Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has now been published, which means we can finally discuss the big questions!
If you’ve clicked on this article, it’s very likely that you’ve already read the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script book. If you have not — look away now!
Seriously, close the tab.
Still here? Good. Now let’s talk time travel.
The plot of Cursed Child is in no small part a regurgitation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as main characters Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy travel back to each of the three Triwizard Tasks to try to save Cedric Diggory, before finally ending up at Godric’s Hollow on the night Harry’s parents died.
All this is made possible because, surprise! There is another
Skywalker Time-Turner, an experimental prototype created by the apparent wizarding genius Theodore Nott, and hidden by Minister for Magic Hermione Granger behind a magical bookshelf.
Not only is it a little baffling to bring back a storytelling device so sparsely used in the Harry Potter series, and which was written out of the narrative by J.K. Rowling because it allowed for too many story loopholes, but the fact that the Time-Turner can now suddenly go back many years at a time (with a five-minute limit) is somewhat unsettling for Potter fans used to the very strict rules of Rowling’s Wizarding World.
Said Rowling, in an old Pottermore post:
“I went far too light-heartedly into the subject of time travel in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. While I do not regret it (Prisoner of Azkaban is one of my favourite books in the series), it opened up a vast number of problems for me, because after all, if wizards could go back and undo problems, where were my future plots?
I solved the problem to my own satisfaction in stages. Firstly, I had Dumbledore and Hermione emphasise how dangerous it would be to be seen in the past, to remind the reader that there might be unforeseen and dangerous consequences as well as solutions in time travel. Secondly, I had Hermione give back the only Time-Turner ever to enter Hogwarts. Thirdly, I smashed all remaining Time-Turners during the battle in the Department of Mysteries, removing the possibility of reliving even short periods in the future.
This is just one example of the ways in which, when writing fantasy novels, one must be careful what one invents. For every benefit, there is usually a drawback.”
Now, of course Jack Thorne is well within his right to bring back this storytelling device (just as we’re in the right to have an opinion about it), yet there are still huge questions raised by the return of the Time-Turner.
Here are some of the questions — and a few answers — about the use of time travel in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
How does it even work?
According to MuggleCast’s Eric Scull, the total number of turns required to go back to the Triwizard task (if using a traditional Time-Turner) would be in the hundreds of thousands, which clearly is not the case for Albus and co.
Under the brand of being ‘experimental,’ Nott’s Time-Turner gets away with any number of canon-defying sins, and we’re willing to buy that this Time-Turner is specifically designed to go back decades at a time — but how would they know how many times to turn it? Did it come with an instruction manual? Because, remember, Delphi D’Arkness Dementia Diggle Raven Way Voldemort didn’t actually go with them!
The ability to not only go back years at a time, but also pinpoint the exact date and time (within minutes, as Albus and Scorpius always arrived just as a task was starting) they needed to go back to — and then communicate this time and date to the Time-Turner — also seems convenient beyond belief.
But hey, maybe the new Time-Turner just has a dash of Apple Watch in its programming, and the exact time and date in the past can be entered by ‘magic.’
Why did changing the past only cause isolated changes?
This is one of the biggest issues of time travel stories in general, that Rowling herself handled so masterfully in Prisoner of Azkaban — and which Cursed Child seems to totally ignore.
The first time Albus and Scorpius went back in time, they only caused one upset of the timeline: the young Hermione saw them and grew suspicious of Durmstrang students, which led to her going to the Yule Ball with Ron, and the pair’s budding romance fizzled out early.
When Albus and Scorpius return to the present, it’s pretty much the same, with small variations: Hermione and Ron never got married, Rose (and Hugo) no longer exists, and Hermione is the Transfiguration teacher instead of the Minister for Magic.
Albus is also in Gryffindor… and that’s it. Everything else is the same. Albus and Harry pick up the exact same conversation they were just having in the original timeline. As The Butterfly Effect has taught us, this is simply not possible. If Harry’s friends never got married, wouldn’t this have huge repercussions for Harry’s own life? Is it logical to assume that Harry and Ginny would even have had the exact same kids at the exact same time as they did in the other reality? Considering the big deal made of Ron returning with the Deluminator in Deathly Hallows in the nick of time to save Harry, all because he got jealous of the two of them bonding, wouldn’t their entire reality be different right now?
But alright. We’re getting way deep here. It is just a story, we don’t have to be so pedantic about the details (even if J.K. Rowling herself taught us to care about these very same details). The real issue comes the second time they change time, when Cedric actually survived but was so humiliated he became a Death Eater (!), killed Neville (!), which led to Harry dying (!) and erasing his children from existence.
Voldemort Day was a thing, Scorpius was the Scorpion King of Hogwarts, Hermione and Snape were BFFs, and Umbridge was Headmistress. And… that’s it. Scorpius still existed, looking exactly as he did before. The other students — born after the time-changing event — still existed. If the entire world changed, it’s just so incredibly unlikely that these kids would still have been born.
While the finer points of time travel science may not necessarily need to be observed in a standalone stageplay, this all does a lot to undermine the carefully constructed reality of the Wizarding World which has been a part of our lives for so long.
Didn’t anyone realize that saving Cedric would have huge consequences in the first place?
Okay, we can chalk this one up to plain stubbornness on Albus’ part, but what’s Scorpius’ excuse?
Although, in general, Cursed Child seems to assume that you can change one small thing in the past without affecting the future too much, clearly Voldemort Day is evidence that going back in time can irrevocably change the entire timeline for the worse.
So why the heck did Albus and Scorpius ever think they could go back in time, save Cedric Diggory, and have him live out his days without affecting any of their lives negatively at all — and why would they even assume they’d been born at all? What if Cedric had called Harry up to chat one night when he and Ginny were just about to go to bed and conceive Albus — heck, what if Cedric had married Ginny? Not to say that any of this would have happened, but there are just too many ‘what ifs’ involved with going back and affecting the past in such a huge way.
Having an entire new person alive who was supposed to be dead would certainly change more than how Harry felt about the son that wouldn’t be born for another 20 years, and the very notably intelligent Scorpius — if not Albus — would recognize this. The Wizarding World is a pretty great place in the 2020s. What the hell were they thinking?
The fact that the entire plot couldn’t have happened if someone had just pointed out this simple flaw in their logic makes it all feel very convoluted. This is why J.K. Rowling wrote Time-Turners out of her story, and bringing them back as a key plot point just seems so out of tone with the universe.