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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’s bonkers plot twist, explained

If true, the movie’s biggest revelation contains major implications for the entire Harry Potter universe.

Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Claudia Kim, Zoë Kravitz, Ezra Miller, and Callum Turner in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Warner Bros.
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald continues the Harry Potter prequel saga introduced in the first Fantastic Beasts movie, and if you’ve seen the film, you already know that it’s a pretty intense installment. The keeper of the keys to the wizarding kingdom, J.K. Rowling, has not only ramped up the threat from evil Aryan wizard Gellert Grindelwald, but she’s thrown longtime fans of the series for a loop by suggesting a brand-new fact about one of the world’s most well-known characters, Albus Dumbledore.

Is it true? And if so, what does it mean, if anything, for the three planned films that remain in the Fantastic Beasts series? We’ve got answers and more below — but be warned, spoilers follow.

The first Fantastic Beasts film added a new character to the Harry Potter universe. The second one made him an even bigger part of the plot — and included him in a major twist.

In the first Fantastic Beasts film, we meet Ezra Miller’s Credence, a cowering, terrified orphan who’s been abused all his life by his witch-fearing guardian — at least until he becomes aware of his own intense magical powers after meeting a disguised Grindelwald. Grindelwald pursues Credence in the hope of forming an alliance, because Credence is an Obscurial: a wizard who carries a powerful symbiotic parasite known as an Obscurus.

The Obscurus is new to the Harry Potter universe, and the explanation for it in the first Fantastic Beasts film is brief and easily missed. Basically, an Obscurial is a wizard who has so fully repressed their magic, mainly because they suffered abuse, that it takes the form of the Obscurus parasite. It may then be later unleashed, causing all sorts of violence and damage.

The typical Obscurial is a young wizard — young because the Obscurus typically destroys its host before the host reaches adulthood. Credence, however, seems to be an exception: someone who’s survived into his teenage years because of his uniquely strong magical ability.

Credence, it’s implied, survives the first Fantastic Beasts film by secretly sneaking away from the scene of his presumed death. When we catch up to him in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, he’s fled New York and landed in Europe, where he’s hunting for clues to his past and his real identity. In the final moments of the new film, Grindelwald reveals a crucial secret to Credence: Credence is the long-lost younger brother of Albus Dumbledore himself — and his real name is Aurelius.

If true, this revelation contains major implications for the entire Harry Potter universe, which has a dense established history full of known facts about many of the wizarding world’s most powerful families, including the Dumbledores. For a secret sibling to be lurking among any family tree would be quite a scandal — especially a family as powerfully magical as Dumbledore’s.

So is it true? Quite possibly — but I have to admit, it’s a stretch.

Is Credence really Dumbledore’s you-know-what? Maybe — but if he is, J.K. Rowling has a lot of explaining to do.

It’s important to note that, while disguised as “Graves” in the first Fantastic Beasts film, Grindelwald shamelessly lies to Credence in order to exploit him. First, Grindelwald lies and says he wants to help Credence learn wizardry, in order to get Credence to help him locate the Obscurial — not realizing that Credence is the Obscurial. Later, he reveals this offer to have been a trick, deeming Credence an unmagical squib and blowing him off completely until realizing his mistake.

Grindelwald clearly has no idea that Credence is even a wizard at this point, let alone which powerful wizarding family he might belong to.

Grindelwald also apparently lies to Credence at the end of The Crimes of Grindelwald by implying that Dumbledore wants him dead (“Your brother is trying to kill you”) — an obvious lie on Grindelwald’s part, since as far as we know, Dumbledore doesn’t even know who Credence is.

So it’s entirely possible that Grindelwald could be lying to Credence when he reveals that Credence is part of Dumbledore’s family. And there are plenty of reasons to think that he is.

The most obvious reason is that we’ve never heard of Professor Albus Dumbledore having a secret sibling before now. He’s well-established as having only two siblings, his brother Aberforth and his unfortunate sister, Ariana. Because of Dumbledore’s historical prominence and cultural importance within the Harry Potter universe, fans are already familiar with unscrupulous wizards like gossip writer Rita Skeeter, who’ve dug extensively into all of his family skeletons before now. It’s unlikely there’s a secret buried so deep that Rita Skeeter hasn’t uncovered it. But of course it’s always possible.

What doesn’t seem possible is that Dumbledore himself doesn’t know he has a long-lost brother, but that Grindelwald — who, again, appeared to have no idea who Credence was in the first film, which takes place just a few months before this one — somehow does.

To buy into this twist, one of two things must be true: 1) we have to believe that Dumbledore knew about his orphaned brother’s existence but didn’t care enough to try to rescue him from horrific physical and emotional abuse, which is highly out of character for him, or 2) we have to believe that Grindelwald recently obtained a secret stash of knowledge from who knows where, about a family of English wizards, all while sitting in a jail cell in New York.

But with all that said, the most damning evidence suggesting that Credence isn’t “Aurelius Dumbledore” is his age. If Credence is Dumbledore’s full blood brother, then the very youngest he could be, according to he established canonical timeline of the Harry Potter universe, is 36 years old.

