* Mild spoilers for The Cursed Child, major spoilers for the original series.
Reading The Cursed Child was a bizarre experience. I knew I wouldn’t be impressed, but I wanted to be wrong. It’s been years since I was immersed in the world of Hogwarts, but there was no feeling of “going back.” After finishing the play I re-read parts again just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. In the whole play there were only four scenes where I felt like I was reading a Harry Potter book. The rest was, as I’d anticipated, a confusing disappointment. I’m not here to spoil the plot of The Cursed Child, or to break down every similarity to My Immortal (Tara Gilesbie, 2007). If you have read the play then you’ll know it is almost impossible to spoil since it’s so convoluted.
For the most part the characters didn’t have unique voices, and in a play that’s of utmost importance. Harry didn’t have echoes of the lost little boy I loved so much. His scenes with Ginny worked better, but any time he interacted with his children he was a stranger. I am disappointed (I mean I’m goddamn furious) with the storyline given to Draco, but at least his voice sounded right. The children’s conversations were often age inappropriate, and I had a hard time figuring out who was talking. In the more charming and Rowlingesque moments it was heartbreaking to read. Those moments made the overall disappointment worse. It could have been good but instead it was clunky and didn’t make sense. The time travel is really convoluted, not adhering to the internal rules of the Wizarding World. Albus kept changing his motives, and I never could identify what caused his actions other than preteen angst (I mean, wizard angst.) The Voldemort resurrection story seemed unfinished. Is he still out there in countless parallel universes? Is the premise even biologically possible? And where was Hugo?
August of 2007, nine years ago, The Deathly Hallows was released. I spent that summer discovering fan fiction on The Sugar Quill and Coffee and Chocolate, looking at fanart on Deviantart. I’ve seen Harry and the Potters (a wizard rock band) twice live in concert, as well as Potter Puppet Pals live at The Knitting Factory in Williamsburg. My Slytherin scarf isn’t Warner Brothers merch, but a beautifully made tagless scarf from the unlicensed Alivans. Harry Potter has grown so far past the books that The Cursed Child almost seems useless at this point. It’s not actually an eighth Harry Potter book, so what is it? We already have plays, stories, art, clothing, tarot decks, puppet shows, albums of music, and more.
The Cursed Child reads like fan fiction. It’s unnecessary but gives you the little Hogwarts fix we all need sometimes. I’ll be magnanimous: people can have their own opinions about The Cursed Child, and that’s fine. If you liked it I am genuinely happy for you. I wish I loved it. It’d make my life easier. But to me (and thousands of other fans), it just was not good. JK Rowling made a strategic error. She’s is known for delicately woven plots. Her Cormoran Strike novels show that she’s not a one trick pony. But the plot of The Cursed Child isn’t subtle – it’s loud. We didn’t need this play. And the bottom line is that it’s not written by JK Rowling. It was written by someone else, using a plot that she supplied. There were nostalgic bits, and maybe someone with very low literary standards would appreciate the whole play. But if I want low literary quality I’ll go to fan fiction. I go to JK Rowling for high quality, subtle, complex literature.
At some point, after the series ended, the fans took over. We did what we pleased, aware that nothing we did could ruin the integrity of the books. JK Rowling tried to return to Harry’s world, but to the world the fans had generated – not to the world she ended in 2007. I guess she thought she was giving something nice to the fans. But the difference is once she puts her name on it it’s harder to ignore. I love and value good literature. I also value good clean smutty AU fun. But they live in completely different worlds, and they are supposed to stay that way. JK Rowling crept into fan territory, and that’s what’s freaking out so many of us. The Harry Potter legacy can recover, and of course the books aren’t tainted, even by The Cursed Child. The Philosophers Stone is a gem in its own right. You can never ruin it. And for the fans, their own imaginings are still their own. Go on, continue with your own head canon. There are worse things than The Cursed Child, but if you are that desperate for more Harry, if you wanna go back to Hogwarts that badly, there’s other ways back. In honor of the so-called eighth Potter book, here’s eight fan fictions better than The Cursed Child.
8. Draco’s Diary. By The Morning Starr. Last updated on The Sugar Quill in 2004. 8 Chapters.
This lighthearted and hilarious story is a spoof on Helen Fielding’s style. Told in diary form over the course of eight months, we get to see a sad and silly side of teenage Draco that is rarely written about. If you read The Cursed Child and were disappointed in the writing and voice of Scorpius Malfoy, this cute look at Draco might be the cure.
Trip to Diagon Alley was heaven-sent. Tracey was there (Note to Self: Be polite to Blaise on train as reward). She was looking very cute in her Malkin’s Everyday robes, which is more than can be said for most girls. Was immensely glad to realize that she was indeed good-looking and that it hadn’t simply been a Butterbeer-spiked-with-Firewhisky-induced hallucination at my party the other night. Unfortunately, we only caught each other in one store, so flirtatious smiles were at a minimum. Why haven’t I ever noticed her before? Oh, right. Last year, Hogwarts was crawling with French girls. And I suppose she did develop a bit over the summer as well.
7. Cauterize. By lady altair. Posted on Livejournal in 2008. Oneshot.
Written by one of my favorite Livejournal authors of the time, this little piece is probably my favorite post-series story. It is short, vivid, and covers a huge amount of emotional ground very quickly. It’s told from the perspective of Dennis Creevey, who is working on a photography exhibition using his late brother’s camera. It’s definitely a piece a fan will appreciate, as it includes characters like Katie Bell and Anthony Goldstein. If you feel like The Cursed Child didn’t mention enough of the tier two characters, this is for you. Classic present-tense fic, a true relic.
Lavender goes first. She was the easiest to convince; she’s proud of the scars that mar her neck, shoulder, back, arm. Her wounds look new even years later; she wears them like high fashion, a beautiful lace of white and pink scars.
