It began with a brief mention in the first Harry Potter book — toward the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the young Mr. Potter read the back of a chocolate frog card collectible that contained some historical facts about Albus Dumbledore. Part of the history listed on the card mentioned Dumbledore's legendary defeat of a dark wizard named Grindelwald.
For six books, that was all we knew about this dark wizard. It wasn't until the seventh and final Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that we learned more about him (including his first name), as well as how important to Potter lore he truly is. His life and times are highly intertwined with Dumbledore's, and when we learned about one, we learned about the other.
Thanks to J.K. Rowling's Deathly Hallows, as well as 2016's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them we know a good amount of information about the dastardly Grindelwald. We are about to learn a whole lot more in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald... but before we witness Nice Guy Gellert commit his titular crimes, let's explore what we already know about him.
THOSE GOOD OLD DUMSTRANG DAYS
Born in 1883, Gellert attended Durmstrang Institute, which is not exactly a haven of light in the wizarding world. Students from that school visit Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — they're the ones that wear furry hats and carry big sticks. Notable alums include Viktor Krum and Igor Karkaroff; the former is awful (because I say so) and the latter, headmaster of the school during the Potter years, was a Death Eater at some point. Great stuff, Durmstrang! Shut yourself down.
Much of Durmstrang's culture is fueled by the dark arts, and young Grindelwald took to it immediately. It was here that he first learned about the Deathly Hallows, going so far as to take their triangular symbol as his own personal emblem. He went around the school carving the symbol everywhere, and some of those carvings were still present when Krum attended the school. Why that place is allowed to stay open is anyone's guess... once again, Durmstrang, shut yourself down.
Eventually, Grindelwald grew too dark for school (as the famous saying goes), and even though Durmstrang thrives on dark magic, he got to the point where he was too metal, even for them. He was booted out of there at 16, for what Dumbledore later referred to as "twisted experiments."
"FOUND FAMILY" VALUES
Did expulsion stop Gellert from pursuing his obsession with the Hallows? Of course not.
His search took him to Godric's Hollow in England (future home of the Potter family), the resting place of Ignotus Peverell, who was supposedly the first owner of the cloak of invisibility. We visit his grave in the final Potter book, and briefly in the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1. As luck would have it, acclaimed wizarding world historian Bathilda Bagshot also lived there and was Gellert's great-aunt. He shacked up with her while he continued his work.
Bagshot wasn't the only resident of Godric's Hollow who would prove to be of interest to Grindelwald, as the town was also home to the Dumbledore family. Gellert and Albus Dumbledore met in 1899 and formed an instant bond. They were both incredibly smart and very gifted, and felt like they had found kindred spirits in each other. They shared three passions: the Deathly Hallows, overturning the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, and (almost certainly) each other.
But whereas Dumbledore wanted wizard-kind to come out of hiding for benevolent purposes, often using the phrase "for the greater good," he knew there would be some degree of force required to become the kind overlords of humanity that he and Gellert dreamed they could be. Grindelwald had no such troubles and no kindness about it at all... he wanted wizards to be dominant over muggles, full stop, goodbye, the end.
Dumbledore's apparition explains this to Harry in the final book like so:
"You cannot imagine how his ideas caught me, Harry, inflamed me. Muggles forced into subservience. We wizards triumphant. Grindelwald and I, the glorious young leaders of the revolution. Oh, I had a few scruples. I assuaged my conscience with empty words. It would all be for the greater good, and any harm done would be repaid a hundredfold in benefits for wizards."
For what it's worth, it's for reasons like this that Dumbledore knew he could never be trusted with power. This is why he repeatedly refused the position of Minister for Magic and went into teaching instead.
Before Dumbledore saw the light, the pair planned to leave Godric's Hollow around 1899 to begin their revolution. Dumbledore's brother Aberforth learned about this, and strongly disagreed with it — the Dumbledore family was in shambles at this point, with Albus and Aberforth's father locked away in Azkaban and their sister Ariana having severe emotional and mental problems due to being tortured by muggles.
