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So this is Part 1 of the Why Cursed Child Isn’t Queerbaiting post, because this point kept growing and threatening to overwhelm everything else.

As ever, feel free to disagree strongly and tell me about it! We can still be friends :D Although I’m also going to explain why I disagree with you if I do.

I’ve repeatedly seen the idea that Albus and Scorpius’ discussion of his crush on Rose at the end of Cursed Child comes out of nowhere, and therefore constitutes a frantic “no homo” - i.e. the moment that turns queer subtext into queerbaiting, rushing to assure the audience that there’s nothing gay here despite all the homoerotic hinting.

Well, no. For one thing, Scorpius’ feelings about Rose do not come out of nowhere at the end. He says “I think she’s brilliant” right from the start; he’s the one who freaks out when Rose is vanished by the changes to the timeline (“it’s Rose!”) even though she’s Albus’ cousin. Scorpius barely knows her, so this definitely comes across as a crush/hero-worship, but he’s got it going on throughout. But more importantly, Scorpius and Albus are not written as a romance in JKR’s idiom.

Fans have spent well over a decade complaining about how JKR does romance, and saying it’s unsatisfactory. (Not all of them! But it is a consistent complaint.) That’s because she really doesn’t do romance, and certainly not romance in the sense of using the tropes of the romance genre to show us who should and will fall in love with each other. Instead, she uses her usual toolbox of clues before a reveal. Romance in Potter is structured as a mystery: who will turn out to be right for each other? In romance the way it’s typically done, that very much isn’t a mystery - the proof of True Love comes in slowly building feelings, or in a dramatic swoon.

But Potter is different, and Harry and Ginny within the books is a perfect example. Harry smells various Ginny-ish smells in the Amortentia, the potion which smells like true love. He gets strange feelings around her, especially when she’s with her boyfriend. He’s angry at the thought of her with someone else. And then: tah-dah! Harry realises. There is very little on-page interaction between them in Half-Blood Prince; it’s elided into them being vaguely happy together, and then the first on-page conversation that’s just them is when they break up. Because the point is not the romance. It’s the mystery - who is Harry’s True Love? - and the reveal.

Similarly for Remus and Tonks, it’s not structured as a romance even at second-hand - we don’t get them interacting, or see what they’re missing in their lives and how the other could give it to them. It’s a mystery: Tonks is really sad and has lost her powers for some reason, Molly is comforting her over her sadness, and her Patronus is a big canine creature. The reveal: she was in love with Lupin and he was rebuffing her advances.

The Potter books (and Cursed Child are just not terribly interested in romance. Established relationships, especially marriages, get more attention; we see more of Arthur and Molly Weasley, and even Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, than Remus/Tonks or Bill/Fleur in interaction and moments that show how they work. Harry and Ginny as a married couple and co-parents, in how they work together and sometimes conflict, get vastly more focus and nuance than Harry and Ginny the young lovers. Of course that’s partly down to the focus of the story; the Potter books are a bildungsroman about fighting evil, whereas Cursed Child is about parents and friends, about family and growing up. But there are plenty of bildungsromans about fighting evil where romance is a central part of finding who you are and growing up, so the relative unimportance of that in Harry’s POV is still relevant. It’s a specific choice of focus by JKR.

The question of genre in Harry Potter has caused many a dispute among fans before. A good example is fan predictions over the fate of Draco Malfoy, particularly before Half-Blood Prince came out. The Potter books are a genre soup, with significant elements of bildungsroman, the British boarding school story, mystery, children’s fantasy and epic fantasy, as well as forays into the Gothic and even occasional farce. On that basis, people made wildly different predictions for Draco Malfoy, seemingly based partly on the genre they thought he belonged to, because he’d shown up in scenes belonging to all of them. Was he the boarding school antagonist, the Little Bad, the sympathetic posh one who’d turn on his father, the cautionary-tale foil for our hero, a proper wizard Nazi in training, or the Gothic heir to a dying line? And based on that, was he slated to die tragically, die pathetically, switch sides, be beaten or forgiven by Harry, or even lose his mind? Was he Gwendolen from Malory Towers or Spike from season two of Buffy or Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings?

I think fans’ reading of Scorpius and Albus as clearly romantically interested in each other comes from expectations built by romance. Not only romance as in the romance genre, although that may well be an element of it; but also romance as it’s often written in bildungsromans and fanfiction, the most relevant genres to Cursed Child at first glance. Scorpius and Albus meet and instantly connect despite familial disapproval; they understand each other based on their psychologies and family backgrounds; they’re “destroyed” by each other’s absence; they inspire each other to be brave and self-sacrificing in the face of evil. Scorpius even has a moment where he explains that Albus is everything he always wanted. Based on all that, and the desperation for queer representation in general and in the Potterverse in particular, it’s completely understandable that people have seen romance.

But the Potterverse context doesn’t support that. (Neither do other elements, but that’s the next post.) In Potter, romance is a mystery; you follow the clues and then you find the right person for you. Friendship is a romance. Harry plays out two classic versions of falling for your true love in Potter, and neither of them is Ginny: he meets Ron and they’re instantly a unit, and he and Hermione drive each other mad until they save each other and the danger brings them together. Breakups of the Trio (Ron/Hermione in PoA, Harry/Ron in GoF) leave the broken-up pair destroyed. Ron is the one Harry would miss the most, and Hermione is the one who makes the big speeches that inspire Harry, and their love for each other helps them all do incredible things. Albus and Scorpius exist firmly within that tradition.

I mean, if you wanna take that in a “Ron and Hermione got together, so Albus and Scorpius could too!” way for fanfiction then please go right ahead. But I don’t think that backs the “it’s queerbaiting!” interpretation of the play itself. Books!Harry/Ron has far more in common with Albus/Scorpius than books!Harry/Ginny does, because JKR’s stories are about friendships (and occasionally marriages). The subplots of who you’re meant to be with, told in a mystery format of clue-clue-reveal, are only ever a sideline.
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