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Gellert Grindelwald

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"For the Greater Good."
—Gellert Grindelwald's slogan.[src]

Gellert Grindelwald (c. 1882-1998) was considered to be one of the most powerful Dark Wizards of all time, second only to Tom Marvolo Riddle, who later became known as Lord Voldemort. He was schooled at Durmstrang Institute and later took up a friendship with Albus Dumbledore when he lived in Godric's Hollow for a summer with his great-aunt, Bathilda Bagshot, following his expulsion. The two made plans to find the Deathly Hallows and create a world in which Muggles would be subservient to wizards and witches. This partnership fell apart after the two were involved in a three-way duel with Aberforth Dumbledore that resulted in Ariana Dumbledore's death.

Grindelwald left Britain and soon stole the Elder Wand, building an army and rising to power in continental Europe. During his reign of terror, he murdered many wizards and Muggles. In 1945, at the height of his power, his former friend Dumbledore confronted him due to the cries of the public and defeated him in what became known as a legendary duel. Grindelwald was subsequently imprisoned in his own prison Nurmengard for decades. He was slain there by Lord Voldemort in 1998, when Voldemort was in search of the Elder Wand, which Grindelwald refused to give him any information about.


Early life

Gellert Grindelwald school portrait

Gellert Grindelwald posing for his Durmstrang school portrait.

"Educated at Durmstrang, a school famous even then for its unfortunate tolerance of the Dark Arts, Grindelwald showed himself quite as precociously brilliant as Dumbledore. Rather than channel his abilities into the attainment of awards and prizes, however, Gellert Grindelwald devoted himself to other pursuits. At sixteen years old, even Durmstrang felt it could no longer turn a blind eye to the twisted experiments of Gellert Grindelwald, and he was expelled."
—Excerpt from The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore describing Grindelwald's school days[src]

Gellert Grindelwald was born around 1882, probably in Hungary or Central or Eastern Europe. He was educated at the wizarding school of Durmstrang Institute, and as a student, he proved himself to be as brilliant and talented in the magical arts as Albus Dumbledore. However, he did not use his talents to win awards and prizes like Dumbledore; instead, he chose to devote them to experimenting with the Dark Arts. His experiments became sadistic to the point of nearly killing several of his fellow students, and he was expelled at the age of sixteen.

He was particularly interested in the Deathly Hallows, even using the Hallows' symbol as his own and engraving it on the walls of Durmstrang prior to his departure. His research led him to stay with his great-aunt, Bathilda Bagshot, in Godric's Hollow, England, where Ignotus Peverell, said to be the rightful keeper of Death's Cloak of Invisibility, had been laid to rest.[3]

Friendship with Dumbledore

It was in Godric's Hollow that Grindelwald met and befriended Albus Dumbledore, a young wizard as talented and brilliant as he. The two teenage boys became united by their ambitions for glory and plans to bring about "a new world order" in which wizards would rule over Muggles. They shared a passion for the Deathly Hallows, although for different reasons: Dumbledore wanted to use the Resurrection Stone to bring back his dead parents, while Grindelwald, viewing the Hallows as items of dark power, wanted to use it to create an army of Inferi. They coined the phrase that would become Grindelwald's slogan and his justification for committing horrific crimes against those who opposed him: "For the Greater Good."[4] The two became extremely close, even to the point of romantic attraction on Dumbledore's part[5]. At some point, Grindelwald became aware of his friend's attraction and used it to his advantage, manipulating the Dumbledore into aiding him unquestioningly in his plans[6].

Gellert Grindelwald and Albus Dumbledore

Gellert Grindelwald with his friend Albus Dumbledore.

