Harry Potter: 15 Things You Didn't Know About The Unforgivable Curses

J.K. Rowling created one of the most epic pieces of modern fantasy with the phenomenal Harry Potter series. Casual fans might not know that the Potterverse contains a deep, rich lore that covers everything from the nature of magic to family histories.

Of course, one of the most popular subjects are the spells themselves. Much like Force powers in Star Wars, there are a wide variety of spells and even some put into light and dark categories.

Among all of these, there are the forbidden, or unforgivable, curses. There are three unforgivable curses --- the Imperius, Cruciatus, and Avada Kedavra curse-- each with its own unique brand of danger.

They have been used extensively throughout the series and in history, and a short demonstration is all one would need to see why they have to be restricted. Magic is not inherently good or evil by itself, it is merely a tool, and like all tools it can be used for nefarious purposes.

There are plenty of characters in the Potterverse who have no qualms about using them for their own gain or out of simple sadism, so the Ministry of Magic must always be vigilant in combating those who would employ them. Their nature is somewhat elusive given their restriction, but there is a lot of information under the surface.

With that said, here are the 15 Things You Didn't Know About The Unforgivable Curses In Harry Potter.

15. The Killing Curse Is Surprisingly Easy To Block

The Killing Curse is a projectile spell, and thus can theoretically be dodged or blocked by objects. However, the curse is very fast and the projectile small, so it’s far from easy to block it in a wizarding duel.

It is thought that the Killing Curse can be intercepted by another spell, but because of the small size and speed this is quite unlikely, akin to having two bullets collide in mid air.

In a wizarding duel out in the open, it is most effective, but there are a surprising number of ways that it can be countered by more practical means. A Killing Curse projects in an almost straight line, so a potential victim can move out of the attack range.

It is also possible to block the spell with a solid object, which would result in either the object’s damage or destruction, depending on the object. The Killing Curse does not have strong penetration power and can be blocked with many real world solid objects, or by another person taking the hit for the intended victim.

Countering the curse with magical means is harder, but the most reliable is the charm of Sacrificial Protection.

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10 They Can Only Be Used By A Wizard Or Witch Of Significant Strength

It makes sense that as three of the most powerful spells in the wizarding world, the forbidden curses all need a powerful wizard or witch to use them correctly. During Order of the Phoenix, Moody (really Barty Crouch Jr. in disguise) is teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts and tells the students that he could teach them the Killing Curse and let them try it on him right there, but they wouldn’t give him more than a nosebleed.

This is because they don’t have nearly enough strength yet to make it work, and most adult wizards don't either. The strength is not just magical, but also moral.

Dumbledore is said to be the most powerful wizard of his time and thus knows a lot about forbidden magic, but he doesn’t use these spells because he knows he is too strong and might become corrupted.

No matter how good the intentions are, any use of a dark spell always runs the risk of changing the wizard. This is a lesson that Harry learns himself and he always made it a point not to use any dark magic even though he probably could. His signature spell is the safe and clean Expelliarmus, the disarming charm.

9 Victims Of The Imperius Curse Gain Enhanced Abilities

There are several ways to temporarily enhance one’s abilities in the Harry Potter world-- potions and magic spells can improve a variety of skills, but the Imperius curse is one that is highly affective in improving the physical abilities of its victims.

Barty Crouch Jr.,  in the guise of Mad Eye Moody, claimed that he had special permission from the Ministry to perform the unforgivable curses in his class, but that might have been a lie so that he could practice them himself without getting into trouble.

When he inflicted the Imperius curse on the spider in class, he could make it do cartwheels, backflips, and other feats that it would never be able to do on its own. It had the same affect on students, as Dean Thomas and Neville are able to perform astounding moves.

Those under the Imperius curse also have their magical abilities enhanced and are able to perform spells that they normally couldn’t. It is also possible for those under the curse to place it on others as well if the wizard in control wants them to.

8 The Ban Was Temporarily Lifted By Voldemort

The height of Voldemort’s success against the Ministry of Magic happened when he temporarily took over the institution and lifted the ban on the forbidden curses.

The Death Eaters employed the Imperius curse in order to control high ranking members of the Ministry, and over the course of several months, they increased their influence to include the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

This eventually led to the assassination of the Minister himself. With the institution under their control, the Death Eaters reinstated all three forbidden curses, allowing and even encouraging their use.

During his reign, Defense against Dark Arts class at Hogwarts was essentially changed to be a dark magic instruction class, where the Cruciatus curse was used by students on other students as part of the curriculum.

Thankfully, the Death Eater’s grip on power was short lived and the reformed Dumbledore’s Army was able to take Hogwarts back from the infiltrators.

11. You Need To Be Cruel To Use The Cruciatus Curse

As perhaps the most cruel forbidden curse, Cruciatus is the torture curse. It allegedly causes the most intense pain that a person could ever experience. Some of the descriptions of the effects are “a thousand white-hot knives boring into the skin” and pain so severe that the victim wishes for death.

However, simply knowing the incantation isn’t enough for this curse to work properly. The user must have exceptionally cruel intent at the time. When Harry cornered Bellatrix Lestrange, he was unable to perform the curse effectively, causing only minimal damage to the Death Eater.

Despite Harry being furious with Lestrange for killing Sirius Black, he still could not muster the cruelty needed to use its true power. Bellatrix, on the other hand, has no problem using it or any forbidden curse since she is incredibly evil.

Harry later tries it on Amycus Carrow, with only a little more success than the first time. Ethics aside, Harry simply lacks the inherent cruelty to use this curse.

7 There Are No Visible Signs On The Body Of The Killing Curse Victim

Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix LeStrange With Fire Behind Her

The Killing Curse is the most infamous spell in the Potterverse and the primary weapon of Voldemort and other powerful Death Eaters. Manifesting as a shower of bright green sparks, the Killing Curse will instantly kill any living organism unfortunate enough to get hit with it.

Contrary to many other spells, this most lethal spell leaves no discernible effects on the body of those it kills. It looks as if the person simply dropped dead on the spot, with no external or internal injuries to be found. Additionally, it is thought to be a painless death.

In the Muggle world, they are not be able to determine a cause of death as the victims are “perfectly healthy aside from being dead," which has caused wizards to use memory modification spells on them.

Wizards, however, will always be able to tell the victim of the Killing Curse. There aren’t any other spells that kill victims and leave no traces. Much like the Cruciatus curse, this curse requires a deep desire to inflict, making it inaccessible to most.

6 The Imperius Curse Is Considered The Least Harmful

David Tennant as Barty Crouch Jr in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

While the Imperius curse is dangerous at any time, it is weaker than the other unforgivable curses. The Imperius curse is essentially a mind controling spell that puts the victim under the total control of the caster. The curse puts the victim into a state of deep hypnosis, where there is no pain and the mental barriers against doing certain things are removed.

This is unique among the forbidden curses, as it induces a state of euphoria rather and causes no actual pain. When properly cast, its victims are helpless and are often unable to remember the time they spent under the curse.

It is because of this lack of pain, and the fact that victims can make a full recovery, that the Imperius curse is considered the least harmful of the three curses.

However, any number of atrocities can happen while the victim is under the power of this spell, so to call it "safe" is inaccurate-- just because it doesn’t cause pain, this doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be outlawed.

5 Harry And Voldemort Are The Only People To Survive The Killing Curse

Voldemort’s inclusion in this entry is a technicality because his Killing Curse did rebound and in fact kill his body, but he didn’t die because his soul was separated into Horcruxes. Nonetheless, he did survive and along with his intended victim, Harry, stand as the only two people ever known to survive the dreaded Killing Curse. Harry survived under the charm of Sacrificial Protection, but the circumstances surrounding his event were unique. In surviving the curse, Harry also gained some of Voldemort’s power including Parseltongue and a mental link with the Dark Lord. Voldemort himself described being in great pain and feeling like his soul was ripped from his body, but this is likely due to the fragmented state of his soul. The effect on him was devastating, reducing him to a frail, helpless thing that had to be cared for like an infant for a time. The only power left to Voldemort during this time was his ability to possess the body of another. While there have been many to sacrifice themselves for their friends, Harry and Voldemort are the only two to actually be hit by the curse and survive it.

4 Imperius Is The Only Curse That Can be Resisted

One of the ways that the Imperius curse is unique among the forbidden curses is that it is the only one that can be resisted naturally. The strength of a spell depends on the strength of its caster, as does any defense against it by the victim.

The Imperius curse can be resisted by a person of exceptionally strong will and character even without magical assistance. Harry is shown to be naturally resistant against it when the fake Moody casts it on him in Goblet of Fire. Barty Crouch Sr. and Jr. both developed a resistance to it as well, though they take a longer time compared to Harry and suffer permanent mental scarring.

It seems like will and stubbornness are the most reliable ways to counter it-- Harry is possibly the most stubborn character since he had to grow up with the Dursleys, so it follows that he would be hard to control.

3 The Imperius Curse Can Be Used As An Excuse To Elude Justice

The Imperius Curse is the most convenient excuse in the wizarding world. After all, literally any crime can be committed under its influence, so when a wizard or witch is caught doing something illegal, it is not unusual for them to claim that they were under the Imperius spell.

This was a huge problem after the events of the First Wizarding War, which concluded with Voldemort suffering his first defeat at the hands of baby Harry Potter. The Death Eaters that were not killed had to face justice for their actions, and through spies and deals with the Ministry of Magic, the Ministry were able to find most of them.

However, it is difficult to prove that a wizard acted of their own accird and not under the Imperius curse. Voldemort employed the spell extensively, so it was always a possibility.

