One word: Dumbledore.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is shaping up to bring its titular character into the spotlight, giving Harry Potter fans a chance to see one of the series’ most formidable villains in action at the height of his power.
Why is the focus on Grindelwald as a villain especially intriguing? In the original books, Voldemort is considered the evilest Dark Wizard of all time. In retrospect, Grindelwald was not crueler than Voldemort. He wasn’t decisively more powerful than Voldemort. Instead, what makes the focus on Grindelwald so exciting is that he was probably more dangerous than Voldemort — a notion that has everything to do with his relationship with an unequivocal good guy: Albus Dumbledore.
Much of what we know about Grindelwald is outlined in the Deathly Hallows. His primary objective was to expose magic to Muggles and use it to rule them. His motto, “For the Greater Good,” argued that the wisdom of magical power necessitates magical rule. It is eerily similar to Voldemort’s adage “Magic is Might.” But Grindelwald didn’t coin his phrase; it was penned by a young, infatuated Dumbledore.
What we learn in the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows novel is that Grindelwald and Dumbledore were teenage friends before they became adversaries. In that time, both were obsessed with potent magical mysteries. But it’s not Grindelwald’s power that made him formidable — it was his and Dumbledore’s very relationship.
Before they were foes, Dumbledore wrote to him, “I do not complain, because if you had not been expelled, we would never have met.” It may seem small, but what this means is that Dumbledore valued their relationship more than he disapproved of Grindelwald’s school misdeeds.
That is to say that how Dumbledore felt mattered more to him than what Grindelwald did. But why?
In an interview given in 2007, JK Rowling revealed that she “always thought Dumbledore was gay.” The series creator went on to imply that his relationship to Grindelwald was, at least on Dumbledore’s side, romantic.
That affection is referenced when Dumbledore (Jude Law) sees Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) in what looks like The Mirror of Erised. That mirror showcases the one thing that the viewer wants most in the world. It shows their deepest feelings and desires. Grindelwald’s appearance there in the upcoming film suggests Dumbledore’s deepest feelings and desires have something specific to do with Grindelwald. Let’s get real, it probably means he still loves him.
In the trailer, Dumbledore says to Newt Scamander, “I can’t move against Grindelwald, it has to be you.” So it’s a good bet that, at least in this next film, we won’t see Dumbledore duel Grindelwald. Dumbledore’s feelings will actively affect his actions. So what we can expect to see is the all-encompassing influence of an uncontested Dark Wizard.
The threat that Grindelwald poses in the upcoming film is not derived from his magical skill or his evil intentions. It has almost nothing to do, in fact, with what Grindelwald can do. It is entirely defined by what Dumbledore won’t do. He won’t hold an evil wizard accountable for his actions because of their past close connection.
Love, in the Potterverse, is the most powerful type of magic. Not coincidentally, its effects are grounded in our real world experience of the emotion. The power of love gives us a threshold with which we can judge magical potency. In this case, it allows us to compare two dark wizards without having to see them duel.
It is both Grindelwald and Voldemort’s experiences with love that defines how threatening they are. Voldemort’s mother died of a broken heart soon after his birth. He grew up without a home, without parents, and without love. So Voldemort despised the idea of love and ignored its potential power.
It isn’t clear, yet, if Grindelwald had close relationships besides Dumbledore. It isn’t even clear if he shared similar affections for his teenage friend. But Grindelwald’s feelings are somewhat irrelevant. He, unlike Voldemort, was loved– and that is what makes him more dangerous.
It is likely that, if Dumbledore tried, he could’ve stopped Grindelwald before the events of the first Fantastic Beasts installment. But the affection he had for his troubled friend prevented him from getting involved early.
Resistance to intervention gave Grindelwald the power and notoriety which likely led (in part) to the rise of Voldemort. The guilt from inaction made Dumbledore act against Voldemort early on. It was that quick and sustained action which ultimately limited the threat of the Death Eaters and led to Voldemort’s demise.
In some ways, Dumbledore’s mistake in ignoring that first Dark Wizard is what allowed him to defeat an even more powerful one.
In the original Harry Potter series, the magic of love is what ultimately protects the world against evil. In Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, it seems likely that love will be the thing that allows evil to take root in the first place, which shows just how powerful love can be, for better or for worse. And in the case of Grindelwald, it’s most assuredly the latter.
Jake Russell Tapleshay is IGN’s Custom Content Editor and would also befriend Nagini if they met in a forest in Albania. Follow him on Instagram at @russtap.