Harry Potter: 15 Things You Didn't Know About Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts Grindelwald Johnny Depp

The world of Harry Potter is in full swing once more with the release of first spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a film that takes us back to JK Rowling’s universe some five years after Harry’s on-screen journey came to an end in The Deathly Hallows -- Part 2. Of course, the events of the new movie take place decades before Harry’s famous defeat of Lord Voldemort and his decision to snap the Elder Wand in two, though the legendary wand he destroyed on that day is likely to play a crucial part in the overarching plot of the Fantastic Beasts films, thanks to the inclusion of Gellert Grindelwald.

Limited to snippets and flashback appearances in Harry Potter, this enigmatic and dangerous wizard remains something of a mystery to the casual Potter fan, known mainly as a predecessor of Voldemort who was at the height of his power during the first half of the 20th century. For better or for worse, we now know that Johnny Depp will be portraying the character but what can we expect from Depp’s Grindelwald going forward?

From his troubled school days to his rise to power, here are 15 Things You Didn't Know About Grindelwald.

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Dumbledore Chocolate Frog Card from Harry Potter
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15 He Made His First Appearance On The Back Of A Chocolate Frog Card

Dumbledore Chocolate Frog Card from Harry Potter

Grindelwald’s influence on the Harry Potter story doesn’t begin to become apparent until the back end of the series, but the notorious wizard actually gets his first mention in the Sorcerer’s Stone, used as a way of determining Dumbledore’s age and power at an early stage. After meeting the Weasleys and being coaxed through the apparently solid barrier between platforms nine and ten at King’s Cross, Harry boards the Hogwarts express and is introduced to Chocolate Frogs by Ron.

Every Chocolate Frog comes with a Famous Witches and Wizards card, each complete with a moving portrait and a short biography. These collectible cards depict some of the earliest practitioners of magic, from medieval Russian Hag Babayaga, who regularly ate children for breakfast, to ancient Greek witch Circe, infamous for turning lost sailors into pigs. There are some living wizards among the ranks, however, and Harry inevitably gets Dumbledore's card.

From the back of the Hogwarts headmaster’s card we learn that Dumbledore is famous for his discovery of the twelves uses of Dragon Blood, his alchemy work with Sorcerer’s Stone creator Nicholas Flammel, and his legendary duel with Gellert Grindelwald. The card simply mentions that Grindelwald was considered a Dark Wizard who was defeated in 1945. We had to wait until The Deathly Hallows for further information on the Wizard who would turn out to be a vitally important character.

14 He Was Expelled From School For Practicing The Dark Arts

Durmstrang from Harry Potter

Grindelwald’s love for the Dark Arts is proven beyond doubt by the fact that it got him expelled from the Durmstrang Institute, the Scandinavian wizarding school well-known for actively encouraging the use of them. Poison-pen journalist Rita Skeeter described Grindelwald as being “as precociously brilliant as Dumbledore” in her scathing biography of the latter, though she also claimed that he refused to channel his abilities into academic success and instead focused on a series of “twisted experiments” that even Durmstrang could not turn a blind eye to.

Of course, Rowling made it quite clear that Skeeter’s words are not to be trusted, though on this occasion her sources happened to be accurate, as Dumbledore himself made mention of the aforementioned experiments while discussing Grindelwald with Harry. It is revealed that the young Dark Wizard had a long standing fascination with magical artifacts and that chief among his goals was the procurement of the Deathly Hallows. Grindelwald went as far as adopting the symbol of the Hallows as his own personal emblem, carving it on the walls of Durmstrang before he left the Institution in disgrace.

13 He Turned Dumbledore Against Muggles

Anti muggles statue from Harry Potter

After his expulsion, Grindelwald traveled to Godric’s Hollow, England, where he was to spend the summer with his Great Aunt, the famed magical historian and writer of Hermione Granger favorite book, A History of Magic. This is where the teenage Grindelwald first met the Dumbledores, who had recently become residents of the Hollow. He and Albus Dumbledore struck up a bond over time as two wizards of a similar age and similar intellect, both highly skilled with a wand and both with great ambitions of putting their talent to use.

The pair’s relationship began as one based on convenience, with Dumbledore seeing Grindelwald as a window to the far-flung magical places he would never see while stuck in England caring for his young sister. Grindelwald, on the other hand, found mental stimulation in an intellectual equal who was keen to listen. As their friendship blossomed, they began a plot to overthrow the Statute of Secrecy and bring wizards out of hiding to establish rule over the Muggles. Using the motto "For the Greater Good", they planned to leave Godric’s Hollow and spread their message of dominance throughout the wizarding world.

