How Fantastic Beasts changes the Harry Potter story – and what to expect from the new films

The film gives us new insight into wizarding history and the events leading up to the Harry Potter series

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Warning: this piece contains spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Big ones. Huge. And not just a handful – loads. All the spoilers. Yep, big, juicy spoilers discussed in terrifyingly close detail. We’re about to get nerdy. Now don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is finally released tonight – and it’s a wild ride for Potter fans. The plotline involving Newt Scamander’s escaped animals aside, the film reveals much about the politics of the magical and muggle worlds. We are introduced to MACUSA, the American equivalent of the ministry for magic, we learn that muggles and wizards can’t marry in 1920s America, and that the USA is particularly interested in concealing anything magical from the muggle community. And, in the film’s big reveal, we discover that Gellert Grindelwald has been spying on its inner workings disguised as auror Percival Graves, in order to start a war between wizards and muggles.

How do these revelations change the original Potter story?

Gellert Grindelwald

The dark wizard Grindelwald’s rise to power in the 1920s was a bit of a mystery in the Harry Potter books. Until now, all we’ve known is that he was “in Europe” as he amassed followers. Now, it becomes clear Grindelwald was already one of the Wizarding World’s most wanted – we see newspapers with the headlines: “GELLERT GRINDELWALD: DARK WIZARD STRIKES AGAIN IN EUROPE”, “EUROPEAN AURORS READY TO FIGHT” and “GRINDELWALD ATTACKS RISKING WAR WITH NO-MAJS – I.C.W. [that’s the International Confederation of Wizards, duh] CONVENED FOR EMERGENCY TALKS.” Grindelwald spends a good period of time looking for Obscurials (see below) in the US – and is arrested there. He’ll almost certainly escape in the next movie – but I’d like some explanation as to why we haven’t heard about this landmark moment in the wizard's history before now.

Obscurials

The most important new concept introduced in this film is that of Obscurials – young wizards and witches whose magic has been suppressed due to traumas during their childhood, resulting in their magical potential manifesting as an obscurus – a strange black cloud that is unpredictable and destructive. Grindelwald is obsessed with trying to track them down and harness their power. So far, we’ve only seen one example – Credence Barebone – but know there are others.

Ariana Dumbledore

It seems likely that Ariana Dumbledore was an Obscurial – and potentially the source that seduced Grindelwald into seeing their potential for dark magic. At the age of six, she was attacked by muggle boys, which left her traumatised to the point of rendering her magical abilities uncontrollable. A few years later, she caused a magical explosion that killed her mother. She died in a three-way duel between her brothers Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore and Grindelwald. The evidence all points towards Ariana being an Obscurial – and perhaps her status had more to do with the argument that killed her than we have previously been lead to believe.

The Elder Wand

Grindelwald should have The Elder Wand – an immensely powerful wand and one of the Deathly Hallows, which Grindelwald stole from wandmaker Gregorovitch in the early 1900s – by this point. It’s unclear whether he’s using it in the film – the wand he’s using as Graves certainly doesn’t look like the Elder Wand as we’ve seen it in previous Potter movies. If Graves was a real person that Grindelwald disguised himself as, then it’s likely he was using Graves wand. But, in the unlikely event that he was using it, the disarming scene at the end of the film could change who is the master of the Elder Wand (Tina?).

Lord Voldemort

This film is set in winter 1926 — Lord Voldemort was born on New Year’s Eve, 1926. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence – or perhaps JK Rowling wants to connect Voldemort and Grindelwald together in ways we’re not yet aware of. Don’t forget, she has said that “There are ways in which we connect to the Potter books that I think people will find surprising.”

Leta Lestrange

One of Lord Voldemort’s closest allies and most fierce supporters is Bellatrix Lestrange (neé Black). So there’s a strange parallel in the revelation that Newt Scamander’s closest schoolfriend was Leta Lestrange. He still keeps a picture of her in his case, but seems bitter about their estrangement. Played by Zoë Kravitz, we don’t know much more about her – she’s about the right age to be the aunt, or mother, of the unnamed Lestrange who joins Voldemort’s circle at Hogwarts. (If she is his mother, then the fact that her son took his mother’s name raises questions about his father. Is he absent? Is she ashamed of her son’s parentage?)

Albus Dumbledore

There’s only one casual mention of Dumbledore in this film – Grindelwald as Graves asks Newt, “Why is Albus Dumbledore so fond of you?” after revealing that Newt was expelled from Hogwarts (a detail that contradicts the original book, which notes Newt’s “graduation from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry”), despite Dumbledore’s protests. That means Dumbledore is already teaching in the 1910s – a decade after his own graduation. Other than that, we don’t learn much in this film at least.

19 Years

JK Rowling seems to like to work in spans of 19 years – there were 19 years between the main action of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and its epilogue, and 19 years between the release of the first book and the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Rowling has confirmed that this franchise will be “spanning 19 years,” – ending in 1945, the year of Grindewald and Dumbledore’s famous battle. Maybe she just bloody loves the number?

What will happen in the sequels?

Some things we know for sure – Grindelwald will duel Dumbledore and lose, Newt will publish his book and marry Tina, magic will remain undiscovered for another day. But what about the new characters and plotlines introduced in this film?

Grindelwald will escape

It’s impossible to get around – Grindelwald will escape and continue rising to power. Otherwise magical history as we know it is a lie.

Credence’s presence will become more important

David Yates has made it clear that Credence Barebone becomes “pivotal” in later films – which suggests that, as that tiny whisper of black smoke implied, Credence didn’t die in the massive obscurus explosion at the film’s end. Credence, then, will form another example of Rowling’s long line of troubled young men with difficult pasts tempted by dark magic (see also: Dumbledore, Grindelwald, Voldemort, Harry, Malfoy, Albus Potter). Whether this is the origin story of a hero or a villain is yet to be seen...

The muggle press will make an appearance

JK Rowling makes no secret of her dislike for the press in the Harry Potter series – from the Daily Prophet’s constant misinformation to Rita Skeeter’s outright lies. This time, one potential villain for the next series is Henry Shaw Sr. – a newspaper magnate whose son is murdered by magic, who vows to expose the magical community. Shaw and his son, an anti-magic fanatic drawn in by the wizard-hating New Salem Philantrophic Society, will almost certainly cause problems for the magical community in later films.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.