‘Fantastic Beasts’: A Crash Course to Help You Understand the Ending

Don’t worry, it’s not a Confundus Charm, but the new movie “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” can still be confusing even for the most learned of Harry Potter fans.

Some of this is apparently by design: It seems the author and screenwriter J.K. Rowling is trying a retcon, reshaping the original Potter lore with new details. But the canon is still key, and more than any previous Potter film, this sequel to “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” requires you to have read — and retained! — information from all of the books and fake textbooks, too. Here’s a crash course to help you make sense of the movie’s big twist. (Spoiler alert: Events in the movie’s finale will be discussed.)

[Read our review of “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”]

A large part of the message of Harry Potter’s story was that there was much more to life than having a “pure” bloodline. Hermione, after all, was the best witch of her age despite having been born into a Muggle family. But in “Crimes of Grindelwald,” we’re contending with another generation of pure-blood fanatics, and so surnames and family trees are of concern once again.

At the core of the story, revealed at the end, are the Dumbledores. Up until now, we’ve been told that Albus (here played by Jude Law) had two siblings, Aberforth and Ariana. Aberforth became the barman at the Hog’s Head, and didn’t seem to marry or have children, content with his goats. Ariana, however, had a more tragic history that’s only briefly referenced in the films.

Long story short: When Ariana was 6, she was attacked by three Muggle boys after they spotted her doing some magic she couldn’t control. Aberforth told Ron and Hermione in the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” book that the attack “destroyed” Ariana: “She was never right again. She wouldn’t use magic, but she couldn’t get rid of it: it turned inwards and drove her mad, it exploded out of her when she couldn’t control it, and at times she was strange and dangerous. But mostly she was sweet, and scared, and harmless.” (Hmm. Could there be an Obscurus at work here?)

The Dumbledores’ father, Percival, sought revenge against the Muggle boys and was locked up in Azkaban for attacking them. Ariana was subsequently kept under a form of house arrest — prevented from attending Hogwarts and only allowed out at night. When she was just 14, she accidentally killed her mother, Kendra, in an explosion of uncontrolled magic. This left young Albus angry and bitter about having to take care of both “a damaged sister and a wayward brother,” as he later told Harry — and ripe for the influence of a friend eager to explore his newly discovered dark side.

When Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp in the movies) was expelled from the wizarding school Durmstrang, he went to stay with a great-aunt in Godric’s Hollow and there became fast friends with Albus. Possibly more than friends. Together, the two young men dreamed of finding the Deathly Hallows (the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility), possession of which would make a witch or wizard the master of death. To demonstrate how different these two were: Albus hoped to resurrect loved ones, while Gellert wanted to create an army of the undead.

They also wanted to put an end to the International Statute of Secrecy and make Muggles subservient to wizards. Learning of this, Aberforth was disgusted. He confronted Albus and reminded him that he couldn’t lead a wizarding revolution and take care of Ariana at the same time. Gellert, annoyed, used the agonizing Cruciatus Curse on Aberforth. In defending his brother, Albus set off a three-way duel with Aberforth and Gellert, but as the curses went flying among them, Ariana was hit with a mortal one and died.

Something to keep in mind here: If Gellert and Albus had a blood pact that prevented them from hurting one another, that could be why Ariana died — and why Albus now needs to break the pact with Gellert before confronting him again.

Gellert fled Godric’s Hollow before Ariana’s funeral, and continued pursuing the Deathly Hallows and his plan to lead a revolution on his own. With a slogan coined by Albus (“For the Greater Good”) and a stolen Elder Wand, Gellert started to accumulate followers — and commit mass murder. Seeking another weapon that could help him destroy Dumbledore — the Obscurus, a parasite that arises from suppressed magical powers and expresses itself with a dark, destructive force — is what led him to New York, and to Credence.

Guilt over Ariana’s death tortured Albus until the end. We learn from the books and Rowling’s remarks that his Boggart, representing his deepest fear, was her corpse. His greatest desire, reflected in the Mirror of Esired, was his family intact and alive. (Striking a new note, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” offers another desire: a reunion with the now-estranged Gellert.) The despair that Albus felt when drinking that enchanted potion in the cave on the day of his death was caused by his guilt over Ariana. And something else: The reason he put on the cursed ring with the Resurrection Stone also stemmed from his desire to see Ariana again. This regret — so far largely unexplored in the films — may be the fuel for the story now.

If Gellert Grindelwald is telling the truth in the “Fantastic Beasts” sequel — that the orphaned wizard Credence Barebone (played by Ezra Miller) is indeed a Dumbledore — a couple of new possibilities arise. Perhaps Albus’s Aunt Honoria (mentioned in “The Tales of Beedle the Bard,” Rowling’s book of wizard fairy tales) had children. Perhaps Rowling is changing Ariana’s age (as she did Minerva McGonagall’s), which makes it possible that the attack on Ariana was a rape and that Ariana had gotten pregnant and passed along an Obscurus. The child being a product of rape would explain his adoption, as well as the prophecy that speaks of a “son cruelly banished” and “despair of the daughter.”

Otherwise, it seem distinctly odd that Gellert would know about an extra Dumbledore when the Dumbledores themselves were unaware of any such thing. Plot hole, reparo!

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