12 Dumbledore Fell In Love With Him

Harry Potter Deathly Hallows Dumbledore Grindelwald

As their relationship developed from one of mutual interest to one of joint goals, the way Dumbledore felt about Grindelwald also evolved. Dumbledore fell in love with the dashing foreign wizard, described in the books not only as a brilliant mind but as a handsome young man, with golden blond locks and a “merry, wild” face. Rowling compared the way in which Dumbledore fell for Grindelwald to the way that  Bellatrix Lestrange felt about Voldemort when she first revealed the Hogwarts headmaster’s sexual orientation during a book reading at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2007:

“Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was. To an extent, do we say it excused Dumbledore a little more because falling in love can blind us to an extent? But, he met someone as brilliant as he was, and rather like Bellatrix he was very drawn to this brilliant person, and horribly, terribly let down by him.”

Rowling added that she had to intervene during the writing process of The Half-Blood Prince film adaptation after she read a draft that had Dumbledore lamenting about a girl he used to know, leaving a simple note in the margin that read “Dumbledore’s gay!” Unfortunately for Dumbledore, Rowling has also insisted that his feelings for Grindelwald were never reciprocated.

11 Aberforth Stood Up To Him

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

When Albus Dumbledore’s younger brother Aberforth learned of his brother’s plans to leave Godric’s Hollow and set off on a worldwide quest by Grindelwald’s side, he was furious. Albus was the legal guardian of their younger sister Ariana after the death of their parents, who had both passed away in circumstances involving their troubled daughter. Their father died in Azkaban after being imprisoned for taking revenge on some Muggles who attacked Ariana for practicing magic, and their mother was killed when Ariana (who was never the same after the attack) accidentally set off a magical explosion.

Needless to say, Aberforth thought Albus should remain by his sister’s side where he was needed, though Grindelwald didn’t see it that way, as the younger Dumbledore brother explained to Harry, Ron and Hermione in The Deathly Hallows"Grindelwald didn't like that at all. He got angry. He told me what a stupid little boy I was, trying to stand in the way of him and my brilliant brother. Didn't I understand my poor sister wouldn't have to be hidden once they'd changed the world, and led the wizards out of hiding, and taught the Muggles their place? And there was an argument... and I pulled my wand... and he pulled out his."

10 He Started The Duel That Killed Dumbledore’s Sister

Ariana Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

With an ego to match his intellect, Grindelwald took exception to having a wand drawn on him and he didn’t hesitate to get the first spell off. The former Durmstrang student used the Cruciatus Curse on Aberforth, one of the three Unforgivable Curses. Dumbledore, despite his professional and personal admiration of Grindelwald, couldn’t stand to see these curses used, least of all on his own flesh and blood. He stepped into the fight to defend his brother.

With Ariana out of sight, a three-way duel broke out and the curses began to fly. As the fight raged, the curious girl couldn't stand to remain hidden and entered the room, walking right into the fray and getting hit with a stray curse that killed her instantly. Although Aberforth blamed Albus for what happened that day (famously breaking his nose at their sister’s funeral) he revealed to the trio in The Deathly Hallows that he couldn’t be sure who had cast the spell that ended Ariana’s life: The flashing lights and the bangs set her off, she couldn't stand it... and I think she wanted to help, but she didn't really know what she was doing, and I don't know which of us did it, it could have been any of us — and she was dead."

9 He Fled Britain In Search Of The Deathly Hallows

The Deathly Hallows

Fearing retribution from the death of his friend’s sister, Grindelwald fled Britain and began his search for the magical treasures he had desired since he was a schoolboy and was prepared to devote his life to. The Deathly Hallows had always been part of his agenda, even before he met Dumbledore at Godric’s Hollow. In fact, the budding Dark Wizard only visited his Great Aunt Bathilda in the little English wizarding village because he knew that Ignotus Peverell, the first owner of Death’s own Cloak of Invisibility, was buried there.

While Dumbledore was only interested in the procurement of the Resurrection Stone so that he could see his dead loved ones again, Grindelwald intended to find every Hallow and make himself invincible in the process. He knew that the wizard who possessed all three Deathly Hallows would be the Master of Death. With his presence in Godric’s Hollow no longer possible, he set his sights on the most sought after Hallow of them all, the notorious Elder Wand.

