Thoughts on the Crimes of Grindelwald Trailer

One of the first things I noticed watching the new Crimes of Grindelwald trailer was how heavily Hogwarts and Dumbledore feature into it. The very first shots show the familiar castle from  distance, before going inside and introducing the younger Dumbledore. But even aside from the little glimpses of the school and future headmaster, traces of their presence appear throughout the trailer. For instance:

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The Deluminator: this one was hard to get a screencap of, but the Deluminator was one-of-a-kind, invented by Dumbledore himself. It only occasionally appears in the Harry Potter books, up until Deathly Hallows, when it’s revealed that he left it to Ron in his will and that its powers go considerably beyond simply turning off the lights. Its first appearance, however, is in the very first chapter of Sorcerer’s Stone, when Dumbledore arrives at Privet Drive to drop off baby Harry. The scene in the trailer is highly reminiscent of the Sorcerer’s Stone movie, complete with lantern-shaped streetlights.

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Thestrals: these skeletal flying horses are creepy, but they turn out to be gentle creatures. The Ministry of Magic gives them a XXXX rating, meaning that they are dangerous and should only be approached by an expert. However, Hogwarts has a herd of tamed thestrals that live in the Forbidden Forest and pull the school’s carriages. It’s highly likely that whoever is riding in that carriage got it – and the thestrals – from Hogwarts.

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This brief glance at Dumbledore and Newt caught my attention because it reminded me a little bit of this:

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The similarities are obvious. Both pairs have a sort of mentor/student relationship: Dumbledore was Newt’s teacher at Hogwarts and “Graves” presented himself as a mentor and protector for Credence. Their voices are soft, whispering, and what they are talking about is private. Grindelwald is asking Credence to find the obscurial, and Dumbledore is asking Newt to fight Grindelwald for him. They even show similar body language: standing close together, heads tilted toward each other, as if sharing a secret. But there’s one huge difference: Newt and Dumbledore are looking each other in the eye. That changes the whole dynamic. Not that Dumbledore was ever 100% open with anyone about everything he knew, but the shot of him with Newt implies a level of trust and respect for each other that is not present with Grindelwald and Credence.

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Finally, there’s this. The sign of the Deathly Hallows. The obvious link here is with Grindelwald, but remember, Dumbledore was after the Hallows, too. However, aside from the wand, none of the Deathly Hallows should come into play at this point in the timeline. Only the Potters know about the cloak, while the ring is passed down from the Peverells to the Gaunts. Dumbledore does not find them until many years later, as an old man, and Grindelwald never achieves his goal of uniting the Hallows.

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Albus Severus Potter

I  talk a lot about name meanings in Harry Potter, but I don’t usually focus much on the next generation kids, because most of their names are so obvious – particularly Harry’s children. However, it occurred to me earlier today that Albus Severus Potter, as portrayed in Cursed Child, actually has a lot in common with both of his namesakes.

Like Severus Snape, he …

  • Is a Slytherin
  • Has a childhood friendship with a girl named after a flower, which ends during their time at Hogwarts, at least partially because she does not approve of the people he chooses to be friends with
  • Is easily misled by someone with a connection to Voldemort
  • Plays a role in the fulfillment of a prophecy relating to Voldemort
  • Is a somewhat morally ambiguous character who ultimately chooses the side of good

Like Albus Dumbledore, he …

  • Is a misfit in his own family and does not always get along with them
  • Has a brother and sister who are closer to each other than to him
  • Makes friends with an unpopular classmate
  • Trusts a charming stranger with plans for world domination and gets sucked into their scheme, but later helps to stop them
  • Distrusts the Ministry of Magic, working behind their back even though they have the same goals
  • Wants to be seen as his own person, not his father’s son (for very different reasons)
  • Is highly ambitious, but craves recognition and respect rather than power

However, unlike Snape, he never truly gets involved with the Dark Side and is only tricked into helping with someone else’s evil scheme. He also never stops being a good person and is not cruel to others in the way that Snape was. He is able to reconcile with his family, whereas Dumbledore’s parents and sister died young and his brother never fully forgave him. He has a lot in common with them, but his story has a happier ending.

