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The Killing Curse, Magical Beasts, and Unblockability

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Taure, Oct 17, 2020.

  1. TRH

    TRH Seventh Year

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    Given what we were told and shown about it in canon, I don't think there's any way around the conclusion that the killing curse is binary: either you cast it successfully, in which case it will unerringly kill a target it hits, or you don't cast at all. That being said, I suppose we also have to infer that this only applies to humans, and that creatures with resistance to other kinds of magic can also resist the killing curse. If nothing else, this would explain why Fluffy was able to hold up Quirrell for months, when he could otherwise just lob the curse at the dog from outside the room and call it good. And we've seen worse wizards than him use the killing curse, so that probably isn't it either.
     
  2. aAlouda

    aAlouda Seventh Year

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    My headcanon about the danger of Fluffy is that you have to hit all three heads to take it out, giving it plenty time to attack and injure any single wizard who faces it. Basically stunning or killing one, still allows the other two remaining ones to attack you.
     
  3. Sorites

    Sorites First Year

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    I think postulates 1-3 make sense, with the caveat that ‘magical power’ is a vague term, which we would do well to keep in mind for later.

    I think you go too far however in invoking 4. First it seems unnecessary to explain away the dual conundrums of excessively threatening magical creatures and lack of use; most wizards and witches not meeting the threshold to cast the curse is sufficient for the latter. Also, as many others pointed out, because of the great range of magical power we would be forced to accept noticeable differences in how people react to the killing curse.

    The problem is not as bad as it might first seem, since it doesn’t actually follow from 4 that one has to be equal to or more powerful than the victim which one casts the curse on, as you propose (which would, if taken literally, lead to absurd results like Snape not actually being capable of killing Dumbledore etc...).

    But nervethless we still have an issue here where it seems like very powerful wizards (i.e. Dumbeldore) should walk around confident that average magic users like Draco could not successfully kill them through the curse. But this is not how anyone treats the situation between the two. Can you stretch this and say that Draco was expected to kill Dumbledore through other means? Sure you can, but it seems much simpler to discard the fourth premise and adopt something better.

    I also don’t like the fourth supposition for other meta-canon reasons; it cheapens the entire aspect of being good at magic. We shouldn’t think of Dumbledore as having magical properties that innately shield him to a greater degree from curses (even if only the killing curse) than your average wizard. We understand that he is exceptional because of his actions, and not his mere being.

    All that being said, I think the best way forward is to keep postulates 1-3 and discard the fourth. Since 4 is derived from 3; we should go back and discuss the nature of the vagueness of magical power. There are many aspects of magical power, some of which don’t correlate together (one reason I don’t like the term since it implies a linear progression of magical ability). All we need to do is find some component of magical power which wizards and witches lack but which (some) magical creatures possess.

    Fortunately, we have many abundant examples, one of which is general magical resistance to spells. We know giants and dragons (dragon-hide) possess this feature, and it’s not too much of a stretch to posit that other creatures like nundu’s do too. It also makes a lot of sense that the killing curse would be scalable in proportion to this one property, since that is the very nature of the property in general. To be clear I am merely supposing that the killing curse threshold correlates with the degree of general magical protection a creature possesses; not that dragons and giants are immune to the killing curse.

    This better explains I think the difficulty of killing such magical creatures with the killing curse while being more compatible with the canon.
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2020
  4. wordhammer

    wordhammer Dark Lord DLP Supporter

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    I would argue that the unmeasurable but distinct idea of 'magical power' is more like 'force of personality' and can change depending on the wizards physical condition, emotional well-being (believing in yourself doesn't require sanity in this case) and even their conviction to their purpose. Draco might have been able to kill Dumbledore on the tower even with his trepidatious Killing Curse, given that Albus was weakened by the potion from the cave, cursed by the ring horcrux earlier in the year, and disarmed as well.

    Albus was able to talk him down from that peak of certainty, using his own personal charm and persuasion, but the threat was real.
     
  5. Sorites

    Sorites First Year

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    Right, but it’s also revealing that everyone believes that Draco could kill Dumbledore in generic circumstances. The death eaters surrounding Draco seemed to believe that Dumbledore was finished on account of his losing his wand and being outnumbered; the pertinent point being that they didn’t know Dumbledore had drunk the potion etc...