8 He Became The Most Feared Dark Wizard Of His Day

Jamie Campbell Bower as Young Gellert Grindelwald in Harry Potter

Grindelwald’s digging into the timeline of the Elder Wand lead him to a man by the name of Gregorovitch, a world-renowned wand maker who had been studying the famous wand's properties as part of his efforts to duplicate them ever since it came into his possession. He was never given the chance to finish his experiments, however, as the sprightly Grindelwald broke into the wandsmith’s shop through a window and stunned him, thereby winning the allegiance of the ancient elderberry wand.

With one of the three fabled Hallows in hand, Grindelwald cut a bloody trail across Europe that lasted decades, murdering those who stood in his way (the grandfather of Bulgarian Quidditch star Viktor Krum is revealed as one of his many victims in The Deathly Hallows) and erecting the prison fortress Nurmengard to hold his enemies. The extent of his exploits has become even clearer recently with the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which reveals that Grindelwald’s campaign in Europe wasn't going unnoticed by Americans, who feared that the Dark Wizard’s attempt to overthrow the International Statute of Secrecy "could mean war".

7 Dumbledore Initially Refused To Face Him

Michael Gambon as Dumbledore in Harry Potter

As Rowling mentioned during her outing of Dumbledore, his love for Grindelwald made watching his rise to power through nefarious means all the more difficult, and perhaps excused his early hesitation when the wizarding community began a rally cry for him to face his former ally in battle. Dumbledore was Head of Transfiguration at Hogwarts at the time and getting a reputation as a potential future Headmaster. He was someone with enough skill to stop Grindelwald’s reign of terror on the continent.

Later, as Headmaster, Dumbledore told Harry the truth about why he delayed meeting Grindelwald until his shameful behavior finally forced his hand, and it all relates back to the duel at Godric’s Hollow: While I busied myself with the training of young wizards, Grindelwald was raising an army. They say he feared me, and perhaps he did, but less, I think, than I feared him... It was the truth I feared. You see, I never knew which of us, in that last, horrific fight, had actually cast the curse that killed my sister... I think he knew it."

6 His Eventual Duel With Dumbledore Was Legendary

Dumbledore dueling in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Grindelwald and Dumbledore hadn’t seen each other for 45 years when they finally came face-to-face for a duel that would determine the outcome of the Global Wizarding War, a conflict that had gripped the magical world for decades. Grindelwald had raised an army with the purpose of overthrowing the various Ministries of Magic across Europe and establishing a new wizard Empire based on the enslavement of Muggles the world over. Despite his fear of what Grindelwald might tell him, Dumbledore was left with no choice but to track him down.

The famous confrontation was later described by Dumbledore’s old friend and eyewitness Elphias Doge as the greatest wizarding duel of all time, lasting an incredible three hours and ending with the Dark Wizard’s defeat and arrest. What Doge didn’t realize at the time was that he had just witnessed the Elder Wand change allegiance from Grindelwald to Dumbledore, who would remain its owner until he was disarmed by an oblivious Draco Malfoy, shortly before his murder at the hands of Severus Snape.

5 He Was Locked Away In His Own Prison

Old Grindelwald in Harry Potter

To add insult to injury, Grindelwald was banged up in Nurmengard, the structure that he personally erected to hold his enemies during his reign of terror, after his defeat. The architect was still a strong believer in the message he and Dumbledore had planned to spread throughout the wizarding world when he built his towering fortress prison, and as such their motto "For the Greater Good" was incorporated into the design, ominously carved in stone over the entrance way.  

Rowling has described Nurmengard as a “grim fortress, jet black and foreboding,” and that only covers the exterior. Grindelwald’s cell was a dank room at the top of the tallest tower, with nothing in it but a cold stone bed and a dirty ragged blanket. To make matters worse for the toppled revolutionary, he was the prison’s only inhabitant. All the previous occupants were freed after his defeat at Dumbledore’s hand. Grindelwald lived as a prisoner here for a total of 53 years until another Dark Wizard’s search for the Elder Wand finally caught up with him.

4 He Was Murdered By Voldemort

Harry Potter vision of Voldemort killing Grindelwald

When discussing Grindelwald’s history in the Dark Arts and his reputation on the international stage, Rita Skeeter’s The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore claimed that in a list ranking the Most Dangerous Dark Wizards of All Time, Grindelwald would “miss out on the top spot only because You-Know-Who arrived, a generation later, to steal his crown.” His reputation as the world’s leading exponent of the Dark Arts wasn’t the only thing Voldemort stole from him, however.

