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The three unforgivable curses are the Cruciatus Curse, the Imperius Curse, and the Killing Curse ("Avada Kedavra").

The Cruciatus Curse inflicts terrible pain and has no use other than torture, making it understandably horrific.

The Imperius Curse overrides a person's free will and controls them directly. Again, understandably horrific.

The Killing Curse... kills the target instantly and painlessly. It's unblock-able, meaning it can't be deflected by a shield onto an innocent bystander, and it's implicitly single-target-only, with no explosion or similar splash effect which could cause collateral damage.

On the other hand, all of the following are apparently perfectly forgivable:

  • The Blasting Curse, with huge potential for collateral damage, and which could cause severe injury leading to a prolonged and painful death.
  • The Expulsion Curse, similar to the above.
  • Whatever was used to blast Benjy Fenwick to pieces, possibly one of the above.
  • Nonspecific Dementor-associated death after imprisonment in Azkaban (eg. Morfin Gaunt) (Not just condoned, but practically enabled by the authorities)
  • Fiendfire
  • Sectumsempra (inflicts horrible wounds which, if untreated, could easily lead to slow death by exsanguination)
  • Whichever curse afflicted Dumbledore after wearing Marvolo Gaunt's ring (I don't think it was ever named).

There are also countless other ways to potentially kill someone with magic (Body-binding curse-assisted drowning, for example). In light of all of these "forgivable curses", why is a safe, instant, painless kill so horrifying as to be "unforgivable"?

marked as duplicate by TGnat, Mithrandir, Valorum harry-potter Jan 7 '18 at 0:20

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    I don’t know the answer, but I like the way you think. – Recelica Jan 6 '18 at 23:47
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    I believe it has been asked here before (with different wordings).. – Lobo Jan 6 '18 at 23:50
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    Maybe because it’s only purpose is to kill and it can’t be defended against? – Joe W Jan 7 '18 at 0:13
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    Because it can't be forgiven. – Valorum Jan 7 '18 at 0:20
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    @Valorum Ha. About as succinct as you can put it! But of course it does have several meanings too so it's not just sarcasm (although you have to know what those reasons are first). So the most helpful answer and the least helpful answer all at once. Great job! – Pryftan Jan 7 '18 at 0:23

From what I understand, the killing curse is a spell that requires the caster to do a few things:

a. Feel a true, unyielding desire to see someone be killed b. Cast a spell that they know is literally designed and known for the sole purpose of snuffing the life out of someone.

The spell is also said to "break" the soul, though I don't know if that's part of the lore or not. I think Dumbledore mentioned it when talking to Harry about horcruxes.

I think that you mis-interperet what "unforgivable" means. They say in the books that casting an unforgivable leads to imprisonment in Azkaban - then a professor goes on to cast all of them in front of a class of students. It is my interpretation that these spells are 'unforgivable' to the law when they are cast on another person.

Anyways. Once again, the AK requires the caster (as said in the books), to intend to kill someone. I imagine that regardless of the spell cast, the punishment is the same if you actually murder someone, it's just that when they see that you've cast the killing curse, and someone's dead, they know for sure that that was your exact intention. In the case of a simple cutting curse or something, it could very well have been an accident when trying to cut some fabric or something. You do not cast a killing curse at someone with the intention of cleaning some dirt off of their clothes.

Also, if I recall correctly, Voldemort had souls in his wand or something from the people he'd killed, and they were released during the priori incantatem. This might allude to the killing curse doing something worse than simply causing someone to die (this also may have just been in the movies).

  • It rips the soul of the caster, yes. That's how a Horcrux can be made in the first place (remember it is in fact Slughorn who mentions it: to Tom M. Riddle in fact). But I don't think that's relevant as to why it's considered unforgivable even if it's true. And you're right: when it's cast on another human being. Yes intent is part of the unforgivable. But he didn't have souls in his wand: it was the effect of when one wand forces its brother (share the same core) to echo back its previous spells. The fact Voldemort murdered as a staple is why those images of his victims: the last spells. – Pryftan Jan 7 '18 at 0:21
  • The absoluteness of the intent/motive does make sense as a reason. – Watercleave Jan 7 '18 at 0:35
  • It should. When I cast a killing curse on someone, it's for no other reason than to kill them. It's like pointing a gun at someone and shooting them. You pointed that gun and you pulled the trigger. – Nicholas Hylands Jan 7 '18 at 15:27
  • perhaps you misunderstand, its "unforgivable" to the law. If you check the answer to the other version of this question, it should explain it nicely as well. Law force can use whatever they want to execute people, but they dont want the average citizen casting a curse that does nothing but kill others when they could just as effectively be defending themselves with stunners and the like. – Nicholas Hylands Jan 7 '18 at 15:28

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