Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a Read-along (Act Four)

11 Aug

I sentence this play to death. Let’s see if I can follow through and finish it off. (Previous instalments: Act One Act Two Act Three)

Act four.

Scene one.

Again in the “grand meeting room” at the Ministry. Again this basically looks like Hermione’s giving a press conference for the general public (the other characters we know are present are the usual adult crowd for this play: McGonagall, Harry, Ginny, Draco, and Ron). She announces they found Craig Bowker dead, and that they learned of the prophecy and the existence of Voldemort’s child. (I find it interesting she actually used the title Dark Lord also, because that’s appeared pretty seldom in this play, most of the time people just say “Voldemort”.)

There’s a lot of talking back and forth about how little they know and how little they can do (McGonagall in particular is extremely angry with Hermione for apparently losing track of the Time-Turner again), that they’re trying to investigate (but it seems pretty hopeless). One by one, Harry, Draco, Ginny and Ron join Hermione on the stage in solidarity basically to say “we all fucked up”, apparently it’s a huge deal and shocks everyone present that Draco is supporting them.

Not much else to be said about this scene. It’s honestly just more filler, it’s not terribly written and it’s clearly trying to ratchet up the tension but I don’t think it accomplishes much.

Scene two.

Wow, I didn’t think there were more sharks left for this play to jump, but somehow this scene manages it, and in so doing clearly sets the tone for the rest of what’s still to come. Not promising, not that I was really expecting it to be.

Anyway, the setting is specified as a train station in the Scottish Highlands, in 1981. You can already see where this is going, I’m sure. That’s actually a bit of a spoiler if you’re reading the script, because they intend the year to be a bombshell reveal at the end of this scene.

Albus and Scorpius are at the train station, arguing with each other whether to try to talk to the stationmaster who is a Muggle, to find out if anyone has seen Delphi and/or what year it is. At least, they start out trying to talk about that, it pretty quickly gets sidetracked into their issues (Albus is hung up on the fact he thinks his father will blame them for this; Scorpius thinks it’s a bigger deal they’re trapped in an unknown time without wands, etc, and that Albus has odd priorities). There’s also an exchange about how Albus fancied Delphi and now feels guilty about it (so I guess they’re now trying to insist he’s completely heterosexual?).

The stationmaster interrupts them and asks if they know the trains are running late, in a very thick Scots accent they barely understand. He hands them a timetable and this gives the super shocking reveal: the date is 30 October 1981.

From this, the boys immediately jump to a conclusion, they think they’ve figured out Delphi’s plan. They think it’s because they were going on to her about how prophecies don’t need to come true, so instead of trying to fulfill the existing one she’s going to interfere with the original one (which they recite for the sake of the audience). So they decide they need to get to Godric’s Hollow to prevent Delphi killing Harry as a baby.

I have lots of questions about this, obviously. I almost don’t think it’s necessary to explain how ridiculous this is. I did check back to the previous scene, and apparently it does hint there that she’s doing something with the Time-Turner while they were struggling over it, before she breaks it, but still. It continues to amaze me how easy it supposedly is to specify dates/times to travel to on this Time-Turner, that Delphi could do something like this on a moment’s notice.

Likewise, I think we’re intended to view this as clever of Delphi, but really this is an Idiot Ball moment for her. She’s already had it confirmed that her previous strategy worked (they already brought true her prophecy, for fuck’s sake), she could’ve just offed the boys and replicated what they did to Diggory in the second task. Instead she’s going out of her way to interfere with something else, which is needlessly complicated, and she still has the boys in the same time period (again, why don’t you just shoot them).

Obviously this play is going to try for some kind of pseudo-profound parallelism in going back to “where things all began”. I’m really not sure what it’s going to be able to accomplish, because let’s face it, there’s nothing particularly special about the backstory/setup in which Voldemort tries to kill Harry, and I’m not sure it’s a good idea to be encouraging us to put that scene under greater scrutiny when the “power of love” bullshit explanations were thin and unconvincing as it is.


Scene three.

Suddenly the boys are in Godric’s Hollow. Again I have questions – how’d they know how to get there from wherever they were? How’d they get there so quickly? We don’t see them get on a train or anything, and they explicitly go out of their way to talk about how they have neither wands nor brooms. [They’re also not old enough to Apparate.]

Anyway, they walk through the city. Scorpius points out various landmarks, apparently he’s been there before but Albus never has (he apparently refused every time Harry tried to take him there). Scorpius mentions the statue that will exist eventually, which Albus apparently never knew about. They glimpse Bathilda Bagshot who Scorpius fanboys over (okay, that’s kind of cute), then see the Potter home, and see James and Lily pushing baby Harry in a “pushchair” (why don’t they just call it a pram, is pushchair an actual thing?). [Yes, a pushchair is what you call a stroller, a pram is the fancier show-off version. Which honestly James and Lily would have had, so your argument is perfectly valid.] They realise Delphi hasn’t gotten to them yet [why, what is she doing?], but also that they have no plan for what they’re going to do when she does show up.

[…why are James and Lily out with the baby? They’re meant to be in hiding. If you know bad guys are after you, maybe don’t go out for a stroll? Also, PLOT HOLE ALERT – the Potter house is Secret-Kept at this point. Pettigrew hasn’t told the boys, or the Mary Sue, where it is. None of them should be able to see it.]

Very good point about the Fidelius thing; somehow I completely missed that. Now there is some potential ambiguity here because we’re never told how that bloody spell is supposed to work. It does seem to render 12 Grimmauld invisible to those who haven’t been told the Secret, in OotP. But at the same time, the time-travel shenanigans could also just mean that, because everyone involved already know the Secret and it’s not under Fidelius in their time, they keep that knowledge when going backward (they weren’t there when the spell was cast, so under some theories of how it works they could be unaffected by it). But the play never even acknowledges the possibility (I’d have been perfectly fine if they just used a handwave like that) or acknowledges the Fidelius was there in the first place, so that’s another zero for you, writers. (And that’s even disregarding the fact that they’re supposed to be in hiding, they shouldn’t just be parading Harry about in public view without a care in the world.)

Scene four.

Harry’s office at the Ministry. This is a long scene and full of bullshit.

