Fantastic Beasts — the Ariana/Credence Theory

Spoilers aplenty ahead. Turn back if you are not up to date on the whole Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts series.

At the end of the second Fantastic Beasts film (FB2), we hear Grindelwald reveal a bombshell: Credence Barebone is actually Aurelius Dumbledore, Albus’ long lost brother. What are we to make of this? Well, here’s my theory…

Based on JK Rowling’s own admission that Grindelwald is both a seer and a liar, we can be certain that Grindelwald will share misleading information and half-truths to get what he wants.

Now, we can be pretty confident that:

  1. Kendra Dumbledore was already dead (1899) when Credence was born (1901/4);
  2. Surely some reference to a long-lost brother would have made its way into the Hogwarts Saga (if Rowling is being at all consistent with her practice)
  3. An Obscurus is able to survive without a host

That last bit about an Obscurus is what FB1 was all about. Did you catch it? I don’t blame you if you missed it, the whole thing was a bit obscure. FB1 was all about how Newt Scamander was sent to America on the false pretense that he was returning a firebird to its natural habitat in Arizona. In reality, he was in a race against Grindelwald to find an Obscurus. What’s an Obscurus? It is a symbiotic form of powerful dark magic that attaches itself to witches and wizards who repress their powers. As Newt says,

“I met one in Sudan three months ago. There used to be more of them but they still exist. Before wizards went underground, when we were still being hunted by Muggles, young wizards and witches sometimes tried to suppress their magic to avoid persecution. Instead of learning to harness or control their powers, they developed what was called an Obscurus.” — Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Now, if you will please go and re-read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, you will see clearly that Ariana Dumbledore was an Obscurial (host) and she had an Obscurus (symbiote). Plain as day for the careful reader.

Back to FB1 — Grindelwald discovers at the “turn” or mid-point of the film’s ring composition that an Obscurus can indeed live without a host, because he’s seen the one that Newt keeps in his case. The vision of the Obscurus (symbiote) without Obscurial (host) is pivotal in the first trip into Newt’s case in FB1. There we see Jacob Kowalski mesmerized by the Obscurus (the black cloud in the bubble) that Newt brought back from Africa to study. This sheds light on the plot Newt is working on with Dumbledore — Albus must know if Ariana is still out there, and Newt is helping him to find her. Both are racing Grindelwald, who believes that Ariana’s Obscurus has attached itself to Modesty Barebone. Grindelwald was wrong, however — Credence is the Obscurial.

In FB2, we get more detail on how the Obscurial/Obscurus relationship works, as Dumbledore tells Newt,

I know this: An Obscurus grows in the absence of love as a dark twin, an only friend. If Credence has a real brother or sister out there who can take its place, he might yet be saved.

Modesty Barebone in FB1 was intended as a foil to Ariana Dumbledore, the young girl possessed of savage, dark magic. The mention of a “dark twin” establishes for us that the Obscurus is not identical with the host. It is another entity altogether. That much was not clear in FB1, but Dumbledore has makes it clear in FB2. After FB1, we should have caught that Ariana was an Obscurial, just like Credence. Now, in FB2, we learn that an Obscurus can travel from one host to another (though we did see the Obscurus sans host in Newts case). Therefore, the same Obscurus could have traveled from Ariana to Credence. In retrospect, we now see how and why a previously unknown squib could be so important to Dumbledore half a world away. Credence is a vessel that’s carrying an entity that once lived in Albus’ sister.

My theory is that, contrary to Grindelwald’s pronouncement, Credence is NOT Albus’ brother. That part is a lie. However, Credence DOES contain the Obscurus that lived in Albus’ sister. Therefore, he is conceptually attached to the Dumbledore family — so it’s a half-truth that Grindelwald tells him. Albus, Aberforth and Grindelwald witnessed Ariana’s tragic death. What we now know is that they also witnessed the Obscurus (the “dark twin”) as it left her. The Fantastic Beasts franchise picked up with Albus sending Newt to America to find the Obscurus while Grindelwald travels there as well, masquerading as Graves, who hoped that he would find Ariana’s Obscurus to use against Dumbledore. Perhaps to destroy him, perhaps to get him to rejoin the cause.

I don’t believe there’s any Aurelius Dumbledore. Grindelwald invented that part because he needs the Obscurus; the Obscurial (Credence) is inconsequential. He’s lied to him before, he’s lying again. Grindelwald’s duplicity, I believe, is signaled to us in his visual appearance — he has two different colored eyes because we’re supposed to see him through two lenses — both prophet and liar. He’s telling the truth in that some part of the Dumbledore family–the part that Albus cares about most deeply–has attached itself to Credence symbiotically. Albus will have to come out against what he believes is part-Ariana. When he does, he’ll have to face the powerful force of the Obscurus and confront what happened to Ariana.

Whatever the case, the Ariana-Credence connection is brilliant and I cannot wait to see what comes next in the “latch” of the Fantastic Beasts series in part 3 (FB3 is the mid-point of the 5-part series). The structure and theoretical connections are, sadly, more compelling than the films themselves. I wish these had been novels. Alas. I’ll see them all anyway.

I don’t know what to do with any of the Corvus Lestrange business. So far, I’ve chalked that up to misdirection and red herrings, to let JKR continue toying with the Ariana Dumbledore connection right under our noses (as she is wont to do). As primarily an author of detective fiction, she tends to obey certain rules (like, you can’t just invent an entire plotline that you never alluded to in your previous series and you should adhere to your own timelines [unless you want a McGonagall cameo].).

In summary, my view is that Credence cannot be a Dumbledore, but he MUST contain part of one. It’s the part that has constituted the great guilt and pain of Albus’ life–Ariana–and it will be delivered by Albus’ other great heart-break, for whose lost love he lives forever alone–Grindelwald. Grindelwald will use Ariana’s Obscurus to break Dumbledore and lure him to a duel.

How could a wizard, even one as powerful as Dumbledore, defeat the Elder Wand? Perhaps only if he were aided by an unimaginably powerful magical force? Perhaps if Ariana recognizes Albus and aids her brother in his duel against Grindelwald and the Elder Wand? We’ll see.

I believe that the third film will give us that duel. Films four and five will then lead us back to Midnight on Halloween, 1981, i.e., the fourth and fifth films will build the bridge connecting Grindelwald to Tom Riddle. “The clock is ticking faster.” 12 hours, 12 installments, leading from Midnight to Midnight, with the breadcrumb trail being established already in the Midnight Middles John Granger has so astutely observed. There are 12 mentions of Midnight in Books 1 and 7 of the Hogwarts novels and both FB movies feature clock faces in prominent scenes–expect more. Also, Pottermore’s ‘Life and Times of Albus Dumbledore’ lists his pocketwatch alongside his other notable accomplishments. Why? Because the clock is the key–the hour is the crux–“horcrux”–all hidden in plain sight. More on that in another post.