The Virtues of Harry Potter: Redemption

Last week, I talked about mercy as one of the virtues that shape Harry and Dumbledore’s choices. This week I’m going to talk about the flip side of all those second chances.

We all make mistakes. It’s only human nature to do so. However, there are different ways we can handle a wrong choice. We can refuse to admit we were wrong. We can decide it’s too late to turn back. Or we can acknowledge our mistakes and try our best to make them right. That’s not an easy decision to make, and it’s often harder to come back from a poor choice than it would have been to make the right choice in the first place. Truly attempting to atone for the wrong one has done is something that requires integrity and honor.

When it comes to this, the most obvious example most people probably think of is Snape. After Voldemort kills Lily Potter, Snape realizes he was wrong to become a Death Eater and changes sides. He can never bring himself to let go of his hatred for James (and by extension, Harry) or his surly, unpleasant attitude, but in spite of this, he agrees to help Dumbledore protect Harry, and, when Voldemort returns, to work as a spy for the Order of the Phoenix. I know that a lot of people have very strong opinions one way or another on Snape. My personal feeling is that he’s a bad person who did a lot of good things, or perhaps a good person who did a lot of bad things, and that the distinction between those is so blurry it’s hard to say which. But choosing to turn away from Voldemort was undoubtedly the right choice to make.

Snape is hardly the only example of such a change. I always find myself moved strongly by the story of Regulus Black. Regulus was raised to believe in the twisted ideals Voldemort stood for and joined the Death Eaters when he was sixteen years old. And yet, when he discovered the depths of evil Voldemort was willing to descend to, he dedicated himself to bringing him down. He even gave his own life to do so. He could easily have run and tried to hide, or attempted to bury his conscience and continued working for Voldemort. There was nothing self-serving or easy about Regulus’ choice, and it didn’t benefit him, but he did it anyway. There’s something very honorable about that, despite the bad choices that got him there in the first place.

Slughorn is a milder example. He’s not a bad person and never intentionally worked for Voldemort, but he was one of Tom Riddle’s teachers at Hogwarts and doesn’t like to admit that Tom was part of the Slug Club, his little group of favorites. He’s even more ashamed of a truth Harry and Dumbledore don’t manage to unearth until well into Half-Blood Prince: that he unknowingly played a part in Tom’s transformation into Voldemort. He attempts to conceal this information out of fear until Harry convinces him that the brave thing to do is to share what he knows with them. By the final book, however, Slughorn is finally willing to stand up to Voldemort and gathers reinforcements to help the “good guys” win the Battle of Hogwarts.

Even our heroes end up with regrets that push them to do better. Ron, for instance, makes a huge mistake when he walks out on Harry and Hermione in Deathly Hallows. As he tells them later, he wanted to return almost as soon as he had left – and although finding a way back isn’t easy, he arrives just in time to save Harry’s life and help him retrieve Gryffindor’s sword. The trio’s friendship returns as strong as ever, and they are united as they face the final battle with Voldemort.

And I mentioned Dumbledore last week, but it bears repeating: the fact that Harry’s own mentor figure made mistakes of his own in his youth is at first a world-shattering revelation for Harry, until he learns to accept Dumbledore’s imperfection. The whole situation not only explains why Dumbledore is so willing to offer second chances, but also gives credibility to the idea that they can be worthwhile. The remorse that Dumbledore felt over Ariana’s death led him to turn his intelligence and power toward good and to play a major part in the defeat both the most dangerous Dark Wizards present in his lifetime.

