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Magic in Harry Potter

In the fictional Harry Potter series created by J. K. Rowling, magic is depicted as a natural force that can be used to override the usual laws of nature while still being approached entirely scientifically. Many magical creatures exist in the series, as do ordinary creatures that exhibit some magical properties (such as owls, which are used to deliver post). Objects, too, can be enhanced or imbued with magical power. The small percentage of humans that are able to perform magic are referred to as witches and wizards, in contrast to the non-magical Muggles.

In humans, magic or the lack thereof is an inborn attribute. It is inherited, carried on "dominant resilient genes. Magic is the norm in the children of magical couples and less common in those of Muggles. Exceptions exist: those unable to do magic who are born to magical parents are known as Squibs, whereas a witch or wizard born to Muggle parents is known as a Muggle-born, or by the pejorative "Mudblood". While Muggle-borns are quite common, Squibs are extremely rare, which might be reflected by the contrasting sizes of Muggle and Wizarding populations.

Using magic

For a person's ability to perform magic to be of use, a good deal of training is needed. When 'wild,' typically with young and untrained children, magic will still manifest itself subconsciously in moments of strong apprehension, fear, or anger. For example, Harry Potter once made his hair grow back after a bad haircut, and, in anger, made his Aunt Marge inflate enormously. Whilst this reaction is almost always uncontrollable, Tom Marvolo Riddle, later known as Lord Voldemort, was able to "make things move without touching them, ... Make animals do what he wanted without training them, ... make bad things happen to people who annoy him, ... or 'make them hurt if I [he] want[s] to'" when he was a young child, apparently intentionally. It should also be noted that Lily Evans was able to glide and control the blades of a flower by wanting too. This may be due to the fact that magic occurs through anger or grief, and since Tom Riddle had quite the tormenting childhood he would have had a great amount of practice to hone this ability, but this is pure speculation. Almost all magic is done with the use of a supporting tool or focus, typically a wand. On the subject of magic without the use of a wand, Rowling says:
You can do unfocused and uncontrolled magic without a wand (for instance when Harry blows up Aunt Marge) but to do really good spells, yes, you need a wand.

A wizard or witch is only at their best when using their own wand. Throughout the series, it is evident that when using another's wand, one's spells are not as strong as they normally would be.

Within the books, technical details of magic are obscure. Of Harry's lessons only those involving magical creatures, potions or divination are given in any detail.

Severus Snape once told Harry Potter that "Time and space matter in magic..." during Harry's first Occlumency class in Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix. Also, Albus Dumbledore told Harry, after finding the magically concealed boat to reach the locket Horcrux that "Magic always leaves traces...sometimes distinctive traces..."

The limits of magic

Before publishing the first Harry Potter novel, Rowling spent five years establishing the limitations of magic; determining what it could and could not do. "The most important thing to decide when you're creating a fantasy world," she said in 2000, "is what the characters CAN'T do." For instance, while it is possible to conjure things out of thin air, it is far more tricky to create something that fits an exact specification rather than a general one; moreover, any objects so conjured tend not to last.

It is impossible to make a human or creature levitate, but the object supporting a human or creature can levitate, allowing a human or creature to indirectly levitate. It is also impossible to resurrect the dead. Corpses can be transformed into obedient Inferi on a living wizard's command, though they are little more than zombies with no soul or will of their own. It is also possible via the rare Priori Incantatem effect to converse with ghost-like "shadows" of magically murdered people. The Resurrection Stone also allows one to talk to the dead, but those brought back by the Stone are not corporeal, nor do they wish to be disturbed from their peaceful rest.

Likewise, it is not possible to make oneself immortal unless one makes use of a mystical object of great power to sustain life (such as the Philosopher's Stone created by Nicolas Flamel or a Horcrux, the latter having been used by Voldemort). If one were to possess the three Deathly Hallows, it is fabled that they would possess the tools to become the "master of death". However, being a true "master of death" is to be willing to accept that death is inevitable.

A loop-hole (or more) exists to prevent the immediate murder of a wizard. Blood seems to be one of them; Harry Potter's blood was used in Voldemort's resurrection; however, since Lily Potter's magical protection was in Harry's blood and his blood flowed through Voldemort’s new body, Harry could not be killed while Voldemort was alive. He was, however, sent to limbo, with his blood running in Voldemort's veins Harry was given a lifeline back into the world of the living.

Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration

The Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration are five magical objects that are an exception to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration — objects that cannot be created by magic. Out of the five exceptions, only four are mentioned in the series: food, love, life, and information. The fifth and final exception is likely money, as Rowling once remarked in an interview money is something wizards cannot simply materialise out of thin air, for the economic system of the Wizarding World would then be gravely flawed and disrupted. However, the Philosopher's Stone does possess the ability to make any metal into gold, which is the same metal as the currency of the Wizarding World.

Love, the second of the five exceptions, is first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by Horace Slughorn. Food, the first of the five exceptions, is first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by Hermione Granger and is later mentioned again by Ron Weasley; the food in the kitchens at Hogwarts is not conjured; rather, it is transported upwards through the floor from the basement. In other instances in the series it appears that food has also been magically created; this explanation is likely valid here as well.

