The Unforgivable Curses

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Chapter 14 of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The Unforgivable Curses← Chapter 13 | Chapter 15 →

Synopsis[edit]

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Professor Snape, as usual, is in a bad mood. His confrontation with Professor Moody must have been galling. Additionally, it is common belief that Snape has long sought the Defence Against The Dark Arts position. Snape also seems to fear Moody, resulting in him retaliating against the students. The students eagerly await Professor Moody's class, except Hermione, who arrives from the library just in time. Moody says the class has studied Dark creatures, but they are deficient in curses. Ministry guidelines only allow counter-curses to be taught until sixth year. Professor Dumbledore wants the fourth years to understand what they may be up against. Professor Moody will demonstrate the three Unforgivable Curses. All are illegal to use against humans under any circumstance. First, the Imperius curse. Moody casts it on a spider, forcing it to dance. This curse, Moody says, makes it difficult to tell who is truly Dark and who is being controlled by magic.

Moody then demonstrates the Cruciatus curse. He enlarges another spider and casts Crucio on it. The spider is obviously in extreme pain, and Neville becomes distressed watching it. Moody releases it. Hermione mentions the Killing Curse. In a jet of green light, another spider simply dies. Only one person is known to have survived that particular curse: Harry Potter. For Harry, who remembers the green flash and the rushing noise, this curse is a revelation.

After class, Moody pulls the still-shaken Neville aside, then tells Harry, he needs to know (the implication being that he should know about the curse that killed his parents). Moody then takes Neville to his office for a cup of tea. When the Trio return to the common room later, Neville is reading a book Professor Moody gave him, titled Magical Mediterranean Water-Plants and Their Properties. Professor Sprout apparently had told Moody that Neville is adept at Herbology.

Harry and Ron tackle their difficult Divination homework, finally reverting to inventing their own outlandish predictions. Harry notices the Twins huddled over a parchment. George cautions Fred, "No, that sounds like we're accusing him. Got to be careful." Hermione returns from the library intending to start an organization she calls S.P.E.W.: the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. She coerces Harry and Ron into being officers. Hedwig delivers a message from Sirius Black. Harry's painful scar and other events concerns him - he is returning to England. Harry frets, fearing he has put Sirius in danger by complaining about his scar. If Sirius is captured, Harry would never forgive himself.

Analysis[edit]

The plot advances in various ways. First, Professor Moody further demonstrates his idiosyncratic teaching style and a willingness to flout Ministry regulations, as well as an awareness and sensitivity towards students. His decision to teach the three "Unforgivable Curses" has a particularly profound effect on two students: Harry and Neville. Realizing that the Cruciatus Curse demonstration has visibly upset Neville, Moody takes him aside after class and calms him down. Moody also checks on Harry, whose parents he knows were killed with the Avada Kedavra curse that nearly took Harry's life, branding him with a scar, though Harry seems less shaken than Neville. Readers will note that Moody describes the Avada Kedavra curse as killing its victim without leaving any mark. However, Harry's scar was caused by the lethal curse. This is most likely the after effect of the curse rebounding off Harry's forehead, deflected by the protection Harry's mother's death had created.

Also, Neville, who is rarely, if ever, singled out for being good at anything, is extremely flattered and grateful when Moody gives him the Herbology book after being told by Professor Sprout that Neville has an aptitude for this subject. Harry thinks that Moody's gesture is similar to what Professor Lupin would have done.

Snape's behavior here is revealing. Rather than the contempt and disrespect he usually heaps on the current Defensive Arts teacher, a position Snape has long coveted but is routinely denied, he appears to show cautious fear and maintains a respectful distance from the crusty, former Auror. Moody's earlier sarcastic remark regarding Snape being an "old friend" hints at an unresolved history between them, most likely relating to Snape's Death Eater past. Typically, Snape vents his frustration on his hapless students.

