Wand of the Week: Scorpius Malfoy

Very mild Cursed Child spoilers

When I picked a wand for Albus, pine and phoenix feather jumped out at me, and likewise, consistent and faithful unicorn hair seems like an obvious choice for Scorpius. The fact that both of them would then have the same wand cores as their fathers, despite being quite different people, is an added bonus.

For the wood, I like the idea of Scorpius using a larch wand. Here’s what “Ollivander” has to say about it:

Strong, durable and warm in colour, larch has long been valued as an attractive and powerful wand wood. Its reputation for instilling courage and confidence in the user has ensured that demand has always outstripped supply. This much sought-after wand is, however, hard to please in the matter of ideal owners, and trickier to handle than many imagine. I find that it always creates wands of hidden talents and unexpected effects, which likewise describes the master who deserves it. It is often the case that the witch or wizard who belongs to the larch wand may never realise the full extent of their considerable talents until paired with it, but that they will then make an exceptional match.

“Hidden talents and unexpected effects” describes Scorpius pretty well. He is an unusual hero on many different levels, and takes a while to show what he’s really capable of. One of the best parts of Cursed Child is watching him grow from a timid, socially awkward child who certainly wasn’t eager for adventure, into a true hero. The larch wand’s description indicates someone who has the potential for courage and confidence, but needs a little help to grow into that potential, and that’s definitely Scorpius.

Named for the Night Sky

Names are important in the Harry Potter series, and one family – the Blacks – draw their names almost entirely from stars and constellations. Today I’m going to look at a few of those names and what their significance might be.

Sirius Black: Sirius is the dog star, so his name literally means “black dog”, which is his animagus form. Sirius is also the brightest star in the night sky, perhaps indicating that he is one of the best people in a dysfunctional family with warped beliefs. Canis Major, the constellation Sirius is part of, was thought to represent Orion’s dog, but Sirius is anything but loyal and devoted towards his father.

Regulus Arcturus Black: Regulus – aside from meaning “king” – is a star in the constellation Leo, an interesting choice for a Slytherin, but Regulus certainly turned out to be capable of great courage, so perhaps the star he’s named after is an allusion to that. Arcturus is one of the brightest stars in the night sky; the only ones brighter are Canopis, Alpha Centauri, and … Sirius. Coincidence? I think not.

Orion Black: Many constellations are based in mythology, and Orion is one of these. The mythological Orion was a hunter, who – among other things – hunted with Artemis and was killed by a scorpion on her orders. But we’ll get to that later. Orion’s constellation seems more important for its connections to Sirius, Bellatrix, and Scorpius than for the mythological character associated with it.

Bellatrix Lestrange: Bellatrix is Latin for female warrior, which the character certainly is. It’s also a star in the constellation Orion; Bellatrix was Orion Black’s niece.

Andromeda Tonks: The constellation Andromeda comes from a myth about a princess who is chained to a rock to be sacrificed to a sea monster. Perseus comes in to save the day, turns the monster to stone with Medusa’s severed head, rescues Andromeda, and marries her. It seems like a fitting name for a girl who rebelled against her family for love, and maybe a commentary on what being born into a family like theirs is like. Chained up and fed to a monster is not much of a stretch, when Bellatrix is fully capable of killing her own cousin and niece.

Nymphadora Tonks: Not an astronomy name, and I think the fact that it’s not is significant. Her mother broke family tradition in many ways, including not naming her daughter after a star. However, Nymphadora – which means “gift of the nymphs” – still has mythological connections, as most of the family’s non-constellation names do. Perhaps Andromeda didn’t fully abandon all of her family’s traditions.

Draco Malfoy: Draco is the Latin word for a dragon or serpent, as well as a constellation. His name comes from his mother’s family and hints at his connection to the Blacks. The constellation is associated with several mythological dragons, including one that was killed by Hercules and another killed by Minerva. Well, he didn’t die, but Professor McGonagall (whose first name is Minerva) certainly didn’t show him the favoritism that other teachers like Snape and Umbridge did.

Scorpius Malfoy: The constellation Scorpius is supposed to represent the scorpion that killed Orion. If Orion and Walburga Black represent the evils that were passed down in the family from even before they became affiliated with Voldemort, it seems fitting that Scorpius, who is born after Voldemort’s downfall and rejects what his family once stood for, would be named for the creature that killed his ancestor’s namesake.

