As most Harry Potter fans know one of Albus Dumbledore’s most impressive feats is his defeat of the Dark Wizard Gellert Grindelwald in 1945 (along with his discovery of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood, and his alchemy work with Nicholas Flamel, according to his Chocolate Frog Card), and yet in the trailers for the second Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald, we distinctly hear a young Dumbledore (now played by Jude Law) tell Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) that he cannot be the one to fight Grindelwald.
Now, thanks to J.K Rowling herself, we already know there will be a total of five Fantastic Beasts movies, with the final one talking place in 1945. And that Dumbledore’s role will increase as the movies progress, so it’s pretty safe to assume the final set piece of the franchise will be the infamous duel between Dumbledore and Grindelwald (in which the Elder Wand switches it’s allegiance to Dumbledore). So from a storytelling perspective we can see ‘why’ Dumbledore can’t join the fight (he isn’t the main character of this franchise, and they have to fill another three movies before we get to the end), but there may also be a few in story reasons as to why he might not be able to intervene (yet).
Dumbledore’s Past with Grindelwald:
Even though the pre-existing relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald is less of a reason why Dumbledore can’t get involved and more why he wouldn’t want to, it still plays an important role in the events. We know that later in his life (through his conversations with Harry in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) Dumbledore admits that he may of put off finally confronting Grindelwald due to their relationship.
Although don’t quite know the full extent of the relationship between the younger Grindelwald and Dumbledore and instead get mostly secondhand accounts (through the likes of Bathilda Bagshot, Rita Skeeter, or Aberforth), what we do know is that after Kendra Dumbledore died, her eldest son Albus returned home shortly after leaving Hogwarts to look after his younger siblings, Aberforth and Ariana. Shortly after this, Albus became very close with Gellert Grindelwald who was living in Godric’s Hollow with his great aunt (Bathilda) after being expelled from Durmstrang.
The two young Wizards, both brilliant, intelligent, and talented shared an affinity for the fabled Deathly Hallows, which was a large part of what brought Grindelwald to Godric’s Hollow in the first place. From there the two made up a number of plans, which eventually evolved from simply finding the three hallows to using them, and with that power Grindelwald and Dumbledore would lead a revolution of Wizard-kind, overthrow the International Act of Secrecy and Wizards would reign over muggles.
Obviously this doesn’t sound very ‘Dumbeldore’ at all, and up until these revelations in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows we’d only ever known Dumbledore as a kindly old wizard who not only cared above all else for his students and school, but as the leader of the Order of the Phoenix and ‘the only wizard that Voldemort ever feared’. And so seeing (or at least hearing about) a version of Dumbledore that once aspired to act in a very similar manner to Voldemort, even laying the groundwork for many of the later’s evil plans was a pretty surprising turn for the franchise.
As the two were coming up with various schemes Aberforth got into an argument with both Grindelwald and Albus, resulting in a three way duel which ended in Ariana’s death. Following the murder of his sister (and the fact that no one was sure who’s curse it was that killed her) the relationship between Grindelwald and Dumbledore broke down completely and Grindelwald fled the country to continue his plans of power and conquest alone.
Although it is unlikely Dumbledore would share any of this with Newt (or anyone) it’s probably a pretty big part of why Dumbledore is so hesitant to get involved with Grindelwald’s increasingly ominous plans, and instead needs Newt to lead the resistance against him. Another of the latest trailer’s big reveals all but confirms this, finally showing what Dumbledore sees in the Mirror of Erisded (which shows a persons deepest desire), and it is of course… Grindelwald.
The Political Implications:
Up until the Fantastic Beasts movies we didn’t really know a great deal about Grindelwald, with most of what we did know coming from the last Harr Potter book. And so we assumed most of why Dumbledore let Grindelwald get so far in his nefarious schemes (to the point of international outcry for his own intervention) was like Dumbledore himself describes; that his past with the Dark Wizard complicated the matters.
The first teaser trailer for Crimes of Grindelwald however looks to put a different spin on why it took him so long to step in, with what looks to be the Ministry of Magic questioning Dumbledore on why he sent Newt to Paris. Although it seems counter productive that the Ministry would be out to stop people who wanted to prevent Grindelwald gaining power (given the public nature of his attacks and arrest in the first movie) there are a few reasons as to why the Ministry might be so dubious of Dumbledore.
The first and perhaps most obvious is that, as we see in the Harry Potter books, the Ministry doesn’t necessarily trust Dumbledore, or at least don’t approve of his secret plans, and would instead prefer to be involved and working with him. Here it looks like Dumbledore has sent Newt on a mission to Paris, but to do what exactly we don’t know, and by the sounds of it neither do the Ministry.
Another reason (and this could admittedly be looking far too deep into it) could be to do with the potential fallout and causing another World War. We already know that wizards took part in the First World War, with Newt’s older brother Theseus being dubbed a ‘war hero’ in the first movie, and Newt explaining that he himself worked with Dragons during the war. And so it’s perfectly feasible that the British Ministry of Magic would be wary of causing some sort international conflict not too long after what was at that point the worst war of human history.
We also know that Grindelwald falls in 1945, and that J.K herself has stated it’s no coincidence it is the same time the Second World War ended (and the year Tom Riddle finished Hogwarts). So we can safely assume Grindelwald’s increasing domination in Europe, along with his prejudice against muggle’s is some way linked to the rise of Nazi Germany (and that in many ways, if the Ministry do fear some big international conflict, they were right).
Protecting the School:
As an extension of the problems resulting from Dumbledore acting out against Grindelwald, anything he does publicly could come back on him and in turn harm Hogwarts. We already know that Dumbledore chose to stay at Hogwarts throughout his career (rather than go on to become Minister for Magic), and that he cared greatly for the school and it’s students, as such one of his first priorities would be to keep them safe.
We see from the trailer that people are able to apparate onto the school grounds, and so stopping people doing this must be something Dumbledore himself enacts when he becomes the headmaster, at least in the movies where the rules on apparition and desperation are a little different to the books (I half expect him to make a joke about making that a rule when he’s in charge in this movie). A large part of why Dumbledore is putting off intervening in Grindelwald’s actions might be to minimise the harm to Hogwarts itself.
Over the course of the Fantastic Beasts movies there is sure to be a lot of new revelations on the Wizarding World, with the focus on a younger Dumbledore being a particular highlight for most fans. Why exactly (or at least the full extent of why) Dumbledore is asking Newt to go to Paris is so far unknown, but there are more than enough reasons as to why Dumbledore himself can’t do anything (at least for now).
[Originally Posted on March 15th 2017, and updated for the final CoG Trailer]