We open on Harry rifling through papers, trying to find any clue he missed. Dumbledore’s portrait initiates a conversation with him. Harry doesn’t seem particularly happy to see Dumbledore, and basically tells him to get lost because “[he was] absent every time it really counted”. Dumbledore spouts some platitudes about how he would have spared Harry if he could, but Harry isn’t having any of it:

HARRY: “Love blinds us”? Do you even know what that means? Do you even know how bad that advice was? My son is — my son is fighting battles for us just as I had to for you. And I have proved as bad a father to him as you were to me.

Damn, Harry. I may not care much for how they’ve written him to this point, but that’s a pretty good line, and something that probably did need to be said. In response, more self-justification from Dumbledore. We eventually get this:

[DUMBLEDORE:] Of course I loved you . . . and I knew that it would happen all over again . . . that where I loved, I would cause irreparable damage. I am no fit person to love . . . I have never loved without causing harm.
A beat.
HARRY: You would have hurt me less if you had told me this then.

I’m not sure what to make of this. I actually like that this is giving us some explicit acknowledgment that Dumbledore wasn’t perfect (never saw much of this in the main series! even Deathly Hallows’ attempt was tepid at best), and that Harry acknowledges Dumbledore treated him pretty badly. On the other hand, it just leads from that into Dumbledore spouting more platitudes about love (albeit, I think, slightly better ones than usual) and Harry admitting he loved Dumbledore too:

HARRY: I loved you too, Dumbledore.

They’re even ripping off fucking Star Wars now?

Dumbledore leaves. I think we’re supposed to have viewed this as an emotional and moving scene, but really it’s just more of Dumbledore being an arsehole. [I’m okay with that. Though it’s somewhat invalidated by people having been swearing by him as though he’s Jesus for the entire play.] Like the books, the play wants to have its cake and eat it too where Dumbledore is concerned.

Draco shows up shortly afterward, and the scene rapidly improves (though there’s still a lot to dislike).

DRACO: Did you know that in this other reality — the reality Scorpius saw into — I was Head of Magical Law Enforcement? Maybe this room will be mine soon enough. Are you okay?
HARRY is consumed in his grief.
HARRY: Come in — I’ll give you the tour.

That’s a pretty good exchange, I actually like it. But then we get this:

DRACO: The thing is, though — never really fancied being a Ministry man. Even as a child. My dad, it’s all he ever wanted — me, no.

I guess this is written to the movie canon, in which Lucius Malfoy worked at the Ministry for some insane reason? (I remember him once telling Arthur Weasley “I’ll see you at work” but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense). I tend to agree with something I once saw Arsinoe de Blassenville say in an author’s note, “it’s obvious that Lucius Malfoy’s career is being Lucius Malfoy”. He’s on the Hogwarts board and possibly the Wizengamot, he has investments, he throws money around, but he’s not the type to work for someone else (except reluctantly Voldemort) and he’s certainly not a bureaucrat. Lucius Malfoy buys politicians and bureaucrats, he wouldn’t sink so low as to become one himself.

Anyway, here comes the big reveal. The Time-Turner that’s been driving the plot up to this point was just a prototype, hence the five-minute problem. Apparently Theodore Nott (remember him?) had actually been working on commission from Lucius Malfoy, because “he liked owning things that no one else had”, he wanted it for his collection but had no intentions of using it. Anyway, Draco has the perfected version, which doesn’t have a time limit (and is also made of gold, as opposed to the other being made “of inexpensive metal”).

[Are we ever told what happened to Lucius and Narcissa? Or Molly and Arthur, come to that? It’s unlikely that all four of them are dead, and it’s less likely that none of them care about their grandsons. I can easily assume Ginny/Ron never bothered telling their parents what was going on, but Draco wouldn’t keep this from his parents. Likewise, James 2 and Lily 2 seem unconcerned about their brother.]

Nope, nothing. (Likewise, lots of people have been making noise about the absence of Teddy Lupin; lots of people are inexplicably missing who should be around.) To an extent I can understand this as artistic licence, because in a play you do need to keep the cast at reasonable levels, but it’s weird they don’t even mention these people’s existence or explain where they are (I suppose a problem in adapting books with a large cast to this medium). And there are some weird choices made (like, for instance, having Petunia and Vernon and Hagrid show up in flashbacks) that seemed unnecessary to me (though some of these are combined with other roles, admittedly), so I don’t think this defence works either.

We also get this:

HARRY: Hermione Granger. It was the reason she kept the first, the fear that there might be a second. Hanging on to this, you could have been sent to Azkaban.

Stop rewriting history, play. She said she was keeping it because she didn’t feel she had a choice, it was something new that they hadn’t seen before. Nothing to do with worrying about there being more of them. (I went back and checked.)

Draco says they couldn’t reveal they had it, because it would’ve supported the stupid rumours about Voldemort being Scorpius’ father. He goes into a monologue about Astoria; apparently it wasn’t so much that she was ill but an ancestral curse, a “blood malediction” that “showed up in her”. Much melodrama. Apparently he didn’t want to risk her health on a pregnancy and didn’t care if the Malfoy name would die out, but she insisted because she didn’t expect to live a long life and wanted Draco to “have somebody when she left”. They decided to live in seclusion in the hope that would be better for her health, but apparently that fuelled the rumours (somehow? Plenty of people live in seclusion in the Potterverse, it shouldn’t have seemed weird). Draco is regretful about this.

Draco offers the Time-Turner to Harry, he wants to go searching for their sons (he also says he’s been constantly resisting the temptation to use it to see his wife again, which is legitimately sad and a nice touch). Harry says they can’t, it would be impossible to find them. [You’re telling me the Head of the Aurors is saying there is literally no way to track specific individuals? I get that they don’t know what time period the boys are in, allegedly, but even going back year by year and casting locator spells each time wouldn’t take all that long. Harry isn’t exactly coming across as desperate to find his son.]

It would help if they explained how the Time-Turner worked (for instance, to what level of precision they can specify when to go to); I think the implication is supposed to be “we couldn’t possibly search all of time, there’s no way we’ll find anything”. Going year by year might not be enough, and day by day would probably be too daunting. That said, Harry does give up surprisingly quickly. It’s almost like he knows the plot’s going to feed him information later.

That’s where the scene ends.

Scene five.