Magic and emotion

A witch or wizard's emotional state can affect their inherent abilities. In Half-Blood Prince, Nymphadora Tonks temporarily lost her power as a Metamorphmagus after suffering severe emotional turmoil when Remus Lupin would not return her affections. In effect, the form of her Patronus changed to reflect her love for him. As related to Harry by Dumbledore, Merope Gaunt only demonstrated any magical ability when removed from her father's oppression, but then seemed to lose it again when her husband abandoned her. Many other examples of emotion-influenced magic appear throughout the series, with Ariana (Dumbledore's sister), and Harry's attack upon Aunt Marge in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, being prime examples.

Magic and death

Death is studied in detail in a room (called the Death Chamber) of the Department of Mysteries containing an enigmatic veil (this suggests some sort of portal between the worlds of the dead and the living, but the exact significance of the veil is unclear). Sirius Black fell through this veil after he was stunned by Bellatrix Lestrange, thereby killing him.

Magical techniques have been used to extend life. The Philosopher's Stone can be used to prepare a potion that postpones death for the rest of eternity. Voldemort has availed himself of other methods, being one of the few wizards ever to use Horcruxes in his long sought attempt to "conquer death", and is believed to be the only one to use multiple Horcruxes. In addition, the drinking of Unicorn blood will keep a person alive even if death is imminent, but at the terrible price of being cursed forever.

Being magical can contribute to one's longevity, as there are several characters in the series who are quite long-lived.

It is revealed by Nearly Headless Nick in Book 5 that wizards have the choice of becoming ghosts when they pass away. The alternative is "passing on". All Hogwarts headmasters appear in a portrait when they die, allowing consultation by future generations.

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore says that there is no spell that can resurrect the dead, however several cases of dead people becoming half-alive are known. In the Goblet of Fire, because of a connection between Harry and Voldemort's wands, images of Voldemort's recent victims (Cedric Diggory, Frank Bryce, Bertha Jorkins, and both of Harry's parents) appear and help Harry escape. According to Harry, they seemed too solid to be ghosts.

In Deathly Hallows, a magical item known as the Resurrection Stone is said to have the power to raise the dead. According to the legend of the Deathly Hallows, however, the people do not feel as if they belong in the human world and prefer to stay in their resting place.

Magic and love

Arguably the most powerful form of magic is also the most mysterious and elusive: love. Voldemort, having never experienced love himself, underestimates its influence—to his detriment. It is also significant that Voldemort's parents did not love each other, Merope, his mother, slipped his father some love potion as he rode by one day without his attractive companion, Cecilia. He became infatuated with Merope and they eloped. Within three months of the marriage, Merope became pregnant. Merope decided to stop giving Tom the love potion; she believed either that he had fallen in love with her on his own or he would at least stay for their unborn child. She was wrong, and Tom quickly left his pregnant wife and went home to his parents, claiming to have been "hoodwinked" and tricked into marrying Merope. It was through love that Lily Potter was able to save her son Harry from death by sacrificing her life so that he might live. Harry used very much the same mechanism to negate the power of Voldemort's spells against the students and teachers of Hogwarts and other companions. The exact nature of how "love-magic" works is unknown; it is studied in-depth at the Department of Mysteries. Another example of Magic having a strong influence on Love is when Snape's Patronus is revealed to be the same as Lily's, the only love of his life.


See the list of spells for those witnessed in books.

Spells are the every-purpose tools of a wizard or witch; short bursts of magic used to accomplish single specialised tasks such as opening locks or creating fire. Typically casting requires an incantation, most often in a modified form of Latin (see Dog Latin), and gesturing with a wand. However, these seem to be aids to the will only; wands are in most cases required, but there are indications that sufficiently advanced witches and wizards can perform spells without them. Spells can also be cast non-verbally, but with a wand. This technique is taught in the sixth year of study at Hogwarts and requires the caster to concentrate on the incantation. Some spells (e.g. Levicorpus) are apparently designed to be used non-verbally. While most magic shown in the books requires the caster to use their voice, some do not (and this may depend on the witch or wizard). Dumbledore has been known to do good-sized feats of magic without speaking, such as conjuring enough squashy purple sleeping bags to accommodate the entire student population. Also, during Voldemort and Dumbledore's duel towards the end of Order of the Phoenix, neither wizard speaks any of their spells aloud and the magic they perform is vastly more powerful than any performed by the Order of the Phoenix or the Death Eaters.

It is evidently also possible to use a wand without holding it. Harry himself performs Lumos to light his wand when it is lying on the ground somewhere near him. This should not be confused with wandless magic, as the wand was still the source of light. It is unknown where the light would originate if one were to use Lumos without a wand present; the spell may require the presence of a wand. Additionally, Animagi and Metamorphmagi do not need wands to undergo their transformations.

Spells are divided into rough categories, such as "charms", "curses", "hexes", or "jinxes". Although offensive and potentially dangerous curses exist in number, three are considered usable only for great evil, which earns them the special classification of "Unforgivable Curses". The Unforgivable Curses are the Cruciatus Curse (torture curse), Imperius Curse (allows control over another) and Avada Kedavra (the killing curse). The use of these curses on another human or possibly any sentient being earns a "one-way ticket to Azkaban" and a life sentence unless you have Ministry authorization to use these curses, such as Aurors, or teachers that demonstrate for instructional purposes. However, Harry used the Cruciatus Curse twice: on Bellatrix Lestrange after she killed his godfather in Order of the Phoenix and in Deathly Hallows against Amycus Carrow. He also used the Imperius Curse on a Death Eater and a Goblin in Deathly Hallows to break into Gringotts. Minerva McGonagall is also seen to use the Imperius Curse against Amycus and Alecto Carrow.