This is because we know from the seventh Harry Potter book that in 1891, Dumbledore’s sister Ariana was attacked by Muggle boys who permanently disabled her, after which Dumbledore’s father sought revenge on the boys and was sent to Azkaban, the wizarding prison, for life. Assuming conjugal visits aren’t really a thing at Azkaban — and it’s definitely not that kind of prison — then in 1927, when we catch up with Credence, he must be approaching middle age.

But he’s clearly not; he’s presented as a struggling, cowering teenager just coming into his own power. His actor, Ezra Miller, firmly stated that Credence was 18 years old in 1926 during the events of the first film.

So in essence, either Grindelwald is lying, or Rowling is completely voiding the canonical timeline — or else there’s some other plot twist afoot that has to explain this plot twist.

Here are some ways this zany plot twist might work — though again, it’s a huge stretch

It’s always possible that Aurelius is Albus’s half-brother, and that Albus’s mother had an affair with someone we don’t know about. But here, again, we run into the age issue. If Albus’s mother, Kendra Dumbledore, had a baby out of wedlock after her husband’s death, the youngest that kid could be in 1927 is 28.

That’s because it’s well-known that Albus’s mother, Kendra Dumbledore, died in 1899 in a tragic accident caused by her daughter Ariana, whose own magic had been difficult to control since the Muggle attack that left her debilitated and indirectly sent her father to prison. Ariana herself, we should note, later also died tragically in a standoff between Albus, their brother, and Grindelwald. (Dumbledore’s family really is extremely tragic, which might explain why he had Harry live in a closet until he was 11.)

There are some other ways this twist could be finagled: For instance, Credence could actually be 10 years older than he thinks he is by virtue of a lot of handwavey magic. But that’s a lot of trouble to go to in order to explain the timeline discrepancy.

Another possibility is that Kendra Dumbledore didn’t actually die in the 1899 accident, that she could have somehow faked her own death, and gone on to have another kid. But that assumes she’d be willing to leave her children parentless for some as-yet-unknown reason, and also opens up the question of why she’d do that, and what eventually happened to her — and how, again, Dumbledore and a horde of gossip columnists never uncovered this information before.

There’s still a third possibility, but it, too, requires establishing a lot of new magical theory and bastardizing previously established worldbuilding. That’s the possibility that Credence is actually Ariana herself, or some remnant of her soul. Perhaps he’s a Horcrux, or perhaps her own uncontrollable magic, the same destructive energy that killed her mother, somehow became an Obscurial and found a new host in the form of Credence.

The problem with all this theorizing is that it assumes that Rowling would be willing to considerably disrupt her carefully established universe for the sake of a plot twist. But that runs into a larger overarching problem with The Crimes of Grindelwald, which is that it frequently opts for disrupting the world we know in the name of plot twists that don’t seem to yield larger payoffs or contribute to the overall development of the story.

In another example of handwaving the previously established timeline, for example, Professor McGonagall shows up in this movie as a young adult Hogwarts professor. We see her in a flashback that takes place in the 1910s, and it’s cute — except, according to the canonical timeline we’re familiar with, McGonagall wasn’t born until 1935.

So, that’s what we’re looking at: a lot of theories and possibilities that don’t quite square with the previously established facts. And yet, it’s still somehow possible that despite all logic and against all facts, Dumbledore does have a long-lost brother.

So what does that mean for the series?

The most obvious implication for the rest of the Fantastic Beasts series is thematic. J.K. Rowling loves parallelism, so if the Dumbledore connection is true, then she’s likely setting up a bunch of parallels between Credence/Aurelius and Harry himself.

They’re both orphans, both raised by abusive guardians who were extremely paranoid of witches. Both grew up completely separated from the wizarding world, yet both eventually discovered themselves to belong to extremely prominent magical families with hugely important roles to play in the ongoing struggle between light and dark wizards. Both are extremely powerful wizards in their own right — and crucially, both seem to have been scoped out and targeted by dark wizards wanting to exploit them for their own agendas.

Of course, the way their parallel origin stories play out has been quite different for each of them thus far. Credence has been alternately courted and cast aside by Grindelwald, depending on how useful he appears to be. Harry was initially marked for death by Voldemort, and apart from a few moments of tempting him, that pretty much never changed.

Then again, Voldemort was motivated by a famous prophecy that Harry would kill him. And The Crimes of Grindelwald implies strongly that Credence may also be the subject of a previously unknown-to-us set of prophecies that involves brothers fighting one another and impacting the fate of the wizarding world. If that prophecy comes to pass, it suggests that Credence will shove down his doubts and remain loyal to Grindelwald — at least at first, though it’s pretty clear he’s being set up for redemption — and that Dumbledore will have to fight him at some point.

This could also be crucial to explaining the giant lag in the timeline that we’re facing. In the established canonical timeline of the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore doesn’t defeat Grindelwald until 1945, in an obvious World War II parallel. So giving Dumbledore a different obstacle to overcome, like having to first defeat his own brother in order to ultimately defeat his ex-boyfriend, may help to explain why it takes another two decades for this story arc to eventually reach its climax.

However, given that the previously established canonical timeline seems to be rapidly derailing and speeding up, there’s just no telling where we’ll land. Only one thing seems certain: What we know of the wizarding world will probably be very different by the end of Fantastic Beasts than when the franchise began.

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