The wizarding world, in case you hadn’t noticed, is not all Cheering Charms and quaffing Butterbeer. It is a world dominated by epochal battles of good against evil; where the favourite sport is the ultra-violent Quidditch; where seemingly inanimate objects want to hurt you (sometimes Hogwarts textbooks – thanks Hagrid); where savage and fantastic beasts roam; and let’s not forget, a world where children attend classes to learn spells that have the potential to maim and kill. In short, the wizarding world is a dangerous place. Harry was taught about Avada Kedavra when he was just a fourth-year. It’s no wonder so many of its inhabitants meet a grisly fate – and here are some of the grisliest.
Let’s start with a heart-in-the-mouth near-miss. Executions are of course unpleasant occasions, but this one in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was particularly nasty. After being led to the pool of potion in the ominously named Death Cell, deep in the MACUSA building, Tina had her happy memories extracted, leaving her looking eerily vacant. As she sat on the suspended chair, with images of her childhood and mother swirling around her, she seemed almost happy to be lowered into the liquid. Somehow, it was harder to watch than if she’d been distressed or fighting back – we were as pleased as she was when Newt and his Swooping Evil rescued her.
‘I mean, nobody wishes more than I do that it had all been quick and clean, and my head had come off properly, I mean, it would have saved me a great deal of pain and ridicule.’
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Beheading – is there a worse method of dispatch? Yes: a botched beheading. After being sentenced to death 500 years ago, Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington (as he was then known) fell victim to a cack-handed executioner who, even after 45 whacks of the axe, only partially finished the job. The result: a permanently morose ghost, who due to the ‘half an inch of skin and sinew’ holding his spectral skull in place was barred from entering the Headless Hunt. Never mind, Nick, keep your head up… oh.
Some wizarding injuries were pretty amusing – Marietta Edgecombe’s boil outbreak spelling ‘SNEAK’, say – but this was not one of them. When Dumbledore’s Army member Katie Bell touched the opal necklace in Half-Blood Prince, it lifted her six feet into the air, where, in a trance-like state, she screamed due to the extreme anguish caused by the cursed jewellery. It sounds shocking, and it took her most of a year to recover. What makes us most worried is that the necklace was openly on sale at Borgin and Burkes, with a note declaring: ‘Has Claimed the Lives of Nineteen Muggle Owners to Date.’ Chaps, how do you sleep at night?
‘Fiendfyre’, Crabbe: the clue’s in the name. It’s not for toasting your marshmallows on, that’s for sure – it’s a blaze hotter and angrier than nature’s version, plus it’s filled with vicious flame creatures like Chimaeras and serpents. When the dim but vindictive Vincent Crabbe tried to kill Harry, Ron and Hermione with the curse in Deathly Hallows, he succeeded only in destroying the Room of Requirement and burning himself to death: ‘And then Harry heard a thin, piteous human scream from amidst the terrible commotion, the thunder of devouring flame.’ What a way to go.
The Harry Potter series is filled with characters with ambiguous morality and shifting allegiance – it’s why we love them so much. Barty Crouch Jr, however, was pretty much just plain bad, with next-to-no redeeming qualities. Despite that, the Dementor’s Kiss isn’t something we’d wish on our worst enemy. Whenever we’ve seen those Dark assassins at work – on the Hogwarts Express; in the underpass with Dudley Dursley – they’ve chilled us to the bone, so we know that when Barty succumbed to a soul-sucking Dementor in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and ended up ‘worse than dead’, it must have been a horrendous experience.
Barty Crouch Sr was very different from his son – a stiff-upper lip kind of fellow who was married to his job at the Ministry, and met a tragic end. During the Triwizard Tournament, he was unwittingly embroiled in Voldemort, Wormtail and Barty Crouch Jr’s scheme to return the Dark lord to life – and was controlled through the Imperius Curse, which gradually plunged him into madness. When Harry witnessed Barty in a frenzy, he ran to get help, but it was too late and Barty was murdered by his own son in disguise. Even more hideously, he was transfigured into a bone and buried in Hagrid’s garden…
Poor Broderick Bode. This Unspeakable had a litany of injuries inflicted on him in Order of the Phoenix by Voldemort and his cronies in their attempts to get a hold of a certain prophecy from the Department of Mysteries. Firstly, he was placed under an Imperius Curse by Lucius Malfoy; then the damage from the spell protecting the prophecy made him think he was a teapot. While convalescing in St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies, he was sent an ‘innocent Flitterbloom’ by a supposed well-wisher, which turned out to be a Devil’s Snare in disguise. When the hapless Bode tended to his new plant, it throttled him to death. We’ll stick with busy Lizzies, thanks.
Mostly, the worst animal-inflicted injury we can expect in our daily lives is maybe a wasp sting or a dog bite. In a world where the Nundu stalks the villages of East Africa and Fwoopers drive listeners insane with their song, the danger stakes are higher. One of the deadliest beasts in the wizarding world was Nagini: a snake, yes, but far more savage than your average slitherer – cunning, strong and clever, she responded to Voldemort’s commands, had a taste for humans and spat venom so toxic it could dissolve stitches. When she attacked Arthur Weasley in the Department of Mysteries in Order of the Phoenix, he was left laid up in St Mungo’s with profusely bleeding wounds. Given the snake’s lethal reputation, we reckon he got off lightly.
We’ve saved this till last, because, well, it’s horrible. We never learn how magical historian Bathilda Bagshot actually died, only that it probably had something to do with Voldemort and occurred in Deathly Hallows. Instead of allowing her to rest in peace, he got his snake to inhabit her poor old corpse, then used this diabolical parasitic creation to lure in Harry. The dread and suspense built from the beginning of the chapter ‘Bathilda’s Secret’, growing when Harry and Hermione entered her dark and dirty house, which smelt of rotten meat, and exploding into terror when Nagini revealed herself: ‘…horror paralysed him as he saw the old body collapsing and the great snake pouring from the place where her neck had been.’ It’s a real can’t-stop-reading-but-quite-want-to moment, and one that reminds us very clearly: the wizarding world is a dangerous place.