    This extends back to conversations between Snape and Dumbledore where the prospect is taken seriously. And it’s repeatedly stressed that Voldemort thinks Draco will fail only because he is not up to the task of getting Dumbledore to that vulnerable position (i.e. wandless), and not because he somehow is incapable of cursing Dumbledore to death (or rather there is no evidence for this). Once Draco does in fact disarm Dumbledore we see that the other death eaters, while certainly surprised at the circumstance, expect that Draco will proceed to finish him off.

    That Draco could cast the killing curse to kill is treated as perfectly possible by everyone; that he might be capable of bringing Dumbledore to that position of vulnerability is doubted by Voldemort, and that he actually had the guts to do so questioned by Dumbledore.

    Of course as I noted one could always insist that it was expected that Draco would use other means to kill Dumbledore, but I feel that stretches things.
     
  6. AlexIY

    AlexIY Banned

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    Well, the Imperious Curse still needs to be used with intent. Whether that's the intent to control or not, even Moody stated that the Unforgivable Curses require a "Powerful bit of Magic" behind them. I think the problem is the Stormtrooper problem from Star Wars, they were propped up as elite fighters for the Empire and were actually so skilled that Obi-Wan could tell when they killed people. But when we see them in action, they're missing every shot so our protagonists can survive. Similarly, people think most Death Eaters are grunts, but that both logically and canonically makes no sense from the perspective of both Voldemort or anyone else we see that is a Death Eater.

    They're all pretty distinguished Wizards, there aren't thousands of Death Eater grunts running in and dying. So the idea that it's a very easy and common spell to cast isn't necessarily true either.
     
  7. arkkitehti

    arkkitehti Groundskeeper

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    I wouldn't call Crabbe a "distinguished wizard", and he was casting the Killing Curse just fine in DH.
     
  8. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    This kinda just circles back to the original point though. Because Moody's GOF statement would suggest that the 4th year class could also cast the Killing Curse just fine, it simply wouldn't do much to him. So there's a hanging question over whether Crabbe's Killing Curse is actually enough to give more than a nosebleed.
     
  9. Solpagae

    Solpagae First Year

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    Had a different thought.

    Going from the idea that only man enjoys inflicting pain, only man knows the pleasure of killing for sport, knowingly does murder, and dominates life (true or not)- I suggest there could be some undisclosed magical theory or law or reality which means the Unforgivables, or at least the Killing Curse, only works for and on such beings as are capable of, for example, understanding murder.

    Even if I haven't worded this well you can see why, say, Chimeras and Nundus aren't simply put under the Imperius to behave or done away with a Killing Curse. But beings, like Goblins, are susceptible as we've seen.

    I know there is nothing to suggest this from canon, but frankly I think it's being stretched already, and I would rather assume (in this case) there is more at play that we don't know than try to make sense of everything from the little we have.

    So, as to why Dark Wizards don't use it more often, or indeed the Ministry, I still think (though I usually steer clear of emotion and will magic) that a fanfic explanation I saw once works best. That to successfully kill (not just cast/shoot a jet of green light) with the Killing Curse you must mean to kill in cold blood (not self defense, or to protect others etc.).

    This fits well in the cases I remember. Rowle, an indiscriminate killer, Crabbe a cruel stupid youth twisted and trained under the Carrows, in Snape's case why it was so hard and why Voldemort believed him loyal to the last, Bellatrix and Voldemort explain themselves, and the Ministry authorization in the first war fits, too, like soldiers shooting surrendered enemy. It's murder, but some are deadened to it. Most, however, can't do so easily or don't wish to.
     
  10. Sorites

    Sorites First Year

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    Unfortunately, Moody uses the killing curse on the enlarged spider from GOF, so this doesn’t work.

    Another possibility that just occurred to me is that using the killing curse on all beings is illegal; with Moody’s actions in class being explained away as some kind of exception granted by the law, equivalent to the one granted to Auror’s in the first war with Voldemort. The only drawback is that it cheapens the threat of such creatures as faced by dark wizards.

    I don’t have the time/inclination to search for potential falsifications in the canon text; so I freely admit there might be some contradictory evidence that specifies the legality of the killing curse.
     
  11. Nogan

    Nogan First Year

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    Just to clarify here, you mean "being" as any living creature here, right? Because being is also a legal term in HP, including sapient creatures like humans, goblins etc. (but notably not centaurs, who rejected the classification).

    I've always headcanoned Taure's point 3 being the case, but extending it to wizards seems off. If you need to explain why most dark wizards cast other offensive spells often, I think the curse being difficult enough to cast that most dark wizards aren't confident in their ability to reliably cast it in combat conditions fits better. Bellatrix is a problem, but maybe she's just accustomed to facing opponents who she doesn't need to use the killing curse to kill, and can take her time with less efficient but (to her) more satisfying means of murder.
     
