The ending of the new Fantastic Beasts film, The Crimes of Grindelwald, throws a ton of information at viewers — most of it using odd phrases like “dark twin,” “middle head,” and “starring Johnny Depp.” Even the most hard-core Harry Potter fans may have a hard time making heads or tails of the final reveal, and what it could mean for both the Fantastic Beasts series going forward and established HP canon.
While there aren’t too many clear answers by the end of the movie — this is film two of five in the series, after all — there are some educated guesses we can make about what exactly went down.
Warning: We’re going into deep spoiler territory from here on out.
There’s plenty worth scratching your head over in The Crimes of Grindelwald, but for the sake of this deep dive, we’re going to focus on the final reveal.
After Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) hosts a totally chill cemetery party, he departs with his followers and a couple of new recruits — the powerful, suppressed wizard Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) and one of our heroes, Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol). The gang of wizard supremacists then reconvenes at Nurmengard Castle, Grindelwald’s Austrian stronghold.
Most of the movie’s plot revolves around Credence, who miraculously survived a pretty severe exploding at the end of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. He’s on a mission to discover his true identity while Grindelwald plays puppet master, nudging the orphan toward the dark wizard’s ultimate agenda: killing Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), of which — he posits — only Credence is capable. (Though, Credence couldn’t even take out the Ministry of Magic mole and his protective bubble, so this is doubtful.)
With Credence in pocket, Grindelwald is close to his goal. Outside the room where Credence is checking out the Alps, Queenie, a powerful Legilimens who can read thoughts, cautions Grindelwald that the boy is going to require a delicate touch. He’s scared, and as someone who can blast away buildings with his emotions, that’s something to keep in mind. In the (we have to admit) nicely appointed study, Credence looks after a baby bird that has come into his life without explanation. The bird is, in fact, a phoenix, and Grindelwald tells of a legend claiming that the fiery birds present themselves to any Dumbledore in great need.
Yup. According to the bleach-blond wizard Nazi, Credence Barebone is really Aurelius Dumbledore, the long-lost (and previously unmentioned) brother of Albus Dumbledore.
(It should be noted here that there’s also a subplot in the film about a rumor that Credence is the long-lost brother of Zoë Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange. But that ends up being an overly complicated and rushed red herring that involves baby-switching, and, more importantly for our purposes here, is irrelevant.)
Unless you’re learned in the ways of Harry Potter lore, this may not seem like a big deal. Okay, hot Dumbledore has a secret kid brother who can blow up mountains and probably hates him, so what? But because of how intricately and precisely J.K. Rowling constructed the mythology of her books, this info — if true — recontextualizes a lot of backstory as we know it and could have drastic implications about Dumbledore’s character during the Potter years.
The Hogwarts headmaster’s family history becomes an integral part of Harry’s understanding of the great wizard in the final book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. After Harry sacrifices himself to save his friends, he visits the afterlife temporarily for a debrief with Dumbledore, who had died the previous year. It’s there that Dumbledore gives his favorite pupil the full(ish) story of his past with Grindelwald, his temptation by power, and the disintegration of his family.
Dumbledore and Grindelwald met in their late teens, when Albus returned home to care for his only brother, Aberforth, and sickly sister, Ariana, who many fans concluded was an Obscurial after meeting Credence in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Dumbledore’s mother, Kendra, had died in an accident involving Ariana, which makes even more sense when the Obscurial theory is applied retroactively. (The father, Percival, was arrested years before and died in prison.) Eventually, Albus and Aberforth get into a fight when the latter accuses the former of planning to abandoned his family in order to begin his quest for wizard domination with Grindelwald. The fight among the three men results in Ariana’s death.
That’s the Dumbledore family history as fans knew it heading into The Crimes of Grindelwald, and there’s only a view small window in which another Dumbledore child could fit. As Binge Mode’s Mallory Rubin and Jason Concepcion point out, the published screenplay for The Crimes of Grindelwald specifies that the shipwreck occurs in 1901. Kendra Dumbledore died in 1899, but it’s possible that she gave birth to Aurelius just before her passing. Another option involves imprisoned-for-life Percival getting busy under the watchful mouth holes of the Dementors.
Outside those two explanations, Albus Dumbledore either straight-up lied to Harry Potter or he didn’t have the full story himself, which seems unlucky given that Credence seems set on confronting his supposed brother. And that leads to our first possible conclusion about the twist: Grindelwald is not telling the truth, which is entirely plausible except for the presence of the phoenix (who could end up being Albus’s companion Fawkes, but that’s fodder for another movie).
But if the reveal is merely a lie, that removes any and all dramatic heft from the conclusion of the film. It would be like kicking off Return of the Jedi with Yoda telling Luke that Darth Vader made up the father thing. “Fucking with you he was.” There is, however, another theory already gaining popularity that requires some magical gymnastics and is sure to send the bridge of your glasses sliding down your nose.
In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, we learn from Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) that an Obscurial, like Credence and presumably Ariana Dumbledore, is the host of a parasitic magical force called an Obscurus. The parasite typically kills a host before they turn ten, but Newt managed to separate an Obscurus from a girl in Sudan. The Obscurus can exist removed from a host, but it loses its destructive capabilities and needs to be contained.
Ariana Dumbledore died when she was 14, a few years older than any previously recorded Obscurial. Is it possible that Newt knew how to separate an Obscurus from an Obscurial because Dumbledore had previously done so with his sister? Even if that’s not the case, could her Obscurus have somehow managed to hang around on its own until Credence was born in 1908? Could Grindelwald be speaking directly to Credence’s Obscurus when he says that Albus Dumbledore is his brother? Albus, himself, refers to an Obscurus as a “dark twin” to its Obscurial, meaning Credence is playing host to Ariana’s dark twin. In that case, to continue the Star Wars comparisons, Credence is Albus’s brother from a certain point of view. That would still require some dishonesty on Grindelwald’s part, but it would make the facts — past, present, and future — line up more neatly.
The theories will continue to abound as fans revisit The Crimes of Grindelwald, and it’s likely that more of the apparent foreshadowing will get incorporated into explanations for the twist. For instance, Dumbledore mentions that a sibling can cure an Obscurial, a fact that could be used to flesh out Ariana’s backstory and possibly save Credence in the end. But it’s unlikely that we’ll get a definite answer until 2020 at the earliest, when the third Fantastic Beasts is set to hit theaters.
So until then, it’s probably best to sit back, relax, and wonder whether it’s too late to bring Colin Farrell back as Grindelwald.