ByTom Bacon, writer at
I'm a film-and-TV fan who grew up with a deep love of superhero comics! Follow me on Twitter @TomABacon or on Facebook @tombaconsuperheroes!
Tom Bacon

Released in 1997, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone introduced a generation to a whole new wizarding hero: Harry Potter, a.k.a. 'The Boy who Lived'. The book opened with a scene set in the past, revealing the infant Harry to be the sole survivor of an attack by the greatest dark wizard of all time, Voldemort. Seven books followed, and the novels soon became a phenomenally popular series of eight movies — but everything that happened was really a result of that fateful day, and each story added a whole new layer of depth and meaning to the baby Harry's survival.

Surprisingly enough, Fantastic Beasts is no different. Although the film is set in 1926, it subtly reveals Albus Dumbledore's backstory — and in so doing, reveals just what a risk he was taking when he made the fateful decision to leave Harry with the Dursleys.

Dumbledore's Problem

Alone among the forces of good, Albus Dumbledore knew that Voldemort had targeted the Potters because of a prophecy.

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies... and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies...."

Learning that Voldemort had chosen to target the Potters, Dumbledore hid them away in Godric's Hollow. An act of betrayal exposed the Potters, though, and so the Dark Lord set out to kill his targets. He slaughtered James Potter; he killed Lily Potter as she desperately tried to protect her son...

Harry visits his parents' grave. Image: Warner Bros.
Harry visits his parents' grave. Image: Warner Bros.

And then, everything changed. Somehow, Voldemort's curse rebounded upon himself, in a move which apparently killed him. Harry Potter — little Harry Potter! — survived where countless witches and wizards had fallen, left only with a scar upon his forehead.

While everybody else celebrated, Dumbledore immediately began to join the dots together. The scar fit the prophecy: "the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal". But the flow of the prophecy told Dumbledore that Voldemort wasn't dead, just defeated, and that he would return. Even at this early a stage, Dumbledore suspected how Harry had survived; that the "power the Dark Lord knows not" was the love of Harry's mother, protecting him from Voldemort's curse. But now Dumbledore was faced with a terrible question:

What to Do with the Boy Who Lived?

If Harry Potter was kept in the Wizarding World, then he would be forever at risk. Although Dumbledore argued that being brought up famous would swell Harry's head with pride, in truth his concern was a far more pressing one; he had to keep Harry safe. Harry was at risk every moment he stayed in the company of wizards; it was simply inconceivable that the Death Eaters wouldn't come looking for him. Worse still, Dumbledore had no way of knowing how many of the Death Eaters were aware of the prophecy, and any who knew of it could decide to gamble on killing the child in the hopes their master would return. No, Harry couldn't stay in the Wizarding World.

So Dumbledore invoked the blessing of Lily Potter's love, trusting that — so long as Harry stayed with family — he would be protected from the forces of darkness. Only now, thanks to Fantastic Beasts, can we truly understand the risk Dumbledore was taking; he was well aware that the Dursleys wouldn't accept magic, and there was every chance that they would strive to keep young Harry's magic suppressed. As Professor McGonagall warned him, they would never accept him.

The Dursleys. Image: Warner Bros.
The Dursleys. Image: Warner Bros.

We now know just how destructive it can be if a wizard's magic is repressed through abuse. Their magic can fester, turning against themselves, and ultimately exploding with deadly force. It was entirely possible that Harry would, in fact, become an Obscurial — that his repressed magic could become an Obscurus, a devastating force that would even threaten the International Statute of Secrecy.

If fan theories are correct (and I rather think they are), then Albus Dumbledore would have understood the risks far better than anyone else. Fans are now convinced that Dumbledore's sister, Ariana, was herself an Obscurial; attacked by Muggle boys when just six years old, she had repressed her magic, and ultimately died in that terrible confrontation between Albus, their other brother Aberforth, and the dark wizard Grindelwald. Where most sorcerers would view an Obscurial with mere academic interest, Albus Dumbledore would have fully understood the threat the Dursleys posed to Harry.

Ariana Dumbledore's portrait. Image: Warner Bros.
Ariana Dumbledore's portrait. Image: Warner Bros.

What choice did he have, though? The plan had real risks; the Boy Who Lived could emerge terribly scarred, a broken child whose magic was beyond control. But the alternative was that Harry be brought up in the Wizarding World — and his chances of survival were slim at best. No, Dumbledore could only gamble on the Dursleys' love for Harry, or else on the incompetence of their efforts to suppress Harry's magic. Fortunately for the world, the gamble paid off!

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J. K. Rowling is a literary genius, whose concepts intertwine in the most fascinating ways. I seriously doubt that this additional detail is a coincidence; she excels at joining the dots to create some of the most intricate pictures imaginable. It seems to me that we've just gotten an extra wrinkle in the tale of Harry Potter, and it's helped to understand just how great a risk Albus Dumbledore took when he delivered Harry to the Dursleys.


Do you think Dumbledore had reason to fear Harry becoming an Obscurial?

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