"He didn't like that. Grindelwald didn't like that at all. He got angry. He told me what a stupid little boy I was, trying to stand in the way of him and my brilliant brother . . . Didn't I understand, my poor sister wouldn't have to be hidden once they'd changed the world, and led the wizards out of hiding, and taught the Muggles their place? And there was an argument . . . and I pulled my wand, and he pulled out his..."
Aberforth Dumbledore to Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley[src]

Aberforth Dumbledore became aware of the pair's plans, and attempted to dissuade Albus from dragging their troubled younger sister, Ariana, along with them on their campaign, knowing she would not receive the kind of care and attention she needed to keep her stable. Grindelwald inflicted the Cruciatus Curse on Aberforth, and Albus moved to defend his brother, igniting a three-way duel in which Ariana was killed. Aberforth and Albus were devastated. Albus ended his friendship with Grindelwald, who fled the country, not wanting to be associated with the death considering the fact that he already had a bad record in his country.[7]

Rise to Dark Power

"In a list of Most Dangerous Dark Wizards of All Time, he'd miss out on the top spot only because You-Know-Who arrived, a generation later, to steal his crown."
—a line from The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore about Grindelwald[src]
Young Gellert Grindelwald

Grindelwald steals the Elder Wand from Gregorovitch.

Working on his own from that point forward, Grindelwald delved into his research of the Deathly Hallows, and uncovered the location of the Elder Wand. Rumours had been circulating that the renowned wandsmith Gregorovitch had the wand and was trying to duplicate its properties. Grindelwald broke into the wandmaker's workshop, and succeeded in claiming ownership of the fabled wand by waiting until Gregorovitch came then casting a stunning spell on him to be the rightful owner instead.[8]

Over the years, Grindelwald raised an army and began a reign of terror that spread through several European countries, though he never attempted to take power in Britain for his fear of his former friend, Dumbledore, who was "a shade more skilful" than he was.[9] During his reign, he built the Nurmengard prison to hold any objectors, and murdered countless European wizards, including Viktor Krum's grandfather[10], all the while continuing to claim everything he did was "for the greater good." which was the phrase he put on the entrance of Nurmengard.

"...while I busied myself with the training of young wizards, Grindelwald was raising an army. They say he feared me, and perhaps he did, but less, I think, than I feared him... It was the truth I feared. You see, I never knew which of us, in that last, horrific fight, had actually cast the curse that killed my sister... I think he knew it, I think he knew what frightened me. I delayed meeting him until finally, it would have been too shameful to resist any longer. People were dying and he seemed unstoppable, and I had to do what I could."
Albus Dumbledore[src]
Grindelwald Nurmengard

Grindelwald in Nurmengard.

Fall from power and life imprisonment

When his dark work and justification became "too much", he was finally confronted, due to the cries of the public, by his old friend Albus Dumbledore, who bested him in a duel. Eye-witnesses stated that it was the greatest duel ever fought between wizards. Dumbledore then became the master of the Elder Wand, and Grindelwald was sent back to his homeland and put in the topmost cell of Nurmengard where he spent the rest of his life until his murder by Lord Voldemort.[9]


"Kill me, then. Voldemort, I welcome death! But my death will not bring you what you seek… There is so much you do not understand…"
—Grindelwald to Voldemort shortly before his death[src]
Grindelwald and Voldemort

Voldemort interrogates Grindelwald over the Elder Wand's location.

Fifty-three years after his defeat, Grindelwald was slain in his prison cell by Lord Voldemort, who was searching for the Elder Wand for himself. It was only during the confrontation in Grindelwald's cell that Voldemort learned Albus Dumbledore had claimed the wand long ago. Grindelwald showed no fear during this confrontation, taunting Voldemort by name and laughing at his desire for the wand. Voldemort ended Grindelwald's life with the Killing Curse in the spring of 1998.[11]

Physical appearance

Young Grindelwald - window ledge

Young Grindelwald stealing the Elder wand from Gregorovitch

As a young man, Grindelwald had golden blond hair and a "merry, wild" face. Harry Potter thought he had "a Fred and George-ish air of triumphant trickery about him". He was considered to be handsome just like young Tom Riddle.[12]

Near the end of his life, when Voldemort found him at the top of Nurmengard, Grindelwald had been emaciated, his body becoming a frail skeletal figure, his skull-like face with great sunken eyes, and most of his teeth were gone.