The Virtues of Harry Potter: Mercy

At the end of Sorcerer’s Stone, Dumbledore explains to Harry that Voldemort “shows just as little mercy to his followers as his enemies”. This is something that becomes more and more apparent throughout the series. It’s no wonder that such a thing is so repulsive to Dumbledore, the man known – and sometimes ridiculed – for offering second chances. Not only would it never occur to Dumbledore to treat his own allies and supporters in such a merciless fashion, he likewise has more compassion for Voldemort’s own followers than Voldemort himself does.

Nearly everyone has doubts about Dumbledore’s decision to trust Snape – everyone but Dumbledore, that is. And while Dumbledore has knowledge the others don’t (namely, Snape’s true reason for changing sides), he’s also predisposed to believe the best of people. This is not too hard to understand after reading Deathly Hallows: he himself has what Rita Skeeter describes as a “murky past” and realized after the death of his younger sister that what he and Grindelwald had been planning was wrong. He later went on to defeat Grindelwald and become one of the most highly-respected good wizards in the world, but having once found himself in need of a second chance no doubt makes him more sympathetic towards others who have made poor choices.

This tendency of Dumbledore’s is perhaps most obvious in his death scene. While Draco Malfoy claims that Dumbledore is at his mercy, the Headmaster contradicts him: “It is my mercy, and not yours, that matters now”. He spends the last few minutes of his life attempting to convince his would-be assassin to change sides. As we find out in Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore is already dying at this point, so he is certainly not doing this in an attempt to save his own life. He simply sees that Draco’s devotion to Voldemort is starting to waver and believes that offering a second chance is the right thing to do.

One of the key ideas in Half-Blood Prince is that murder is an act “against nature” that can damage the soul, with Voldemort as an extreme example of this. This may be why Harry is so reluctant to kill, even when fighting in a war.  His signature spell is expelliarmus, and even on the occasions when he does use a more powerful spell, it is always a non-lethal one. But it goes farther than that. On certain occasions, he even risks his life to save or avoid harming his enemies. He rescues Draco Malfoy from a room filled with fiendfyre, attempts to stop Peter Pettigrew’s silver hand from choking him, and refuses to attack Stan Shunpike, who is under the Imperius Curse. It becomes clear as Deathly Hallows progresses that Harry is not a killer and refuses to become one. Even in his final confrontation with Voldemort, he does not use Avada Kedavra, instead reverting to his signature expelliarmus and letting Voldemort’s own killing curse backfire.

In fact, let’s talk more about that scene. Harry, at that point, is aware of what kind of fate Voldemort will face after death, and he also knows that there is a way to repair some of the damage he’s done to his soul. In their final confrontation, Harry tries his best to convince Voldemort to “try for some remorse”, telling him it is his last chance. It’s not clear whether there really is any chance for Voldemort – Dumbledore is quite clear that he’s gone far beyond “ordinary evil” and that he was cruel and lacking in compassion even as a child – but the fact that Harry feels compelled to try speaks volumes about his attitude. He really is “Dumbledore’s man through and through”, and while his attitude toward second chances might not be quite as idealistic as the former Headmaster’s, he shares his mentor’s belief in their importance.

The Sorting of Albus Dumbledore

Hatstalls are rare. In Harry’s generation, only Neville, Hermione, and Harry himself even came close. Albus Severus Potter was probably a hatstall, as were Minerva McGonnagall and Peter Pettigrew. Many Harry Potter fans see themselves as a combination of more than one house, and I would argue that most of the characters are as well, but the Sorting Hat rarely has such trouble picking out the house where a character will fit best, and it is almost never wrong.

Has there ever been a four-way hatstall? It seems doubtful. And yet, I can think of one character who just might fit the bill: Albus Dumbledore.

Dumbledore was a Gryffindor, and as far as we know, that’s all he was. A straightforward, moment-the-hat-touched-his-head Gryffindor. In fact, given that Pottermore calls McGonnagall and Pettigrew “the only hatstalls personally known to Harry Potter”, he probably wasn’t a hatstall, at least not in the technical sense of the hat taking 5+ minutes to decide. That doesn’t mean he can’t have been close, though, or that he doesn’t have strong traits of the other houses.

