Lesson 3) Dark Spells, Part Two

Last class we covered a broad group of curses - the long-standing curses, with emphasis on the Familial Curse. Today, we will be getting much more specific and focusing on three curses in particular: The Unforgivable Curses. Before we begin, let me make this clear. You will not be casting these curses, you will not ask how to cast these curses, and you will not research how to cast them. If I find any student doing so, I will happily cart your sorry hides to Azkaban myself, and don't think I won't! Not only am I legally obligated to report you and take you in to face the Ministry of Magic, but I will do so without any remorse or guilt. These curses are serious, as I hope you understand by the end of this class session.

The Unforgivable Curses
Let us begin with an analysis of what the Unforgivable Curses actually are and why they are considered unforgivable. The three Unforgivable Curses - the Imperius Curse, the Cruciatus Curse, and the Killing Curse - are some of the Darkest forms of spells that exist in modern culture. This is because these three spells go beyond any spells we have learned thus far. The Blasting Curse causes immense amounts of damage when cast properly, the Tickling Curse is so named because it was once a form of medieval torture, and the Leg-Locker Curse takes away your target’s ability to walk properly. While none of these actions are considered harmless, they do not take away the individual, natural, human rights of an individual. There is nothing that guarantees a person the ability to walk or talk, the same way there is no natural law saying that structures cannot be destroyed.

What makes the Unforgivable Curses unforgivable is because they do, in fact, violate natural laws and basic human rights. We will explore how each accomplishes this feat, but it is important that this foundation is established. The Unforgivable Curses violate a person in a way that can never be condoned, because it takes away something that innately belongs to the individual. 

The Imperius Curse
The first of the Unforgivable Curses that we will discuss is the Imperius Curse. The purpose of this curse is to take control of an individual and force them to act in any way the caster chooses. For example, if I were to cast the Imperius Curse on any of you, I could make you do anything from dancing on your desk to walking down to the staff lounge and calling all of the professors present a babbling, bumbling band of baboons. This curse also has the side effect that the victim of the curse has no memory of the actions they perform. This has caused the Ministry many problems in past wars. Many people will claim that they acted under the effects of the Imperius Curse when they performed terrible actions and caused a lot of harm, or even death to an individual. The Ministry is then faced with a challenge: how do you discern which individuals are telling the truth about being under the effects of the Imperius Curse, and which individuals are lying?

Another legal problem that occurs when the Imperius Curse is in effect arises when determining punishments to dole out. Does the person who cast another Unforgivable Curse while under the effects of the Imperius Curse deserve the same punishment as the person who initially cast the Imperius Curse? On the surface, both individuals have used an Unforgivable Curse, and both should be subject to the same consequences and sent to Azkaban. However, the person under the influence of the Imperius Curse would have no recollection of what they did, nor did they have the intention to do it. They were forced to perform an act against their will, a fact that should be and is considered when these cases arise.

Now, how does this become a Human Rights issue? If you review the document that I provided for you in our first lesson of this term, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I would refer you to Article Three and Article Four. Article Three states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,” while Article Four states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms” (Universal Declaration). There is a lot to both of these Articles, so I will break both of them down for you in this instance. I will not do so in future sections of this lesson, nor will I do so in the coming lessons; I will expect you to be capable of analyzing this document in this fashion.

Article Three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights grants everyone the right to life, liberty, and security of person. This right is violated because the individual who is affected by the Imperius Curse no longer has that security of person. They are not in control of themselves and their free will has been taken away from them. Strong willed individuals have the ability to take their free will back, but the majority of persons impacted by this curse will be incapable of breaking free. Therefore, their security of person is taken away because they no longer have the free will to protect themselves. This also leads in the second Article that is violated by the use of the Imperius Curse.

The fourth Article of the Declaration grants every individual protection from being enslaved. While there are many examples of this right being broken in our world, we are focusing at the moment on the Imperius Curse. I would hope that, by now, this connection is more obvious than the previous one. By casting the Imperius Curse on an individual, the caster is enslaving the individual for the duration of the effect. The victim’s will is completely stripped away and they are forced to do the bidding of a person who controls them. This is a form of slavery, as there is no choice provided, and the individual under the effect of the curse does not have a choice in what they do. And, worse, the person who is doing the controlling has the ability to force self inflicted punishments on an individual. The caster simply needs to will the person to act, and the person would punish themselves for disobeying with no connection to the caster.

