Some content in this article is derived from information featured in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and, as such, spoilers will be present.
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The Imperius Curse (Imperio) is a tool of the Dark Arts, and is one of the three Unforgivable Curses. It is one of the most powerful and sinister spells known to wizardkind. When cast successfully, the curse places the victim completely under the caster's control, though a person with exceptional strength of will is capable of resisting it.
The fact that the curse can be defended against makes it unique amongst the Unforgivable Curses.
The Imperius Curse was invented during the early Middle Ages by dark witches or wizards. The curse was created for the coercion and brainwashing of others into slavery.
After the Wizards' Council was reformed into the Ministry of Magic, tighter restrictions were placed on the use of certain kinds of magic. The Imperius Curse was deemed by the Ministry to be dark magic, and, along with the Cruciatus and Killing curses, were declared "unforgivable" in 1717. The use of any of these three curses on a fellow human being would result in a life sentence in Azkaban, unless there is sufficient evidence that the caster did so under the influence of another's Imperius Curse; this tends to be a loophole that many Dark Wizards abuse and lie about when they were facing prison time, particularly after the First Wizarding War.
During the First Wizarding War, when Bartemius Crouch Senior was in charge of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, he fought violence with violence, and legalised the three Unforgivable Curses for Aurors against the Death Eaters in order to win the war. This was repealed once the war was over, as it was no longer necessary. It was also at that time that many Death Eaters, such as Lucius Malfoy, Corban Yaxley, Walden Macnair, Amycus and Alecto Carrow, Avery, Crabbe, Nott and Goyle claimed that they had served under Lord Voldemort only because of the Imperius Curse. While their claims were accepted, the Ministry has gone as far as to assign several personnel to determine who is truly under the curse and who is lying to escape punishment. However, they were not perfect in capturing deception. Malfoy, Macnair, and several others still eluded justice under the cover of this lie.
In the 1994-1995 school year, Barty Crouch Jr, under the disguise of Alastor Moody, showed these three curses to his fourth year classes on spiders despite the Ministry's disapproval. Later, in fact, he claimed that he had permission to perform the Imperius Curse on students in order to teach them how to resist it, though it might also have been an excuse to get back into practise with it. The students under the curse were all completely under Crouch's command, and could not resist at the very least, performing physical feats that they would normally be unable or unwilling to do; Harry Potter was the only one who managed to resist the curse completely, if at all.
When Lord Voldemort took over the Ministry, the three curses were once again legalised: this time every wizard and witch had the right to use them as they please. In fact, they were practised in Hogwarts as part of the curriculum in the Dark Arts class under the tutelage of Professor Amycus Carrow after Voldemort's death and the revolutionising of the Ministry under Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt, the three curses were once again forbidden, and many people under its influence felt like they were coming out of trances.
- "Scores of witches and wizards have claimed that they only did You-Know-Who's bidding under the influence of the Imperius Curse. But here's the rub: how do we sort out the liars?"
- —Barty Crouch Jr on the Imperius Curse's controversy[src]
Death Eaters made use of the curse in both the First and Second Wizarding Wars to force innocent people to do their bidding. For example, Lucius Malfoy used the Imperius Curse to force Broderick Bode and Sturgis Podmore to try to steal a prophecy from the Department of Mysteries in 1996, and Corban Yaxley placed the Imperius Curse on Pius Thicknesse as part of the plan to take over the Ministry of Magic in 1997. In 1998 Harry Potter used the curse three times on two different individuals in order for the trio to break-in to Gringotts Wizarding Bank undetected.
Ironically, many Death Eaters, such as Lucius Malfoy, avoided imprisonment in Azkaban after Voldemort's first defeat in 1981 by claiming that they had been under the Imperius Curse. As such, it became the Ministry's work to determine who was lying, even though many "victims" managed to deceive them.
- "It was the most wonderful feeling. Harry felt a floating sensation as every thought and worry in his head was wiped gently away, leaving nothing but a vague, untraceable happiness. He stood there feeling immensely relaxed, only dimly aware of everyone watching him."
- —Harry Potter while under the Imperius Curse[src]
Unlike the other Unforgivables, being subjected to the Imperius Curse — when adequately cast — is not an unpleasant experience, in fact, quite the opposite; the victim of an Imperius Curse is placed in a calm, trance-like state in which all feeling of responsibility and anxiety is banished (drawing parallels to the real-world phenomenon of hypnosis, which is also often portrayed in fiction — albeit inaccurately — of being capable of placing someone under the complete control of another by placing them in a theta state). However, when Harry was Imperiused, he believed that his curse may not have been very strong, thus the sensation from casting a more powerful Imperius Curse may be more intense than the known account.
