Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: A Roller-Coaster Through Time

ALBUS takes the Time-Turner from SCORPIUS – he presses down upon it and the Time-Turner begins to vibrate, and then explodes into a storm of movement.

And with it the stage starts to transform. The two boys look at it.

And there is a giant whoosh of light. A smash of noise.

And time stops. And then it turns over, thinks a bit, and begins spooling backwards, slow at first …

And then it speeds up.

When a novelist writes a novel, especially a work of pure fiction, and after the plot has evolved and progressed somewhat, he or she must be devoting a lot of time as to how things should get wrapped up. In other words, while arriving at the concluding point, the exact trajectory that ought to be followed must be a matter of laborious deliberations. For example, in the Harry Potter series, even when it was probably quite certain that Harry will win over Voldemort in the end, in the universal spirit of good winning over evil, it must have been far from certain, even in Rowling’s own mind, how exactly that end will be attained – which sequence of events to be followed, which characters sacrificed and for what, and so on. In fact, at times, Rowling must have traced out alternative paths in her story that would natural follow one event after another leading to even possibly different outcomes.

Well, on first reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (which, in spirit, is the eighth in the Harry Potter series), the first impression I had was that this was kind of Rowling’s revelation of the alternative narratives that she could have built (but didn’t in favour of the one we know) leading to entirely different outcomes and worlds. The story is set nineteen years after the conclusion of the Harry Potter series in 2007 novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where Voldemort is defeated by Harry in the Battle of Hogwarts. The book begins with our then young heroes and heroines now being parents themselves. And Harry’s scar hurting again, after twenty two years.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is actually a play written by Jack Thorne from an original story written by J. K. Rowling, Thorne and John Tiffany, though Rowling refers to it as “the eighth Harry Potter story”. Harry Potter is now Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic, and Hermione is now the Minister of Magic. Ron runs the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. And Professor McGonagall is the headmistress of Hogwarts.

Albus Severus Potter (named by Harry after the two greatest wizards he has seen in his life), Harry’s son, turns out, is not like Harry in many ways. And constant comparison to Harry everywhere and every time, makes him feel isolated and lonely, and distances him from Harry. For example, Albus gets sorted into Slytherin, and his best friend is Scorpius, Draco Malfoy’s son. Burdened by his father’s legacy of great deeds and heroism, he is resentful and wary of Harry’s patriarchal advices and good-natured words of caution.

The main plot of the play is how Albus and Scorpius use a time-turner to try and save Cedric Diggory, who was killed by Voldemort at the end of the Triwizard tournament in the fourth book of the series, the Goblet of Fire. Though Harry was Voldemort’s target, since Cedric also happened to be present as a ‘spare’ at the Little Hangleton Graveyard when Voldemort returned,  Voldemort had killed him.

Even after several years, Cedric’s father, Amos Diggory is still not in terms with the loss, and when news of the recovery of a time-turner by the Ministry reaches Amos, he comes to Harry to use it to save his son.  Harry doesn’t oblige, but his son Albus overhears the conversation and decides to save Cedric, with the help of Scorpius and Delphi Diggory, who accompanied Amos on his visit to Harry and introduced herself as Cedric’s cousin.


So Albus and Scorpius first time travel back to the first task of the Triwizard tournament, which was collecting a golden egg that’s ferociously defended by a dragon. Their plan was that if Cedric can somehow be prevented from succeeding in this task then he will not be going to the next rounds (and therefore not be killed by Wormtail on Voldemort’s orders in the last round).

As planned, they succeeded in disarming Cedric, but when they returned to the present, everything was so very different! So what happened was that (young) Hermione (who was in the audience) noticed that Albus and Scorpius prevented Cedric from winning, and she thought they were from Durmstrang (because they were wearing Durmstrang robes lest two unknown Hogwarts students raised even more eyebrows amongst existing Hogwarts students). So Hermione, who was supposed to go to the Yule ball with Viktor Krum, who was in Durmstrang, now refuses to go with him. Instead she goes with Ron, but after sometime, Ron dances with Padma Patil, falls in love with her and later marries each other and so, Rose and Hugo (Hermione and Ron’s children), aren’t even born! That is, the jealousy that gets ignited in Ron seeing Hermione with someone else that we see in the original story, does not ignite. And hence the love that was to blossom from such a jealousy, doesn’t exactly blossom.

Since Albus and Rose are cousins (since Ron and Ginny are siblings), and also because Scorpius admires Rose a lot, Albus and Scorpius know that they don’t want this alternative world, and hence try changing the course of events once more, but now in the second task of the Triwizard tournament.

This time they try to prevent Cedric from succeeding in the second task which was to rescue something dear that was stolen from each of the participant from the Black Lake. But the moment Albus and Scorpius prevent Cedric from succeeding, Scorpius (and not Albus!) to his utter dismay and horror, discover that this alternative world is even scarier and messier than the last one – even Albus doesn’t exist anymore.

What happened this time was that Cedric felt so angry and humiliated that he lost the (second) task that he became a death eater and in the Battle of Hogwarts he killed Neville Longbottom. So in turn, Neville couldn’t kill Nagini, Voldemort’s snake and the last Horcrux. So Harry couldn’t succeed in killing Voldemort since Nagini lived – so in this alternative world, Voldemort actually lives and rules and Harry is dead (and therefore Albus doesn’t come into existence).

There were many more other associated changes of course – as expected, since Voldemort ruled, Muggle-borns were tortured and killed, the headmistress of Hogwarts was Dolores Umbridge, Snape is now the potions teacher at Hogwarts (so in this alternative world, Snape is alive). Hermione and Ron are fugitives, hiding from dementors and other forces of the Dark Lord. So Scorpius basically takes Snape’s help (by telling him how the world ‘really is’ and that Harry’s son is named after him but he doesn’t live in this other world) , and comes back to reality.

So when Scorpius finally meets Albus again he is overwhelmed and Albus, after hearing everything from Scorpius, decides it’s best to destroy the time-turner, after narrating everything to Delphi Diggory who’s been in this from the beginning. The story could have ended here, but there’s more to the roller-coaster ride!

Turns out Delphi Diggory is not Cedric’s cousin at all but Voldemort’s (and Bellatrix Lestrange’s) daughter and she wished to use the time turner to go back in time and instead of having Voldemort try and kill Harry Potter (which started the chain of events leading to his return but then eventual death, as in the Harry Potter series), she would kill Harry Potter herself, so that Voldemort could now survive.

She destroys the wands of Albus and Scorpius and takes them back in time in Godric’s Hollow, awaiting the arrival of Voldemort on that fateful night of 1981. Finally however, Harry and his friends, arrive in time to save the boys and send Delphi to Azkaban. And of course, the world is left as it was, before the (mis)adventures started. 

There are several subplots running simultaneously like the strained relationship between Harry and his son, which gets better by the end of the play, the conversations between Harry and the portrait of Dumbledore, on how they loved each other, and the blossoming of a friendly bonding between Harry and Draco, who were sworn enemies. For example, here’s what Dumbledore says to Harry from his portrait, advising him as to how he can improve his relation with his son.

DUMBLEDORE

Harry, there is never a perfect answer in this messy, emotional world. Perfection is beyond the reach of humankind, beyond the reach of magic. In every shining moment of happiness is that drop of poison: the knowledge that pain will come again. Be honest to those you love, show them your pain. To suffer is as human as to breathe.

Stage production and performance for a story like this must have been a theatrical challenge with changing backgrounds, spells etc. The play has mesmerised audience for its impeccable illusions, and unbeaten stage wizardry. “The original West End production premiered at the Palace Theatre on 7 June 2016. It received a record-breaking eleven nominations and won another record-breaking nine awards, including Best New Play, at the 2017 Laurence Olivier Awards. A Broadway production opened at the Lyric Theatre on 21 April 2018. That production received ten nominations and won six awards, including Best Play at the 2018 Tony Awards. An Australian production opened at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne, on 23 February 2019. A second American production opened in San Francisco at the Curran Theatre on 1 December 2019” (Wikipedia). The movie, based on this play, is said to be releasing next year.

The play is sprinkled with a lot of pleasant magical thrillers like the Hogwarts Express being magical and the Trolley witch actually being a ‘guard’ of the train, not letting students get off before reaching its destination, Hogwarts.

TROLLEY WITCH

These hands have made over six million Pumpkin Pasties I’ve got quite good at them. But what people haven’t noticed about my Pumpkin Pasties is how easily they transform into something else …

She picks up a Pumpkin Pasty. She throws it like a grenade. It explodes.

And you won’t believe what I can do with my Chocolate Frogs. Never. Never. Have I let anyone off this train before they reached their destination. Some have tried – Sirius Black and his cronies, Fred and George Weasley. ALL HAVE FAILED. BECAUSE THIS TRAIN – IT DOESN’T LIKE PEOPLE GETTING OFF IT …

The TROLLEY WITCH’s hands transfigure into very sharp spikes. She smiles.

So please retake your seats for the remainder of the journey.

ALBUS

You were right, Scorpius. This train is magical.

After the play, it is hard to see the original seven Harry Potter stories the same way. For example, one can’t help thinking about the alternative paths the HP world might take when one sees the Triwizard tournament in the fourth book, the Goblet of Fire. In other words, this book helps admirers of the Harry Potter world, relive their fantasies, with the same emotional honesty and mature realisations about life, that are hallmarks of the original series. With the only message being that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing, just to accept all that’s unfolded and cherish in the love that the present and near ones bring to our lives. It’s a roller-coaster ride through time giving us this message – enjoy!

Soumyanetra Munshi, Associate Professor, Economic Research Unit, Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) Kolkata

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