This, on top of the information provided in the textbook, all come together to form many reasons that justify the unforgivableness of this curse. However, we have spent plenty of time on this singular curse already; we must move forward if we are to cover everything in this lesson. Should you have further questions, you may come to my office at any time to discuss these concepts further.

The Cruciatus Curse
The second of the Unforgivable Curses is the Cruciatus Curse, or the Torture Curse. The sole purpose of this curse is to inflict pain. The person who casts this wants to hurt their target as much as possible. There is no sense of humanity in the decision to use this curse; just a desire to hurt. If you want an idea of what pain an individual goes through when under the effects of this curse, imagine the worst pain you have ever felt. Increase that pain threefold. You still aren’t even close to imagining the level of pain inflicted by the Cruciatus Curse.

The most famous example, within the Department of Magical Law Enforcement if nowhere else, of the Cruciatus Curse being used is by Bellatrix Lestrange. During the First Wizarding War, Bellatrix Lestrange was a member of the organization known as the Death Eaters, who were followers of Voldemort. There was an organization formed to oppose the Death Eaters - the Order of the Phoenix. The Order consisted of many members who actively fought Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Two of their ranks were Frank and Alice Longbottom, both very skilled and both very aware of the dangers they faced. On one of their missions for the Order, the Longbottoms encountered Lestrange and a fight ensued. The Longbottoms were starting to gain ground when Lestrange attacked Alice with the Cruciatus Curse. After it was cast the first time, nobody actually knows what happened. We were able to get a little information out of Bellatrix - the events that I just told you - but after that we realized that we couldn’t trust her testimony, even under the effects of Veritaserum. However, the end result is known. The Longbottoms were tortured to insanity. Their minds were completely broken, and they are now permanent residents of St. Mungo’s. They are alive, but their minds are completely broken.

Now, I don’t think I need to tell you that the use of torture is both illegal and immoral. However, in order to completely understand what that means, I think it is important to look at some legal and moral understandings of torture.


As seen here, the government of the United States of America recognizes torture as extreme mental or physical suffering inflicted upon a person. However, it is the subpoints that reveal to us the most about the legal perspective of torture. An act cannot be considered an act of mental torture if it is not intentional, does not heavily impact the individuals senses, there is no threat of imminent death to the victim, or a threat of imminent death to another because of the victims actions or inactions. This provides a lot of room for disagreement within the confines of the law. Many lawyers often argue in trials whether an act done was truly considered an act of torture, solely based on these specifications. Therefore, another definition was created that, from the human rights perspective, made it far less ambiguous what torture meant.

From a human rights perspective, the definition of torture is as follows:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. (APT)

This helps clarify some of the previous ambiguity. First, it clears up the problem of who initiates an act of torture. From a human rights perspective, which I will state is not the final or “universal” definition, a public official must be involved either directly or indirectly in order for it to be considered an act of torture. This disqualifies most acts from being considered acts of torture, and restricts torture to the government level. For example, according to this definition, a student of Illvermorny would not be accused of an act of tortured, even if it fell within the United States legal definition of torture, unless a government official sanctioned the action. While there could be other criminal charges, torture would not be one of them.

Second, it clarifies the intent of an act of torture. It cannot be considered an act of torture if it is not done intentionally. This creates its own ambiguity, as it is difficult to determine true intent, but in trials where accusations of torture are made the Ministry of Magic has often approved the use of Veritaserum in order to determine whether there was intent to harm. This is not a foolproof method, but it has worked in the majority of cases.

Finally, it clarifies the purpose of the action. This is different from whether the act was intentional or not. Instead, the purpose of the action refers to the reason that the act was done. This would have been one of the reasons that Bellatrix Lestrange would have been acquitted of the crime. Despite the efforts that went into proving her guilt, there was no consensus that her actions against the Longbottoms had a specific purpose. As far as could be discovered, her actions were done with the intent to harm, but were not sanctioned by a government official and were not done with a purpose other than as an act of war against an opponent. There was no “gain” by torturing the Longbottoms. However, because of her use of the Unforgivable Curse, it was ultimately decided that, while the Wizengamot was unable to determine the purpose of the action, there must have been some end purpose that they had been unable to determine. And thus Bellatrix received her life sentence in Azkaban.