Magical abilities

The following is a list of special abilities that a wizard or witch in the Harry Potter universe may have.

Animagi transformation

An Animagus is a witch or wizard who can turn into a particular animal at will. This ability is not innate: it must be acquired by magical means. All Animagi must register at a central authority; it is illegal to obtain this ability without registering, although out of the five Animagi described as such in the books (Minerva McGonagall, Rita Skeeter, James Potter, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew), four either never registered before their death or are currently living and unregistered (McGonagall is the only mentioned registered Animagus).

Each Animagus has a specific animal form, and cannot transform into any other animal. The animal cannot be chosen: it is uniquely suited to that individual's personality, like the Patronus Charm, and in some cases the Animagus will change into the same animal used in the person's Patronus charm (as shown by McGonagall's spectacled cat Patronus in DH). Similarly, when an Animagus transforms it is always into the exact same animal (i.e. same markings, same colours, etc.). When an Animagus registers, they must record all the defining physical traits of their animal form so that the Ministry can identify them.

Explicit emphasis is made in the books on the differences between Animagi and werewolves. Animagi have full control over their transformations and retain their minds, whereas werewolves' transformations are involuntary and include severe changes in personality. After the person has transformed into a werewolf he no longer remembers who he is; he would kill his best friend if he got anywhere near him. A werewolf only responds to the call of his own kind. The only way that a werewolf can retain his sanity, intelligence and memory while transformed is using the Wolfsbane Potion.


A Metamorphmagus (a portmanteau of metamorph and magus) is a witch or wizard born with the innate ability to change some or all of their appearance at will. The talent cannot be acquired; a witch or wizard who has it must be born with it.

Tonks and her son, Teddy Lupin, are currently the only known Metamorphmagi in the series; it is a very rare ability. Tonks is known to change her hair colour and style in accordance with her mood. Indeed, she even appears as an old lady on occasion. For entertainment, she also has been known to change the shape of her nose at the dinner table. Her son, Teddy Lupin, also inherited this trait, as his hair is mentioned repeatedly changing colour.

The extent of these appearance-altering abilities and the limits thereof are not entirely clear. According to Rowling, a Metamorphmagus can alter his or her appearance completely, for instance, from black to white, young to old, handsome to plain and so on. However, it is unlikely Metamorpmagi can change their appearance into anything other than human, as this is never mentioned in the books, nor do we see Tonks change her appearance in anything that is not human, completely nor partially (although this is seen briefly in the first film she appears in, but the films are a separate canon). Though she does change her nose into "a beak-like protuberance" and "a nose like pig-snout", both are still human - the first resembling Snape and the second reminding Harry of a female Dudley.


Parseltongue is the language of snakes. It is in the common mind associated with Dark Magic (although Dumbledore has stated that it is not a necessarily evil quality), and those possessing the ability to speak it ("Parselmouths") are very rare. It appears to be a skill acquired through both learning and genetic inheritance (or by use of Dark or dangerous Magic). Harry was a Parselmouth: it was revealed in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets due to Voldemort's passing on some of his abilities to Harry the night he tried to kill him, In Deathly Hallows it is revealed that it is a part of Voldemort's soul residing within Harry that grants him this ability, but once the part of Voldemort's soul that was in him was destroyed, Harry could no longer speak the language.

Other known Parselmouths include: Herpo the Foul; Salazar Slytherin and his descendants, including the Gaunts and Voldemort. Dumbledore can understand Parseltongue. In Half-Blood Prince he repeats Morfin Gaunt's words "the big house over the way", which were spoken in Parseltongue.

Ginny Weasley is not a Parselmouth, despite the fact that at points in Chamber of Secrets she appeared to speak in Parseltongue: she was at the time being possessed by the spirit of Tom Marvolo Riddle, who was himself Voldemort, a Parselmouth. Ron uses Parseltongue in the final book to reopen the Chamber of Secrets, but only through persistently trying to mimic the sounds that Harry made. This, along with Dumbledore's comprehension of Parseltongue, indicates that the language may not necessarily be a strictly magical trait, but can be a learned art.

J. K. Rowling borrowed the term from "an old word for someone who has a problem with the mouth, like a hare lip.

An earlier analogue of Parseltongue can be found in the character Hown Serpent-tamer, in Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse novels.


Flight without aid of a broomstick or other object is a relatively rare ability. Voldemort can do this without the aid of a broom or carpet, as can Snape. Rubeus Hagrid reveals to Harry that he "flew" in order to reach the island that Uncle Vernon had taken his family to in order to escape the letters coming from Hogwarts, in the fourth chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone; the means of flying is a flying motor cycle previously owned by Sirius Black . Snape flies out of Hogwarts in Deathly Hallows; he left the school through an upper-story window, and McGonagall said that he was unhurt, as 'he had learned some tricks from Voldemort.' Levicorpus can be cast onto people to make them levitate, but they have no control, and can only rise upwards. It is stated that flying unsupported defies the laws of magic, as only objects are known to float with a flying charm.

