Harry Potter and the Order of Archetypes: Albus Potter, the Unwilling Hero

In a weekly series, staff writer Katie Majka takes a look at some of our favorite witches and wizards, and how they fit into literary and social archetypes. This week: Albus Potter

It’s apparent from the outset, in both the synopsis as well as the context of Cursed Child, that Harry’s relationship with his youngest (and most unfortunately named) child would be the focal point of the play. Over nearly two decades, fans have come to know Harry as the quintessential hero—a selfless defender, martyr, always brave when faced with his fears, always putting others before himself because he knows what it is to be neglected and left behind. Harry ushered in a new age of literary heroism, but a stint as “The Chosen One” isn’t the only avenue a protagonist can take.

Harry may have taken on the role of hero in the most traditional sense of the word, but his son Albus comes to us from another point of the spectrum as a hero in his own right, but his unwillingness to follow in his father’s footsteps provides the true distinction between the two. Where Harry tended to take on his destiny as his responsibility and dealt with it accordingly, Albus shuns the legacy that would dictate he take the same path.

Warning: Cursed Child spoilers follow

If you haven’t seen or read the play and don’t wish to know any details, turn back now…

As described by Jessica Morrell in her book, Bullies, Bastards, & Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction, the unwilling or reluctant hero is “a tarnished or ordinary man with several faults or a troubled past, and he is pulled reluctantly into the story, or into heroic acts. During the story, he rises to the occasion, sometimes even vanquishing a mighty foe, sometimes avenging a wrong. But he questions whether he’s cut out for the hero business. His doubts, misgivings, and mistakes add a satisfying layer of tension to a story.”

This more or less sums up the nature of Albus’ character throughout the course of Cursed Child. His own misdirected sense of justice forces him to take on the hero’s role that is so distasteful to him, as it’s this role which causes him to resent his father. Harry’s reputation is a burden on Albus’ shoulders, not necessarily because of either Potter’s expectations of the other, but the world’s perception of what, exactly, a Potter should be.

This is evidenced early on, when Albus is Sorted into Slytherin rather than the expected Gryffindor. His new classmates, who had been so eager to befriend him upon their first meeting, turn tide as soon as the Sorting Hat declares its verdict:

POLLY CHAPMAN: Slytherin?

CRAIG BOWKER JR.: Whoa! A Potter? In Slytherin.

YANN FREDERICKS: I suppose his hair isn’t that similar.

ROSE: Albus? But this is wrong, Albus. This is not how this is supposed to be.

These reactions range in scale from overdramatic to what-is-Yann-even-talking-about, but the result is the same: The Potter reputation seems to be what causes the rift between Harry and Albus, more than whatever rather ill-conceived tension was intended. Upon Albus’ first excursion to Hogwarts, his relationship with his father appears as easy as we’re meant to believe Harry’s relationship with his other children is. It’s not until Albus’ second year that their father-son bond begins to suffer.

ALBUS: I’m just asking you, Dad, if you’ll—if you’ll just stand a little away from me.

HARRY (amused): Second-years don’t like to be seen with their dads, is that it?

ALBUS: No. It’s just—you’re you and—and I’m me and—”

HARRY: It’s just people looking, okay? People look. And they’re looking at me, not you.

ALBUS: At Harry Potter and his disappointing son.

It’s clear from the beginning that while Albus and Harry are cut from the same cloth, Albus isn’t his father—he’s his own person, a separate entity from the name he carries; and that, in a nutshell, is what the play’s major theme is.

As the unwilling hero, Albus doesn’t seek adventure or any do-gooding, he doesn’t go out of his way as the Golden Trio did to solve mysteries and catch the bad guy. In fact, during his early years at Hogwarts, Albus keeps entirely to himself and his best and only friend, Scorpius Malfoy, and has no desire to do good by anyone but himself. Albus keeps this pattern up until his fourth year, when he perhaps unwittingly takes a leaf out of Harry’s book and goes out of his way to right a perceived wrong.

When he overhears his father’s refusal to aid in Amos Diggory’s request to time-travel (unethically and in complete disregard of established canon, but that’s an examination for another post) in order to save Cedric from his untimely death, Albus takes it upon himself to do what Harry won’t. It’s here that Albus’ arc as the unwilling hero leads to the eventuality of his traditional heroism, as is the custom with this archetype when a force greater than the protagonist themselves is compelled to do good: In this case, Albus’ disdain for his father’s heroism compels him to take on that role for himself, to rectify the mistakes that, in his eyes, should have prevented Harry from being labelled a hero in the first place.

ALBUS: When Amos Diggory asked for the Time-Turner my father denied they even existed. He lied to an old man who just wanted his son back—who just loved his son. And he did it because he didn’t care—because he doesn’t care. Everyone talks about all the brave things Dad did. But he made some mistakes too. Some big mistakes, in fact. I want to set one of those mistakes right. I want us to save Cedric.

Once this plan has been hatched to drive Cursed Child’s rather convoluted plot, we begin to see more of Albus’ flaws that have less to do with his teen angst and more with his desire to Do the Right Thing—a trait he undeniably inherited from his father, whether he’d care to admit it or not. It’s this struggle between his own identity and how his father’s reputation shapes it that is the real driving force of this story, and in between is Albus’ journey from reluctant hero to one who may not be an enthusiastic or recurring leading man, but a hero who has at least learned his lesson.

Within the context of Cursed Child and Albus’ role in it, the circumstances for heroic deeds manifest in Amos Diggory’s request and Harry’s denial of it, and so Albus answers the call where otherwise he’d played the wallflower. Before his decision to take on the past to create what he assumes will be a better future, Albus could hardly handle the present, and indeed—as Morrell states above—he was an ordinary boy in an extraordinary world, and he comes to prove himself worthy of the Potter name he once wished away.

For as long as Albus tried to stand outside the shadow of his father’s legacy, he ends up adding to the Potters’ long and storied history of righteousness. Such is the journey of the unwilling hero—he may not want to do it, but through pressing circumstances and his own follies and attributes alike, he ends up cleaning up every mess that comes his way in the name of whatever greater good is out there.

Be sure to check out our other Harry Potter and the Order of Archetypes installments.

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