Personality and traits

Harry Potter: "Grindelwald tried to stop Voldemort going after the wand. He lied, you know, pretended he had never had it."
Albus Dumbledore: "They say he showed remorse in later years, alone in his cell at Nurmengard. I hope that is true. I would like to think that he did feel the horror and shame of what he had done. Perhaps that lie to Voldemort was his attempt to make amends . . . to prevent Voldemort from taking the Hallow . . ."
Harry Potter: ". . .or maybe from breaking into your tomb?"
Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore discussing Grindelwald after his death[src]

Grindelwald was a charming and brilliant young wizard, but even as a teenager he was fascinated by the Dark Arts, and was dangerously powerful and ambitious.[3] He was highly intelligent, magically talented, and ruthless, with a vicious temper; for example, when Aberforth Dumbledore challenged his plans and tried to convince his older brother to abandon them, Grindelwald "lost control" and used the Cruciatus Curse on Aberforth.[9] Grindelwald was considered the most powerful Dark Wizard in history, aside from Lord Voldemort.[3]

Grindelwald was a narcissist, being very self-absorbed and thinking almost no one was his equal. He gifted his friendship only to those who had something to offer him in return, such as Albus Dumbledore. He also showed himself to be highly manipulative, such as when he wilfully exploited his friend's affection for him in order to gain Dumbledore's cooperation with his plans.[6]


Grindelwald as an old man.

Grindelwald apparently did not know fear, or at least did not show it. Even face-to-face with the only Dark Wizard to ever be considered more dangerous than himself, wandless and helpless, Grindelwald was openly defiant and even mocking, goading Voldemort into killing him. He claimed during this moment that, unlike the Dark Lord, he had no fear of death[11]. On the contrary, he taunted Voldemort by claiming that he welcomed death which shows that unlike The Dark Lord, Grindelwald knows and agrees with Albus Dumbledore in the fact that there are other things that are much worse than death.

There is evidence that Grindelwald felt remorse for all he had done. He does seem to have shown some doubts about his actions, as he felt the need to justify his atrocities by claiming that they were "for the greater good".[3] This is further supported by the fact he chose to stun Gregorovitch, not kill, when he acquired the Elder Wand. He also seemed to genuinely care about Albus Dumbledore, though he did not ever return Dumbledore's romantic feelings. He valued their friendship when they were young and respected Dumbledore's abilities; like Voldemort, he seemed to be afraid of no one except Dumbledore. Part of his motivation for refusing to give Voldemort any information about the Elder Wand may have been a desire to prevent Dumbledore's tomb from being desecrated, or even out of pure remorse for his own crimes. Alternatively, he may have merely wanted to taunt Voldemort.[9]

Magical abilities and skills

"In a list of "Most Dangerous Dark Wizards of All Time", he'd miss out on the top spot only because You-Know-Who arrived, a generation later, to steal his crown."
—A line from The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore about Grindelwald.[src]

Grindelwald was brilliantly talented while a student and later as an adult. His skills in magic are comparable with Albus Dumbledore and Lord Voldemort. As a former master of the Elder Wand, Grindelwald's magic was further enforced by the artefact's legendary powers.

  • Dark Arts: Grindelwald had a talent and passion for the Dark Arts from a young age. In his school days he experimented with Dark Arts on his friends at Durmstrang. His experiments in Dark Arts were almost lethal, even in his youth. As an adult, he nearly perfected almost every aspect of Dark magic which led him on top of the list of The Most Dangerous Dark Wizards of All Time, long before Lord Voldemort appeared.
  • Duelling: Grindelwald was a highly skilled duellist, able to fight with Albus Dumbledore when he was at the height of his power; their duel has entered history as the greatest duel ever fought between two wizards. He defeated and killed many powerful witches and wizards in duels during his reign of terror in Europe. However, Grindelwald was unable to defeat Albus despite the fact that he was wielding the Elder Wand at the time. Albus described himself as "a shade more skilful" than Grindelwald.
  • Knowledge of Wandlore: Grindelwald was aware that to take control of the Elder Wand he needed to not just steal the wand, but defeat the previous owner.
  • Invisibility: Albus Dumbledore said that Grindelwald could make himself invisible without the use of an invisibility cloak; to achieve such a state, Grindelwald would have used an extremely powerful Disillusionment Charm.
  • Stunning Spell: Grindelwald was able to stun Gregorovitch in order to win the Elder Wand's loyalty from him.
  • Occlumency : It is extremely likely that Grindlewald was an extremely accomlished Occlumens, as even Lord Voldemort, who has gained the reputation to be the most accomplished Legilimens alive, was unable to penetrate his mind to gain information for the search of the Elder Wand.
  • Cruciatus Curse: Grindelwald was adept at casting the Cruciatus Curse, and utilised it on at least one occasion against Aberforth Dumbledore.


