In the movie Deathly Hallows - Part 2, we see Harry use the Imperius curse (The Imperius Curse is one of the three Unforgivable Curses, when cast successfully, it places the victim completely under the caster's control).

Being an unforgivable curse, why was Harry not sent to Azkaban after Hogwarts Battle end?

EDIT: The answers are quite right, but I'm still not satisfied. The point of the question is: if an unforgivable curse is a crime, doing it during a war is a War Crime, and a "good" system should convict its own side war criminals as well. Why did this not happen?

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    I would think sending the guy who just saved the country would be frowned upon by the general public. Think what would have happened if Trueman had been convicted of war crimes because of Hiroshima or Churchill because of Dresden, Laws get ignored during times of war "For the greater good", also would they be able to prove Harry was there? Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 8:50
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    Of course they can prove it, his actions are written in great detail inside a public book ;) Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 9:21
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    @StevenWood War crimes do exist precisely because Laws do not get ignored during times of war.
    – Envite
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 12:08
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    My point was that the winners would rarely get prosecuted or challenged for war crimes. Otherwise most of the Soviet army would have been executed for war crimes, as would more US Presidents than I can count, British Prime Ministers etc etc, whereas Hermann Goering, Rudolph Hess etc got prosecuted at Nuremburg, The Germans were solely blamed for WW1 at Versailles, I could go on but I smell sausage rolls so Ill leave you with the thought that History is both made and written by the victors! Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 12:15
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    @Envite, Of course, it's generally the losers that get convicted of war crimes, not the winners...
    – Brian S
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 15:52

17 Answers 17


In Goblet Of Fire, Sirius says that Crouch (Senior) allowed the use of Unforgivable Curses in the first war against Voldemort. Its conceivable that this restriction was lifted during the second war.

The Deatheaters at Hogwarts forced students to perform Unforgivable Curses against each other. One suspects that it was "extraordinary times"

(I'd also point out that Harry used the Cruciatus Curse against Bellatrix (a human) and wasn't prosecuted for it)

  • Was the restriction on unforgivable curses ever mentioned during the second war?
    – Moogle
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 14:32
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    Not as far as I remember. There's very little mention of laws in general in the last two books, almost like governmental functions had broken down. Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 15:13
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    When the trio meet Lupin at Grimmauld Place (DH chap 11), he says something about the Death Eaters being free to do what they want without fear of punishment or arrest (including Unforgivables), but I don't know if that means they were actually made legal or the law just not enforced.
    – alexwlchan
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 18:51
  • this is essentially the correct answer, A. we have president that "good" people could use unforgivable curses with no recourse during war. B. at the time of Voldemorts overthrowing of the government, in the eyes of EVERYONE agaisnt voldemort, the government ceased to exist, an example of this is the US vs the british in the american revolution, every single america soldier was commiting treason, which meant death, but since they WON the war, the laws were altered to make them non-treasonous.
    – Himarm
    Commented Jan 25, 2016 at 6:19
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    Potter deserves to be thrown in Azkaban for using the Cruciatus Curse on Bellatrix!!
    – Obsidia
    Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 20:20

I assumed that it was because it was 'only' used on a goblin and not on a human?

The wizards do not seem to consider other species (like elves) to be equal with them so I would not be surprised if the laws for the unforgivable curses did not apply to gnomes, elves etc.


Barty Crouch Jr. (disguised as Moody) says "The use of any one of them on a fellow human being is enough to earn a life sentence in Azkaban." (Goblet of Fire, Chapter 14).

  • I have a hard time separating canon from fanon, but this explanation has always rung true for me.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 11:39
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    Barty Crouch Jr. (disguised as Moody) says "The use of any one of them on a fellow human being is enough to earn a life sentence in Azkaban." (Goblet of Fire, Chapter 14) It does seem like the law simply doesn't apply to other sentient beings. Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 15:26
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    Harry used it on a human being as well (Travers).
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 22:31

We also see Death Eaters (like Lucius Malfoy) using Unforgivable curses (including Avada Kedavra), without getting sent to Azkaban for it -- at least not at the beginning (ie. during "the reign of terror" from the Quidditch World Cup final an onawards).

So to me, it seems like it's like in the muggle world, there is no automatic in you being punished for a crime -- you only go to jail if you're caught. And a well-done Imperious-curse, would probably leave the victim without knowledge that it's been done.

Yes, wands of young wizards -- and/or young-wizards -- are monitored, but in DH Harry has turned 17, so this will be deactivated. Yes, a wand can be question, but that only happens after there is suspicion. Besides, didn't Harry use Draco's wand?

