The story of Credence Barebone’s Obscurus in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them clearly retcons the story of Albus Dumbledore’s sister, Ariana, another troubled young person with frustrated magic. J.K. Rowling is the indisputable queen of “flawlessly” retconning magical concepts and mechanics to conveniently fit into her Potterverse, and Dumbeldore’s sister isn’t the only retcon in the greater Potterverse.
It’s often overlooked that Grindelwald, the somewhat invisible antagonist of Beasts, is actually mentioned in the very first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s in a line on Dumbledore’s chocolate frog card: It mentions his defeat of “the dark wizard Grindelwald in 1945.” We hear nothing more of Grindelwald for another six books. Was this complicated backstory always part of J.K.’s plan or just a deft bit of retconning? Weirdly enough, the villain in the second Harry Potter book ends up being a literal book: Tom Riddle’s diary.
There’s some doubt that Rowling had decided Tom Riddle’s diary was a Horcrux when she wrote Chamber of Secrets. We always knew that a “piece” of Voldemort was pulling the strings, but it wasn’t until Half-Blood Prince where the Horcruxes were rolled out that Rowling’s hardcore retconning began.
So, by the time we get to Fantastic Beasts, there are plenty of precedents for retconning magic. Considering how much the first Fantastic Beasts films focuses on an Obscurus, we get the sense that they’ll play a continuing role in the series, especially given the deleted scene showing Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) as still alive.
The Obscurus clearly also plays an important role in the previous Potterverse stories too. The most telling bit of evidence that Ariana might have been an Obscurial comes from Aberforth Dumbledore in the Deathly Hallows:
“She wouldn’t use magic, but she couldn’t get rid of it; it turned inward and drove her mad. It exploded out of her when she couldn’t control it.”
These outbursts killed her mother, and in the later confrontation between Albus, Aberforth, and Grindelwald, Ariana herself somehow wound up losing her life.
In Fantastic Beasts, Newt Scamander is likely the only living almost-expert on the subject, and he says:
“…young wizards and witches sometimes tried to suppress their magic to avoid persecution. So instead of learning to harness or to control their powers, they developed what was called an Obscurus.”
The stifling of magic. Uncontrollable bursts of power. It all lines up almost too perfectly.
When Percival Graves interrogates Newt Scamander — long before we ever learn that he’s Grindelwald in disguise — he almost immediately brings up Dumbledore’s name. This is more than just fan service; it’s weaving the connective tissue of the narrative. Throughout the film, Graves/Grindelwald is looking to find and harness the power of the Obscurus. Where else would he have learned of its startling potential for dark magic than from Ariana? Grindelwald went all the way to America to find one, and he even impersonated a high-ranking MACUSA official just to make it easier.
It’s entirely plausible that we will eventually discover this whole Fantastic Beasts adventure is less about encyclopedia research and more about one specific fantastic beast: the Obscurus. What that beast means to both Grindelwald and Dumbledore will no doubt lead to their inevitable confrontation in the final Fantastic Beasts film.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is out now in theaters.