Objects are also known to be enchanted so they fly. Sirius had a flying motorbike that he loaned to Hagrid to bring Harry to the Dursleys and Arthur illegally enchanted a Ford Anglia to fly. These machines work like usual except that they are in the air.


A Seer is a witch or wizard with the clairvoyant ability to predict future events. The predictions given through this ability can sometimes be self-fulfilling prophecies, and Dumbledore states in Order of the Phoenix that not all of them come true, depending on the choices made by those mentioned. This would seem to indicate that a Seer predicts possible or likely events, at least in some cases.

Each prophecy made by a Seer is recorded in a glass sphere and stored in the Hall of Prophecy of the Department of Mysteries within the Ministry of Magic and can only be retrieved by one of the people mentioned in it.

According to McGonagall, true Seers are extremely rare. Sybill Trelawney is the only Seer shown in the books, although it is mentioned that Sybill's great-great-grandmother, Cassandra Trelawney, was a renowned Seer in her day.

Legilimency and Occlumency

Legilimency is the magical skill of extracting feelings and memories from another person's mind — a form of magical telepathy (although Snape, an able practitioner of the art, dismisses the colloquial term as a drastic oversimplification). It also allows one to convey visions or memories to another person, whether real or imaginary. A witch or wizard possessing this skill is called a Legilimens, and can, for example, detect lies and deceit in another person, witness memories in another person's past, or "plant" false visions in another's mind.

The counter-skill to Legilimency is Occlumency (and its user, known as an Occlumens), by which one can compartmentalise one's emotions, or prevent a Legilimens from discovering thoughts or memories which contradict one's spoken words or actions.

Voldemort, Snape, and Dumbledore are all known to be quite skilled in Legilimency and Occlumency. Throughout the books, Snape is repeatedly said to be highly skilled in Occlumency. Voldemort is said to be the master of Legilimency by Snape, as he, in almost all cases, immediately knows during conversations if someone lies to him.

The skills are first mentioned in Order of the Phoenix, (though Harry gets the impression before that Snape can read minds) wherein Snape is instructed by Dumbledore to give Harry lessons in Occlumency. Whether as a result of negligence in Snape's instruction, or poor aptitude on Harry's part, Harry never made any progress in the skill, and as a result he was lured by Voldemort through a carefully calculated vision he falsely believed to be real. Only once has Harry managed to overcome Snape with the use of Occlumency, in Order of the Phoenix. During the lesson, Harry notices that the Dementors become fainter and Snape becomes clearer.

Bellatrix Lestrange, Draco Malfoy, Narcissa Malfoy and Barty Crouch Jr may also have some skill in Occlumency, since Bellatrix was said to have taught Draco to shield his thoughts from Snape and Narcissa's treachery is not detected when Voldemort asks her to check Harry's pulse after he has seemingly killed him.

The key to good Occlumency, as described by J. K. Rowling, is to be capable of hiding or suppressing one's emotions. This is why Snape and Dumbledore are accomplished Occlumens, because they are able to hide what they are truly feeling, and Draco, like his parents, is able to suppress his emotions. Harry had trouble mastering Occlumency because he embraced his emotions. Maturing allowed him to control them.

Legilimency and Occlumency are not part of the normal curriculum at Hogwarts, and most students would graduate without learning them. They seem to be considered a more advanced form of magic.

Apparition and Disapparition

Apparition is a magical form of teleportation, through which a witch or wizard can disappear ("Disapparate") from one location and reappear ("Apparate") in another. It is sometimes accompanied by a distinctive cracking or popping sound, though this is associated with ineptitude rather than success; the most skilled wizards can Apparate "so suddenly and silently" that they seem to have "popped out of the ground" (Dumbledore). The act is also accompanied by a very unpleasant squeezing sensation, as though being sent through a tight rubber tube, according to Harry.

The Ministry licenses apparition, and a witch or wizard must be 17 years old or older and have a license to use Apparition. This is similar to the way real-world governments require individuals to have a license to drive a motor vehicle. Students at Hogwarts may attend Ministry lessons in Apparition during their sixth year, and may take their examination once they turn seventeen.

The training is difficult, and students run the risk of splinching — being physically split between the origin and destination — which requires the assistance of the Ministry's Accidental Magic Reversal Squad to undo. Splinching is quite common during lessons, and can be uncomfortable (and at times rather gruesome) depending on the body parts splinched, but is ultimately harmless if properly reversed. Ron left behind half-an-eyebrow during his first Apparition exam, causing him to fail, and splinched himself twice in Deathly Hallows.

For reasons of security, the grounds of Hogwarts are protected by ancient Anti-Apparition and Anti-Disapparition spells, which prevent humans from using Apparition in the school grounds. This does not extend to magical creatures such as house-elves and phoenixes, who can still use their own form of Apparition. It is also possible to prevent individuals from using Apparition, as Dumbledore did with the Death Eaters in Order of the Phoenix, who held them until Ministry officials could take them into custody.

It is considered rude to Apparate directly into a private area, such as a residence. For this reason, and for reasons of security, many private residences also have Anti-Apparition spells protecting them from uninvited intrusions. The accepted way to travel to a residence is to Apparate near the destination, and proceed to the final destination on foot. Apparition is considered unreliable over long distances, and even experienced users of the technique sometimes prefer other means of transport, such as broomsticks.