Back with Albus and Scorpius trying to figure out what to do. Their first ideas are to tell people something (the Potters, then Dumbledore [not Snape, the only guy who ever actually tried to stop it?]) but they end up rejecting that because they’re afraid it’ll interfere too much with the future. (Finally, they’ve learnt caution! [Out of character caution!] I guess this is meant to be character development?) They realise they can’t ask for help in the past without risking changing it, so they’ll need to try sending a message to the future. [Faulty logic is faulty. They’ve never hesitated to change things before, and it’s never done anything catastrophic; what’s so special about this time?]

You’re absolutely right, the play’s weird insistence that “minor” changes don’t matter and only major ones do (e.g. they never undid Albus and Scorpius talking to young Hermione at the Triwizard, just the disarming spell on Cedric; that conversation should rightly have changed things too) plays havoc with their reasoning here. But I suppose this is an incidence of two stupids cancelling each other out, somehow.

Their first idea for that is to use Pensieve technology to implant it in baby Harry’s memory and try to set up a trigger for him to remember eventually, but they reject this because they’re afraid it’ll traumatise him. (I’m wondering how they’ve suddenly gained the knowledge and abilities necessary to do something like that, before they started on this time-travel odyssey they couldn’t even do expelliarmus.) [I wish you’d been doing a spell count, is Albus any more competent than dear old daddy?] (There actually is a lot of spellcasting in this, but you’re right, a spell count is probably a good idea. I’ll consider going back and doing it for a later post.)

Their next idea is to hide somewhere for forty years but that gets rejected pretty quickly, they think they’ll be hunted down and killed.

Albus sees Lily wrap Harry in the blanket (oh gods, here’s how the blanket becomes relevant; I told you it was a Chekhov’s gun) and realises Harry still has it (and remembers Harry said he always likes to hold the blanket on Halloween night) [Not only have we never seen this in canon, but Harry goes through multiple Halloweens throughout the series without giving his parents a single thought.]. But they don’t want him to see the message too early, so they have to do it in a way that it will only become visible when (of course) the love potion gets spilt on it. Apparently love potions contain pearl dust, which reacts with “tincture of Demiguise”, and tincture of Demiguise is otherwise invisible. Again, I wonder how they know this, because neither of them were particularly good students and this seems very specialised knowledge.

[This is stupid. If they’d done this, then the message would have already showed up when Albus first got rape juice on the blanket. It didn’t, therefore they didn’t, therefore this is impossible.]

They actually make excuses for this, along the lines that the blanket had been thrown in a corner and nobody went into that room since Albus first went missing. It’s a bit contrived, but they did try.

Scorpius remembers a “rumor” that Bathilda Bagshot never believed in locking doors, so they break into her house to “steal some wands and get potioning”. Sigh. Something about that phrase just sounds really, really stupid. [Everything about it. And why does Bathilda have multiple wands? And Potions equipment? She was a historian.]

Scene six.

We start with Harry and Ginny in Albus’ room, Harry’s blaming himself and angsting over the situation and Ginny’s comforting him (I think we’re supposed to make something of the fact she’s finally come around to not blaming him for it). Eventually Harry picks up the blanket, at first he’s upset to realise the love potion has burnt holes in it but eventually they realise it’s a message.

The way the rest of this scene is done is almost clever, Albus and Scorpius show up on another part of the stage and we cut back and forth (I’m assuming they do this with spotlighting, or something like that) between them trying to decide how to compose the message, and Harry and Ginny slowly figuring out what it says. Anyway, the message is “Dad. Help. Godric’s Hollow. 31/10/81.”

They’re filled with hope, and go to send owls to Hermione and Draco to tell them to meet them in Godric’s Hollow with the Time-Turner, they’re all going to go back.

I probably should complain about the contrivedness of this, but in the context of the rest of this bullshit play, I actually think this is one of the better scenes, just from a writing perspective.

The final line of the scene undoes most of my goodwill, though.

HARRY: Of course you’re coming. We have a chance, Ginny, and by Dumbledore — that’s all that we need — a chance.


Scene seven.

They’re walking through Godric’s Hollow, reminiscing. Apparently they’re surprised to see lots of Muggles around. At one point Ron decides to insult Draco, Hermione doesn’t care for this and we get a bunch of pointless banter; eventually she forces him to apologise. I hate Ron. (At least Ron and Draco are calling each other ‘Malfoy’ and ‘Weasley’, they seem to have maybe finally figured out the last-name-basis thing.)

They use the Time-Turner.

Scene eight.

In “a shed” in Godric’s Hollow in 1981. Albus looks up and sees all of the others. (How’d they manage to turn up in the precise location the boys were waiting for them? Contrived coincidence is contrived.)

They talk for a bit, making plans. Eventually they decide that because they don’t know where Delphi is, they need to find a good vantage point with a wide view, to stake out and wait for her. Hermione decides on someplace called St Jerome’s Church. I don’t think we’ve ever really heard of this before, but it is one of the landmarks Scorpius pointed out when giving Albus the tour in the earlier scene. [St Jerome is the patron saint of librarians, translators and encyclopaedists. Seems an odd choice.]

Scene nine.

In the church now. Albus is taking a nap in a pew, Ginny and Harry are talking about him while wondering where Delphi is.

HARRY: Poor kid thought he had to save the world.
GINNY: Poor kid has saved the world. That blanket was masterful. I mean, he also almost destroyed the world, but probably best not to focus on that bit.

Ginny reminisces a bit about the time “[she’d] almost destroyed everything”, the Chamber of Secrets incident, and apparently one of the things that helped her get over it (even though we never saw this in canon) is that Harry, while everyone else was ignoring her, decided to play Exploding Snap with her in the Gryffindor common room. She basically tells Harry that it’s the small gestures that matter, and she thinks that’s what Albus needs from him. She doesn’t think Albus knows Harry loves him.

This is actually pretty good characterisation – a surprise, for this play – and honestly, the kind of thing Ginny’s character was missing in the books. One of the complaints we always had about her is that the books never show any of the emotional fallout of the Chamber incident for her (and the other characters, including Harry, pretty much ignore her on-page in the aftermath of that), and that as a character she was very inconsistently written from book to book. Something like this could’ve gone a long way back then, if Rowling had thought it was important enough to include, and probably would’ve helped make the Harry/Ginny ship more believable.

[I’m amused that Harry’s idea of helping someone who’s traumatised is to play a game involving things exploding.]