  12. Sorites

    Sorites First Year

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    Right, I mean it in the general sense, as in any creature. Yes it seems like the only reason we have for introducing the 4th postulate is to explain away the fact that Bellatrix uses the curse so sparingly. The other instances of dark wizards/witches in combat don’t really require an explanation, as Voldemort is prolific with the killing curse and there are extraneous circumstances in every other case (e.g. death eaters in OOTP wanting to take hostages; snatchers and dark followers in DH either being too weak or arguably still bound in practice by the law etc...)

    Since introducing the threshold scaling for wizards and witches creates its own set of problems, it makes little sense to keep it just to explain away bellatrix’s peculiar spell usage (we’ve introduced a couple problems to explain away one).
     
  13. Strangebloke

    Strangebloke Second Year

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    Keep it simple:
    1. Unforgivables translate intent to effect. If the intent isn't there, the effect won't manifest. Generally speaking anyone risking azkaban knows what they're doing and has practiced the spell to where it's 100% reliable. Therefore although it's possible to survive a poorly cast killing curse, it never happens in practice.
    2. The killing curse is an insta win, however, it lacks qualities that other spells have. It's slower to cast, or mentally exhausting (said to "split the soul") or lacking in range relative to other options so it isn't used exclusively even by people who can easily muster intent
    3. Unblockable merely refers to the shield charm. Dragon scales or innate resistance can mitigate the effect, as we see with dumbledores statues. Also if it has a slow casting time and a short range it might be completely impractical against something like a dragon, because by the time you use it you're on fire. Part of why harry is so remarkable is not just that he lived, it's that he somehow reflected the killing curse back onto Voldemort.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2020
  14. Drachna

    Drachna Third Year

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    This may be my own head canon creeping in, but I'm fairly certain that the wand movement for the killing curse is a downwards zigzag, like a lightning bolt, and that the incantation, which is long and obvious, must be spoken aloud. (I draw the latter from the fact that Voldemort always seems to say the spell, which seems uncharacteristic for him) Beause of the long casting time, the power or at least the mental preparation that most wizards need to cast it, and the accuracy needed for it to hit the target, (unlike say a blasting curse) I believe that the majority of wizards capable of using it would wield it like a sniper rifle, at a distance and from cover, rather than it the middle of a fast paced conflict. As for it's usefulness against magical beasts, I'd say that it works, with the caveat that unless you're an exceptionally powerful wizard, a larger group of people casting the spell would be required.
     
  15. Heosphoros

    Heosphoros Fourth Year

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    In regards to big monsters, their size could be the reason for their resistance. It may be that in order for the Killing Curse to be successful it has to affect the entire body at the same time, which gets harder as the volume increases. A dragon was theorized by Hermione to be the upper limits in size someone like Mcgonagall could transfigure. The same could be true for the Killing Curse, only a wizard as good in Dark Magic as Minerva is in Transfiguration can kill something that big with it.
     
  16. RandyRanderson

    RandyRanderson Second Year

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    The killing curse doesn't have to be cast verbally. The narrative importance excuse is often used to explain away the killing curses in OoTP but sound plays an important part in the narrative in this scene. There's no incantation or it would have been described. Narcissa reacts to the light of the spell not the sound of the incantation.

    I think this rules out some important intent and focus required for the spell. Bellatrix, rushing after her sister to stop her, is able to cast the killing curse immediately after the fox jumps up. Bellatrix doesn't even know it is a fox. It's not slow to cast either. The spell is based on intent like the levitation charm is based on the intent to levitate. And I think this shows it isn't a spell Bellatrix really uses sparingly, given that it's the curse that she uses reflexively.
     
  17. BlitherBlip

    BlitherBlip First Year

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    Only skimmed the thread so apologies if someone said this already.

    My headcanon with the Unforgivables is that before Voldemort they were mostly obscure bits of dark magic, probably only known to a couple of families that kept them secret and the Ministry, who understandably didn't want them becoming widely known about. It was only during the first wizarding war that Voldemort popularised them among dark wizards.

    Therefore, the reason the Killing Curse isn't the historical go-to for magical creatures is because A: it's only been known about for 10-20 years during canon and B: most people don't want to be using the signature spell of the most evil dude in history. You could insta-kill that Nundu, but then all your compatriots are going to start thinking you're a secret death-eater.