Also, Sirius, concerned about Harry's safety, is returning to England with Buckbeak, though Harry rightly fears he may have endangered his godfather by writing to him about his scar hurting. And though Sirius' concern and devotion for his godson is commendable and shows how much he loves Harry, his decision seems rather reckless; just how Sirius can help Harry while remaining a hunted fugitive is uncertain, and it only causes Harry even more stress and turmoil.

Finally, Hermione's crusade to advocate House-elf rights (that they actually have never wanted) formally begins in this chapter. And rather than childishly protesting with a hunger strike, she instead adopts a more mature and realistic approach by forming a society as an instrument for change. We can expect to see S.P.E.W. (or the House-Elf Liberation Front as Ron later refers to it) appear in subsequent books. And though it will become a smaller subplot, Hermione continues to believe, quite rightly, that House-elves are a slave caste and should be freed. She fails to consider, however, that freedom must be carefully orchestrated if Elves are to survive and thrive without discrimination or retribution within the Wizarding world. Simply turning loose what most wizards consider an inferior race would almost certainly create extreme hardship for that race. It will take a huge effort to realign both the general Wizarding population's attitude and the House-elves' thinking to accept House-elves as equal and free agents.

Hermione should perhaps study how emancipated slaves fared following the American Civil War in the mid-1860s. Although former slaves were now free U.S. citizens, they struggled against severe discrimination, hatred, violence, and poverty while attempting to assimilate into a white, patriarchal-dominated society, all while lacking (and being denied) adequate education, jobs, basic civil rights, and other opportunities. As in the Wizarding world, many other racial groups were also discriminated against. However, much like other non-human magical folk in wizard society, these particular ethnic groups were never enslaved and most had some rudimentary education. Immigrants also tended to establish protective communities while gradually integrating themselves into American culture, unlike freed slaves who created a sudden, chaotic influx into a new social order in which there was little oversight, resulting in extensive corruption, abuse, and exploitation. Over a century later, these struggles are still existent in the Muggle world. We can surmise that this would be similar to what House-elves would experience; additionally, as the Wizarding world seems to change more slowly than the Muggle world in a number of ways, this untenable situation could drag on for may centuries.

Questions[edit]

Study questions are meant to be left for each student to answer; please don't answer them here.

Review[edit]

  1. Why were Unforgivable Curses made illegal?
  2. Why was Neville so affected by Moody demonstrating the Cruciatus curse? Does Moody know the reason? If so, how would he know?
  3. Why is the Avada Kedavra curse of such interest to Harry?
  4. What does Harry think about Sirius returning to England?

Further Study[edit]

  1. Why does Moody demonstrate the Unforgivable Curses to the class, despite Ministry policy against teaching them?
  2. Why would the Ministry want to prevent students from seeing the Unforgivable Curses demonstrated until their sixth year? Remember that OWL exams, equivalent to the Muggle GCSEs, occur at the end of the fifth year.
  3. Why was Harry less affected by Moody's in-class demonstration than Neville, even though one of the curses killed Harry's parents?
  4. How does Snape treat Moody differently than previous Defensive Arts teachers? What would account for this?
  5. Who might the Twins be writing to, and why do they want to contact this person?
  6. Why would George tell Fred they have to be, "careful"?
  7. Why does Sirius want to return to England? Is it only because of his concern about Harry, or are there other reasons? Is his decision to return a wise one and how might this affect Harry?
  8. Why would Moody give Neville a Herbology book about water plants?
  9. What would life be like for House-elves if they were all suddenly freed?

