In Chapter 14, we attend our first class with Professor Moody and learn about Unforgivable Curses. Let’s go!
As classes continue at Hogwarts, we find out something interesting: Snape seems to be really uneasy about Mad-Eye Moody. Which is odd, because Snape is usually pretty unflappable.
Snape had disliked all of their previous Dark Arts teachers, and shown it — but he seemed strangely wary of displaying overt animosity to Mad-Eye Moody. Indeed, whenever Harry saw the two of them together — at mealtimes, or when they passed in the corridors — he had the distinct impression that Snape was avoiding Moody’s eye, whether magical or normal.
See what I mean? That’s unusual. Snape doesn’t usually act like that at all.
The Gryffindor fourth year students finally get their first class with Moody, something that everyone has been looking forward to. First thing, he tells them to put away their books because they won’t need them for his class. He also tells them straight up that he will only be there for one year, as a favor to Dumbledore. Ron, in particular, is taken aback by this, and Moody immediately recognizes him as a Weasley.
“You’ll be Arthur Weasley’s son, eh?” Moody said. “Your father got me out of a very tight corner a few days ago . . .”
And we still don’t know all the details of what went down that night.
Moody’s area of expertise is curses. He is there to show them all the terrible things that wizards can do to one another. Well, that sounds cheerful and uplifting, now doesn’t it. But even though he’s a bit scary, Moody makes a valid point: how are they supposed to defend themselves against something that they’ve never seen? He is only technically supposed to teach about countercurses, but what good would that do if they don’t know what they’re up against? So Moody’s a bit unorthodox, but to be honest, I sort of agree with him so far.
Also, his magic eye can apparently see through solid wood, as he sees Lavender Brown showing Parvati Patil something under the desk. That’s not unsettling at all.
First question: which curses are most heavily punished by Wizarding law?
Hey! Ron knows an answer in class! I get the feeling he doesn’t raise his hand too often, so this was a bit of a surprise to me.
“Er,” said Ron tentatively, “my dad told me about one . . . Is it called the Imperius Curse, or something?”
“Ah, yes,” said Moody appreciatively. “Your father would know that one. Gave the Ministry a lot of trouble at one time, the Imperius Curse.”
The Imperius Curse, when cast, basically gives the caster complete control over your body, if it’s cast on you. Moody has three large spiders that are there to be examples, and he starts off by making one of them tap dance. Which seems funny, until . . .
“Total control,” said Moody quietly as the spider balled itself up and began to roll over and over. “I could make it jump out of the window, drown itself, throw itself down one of your throats . . .”
Yeah, that’s not going to induce nightmares or anything.
Turns out, back when Voldemort was in power, a lot of witches and wizards were controlled by this curse, and it wasn’t easy to figure out who was Imperiused and who was just lying. Lucky for them, there is a way to fight the Imperius Curse, but it is really hard to do. It requires a lot of strength and, Moody’s catch phrase, CONSTANT VIGILANCE!!!!!
Second curse, this time provided by Neville, another surprise. The Cruciatus Curse. Moody looks at Neville closely and asks about his last name. He doesn’t elaborate, but after reading later books, we know exactly why Neville would know about this particular curse, and it is heartbreaking.
So what does the Cruciatus Curse do exactly?
At once, the spider’s legs bent in upon its body; it rolled over and began to twitch horribly, rocking from side to side. No sound came from it, but Harry was sure that if it could have given voice, it would have been screaming.
This is a torture curse, and if the class is horrified by the spider’s fate, it’s nothing compared to Neville’s reaction. I want to hug him so bad right now!
With so many terrible things happening to the first two spiders, no one wants to answer what the third Unforgivable Curse might be. Of course, Hermione knows what it is and raises her hand — it’s Avada Kedavra, the Killing Curse. Moody takes out the last spider and casts the spell. Just like that, in a flash of green light, the spider is dead. Moody elaborates . . .
“Not nice,” he said calmly. “Not pleasant. And there’s no countercurse. There’s no blocking it. Only one known person has ever survived it, and he’s sitting right in front of me.”
So now we know. This is how Voldemort tried to kill Harry all those years ago, but for some reason, it completely backfired. And it shouldn’t have. No one knows how he survived (although I think Dumbledore has his theories). Harry thinks about what it must have been like that night, which he has a bit of insight to after hearing his parents’ voices during the dementor incidents.
Back to class. If you were concerned that Moody has just taught a group of fourteen year-olds how to murder people, rest assured. They are not powerful enough to do it. Moody says that if they tried it on him, he might get a nosebleed, but that would be about it. He reiterates that he is showing them this because they need to know about the worst of the worst. No point in hiding the truth.
So these three curses are the Unforgivables. Using one will get you a one-way trip to Azkaban for LIFE. That’s how serious they are. Moody spends the rest of the lesson lecturing before letting them go. Hermione notices Neville standing by himself and sees that he’s clearly not okay with what they saw, even though the rest of the class is fascinated. Before they can say much, Moody appears and invites Neville for a cup of tea, saying he has some books he’d like to loan him. It’s a bit of a softer side to Moody, that we hadn’t seen yet.
That night in the Common Room, as they work on their homework, Harry and Ron wonder if Moody, and by extension Dumbledore, would be in trouble with the Ministry for showing them those curses. But then, Dumbledore has always done things his own way, hasn’t he. He probably understands Moody’s way of thinking. Best if they are prepared. They also see Neville, who shows them the book that Moody lent to him: Magical Water Plants of the Mediterranean. Moody had heard from Professor Sprout that Neville was really good at Herbology and gave him the book as a way to encourage him and cheer him up. That . . . . that’s actually really sweet. Neville doesn’t get a lot of acknowledgment for the things he’s good at.
Also in the Common Room: Fred and George, who are sitting off by themselves and acting very strangely. Harry overhears them saying something about being careful not to accuse someone of something? It’s all very mysterious.
Harry and Ron also work on their Divination homework, which is hilarious because they have no idea how to do any of it, but because Trelawney seems to enjoy predicting dire circumstances, they just come up with the most terrible things imaginable. Hermione is not amused.
Hermione sat down, laid the things she was carrying in an empty armchair, and pulled Ron’s predictions toward her.
“Not going to have a good month, are you?” she said sardonically as Crookshanks curled up in her lap.
“Ah well, at least I’m forewarned,” Ron yawned.
“You seem to be drowning twice,” said Hermione.
Speaking of Hermione, she shows Harry and Ron what she has been working on: badges with the letters S.P.E.W. on them. Hermione has decided to fight for house-elf rights with her new organization: the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare. Ron, in particular, is not enthusiastic. Hermione, though, is not the kind to take no for an answer. Best if you just go along with it, boys.
They are interrupted by Hedwig, finally returning with a message from Sirius. He is flying north, coming back. Between Harry’s scar hurting, Moody coming out of retirement, and other rumors that he’s heard, Sirius is concerned. Harry is also concerned. He doesn’t want Sirius to come back, to risk getting caught just because Harry wrote to him about a nightmare.
If Sirius came back and got caught, it would be his, Harry’s, fault. Why hadn’t he kept his mouth shut? A few seconds’ pain and he’d had to blab . . . If he’d just had the sense to keep it to himself . . .
He heads up to the dorm, but doesn’t sleep. Instead, he spends the whole night worried about Sirius. Poor Harry!
See you next time for Chapter 15!