Gryffindor is obvious. Dumbledore founded the Order of the Phoenix, stood up to Voldemort when others were living in denial, and was never afraid to put his own life on the line. Not to mention Grindelwald. After all, “It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends”.

Ravenclaw is pretty obvious, too. Dumbledore is one of the wisest and most knowledgeable characters in the series. He’s always full of ideas that are usually very close to the truth and figures things out about five steps ahead of everyone else. Pottermore describes Ravenclaws as “eccentrics” who are “often out of step with ordinary people”, and Dumbledore fits this description as well: from his quirky idea of saying “a few words” (“Nitwit, blubber, oddement, tweak!”) to his willingness to keep on telling the truth even in spite of efforts to silence him, Dumbledore is never overly concerned with how others see him. He is known for breakthrough discoveries such as the nine uses of dragons’ blood, and he always has a better idea of what’s going on than any other character, both due to his vast experience and knowledge as well as his innate intelligence.

Helga Hufflepuff valued fairness and equality, believing – contrary to her three co-founders’ ideas – that all magical children should be welcome at Hogwarts, not simply the bravest or most intelligent or those from all-magical families. This is the kind of attitude that Dumbledore embodies as well, drawing criticism from those who disapprove of his openness. He welcomes muggle-born students to Hogwarts, encourages Hermione in her campaign for House-Elf rights, converses with merpeople in their own language, and made special arrangements to allow a young Remus Lupin to attend Hogwarts even though he was a werewolf.

And finally, Slytherin. As a young man, Dumbledore was tempted by ambition, although he soon changed his mind and opposed Grindelwald instead of fighting alongside him. In his old age, he used some of the same tactics to serve a genuine greater good. He was still extremely clever, and one might even say cunning. He seemed to be able to predict what every character would do before they did it and what to say and do to achieve the outcome he wanted. He definitely had most of the series planned out before it ever happened.

As he tells Harry, “It is our choices, far more than our abilities, that show who we truly are”. Dumbeldore may well have chosen to be a Gryffindor, but that doesn’t cancel out the fact that he could have done well in any of the houses. In fact, one might say that he had the courage of a Gryffindor, the mind of a Ravenclaw, the heart of a Hufflepuff, and the intricate plans of a Slytherin.

Right vs Easy

“Dark and difficult times lie ahead of us. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” – Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

It’s easy to do what’s right when what’s right is also easy, but doing the right thing isn’t always easy, and it’s worth doing anyway. That’s a valuable lesson to learn, and one that certainly applies to real life just as much as it does to the world of Harry Potter. But it’s more than just a quote with a good message. It’s a theme that’s woven throughout the series in the journey of every single character. (At least, every character with enough of a conscience not to do the wrong thing just for its own sake. Voldemort, Bellatrix, and Umbridge are their own special category.)

Harry has to choose between what’s right and what’s easy in every single book, and he always chooses the former. When he goes after the troll to save Hermione, when he fights a basilisk to save Ginny, and when he travels back in time to save Sirius, he is choosing the right thing over the much easier alternative of simply doing as he’s told and letting events unfold without him. Likewise, Ron and Hermione often make those choices alongside him. As the series goes on, he seems to have less of a choice – Voldemort wants him dead – but even then, he chooses to fight him. Near the end of Deathly Hallows, when Aberforth encourages him, Ron, and Hermione to flee the country rather than face Voldemort, they refuse to even consider it. And, of course, running away might become even more tempting once he realizes he has to die in order for Voldemort to become mortal, but Harry is willing to lay down his life to protect his friends, just as his mother sacrificed herself to save him. That’s not an easy choice to make.