They talk for a while and Ginny eventually has a breakthrough. She realises that if Delphi were going to go after Harry, she could’ve done it at any time, because Harry was fifteen months old here (that’s explicitly stated, which underscores criticisms we’ve had of the Philosopher’s Stone opening but that’s a matter for another time) and she had plenty of time in which to kill him. Ginny thinks Delphi actually wants to meet “the father she loves”, and just to stop him making the attempt to kill Harry in the first place because that would be an easier way to subvert the prophecy.

[Voldy would kill her for it. Best way to do this would have been to kill Pettigrew before he could tell Voldy anything, then make sure the Order knew he was dead so they could give the Potters an actual competent Secret-Keeper. Though as I mentioned earlier the writers have forgotten about that.]

Scene ten.

Same place, but now everyone’s there. I’m not sure where the others were meant to be in the previous scene while Harry and Ginny were having their moment.

Anyway, some of the others are confused by this plan, that they’re essentially planning to help make sure Voldemort kills the Potters and tries to kill Harry properly.

Albus has the first important insight, which is apparently that none of the history books record when or where Voldemort arrived in Godric’s Hollow (fair enough, there’s no way they would have known), so he suggests they have someone Polyjuice into Voldemort and lure Delphi to them. (Apparently he thinks Bagshot has all the ingredients in her basement; he seems to have forgotten it takes a month to make the stuff. Though in fairness, I think the earlier scenes which involved Polyjuice had also forgotten that.) They realise they don’t have a piece of Voldemort to use, though, so that won’t work; they decide to use transfiguration instead (apparently that works?).

There’s much ado about everyone volunteering to play Voldemort and offering their own reasoning why it should be them to do it, which I honestly don’t care to recap (except to note that Ginny’s the only one not interested, because she “doesn’t want that voice in her head again”, I actually like that they’re going out of their way to try to give her consistent characterisation from CoS). It’s pointless, and a smokescreen for what they eventually realise has to be the way to do it, they have to use Harry because he’s the only one who speaks Parseltongue and it won’t be convincing without.

There’s much angst about how horrible this will be for Harry, and how they’re afraid he could get stuck that way if something goes wrong.

***PLOT HOLE ALERT*** hey, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. How do they know what Voldemort looked like in 1981? The only one who could possibly know is Harry, who never had visual memories of him. If we’re going to take this seriously, the weird snakelike noseless abomination he returns as was nothing like his original appearance, but rather a consequence of the ritual he used to rebirth himself. He should be more human looking in 1981, more “Tom Riddle” than “Voldemort”. The play will completely ignore this.

[Facepalm. Also, Harry is totally okay with this plan? He has no doubts whatsoever about helping to kill his parents?] Much angst will ensue later.

Anyway, their plan is for Harry-as-Voldy to get Delphi’s attention, then they’ll “zap her”. (Ron’s phrase.)

They all turn their wands on Harry and turn him into Voldemort. It apparently works.

Scene eleven.

Same place. Ginny’s angsting over how she doesn’t want to look at Harry while he’s in Voldemort’s form. Albus is angsting about the fact he liked Delphi, and Ginny’s empathising with him (I suppose she does have the experience of being deceived by Tom Riddle; again, they’re actually doing a decent job with Ginny).

Delphi shows up. The others take positions.

This scene is stupid. (Fitting, as it’s the climax of a thoroughly stupid play.)

She reveals herself to Pottermort and introduces herself as his daughter. He asks for an explanation. Here’s what she gives:

DELPHI: I am from the future. The child of Bellatrix Lestrange and you. I was born in Malfoy Manor before the Battle of Hogwarts. A battle you are going to lose. I have come to save you.

This does not make the logistics of her existence work out. Bellatrix showed up on-page quite a few times during Deathly Hallows [including in Malfoy Manor] and at no point during that was she shown to be pregnant. Nice fucking try, writers. (Likewise, as we’ve seen before and will shortly again, she knows how to fly without a broom, a skill we only ever saw Snape and Voldemort use. How did she learn this? Neither of them were available to teach her, regardless of which of them we’d prefer to believe taught the other.) THIS IS STUPID.

Anyway, he asks her for proof, she demonstrates first Parseltongue and then flight. Harry pretends to be impressed and implies he’ll accept her, wants her to come closer. She’s “desperately moved” by this, comes closer. Their plan is working until the transfiguration fails (a bit gradually, apparently first his hands go, then his hair “sprouts” so apparently they’re going with bald snakeymort after all, and I was right to insist this is a plot hole [I suppose they’re assuming the Mary Sue wouldn’t know what he looked like either?]) and she realises it’s Harry. (The way this spell unravels and he turns back, it seems pretty obvious to me they originally wrote this scene for Polyjuice, which comes with a built-in time limit, but may have realised that didn’t work and changed to transfiguration as a handwave. I don’t think we’ve ever seen time-limited transfigurations before.)

A fight starts. She sees the others trying to come out of the doors and shuts them with Colloportus. There’s a bit of duelling, she’s getting the better of Harry (stage directions say she’s “far stronger”), she disarms him. (She’s a huge Mary Sue.) [I don’t know, we know Harry’s magically inept and almost never uses magic…]

There’s a bit of Harry running away while she tries to kill him, Albus “emerges from a grate in the floor”, she tries to kill Albus but misses. Albus unlocks the church doors with Alohomora. (I didn’t think this is how those spells worked, as far as I knew “colloportus” was only for shutting doors, and alohomora only for opening locks, they’re not opposites.) [Agreed. Finite Incantatem would have made more sense.]

Anyway, the others come out and overwhelm her with the power of numbers.

HARRY: I’ve never fought alone, you see. And I never will.

Cheesy. [But true. He needs other people around to actually cast spells and achieve things. Even his battle against the basilisk needed Fawkes.]

They bind her but refuse to kill her. There’s some more cheesy dialogue:

DELPHI: I only wanted to know my father.
These words take HARRY by surprise.
HARRY: You can’t remake your life. You’ll always be an orphan. That never leaves you.
DELPHI: Just let me — see him.
HARRY: I can’t and I won’t.
DELPHI (truly pitiful): Then kill me.
HARRY thinks a moment.
HARRY: I can’t do that either.

Actually, that’s pretty cold for Harry. But as I said, cheesy dialogue. There’s more cheesiness as they discuss why they can’t kill her because they have to be better than her, so they’ll bring her back to the future and lock her in Azkaban “to rot like her mother”. [Yes, that’s much more noble and merciful than a quick death. Our Heroes, everyone.]

