When callenged to a duel by Voldemort in the graveyard in book 4, Harry swears to "go down fighting". And yet he uses his least offensive battle spell, not even trying to cause actual harm.

I don't mean he should've instantly resorted to Avada Kedavra, but even something like Stupefy would've gotten Voldemort out of the fight if it hit. Any reason for him to remain a pacifist even after choosing to fight? (Harry did learn the stunning spell in preparation for the Third Task, if I remember correctly.)

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    Given that you need a wand for magic ('wandless' magic is never seen done by someone who doesn't posses a wand), and possibly even apparation, an enemy who is disarmed is effectively dead from the standpoint of combat effectiveness. A stunned enemy is as well, but requires only a single Innervate for an ally to restore. Disarmed = defeated.
    – Jeff
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 19:24
  • So your question is, why isn’t the protagonist a murderer.
    – Samalot
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 17:27

3 Answers 3


I'd like to go a bit deeper into Richard's comment on his answer about being under pressure and on how Rowling constructed the scene.

In that particular scene, there's this very telling paragraph about what's going on in Harry's mind.

...Harry remembered,...the dueling club at Hogwarts he had attended briefly two years ago.... All he had learned there was the Disarming Spell, "Expelliarmus".

GoF, Chapter 34, p660. Scholastic Edition.

So from the onset, Expelliarmus filled Harry's mind. He did not intend to do it. At the time, he was not taking moral high ground that he's no Voldemort so he won't kill. It was instinct that made Harry use Expelliarmus.

Personally, I think this is where Expelliarmus became his signature spell. I could go into all my theories about what's going on in Harry's mind between the lines but that's out of place here so I'll just leave you with a personal real-life observation that mirrors this reflex from Harry.

I trained in Taekwondo and I noticed that (applies even in my case), the first time white-belts spar, they don't use the good techniques they are supposed to know but the most basic one. It does not give the most points nor is it KO-quality. Most are not aiming to win. Nervous as they are, they just want to retaliate enough to survive the round.

Very same conditions with Harry, if not more intense. Note that he has been using Expelliarmus since his second year. He has used it in his third year against grown-up wizards (Snape and Black). Compare that to Stunning which he only learned not too long ago for the third task. It's not far-fetched that faced with intense pressure from another more-powerful wizard, he'd stick to what experience has proven effective.

TL;DR Harry was not trying to save the day and kill Voldemort. He was acting out of survival instinct so he fell back on Expelliarmus.

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    I agree with all of this. When given time to think, he improvised and uses advanced magic. When openly confronted with an enemy, he blindly goes to his go-to spell.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 10:27
  • great answer! In short, Expelliarmus was his Kata. A move he was trained to do automatically in a dueling situation, without consciousness kicking in. Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 17:15

In short, it's because Harry doesn't use magic offensively (or when he does, he does so with extreme reluctance). Note that in all seven books, he never directly kills anyone.

Also, it's arguably his "signature spell". He feels very comfortable with it and knows precisely how to use it to best effect:

‘So you think I should have killed Stan Shunpike?’ said Harry angrily.

‘Of course not,’ said Lupin, ‘but the Death Eaters – frankly, most people! – would have expected you to attack back! Expelliarmus is a useful spell, Harry, but the Death Eaters seem to think it is your signature move, and I urge you not to let it become so!’ Lupin was making Harry feel idiotic, and yet there was still a grain of defiance inside him. ‘I won’t blast people out of my way just because they’re there,’ said Harry. ‘That’s Voldemort’s job.’

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

  • Stupefy was a spell Harry deliberately learned for the Tournament and used it in the Third task against Krum. He also had used Stupefy at least as many times "on-screen" as Expelliarmus at that point. I ask again: why not at least stun a man that's trying to take your life?
    – user38452
    Commented Feb 7, 2015 at 22:44
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    @user38452 - Under pressure, we go to the things we know best.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 7, 2015 at 22:47
  • @user38452 You also have to consider that in the Tournament you could use anything you'd like. If you disarm Krum, he can probabbly run to you and punch you in the face. I don't see the skeletic Voldemort doing that
    – Oak
    Commented Feb 7, 2015 at 22:52
  • I would have to bring up one point ... Malloy would have died in The Half Blood Prince when he and Harry fought in the bathroom, except Snape saves his life. You cannot tell me Harry wasn't trying to do some serious damage to Draco there. He was actually trying to kill him and would have had Severus not intervened. Commented Feb 7, 2015 at 23:53
  • @Paulster2 In fairness, part of the point of HPB is Harry's teenage hormones finally catching up to him, and his making some less-than-wise decisions as a result. That book has some of the least-consistent characteriziation in the series (at least in my opinion), so why should this be any different? Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 2:06

At the moment when Harry did cast the spell, he didn't think he has any chance to survive:

And as he heard Voldemort draw nearer still, he knew one thing only, and it was beyond fear or reason: He was not going to die crouching here like a child playing hide-and-seek; he was not going to die kneeling at Voldemort s feet... he was going to die upright like his father, and he was going to die trying to defend himself, even if no defense was possible

Don't forget also that he was surrounded by Death Eathers. Even if he somehow manages to incapacitate Voldemort it is very likely that they will kill him just for revenge.

So it didn't matter which spell Harry will use. Expeliarmus was the first (offensive) spell that he learned so maybe he just decided to use it as a "sign of resistance" rather than as a path to victory.

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