In Goblet of Fire, Mad Eye Moody

Or rather, Barty Crouch

explained the 3 unforgivable curses to the 4th year children. He explains that Avada Kedavra needs a "good deal of magic behind it" for it to be effective and that all the students combines at their current proficiency "[wouldn't] get so much as a nosebleed".

Could a wizard/witch then not put much force behind AK and purposefully not kill someone but just harm them tremendously?

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    I'm not sure if we can trust everything Mad Barty Eye Moody Crouch says. Perhaps he wants students to go back to their dorms and playfully AK each other while they really just end up killing one another. #conspiracy Also the wording "wouldn't get so much as a nosebleed" indicates that unless you have the right amount of power behind the curse, nothing will happen. – NominSim Sep 6 '12 at 16:33
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    Even if it -were- possible (and I'd lean towards that not being the case), it would be pretty risky - too much unintended power and you end up with a corpse, rather than a hurt and frightened victim. When you have access to a number of other curses - including the Cruciatus curse - for inflicting pain, why would you risk using a weakened Avada Kedavra? – Anthony Grist Sep 6 '12 at 16:50
  • @AnthonyGrist If it were possible, Snape could have done that with Dumbledore, to further prove his loyalty to fellow Death Eaters without killing him. (Ruling out of course the fact that Dumbledore was already dying and had asked Snape to kill him.) – NominSim Sep 6 '12 at 17:06
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    @Izkata Well the first time I read that scene I thought: well sure he is going to do the vow, but listen to his wording, he might well be able to wiggle free of the magic as long as Draco still has a chance to succeed. Indeed there are several times in the book where Draco does fail to kill Dumbledore, i.e. the cursed necklace, the poisoned drink etc. Yet despite these failures Snape doesn't die. I always thought he worded the vow well enough that as long as Draco was still trying he wouldn't suffer consequences. – NominSim Sep 6 '12 at 23:51
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    @Izkata So I don't think the vow would have taken effect even if Snape had failed to kill Dumbledore then, because Draco still could succeed. – NominSim Sep 6 '12 at 23:51

I don't recall any canon evidence, but based on fake-Moody's "I won't get so much as a nosebleed", odds are it's more of a binary thing: if your magical energy and mental states are above some threshold, Avada Kedavra will work, and if not, it will fizzle.

  • Or the liar might be lying, so that students may feel 'safe' to practice with it. Taking his word for something, when you know that much of what he's been saying is an outright lie, is a bad idea. – Jeff Sep 9 '12 at 14:56
  • Jeff: I don't think that much of what he's been saying was a lie. The fake Moody used misdirection instead of lies. – b_jonas Sep 9 '12 at 15:15
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    @Jeff - two words: "feature creep" – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 9 '13 at 4:05
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    @Jeff not if it would expose him as a fake. I'm pretty sure some of the smartest students, especially those who search in the library about topics they heard in class, would become suspicious if he was teaching complete lies in class. – vsz Mar 10 '13 at 8:39
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    @vsz: If the man's smart enough to pass as a complete stranger in a school where at least one suspicious enemy can read minds he can recognize the limits he'd be working under. I personally agree with DVK's sentiments of the spell being binary ('kills or doesn't) but I find it hard to just take Barty's word on anything. If he told me the sky was blue, I'd double-check. – Jeff Mar 10 '13 at 22:19

I think that he means they don't have enough magical talent or skill, yet. As they get older, they'll get better with spells. I don't think a wizard can control how much force they put into a spell. However, in the Order of the Phoenix, Bellatrix Le'strange says to Harry that he's got to really want to torture her when he tries to use the crucio curse, which is another unforgivable curse. So, I'm guessing this applies to avade kedavra, in that the wizard needs to really want to kill someone when using that curse :)

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    If you don't think that a teenager never has strong enough emotions to really want to whack someone, you don't know enough teenagers :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 9 '12 at 15:44

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