The Black Quill is a dark magical object of torture that is a type of quill that does not require ink, as it writes with the blood of the person using it. It was invented by British Ministry of Magic employee Dolores Umbridge some time before 1995.
What the user writes will be carved onto the back of his or her hand and the blood from the words sliced into the hand will be magically siphoned and be used as ink on the parchment. The wound on the back of the hand will then heal, slightly redder than before, and then open up when the user writes again. Continuous use of it will eventually scar the back of the hand. The quill is black, long, thin, and extremely sharp.
- "He let out a gasp of pain. The words had appeared on the parchment in what appeared to be shining red ink. At the same time, the words had appeared on the back of Harry's right hand, cut into his skin as though traced there by a scalpel — yet even as he stared at the shining cut, the skin healed over again, leaving the place where it had been slightly redder than before but quite smooth... He looked back at the parchment, placed the quill upon it once more, wrote I must not tell lies, and felt the searing pain on the back of his hand for a second time; once again, the words had been cut into his skin, once again they healed over seconds later. And on it went. Again and again Harry wrote the words on the parchment in what he soon came to realise was not ink, but his own blood. And again and again the words were cut into the back of his hand, healed, and then reappeared the next time he set quill to parchment."
- —Harry experiences the Black Quill.[src]
During the 1995–1996 school year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Dolores Umbridge was Defence Against the Dark Arts professor and High Inquisitor. As a method of punishment, she had students who displeased her write lines using the Black Quill, which Professor Minerva McGonagall considered a "medieval method" of teaching.
Harry Potter was one of the students upon whom Umbridge frequently forced this punishment, since he persistently claimed that Voldemort had returned, which the Ministry of Magic refused to believe. He used the Black Quill during many detentions, from 5:00 p.m. to well over midnight, until he acquired a scar on the back of his hand reading "I must not tell lies". Hermione Granger prepared a solution made of Murtlap Essence in order to help relieve the pain Harry suffered from using the Black Quill. Lee Jordan was another student who was forced to use the Black Quill for making fun of Educational Decree Number Twenty-Six. There were also many students Umbridge put into detention for using the Skiving Snackbox, claiming to have "Umbridge-itis", but after failing to discover their secrets, she was forced to allow them to leave her classes in droves. It is unknown if she used the Black Quill to punish these students.
- "You've been through all that persecution from the Ministry when they were trying to make out you were unstable and a liar. You can still see the marks on the back of your hand where that evil woman made you write with your own blood, but you stuck to your story anyway [...] "
- —Hermione Granger to Harry Potter one year after he was punished with the Black Quill.[src]
Harry's torturous detentions from Umbridge have served as a symbol of her tyranny and the lengths to which the Ministry would go to silence him from telling the truth, though it is never known whether other Ministry employees or even Cornelius Fudge himself were ever aware that she used these disciplinary actions. It is possible that the Ministry was unaware of it and would not condone the usage, as when Umbridge prepared to use the Cruciatus Curse on Harry she said "What Cornelius doesn't know won't hurt him", giving rise to speculation that Umbridge might be doing more than a few unlawful things, the Black Quill included. Percy Weasley, in a letter to his brother Ronald Weasley, described Umbridge as a "delightful woman" and is speculated that if he knew what type of punishments she was handing out he might not have described her as such. However, it is possible that Percy, being so deep within the Ministry and so convinced what they were doing was the right thing, might have made some excuse or even overlooked Umbridge's behaviour if he learned about it.
Due to the sadistic punishments he received from Umbridge for standing up to her, Harry hated Umbridge from the bottom of his heart, a hatred rivalling that which he felt towards Severus Snape. He loathed Umbridge's high, girlish voice and her wide, toad-like smile during his detentions, her denial of Harry's claims and the way she seemed to enjoy and take pleasure as he carved his hand and wrote in his own blood. However, Harry was convinced talking about the punishments he was forced to do wasn't a good idea. He stubbornly clung to the belief that this was a private battle of wills between himself and Umbridge and he didn't want to give in or give her the satisfaction of hearing that he had complained about it. He was repeatedly suggested by Ron to report this to Professors McGonagall or Dumbledore, but aside from his pride, he refused on the belief that the former has not enough authority to override the punishment, while not wanting to bother with the latter for ignoring him, suggesting that while Umbridge had enough authority to silence a teacher, she could not utilise the quill if the headmaster did not approve it, furthering the quill's illegality.
During the Christmas of 1996, Harry was visited at The Burrow by then-Minister for Magic Rufus Scrimgeour. The purpose of Scrimgeour's visit was to ask Harry to be the Ministry's "poster child"; that is, he would pop in and out of the Ministry from time to time and tell the public that the Ministry was doing the right thing in the war against Lord Voldemort. Scrimgeour tried to persuade Harry to work with the Ministry to create the image that "The Chosen One" was supporting them while they continued to get no where in capturing Death Eaters and putting the wrong people in Azkaban, to give an image of progress.
To bribe Harry, Scrimgeour told Harry he could get him in contact with Gawain Robards, Head of the Auror Office, as Umbridge had told the Minister that Harry had an ambition to become an Auror. Upon hearing that Umbridge was still in Ministry employment, anger began to bubble at the pit of Harry's stomach. When Harry pointed out that Scrimgeour didn't care if he (Harry) lived or died as long as he created the illusion that the Ministry was doing well, Harry raised his right fist and showed Scrimgeour the scars of I must not tell lies Umbridge had forced him to carve into his own flesh, shining white on the back of his cold hand, and pointed out that the Ministry wasn't so keen to be friends during their campaign to discredit him and Dumbledore the previous year.
- Harry Potter (multiple detentions during the 1995–1996 school year)
- Lee Jordan (for mocking Educational Decree Number Twenty-Six)
- Dumbledore's Army (following the group's discovery by Umbridge and the Inquisitorial Squad)
Behind the scenes
- The usage of this torturous quill was described as "sick" by Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and even Imelda Staunton, the actress that plays Dolores Umbridge in the film adaptations.
- In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, all the Dumbledore's Army members had to use it after Cho Chang was forced into betraying them, for breaking Educational Decree Number Sixty-Eight. It created so much pain that it made several people, including Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, Hermione Granger, Nigel Wolpert, Luna Lovegood, Ginny Weasley, George Weasley, Fred Weasley and Michael start sobbing over the deep gouges in the backs of their hands with "I will not break rules". This was against Dumbledore's will, as he wished to blame himself for the D.A. so they wouldn't get into trouble. Fred and George appeared particularly angry with Umbridge, thus adding to their later revenge. This also shows that Umbridge created more than one Black Quill.
- The Black Quill is rather similar to a device in Franz Kafka's short story "In the Penal Colony", where inmates are tortured and executed with a crude device that carves the sentence into the convicted person's skin.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (First appearance)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (film)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (video game)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince