The Imperius Curse (Imperio) was a tool of the Dark Arts, and was one of the three Unforgivable Curses. It was one of the most powerful and sinister spells known to wizardkind. When cast successfully, the curse placed the victim completely under the caster's control, though a person with exceptional strength of will could resist it. A person under the curse was said to be Imperiused.
The fact that the curse could be defended against, made it unique amongst the Unforgivable Curses.
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 was sufficient evidence that the caster did so under the influence of anothers Imperius Curse. This was known to be a loophole that many Dark Wizards and Witches abused when they faced 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 This was repealed once the war was over, as it was no longer necessary.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, 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 assigned personnel to attempt to determine who was truly under the curse and who was lying to escape punishment. However, they were not perfect in proving deception. Malfoy, Macnair, and several others still eluded justice under the cover of this lie.
During the 1994–1995 school year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Barty Crouch Jnr, disguised as Alastor Moody, demonstratd these three curses to his fourth year classes on spiders, despite the Ministry's disapproval. Later, he claimed that he had permission to perform the Imperius Curse on students in order to teach them how to resist it, though this might also have been an excuse to get back into practice with it. Most of the students under the curse were 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 and eventually shake it off.
During the 1996–1997 school year at Hogwarts, 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.
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 pleased. 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.
- "Years back, there were a lot of witches and wizards being controlled by the Imperius Curse. Some job for the Ministry, trying to sort out who was being forced to act, and who was acting of their own free will."
- — Barty Crouch Jnr 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.
As the curse was legalised at 1998, even normally law-abiding citizens were permitted to use them during such time. Harry Potter used the curse three times on two different individuals in order for the trio to break-in to Gringotts Wizarding Bank undetected. Minerva McGonagall used it to force Amycus Carrow to bind himself and his sister.
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. However, this was extremely difficult to prove, allowing many alleged "victims" to continue to escape prosecution, despite lingering suspicions.
- "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 — was not an unpleasant experience, in fact, quite the opposite; the victim of an Imperius Curse was placed in a calm, trance-like state in which all feeling of responsibility and anxiety was banished (drawing parallels to the real-world phenomenon of hypnosis — 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 was placed under the caster's total control and may be directed to do anything the caster wished, including crimes such as murder, political corruption, embezzlement, and even suicide (as explained by Barty Crouch, Jnr, 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 it jump out of the window, drown itself, throw itself 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 was possible for someone who had 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 was terminated — for whatever reason — the victims became 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 had negated by the pleasant sensation would return, along with any other pain that the victim had suffered for the duration of the curse.
If the Imperius Curse was performed poorly, then the victim would have their mind addled, an example being Muggle Junior Minister Herbert Chorley. It seemed the damage was 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 was likely due to the fact that powerful, dark magic might leave irreversible biological damage, such as when George Weasley had his ear cursed off permanently.
Resisting the Imperius Curse was possible, but required great strength of will and character. The fact that it could be resisted made it unique amongst the Unforgivable Curses, as it was the only curse that had a direct manner of defence. Harry Potter, Barty Crouch Snr, and Barty Crouch Jnr each learned to resist the curse after being subjected to its effects, although 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 had seemingly caused mental damage. Resisting the Imperius Curse was similar to Occlumency, which required a great amount of willpower, though it is unknown if Occlumency would actually work against the curse.
|Corvus Lestrange||Laurena Kama||1896||Laurena was cursed by Corvus, who forced her to leave her husband, Mustafa Kama and son, Yusuf Kama, to marry him and to bear his own child, Leta Lestrange.|
|Mulciber||Many victims||First Wizarding War||Mulciber was said to have placed many people under this curse during the First Wizarding War in order to perform tasks for the Death Eaters.|
|Unknown Dark Wizard or Witch||Rowan Khanna||1988–1989 school year||Was placed under this curse by an unknown caster, causing them to suddenly snap out of their normal character and threaten their friends with death, before being incapacitated by Ben Copper with the Knockback Jinx. They were sent to the Hospital Wing to recover after this nasty incident.|
|Barty Crouch Snr||Barty Crouch Jnr||Before 1994||Kept under house arrest.|
|Barty Crouch Jnr||Alastor Moody||1994–1995 school year||Imperiused to maintain containment and to reveal the habits of Alastor Moody to impersonate.|
|Harry Potter||Harry successfully resisted the curse after several attempts, and the only one in his Defence Against the Dark Arts class to do so.|
|Neville Longbottom||Neville did "a series of quite astonishing gymnastics".|
|Dean Thomas||Dean hopped around the room singing the national anthem.|
|Lavender Brown||Lavender imitated a squirrel.|
|Viktor Krum||24 June, 1995||During the Triwizard Tournament, Third Task. Viktor was forced to attack Cedric Diggory with the Cruciatus Curse.|
|Lord Voldemort||Harry Potter||24 June, 1995||Used this curse on Harry Potter in the Little Hangleton graveyard in order to force him to answer his question, however Harry Potter managed to successfully resist the curse.|
|Lucius Malfoy||Sturgis Podmore||1995||Forced to attempt to steal a prophecy from the Department of Mysteries.|
|Broderick Bode||Forced to attempt to steal a prophecy from the Department of Mysteries.|
|An unknown Death Eater||Herbert Chorley||1996||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.|
|Draco Malfoy||Madam Rosmerta||1996–1997 school year||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.|
|Madam Rosmerta||Katie Bell||12 October, 1996||Forced to assist in the smuggling of a cursed necklace into Hogwarts in a plot to kill Albus Dumbledore.|
|Unknown, likely a Death Eater||Unidentified nine-year old||1997||According to the Daily Prophet, this nine-year old boy had tried to murder his grandparents, most likely under the influence of the Imperius Curse.|
|Corban Yaxley||Pius Thicknesse||Summer 1997–1998||Forced to act as puppet Minister for Magic at the behest of Voldemort. Noted by Yaxley that the curse was placed with great effort, as Thicknesse resisted.|
|An unknown Death Eater||Stan Shunpike||1996–1998||Forced to serve the Death Eaters, fought in the Battle of the Seven Potters.|
|Harry Potter||Bogrod||1 May, 1998||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.|
|Minerva McGonagall||Amycus Carrow||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", imperium, which means "power" or "authority", or impero, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 Jnr (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 the Levitation Charm was put on it. It's quite possible that he did put a non-verbal Levitation charm on it.
- The three spiders used were replaced with one single scorpion, known as 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.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (First mentioned) (Indirectly mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Indirectly mentioned only)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (First appearance)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (film)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (video game)
- 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)
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald - The Original Screenplay (Appears in flashback(s))
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Appears in flashback(s))
- 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
- Wizarding World
- Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery
- Harry Potter: Wizards Unite (Mentioned only)
Notes and references
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 14 (The Unforgivable Curses)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (film) - Chapter 7 (Mad Eye Moody)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 15 (Beauxbatons and Durmstrang)
- The Tales of Beedle the Bard - "Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump"
- Writing by J.K. Rowling: "Secret Keeper" at Wizarding World
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 27 (Padfoot Returns)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 33 (The Death Eaters)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 12 (Professor Umbridge)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 21 (The Unknowable Room)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 11 (The Bribe)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 29 (The Lost Diadem)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 36 (The Flaw in the Plan)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 26 (Seen and Unforeseen)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 1 (The Dark Lord Ascending)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 26 (Gringotts)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 30 (The Sacking of Severus Snape)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 3 (The Burrow)
- Mythbusters, Episode 76: "Voice Flame Extinguisher"
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 27 (The Lightning-Struck Tower)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 34 (Priori Incantatem)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 1 (The Other Minister)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 24 (Occlumency)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 35 (Veritaserum)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 28 (The Madness of Mr Crouch)
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald - The Original Screenplay
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 30 (The Pensieve)
- Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 5, Chapter 19 (The Unforgivable Curses)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 31 (The Third Task)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 12 (Silver and Opals)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 4 (The Seven Potters)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 5 (Fallen Warrior)
- LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (Windows) on The Cutting Room Floor