Sequel, companion, and closing chapter.

“Love blinds. We have both tried to give our sons not what they needed, but what we needed. We’ve been so busy trying to rewrite our own pasts, we’ve blighted their present.”

Centuries before The Boy Who Lived crossed wands with The Dark Lord, in a fierce battle for the soul of wizardry, Cadmus Peverell toyed with the Resurrection Stone, one of the fabled Deathly Hallows. He used the Reaper’s sly gift to bring back his betrothed, conjuring her likeness from beyond the veil, but understanding neither love nor the power it holds, he was driven to insanity. Years later his descendant Tom Riddle, a boy whose childhood lacked warmth and adoration, began seeking adoration of a different sort. The love he craved was selfish, akin to idol worship, and in order to achieve it, he shattered his soul into seven pieces by committing horrendous acts.

One such act was the murder of Lily Potter, a mother who died saving her child.

In the world of witches and wizards, love is intrinsically woven with life, and with death. The battle for good and evil is embodied by two orphans, one who found family and community at Hogwarts, and the other who rejected it; having, quite tragically, never been loved. The “powerful magic” that saved Harry as a child was his mother’s selfless sacrifice, a power so great that it pierced even the cold snares of Aunt Petunia, not to mention those of Severus Snape. Whether or not he knew it, Harry Potter was always loved, and so he never fought alone.

The original books and films add a wondrous layer to love as an abstract, turning it into an unparalleled force capable of defeating evil. It’s a rich and beautiful sentiment, and a constant through-line allowing the series to stand head-and-shoulders above its contemporaries. What’s more, it has a peaceful, rosy conclusion, as Harry passes a mischievous secret down to his son, named after two of his fallen heroes. And yet the final epilogue is considered imperfect, with a major complaint being his younger son’s name, after two Hogwarts headmasters whose love for Harry was complicated, to say the least.

Albus Severus Potter is a central character in The Cursed Child, a two-part extension of the series’ epilogue that acts as retrospective. It’s a meta-fictional story about the past and how its darkest moments shape our present, and it’s about learning to deal with its impact instead of trying to erase it. But perhaps its most ingenious device, one that feels like a dour dose of reality, is the movement away from love as magical abstraction. And yet, rather than a betrayal of the original themes, it expands on them in touching and even profound ways, through the love between fathers and sons.

Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy live in their fathers’ shadows, one the moody child of a heroic figure, the other of his tarnished peer. Albus is sorted into Slytherin, strengthening his divide with his red-robed family, while Scorpius is rumored to be Voldemort’s spawn. They find comfort in each other, as Harry, Ron and Hermione once did, but where their parents saw Hogwarts as a place to call home, they now see it as a tormentor. The Trolley Witch who once brought Harry sweets and candies reveals herself to be a demonic presence, a force hell-bent on sucking them back in to the Hogwarts Express. What once represented magical escape is now a place of un-belonging, and Harry, who once bonded with Ron over magical chocolates, is at an age where he foregoes sugar. It’s fitting then that this story doesn’t sugarcoat its narrative, because while he might be free from the forces of darkness, Harry Potter is no stranger to the perils of adulthood.

Albus is resentful of his father, a man who history remembers as the greatest of leaders, but a man whose love is strained and imperfect. For all its ‘fan fiction-esque’ time travel and alternate realities, the plays’ crux is their relationship. It’s the driving force behind Albus’ actions – he desires to save Cedric because he wants a father to love his son again – and as Harry is slowly pulled into this narrative labyrinth, he’s forced to confront the idea that Albus may not be running away from Hogwarts, but from him.

Harry never had a model on which to base his parenthood. Where he had no trouble connecting with Lily and James – spunky, spry children who may as well be his reflections – doing so with Albus requires an extra dose of effort. The wall between them stems from differing desires and from different areas of interest, not to mention the expectations placed on the young wizard, down to his very name. Lack of common ground requires the building of entirely new foundations, and where Harry instantly clicked with Ron and Hermione, fellow outsiders viewed with skepticism, the same can’t be said of Albus Severus. To Harry, it ought to follow that his son find community in a place he once called home. Instead he spends time with the son of Draco, the bully responsible for bringing him to his friends in the first place. Yet Albus keeps his distance, from both Harry and his image, as if he doesn’t want to be seen as his father’s son.

