The most important part of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them does not occur during any of its big, dramatic scenes. It has nothing to do with a young man turning into an ominous dark cloud, the dark wizard Grindelwald being unmasked, or even the sweet scenes between Newt (Eddie Redmayne) and Tina (Katherine Waterston). Rather, it comes in what seems to be a throwaway moment, when Newt says a name that pricked the ears of any Harry Potter fan: Leta Lestrange.
Even more than Dumbledore, who will appear in the next film, the Lestrange name connects Beasts to the larger Potter universe in an unexpected way. She is an old flame of Newt’s and is only seen in photos. But she matters big time, because though J.K. Rowling has not released a Lestrange family tree, we know that Leta is related to Rodolphus Lestrange, who is married to Bellatrix. Leta Lestrange is therefore directly connected to the most fascinating of wizard families, the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black. Generation X of the family — brothers Sirius and Regulus and their cousins Bellatrix, Andromeda, and Narcissa — present a fascinating microcosm of the entire wizarding war.
The Blacks are the exact embodiment of Tolstoy’s famous, “All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
As an old Pure-blood family, the Blacks play an integral part in Voldemort’s rise. Each Black in Generation X was expected to become a Death Eater if they were male or marry one if they were female, but all five children defy this in their own way.
Sirius, the oldest son and Black heir, becomes the black sheep when he’s sorted into Gryffindor rather than the family’s customary Slytherin. At the age of 16, he’s kicked out of his own family and joins the resistance against Voldemort.
“I hated the lot of them,” he tells Harry in Order of the Phoenix. “My parents with their Pure-blood mania, convinced that to be a Black made you practically royal … my idiot brother, soft enough to believe them. … He was younger than me, and a much better son, as I was constantly reminded.”
As we know, Sirius doesn’t exactly live a long and happy life thereafter — first he’s wrongfully imprisoned for 12 years, then he escapes and lives in hiding for two short years before dying in battle, killed by his own cousin Bellatrix. To add insult to injury, he dies before his name is cleared and before he can discover that his brother Regulus is not an irredeemable idiot. As Harry discovers in Deathly Hallows, Regulus does indeed become a Death Eater, determined to be a more dutiful son than Sirius. But when he uncovers Voldemort’s Horcruxes, he has a change of heart and dies trying to take him down. Sirius and Regulus are two aristocratic brothers who began at the top of their society but both died tragically young while defying their family. And the three sisters are just as fascinating.
As Sirius tells Harry, Andromeda is his favorite cousin. She marries a Muggle-born, which triggers her expulsion from the Black family tree. But rather than enjoying a simple, happy life with her new chosen family, she then loses her husband, her daughter Tonks, and her son in law (Remus Lupin) in the Second Wizarding War. Along with her sister Narcissa and her grandson Teddy Lupin, she is ultimately the last Black left.
Narcissa initially seems like the least interesting: She marries Lucius Malfoy who is a dick without being intriguingly unhinged like Bellatrix, and she’s presented as haughty and vindictive. After Sirius dies, she cruelly taunts Harry, “I expect Potter will be reunited with dear Sirius before I am reunited with Lucius.” But she’s also the real unlikely savior at the Battle of Hogwarts. Recall that when Harry wakes up from his interlude with death in the Forbidden Forest, Voldemort orders Narcissa to check on him. She lies to Voldemort, pronouncing Harry dead. If it wasn’t for Narcissa, then, Harry’s life would have ended right there in the forest.
And of course Bellatrix Lestrange is firmly placed at the right hand of Voldemort. She’s insane and dangerous, responsible for countless deaths and atrocities — including the insanity of Neville Longbottom’s parents — and yet her position makes her the most formidable woman in the world.
From this history, we can glean two important points: first, that there needs to be a movie or a TV show about the Black family. And secondly, that even the darkest wizards from the most zealous families are more complicated than they seem. Regulus was not just a Death Eater, Narcissa was not just a haughty trophy wife, and even Bellatrix, for all her inhuman behavior, had the capacity to love Voldemort.
The Lestrange family is tied to the Blacks by blood and reputation. Although we don’t know much about Leta Lestrange save that she was once close with Newt and she was a “taker” where he needs a “giver,” it’s reasonable to assume she was a Slytherin. Because Pure-blood families regularly disown members for associating with those they deem beneath them, her friendship with a Hufflepuff is already a curiosity.
Director David Yates has already said, “Leta Lestrange comes into the second movie. She’s quite complicated and damaged and confused and Newt is absolutely still in love with her, so she has a kind of power over him, and … she’s a kind of tragic figure, so we will see a bit more of her in the second movie.”
“Complicated, damaged, and confused,” is par for the course for the House of Black and those who share its blood. The Weasleys might be the Potterverse’s family that everyone wants to join, but the Blacks are a fucked-up tapestry of Shakespearean proportions. While everyone is anticipating seeing young Dumbledore in the next installment, the real punch might just come from a girl whose photo we glimpsed for a fleeting moment.
Photos via Flickr / Steel Wool