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    Harry was 17 in Deathly Hallows, not 18. His wand was not monitored anymore, so the question is still mostly correct.
    – trysis
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 18:48

Really? It was specifically written in the book. When the ministry fell the unforgivable curses were made forgivable (and indeed, Hogwarts changed from having 'Defence Against the Dark Arts' to just 'Dark Arts' and first years were tortured as were those who had detention with the Carrows. This is also why Snape sent 'Dumbledore's Army' members to have detention with Hagrid instead of with the Carrows!). Once the second war was over, under Shacklebolt there were major changes to rid the ministry of corruption (like say, allowing Riddle to rebuild his army while the ministry conveniently denied his return). Also, just like some others suggested, Aurors were allowed to use them in the first war. Not only that, with the exception of a certain spell that regurgitates it out (first seen [if you read] in The Goblet of Fire, when they found Winky with Harry's Wand, after Morsmordre [dark mark] spell had been cast by Barty Crouch Jr. with Harry's wand), no one would have known the spell was cast for 100% sure (remember in the second year how Dobby used a hovering charm yet the ministry refused to believe it was anything but Harry and ignored the fact they could have checked?). Oh, and Harry's wand was broken when he cast Crucio on Carrow so he wasn't even using his own wand (yet another thing neglected in the film).

Never mind the other obvious reasons, of course... like say, that there was once again peace and the death eaters that still lived (like the Carrows, who were in fact tied up in Ravenclaw's tower*) as well as those who collaborated with them (e.g., the toad-like Umbridge) were now imprisoned. Or perhaps that by Voldemort following through with the prophecy there were two choices that either of them could make: 1) Do nothing and ultimately be killed by the other. 2) Do whatever it took to win or in other words have the other die.

And the most obvious reason (as if this is really needed): If it were not for Harry fulfilling the prophecy (that he was unfortunate enough to be forced in to) they'd all have been killed. The only reason the first wizarding war ended is because of Lily's sacrificial protection made Voldemort's Avada Kedavra backfire when he attempted to use it on Harry. This is mentioned by Voldemort himself in The Goblet of Fire, after he was reborn. Don't you remember him talking about 'old magic'?

This and more is all referred to in the entire series (at least for those who know how to read - they never interrogated Winky about Morsmordre in the film, for example).

*You could also ask the same question about McGonagall who used Imperio. Didn't know that? Oh, right, because that entire scene (same where Harry used Crucio on Carrow) was not in the film.

Also, I seem to remember that no, Lucius did not use or try to use Avada Kedavra. (I remember reading something about the actor specifically mentioned that there was no mention for what spell - in the script - to use and this was just the first one that came to his mind. I cannot remember too well as I read the book so long ago but I don't remember him ever even starting the incantation there before Dobby interrupted him).

Edit: Harry didn't only use Imperio on a goblin, either. He also used it on Travers, the death eater. A human. But again, they were made legal at this time. I still am dumbfounded that this is not understood. Think about it: do you really believe the death eaters who then had control over the ministry, would not allow it? They were the main users of them and they didn't care if someone was manipulated, hurt or killed and they didn't care how it was done either. In fact, they liked it (remember how Bellatrix told Harry you have to really want to cause pain in order to truly succeed in unforgivable curses? She followed with giving him a lesson by using Crucio on him. That's why he failed at that point and she showed him what she meant. Indeed, Harry even remarks about understanding it now, when he used it on Carrow in the Deathly Hallows!).

  • Possible, but you seem to be under the mistaken assumption that a brutal dictatorship would take pains to make their brutal actions legal, let alone legal for everybody.
    – Phira
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 11:52
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    They did make it legal. Fact. Once the Death Eaters took over the Ministry the Unforgivables were declared forgivable (see also students at Hogwarts being told to use them). Two additional things to consider: 1) when using Imperio Harry was under his invisibility cloak [so no witness minus Griphook who as I recall was killed]. 2) None of the unforgivable curses in Deathly Hallows cast by Harry were with his wand; his was broken when Hermione used the blasting curse to get away from Voldemort's Nagini. Harry was reasonably upset but he knew she did it to save their lives.
    – Cody
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 16:49
  • As for brutal dictatorships, I beg to differ. Both in real life and the Harry Potter world. Hitler made laws to fit his agenda and changed others, as I recall. I could probably find a source on that, if you really need.
    – Cody
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 16:49
  • One more thing that just came to mind. On the subject of me being mistaken about "taking pains to make their brutal actions legal, ...": They didn't have any pain or effort involved. They simply said they are legal now and that is that. It was all corrupt. It was a dictatorship as you point out, so they don't need to write laws, vote, etc. They simply do!
    – Cody
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 17:14

Unlike the first "war" when Voldy hadn't actually taken control of the Ministry (i.e. the law enforcement agencies) Harry wasn't breaking "legitimate" laws: when Voldy's lot was in control of the ministry, it was a revolution that was taking place, and it is as if all the old laws had to be "reinstated"... effectively, the laws that Harry broke would only be "enforceable" if the 'legitimate' regime was in power... when Kingsley took over, he probably couldn't prosecute Harry because the "legitimate" regime wasn't in power to have their laws violated.

