold.