We need to talk about cursed children.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about afflicted adolescents, largely thanks to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the upcoming West End stage play that will rock the world when it begins performances on June 7 at London’s Palace Theatre.
And why shouldn’t it shake up pop culture? It is, after all, the eighth Harry Potter story — set 19 years after the events of Deathly Hallows, or 19 seconds, if you consider the book’s epilogue — and for as many fouls as one can commit in Quidditch, there are equally as many directions this wide-reaching, hotly-anticipated sequel can go. (That number, by the way, is 700.)
Fans have expectedly been in a frenzy trying to make sense of Cursed Child and predict what might happen, and the primary clue is the play’s vague official synopsis: Something something “Harry grapples with a past,” something something “his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted,” something something “darkness comes from unexpected places.” Great! It’s certifiably Game of Thrones-ian in its vagueness, and no less hypnotically perplexing.
But this week, Pottermore may have dropped a big clue — or, at least, one that demands we revisit the play’s curious title.
The site revealed three first looks at the play’s central characters: The Potter family (Harry, Ginny, and son Albus), the Granger-Weasleys (Ron, Hermione, and daughter Rose), and the Malfoys (Draco and son Scorpius). These are our characters — the principals, at least — and it’s of interest that only these three children appear in the family portraits. There’s no sign of James Sirius, the oldest son of Harry and Ginny. There’s no Lily Potter or Hugo Granger-Weasley, either, although that’s not to suggest they won’t appear in the play — in fact, given the cast’s seven rotating child actors, it’s almost guaranteed they will.
RELATED: Get a first look at Harry Potter‘s Harry, Ginny and Albus
No, Pottermore’s reveal has confirmed that this play, at least when it comes to the children, is all about Albus, Rose, and Scorpius. They’re the ostensible stars here, taking center stage as they head off to their first year of Hogwarts (which is when the play begins). So, the question is worth asking, now more than ever: Is one of these children the titular Cursed Child — and are you sure it’s who you think it is?
Let’s Aloho this mora, shall we?
Why he is: You’ve read the synopsis. You know it’s probably him. And truthfully, most signs point to Albus — cursed to carry the burden of what his father accomplished between the ages of 11 and 17 — as the literal poster child for this thing. The play’s imagery even features a boy, not too dissimilar from Albus, sitting fully fetal inside of a wicker Snitch. If Harry’s insurmountable legacy of saving the wizarding world is what’s got Albus already holding his bludgers before he even gets to Hogwarts, the fact that dad was a Gryffindor house Quidditch prodigy can’t be much relief, either. Another popular fan theory suggests that Albus’s “curse” is because he doesn’t even make it into Gryffindor — a worry he vocalized in the Deathly Hallows epilogue. Nothing can screw up a kid more than spending 11 years thinking he’s a lion and then finding out he’s a snake.
Why he’s not: Consider, for a moment, the history of how curses have been used in the Potter series. Traditionally, Rowling only ever mentions them with extremely negative connotation. Fiendfyre. Sectumsempra. The spell on Gaunt’s ring. A curse is dark magic — meant to be harmful, malicious, and even unforgivably deadly — and it’s not a word Rowling has tossed around lightly in her writing. Now, apply that logic to our modern context: It’s easy to argue that Albus’s plight of living up to his father’s name is a burden, a misfortune, a bane, even a plague — but a curse? I’m grasping here, but the word has been imbued with too much death and malady in the Potter series for it to be used here to describe what’s basically just a bad case of teenage angst. Even Rowling’s use of it answering a fan’s question last summer is unconvincing. (Also, consider that Albus’s older brother James already finished two years at Hogwarts as a Gryffindor, and no doubt faced the same burden of legacy that Albus will have to. If Marcia can deal, so can Jan.)
Why he is: The Pottermore first look of the Malfoy men puts on display an uncomfortable, timid, and even downright thoughtful-looking Scorpius. One popular fan theory assumes that Scorpius Malfoy is just as “cursed,” if you want to call it that, as Albus in having to fill his father’s shoes. No, Draco didn’t save the entire wizarding world, but those high-fashion Diagon Louboutins are equally daunting for a child to step into. As the son of the famous Slytherin, imagine the outcry if it’s actually Scorpius who gets thrown into a different house than his father. A Malfoy in Gryffindor? Or, dare I even say it, H*fflep*ff? It’s a greater tragedy than Professor Sprout’s wardrobe.
Why he’s not: We’ve seen this narrative before. Draco’s arc in Half-Blood Prince is probably the most heightened — and only — story we’ll ever need about a Malfoy not being able to Malfoy. It’s even arguable that Draco’s entire journey through all seven books is essentially the would-be tale of Scorpius overcoming his family’s destiny. And, less convincing: The play is called Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and there’s no way a grown-up Harry is about to embark on a six-hour buddy trip with his ex-bully’s shy tween.
Why she is: Wouldn’t it be something if the eponymous affliction belonged to Rose, a bright young wizard who’s got it all — strong family foundation in her Weasley side, and unmatched talent roots in her Granger? There’s a delightful irony to Rose not being able to pull off Hermione‘s legendary Hogwarts performance.
Why she’s not: It seems almost impossible — truly, impossible — to imagine Rose being sorted into anything but a Gryffindor like her parents, meaning that for Rose to land the cursed spot in the play’s title, she’d have to be faced with far more drama than just not being able to swish-and-flick as well as her mother. Presently, I’m stumped without any clues to work from. Ron and Hermione are probably pretty damn fantastic parents, right?
Hear me out on this one. When Cursed Child was first announced in 2013, the official press materials read: “What was it like to be the boy in the cupboard under the stairs? This brand new play… will explore the previously untold story of Harry’s early years as an orphan and outcast.” Now, as time passed, that lost synopsis basically vanished, and in its place, all eyes latched onto Albus Severus, and rightly so. But unless that 2013 idea was entirely and irrevocably abandoned, my guess is that its roots have not vanished — especially if that notion is what galvanized this whole play process in general.
The result: A Dursley-era Harry may be the cursed child we always knew and will rediscover once more through the play’s strange structure. Rowling has stated that the stage is the only proper medium for this specific story, which to me suggests a strong possibility of dual timeline-jumping — something that can be far easier to digest on a stage than in a film. Think Death of a Salesman, with more Pensieves. Does Albus Severus take a splash back through time and perhaps learn that there’s more to his father than just wizarding glory? It would certainly help link the independent stories of Albus, off on his own at Hogwarts, and a juxtaposed adult Harry, no doubt deserving of equal stage time.
Could it be Teddy Lupin, the orphaned son of Remus and Tonks? Whatever has spawned between Neville Longbottom and Hannah Abbott? A troubled Hogwarts student Albus encounters, perhaps one whom some of our adult characters are forced to visit Hogwarts to assist? Or a young muggle Harry meets through his Ministry of Magic work — one who even reminds Harry of himself during his Dursley days? Oh, the random possibilities are truly endless!
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child begins preview performances in London on June 7. Feel free to tweet @ me how much you hate my theories until then.