A wizard or witch can use Side-Along Apparition to take others with them during Apparition. Dumbledore uses this on Harry several times, and notably, Harry uses Side-Along Apparition to take the weakened Dumbledore back from the seaside cave containing Voldemort's locket Horcrux. In addition, Dumbledore's phoenix, Fawkes, used Side-Along-Apparition to take Dumbledore with him when avoiding arrest from the Ministry. This suggests that phoenixes, like elves, can teleport anywhere, even in places with Anti-Apparition spells (this is also written in "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them").

In the "Order of the Phoenix" film, Death Eaters and Order members Apparated and Disapparated in clouds of smoke. Death Eaters would appear and disappear in black smoke, Order members in white. In the movie, both sides also seemed to be able to "half-apparate" in which their bodies were made out of smoke, giving them the ability to fly. This is not canon to the books and probably just used for more cinematic, atmospheric purposes. Interestingly, both times Fred and George apparated and disapparated, they did it with a pop as in the books.

It is never clearly stated in the books whether human Apparition requires a wand. In Deathly Hallows, Ron attempts unsuccessfully to Disapparate from captivity at Malfoy's Manor while he does not have a wand, and some theorize that this is evidence a wizard needs a wand to Apparate. Moreover, the book does explicitly say that "Ron was trying to Apparate without a wand", implying he needed it to Apparate. However, it is more likely that the cellar in which he was held was bound by an Anti-Apparition spell. In addition, in Deathly Hallows, Harry tells the Muggle-borns in the Ministry of Magic to "attach themselves to somebody who has got one [a wand]" so they may use "Side-Along Apparition", although this may merely be for purposes of protection.

In the books, the words "Apparate" and "Disapparate", like many other neologisms used by Rowling, are capitalised, whereas established English words such as "jinx" and "hex" are not. The words themselves are most likely derived from the French apparaître and disparaître meaning to appear and disappear, although before Charles Fort's invention of the term "teleportation" in the 1930s, it was known as "apportation".

Other teleportation

Some other forms of instantaneous movement occur in the books, such as a house elf's ability to teleport or Fawkes's ability to disappear in a burst of flame. (In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it is stated that all phoenixes have this ability.) In the novels, Harry refers to this as "Apparition" but this may be because of Harry's inexperience and not fact. This theory is further reinforced as neither Fawkes nor house elves are restricted by anti-Apparition magic. Fawkes also vanishes silently and in a burst of flame, whereas a wizard Apparating is accompanied by a very loud "bang" (or a quiet "pop") with no visible effect.

Veela charm

An ability attributed to Veela and those of Veela heritage, such as Fleur Delacour. It is used to charm males, much like the Sirens in The Odyssey.

Harry seems more immune to this than Ron and most others, though the first time he was exposed to it his reaction was similar to Ron's. Men who are exposed to it over a period of time become more resistant to it, although the Veela charm takes full effect if the Veela surprises the man, as noted by Ron in Half-Blood Prince. It is possible that Victoire Weasley has inherited this ability from Fleur. As no men of Veela descent have been portrayed in the books (although Bill and Fleur have a son named Louis, as well as two daughters), it is unknown whether they would also have this ability.

As shown in Goblet of Fire, Veela hair can be used as cores to create wands. According to famed wandmaker Mr Ollivander, these wands are a little unstable.

Magical resistance

This refers to a certain degree of immunity against hexes and spells found in powerful creatures such as trolls, dragons, and giants. Hagrid, for example, is resistant to certain spells, like the Stunning Spell, due to his giant blood. This type of resistance is not insurmountable; if enough Stunning Spells are fired at a dragon (or any other creature with magical resistance) at once, the dragon may still be rendered unconscious, despite the resilience.

Spell-like effects

Unbreakable Vow

The Unbreakable Vow is a voluntary agreement made between two wizards or witches. It must be performed with a witness ("Bonder") on hand, holding their wand on the agreeing persons' linked hands to bind them with magic in the form of a tongue of flame. The Vow is not literally "unbreakable" as the person taking it is still able to go back on his/her word, but doing so will cause instant death. The Unbreakable Vow was first introduced in Half-Blood Prince, in which Snape made a promise to Narcissa Malfoy to protect Draco, to watch over her son, as he attempted to fulfill the Dark Lord's task, and to fulfill the task if something should happen to him. Another example in Half-Blood Prince occurs when Ron tells Harry how Fred and George tried to make him undertake an Unbreakable Vow, but they did not succeed.

Priori Incantatem

Priori Incantatem, or the Reverse Spell Effect, is used to detect the spells cast by a wand. The spells cast by the wand will emerge in smoky or ghost-like replicas in reverse order, with the latest spell emerging first. It is first encountered in Goblet of Fire when the house elf Winky is found holding Harry's wand. This spell is used to reveal that it was indeed Harry's wand that cast the Dark Mark. In Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, it is revealed that the teenage Voldemort murdered his father and grandparents using his uncle Morfin's wand, knowing that, when examined, the wand would incriminate Morfin as the murderer. In Deathly Hallows, Harry feared that a Prior Incantato spell would be used on Hermione's wand after the Death Eaters had a hold of it. This would reveal that she had accidentally broken his holly-and-phoenix-feather wand (with her wand) when a curse misfired and they both narrowly escaped Voldemort earlier. As a result, the protection of the shared cores was lost and, worse still, this would now be made known to Voldemort. During the final duel between Harry and Voldemort, the latter mentions that he knows that the holly and phoenix wand is destroyed, implying that the Prior Incantato had indeed been performed on Hermione's wand, as they had feared.

