Gellert Grindelwald: A Villain Capable of Love
One of the most exciting developments leading up to the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was the reveal that Albus Dumbledore saw Gellert Grindelwald in the Mirror of Erised. This detail seemed to confirm that Dumbledore’s love for Grindelwald will be a significant plot point in the Fantastic Beasts series. Dumbledore’s admission that he and Grindelwald “were closer than brothers” further confirmed that Grindelwald meant a great deal to Dumbledore in his youth and still means more to Dumbledore than he would care to admit.
Part of the reason Dumbledore cannot face Grindelwald is that he is still tempted to join him in his quest for mastery over death. Dumbledore himself makes that clear in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Dumbledore’s vision of Grindelwald in the Mirror of Erised indicates that his abiding love for Grindelwald is another complicating factor. It is clear that a blood pact is not the only thing keeping Dumbledore from facing Grindelwald. However, it is still unclear whether Grindelwald ever felt anything for Dumbledore, whether he would see Dumbledore in the Mirror of Erised, or whether the blood pact is indeed the only thing standing between them.
Throughout Crimes of Grindelwald, Grindelwald easily manipulates people’s emotions and exploits their vulnerabilities. He is the mastermind behind the entire plot of the movie, setting various traps to lure the main characters to his rally and predicting their every behavior with terrifying precision. He speaks to his hundreds of admirers about freedom, truth, and love, but he drops that pretense almost entirely in the company of his henchpeople. It is easy to argue that Grindelwald never felt anything for Dumbledore and was manipulating him from the beginning. He could have easily feigned closeness to Dumbledore to take advantage of his brilliant mind, intending to betray him once they had worked out the locations of the Deathly Hallows together. If Grindelwald was always planning on leaving Dumbledore behind, then he must have coerced Dumbledore into making a blood pact never to fight him as a safeguard against potential retaliation.
Somehow, I don’t think that is true. If Grindelwald was simply treating Dumbledore as disposable, why make a breakable blood pact with him for insurance rather than the more durable Unbreakable Vow? I think the answer is that Grindelwald loved Dumbledore just as much as Dumbledore loved him. An Unbreakable Vow is distinctly one-sided and indicates an imbalance of power because it involves one person making the other person swear to uphold the vow on pain of death. If Grindelwald never loved Dumbledore, if he genuinely was using him all along, then Grindelwald would have forced Dumbledore to make an Unbreakable Vow never to fight him.
Dumbledore and Grindelwald made a blood pact because they both cared deeply about each other. Neither wanted to ask the other to take on the burden of an Unbreakable Vow. The blood pact involved vulnerability and sacrifice on the part of both Dumbledore and Grindelwald, and both are equally bound to the oath. They saw each other as equal partners and trusted the strength of their relationship. As long as they were together, neither of them would ever have power over the other. Even if they were to become enemies one day, breaking the pact would not give either of them an advantage. Partners or not, they would always be equals.
I think Dumbledore may be the only person Grindelwald has ever loved. They shared the same thirst for power and the same desire to reshape the wizarding world. They were both drawn to each other’s brilliance and they supported and understood each other in a way no one else ever had. I don’t think Grindelwald still loves Dumbledore the way I’m sure Dumbledore still loves Grindelwald. But I do think some small part of Grindelwald, the part that wears the blood pact they made on a chain close to his heart, still wishes they could go back to working with each other for the greater good.
It is Grindelwald’s understanding of love that makes him such a compelling villain. Lord Voldemort understood the mechanics of love and could use it to pressure people into doing his bidding, but he never understood Dumbledore’s insistence that love was more powerful than any other magic. Grindelwald understands how love feels, he remembers what it felt like to lose what he loved, and that is what allows his message to be so seductive to ordinary people.
Grindelwald offers his supporters genuine empathy for their struggles because he knows how good it feels to be understood. He promises his followers a home, a purpose, a sense of unity, and a feeling of freedom. He can promise these things because he knows what it feels like to have them taken away. Grindelwald’s message is authentic. He wants to create what he thinks is a better world, where wizards aren’t “trapped and wasted” as he and Dumbledore felt in their youth.
Harry Potter always had a clear advantage over Voldemort, but if Dumbledore and Grindelwald are equals, how might Dumbledore finally bring him down?