The Tragic Story Of Dumbledore's Sister May Be More Complicated Than We Thought

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them Newt and Tina

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains major spoilers from Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. It's meant to be read after you've seen the movie (or at the very least, read the screenplay book.)

With Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them in theaters, Harry Potter fans are once again reconnected to J.K. Rowling's incredibly rich and magical world. Those hardcore fans who were around when the books were releasing likely remember all of the theorizing and obsessing over plot points and character arcs between books. Merlin knows, we had plenty of time between books to pick through the canon in search for clues, and J.K. Rowling often left breadcrumbs. So it's no surprise that fans are already using the new information provided by Fantastic Beasts, and finding ways to connect it to the information we learned in the Harry Potter books.

Fantastic Beasts introduced a new magical being to Harry Potter canon in the form of the Obscurus, and Harry Potter Alliance's Jackson Bird (via ScreenCrush) hypothesizes that this specific condition, which befell Ezra Miller's character Credence, may have also applied to Ariana Dumbledore.

Was Ariana Dumbledore an Obscurus?

It makes a lot of sense, when we take into account what we know about Ariana, and Grindelwald, for that matter.

Dumbledore and harry

What happened to Ariana Dumbledore?

Dumbledore's younger sister was abused by a bunch of muggle kids when she was just six years old. The ordeal caused her to become emotionally and magically unstable. Albus' father took vengeance on the kids who hurt Ariana, landing him in Azkaban. Albus' mother Kendra kept Ariana at home, out of view from the magical community, sparking rumors that she was a squib, and that Kendra was ashamed of her. In Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore explains to Harry that the real reason Ariana was kept hidden was because they feared she'd be seen as a threat to the International Statute of Secrecy and shipped off to St. Mungo's.

So, Ariana was kept hidden away, and at fourteen, one of her outbursts resulted in her mother's death. This, according to both Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore, though neither of them were there at the time. Dumbledore's issues with the International Statute of Secrecy stemmed from the tragedy surrounding his sister. And that proved to be a binding ingredient in the friendship he quickly formed with Grindelwald not long after his mother died. Grindelwald wanted to live in a world where wizards were dominant over muggles. Dumbledore wanted to live in a world where his sister didn't have to live in hiding. And probably a world where she wouldn't have been abused by those muggles in the first place.

A few months after Kendra died, Ariana was killed in the crossfire of a three-way fight between Albus Dumbledore, his brother Aberforth and Gellert Grindelwald. So it seems very possible that what Aberforth describes (in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) as Ariana's "rages" were the same kind of outbursts we saw from Credence. But let's poke at this theory a bit and see how well it holds up.

Ariana and Credence don't have the same background, but there are some significant common threads. Ariana was raised in a loving family environment, unlike Credence, who was abused by his adoptive mother, and raised to believe that magic is evil. The implication in Fantastic Beasts is that this mistreatment led him to stifle his magical abilities, and between that and not being trained at all, Credence became (or produced?) an Obscurus.

In Ariana's case, the abuse she suffered at the hands of the muggle kids left her emotionally scarred, magically unstable and prone to outbursts or "rages." Did these outbursts manifest in the form of an Obscurus? What little we know about her outbursts wouldn't rule that out, especially when we consider that one of them resulted in her mother's death, when Ariana was just fourteen.

And that age situation is the only real hole in this theory...

graves and credence

It seems clear that Gellert Grindelwald is in New York looking for an Obscurus. That situation is more and more apparent when you take into account Graves' behavior and appearances throughout the film. We first see GrindelGraves investigating a scene where something described as a dark wind recently tore through a building. Graves is clearly looking into the situation. We're meant to believe it's because he's there on behalf of MACUSA, but in retrospect, it seems just as likely that his investigation of that scene ties in with his relationship with Credence. He's looking for the troubled kid. And, of course, he's barely able to contain his interest in Obscurus when he discovers one contained in Newt's case, which is another big giveaway.

So, it's evident Grindelwald has an interest in Obscurus, which may or may not stem from his connection with Ariana Grindelwald years ago. But Ariana Dumbledore was fourteen when she was killed. Assuming Grindelwald knew (or learned) what she was, wouldn't he have known that a child could be in their teens and still be an Obscurus? And if that's the case, why was he so quick to dismiss the idea that Credence is an Obscurus?

It's a technicality that could be overlooked, I suppose. Credence is clearly older than fourteen, though I'm not sure exactly how old he's supposed to be (Ezra Miller is in his early twenties). And I'm kind of inclined to tentatively give Grindelwald a pass for overlooking Credence, even if he might have known better... unless/until J.K. Rowling rules this Ariana Obscurus theory out. In the meantime, the connection between Grindelwald and Dumbledore is too relevant not to consider Ariana and the circumstances surrounding her life and death as potentially a major factor in this series.

That brings us to the last point that should be brought up concerning Ariana Dumbledore. Who killed Ariana? There were three wizards in the room when she died, and one of them most likely knew what happened to her...

ariana dumbledore

Who actually killed Ariana Dumbledore?

Dumbledore admitted to Harry that the reason he avoided Grindelwald for years after Ariana died, was because Dumbledore thought Grindelwald knew whose spell killed Ariana. Dumbledore was terrified to learn that he had accidentally killed his own sister. So much so that he steered clear of Grindelwald. We also know that Grindelwald steered clear of Dumbledore. Or at the very least, that he kept his wrath away from the U.K. That part's stated in the Harry Potter books. Grindelwald causes a lot of trouble during his decades-long rise to power, but according to what Magical history tells, little-to-none of it plays out in the U.K.

Dumbledore and Grindelwald will face off in 1945. What happens between the Grindelwald we saw at the end of Fantastic Beasts and then, we don't know. Harry refused to ask Dumbledore whether Grindelwald ever told him the truth. He didn't want to know. So it's entirely possible that Grindelwald did tell Dumbledore how Ariana died, and given that we know the story told in the Fantastic Beasts movies will span the course of nineteen years, it seems extremely possible that this piece of information will be revealed to us at some point. At the very least, it's the only known reason why Dumbledore was keeping his distance from Grindelwald.

Whether or not Ariana was an Obscurus remains to be confirmed one way or the other. But what usually seems safe to assume when it comes to the way J.K. Rowling approaches her writing, is that there's more to this story.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is in theaters now. And the screenplay book is available for purchase. Get it here.


Photo Credit: Jaap Buitendijk

Kelly West
Assistant Managing Editor

Kelly joined CinemaBlend as a freelance TV news writer in 2006 and went on to serve as the site’s TV Editor before moving over to other roles on the site. At present, she’s an Assistant Managing Editor who spends much of her time brainstorming and editing feature content on the site.