Albus Dumbledore

Albus Dumbledore (HBP promo) 1

Albus Dumbledore

"Did I know, in my heart of hearts, what Gellert Grindelwald was? I think I did, but I closed my eyes."
—Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter, about his friendship with Gellert Grindelwald[src]

Albus Dumbledore first met Grindelwald when he was seventeen. They were introduced by Grindelwald's great aunt, Bathilda Bagshot. They got along almost instantly, according to Bagshot. They were ultimately united by their desire to have the Deathly Hallows. Although Dumbledore had romantic feelings towards Grindelwald, Grindelwald never returned this affection. Instead, he exploited his friend's infatuation in order to keep Albus on his side and maintained their friendship primarily because he saw Albus as his equal in power and intellect.[6] They were very close for two months, making plans to find the Deathly Hallows and lead a wizarding revolution, and Albus neglected his younger siblings, Aberforth and Ariana, as a result. When Aberforth confronted the pair over this, Grindelwald lost his temper and attacked Aberforth. Albus rushed forward to defend his brother, and during the duel Ariana was killed. Grindelwald fled, his friendship with Albus over.

Over the next few decades, Grindelwald gained power in Europe, and Dumbledore refused to face him out of fear that Grindelwald knew who had really killed Ariana. Eventually, however, Dumbledore could no longer stand idly by as his old friend terrorized Europe. In 1945, Grindelwald combated Dumbledore for a second time in a legendary duel, said by eyewitnesses to be the greatest duel ever fought between wizards. Dumbledore won in the end, and took possession of the Elder Wand and imprisoned Grindelwald in his own prison Nurmengard.

Many years later, in 1998, Grindelwald refused to give any information to Lord Voldemort about the Elder Wand despite the fact that he was imprisoned, wandless and face-to-face with the only Dark Wizard ever considered more powerful than himself. This seems to indicate that Grindelwald no longer held with the views of those who practised the Dark Arts. It was speculated by Harry Potter that Grindelwald had given his life to prevent Voldemort from desecrating Dumbledore's tomb, perhaps indicating that Grindelwald retained some respect and affection for his old friend.


  • Gellert is the Hungarian version of Gerard, which comes from the Germanic ger, "spear", and hard, "brave, hardy". Saint Gellert was an Italian-born missionary and martyr who worked in Hungary.[13]
  • Gellért Hill is a high hill overlooking the Danube in Budapest, Hungary. Gellért Hill was named after Saint Gerard who was thrown to death from the hill. The famous Hotel Gellért and the Gellért Baths can be found in Gellért Square at the foot of the hill. The Gellért Hill Cave is located within the hill, facing toward Hotel Gellért and the Danube River.
  • Grindel is old German for "bolt," and is also similar to the mythic monster Grendel who was defeated by Beowulf. Wald is German for "forest". Grindelwald is also the name of a ski resort in Switzerland.
  • It is of interesting but purely speculative note that the name Gellert is very close to the name Gelert, the name of a legendary dog of cultural, but little historical, significance to Northern Wales. According to local mythology, Gelert was the most faithful companion of Prince Llewelyn, mistaken for the assailant of the prince's infant heir. His "grave" is a site in Beddgelert (literally Gelert's Grave), Gwynedd, and the legend is popular in the area.
  • In German, wald is "forest." Grind is a scab, as in the hardened covering over a scar; could also be grinsen, a grin or big smile. The words grindel or grendel appeared in early versions of several Germanic languages, including English. Grindan in Old English meant "to grind," and further "destroyer," someone who grinds up others. In Middle English, grindel meant "angry." In Old Norse, grindill was taken from "storm," and also meant "to bellow," or produce a loud, frightening yell. In Danish legend, the Grendel was a fearsome, murderous monster of humanoid form. He was later defeated by the Scandinavian hero Beowulf in the medieval story of the same name.