Forcing two wands that share the source of their cores to do battle can also cause a more potent form of Priori Incantatem. The tips of the two wands will connect, forming a thick golden "thread" of energy, and the two wands' masters fight a battle of wills. The loser's wand will regurgitate shadows of spells that it has cast in reverse order. This phenomenon occurred during the duel between Harry and Voldemort at the end of Goblet of Fire. Their simultaneous spells (Harry and Voldemort cast "Expelliarmus" and "Avada Kedavra" respectively) triggered the threads, and as Voldemort lost the battle of wills, his wand regurgitated, in reverse order, shades of the spells he had cast with it- screams of pain from torturing various victims, a shadowy form of the silver hand he had just created for Wormtail, and echoes of the people his wand had murdered: Cedric Diggory; Frank Bryce; Bertha Jorkins; and James and Lily Potter. Dumbledore later revealed to Harry that his and Voldemort's wands both shared a tail feather given by Dumbledore's pet phoenix, Fawkes. Harry was previously informed by Mr Ollivander that the holly wand that "chose" Harry was the "brother" of the yew wand that gave him the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead, although the significance of this was not discussed at that time.

Dark Arts

The Dark Arts are those magical spells and practices that are usually used for malicious purposes. Practitioners of Dark Arts are referred to as Dark wizards or witches. The most prominent of these is Voldemort, whose followers, known as Death Eaters, practice the Dark Arts while doing his bidding. The Arts themselves stem from the worst impulses in human nature (for example, a sadist would be proficient in the Cruciatus Curse, which involves torturing a victim and enjoying the sight of their victim in pain).

The type of spells characteristic of Dark Arts is known as curses, which usually cause harm to the target. All, to a certain degree, are in some circumstances justifiable. The motivation of the caster affects a curse's result. This is most notable in the case of Cruciatus: when cast by Harry, angered by the death of his godfather and desiring to punish the murderer, it causes a short moment of pain; as the murderess comments, wavering anger does not allow the spell to work for long. When cast by figures such as Voldemort, who desire to inflict serious pain and damage, it causes intense agony that can last as long as the Dark wizard desires. Use of Dark Magic can corrupt the soul and body; Voldemort has used such magic in his quest to prolong his life and obtain great power. Dark Arts also caused Voldemort to look deformed and inhuman, a side effect of splitting his soul into Horcruxes.

According to Snape, the Dark Arts "are many, varied, ever-changing and eternal... unfixed, mutating, indestructible." They also appear to be the most common form of magic used by criminals, while dangerous spells used by others in the books are frequently labelled Dark. In magical duelling, for example, there are any number of spells that may be used to attack, immobilise, or disarm an opponent without causing pain or lasting harm; however, spells such as the Cruciatus Curse or Sectumsempra, judged to be Dark by reliable authorities, actually wound or seriously distress a victim in some way.

In the Wizarding world, use of the Dark Arts is strongly stigmatised and even illegal; however, these spells are prevalent enough that even before the rise of Voldemort, many schools, (including Hogwarts), taught Defence Against the Dark Arts as a standard subject. Techniques include anti-curses and simple spells to disable or disarm attackers or fight off certain creatures. Some schools, such as Durmstrang, actually teach Dark Magic. A Dark Arts class was also taught at Hogwarts while it was under Death Eater control.

Unforgivable Curses

The Unforgivable Curses are some of the most powerful known Dark Arts spells. Used by the books' villains, such as Voldemort and the Death Eaters and in some cases the Ministry of Magic, their use inspires horror and great fear amongst others. The curses are so named because their use is - except by Ministry authorisation - forbidden and unforgivable in the Wizarding world when used on another human or probably any sentient being. Use of any of these spells on any human being can carry a whole life tariff in the magical wizard's prison of Azkaban. These curses are thus very rarely used openly. However, in Deathly Hallows, the Unforgivable Curses are used liberally by good characters, ranging from Professor McGonagall with the Imperius Curse, to Harry effectively using the Cruciatus Curse. He also uses the Imperius curse on a goblin and a suspicious Death Eater during their disguised attack upon Gringotts Bank. Since the spells are very powerful, their use requires a strong desire to bring about the effects, a directed will, and great skill.

It is noted that to perform the Unforgivable Curses, the caster must "mean it". This means that they need to want the effects a fair amount for the effects to last. In Order of the Phoenix, Harry attempts to use the Cruciatus Curse on Bellatrix, but he doesn't 'mean it', as Bellatrix later instructs him to, and the effects are temporary, causing her to only feel the pain for a moment.

The use of the Unforgivable Curses has existed since the time before the light and was authorized against Voldemort and his followers by Bartemius Crouch Sr, during the First Wizarding War. Although not stated, it is possible that this was limited to the Imperius Curse (to force a Death Eater to submit to questioning or surrender) and to the Killing Curse (as a last resort). Shortly after his resurrection, Voldemort names two Death Eaters "killed by Aurors".