An adequately Imperiused being is placed under the caster's total control and may be directed to do anything the caster wishes, including crimes such as murder, political corruption, embezzlement, and even suicide (as exposited by Barty Crouch, Jr, disguised as Alastor Moody and teaching the unforgivable curses to a group of fourth year students at Hogwarts that included Harry Potter, where he explained "I could make her jump out a window, drown herself, or even launch herself down one of your throats"). Also, whilst under the caster's control, the curse may also endow the victim with whatever skills that are required in order to complete the task at hand, such as increased strength or allowing them to cast spells far above their level. For example, when Imperiused, Neville Longbottom was able to perform a series of "quite astonishing gymnastics" under the curse that he would not normally be capable of.
It is possible for someone who has been Imperiused to place others under the curse as well. For example, Madam Rosmerta, who had been Imperiused by Draco Malfoy sometime during the 1996-1997 school year, was able to place Katie Bell under the Imperius Curse in an attempt to deliver a cursed necklace to Albus Dumbledore. It is also possible that Corban Yaxley Imperiused Pius Thicknesse to place other high-ranking members of the Ministry of Magic under the curse in order to facilitate the overthrow of Rufus Scrimgeour.
When a correctly cast Imperius curse is terminated — for whatever reason — the victims become themselves again, as happened after the final defeat of Voldemort and the Death Eaters in the Battle of Hogwarts, when all of the people across the country who had been Imperiused by him or his supporters were released from the spell. Also, any pain that the curse has negated by the pleasant sensation would return, along with any other pain that the victim suffered for the duration of the curse.
If the Imperius Curse is performed poorly, then the victim would have their mind addled, an example being Muggle Junior Minister Herbert Chorley. It seems the damage is long-lasting, as Chorley was sent to St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries to recuperate and spent the rest of his life believing he was a duck. This is likely due to the fact powerful, dark magic may leave irreversible biological damage, such as when George had his ear cursed off permanently.
- "The Imperius curse can be fought, and I’ll be teaching you how, but it takes real strength of character, and not everyone’s got it. Better avoid being hit with it…"
- —Barty Crouch Jr to a fourth year DADA class[src]
Resisting the Imperius Curse is possible, but requires great strength of will and character. The fact that it can be resisted makes it unique amongst the Unforgivable Curses as it is the only curse that has a manner of defence. Harry Potter, Barty Crouch Snr, and Barty Crouch Jr each learned to resist the curse after being subjected to its effects, though the latter two took quite a long time before building the said resistance, and in Barty Snr's case, resistance against Voldemort's powerful curse has seemingly caused mental damage. Resisting the Imperius Curse is similar to Occlumency, which requires a great amount of willpower, though it is unknown if Occlumency would actually work against the curse.
Known practitioners and uses
|Herbert Chorley||unknown||Victim of a poorly-performed Imperius Curse, spent the rest of his life in St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries believing he was a duck.|
|Barty Crouch Snr||Kept under house arrest; 1994.|
|Alastor Moody||Imperiused to maintain containment and to reveal the habits of Alastor Moody to impersonate.|
|Barty Crouch Jr|
|Harry Potter||Same as above. Harry successfully resisted the curse after several attempts, and the only one to do so.|
|Neville Longbottom||Same as above. Neville did "a series of quite astonishing gymnastics".|
|Dean Thomas||Same as above. Dean hopped around the room singing the national anthem.|
|Lavender Brown||Same as above. Lavender imitated a squirrel.|
|Viktor Krum||During the Triwizard Tournament, Third Task. Viktor was forced to attack Cedric Diggory with the Cruciatus Curse.|
|Sturgis Podmore||Lucius Malfoy||Forced to attempt to steal a prophecy from the Department of Mysteries in 1995.|
|Broderick Bode||Same as Sturgis Podmore|
|Madam Rosmerta||Draco Malfoy||Forced to assist in the smuggling of a cursed necklace and poisoned mead into Hogwarts, as well as to give notice on Dumbledore's departure.|
|Katie Bell||Madam Rosmerta||Forced to assist in the smuggling of a cursed necklace into Hogwarts in a plot to kill Albus Dumbledore.|
|Pius Thicknesse||Corban Yaxley||Forced to act as puppet Minister for Magic at the behest of Voldemort in 1997. Noted by Yaxley that the curse was placed with great effort, as Thicknesse resisted.|
|Stan Shunpike||Unknown, possibly a Death Eater||Forced to serve the Death Eaters, fought in the Battle of the Seven Potters in 1997.|
|Bogrod||Harry Potter||Forced to allow Hermione Granger (disguised as Bellatrix Lestrange) into the Lestrange Vault at Gringotts in 1998.|
|To replace the curse that the Thief's Downfall washed away.|
|Travers||Forced to act as an accomplice in the aforementioned bank heist.|
|Amycus Carrow||Minerva McGonagall||As a means to confine him in the Ravenclaw Common Room in 1998.|
This curse takes its name from the Latin imperiosus, meaning "commanding, mighty, and powerful", or imperio, which means "to rule".