Grindelwald didn't want anything to get in the way of his bro-down for the ages with Albus, so when Aberforth confronted them, he used the Cruciatus Curse on him. Albus defended his brother from the torture curse, and a three-way duel erupted between Albus, Aberforth, and Gellert. Ariana was also in the room where it happened, and she was killed by one of the flying curses. Dumbledore never knew whose curse it was that actually killed her, but he blamed himself anyway, and Aberforth seemed to blame him as well.
Everyone else blamed Gellert, who fled the country and officially began his career as a dark wizard fugitive.
TRYING TO CATCH 'EM ALL
Where does a dark wizard who is obsessed with the Deathly Hallows start when he's embarking on a hell-bent rampage of destruction and evil? Locating the first of the Hallows (the Elder Wand, aka the Deathstick, the unbeatable wand), seemed like a good place to start.
Thanks to his ongoing research, Gellert uncovered that wandmaker Mykew Gregorovitch (wandmaker to most, if not all, Durmstrang students) had the Elder Wand in his possession. Instead of going to talk to Gregorovitch about it like a normal person, he broke into the guy's shop, stunned him, took the wand, and hightailed it out of there. He knew enough that in order to gain the loyalty of the wand, he had to best Gregorovitch in combat — I guess that sucker-cursing the guy counted.
Gellert Grindelwald was now in possession of the Elder Wand, and his reign of horrors truly began. Sometime soon after this, Gellert stopped looking like Jamie Campbell Bower and started looking like Johnny Depp. One of his eyes also got weird, somehow.
Film casting is the reason for the first thing, but I don't know what went down with the eye. We may yet find out.
GRAVES IMPERSONATION, OR THE BALLAD OF SLIPPIN' GELLERT
Now we've arrived at material covered in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The fully transformed GrindelDepp has a legion of followers and is responsible for a large number of attacks across Europe. The Daily Prophet reports on him constantly, whipping up fear and frenzy like only they can, and his actions are even being reported in America, courtesy of The New York Ghost. At the beginning of the first Fantastic Beasts film, we see GrindelDepp waste an entire group of wizards with minimum effort before vanishing.
Where was he? It turns out that the talented Mr. GrindelDepp invaded the American wizarding community and placed himself high up in the ranks of MACUSA, The Magical Congress of the United States of America. He assumes the form of lieutentant to the president of MACUSA, Seraphina Picquery, all while disguised as a man named Percival Graves. In this form he was played by Colin Farrell, and whether or not the true Graves is alive or dead is unknown at this point. Here's hoping they pull a "Mad-Eye Moody" and we get to meet the real Graves at some point. Would Grindelwald be silly enough to let the real Graves live, if Graves was ever a real person at all? Probably not, but I can hope.
In the form of Grindelgraves, Gellert gained the confidence of young Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) and gave him a token in the form of the Hallows sigil. Grindelgraves used Credence to get information on the "Obscurial" that was ravaging the city, an Obscurial being a powerful concentration of dark energy that builds up when a wizard or witch denies their powers. It's likely that Gellert had a little experience with them, as Ariana Dumbledore possibly had one — after her torture by the muggles, she never used her powers again. Ariana possibly having an Obscurial is something that may come into play in either the new movie or a future one.
Grindelgraves ultimately discovers the Obscurical is actually Credence himself; he's not a squib, as was suspected, but an Obscurial on a dangerously powerful level. Grindelgraves also causes trouble for Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and the gang, even going so far as to sentence both Newt and Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) to death. Newt is baffled when Grindelgraves mentions the possible uses for an Obscurial because Newt can't comprehend evil on such a level.
Grindelgraves is defeated in the end, and the deception is uncovered thanks to a Revelio charm from Newt. Graves turned into GrindelDepp before our very eyes, telling Picquery that whatever prison they put him in wouldn't hold him for long. He also looks Newt dead in the face and cryptically says, "Will we die, just a little?"
One interesting thing to note here: When he was impersonating Graves, Gellert did not use the Elder Wand. He uses a different one throughout this film, and at one point toward the end, Tina disarms him. By the official (and seemingly ever-changing) rules of the Elder Wand, does this mean that the legendary Deathstick is no longer loyal to Gellert, but is in fact loyal to Tina? It's possible, but given that we've seen Gellert using the Wand a great deal in trailers for the new film, it doesn't look like he's having performance issues. If Tina Goldstein does end up being a temporary holder of the Elder Wand, however, that is no small thing.
