At that moment, a wizard in plus-fours appeared out of thin air next to Mr. Roberts's front door.
"Oblivate!" he said sharply, pointing his wand at Mr. Roberts.
Instantly, Mr. Roberts's eyes slid out of focus, his brows unknitted, and a look of dreamy unconcern fell over his face. Harry recognizes the symptoms of one who had just had his memory modified. (7.27-9)
If you've ever wondered how J.K. Rowling leaves room for the wizarding world while leaving our humdrum, normal lives unchanged, this is your answer: it's because her wizards are really, really good at hiding their identities. To keep the wizarding world a secret, they will use any means that they have to, including memory charms for Muggles who start asking too many questions, such as Mr. Roberts does here. Mr. Roberts is putting together too many clues from his job as a caretaker of this campground; he's starting to get suspicious about this giant crowd of odd people suddenly turning up all at once (for the Quidditch World Cup, of course). So a Ministry of Magic official keeps modifying his memory – "Needs a Memory Charm ten times a day to him happy" (7.32), comments the official on Mr. Roberts. But it does seem like, while we can understand the need from the wizards' point of view, the use of Memory Charms on people who can't defend themselves or understand what's happening to them is a moral grey area. If you were a wizard, where would you draw the line about appropriate use of magic in front of or on Muggles? In what kinds situations might magic be necessary for self-defense in dealing with Muggles? And when is magic use on Muggles an abuse of power?
"The point?" said Mr. Weasley with a hollow laugh. "Harry, that's their idea of fun. Half the Muggle killings back when You-Know-Who was in power were done for fun. I suppose they had a few drinks tonight and couldn't resist reminding us all that lots of them are still at large. A nice little reunion for them," he finished disgustedly. (9.256)
So, all of that hoopla – the masks and the hoods and the floating of the Roberts family – was just a big joke. It's amazing how quickly J.K. Rowling sums up the mechanics of terrorism in this chapter. There are immediate victims of the Death Eaters' violence, the Roberts family. But then there's also a second, much larger circle of people injured by this grotesque display. The fear that these Death Eaters generated back in the day, when they were murdering Muggles randomly for fun, has left the wizarding world so traumatized that Amos Diggory is willing to suspect Harry – obviously a youngster – of casting Voldemort's Dark Mark. Once the Death Eaters get together for their "few drinks" and their "nice little reunion," all they need to do is reappear in public to make people at the campsite scream. It seems that a lot of this novel is dedicated to showing just how much power can come from fear. This lays the foundation for the question posed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: what power could Harry have that's stronger than fear?
"Well, the fat's really in the fire now," [Mr. Weasley] told Mrs. Weasley as he sat down in an armchair near the hearth and toyed unenthusiastically with his somewhat shriveled cauliflower. "Rita Skeeter's been ferreting around all week, looking for more Ministry mess-ups to report. And now she's found out about poor old Bertha going missing, so that'll be the headline in the Prophet tomorrow. I told Bagman he should have sent someone to look for her ages ago." (10.78)
Obviously, Rita Skeeter abuses her power of the press. She presents a highly biased point of view of the news, but she reports her findings as though they are objective – bad combo. At the same time, doesn't the public have the right to know about the disappearance of Bertha Jorkins, a Ministry-employed witch? And her disappearance proves to have huge significance to the plot of the novel. How should we balance the public's right to know with an individual's right to privacy? What should be the role of the press in reporting on government activities? Do you have any real-life models for how the press should behave?
Moody began to beckon students forward in turn and put the Imperius Curse upon them. Harry watched as, one by one, his classmates did the most extraordinary things under its influence. Dean Thomas hopped three times around he room, singing the national anthem. Lavender Brown imitated a squirrel. Neville performed a series of quite astonishing gymnastics he would certainly not have been capable of in his normal state. Not one of them seemed to be able to fight off the curse, and each of them recovered only when Moody had removed it. (15.15)
The Imperius Curse is like the definition of abuse of power over another person: it can make anyone do anything, even things that he should be incapable of (like Neville's gymnastics). What is it about Harry that gives him the ability to fight off power? What kind of personality traits might make someone more or less vulnerable to the Imperius Curse? How do you think you would fare against this Curse? Why?
Hermione suddenly smiled very mischievously, and Harry noticed it too: it was a very different smile for the one he remembered.
"Well ... when I went up to Madam Pomfrey to get them shrunk, she held up a mirror and told me to stop her when they were back to how they normally were [...] And I just ... let her carry on a bit. [...] Mum and Dad won't be too pleased. I've been trying to persuade them to let me shrink them for ages, but they wanted me to carry on with my braces. You know, they're dentists, they just don't think teeth and magic should – look! Pigwidgeon's back!" (23.16-7)
OK, this is a very different kind of power from the Imperius Curse and the more serious things that come up in the Harry Potter books. Still, one of the things that makes the wizarding world so attractive to us as readers is that a lot of stuff we have to deal with so slowly and painfully in the non-magic world – buckteeth and housework and so on – can just be magicked away in Harry's world. Being a wizard doesn't make prejudice or poverty go away, but still – who wouldn't want the power to fix a slightly toothy smile with the wave of a wand? It's the promise of the easy way around things that makes magic seem so attractive. If you could cast any one spell from the Harry Potter books to make your life easier, which one would you choose?