Finally, we have one last curse to talk about - the worst of the bunch.

The Killing Curse
The Killing Curse. I feel like that’s all that needs to be said. Yet this would be a boring lesson if I provided no information about part of the topic I promised, so I will say more. This spell in particular was a favorite of Voldemort’s. When cast successfully, and when it hits the intended target, this spell causes instant death. There is no consistent, magical way to counter this spell: it will shatter any Shielding Charm, which is the primary defensive spell people will try to use to protect themselves. You do have the ability to dodge the spell. The question is how long can you dodge before the caster either learns your pattern and casts in preparation for you or you become too tired to successfully dodge anymore? You also can hide behind anything in the area, but how many items are there that you can completely hide behind?

There are two very rare cases that must be addressed in which the Killing Curse has been proven to not affect the target. The first is in the case of brother wands. Wands that have a core from the exact same creature will be unable to harm the owner of their brother. The reasons for this are still very unclear, and is a topic of much debate in the field of wandlore. I have many personal theories about why this might be, but this is neither the time nor the place for them. Perhaps in the future, I will be able to discuss this more at length, but for the moment, I am happy to discuss my theories with anyone interested - simply send me a message.

The second special case is when an act of love is done to protect another from the intent of the caster. On Halloween night of 1981, Lily Potter sacrificed herself in order to protect her child. She not only fought Voldemort, but made every effort to keep herself between him and the baby Harry. This created a force, for lack of a better word, around Harry that allowed the Killing Curse to not only bounce off of him, but to rebound back directly at Voldemort, causing Voldemort to suffer the effects of the curse. Had it not been for his horcruxes - a topic for a different lesson - Voldemort would have died on that Halloween night. Despite the research that has been done, we still aren’t entirely sure what happened that allowed Harry to be protected. Some claim that love is a special kind of magic that, when Harry was in danger, Lily was able to use without knowing it to protect him. Others believe that a ritual was done beforehand that caused a blood magic bond between Harry and his blood relatives. I am most curious to see what you believe.

Turning to the human rights component of the topic, this curse is an obvious violation of the third article. With a spell as powerful as the Killing Curse, which as previously stated causes instant death upon touch, it is an obvious and immediate violation of the Declaration of Human Rights, as the use of this curse violates an individual’s right to life. However, it is also a violation of natural laws. While the natural laws are unclear, and many people throughout history have attempted to define them (I highly encourage further research into this interesting topic), most of the scholars have agreed that one of the natural laws is related to life, and that an individual who takes the life of another before their time is in violation of the natural laws. This makes the Killing Curse the worst of the three Unforgivable Curses, as it is a violation of all laws, both man-made and natural.

I hope you all are beginning to understand how serious the Dark Arts are, and also how difficult it is to make a human rights argument. To make an argument from a human rights perspective requires thinking in terms of how other people think and understanding the intent that goes into their actions. In the case of Bellatrix Lestrange, it was understanding the “intent” requirement of casting the Cruciatus Curse, and each of the others requires some level of intent as well. However, there is still much that is not understood. There are still many studies being conducted on Dark spells. These are being done by teams of aurors, magical theorists, and other academics who work tirelessly to understand the Dark Arts to the best of our ability. Who knows, perhaps one of you may be on one of those teams in the future.

For now, what you have learned about Dark spells will suffice to get you through your N.E.W.T. Next class, we will begin our studies of the Darker creatures of our world. While Dementors, which we covered at the end of last year, are among these highly Dark creatures, there are worse out there, as you will see.


“18 U.S. Code § 2340 - Definitions.” Legal Information Institutehttps://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2340.

“A legal definition of torture.” APT, https://www.apt.ch/en/what-is-torture/.

In this final course for Defense Against the Dark Arts, we will be exploring the worst aspects of the Dark Arts. Using the lens of human rights, we will be looking at the most evil Dark Arts, exploring why they violate basic human rights, and how to defend ourselves against them if it is at all possible. This will be the most rigorous term in Defense Against the Dark Arts, so do not enter the classroom lightly or with a faint heart.
Course Prerequisites:
  • DADA-601

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