This is also the root of imperative, which is the form of a verb that acts as a command: this is certainly what the imperius curse achieves.
Behind the scenes
- The Imperius Curse presumably causes a magically induced partial paralysis of the neocortex and the prefrontal cortex, the parts of the brain which, respectively, control conscious thought/logic and decision making. This, in turn, would reduce the victim's capacity for independent thought and make them more receptive to outside influence. This would explain why strength of mind is so vital for resisting the curse, since the act of forcing oneself to realise one's actions are, in fact, not of their own doing when their brain says otherwise would be no mean feat.
- In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
- The Imperius Curse appears to give the victim's eyes a milky, glazed appearance which is not mentioned in the books and would decrease the curse's effectiveness, since it would be easily detectable. However, it's possible that this is a sign of a poorly or hastily performed curse, or one where the victim is actively resisting.
- When Barty Crouch Jr (disguised as Alastor Moody), puts the Imperius Curse on the spider, he directs its movements with his wand, including having it float and hover in midair, as if a Levitation Charm was put on it.
- The three spiders used was replaced with one special kind of spider, an Amblypygi. He also enlarges it to allow the students to witness the spells easily.
- In the second part of the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Imperius Curse appears to be a mist that the victim smells and gets under the caster's bidding. It also appears to leave the victim in a slightly intoxicated, elated state. A similar mist-like spell with mind altering effects was used by Newt Scamander on a muggle that witnessed his creatures being unleashed from Jacob Kowalski's apartment.
- When the Imperius Curse wears off on Bogrod, Ron replaces the initial curse.
- This spell does not appear to be illegal in the handheld versions of LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7, as Severus Snape teaches it to Harry in place of the Occlumency lessons from the book, film and game; furthermore also in the place of Focus, taught by Snape in the PC and console versions of the said game.
- The Imperius Curse was originally planned to appear in LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4. It would have been cast with an orange light (rather than the yellow light used when the spell appeared in Years 5-7) and occupied the slot in the spell wheel used for pets by non-Dark wizards. In the final game, the Killing Curse is placed in that slot for Dark Wizards instead.
- Of the three Unforgivable Curses, the Imperius Curse is used by Voldemort the least (he uses the Killing Curse almost exclusively and tortures dozens with the Cruciatus Curse). Though hundreds of people are described as having come back to themselves after Voldemort's death, it is unlikely that he personally cast it on all of them. He is recorded as only having used it twice, on Barty Crouch Snr and Harry Potter.
- In the 1996–1997 school year, Professor Severus Snape had his sixth year class write a report on resisting the Imperius Curse, and thought they were poorly written that he had to "endure" them.
- The lack of difficulty experienced by Harry Potter in placing the goblins under the curse could indicate a lack of need for any evil intentions (which are required for the other two Unforgivable Curses).
- It is uncertain what the effect would be of Imperiusing somebody who was already under somebody else's Imperius Curse. If it is possible to do so, it may be that the second Imperius would counteract or undo the first Imperius - but it may also be that it would cause great mental harm to the victim, since their brain would be receiving two different, and potentially contradictory, sets of orders.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (film)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (video game)
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (play) (Mentioned only)
- The Tales of Beedle the Bard (Mentioned only)
- Harry Potter: Spells
- LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (Cut from final version)
- LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7
Notes and references
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Writing by J.K. Rowling: "Secret Keeper" at Pottermore
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
- ↑ Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- ↑ Mythbusters, Episode 76: "Voice Flame Extinguisher"
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- ↑ LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (Windows) on The Cutting Room Floor