The Unforgivable Curses:

Dark Mark

The Dark Mark is the symbol of Voldemort and the Death Eaters. It looks like a skull with a snake coming out of the mouth in place of the tongue. As a spell it is cast by a Death Eater whenever he or she has murdered someone. The spell used by Death Eaters to conjure the Mark is Morsmordre. It first appears in Goblet of Fire and is described as a "colossal skull, comprised of what looked like emerald stars, with a serpent protruding from its mouth like a tongue." Once in the sky it was "blazing in a haze of greenish smoke."

Dark Marks are also branded on the left forearm of the closest followers of Voldemort. The mark serves as a connection between Voldemort and each who bears it, he can summon them by touching his mark, causing it and those of his followers to burn and change colour. Death Eaters can summon Voldemort in the same fashion. Following Voldemort's ultimate defeat, the Dark Marks on his Death Eaters fade into a scar "similar" to Harry's.


An Inferius (plural: Inferi) is a corpse controlled through a Dark wizard's spells. An Inferius is not alive, but a dead body that has been bewitched into acting like a puppet for the witch or wizard; this manifests itself as a white mist in the controlled corpse's eyes. They cannot think for themselves: they are created to perform a specific duty assigned by the Dark wizard who commands them, and as seen in the Inferi guarding Voldemort's Horcrux in a seaside cave, remain idle until their task can be performed. This task is then thoughtlessly carried out, whether or not it will produce any result. Inferi are difficult to harm by magic; however, they can be repelled by fire or any other forms of heat or light, as the Inferi in Voldemort's cave had never been exposed to either of these elements. When defeated, they return to their idle state.

Inferi are more or less modified versions of zombies (which have been mentioned as apparently separate creatures ), much closer to the zombies of Voodoo folklore than those usually portrayed in films. They are considered dangerous and frightening enough by the magical world that impersonating an Inferius (as Mundungus Fletcher does in Half-Blood Prince) is an offence worthy of imprisonment in Azkaban. The word Inferi is the Latin name for Hades, the Greek underworld where the dead reside, as inferus means "below" in Latin.

The Ministry of Magic fears that Voldemort is killing enough people to make an army of Inferi: as they are dead, they are very difficult to stop. When Voldemort was hiding one of his Horcruxes in the past, he filled a lake in a cave with many Inferi, which were to attack and drown anyone but Voldemort who came into the cavern and took the locket. When Harry and Dumbledore took the locket, the Inferi attacked Harry, and Dumbledore repelled them with a rope of fire. It is also revealed that the Inferi almost killed Kreacher after he drank from the basin in order to help Voldemort hide his Horcruxes; it was, instead, Kreacher's master Regulus Black that was captured and drowned by the Inferi so that Kreacher could escape a second time.

Dark creatures and objects

''Main articles: Dark creatures and Dark objects


In the Harry Potter series the subjects of magical portraits (even those of characters that are dead) can move (or simulate motion, at least within the two-dimensional plane of the picture), interact with living observers, speak, and demonstrate apparent emotion and personality. Some can even move to other portraits to visit each other, or to relay messages, or (if more than one painting of the subject exists) can move between separate locations via their portraits. Many such portraits are found on the walls of Hogwarts. It is unknown how magical portraits come into being: whether they are produced by a painter or brought into existence by other means. Magical photographs with similar properties are created by developing normal film in a magic potion.

At least three portraits, that of The Fat Lady, Ariana Dumbledore and the Hogwarts Kitchen Portrait, can perform at least one action with a direct effect on the world outside the frame of her painting. The Fat Lady's portrait is the door that covers the entrance to the Gryffindor common room, and she can swing the portrait open or closed to allow or prevent entry. Ariana's was able to swing open revealing the secret passage from the Hog's Head Inn to Hogwarts that was created by Neville Longbottom using the Room of Requirement, The Hogwarts Kitchen portrait, a painting of a large bowl filled with fruit, will swing open, after the pear gets tickled and giggles, to reveal a hidden door that leads into the kitchens where the Hogwarts house-elves work.

Portraits can also move between paintings, going wherever they like in the Hogwarts grounds. However, outside the grounds, portraits can only move to other paintings (of themselves) or with which they are linked, for example, Phineas Nigellus Black who has a painting in The Headmaster's Office and at 12 Grimmauld Place. In "The Deathly Hallows" Harry asks Phineas Nigellus to bring him Dumbledore's painting from Hogwarts through to the 12 Grimmauld Place copy; this is when Black explains that paintings can only move out of Hogwarts into copies of themselves.

In "Deathly Hallows" Snape takes instruction and advice from Dumbledore's portrait; suggesting that portraits retain memories and personality, or can be enchanted to retain memories. Dumbledore's portrait also cries when it finds that Harry was successful in defeating Voldemort, again suggesting that portraits keep the memories of those they are painted after.

Authorial statements regarding portraits have been vague. J. K. Rowling made a comment in an interview that a portrait is something like a faint imprint of the person in question, imitating the basic attitude and thought patterns of the person, though less realistic than a ghost (ghosts, as Nearly Headless Nick explains, are the souls of wizards who feared to leave the world).