Merope Gaunt: While she’s not directly related to the Blacks, I think Voldemort’s mother is worth discussing here. Merope is one of the Pleiades, a cluster of stars intended to represent the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione. In some versions of the myth, her star is the dimmest of the seven because she’s the only one who married a mortal. Almost sounds like a descendant of Slytherin falling for a muggle, doesn’t it?

Previous Generations: There’s really not enough information about the rest of the family to draw too many conclusions about their names, but I do have to point out that the four children of Cygnus Black and Violetta Bulstrode are probably an allusion to four mythological siblings: Castor, Pollux, Helen of Troy, and Clytemnestra. The myth involves Zeus turning into a swan, which is exactly what Cygnus’ name means, and what the constellation is usually taken to refer to. Pollux is the name of the eldest son, and his younger brother Marius was removed from the family tapestry for being a squib, while in the myth, one of the gemini twins was mortal and the other a minor god. Cassiopeia, another constellation name, comes from a mythological beauty whose good looks led to a lot of conflict, much like Helen of Troy. And the youngest daughter, Dorea … let’s hope she didn’t do to Charlus Potter what Clytemnestra did to Agamemnon, but knowing this family, nothing is out of the question.

Resisting Dementors Without a Patronus

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry seems to struggle in Snape’s class despite having personally fought dark wizards and monsters many times and survived. He even expects to do poorly on a dementor essay, despite being able to cast the patronus charm:

Having wasted a lot of time worrying aloud about Apparition, Ron was now struggling to finish a viciously difficult essay for Snape that Harry and Hermione had already completed. Harry fully expected to receive low marks on his, because he had disagreed with Snape on the best way to tackle dementors, but he did not care … (page 448, American hardcover edition)

Does this make any sense? At first glance, no. After Harry learns the patronus charm in Prisoner of Azkaban, no alternative ways of fighting off dementors are ever presented. It’s obvious why Snape doesn’t want to teach his students to cast a patronus: his love for Lily is his most deeply-buried secret, and the form of his patronus makes it obvious. But if Harry could disagree with him on how best to deal with a dementor, there must be another method he prefers.

In fact, since very few dark wizards can cast a patronus, I think there must be another method that relies on something besides love and happiness. Voldemort forms an alliance with the dementors in Order of the Phoenix, and yet neither he nor any of his followers seem to be tormented by them. It’s true that the dementors are dark creatures, and the Death Eaters’ allies, but if bad people weren’t affected by them, Azkaban wouldn’t be the nightmare it’s portrayed as. Or at least, it would only be a nightmare for the innocent.

Still, there is one character who manages to stay sane through his years in Azkaban: Sirius. Near the end of Prisoner of Azkaban, he tells Harry: “I think the only reason I never lost my mind is that I knew I was innocent. That wasn’t a happy thought, so the dementors couldn’t suck it out of me … but it kept me sane and knowing who I am …”  Later, he describes that finding out Peter Pettigrew was at Hogwarts in his rat form “was as if someone had lit a fire in my head, and the dementors couldn’t destroy it … it wasn’t a happy feeling … it was an obsession … but it gave me strength, it cleared my mind” (371-372, paperback)

It cleared his mind? That sounds a lot like occlumency, which – as described by Snape in Order of the Phoenix – “seals the mind against magical intrusion and influence” (530, paperback). When Snape attempts to teach Harry occlumency, he continually tells him to clear his mind of emotion in order to shield it. Perhaps Snape’s way of dealing with dementors is to use something similar to occlumency against them, clearing his mind and focusing on something powerful yet not happy, much like Sirius did when he was in Azkaban. It wouldn’t do any good against the Dementor’s Kiss, but it could help against the misery they spread. And Harry, who never mastered occlumency, would certainly have disagreed that such a method was better than casting a patronus.

In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – SPOILER WARNING – Snape and Scorpius encounter dementors in the world ruled by Voldemort and get past them without ever casting a patronus. It makes sense that they can’t, since Snape’s would reveal his true loyalty and Scorpius has never learned how. And, of course, being who they are, casting a patronus would make them look suspicious rather than protecting them, something that is true of Snape throughout the Harry Potter books. However, the way the scene plays out is interesting: while Scorpius begins describing the effects of a dementor and hears his mother dying, Snape seems totally unaffected and tells Scorpius to “stay calm” and “think of something else”. “Think about why you’re doing this”.

SNAPE: Think about Albus. … All it takes is one person. I couldn’t save Harry for Lily. So now I give my allegiance to the cause she believed in. And it’s possible – that along the way I started believing in it myself.