Since the Ministry considers all wizards and witches innocent until proven guilty, many Death Eaters-- including Lucius Malfoy, Amycus and Alecto Carrow, and Walden Macnair-- were declared innocent due to lack of evidence.

The problem came up again after Voldemort’s second and final defeat, when a large number of Death Eaters had to face justice.

2 Anyone Who Uses One Of The Curses Will Get A Lifetime Sentence To Azkaban  

The Ministry of Magic had to act decisively in its formative year, and the establishment of the forbidden curses is the best example of the changes that were taking place in the wizarding world. The use of any curse a human subject was grounds for a lifetime sentence in Azkaban.

Many wizards and witches were never comfortable with this punishment, and didn't think it was fair for even evil wizards to be locked in Azkaban. Despite this, measures had to be taken in order to "modernize" magic, and banning the three curses was the priority.

This was important because the wizarding world still harbored distrust and even hatred for muggles, and thus the politics of wizards always had an undercurrent of anti-muggle sentiment.

Part of this ban was to subvert the sentiment, but wizards with anti-muggle beliefs still held influence. They couldn’t take revenge through those curses, but still tried political attacks such as banning marriage to muggles and banning non-pureblood students from studying.

4. The Cruciatus Curse Can Cause Insanity

Mad Eye Moody's spider torture in Harry Potter

While the Imperius curse leaves a victim blissfully ignorant in most cases, and the Killing Curse and the Cruciatus curse are extremely dangerous, and in the case of the Cruciatus curse, can cause long-standing side effects.

Torture is possible under any number of means and is not limited to magic, but the torture spell can be worse than any form physical torture since the damage takes place purely in the mind.

Victims of the curse feel intense pain to the point of wishing for death, but show no signs of external injuries. The curse appears to work by manipulating nerves into thinking that the victim is being physically torture.

This torture can potentially go on for a long time, much longer than any physical torture. Perhaps the most famous case of it was its use on Frank and Alice Longbottom, the parents of Neville.

Frank and Alice were Aurors from the original Order of the Phoenix. They were captured by Death Eaters after Voldemort’s first defeat. They were tortured into insanity by Bellatrix, her two brothers, and Barty Crouch Jr. 

3. The Cruciatus Curse Cannot Penetrate A Fidelius Charm

The Fidelius charm is one of the oldest spells known to wizards. It is a complex spell that is designed to hide a secret inside a wizard’s soul-- this person is then known as a Secret Keeper.

The Fidelius stands as the most effective way to keep secrets and is so strong that not even the worst torture under the Cruciatus curse can force the secret to be divulged.

The only way for the secret to be revealed is for the keeper to give it willingly. The charm is so strong that an observer can be looking directly at it and not recognize that it’s there, no matter how strong they are.

It was used to hide the HQ of the Order of the Phoenix at 12 Grimmauld Place for many years, which the Death Eaters knew of but couldn’t hope to see, let alone enter. It was also employed by Arthur Weasley and his son Bill on their own house.

2. Two Wands With Cores From The Same Animal Can Cancel The Killing Curse

A Priori Incantatem happens when two wizards, whose wands' cores come from the same animal, decide to duel against one another. During the duel, one wizard will gain the upper hand, which forces the other wand to perform "echoes" of the most recent spells that it performed.

This occurs twice between Harry and Voldemort. This is not a spell but an effect, and as an unintended consequence, it ultimately ended up causing the death of Voldemort.

When the final duel between Voldemort and Harry commenced, they struck out with their signature spells-- Killing Curse and Expelliarmus-- and the battle of wills began.

Unbeknownst to Voldemort, his wand wouldn’t hurt Harry because he was its master, so the Dark Lord's curse was echoed back at him.

The chance of this happening is rare, but in the case of Voldemort he was unknowingly fighting a duel that he could not possibly win. So Voldemort died twice from his own rebounded Killing Curse that was aimed at Harry, the second time for good.

1 The Ministry Of Magic Established The Ban In 1717

The Ministry of Magic is the governing body of wizards and all things magic in Britain, but some fans might not know that it was created out of the previous governing body-- The Wizards Council.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, anti-witch hysteria was at its peak in Europe and the New World, and the Council had to take measures to increase wizard secrecy.

They thus formed the Ministry of Magic, which was founded in 1707. The new body functioned much like its predecessor, but was highly focused on establishing the separation between the magic and muggle worlds.

The wizarding world had suffered a lot during the years before this event, and the move to ban the three unforgivable curses was necessary in order to keep the peace and keep the wizarding world hidden.

In 1717, the three curses were named "unforgivable" and it became illegal to use any of them. This was important because it shaped the ideals of the wizard world in a time when it was at its most malleable. This was essential because there were many wizards and witches who never forgave muggles for their witch hunting days.


Can you think of any other interesting facts about Harry Potter's three unforgivable curses? Sound off in the comment section!

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