At this point, the events of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will come into play. It's safe to assume that GrindelDepp will make good on his words and escape right quick — we also know that he resumes his use of the Elder Wand. Thanks to the books, we know that at some point during this period, he establishes a prison called Nurmengard, which is where he jails his enemies.
THE GREATEST DUEL EVER FOUGHT
Grindelwald's reign of darkness lasted until 1945, and will likely be covered in more detail through future installments in the Fantastic Beasts franchise.
What we know for certain is that Dumbledore himself refused to intervene personally for many, many years. We see him saying as much in the trailer for the new film. In the books, Dumbledore says to Harry that part of it was that he knew Grindelwald was probably the only one who knew for certain who had really caused Ariana's death... though there's likely much more to it than that... much more.
Whatever his reasons were (and I expect we'll get to know more about them), he only took action in 1945, when practically the entire wizarding world begged him to do something about it. Dumbledore was happily teaching at Hogwarts during this time, but he was the only wizard powerful enough to stop the Grindelmadness. As Dumbledore himself says in the final book:
"I delayed meeting him until finally, it would have been too shameful to resist any longer. People were dying and he seemed unstoppable, and I had to do what I could."
Dumbledore finally faced Grindelwald, and they engaged in what is widely considered to be the greatest duel ever fought. Even though Grindelwald wielded the unbeatable Wand, Dumbledore emerged victorious thanks to his enormous skill. Grindelwald was locked away in Nurmengard, the jail he himself had built, and Dumbledore became the new master of the Elder Wand.
Dumbledore went back to teaching, and Grindelwald rotted away.
That's not the end of Grindelwald's story, however. In both the final Potter book and the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, we see how a much older (and dirtier) Grindelwald meets his end.
Who is better suited to murder the old master of evil than the new one, one who almost everyone considered to be far worse? None other than Tom Riddle, aka Lord Voldemort, showed up in Grindelwald's cell in Nurmengard over 50 years after his Dumble-defeat. Voldemort had tracked the Elder Wand's history to him, and Grindelwald held the final piece of the puzzle.
Uniting the Hallows was only one of Voldemort's irons in the immortality fire — he also had his Horcruxes, as well as a much stranger plan that is brought up in the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Still, like Grindelwald before him, Voldemort wanted to catch 'em all... so he needed that wand at the very least.
The book and film differ on what happens next. The book has Grindelwald taunting Voldemort, telling him that he would never be able to truly use the Wand. He gets Voldemort so angry that Voldemort gives him a lovely Avada Kedavra, and Grindelwald's life comes to an end. Voldemort would have likely had to do this any way to gain the wand's allegiance (or to take no chances with it, you never know), and he soon put two and two together to realize where the Wand actually ended up.
The movie is much more straightforward, with a similarly mad Grindelwald telling Voldemort that "it lies with him." Voldemort still kills Grindelwald and then goes to the "him" that Grindelwald was speaking of, the dead, buried corpse of Dumbledore.
The book version of Grindelwald seemed to have learned something in his years of confinement, and he almost makes me feel like he understands how his quest (one that Voldemort has now taken up, times 10) was always a fool's errand. In the movie, crazy old Gellert just gives up the information, though I can see why — it's a film, and we've gotta get things going. In both the book and the film, Grindelwald realizes that his end has finally come, and he is ready for it.
It will be very interesting to see what new information we receive about Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. More of his history with Dumbledore will surely be covered, but going a step further, there will be three more films coming. There's no way that we'll get the climactic 1945 duel in the new film, but I'd wager every galleon in my Gringotts account that we will see "the greatest duel ever fought" at some point before this new series is over. It would be a logical climax for the series, and it's something that this Potter fan has wanted to see ever since Harry read that chocolate frog card.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald opens on November 15... on that day, the time will come for us to rise up and take our rightful place in the world, a new world, where we witches and wizards are free.