The Cursed Child funnels the theme of love through a realistic filter, forcing Harry, and by proxy the readers, to go beyond the simple notions of unity and tolerance. While perhaps the most powerful magic in existence (even in this story, Harry never fights alone), these things are easier to achieve than mending a relationship. The only person Harry shared a deep connection with was Voldemort himself, a trauma he shares only with Ginny, and the return of his dark dreams leaves him apprehensive about sharing his pain. Harry has seen loved ones die time and time again, and though his mother’s guiding hand is a benchmark for the unconditional, the reality of love is far more intricate.

Unlike the final pages of The Deathly Hallows, the new plays offer neither contentment nor closure. The Harry Potter story no longer ends on a note that suggest freedom from all conflict. Instead it forces Harry and Albus to confront their biggest fears, the fears that involve each other. Ginny, who grew up in a more complete household, is in a much better position to relate to both Potters. She has the tools to deal with familial friction, but it’s not a lesson she can impart with the wave of a wand. The best she can do is advise Harry, who no doubt loves his son, to express that love in a way Albus understands.

Albus, by the same token, gets to see the very foundations of his father. While there is tragic beauty in Harry facing his own origin, hand-in-hand with all his old friends (and with Draco, the redeemed), it affords Albus the opportunity to understand the depths of Harry Potter. Harry’s heroism comes from a place of pain and loneliness, and to idealize that heroism, as Albus has been conditioned to, ignores his very humanity. Perhaps more than anything else in the story, it’s this handholding moment that resonates most strongly. Confronting the sacrifice Harry only knows as ‘magic’ allows him to see its effects. Not only the pain it caused, but the moments of love and comfort, like his friends standing beside him – at the exact moment of tragedy, yet forty years later.

In this moment, the abstract becomes completely, heartbreakingly tangible.

Harry Potter was always for kids and young adults, so as someone who grew up alongside the books and film series (I was born in ’92, do the math), I have no qualms about admitting the sheer profoundness of their impact. Yet while these texts were foundational for my generation, those that see The Cursed Child as ‘excluding’ us are, to some degree, correct. This story isn’t concerned with people my age, although its lessons about time ring true regardless, and I could not be more thankful. Kids certainly have a new set of Hogwarts heroes, with whom they can adventure and find comfort, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the plays have also subtly prepared me for middle age. Its most grandiose statements, however, are not age specific.

Where the originals were formative for my views on concepts like love, loss and friendship, this new tale helps re-calibrate them to account for their complexities. On a brief personal note, Albus’ relationship with his father is not unfamiliar to me, and the story comes at a time when I could use it most. By dissecting the very nature of the original themes, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child serves as a companion piece to those Young Adult scriptures. It does not reduce the power of love, but treats it like a locomotive, one with the potential to derail if the tracks aren’t properly laid. It treats paternal love as imperfect, forcing us to confront Harry’s flaws as a parent the way he was forced to confront them in his father figures - including and especially his son’s two namesakes. It treats suffering as a natural part of the human experience, and it posits plowing through the difficulties of loving relationships as part of that very suffering.

Harry’s victory over death was the love he’d been given, but The Cursed Child humanizes him poignantly. His victory in life is not his ability to give love, but his desire to understand it. The story’s most sobering lesson both inverts and builds on the series’ core, the idea that selfless love isn’t just magical self-sacrifice. Sometimes it’s the mere act of reaching out to someone. Sharing your pain with them. Your fears. Your vulnerabilities. Communicating with them honestly, and fostering mutual understanding, even when it’s hurt you in the past.

That’s a magic you don’t need a wand to wield.