Voldemort shows up. And this happens:

DELPHI: Father!
DRACO: Silencio! (DELPHI is gagged.) Wingardium Leviosa! (She is sent upwards and away.)

This play is so stupid.

Scene twelve.

Harry angsts that they have to let his parents die and there’s nothing they can do about it. The others tell him that he could stop it, but he won’t and that makes him heroic (Mark Oshiro called this play “an after-school special on not using time travel” and this has never been so clear). They decide they have to watch it happen [once again, Secret-Kept, they can’t see the bloody house]. We get a rehash of that scene.

Scene thirteen.

It’s the Potters’ ruined house. Hagrid shows up and finds Harry, takes him, leaves. Nothing else to say.

Scene fourteen.

There’s been a significant timeskip, because apparently that was enough closure to put on the main plot of this play (no trial for Delphi?). This play is stupid. Anyway, we’re in “disgusting epilogue” territory now.

The setting is a generic “classroom” at Hogwarts, but only Albus and Scorpius are present. This scene is deliberately aimed at destroying any possible sense you may have had that these boys could be gay and attracted to each other. “Have I mentioned I am heterosexual today?” Mark is not going to be happy. [He’s not.]

This scene is cringeworthy and, frankly, misogynistic and objectifying. They’re talking about how Scorpius asked Rose out, she turned him down, but:

SCORPIUS: But I asked her. I planted the acorn. The acorn that will grow into our eventual marriage.

SCORPIUS: Pity is a start, my friend, a foundation on which to build a palace — a palace of love.
ALBUS: I honestly thought I’d be the first of us to get a girlfriend.
SCORPIUS: Oh, you will, undoubtedly, probably that new smoky-eyed Potions professor — she’s old enough for you, right?
ALBUS: I don’t have a thing about older women!
SCORPIUS: And you’ve got time — a lot of time — to seduce her. Because Rose is going to take years to persuade.

Creepy. This is some PUA bullshit. But not quite as creepy as Rape Juice Ron. [Ick.]

There’s some irrelevant talk about Quidditch and that maybe they’re going to try to get into it despite not caring before. I don’t care now.

The scene ends with them hugging. But I don’t think any of the people who wanted them to see that are going to be happy with this scene. This scene is honestly insulting.

Scene fifteen.

The setting is “a beautiful hill”. I can already tell this is going to be full of banalities. Harry and Albus are together, reminiscing. It’s a sort of reconciliation. It’s trying to be profound but it’s really hard to care.

Albus mentions watching Harry’s parents and says he thinks they’d have liked them. Harry goes from that into a monologue:

HARRY: You know, I thought I’d lost him — Voldemort — I thought I’d lost him — and then my scar started hurting again and I had dreams of him and I could even speak Parseltongue again and I started to feel like I’d not changed at all — that he’d never let me go —
ALBUS: And had he?
HARRY: The part of me that was Voldemort died a long time ago, but it wasn’t enough to be physically rid of him — I had to be mentally rid of him. And that — is a lot to learn for a forty-year-old man.

“lost” is a really strange word choice for this, it almost sounds like Harry’s talking about breaking up with an ex-boyfriend. [Suggested drinking game for anyone contemplating reading this – shipper bingo.]

There’s some reconciliation. Harry resolves to be a better father.

HARRY: Delphi wasn’t going anywhere, Albus — you brought her out into the light and you found a way for us to fight her. You may not see it now, but you saved us.
ALBUS: But shouldn’t I have done better?
HARRY: You don’t think I ask myself the same questions?

That’s actually a decent exchange, this scene isn’t entirely garbage.

HARRY: Those names you have — they shouldn’t be a burden. Albus Dumbledore had his trials too, you know — and Severus Snape, well, you know all about him —
ALBUS: They were good men.
HARRY: They were great men, with huge flaws, and you know what — those flaws almost made them greater.

This isn’t terrible either.

Anyway, it turns out they’re actually at a graveyard; specifically, Cedric Diggory’s grave, because of course they are. Apparently Harry likes to come here to “say sorry” for not having been able to save him [once again something we never saw in canon, he barely gives Cedric another thought after the single incident of Dudley overhearing nightmares], there’s a forced parallel with Albus having seen Craig Bowker die while not knowing him well.

HARRY: I didn’t know Cedric well enough either. He could have played Quidditch for England. Or been a brilliant Auror. He could have been anything. And Amos is right — he was stolen. So I come here. Just to say sorry. When I can.

This is fucking rich coming from a play that operates on the fundamental assumption that Cedric Diggory would have become a Death Eater in any timeline in which he survived.

Anyway, they have a father-and-son moment.

That’s where things end. The entire play. I think it’s supposed to be poignant or something. Fuck it all.

Semifinal thoughts on this act:

This is some heavy-handed, contrived bullshit, to force in callbacks to the backstory of the original series and use them to create pseudoprofundity. At best, it’s playing on the emotions of invested fans of the series to create a response it hasn’t earned. At worst, it’s a bunch of redundancy that’s trying way too hard.

Delphi is revealed to be an implausible Mary Sue figure shoehorned into the canon where she couldn’t possibly exist. Rather emblematic of the play as a whole, really.

All of the queerbaiting for the Albus/Scorpius ship comes to nothing as the play insists on heteronormativity in the end, which is (frankly) utterly insulting. Not that the play’s portrayal of heterosexual relationships is any better, that’s full of misogyny and rape culture. This is a bunch of regressive nonsense that we should really have moved past in this day and age, especially when Rowling likes to claim she’s feminist and progressive. She should have been embarrassed to put her name to this if that were the case.

As it turns out, my speculation was mostly right, in that (in the end) the status quo is restored and people can leave the theatre knowing that most of the bullshit they saw was irrelevant. That leaves them free to have enjoyed the special effects (which I can’t judge, not having seen them, but the script is quite demanding and to pull off what it calls for on a stage would be genuinely impressive), and some of the character development that was forced in at the end (and the final scene does manage some genuine pathos) while ignoring the parts they don’t like. Especially after the massive downer/cliffhanger at the end of part one, I can see why this ending would be a relief, so this is my hypothesis for why many people are leaving the theatre raving about this play while everyone who reads it thinks it’s a horrific mess. (Alternatively, they’re just nuts; I’m sorry for singling this person’s comment out but their perspective is utterly alien to me.)

