Fantastic Beasts: Shedding Light on the Obscurus

SPOILER ALERT: This post contains information from the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie.

For me, and I’m sure for many other Harry Potter fans, the most exciting part about watching the new Fantastic Beasts movie is the ways in which it connects to the magical world that we all know and love. Nifflers and bowtruckles come straight off the pages of Harry’s fourth year Care of Magical Creatures lessons, house elves give jazz entertainment, and a young Grindelwald causes mayhem in New York. One central plot point that was completely new to Harry Potter lovers, however, was the concept of the Obscurus, a dark, powerful force created when a young witch or wizard tries to suppress his or her magic.

Or is this concept completely new? Although the term Obscurus was not used, we have seen a situation where a young witch tried to contain her magical powers with disastrous consequences. When Aberforth Dumbledore describes his little sister Ariana, he says, “She wouldn’t use magic, but she couldn’t get rid of it; it turned inward and drove her mad, it exploded out of her when she couldn’t control it, and at times she was strange and dangerous” (The Missing Mirror, DH). In fact, one of the times that Ariana becomes “strange and dangerous” she accidentally kills her own mother. Nobody was around to see it, so it is quite possible that she became a dark, swirling force like Credence in Fantastic Beasts. Did Kendra have the telltale marks of an Obscurus on her face when she died?

This theory further illuminates why Ariana had to be so well hidden. Aberforth says, “If the Ministry had known what Ariana had become, she’d have been locked up in St. Mungo’s for good. They’d have seen her as a serious threat to the International Statute of Secrecy” (The Missing Mirror, DH). Judging by the reaction of MACUSA in Fantastic Beasts, however, if Ariana was an Obscurus she could have been in much more danger than just being sent to St. Mungo’s. Aberforth’s language is also telling: he says, “what Ariana had become,” which implies that Ariana was something no longer quite human.

And then there’s Grindelwald… In Fantastic Beasts it appears that Grindelwald has been masquerading as a member of MACUSA in order to find an Obscurus that he can use as a dark force against other witches and wizards, or possibly as a catalyst for a war between wizards and muggles. He might have been inspired on this mission during his teenage years when he discovered the powers of a different Obscurus: Ariana Dumbledore. Which leads to another question–could Grindelwald, more than just wanting a partner and companion in his search for the Deathly Hallows, also have had a different motivation for gaining Dumbledore’s trust? Could he have been planning all along to use Ariana for “the greater good”? And, even more disturbing, could Albus have known that fact? Was his sister, perhaps, part of the plan?

If Grindelwald was planning to use Ariana, he would have been thwarted by her sudden death. The depiction of Obscurus in Fantastic Beasts is as a terrifying destructive power, almost impossible to control. After watching the movie, it is hard for me to imagine that a wayward curse killed Ariana–it seems more likely that in an attempt to defend themselves from her, any of the three men, or possibly all of them, might have taken it a step too far. It is also possible that Ariana died due to the sheer destructive power she held within herself. At age 14, Ariana had already survived longer than most Obscuri, who generally don’t live past the age of 10. Fantastic Beasts, however, implies that witches or wizards with unusual amounts of power (such as Credence, who seemed several years older than 14) may be able to live longer as Obscuri.

The mystery of Obscuri is just starting to be unraveled, and it is impossible to know yet about Ariana’s behavior, Grindelwald’s true motivations, and what Dumbledore did or did not know. Hopefully the next Fantastic Beasts movie will reveal more clues to the connection between Obscuri and Ariana Dumbledore.