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15 November 2018updated 23 Jul 2021 10:34am

How Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald changes the Harry Potter backstory

JK Rowling’s latest film includes new plot details that change the events of the original seven books. Warning: contains spoilers.

By Anna Leszkiewicz


As the second film in JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts franchise is released, we are given more and more backstories that change our understanding of the events referred to in the original Harry Potter books. Here’s a rundown of how the twists and turns from The Crimes of Grindelwald affect the Harry Potter stories we know and love. Be warned: very intense spoilers are coming.

Albus Dumbledore has a secret brother?!

Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) is an adopted young wizard who is also an Obscurial – a human host for an uncontrollable magic force called an Obscurus, created when wizards try to suppress their own magical abilities. In this film, he’s on the hunt for his biological family. There are several theories about his lineage that suggest he is (literally) related to one of the over-arching plots. It’s speculated that he is Corvus Lestrange – the brother of Newt Scamandar’s (Eddie Redmayne) childhood love interest Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), long assumed dead – until Leta reveals that she inadvertly caused and witnessed Corvus’s death. So he’s not Corvus.

When Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) persuades Credence to join his cause, promising him that he knows his real family background, he tells him that his “brother” wants him dead, and says that his real name is “Aurelius… Aurelius Dumbledore.” Who is Aurelius Dumbledore?! 

Throughout the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore’s personal history was raked over with a fine-tooth comb, and still we only ever heard about two siblings – Aberforth and Ariana. But the implication here, contradicting seven books of information, is that Credence is really Albus Dumbledore’s secret younger brother. At the end of the film a phoenix (Fawkes?) comes to Credence/Aurelius, and Grindelwald calls the bird Credence’s “birthright”: earlier in the film, Albus tells Newt that phoenixes tend to present themselves to members of his family, so the arrival of the bird is definitely meant to support the Aurelius Dumbledore information.

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But it seems almost impossible for Credence, who is only about 20 years old during the events of the Fantastic Beasts film, born in 1907-8, to be the brother of Albus Dumbledore (who is a solid 27 years older than him). According to the books, Albus’s mum died almost a decade before Credence was born, and his dad Percival was locked up in Azkaban around 1900, and died there some time after. So at best Credence could be Albus’s half-brother, if against all odds he was conceived in Azkaban by Dumbledore’s dying father.

Grindelwald encourages Credence/Aurelius to kill his brother Albus before he does. We know lovely ol’ Dumby wouldn’t really want to kill Credence/Aurelius – so Grindelwald is definitely lying on that last part. Could he be lying about their sibling status too, purely to rile Credence/Aurelius up and turn him into a Dumbledore-hating killing machine? The fact that Grindelwald had Credence’s old caregiver murdered, and seemingly moved the Lestrange family archives, seems to suggest he’s trying to cover something up about Credence’s backstory. If so, this is the THIRD fake Credence identity in two films, which feels a bit absurd. 

Or perhaps it’s a half truth. The films imply that Ariana Dumbledore, like Credence, was an Obscurial.  In the original series, she has trouble controlling her explosive magic. “If the Ministry had known what Ariana had become,” Dumbledore says in the books, “she’d have been locked up in St Mungo’s for good.” Could Credence have somehow adopted Ariana’s Obscurus? Is that why Grindelwald sees him as her “brother”, and Albus’s too?

Dumbledore and Grindelwald made a “blood pact”, whatever that is

Dumbledore repeatedly tells other characters that he “can’t” fight Grindelwald – in this film we learn that’s because they made a blood pact promising to never fight each other. Obviously, we all know these films are moving (at a glacial pace, they know how that thrills us) towards the big battle between Dumbledore and Grindelwald: when Harry first reads about Albus Dumbledore in the books, he learns that he is “particularly famous for his defeat of the Dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945.”

So this “blood pact” must be broken at some point. Perhaps that’s the only reason why the two made a blood pact, and not, say an Unbreakable Vow, which seems exactly the same in every way except that it’s, you know, unbreakable.

Or maybe it won’t – though she’s not the world’s most reliable source, the journalist Rita Skeeter suggests it never happens. Though Dumbledore tells Harry, “I won the duel”, Skeeter tells a different story. “I’m afraid those who go dewy-eyed over Dumbledore’s spectacular victory must brace themselves for a bombshell – or perhaps a Dungbomb,” she says in book seven. “All I’ll say is, don’t be so sure that there really was the spectacular duel of legend. After they’ve read my book, people may be forced to conclude that Grindelwald simply conjured a white handkerchief from the end of his wand and came quietly!” It would be an unusual climax for a five-film series, but who knows.

Nagini was once a woman

Nagini, Voldemort’s violent and creepy snake and horcrux, is a living, breathing human woman for most of her appearances in Fantastic Beasts. We learn she is a “Maledictus”, a witch carrying an inheritable blood curse that causes her to eventually permanently transform into an animal. So should we be sad that she is eventually decapitated by Neville Longbottom?

Dumbledore taught Defence Against the Dark Arts?

In the books Dumbledore is only ever a Transfiguration teacher, or a headmaster who doesn’t teach actual classes. And yet here he is, inexplicably teaching duelling to the ancestors of Cormac McLaggen! He is immediately banned from teaching the class, which is an attempt to explain why we’ve never ever heard of this part of Dumbledore’s CV before, but it feels unnecessary. Why go back on existing information to make him a teacher of this particular class? We already know he’s sick at counter-curses!

Professor McGonagall is suddenly 130 years old?

Icon Minerva McGonagall was supposedly born in the mid-1930s. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, McGonagall tells Professor Umbridge she’s been teaching at Hogwarts for “39 years this December”, which means she supposedly started in 1956. And yet here she is, bold as brass: a grown woman, teaching not only in the main timeline of the film in the late 1920s, but also in a flashback to the 1900s?! How old is this bitch? A good 50 years older than any of us thought.

Dumbledore chose Newt Scamander to fight Grindelwald in his place

It’s become more and more textually explicit that Dumbledore recruited Newt Scamander to defeat Grindelwald as he could not, seemingly for two reasons. Dumbeldore says to Newt, “You do not seek power or popularity, you simply ask: is a thing right?” And it’s also implied that Newt’s empathy for animals is something Grindelwald does not share, giving Newt a weapon Grindelwald doesn’t understand and often underestimates.

The Mirror of Erised: now with new functions!

Dumbledore visits the Mirror of Erised alone to watch his younger self make this blood pact with Grindelwald. Either his heart’s deepest desire is to endlessly make and re-make blood pacts with a former lover who is now his greatest enemy, or the Mirror of Erised now has new, exposition-friendly flashback functions. (In which case, just use a pensieve?) Or, in place of any loving flashbacks between the two men, the mirror is showing the audience that even after everything, being with Grindelwald is still Dumbledore’s greatest desire.

Hogwarts robes used to be blue?

Complete with Adidas three-stripe on the sleeves.

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