Portraits in the Headmaster's office

The portraits in the Headmaster's office depict all of the former Heads of Hogwarts. The portraits act to advise the Headmaster and are "honour-bound to give service to the present headmaster" (according to Armando Dippet). They include:

The Fat Lady

The portrait of the Fat Lady is the door to Gryffindor Tower, which is hidden behind her painting. She will open it (sometimes grudgingly) when the correct password is uttered. She is often upset after being awakened, and is often seen drunk with her best friend, Violet. The Fat Lady has no other known name, and it is unknown whether she is supposed to represent a real person. In Philosopher's Stone, she leaves her portrait in the middle of the night, locking Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville out of Gryffindor Tower. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius slashes the Fat Lady’s portrait and it is some time before she dares to guard Gryffindor Tower again. After her portrait was restored, she requested protection next time someone tries to attack her portrait. Thus, two security trolls were hired.

In the first film the Fat Lady is played by the late Elizabeth Spriggs. She does not appear in the second film. In the third film she is played by Dawn French. She does not appear in the fourth or fifth films.


  • Sir Cadogan
  • Violet: a friend of the Fat Lady
  • Walburga Black at 12 Grimmauld Place.
  • Ariana Dumbledore at the Hog's Head Inn.
  • The Mermaid in the Prefects' Bathroom watches Harry when he is in there in Goblet of Fire (is a stained-glass window in the film)
  • The Hogwart's Kitchens Portrait, which depicts a large bowl of fruit. The hidden door leading to the kitchens becomes visible after tickling the pear on the portrait.
  • Elfrida Clagg (Ministry of Magic)
  • Medieval Healer in St Mungo's stairwell
  • A magical portrait in the Muggle Prime Minister's office depicts a "froglike little man wearing a long silver wig", and is used by the Ministry to communicate with the Prime Minister of the day.
  • Anne Boleyn in the Stairwell
  • The kittens painted on china plates with which Dolores Umbridge decorates her offices at Hogwarts and within the Ministry move around and purr and mew audibly.


Wizarding photographs of people have similar properties to magical painted portraits: the figures within move about or even sometimes leave the frame. As with the paintings, the images of people in the photographs do not appear to age. Photographs from ordinary Muggle cameras can be made to seem alive. Colin Creevey mentions in Chamber of Secrets that a boy in his dormitory said that if he develops the film 'in the right potion, the pictures will move. However, figures in Wizarding pictures do not reflect the emotions or actions of their counterparts in the real world. Moving photos also appear in wizard newspapers and other print media, as well as on Chocolate Frog cards. This is exemplified in Prisoner of Azkaban when pictures of Sirius are printed in The Daily Prophet newspaper. The magazine Witch Weekly also contains pictures of smiling and winking witches. The images of people in photographs display little sentience. The subjects of some photographs can leave the frame, but no indication has been given that they are able to visit or communicate with other photographs or with people in the world, as is the case with their painted counterparts. However, it appears that they do have some knowledge of current events, as seen by Harry when he goes to Arthur Weasley's office on Order of the Phoenix. The family photograph on Arthur's desk shows everyone except Percy "who appeared to have walked out of it".

Communicating with the dead

In the Wizarding world, having a soul that continues to exist after the death of the physical body is not an article of faith, as it is for religious Muggles, but an empirically proven fact. Some kinds of magic exist both for summoning the dead and for communicating with them and for manipulating the souls of still-living people. However, such magic is rare, some of it considered very dark such as the production of Horcruxes - and even when not dark is considered better reserved for very special occasions. Necromancy is conspicuously absent from the curriculum of Hogwarts, raising the dead is not one of the things which a wizard or witch are expected to perform in the course of a normal career, and the organizational table of the Ministry of Magic makes no mention of a department for dealing with such issues.

An exception to the above is communication with the limited group of dead who chose to remain in the world as ghosts. That is simple and straightforward, forms a part of daily life in Hogwarts, and needs no greater exercise of magic than what is needed for gaining entry to the magic school in the first place. As noted above, magical portraits also provide a way of communicating with the dead people depicted in them, who seem to have left part of their essence in the world when they "went on" - enough for both Snape and Harry to meaningfully communicate with and report to Dumbledore's portrait after he had died.

To the contrary, communicating with dead people who did "go on" is a far more rare and difficult business, and occurs only on very special occasions: In Harry's first battle with Voldemort in "Goblet of Fire", when the people killed by Voldemort's wand emerge for a moment; in "Deathly Hallows" when Harry, believing that he is going to his death, summons the shades of the dead people most dear to him by way of the Resurrection Stone; and, in the final chapters of "Deathly Hallows," when Harry had been hit by the Avada Kedavra curse but saved by his mother's protection that still resided in Voldemort's body (which protected the charm and kept it active), he becomes suspended in a limbo-like status and is able to meet and speak freely with the dead Dumbledore.

In principle, by gaining possession of the Resurrection Stone Harry could have continued to summon any dead people he wanted. However, at the very first place where this Stone is mentioned it is made clear that such conduct is wrong, and that when its original possessor in the Tale of the Three Brothers used it to bring back his dead beloved, she was unhappy at having her peace disturbed until he finally chose to die himself and join her. Harry prefers to let the Stone lie where it had fallen in the forest, and Dumbledore's portrait praises this as "a wise and courageous decision".

It is never specified exactly where it is that the dead go who chose to "go on" rather than remain in the world as ghosts, except for noting that they find peace there. There is no mention in any of the books of an afterlife consisting of heaven or hell, or of any religion. However, when a person chooses to damage his own soul, as in the production of Horcruxes, he must face the result of having a tortured afterlife with a damaged soul and being denied the peace that other souls find. He has, so to speak, done it to himself.

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