Greater Picture[edit]

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

Harry and the other students are unaware that Neville Longbottom's parents, Frank and Alice, are permanently committed to St. Mungo's Hospital. When we and Harry learn this later, it is also revealed that Moody was present at the Death Eaters' trial, and thus knows that they tortured the Longbottoms into insanity using the Cruciatus curse. This sheds some light on these occurrences, as it is meant to; we suddenly understand why Neville became so upset while watching the curse demonstration and why Moody apparently took such pains to comfort him. In the final chapter, however, it is revealed that Barty Crouch, Jr. has been impersonating the real Professor Moody by using Polyjuice Potion. He was among the four Death Eaters sentenced to Azkaban for torturing the Longbottoms to insanity using the Cruciatus Curse. It may seem that Crouch (as Moody) is showing compassion to one whose parents he drove insane, though that is actually keeping in character with what the real Moody probably would have done under the same circumstances. And while Crouch giving Neville the Herbology book seems like yet another magnanimous gesture to help boost Neville's low self-esteem, it is actually because the book contains information that Crouch wants passed on to Harry to help him win the Tournament, thus leading Harry into Voldemort's trap. Crouch likely orchestrated the Cruciatus demonstration hoping it would upset the sensitive Neville, solely to give Crouch an opportunity to present him the Herbology book without his motives appearing suspicious. This extreme deviousness illustrates, upon reflection, something unsavory about Crouch's character in particular, and perhaps Death Eaters in general. Also, Barty's comment that Snape and Karkaroff are "old acquaintances," may not only be truthful, implying that he knew them as fellow Death Eaters, but it also demonstrates a rather perverse sense of humor. Considering that Snape and Karkaroff betrayed Voldemort, Barty's sarcastic comment could have the same double-entendre implication as what the real Alastor Moody would mean had he said it.

We note in particular that Moody's character is being very carefully displayed here. The author must strike a very careful balance in Moody's actions, here displayed before Harry's class, so that his actions remain ambiguous. If Moody is who he seems, his actions show a Dark wizard hunter, rendered almost paranoid because of the large number of wizards who believe he has harmed them, and who cares little for the rules of the Ministry because he feels they prevent him doing his job. If Moody is actually a Dark wizard in disguise, as we find later that he is, his actions are those of someone who actively opposes the Ministry, providing the facade of a Dark-wizard hunter, but reveling in his chance to practice Unforgivable Curses with impunity. When we do eventually see Barty Crouch, he appears somewhat unbalanced mentally, and can see that his behaviour in this chapter could equally well fit the persona he reveals then.

The Twins are writing to Ludo Bagman. This subplot runs throughout the year, as Ludo reneges on paying the Twins their winnings. Ludo clearly fears his other debtors, the Goblins, far more than the Twins, knowing the Goblins can inflict serious injury if they are unpaid; when Ludo's debts finally go completely sour at the book's end, he goes into hiding, leaving the Twins and the Goblins without being paid.

Connections[edit]

Within this book: The author has stated in an interview that the previous chapter was one of the more difficult chapters to write, and it had to be rewritten several times in order to properly hide the necessary clues. It would appear that the author in fact meant this chapter, where we see more of Moody. We note the following items:

  • Moody gives Neville a book that includes details of Gillyweed. He clearly already knows of the Second Task of the Triwizard Tournament, and expects Harry to consult with Neville for help.
  • Neville's reaction to the Cruciatus Curse is explained later in this book when Harry sees the trial of Barty Crouch in Dumbledore's Pensieve. His reaction being greater than Harry's is meant to suggest that his exposure to Cruciatus was more affecting than Harry's exposure to the killing curse.
  • Moody's character is very carefully crafted here so that his character remains ambiguous. Details in the Greater Picture section above.

Series:

  • We are here first introduced to the three Unforgivable Curses; while the intent is to teach avoidance and, perhaps, resistance of the curses, an unavoidable side effect is instruction in casting the curses. We will see many more uses of the Imperius Curse in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; the Cruciatus curse will be used in this book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; and the Killing Curse in this book and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We also see that it was the Killing Curse that Harry remembers from his parent's last night alive. This is our first exposure to curses which are so evil that their use is forbidden under pain of life-long imprisonment; we will see later how little attention Dark wizards pay to the supposed penalties.
  • Despite the character we see in this chapter not being the true Alastor Moody, his paranoia is true to character. We will see that character trait pretty much every time he re-enters our story.