I won’t quite say I wish I hadn’t read it – shredding it felt good in places, and I’m happy to do this as a service so other people don’t feel the need to read it themselves and put themselves through that. Hopefully I was sufficiently thorough that you can all see the bullshit for yourselves.

[For my part I’m glad I didn’t read it, and although I do have a copy of the script I don’t plan to.]

I’m planning to do a final thoughts post in a few days, once I’m more sure how to sum up this whole experience.


Posted by on August 11, 2016 in mitchell


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

18 responses to “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a Read-along (Act Four)

  1. Isa

    August 11, 2016 at 8:47 am

    I would say caused by the difference in medium. Visual + sound is completely different from the rubbish that you read. My most vivid memory of this type of difference was during the 2008 election when the whole world was praising this great healing speaker, Senator Obama. I never saw a single speech, but did read most of them. They were utter rubbish. I honestly though the entire world had gone mad, praising these oddly maudlin, utterly banal oratories with a huge dollop of badly mixed metaphors as if they were the next Gettysburg Address. No accounting for taste I suppose.

  2. All-I-need

    August 11, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    I hereby confess to religiously following Mark Oshiro’s blog. I love his reviews and I knew he’d be pissed about the incredibly obvious queer-baiting. That’s just not on. Another fail for Rowling and my condolences to Mark for having had to read that. If Rowling later comes out to say that Albus and Scorpius *could* end up together, I will not be held responsible for any resulting blog posts I may or may not write about it.

    That entire scene with Albus and Scorpius was complete bullshit. First of all, you cannot “convince” someone to date you if that person doesn’t like you, and secondly there is not a single hint anywhere that Rose might possibly like Scorpius. In fact, she doesn’t even appear for most of the damn story! Oh god, this is terrible.

    I’m stunned by the sheer stupidity of this entire play. Did no one read this and apply even a hint of logical thought and ask questions about all those plot holes? I’ve been active in various fandoms as writer and reader for 12 years and even there most people have beta readers who explicitly look out for this kind of stuff. How can it be possible that supposed professionals such as Rowling herself do not have the same? This is inexcusable (and not even restricted to the play, we know no one bothered to second-guess her other writing either).

    Also, clicking on that “completely heterosexual” link was the best choice I’ve made today. Bless you for that!

    I’m almost glad you didn’t do a rewrite suggestion the way you did for some of the chapters of Philosopher’s Stone because this would need to be binned completely and rewritten with an entirely different plot.

    • mcbender

      August 11, 2016 at 2:30 pm

      Oh god yes, if she tries to backpedal on that now (and do another Dumbledore with it), people will be incredibly angry. And rightly so. Because the message implied by that would be that it’s more important to cater to heterosexuals and homophobes in the text itself, characters must be shoved into the closet for the mainstream and queer fans have to accept whatever trickle-down representation she deigns to give them. I have no sympathy; team Rowling wrote themselves into the corner on that one.

      I really don’t know what anyone could have been thinking, or why no potential alpha/beta/whatever readers or editors suggested rewriting. Truthfully, the explanation that makes the most sense to me (I’ve seen suggested a few places, not sure how true it is) is that Thorne and Tiffany presented the script as a fait accompli to Rowling and she agreed to put her name on it. Not that that makes things much better, because she’s still showing incredibly bad taste and a willingness to compromise her story for money, but this thing was seriously even worse than her original writing. Then again, even from the beginning, Rowling’s writing was pretty lazy and desperately needed someone to point out plot holes to her, so this isn’t anything new, just a more extreme example.

      Glad you enjoyed the Roy Zimmerman song 🙂 He’s fantastic. (Though I should probably have put a NSFW warning on that.) If you liked that one, I recommend taking a look round the rest of his channel, his stuff is surprisingly catchy and pleasant to listen to for how pointed it is. Though unfortunately it looks like the other versions of the “completely heterosexual” song are gone now, he used to do a new version for every Republican gay sex scandal.

      We talked about the possibility of doing a “how do you fix/rewrite this” post but quickly realised it would be futile; we can’t think of any way to salvage this. I’m going to talk more about that in my final thoughts post once I get my thoughts together and we’ve had a chance to hash things out in the comments a bit, but there really is almost nothing worth saving in this (except maybe a bit of Draco’s and Ginny’s characterisation).

      That said… it does seem like some people are trying. I’ve run across a few people attempting rewrite fics on AO3, for instance, though none of them are far enough along to get any idea of how successful they’ll be (I think the approach is something like “let’s get rid of the time travel but keep the characters” but… that doesn’t really leave much). It seems pointless to me, but maybe something will come of it.

  3. liminal fruitbat

    August 11, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    (I find it interesting she actually used the title Dark Lord also, because that’s appeared pretty seldom in this play, most of the time people just say “Voldemort”.)

    On one level it’s a sensible choice: “You’re ruining Dark Lord Day” sounds even stupider than what we got, after all. On the other hand, only prophecies and Death Eaters actually used his title; maybe there’s something Hermione’s not telling us.

    in a very thick Scots accent they barely understand.

    Which makes me realise something: why didn’t Rowling’s unholy love for phonetic accents extend to the villagers of Hogsmeade? They should be Scottish!

    They’ve never hesitated to change things before, and it’s never done anything catastrophic Huh? What about ruining Voldemort Day?

    If we’re going to take this seriously, the weird snakelike noseless abomination he returns as was nothing like his original appearance, but rather a consequence of the ritual he used to rebirth himself.

    Was it? He was already looking less human when he interviewed for the DADA job, and he was all snakey when he was a face on Quirrell’s head. (Either way it still doesn’t explain Delphi’s hair.)

    It’s the Potters’ ruined house. Hagrid shows up and finds Harry, takes him, leaves. Nothing else to say.

    No sign of Sirius Black giving Hagrid his bike.

    And, of course, those of us who actually liked Scorpius have it all ruined. I’d assume that Rowling couldn’t let anyone like a Malfoy except that his awfulness fits in perfectly with how she writes male/female interactions, so…

    At least Snape got to insult Ron again, and we can all be happy about that.

    • mcbender

      August 11, 2016 at 5:09 pm

      The “Dark Lord” thing gets weirder. I actually went and searched for every instance of “Dark Lord” being used in the script (because I am insane), and here’s what we get. 9 total appearances.