6. Shifts. By FernWithy. Last updated on The Sugar Quill in 2005. 38 Chapters.
Shifts is famous in the Potter community for being a novel-length fan fiction that predicted Lupin and Nymphadora’s relationship. It was written between the publication of Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince. On top of that it’s good. It’s as well written as many YA novels I’ve read in my life. The plot holds together, it’s a really fun read, and well worth your time if you have a few subways commutes to spare. It’s one of the only novel-length stories I’ve ever suffered through, but it’s worth it. If you were angry at the lack of reference to Teddy and his parents in The Cursed Child, this is a must read.
The train was due to arrive shortly after three o’clock, and they arranged to meet at the station at two-thirty. When Remus got there at two-fifteen, he found Dora already waiting. She was dressed casually, and her hair was a cheerful pink. He took her hand and kissed it.
“Do you think the pink is wrong?” she asked. “Not… you know, serious enough? I just thought I could be sure he’d recognize me if I looked like this.”
“It’s fine,” Remus said. “And it will have the added benefit of greatly annoying Petunia Dursley.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.” Dora grinned and slipped into his arms. “I’m not sure I look like good step-parental-figure material.”
Remus sighed. “I think Harry and I have quite a long way to go before we reach the ‘parental-figure’ point.”
“You always underestimate yourself, Remus. You should stop doing that.”
5. Fixing Us. By RSS. Published on Siye in 2008. Oneshot.
This is a short and decent Harry/Ginny story, set directly after Deathly Hallows. I’ve always wanted to know how these two grew back together, how long it took for Ginny to forgive Harry for being… Harry. The narration is a little awkward but the dialogue is on point and there’s a slowness and attention to detail that reminds me of Harry and Gin’s scenes in The Cursed Child. For anyone who likes canon and wants more of their original OTP, this is a good read.
“Typical for Charlie.” She turned to face him, propping herself up on her elbow. “He said you were completely mental to end everything between us. Well you do understand; he’s my brother and all?” She began to pick threads from the embroidery on her quilt. “Anyhow, he figured that by the time you got back…Charlie just said you would be a different person, or that you would change, or you would have moved on.”
4. Untitled. By FernWithy. Posted on Livejournal in 2007. Drabble.
Second recommendation by this author, but this tiny little fan fiction captures exactly what I missed in The Cursed Child – healing. After a war you want people to grow back together, and there was none of that. The teasing, the anger, the hatred that still existed in Hogwarts, the way Rosie ostracized Al and Scorpius… that was all so against what I wanted after The Deathly Hallows. Healing. Click the link. Read it.
Draco nodded. “Thank you, Aunt Andromeda.”
It was the first time he’d ever used her familial title–the first time she’d ever heard it from anyone–and it felt oddly satisfying. “You’re welcome, Draco.”
3. Stacked Against. By jdbracknell. Posted on Livejournal in 2007. Oneshot.
This Ron and Hermione story was written pre Deathly Hallows, and takes place during Bill and Fluer’s wedding. That makes it AU, but it’s very in sweet and in character. My favorite thing about Ron and Hermione’s relationship is how comfortable and sure they are of each other. For anyone who thought that their OTP was lacking that foundation in The Cursed Child, this is for you.
Ron sighed. He didn’t know why this was so bloody complicated, and what made it more complicated was that the person he’d normally turn to to help him out of muddles like this was Hermione – and she was the one person he couldn’t ask for help.
2. Kitchen Aid. By wrlfgang. Last updated in An Archive of Our Own in 2015. Oneshot.
This short and simple story captures the goodwill that was missing from The Cursed Child. The next generation should be better than their parents. I hated the portrayal of Rosie in the play, especially after having built her up as a gentle Ravenclaw with a crush on Scorpius. This oneshot captures the quiet of Hogwarts in a safe, post-war world. If you missed the Rosie that could have been, this story might help.
Scorpius nodded mutely, rummaging about in hopes of finding gravy. It wasn’t that he had never talked to Rose. He had talked to her a few times really, they were both prefects. He’d never had rounds with her but he had assumed that was mostly because of their different schedules. Finding a small pot of gravy, he joined her at the table.
1. Catch this Light. By lady altair. Posted on Livejournal in 2008. 3 Parts.
The most affronting thing about The Cursed Child was the fate of Astoria Malfoy. Her entire story happened off-stage and yet fueled Scorpius’ motivations the whole way through. I love Astoria, or at least the Astoria that the fandom created. This little love story has been a favorite of mine for the last nine years. It’s written in that distinct late-2000s style – present tense third person, nice inner monologue, very clean and descriptive, full of sentence fragments. It’s not fully planted in Rowling’s world, but the few colorful additions make it special.
The biggest scandal high wizarding society will see in 2002 begins in the two minutes Ernie MacMillan can manage to sit for the pretense of good will and good manners, before cutting in to reclaim his fiancée. Ernie meets his eyes for the first time and, even with the black fury in the man’s look, Draco rather relishes the contact. He feels a like a man again; there’s someone looking him in the eye with jealousy, possession, challenge in his gaze. Someone’s looking at him again like he’s something more than dirt.
So much love and attention was put into these stories. AU, OC, and PWP stories can be fun too, but what sets Harry Potter’s fans apart in the world of fan fiction is the number of incredible stories that fit within the lines of the novels themselves. I didn’t find this sort of care and love anywhere in The Cursed Child. This last week I read more fan fiction than I had in years. There’s so much out there. I know it has a bad reputation outside of the more hardcore fandom, but it is pieces like these that keep me coming back to Harry, to the original series, to Hogwarts. Tomorrow is September 1st. Whatever your opinion or impression of The Cursed Child is, maybe it’s time to go back to Hogwarts.
Sarah V Diehl