Killing in war is not considered a crime: Gringott's was under control of Voldy, and when Harry crucio'd Amicus Carrow, consider this: the barometer of what is good and bad, rigth and wrong, in so much of the books, Minerva McGonnagal, uses an unforgivable (in the books) right after Harry did. (Amicus was having a bad day!)

  • I'm glad I read all the way down to here just to have read someone calling him Voldy. It sounds like someone's pet more than a villain. Big thumbs up
    – Jhayes2118
    Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 2:37

I think Stefan is right with:

I assumed that it was because it was 'only' used on a goblin and not on a human?

The wizards do not seem to consider other species (like elves) to be equal with them so I would not be surprised if the laws for the unforgivable curses did not apply to gnomes, elves etc.

My explanation:

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, at Defence Against the Dark Arts, Alastor Moody (at this moment Bartemius Crouch jr.) casted each of the unforgivable curses on each of the spiders during the class and no one has done anything...

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    Goblins may not be human, but all indications are that they’re still sentient. Not so with the spiders. I’m not saying you’re wrong, but lumping goblins and spiders together is probably painting with too broad a brush.
    – bdesham
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 14:21
  • But the ministry didn't know about those DADA lessons.And like Fudge said at the end of the book:"I've given you(Dumbledore) free rein,always.. . .I might not have agreed with some of your decisions. . .".The fact is,Fudge didn't care about what was taught at Hogwarts(until Harry's fifth year).You could argue that Malfoy would have told his father,but he probably liked (more) to see the spider twitching.Therefore,your explanation doesn't really strengthen Stefan's.
    – rah4927
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 16:04
  • And if the Ministry knew about Moody’s DADA lessons, their concern would be less the spiders and more the entire class of students under the Imperius curse.
    – alexwlchan
    Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 15:19

I too thought of the same when I was reading it. However, by the time deathly Hallows, part2 happened, the ministry of magic was already broken. It did not exist anymore and there was no wizard or department of ministry taking responsibility of discipline among magicians. Thats the reason there was no one to catch him.


There's a few possibilities:

  1. Few people knew what he actually did, and it doesn't seem likely to have gotten reported.
  2. The reason why he did so was ultimately to defeat Voldemort. He could have easily backed this out in any court that might have been held.
  3. It was only done against a goblin.

Bottom line, I don't think anyone really cared in the end. He did this for a good reason, to help defeat Voldemort, and was successful. It doesn't seem like any court would prosecute him for that in the end.


Harry saved wizarding Great Britain, and the old power base was totally destroyed, not only was he a Hero but also he became part of the new ministry, 19 years later he is a high ranking misnistry official, and for all we know Harry will end up Minister of Magic someday.

Remember nothing ever happens if there is no political will behind it. Wether politicians are bought, or because public opinion (is made to) favors a particular course of action. Don't fix it if it ain't broken right?

Repeat after me :There is no propblem until there is one.

Plus imagine the how badly the "light side" would suffer from that, what an amazing piece of propaganda to promote the dark arts.


Let's assume that the respective authorities knew about this (which they may or may not have done) and that this particular use of an unforgivable curse would under normal circumstances be illegal (which it may or may not have been):
Speaking philosophically, the law is a mandatory exchange of some of your freedoms for greater security. That is why it cannot be used as an applicable measure of appropriate action in times of its own breakdown. Assuming that wizard justice normally (when it is not corrupt) functions similarly to real-world justice, the responsible authority would have to judge these actions based either on a personal sense of justice, or according to public opinion, or a mix of both. While it is possible that this authority insisted on upholding the law regardless of the situation, it seems highly unlikely.


During the battle of Hogwarts and even before when the Ministry of Magic was over thrown the use of the "Unforgivable Curses" was made ligule.

  • Wasn't that already discussed in other comments and answers? Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 16:30
  • Sorry, I have to downvote this for providing no evidence to support the answer.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 10:26

During Voldemort's rule in the final book the ban on unforgivable spells was lifted. Since both Harry and Professor McGonagall performed the unforgivable spells during this time they were not considered illegal and no punishment was necessary.

  • Sorry, I have to downvote this for providing no evidence to support the answer.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 10:26

The best reason for Harry not being sent to Azkaban is because during that time, the Ministry was taken over by Voldemort and his followers. The unforgivable curses were flowing here and there because Ministry has given free reins to the death eaters and dark lord supporters to use them.

I am pretty sure they had stopped tracking the use of such curses because the count of them being used in torture and killing of other side wizards was so high, it was pointless to keep record of such curses.

Among the thousands of such unforgivable curses used by dark lord and his followers every day, one tiny curse cast by Harry had gone understandably unnoticed for sure.