      Scorpius: “I’d rather be a Malfoy than the son of the Dark Lord”
      Snape: “There’s glory in being taken down by the Dark Lord himself, I suppose”
      Delphi’s prophecy: “Then will the Dark Lord return”
      Delphi uses it again later in the same speech, referencing but not quoting the prophecy
      Ron quotes Delphi’s prophecy
      Hermione: “that the Dark Lord had a – that Voldemort had a child”
      Albus and Scorpius recite the original prophecy
      Ron: “transfiguring into him – into the Dark Lord”
      Delphi: “I am the Augurey to your Dark Lord”

      Literally the only people who use the phrase in this play, and are neither connected to Death Eaters nor quoting a prophecy, are Hermione and Ron (though both of them have used Voldemort plenty more times). Very peculiar. Also, the phrase “you-know-who” and variants never appear in this play at all.

      “Dark Lord Day” would indeed sound worse than “Voldemort Day”, but truthfully you’d think it’d be something like “Victory Day” or a more specific name anyway.

      About the accents: they did use phonetic accents for the Scotsman in the play. But as you say, that just highlights the weirdness that we never saw that in canon for Hogsmeade villagers; I never thought of that, but it’s a very good point. Why is McGonagall the only even remotely Scottish person in the series, when it’s set in bloody Scotland? (Well, okay, there’s McLaggen I suppose, but he only briefly exists and then is never seen again.) Hogwarts is really very English for a Scottish school.

      What we’re talking about with “none of the changes were catastrophic” is the play’s complete indifference to supposedly minor changes. It’s interesting that, for instance, after they decide they can’t change the past by talking to someone, they’re entirely okay with doing it by committing a robbery (never mind Bathilda shouldn’t have what they need anyway).

      Hm, fair point about his appearance I suppose. I’d gotten the impression it had changed somewhat, but was still more human than not at this point, but you could be right. Regardless, he still shouldn’t look like the movie version they’re doubtless imagining (or, more charitably put, the version the characters present would remember having seen).

      Good catch on Sirius Black not being present. A lot of people have been making noise about that elsewhere, too.

      And yes, the weird possessive-misogyny pickup-artist thing is last-minute character assassination for Albus and Scorpius. Just goes to show how deeply ingrained some kinds of homophobia are, I suppose, that they decided it would be better to turn them into awful people than let them be gay.

  4. liminal fruitbat

    August 11, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    What we’re talking about with “none of the changes were catastrophic” is the play’s complete indifference to supposedly minor changes.

    Ah, yeah, that’s fair. Especially since apparently, no matter what other changes were made to the timeline, Harry and Ginny, Draco and Astoria, and Voldemort and Bellatrix all apparently had sex at the exact same times under the exact same circumstances to enable the fusion of the exact same sperm and eggs to produce the exact same children.

    • mcbender

      August 11, 2016 at 6:04 pm

      Yeah, that’s definitely a problem too. Though I think in a sense that’s also considered “acceptable breaks from reality” in this genre, these stories always seem to do that sort of thing. It’s as if they think sperms and eggs are in a queue of sorts (how British! 😉 ) and that as long as the couple get together, they will have the same children in the same order.

      Either that or it’s some kind of predestination variant and they think preexisting souls just get assigned to wombs (I’ve also encountered variants of the time-travel story in which the same character gets born to a different set of parents, “oh noes I have a different mother now!” etc, which is perhaps indicative of this thinking).

      This kind of thing is such a mainstay of the genre that I didn’t think to criticise it, despite how stupid and counterfactual it is. I don’t know if genre conventions are an excuse; I readily admit it can be hard to do time-travel stories without a certain amount of… let’s call it timeline inertia, for lack of a better word. It’s just made even more obvious when it’s done this badly. I’m not sure if I want to argue that the obvious counterfactual nature of “timeline inertia” should invalidate any story of this kind…

      • liminal fruitbat

        August 11, 2016 at 8:00 pm

        There’s more excuse for timeline inertia, in my opinion, with magical time travel like this or Doctor Who than with stories with pretensions to hard SF (the Star Trek reboot has many flaws but I do like how it takes a stand on whether Trek science is at all hard). Still, just because it’s easier and variably justifiable doesn’t mean it’s always the best way of doing it – the More Than Meets The Eye Transformers comics* did a good example of zero temporal inertia where the only characters from the regular timeline were brothers-in-law before the point of divergence and thus had a reason to know each other, and I’m sure there are other examples.

        * Ironically, of course, MTMTE is soft SF even by Transformers standards.

        (I’ve also encountered variants of the time-travel story in which the same character gets born to a different set of parents, “oh noes I have a different mother now!” etc, which is perhaps indicative of this thinking).


      • mcbender

        August 11, 2016 at 9:34 pm

        Good point that it’s more excusable under magic than “hard SF” time travel, although on some level I think it’s irrelevant because the mechanism of time travel shouldn’t have anything to do with the effects of changing the past, chaos theory does the rest. (Though truthfully, insisting on rules like this make for bad stories, again. I cited “A Sound of Thunder” favourably earlier, but the fact of the matter is that even that didn’t go nearly far enough, stepping on an insect should have resulted in a completely different evolutionary history and humanity shouldn’t have come to exist at all. But again, there’s not much you can do with that from a storytelling perspective.)

        Funny, I mentioned that but I can’t actually recall any examples, so I might’ve just run into it in fanfic or something, or my brain could just be inventing bullshit. But the equivalent would have been something like, sticking with this play, Ron married Padma instead of Hermione but still ended up having Rose and Hugo for children (slightly different looking perhaps to account for ethnicity, but the narrative would treat them as the same people). It’s stupid and I don’t know how anyone would justify it (again, it has to be some kind of belief in souls and/or predestination, or “homunculus theory” reproduction), but I swear I’ve run across it before.

  5. liminal fruitbat

    August 12, 2016 at 12:10 am

    But again, there’s not much you can do with that from a storytelling perspective

    Which is why magic alternate timelines work, imo – magic is using symbols, words, and stories to change the world, so it feels less contrived when the alternate timeline is designed for maximum narrative convenience.

    it has to be some kind of belief in souls and/or predestination, or “homunculus theory” reproduction

    It sounds like what I remember of Mormon cosmology, actually.

    • mcbender

      August 12, 2016 at 2:23 am

      Hah, I was actually thinking about Mormon cosmology as an example when I wrote about the predestined souls thing.