    'Intent' is also a factor, i.e. only the truly sociopathic can cast them without a lot of real anger at the target, which everyone else ITT has already mentioned.
     
  18. Warlocke

    Warlocke Prisoner

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    No.
    Cold blooded murder damages the soul, allowing pieces to be split off from the whole, in the case of making a Horcrux.

    Using a Killing Curse on someone is no more damaging to the soul than stabbing someone to death with an ice pick, because they married your crush.

    The Harry Potter books take place in the 90s, during which the current D&D rules set was the second edition.

    Dragons in 2E have Magic Resistance, varying according to their age and breed. The older they get, the more resistant to magic they become. A red dragon, for example has Magic Resistance starting at 30% at age 5. By the time they are 12, that resistance is at 65%.

    Bearing that in mind, a wizard who can competently cast a Killing Curse upon a dragon would successfully kill it, provided they hit their target, as long as the dragon is age 5 or younger. After that, they have to overcome the dragon's magic resistance, with their chances of success diminishing as the dragon matures.

    This is clearly very relevant to this conversation and applicable to canon, and not at all a shitpost.
     
  19. Gaius

    Gaius Fourth Year

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    Somehow missed this thread. Very interesting thoughts.

    I have some comments on what people have said so far:

    Like other commenters in the thread, I'm not sure I agree with your fourth thesis, Taure, but it is nice in that it provides a parallel to the prophecy. Voldemort marks Harry as his "equal" because he otherwise should have been able to kill Harry. Although Harry would be the first to say his mother did all the work, the fact that Harry couldn't be killed by V. suggests that V.'s capacity to kill Harry is equal to or lesser than Harry's magical power.

    Yes, this is my thought too. Hatred is a social emotion, so many folks will not feel the hate needed to commit murder especially to innocents and strangers. On this view, Voldemort's capacity for hate is so great that he is always successful with the killing curse. This highlights the significance of Lily's sacrifice and Harry's capacity for love, which Dumbledore rightly says is the power the Dark Lord knows not.

    Yes, I agree. "Not even a nosebleed" seems to minimize what they could do by casting the spell (i.e. nothing), which is to say they can't cast it.

    I think there's something to this idea. And someone else mentions the length of the killing curse's incantation (six syllables) as another obstacle. When objects and curses come into the way, an easy shot at the opponent's body, which the killing curse requires, may not be possible. So spells that affect areas or have physical effects (such as transfigurations in Voldemort and Dumbledore's battle in OotP) may be more useful in this context.

    I like this idea a lot, Andrela, and haven't thought of the unforgivable curses in this way. It is nice especially because of Rowling's penchant for parallelism of characters (e.g. Harry, Snape, and Voldemort are all half-bloods, magically powerful, from similar backgrounds) and use of the number three (three brothers, three deathly hallows). This is also nice in terms of the names of the characters and the spells you've identified them with: 1) Voldemort has the word "death" in it; 2) Bellatrix's name is related to the Latin word for "war" (bellum), a context in which physical pain is inflicted and torture is sometimes performed; 3) Crouch, while less obvious, lives his adult life under the imperius curse and "crouch" means to go low, so humility/servility of someone under the curse. This last is also nice since Voldemort commands Harry with the imperius curse "to bow."

    Not sure that "sadism" is required from reading Bellatrix's description of cruciatus (although she and Barty clearly enjoy it), but negative emotions like hatred (this may be a fanon idea) surely underly the intent to inflict harm or to kill. Snape, I imagine, doesn't enjoy killing Dumbledore but must. In that instance I'm not sure if hatred (perhaps for the fact that he has been forced into this position as double agent for so long) is at the root of Snape's curse. At a certain point, too, it seems like a kindness since Dumbledore is in pain and already dying.

    Yes, I agree with this, but Hagrid makes a point to tell Harry that no one survived after Voldemort put his mind to killing someone in the Sorcerer's Stone.

    Yes, I agree with the Draco point. One way this could be squared with Taure's theory, as you mention at the end of this quote, is that poisons (e.g.) might exist for this reason. Not everyone can cast a killing curse, but surely anyone can slip the draught of living death into an enemy's drink.

    I definitely agree with you here. Magic is transformational, not only in the obvious sense of transfiguration, but in the sense that wizards seem to get better with practice and knowledge. So Dumbledore isn't naturally or essentially unkillable with the killing curse, but he has become the kind of wizard who is difficult to kill because he is so wily, skilled at magic, etc.

    Great conversation and ideas!
     
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