SCORPIUS smiles at SNAPE. He steps decisively away from the dementor.

SCORPIUS: The world changes and we change with it. I am better off in this world. But the world is not better. I don’t want that. (141, Nook edition)

Like Sirius’ fixation with his innocence, these are not happy thoughts. Snape’s actions led to the death of the woman he loved, and in this timeline, he was also unable to save her son. Scorpius accidentally erased his best friend from existence and created a world like something out of a nightmare. Those are the kind of thoughts a dementor would remind you of, not ones they would drain away, and yet they would act as a sort of anchor to reality.

It would be easy to write off that scene as making no sense, because protecting yourself from a dementor without casting a patronus shouldn’t be possible. But it always has been possible. Sirius was able to retain his sanity and eventually escape from Azkaban by focusing on something that, while not happy, reminded him of who he was. Snape disagreed with Harry on how to deal with dementors, and presumably, that means he did have a different method that he considered effective enough to shield his mind from them. Could it have been something like what he and Scorpius do in Cursed Child? I don’t see why not.

The Sorting of Scorpius Malfoy

Warning: Cursed Child spoilers

I asked myself more than once when I was reading Cursed Child why Scorpius would be a Slytherin. And not because he’s a good person: I’ve thought for a long time that there must be more to Slytherin than just dark magic and evil schemes, and I love that Cursed Child explores a different side of it. It’s just that Scorpius is so obviously a Ravenclaw, and while I think he does have a Slytherin side, it’s subtler and takes a while to show itself.

Continue reading

Nine Years Later: a Spoiler-Free Cursed Child Review

I finished reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child a few hours ago, and I loved it! No, it’s not quite as good as having a real 8th book, and it has a few flaws, but it captures the spirit of the Harry Potter books and feels like a true continuation.

The adult characters are spot-on: Harry is as wonderfully flawed as ever, and Ron and Hermione are true to who they’ve always been. Draco Malfoy is still an obnoxious brat but obviously cares very much about his son. Best of all is Ginny, who always seemed a bit two-dimensional in the movies but really comes to life in the play. She’s every bit as fierce, loving, and spirited as she was in the books, and often comes across as being the sanest one in the room.

The kids are a delight. I would have loved to see more of Rose Granger-Weasley, who is more of a supporting character, but I adored Albus and Scorpius. Albus Potter is impulsive and quick to anger, but basically just feels different from his family and wants to know that he is loved, no matter what. Scorpius Malfoy is a total nerd – which I mean in the best way possible – as well as having a very kind heart and wanting nothing to do with the dark arts. Are we sure he’s really a Malfoy? Yes, probably, but to say any more would be a spoiler. Their friendship is as strong as the original trio’s, and the fact that they are both outcasts just makes it more important.

Then there’s Delphi, who is pretty much a walking spoiler, so all I’m going to say about her is that you’ll probably have a strong reaction to her, be it positive or negative. I think the twist is very in line with some of Rowling’s previous ones, and was foreshadowed well without being blatantly obvious, but it’s a big one and might be difficult for some people to accept.

As I said, the story has its flaws. The biggest is the fact that it’s a play script, and unless it’s filmed, the vast majority of Harry Potter fans will never get to see it performed. Aside from that, there’s one particular detail – which I can’t share without giving away several major spoilers – that I just can’t see happening, ever, and goes pretty strongly against the way a character was portrayed in the original series. Another thing that got under my skin a bit was how common it’s become to say Voldemort’s name. No matter how much things have changed in nineteen years, I would have expected an elderly man like Amos Diggory to still go with “you-know-who”. In another bit that I can’t talk about without spoilers, the use of Voldemort’s name becomes especially out of place.

Yes, there are small pieces that don’t quite fit right. I think this is largely a product of the fact that Cursed Child was a collaboration. While Rowling was heavily involved in creating the story, it was Jack Thorne who wrote the script, and he would likely have been the one to decide small details like the ones I mentioned. He didn’t do a bad job, but no one knows Harry Potter inside and out like J.K. Rowling.

But I want to stress the fact that, overall, I enjoyed it. The characters are believable and easy to relate to. The story deals with parent/child relationships, friendship, loneliness, and the ways that the past affects the present, all things that feel like natural continuations of the original series. The plot itself is enjoyable, although I can’t say too much about it without spoilers, and the story has a good mix of humor and more serious moments. It’s not quite as good as the original seven books, but it’s a fun addition that really does take the reader back to the world of Hogwarts.