Behind the scenes

  • Grindelwald seems to be the wizarding version of Adolf Hitler. The date of Grindelwald's duel with Dumbledore coincides with the downfall of Nazi Germany. Grindelwald adopted an ancient symbol as his sigil (the symbol of the Deathly Hallows) just as the Nazis adopted the swastika, itself an ancient symbol. Furthermore, the prison Nurmengard shares a similar name to the Franconian city of Nuremberg, where war criminal trials of former Nazis were held. Nurmengard's dual role as prison to both the victims and later the perpetrator may be a reference to Nuremberg's dual significance in World War II, which, aside from being the site of the Nuremberg Trials, was also the site of the proposal and adoption of the Nuremberg Laws, infamous discriminatory laws against Jewish people. Nurmengard also bears a sign that reads "For the Greater Good", which may correspond to the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign (German for "Work Makes [One] Free") which hung above the entrance to Auschwitz. Grindelwald's eventual sole imprisonment in his own prison is possibly a reference to the fate of Rudolf Hess, who from 1966 until his death in 1987 was the sole prisoner of Spandau prison.
  • It was revealed by J. K. Rowling during a tour in 2007 that Albus Dumbledore was homosexual, and harboured romantic feelings for Grindelwald[5]. Although she did not initially comment on Grindelwald's sexuality, Rowling later clarified that although Grindelwald was aware of Dumbledore's feelings, he merely used them to manipulate the other boy and did not reciprocate romantically.[6]
  • Despite being expelled from school, Grindelwald never had his wand confiscated and destroyed, as he had it with him when planning for the revolution and attacking Gregorovitch for the Elder Wand, although he might have simply found another wand as replacement.
  • In a 2005 interview around the same time Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was published, Rowling stated that Grindelwald was dead[14]. However, it was revealed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that he was still alive and imprisoned in Nurmengard. Rowling could have been speaking in the context of the chronology at the time of the interview, as Deathly Hallows takes place in 1998. She stated in the same interview that it was not a coincidence that he was defeated in 1945, hinting at a connection with Adolf Hitler and at least the European front of World War II.
  • British actor Jamie Campbell Bower portrays the young Gellert Grindelwald in the film adaptations of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows[15], whereas Michael Byrne portrays the character as an old man.[16]Bower has stated that he believes his character to be gay, and has referred to Toby Regbo, who portrays the teenage Dumbledore, as his "on-screen lover."
  • In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Grindelwald's position as a Dark wizard and attempted conquest is not explained beyond that he is called a Dark wizard in a deleted scene of the Philosopher's Stone film. More so, he willingly tells Voldemort who had the Elder Wand and where it was, as opposed to the novel where he refuses and dies for it. This suggests that in the film he does not show remorse as implied in the book. Aside from a split second flash of light that looks like a dark figure casting an incantation, Voldemort does not seem to kill Grindelwald as he does in the book, instead appearing to Disapparate away instantly. This is likely because Gellert helped Voldemort.
  • It is unknown as to why Grindelwald is considered less of a Dark Lord than Voldemort as Voldemort himself is only known to terrorize England while Grindelwald terrorized all of Europe. One possibility is that his lower position is strictly in England's viewpoint, or simply because Voldemort's campaign of darkness is more recent and so is more heavily etched in the public memory. It could also be due to their differing goals; Grindelwald merely wanted to dominate and rule Muggles, whereas Voldemort wished to kill them outright, along with anyone he considered not of pure blood.


See also

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