Warning: This story contains spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Regular visitors to Harry Potter’s Wizarding World already know that appearances can be deceiving. Remember how Ron’s trusty rat Scabbers turned out to be Voldermort’s sniveling accomplice Peter Pettigrew? Or when Barty Crouch Jr. used Polyjuice Potion to make himself over in Mad-Eye Moody’s image? And let’s not forget that time when the Order of the Phoenix all became Harry Potters to protect the real deal from Death Eaters.
So it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that wizards were pretending to be other wizards long before Harry was even a gleam in James and Lily Potter’s eye. At the end of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — the first entry in a planned five-film prequel franchise to the eight-chapter Potter film series that is set in the early 20th century — it’s revealed that Colin Farrell’s magical security enforcer Percival Graves is actually Johnny Depp’s Gellert Grindelwald, an expert in the Dark Arts who could give Voldemort a run for his galleons in the “being evil” department. News of Depp’s involvement in the Fantastic Beasts franchise broke before the release of the first film, although those initial reports suggested he wouldn’t be glimpsed until the second installment. Instead, his appearance serves as the big twist that caps off the inaugural adventure of Eddie Redmayne’s magizoologist, Newt Scamander.
Before his true identity is revealed, Percival serves as a high-ranking member of the MACUSA, the governing body of America’s branch of the Wizarding World. For the bulk of the movie, Graves is trying to coerce put-upon teenager Credence (Ezra Miller), the adopted son of fierce anti-witch proponent Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), into helping him with an off-the-books investigation. The agent has reason to suspect that another one of Mary Lou’s wards, Modesty (Faith Wood-Blagrove), possesses magical powers that she’s actively suppressing to avoid her guardian’s wrath. Doing that, though, can result in the birth of an Obscurus — a destructive force that grows within the host’s body. In the climax, it’s revealed that the Obscurus is actually growing inside of Credence, and the troubled boy unleashes this energy, which wreaks havoc on downtown New York.
While Percival attempts to capture Credence, Newt — who has encountered an Obscurus in his past travels — strives to help the young man. But they’re ultimately both overruled by MACUSA’s president, Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo), who orders her agents to execute Credence. This infuriates Graves, who declares that he’s fed up with having to operate in secret from No-Maj’s — the American term for Muggles. His speechifying triggers Newt’s suspicions, and leads him to cast a revealing Revelio Charm that replaces Farrell’s visage with Depp’s, sporting shock-white hair and ultra-pale skin. Grindelwald is summarily hauled away, but not before promising that he and Scamander will be seeing each other again. (Fun fact: this isn’t the first time that Depp and Farrell have inhabited the same body. Both actors, along with Jude Law, took turns playing Heath Ledger’s role in Terry Gilliam’s 2009 film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus when the Brokeback Mountain star died before shooting was completed.)
It should be noted that Depp’s casting has been met with some controversy due to domestic violence allegations made by ex-wife Amber Heard earlier this year. (Producer David Heyman has said that the actor filmed his Fantastic Beasts cameo before that news broke.) Narratively, though, the introduction of Grindelwald provides the Fantastic Beasts franchise with a strong central villain, something this first entry arguably lacks. In fact, director David Yates — who helmed the final four installments of the Harry Potter series and is currently attached to direct every Fantastic Beasts adventure — has already revealed that the second film will feature a more Potter vs. Voldemort-style conflict between Scamander and Grindelwald. “Currently the beasts feature slightly less in the second film, and Grindelwald takes more of a foreground,” Yates told The Leaky Cauldron.
And where there’s more Grindelwald, you can expect to see more of Albus Dumbledore. In 2007, Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling confirmed that the dearly departed Hogwarts headmaster was gay and, in fact, that Grindelwald was the love of Dumbledore’s life before Grindelwald embraced evil. While making the press rounds for Fantastic Beasts, for which she wrote the screenplay, the author has teased that a young — or, at least, younger — Dumbledore might appear in the sequel. (His name is dropped in passing in the first film, when it’s mentioned that, while still a teacher at Hogwarts, Dumbledore helped Newt avoid expulsion over a creature-related mishap.)
Another minor character that will likely have a major role in the next film is Leda Lestrange, played by Zoë Kravitz. Newt carries Leta’s picture with him on his travels and winces at the mere mention her name, hinting at a close friendship — and possibly even a romance — that ended poorly. Leda may be a new addition to Harry Potter mythology, but the Lestrange family name is a familiar one: Bellatrix Lestrange (played by Helena Bonham Carter in the Potter films) married into the powerful clan and became a devout acolyte of Lord Voldemort, fighting and dying alongside him during the Battle of Hogwarts. (Meanwhile, the sequel play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, dropped the bombshell that Bellatrix bore He Who Must Not Be Named an illegitimate daughter, Delphi.) And if the Lestranges were champions of Lord Voldemort, it’s likely that they’d be supporters of his predecessor, Gindlewald, as well, thus explaining the Leta/Newt rift. Expect all to be Revelio’d… um, revealed in the next chapter.