Order of the Phoenix is all about the choice between what’s right and what’s easy. It’s what separates the Order from the Ministry of Magic and Dumbledore’s Army from the Inquisitorial Squad. It’s easy for Fudge to deny that Voldemort is back; it would be much harder to admit the truth. It’s easy for the Daily Prophet to publish whatever “news” will sell and scandalize, but harder for Harry and those who support him to speak the truth when the Ministry is actively trying to silence them. It’s much harder for the Order to fight against Voldemort when they find themselves at odds with the magical government as well, and Dumbledore’s Army likewise refuses to let themselves be unprepared for the coming war. The DA’s insistence on doing the right thing even when it’s not easy becomes even more obvious in Deathly Hallows, when they spend the year fighting back against the Death Eaters who now run Hogwarts and fight on Harry’s side in the final battle.

Everyone at Hogwarts has to choose between what’s right and what’s easy in the final battle: to evacuate or stay and defend the castle, to hand Harry over to Voldemort or fight on his side, and eventually, to surrender or keep fighting once Harry appears to be dead. Nothing says choosing what’s right over what’s easy like Neville telling Voldemort “I’ll join you when hell freezes over”, pulling the Sword of Gryffindor out of the hat, and chopping off the head of Voldemort’s monstrous snake, Nagini, right there in front of everyone, especially not when – as far as he knows – Harry is already dead.

I think it’s interesting that the movie-makers chose to contrast his actions with those of Draco Malfoy, a character who consistently chooses the easy path, rather than the right one or even the wrong one. He doesn’t kill Dumbledore, but nor does he accept Dumbledore’s offer to protect him. Later, in Deathly Hallows, he pretends not to recognize Harry, but he doesn’t do anything to help him escape. In both cases, he does nothing and simply allows others to act. Draco is not in the book version of the scene where Voldemort announces Harry’s “death”, and I’m not a big fan of the awkward hug, but going back over to join his parents does seem consistent with his character and emphasizes that standing up to a powerful Dark Lord who seems to have already won is not an easy thing to do.

There are many characters who make the easy choice, some more sympathetic than others. Of course, that’s largely a matter of personal opinion, but I think few people would argue that Peter Pettigrew’s betrayal of Lily and James Potter was anything other than vile and cowardly, while on the other hand, Xenophilius Lovegood’s decision to turn Harry in was very complicated due to the fact that Voldemort was holding his daughter hostage. Many more characters struggle with making the harder, better choice, like Professor Slughorn, who initially gives Dumbledore a false memory, not because he wants to protect Voldemort, but because he is ashamed of having unknowingly helped young Tom Riddle become Voldemort. The amount of nuance is surprisingly deep for a children’s series, but I love it. I think it’s important to understand that not everything is black and white, without downplaying the importance of trying to do the right thing.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that it seems harder to make the right choice after having already made the wrong one; the consequences and risks become much greater. Take Regulus Black, for instance. He joined the Death Eaters as a teenager and quickly realized it wasn’t what he had expected it to be. When he found out just how far Voldemort had gone, he did the right thing, but it cost him his life. Likewise, Snape made many wrong choices as a young man, and it wasn’t until he found out he had inadvertently put Lily’s life in danger that he began trying to do the right thing. The Harry Potter books certainly don’t send a message that morality is black and white or that you can never come back from your mistakes, even very serious ones. On the contrary, many characters do, including Dumbledore himself, who made mistakes of his own in his youth. However, they do seem to say that it takes great courage to do so, and that it’s never easy.

Most people are not Voldemort. There may be some, both in fiction and reality, who care so little about right and wrong that they would hurt other people for no reason at all, but I think that most people would rather do the right thing when we can, and yet sometimes struggle with it. It’s easy to tell the truth if you have nothing to hide. It’s easy to be brave if you’re not afraid. It’s easy to stand up for what you believe in if everyone around you agrees. It’s when doing the right thing is the hardest choice to make that things get difficult, and it’s in those moments that our character is truly tested.