By the time Voldemort caught up with Grindelwald, the imprisoned wizard was in a bad way. While in the Deathly Hallows -- Part 1 movie he doesn’t look all that bad considering, in the book Rowling describes Grindelwald’s condition at this stage as emaciated with great sunken eyes, a skull-like face, and few of his teeth remaining. He turned that toothless grin on Voldemort when he appeared in his cell and demanded to know the location of the Elder Wand, which, as far as Grindelwald was concerned, was lying with Dumbledore.

While movie Grindelwald is compliant and tells Voldemort what he needs to know, in Rowling's novel the frail old wizard shows defiance in the face of his usurper, smiling as he watches Voldemort deliver the Killing Curse.

3 He Was Influenced By Nazi Germany

Hermione's mud blood scar in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Both Grindelwald and Voldemort have drawn comparisons to Adolf Hitler, with both wizards employing a similar tactic of ethnic cleansing while attempting to excuse their deeds on the grounds of their perceived purity. While Voldemort’s ethos most certainly falls in line with the former Nazi ruler, Rowling has admitted that it is no coincidence that Grindelwald was defeated in May 1945, just months before World War II came to an end. While she stopped short of admitting to wizards among the ranks of the Third Reich, the author did admit that there was a direct link between Grindelwald’s campaign of terror and the Second World War when pressed by a fan:

“I'm going to tell you as much as I told someone earlier who asked me… He asked about Grindelwald. He said, ‘Is it coincidence that he died in 1945,’ and I said no. It amuses me to make allusions to things that were happening in the Muggle world, so my feeling would be that while there's a global Muggle war going on, there's also a global wizarding war going on.”

Another clear sign of Grindelwald’s links to Nazi Germany is the name of his prison: Nurmengard, which sounds remarkably similar to Nuremberg, the Bavarian city where a number of the high ranking Nazi officials and members of the Third Reich were tried for their war crimes.

2 He Showed All The Traits Of A Genuine Psychopath

Jamie Campbell Bower and Johnny Depp (Young Grindelwald and New Grindelwald) in Sweeney Todd

While Grindelwald and Voldemort were undeniably similar in many ways, a closer examination of their behaviors throughout the Harry Potter series reveals that the two darkest wizards of all time are actually fundamentally different, at least, from a psychological standpoint. 2013 medical text Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders argues that sociopaths and psychopaths share some key traits, like a disregard of the rule of law and the rights of others, as well as lack of remorse and a tendency to use violence as a means of getting what they want.

While these traits are present in both wizards, where they differ is in their approach. Sociopaths are defined by the way in which they mask their deceit with an imitation of trustworthiness, using lies and flattery to advance their agenda, much like a young Tom Riddle did while manipulating Professor Slughorn into revealing what he knew about the Deathly Hallows. Psychopaths, on the other hand, take a more predatory approach; attacking proactively, like Grindelwald did when he started the duel that killed Ariana Dumbledore.

The knife analogy is used to break down the fundamental difference between the conditions-- confronted with a blade, the sociopath will flee and come back with a gun, while the psychopath will take a stab wound just to show he still holds the power. Voldemort spent his life plotting while Grindelwald quite literally laughed in the face of death.

1 Rowling Confirmed His Death, Only To Backtrack

JK Rowling

The interview in which Rowling fielded queries about Grindelwald’s Nazi affiliations also contained questions about whether the former Dark tyrant was still alive, and the author probably came to regret the answer that she gave. JK was speaking in 2005, just after the release of her sixth novel The Half-Blood Prince and a full two years before the publication of the seventh and final book in the series, The Deathly Hallows.

Just how much of the Harry Potter story arc Rowling had planned out from the very beginning is unknown, but her handwritten notes from The Sorcerer's Stone and The Order of the Phoenix suggest that she doesn’t mind scribbling down an idea or two as she goes along. It seems quite clear that Grindelwald’s inclusion in The Deathly Hallows was a late decision, and one that she took knowing that she had already told the fans that the man Dumbledore defeated all those years ago was dead. Nevertheless, Grindelwald’s importance to Dumbledore made him an asset in the Elder Wand story line that she decided she'd discarded a little too soon.

Next: Things You Didn’t Know About Newt Scamander


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