Warning: The following contains major spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, so if you have yet to see the movie and hope to avoid them, throw an invisibility cloak over your computer or grab a hand full of Floo powder and head to your nearest theater.
When Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) revealed that the wizard believed to be Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) was really the infamous Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), he didn’t just unmask the Dark Wizard’s troubling and deadly plan to bring the magical community out into the open and into war with the non-magical world, he might have explained the affliction that Ariana Dumbledore, Professor Dumbledore’s deceased younger sister, might have suffered from. A terrible, dangerous condition that would one day lead Grindelwald to seek out another with the same destructive problem.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Aberforth Dumbledore, Professor Dumbledore’s brother, told Harry, Ron, and Hermione about his younger sister Ariana (1885-1899), who at the age of six was tortured so badly by Muggle boys after they saw her using magic that she was unable to safely use it any longer, even refusing to practice it at all, because she was so emotionally traumatized. This attack proved catastrophic and tragic for the family.
Their father was sent to Azkaban for life after attacking the Muggles, but he refused to say why he had done so to protect Ariana from being taking away. Her condition was so dangerous and uncontrollable that it could have revealed the wizarding world to Muggles. Here’s Aberfoth quote from the book (emphasis ours):
“He never said why he’d done it, because if the Ministry had known what Ariana had become, she’d have been locked up in St Mungo’s for good.
With Ariana’s refusal to use magic and her inability to control it, her mother moved the family to Godric’s Hollow and tried to keep her in hiding. However, at the age of 14 Ariana had an “explosion” that killed her mother. Caring for Ariana fell to Albus and Aberforth, and while Aberforth was more than okay with his responsibilities, since he was the one who could best calm her down, Albus insisted his brother go to school while he–begrudgingly and full of resentment–cared for his sister.
That’s when Gellert Grindelwald, an equally brilliant and ambitious wizard, just like Albus, moved to the neighborhood after being expelled from Durmstrang for dabbling too much in the dark arts (to be kicked out of that school for that reason is like being kicked out of a buffet for eating too much). The two talented young men immediately became friends and began making big plans to change the world, though Grindelwald’s reasons for wanting to reveal the world of magic to Muggles was far more sinister than Dumbledore’s sincere but foolish intentions.
Aberforth said that Ariana was neglected during this time, that his brother was so busy with his schemes that he didn’t look after her the way he should have, and that worse, Albus and Grindelwald planned to take Ariana with them, away from the safety of Godric’s Hollow, as they tried to follow through on their plans to bring wizards out of hiding.
Aberforth confronted them, and Grindelwald hit him with Cruciatus Curse. That’s when Albus jumped in and defended his brother, and the three began dueling. Years later Professor Dumbledore would tell Harry that he had no idea which one of them had cast the spell that had accidentally killed Ariana.
Grindelwald fled, and decades later would become one of the most dangerous Dark Wizards ever, only stopped when his former friend, Professor Dumbledore, who could no longer ignore the threat posed by Grindelwald, defeated him a duel in 1945 (which just so happens to be the ending timeline of the Fantastic Beasts movies).
If you’ve seen the film you are probably already making the connection from what happened there with the young repressed wizard that Grindelwald tried to manipulate, Ezra Miller’s Credence Barebone, to what Ariana Dumbledore “had become.”
Ariana was an Obscurial.
Obscurials try to suppress their magic out of fear, but that sometimes leads to what is known as an Obscurus, that dark cloud of destruction and death that came pouring out of Credence, the one that Grindelwald sought to harness in an effort to force wizards out of hiding.
The symptoms and description of Ariana’s affliction fits the diagnosis of an Obscurial perfectly, and it would explain why her family was so fearful of her condition being discovered, and also how she accidentally killed her mother.
In the film we are told most Obscurials die by age ten, which is why Credence’s Obscuras was so big and destructive, he had somehow lived well past that age. Ariana died at age 14, but she also wouldn’t have had any of those issues before the age of six, which might explain why she lived longer too, but it also might have made her an even bigger threat than most Obscurials.
And Grindelwald would have seen the danger she posed up close all those years earlier; he would have known exactly the type of danger it posed to the secrecy held so closely by wizards and witches. Grindelwald might have also counted on her condition to do this for him long before the events in New York City in 1926, which is why he wanted to take her with him when he and Dumbledore left Godric’s Hollow.
What happened between Dumbledore and Grindelwald in Godric’s Hollow didn’t just shape the future of the professor’s life, it might have also inspired Grindelwald to seek out another with Ariana’s condition, in another young boy who had been afraid of his own power, and who had tried to suppress it, only to see it coming exploding out of him.
But what do you think? Was Ariana an Obscurial too? Cast your thoughts in the comments section below.
Images: Warner Bros. Studios