TL;DR The Ministry had no clue that Harry used an Unforgivable Curse

Being in a War doesn't mean that laws stop being applied

Your argument regarding the fairness of the Wizarding Judicial System (if this term is valid for WW), is correct in the sense that Unforgivable Curses are Unforgivable, no matter the circumstances they are used.

We know that Barty Crouch Sr. had to explicitly authorize the Aurors to use them during the First Wizarding War; they weren't automatically waived from prosecution just because it was a War:

The Aurors were given new powers — powers to kill rather than capture, for instance. And I wasn’t the only one who was handed straight to the Dementors without trial. Crouch fought violence with violence, and authorized the use of the Unforgivable Curses against suspects.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 27, "Padfoot Returns"

Harry would have probably stood trial but he wouldn't be charged

Even though Harry was the central figure that lead to winning the Second Wizarding War, a trial to ensure that laws "apply to all Wizards, no matter who they are", would probably be held.

There is of course the case of Severus Snape, who never appeared before any court due to Dumbledore's influence and persuasion, so there's a possibility this trial would never take place.

What is certain though is that Harry would be "speared", as a recognition for his actions to end the War.

There is no mechanism to detect spells or spell casters

However, in order to reach to the point where Harry would have to stand trial, there needed to be someone to accuse him for this crime and there was no witness when Harry cast the Imperio Curse, aside for Ron, Hermione and Griphook, who was later killed by Voldemort.

You might think of the Trace, but Harry was 17 when he cast the Impirio curse. To canon knowledge, there is no mechanism the Ministry has to detect spells being cast across the country (or even the spell casters of them) from adults; if this mechanism existed, it would make the life of everyone easier, as it would immediately help uncover crimes as well as the criminals who did them.

The Ministry does not have any proof or indication to charge Harry

Putting all these together, leads to the conclusion that although Harry did use an Unforgivable Curse, and should stand some sort of trial because "the means don't justify the ends", Ministry did have neither the knowledge nor the proof for this incident.


(as it turns out the question is more of a philosophy question than about the harry potter universe's british legal system. I'm going to give an a priori answer instead of an a posteriori answer that mostly focuses on the statement in the 'edit' that is quoted below.)


if an unforgivable curse is a crime, doing it during a war is a War Crime'

i don't think you quite understand what a war crime is.

Part 1. here's my heuristic:

1.1. war is usually an exception is to justify what would otherwise be immoral/illegal acts eg killing enemy combatants.

1.2. war crimes are things that are still wrong even in war eg killing civilians.

  • 1.2.1. actually, war crimes are generalised into acts that are always wrong eg intentionally (as opposed to collateral damage cases) killing innocent people (well unless you follow some kind of utilitarian philosophy or something. for more information on this, go to philosophy stackexchange or one of the religious stackexchanges like christianity or judaism).

1.3. This is opposed to acts that may have justifications. In the case of (1.1), killing enemy combatants may be generalised to several things eg killing people you disagree with, killing people your boss disagrees with, killing people whom your boss tells you to kill, etc. So obviously, these are almost always wrong with the parts where it is right in highly extraordinary circumstances like war, impending terrorism, self-defense, defense of others, etc.

Part 2. So what i think your confusion is is that you think that usage of the imperius curse falls under the 2nd kind of acts, the always-wrong ones. Here is why I believe it is under the 1st kind of acts, the has-justifications ones.

2.1. Assumption (you can add a posteriori stuff to promote this from assumption to fact): Avada Kedavra is 'worse' than Imperio in the sense that if imperio falls under the 2nd kind, then so does avada kedavra.

  • 2.1.1. Contrapositively, if avada kedavra belongs in 1st kind, then so imperio does. (I'm assuming 'not in latter' = 'in former'.)

2.2. Assumption/(a priori) Proposition(/a posteriori fact): Avada Kedavra belongs in the 1st kind.

  • 2.2.1. Proof (if [a priori] Proposition): You kill enemy combatants in war. See (1.3). QED.

During the Battle Of Hogwarts (Second wizarding war), everyone fighting were considered Aurors by the Ministery.

All Aurors were allowed to use forbidden curses (including the Killing Curse), but only during the second wizarding war.

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    Answers are better if they cite their sources.
    – Blackwood
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 13:50

I believe that he was not sent to Azkaban because it was an act of self-defense, necessary under the given circumstances. This is a justification for using the curse. Even war crimes in reality can sometimes be ruled as justified (see for example Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court).

It is the same as when you have a gun and a person three feet away is trying to kill you with a gun. The only option left would be to use your gun and shoot the person before you get shot.

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    Uhm...no. IIRC, he uses the curse on Bellatrix when she is running away, and he is chasing her down. That makes him the aggressor, and it is no longer in self defense.
    – JohnP
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 4:54

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