Crouch's principles might've been good in the beginning – I wouldn't know. he rose quickly through the Ministry and he started ordering very harsh measures against Voldemort's supporters. 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. I would say that he became as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark Side. (27.151)
The use of the Unforgivable Curses seems to be a slippery slope: once you've gotten a taste of that kind of power, even with good intentions, it seems to be easier and easier to keep on using them. We can't ignore the fact that, in real-life arguments against the use of torture in terrorism interrogation, many human rights activists also claim that, by fighting "violence with violence," good people may become "as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark Side." This is a tricky issue, with huge moral relevance now: how far is it OK to go in fighting terrorism? (After all, Voldemort and the Death Eaters are terrorists.) What kinds of moral limits are appropriate for us to follow in our fight against terrorism? Are there methods of combating terrorism that, like the Cruciatus Course, are too morally problematic for us to use?
"Wonder if Percy knows all that stuff about Crouch?" Ron said as they walked up the drive to the castle. "But maybe he doesn't care ... It'd probably just make him admire Crouch even more. Yeah, Percy loves rules. He'd just say Crouch was refusing to break them for his own son."
"Percy would never throw any of his family to the Dementors," said Hermione severely.
"I don't know," said Ron. "If he thought we were standing in the way of his career ... Percy's really ambitious, you know ..." (27.207-9)
Obviously, this plot thread about Percy's choice between love of family and love of power develops further over the later books. We love J.K. Rowling's eye for continuity. But, for now, what do you think of the morality of breaking rules for your own children (or future children)? Clearly, we can all understand that it would be painful to send your only child to Azkaban. But if your kid really is proved to be a Death Eater? What else can you do, morally speaking? Personally speaking, where do you draw the line between family loyalty and your responsibility to the rest of society? Would you turn in a family member for a crime? How severe would the crime have to be for you to do so?
From far away, above my head, he heard a high, cold voice say, "Kill the spare."
A swishing noise and a second voice, which screeched the words into the night: "Avada Kedavra!"
A blast of green light blazed through Harry's eyelids, and he heard something heavy fall to the ground beside him; the pain in his scar reached such a pitch that he retched, and then it diminished; terrified of what he was about to see, he opened his stinging eyes." (32.16-8)
This line, "Kill the spare," is one of the most terrifying things we've ever read. And we've read a lot of Stephen King and Clive Barker, so that's saying something. Voldemort thinks no more of killing Cedric than you might think of swatting a mosquito – possibly less. Voldemort is so assured of his own power that he thinks nothing of committing murder just because he can. But, even worse, Voldemort has followers who have so much faith in his power that they're willing to murder the moment he orders it – Voldemort's power over Wormtail seems absolute in this scene. Voldemort isn't just a conscienceless monster with delusions of grandeur. He's also managed to convince other people of his omnipotence, which is what makes him horrifying.
You see, I think, how foolish it was to suppose that this boy could ever have been stronger than me [...] But I want there to be no mistake in anybody's mind. Harry Potter escaped me by a lucky chance. And now I am going to prove my power by killing him, here and now, in front of you all, when there is no Dumbledore to help him, and no mother to die for him. I will give him his chance. He will be allowed to fight, and you will be left with no doubt which of us is the stronger. (33.106)
Voldemort is taking a huge chance here, dueling with Harry. After all, if by some miraculous chance Harry manages to escape (as actually happens, of course), Voldemort will look really bad – again. At the same time, since it was Harry Potter who sent Voldemort into hiding all of those years ago, Voldemort has to "prove his power" to his frightened followers. The Death Eaters are risking quite a lot by rejoining Voldemort now, when he has been out of power for so long. So this showdown with Harry is an important publicity stunt for Voldemort to consolidate his power among his own followers. We've always wondered why the Death Eaters stand by Voldemort after Harry manages to escape, when Voldemort has built up his triumph so much in advance – what must the feeling in the graveyard have been after Harry got away? Awkward, much?
"I asked you whether you wanted me to do that again," said Voldemort. "Answer me! Imperio!"
And Harry felt, for the third time in his life, the sensation that his mind had been wiped of all thought ... Ah, it was bliss, not to think, it was as though he were floating, dreaming ... just answer me ... say no ... just answer no ...
I will not, said a stronger voice, in the back of his head, I won't answer. (34.14-6)
Voldemort's whole scene with Harry is so formal, it strikes us as fairly weird. After all, how is it meaningful to use the Imperius Curse to force Harry to answer no? If Harry had submitted to the curse, he would just be repeating after Voldemort. There would be no real agreement or alteration in his mind. What's Voldemort going to achieve by trying to get Harry to say no without really meaning no? What's the goal of this charade? Fortunately, it doesn't work anyway, so we suppose it's a moot point.