  6. William Wehrs

    August 12, 2016 at 12:34 am

    Ok, so besides the Cedric Diggory thing inexplicably turning evil, the other huge plot hole seems to be the idea that Voldermort had a sexual relationship with Belatrix. The whole point of Voldermort as a character is that he is no longer human or has any human interests. So, even allowing that he had the ability to procreate, why on earth would he have any interest in sex. He felt confidence in his horcruxes, so I don’t think it was a way to ensure his legacy on anything like that.

    “DRACO: Silencio! (DELPHI is gagged.) Wingardium Leviosa! (She is sent upwards and away.”
    Am I correct in assuming that she was just sent to float in the sky for all eternity? That’s what I gathered from this quote, but I have trouble believing that could really be the resolution.

    “DELPHI (truly pitiful): Then kill me.
    HARRY thinks a moment.
    HARRY: I can’t do that either.”
    I don’t know if anyone here is familiar with Christopher Paolini’s Brisinger, but that whole passage reminded me of the scene where Eragon does not know what to do with Sloan. Note to the writers: do not make Harry like one of the most infamous Gary Stus of all time, Eragon.

    All in all from what I have read this play feels like a horribly missed opportunity. It could have dealt with the repercussions of the war or just introduce a new villain. Instead it is pretty much just time travel nonsense, and Voldermort again. I think also a missed opportunity was actually staying in one of the alternate timelines for longer than a scene or two. This is like if all three Back to the Future films were compressed into one movie.

    • mcbender

      August 12, 2016 at 2:42 am

      Actually, the plot hole that bothered me the most was that they reversed the changes in the wrong order, but that’s probably just because I’m a stickler for little details like that.

      Delphi’s existence is a huge plot hole, too, yes. I think the timing of the pregnancy is a bigger problem than them potentially having a sexual relationship (though, as you say, Voldemort/Riddle being “unable to comprehend love”, losing his humanity, etc, makes it a big character stretch). It doesn’t make sense as a legacy thing either, as you say. (What also doesn’t make sense is that in the “bad timeline” she was ruling alongside/for him, he’s not the type to share power either.)

      It really did sound like that, and it’s actually the last we see of her (despite all the discussion of sending her to Azkaban that came before that). That’s hilarious. I think the charitable reading is that it was just to get her out of the way while Voldemort was present and they’d bring her back with them and imprison her afterward, but still. That’s not actually what was on the page.

      “I won’t kill you because I’m better than you” is a pretty common trope, honestly. I’m not at all surprised it showed up in Eragon (I have not and will not read that, but from what I understand it’s as derivative as derivative gets). That said, I don’t particularly care for it as a trope either, it’s sanctimonious and smug. In the real world I’m thoroughly opposed to the death penalty, but in the real world we also don’t have magically-empowered criminals, so in fiction it often ends up making the “good” characters look really stupid.

      Hmm. Missed opportunity in the sense that “doing a sequel to Harry Potter in play form” could have been a good opportunity, sure, but there’s almost nothing salvageable in this nonsense. And truthfully, I’m not at all sure that doing it as a play would have been a good choice (accessibility concerns, and because postwar-reckoning would probably be tricky to structure for a play…). Incidentally, your comparison to Back to the Future is apt, and probably one of the many reasons I found this so unpleasant (I really hate Back to the Future, honestly). The alternate timelines in this could’ve had potential, I suppose, but they would have had to put a lot of effort into figuring out how they got that way also, and I don’t think that’s something they were interested in doing.

      • William Wehrs

        August 12, 2016 at 4:11 am

        “The alternate timelines in this could’ve had potential, I suppose, but they would have had to put a lot of effort into figuring out how they got that way also, and I don’t think that’s something they were interested in doing.” Yeah, except I really have no idea what the writers were interested in doing. It seems to have been created for the sole purpose of addressing the readers who thought Dumbledore was not that great of a person, and saying “Yeah, you might think that, but Dumbledore’s flaws just make him a greater person.”

      • Loten

        August 12, 2016 at 7:16 am

        It was created for the sole purpose of generating a) more money for the pile and b) more Harry Potter hype to fill the time before the Fantastic Beasts film comes out.

        Not that I’m cynical or anything.

  7. AbyCeedle

    August 12, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    So… I’ve read all four posts on this book/play and it was actually painful to see so much nonsense… I’ve seen first tries at writting that were better constructed and more intersting than this! Gosh! are they really professional writers? I would not mind to be obliviated right now to be honest. This thing is awful, and I your sacrifice to read it as most noble.

    And perhaps I missed an important part as I had difficulty to see through my bleeding eyes but I fail to see how the title is related to the story. The only one who seems to be somehow cursed in it is Astoria, and she is no child and has no real part in all of this mess.
    Albus is, as the rest of Harry and co., cursed with idiocy, but I don’t think it’s him either.
    So I suppose they meant Delphi but again, she is no child (she is only if you think of her as the child “of”, but it’s not what first comes to mind when reading the title) and most importantly, she. is. not. cursed! no actual curse anyway. Or am I mistaken? A ctrl+f didn’t help me and I admit that I have no intention to reread all of this to check if I missed the big explanation. I’m sure you’ll understand :p

    • mcbender

      August 12, 2016 at 9:49 pm

      No, I don’t really know what the title is supposed to mean either. I *think* they were hinting around it a few times, the closest they really got to anything was the “black cloud around Albus” that was a stupid prophetic red herring to make Harry act a worse father than he already was. Likewise, “cursed” has a specific technical meaning in Potterland that doesn’t actually apply to any child in this play. (I suppose the “correct” interpretation is supposed to be that the “black cloud”/”cursed child” is meant to have been Delphi, but…) So I’m in agreement with you that the title makes no sense.

      The phrase “cursed child” appears literally nowhere in the play. Ever. (Not that I’m necessarily a huge fan of title drops, but a title should at least relate to the work in some way.)

      • All-I-need

        August 15, 2016 at 11:28 am

        The German translation of the play is titled “Harry Potter und das verwunschene Kind” which is even worse because “verwunschen” means bewitched or enchanted, but in a positive way. At least “cursed” makes the play sound ominous and dangerous, instead of like we’re about to read a Disney fairy tale.
        Good point that it isn’t actually mentioned anywhere in the play itself. Perhaps they couldn’t come up with any other title? Never mind that Harry didn’t have all that much to do with the entire thing and it really should have been “Scorpius Malfoy and that time his best friend talked him into misusing a Time Turner with disastrous consequences”.


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