Hermione and the Imperius Curse in Order of the Phoenix

by Jonathan P. Jaworski

Far-fetched theories abound about the Harry Potter books and what will happen in the series’ future, ranging from who will die to which students will end up as couples. Many of these theories are based solely on readers’ hunches, with little or no evidence to support them. The theory that follows, however, developed as I read Order of the Phoenix for the fifth time. As I read, I noticed a disturbing trend in Hermione’s behavior. By the time I finished the book, I was absolutely convinced that she is under the Imperius Curse.

Before examining the evidence, however, we need to look at the effects of the Imperius Curse. The Imperius Curse is one of the three so-called “Unforgivable Curses” that, when used on another human being, warrant the user a life sentence in Azkaban. Despite this, in Goblet of Fire, Professor Moody (Crouch, Jr.) places each of the students under the Imperius Curse so they can learn to fight it. Harry describes how it feels to be under the curse:

It was the most wonderful feeling. Harry felt a floating sensation as every thought and worry in his head was wiped gently away, leaving nothing but a vague, untraceable happiness. He stood there feeling immensely relaxed,only dimly aware of everyone watching him.-GoF, 231

Harry also experiences an “empty, echoing feeling in his head.” Moody/Crouch also tells us to watch a person’s eyes, as that’s where you can see that they are fighting the Imperius Curse.

Throughout Order of the Phoenix, Hermione repeatedly displays the symptoms of being under the Imperius Curse. Three times, the phrase “said Hermione vaguely” appears in the text (pp. 458, 460, 657). The repeat of the word vaguely and the use of it in GoF’s description of the Imperius Curse’s effects (see above) can hardly be written off as coincidental. Along the same lines, three times Hermione speaks “absently” or “absentmindedly” (pp. 458, 574, 656). These coincide largely with the occurrences of the word “vaguely.”

More to the point, however, is the question: How often does Hermione Granger do anything absentmindedly or vaguely? These words are not in any way associated with this character who is so carefully developed from the beginning of the series. Hermione is intelligent, thoughtful, and above all else speaks her mind with conviction. Granted, sometimes she fishes for words a bit, but in books she never (that I found) said something “vaguely” or “absently.”

If word repetition every hundred pages or so was the only evidence I could find, this theory would have died in my head long before now. There are three other specific instances that need examination in OotP where Hermione is simply not acting like herself. The first occurs on page 288 as Harry, Hermione, and Ron discuss the news of Sturgis Podmore’s arrest for trespassing at the Ministry over breakfast. After Ron presents his somewhat far-fetched theory about the events leading to Podmore’s arrest, the following happens:

“[Hermione] folded up her half of the newspaper thoughtfully. When Harry laid down his knife and fork she seemed to come out of a reverie” (OotP, 288).

Hermione then abruptly changes the subject from news to homework.

It seems to me that the effects of the Imperius Curse described by Harry certainly constitute a “reverie” (according to Webster’s dictionary, a reverie is a “a state of mind, akin to dreaming”). On page 335, Hermione is again described as “coming out of her reverie” as she approaches Hogsmeade with Harry and Ron. This word repetition cannot be overlooked. How often do you encounter the word “reverie” in your daily life? Rowling uses it to describe the same character twice in fifty pages–it absolutely must be important.

This situation repeats itself two more times during the book, the first on pages 376-377. During break, Hermione is “gazing at the window, but not as though she really saw it. Her eyes were unfocused…” Later in the conversation, she “looked at [Ron] as though she had only just realized he was there.” Immediately thereafter, her voice became stronger, and our old strong-willed Hermione is back with us.

Once more, on pages 588-589, Hermione is not acting like Hermione. She “stares with a kind of painful intensity” at Fred and George, and says nothing for a few seconds after Harry describes a dream he had. A normal conversation follows, but later Hermione becomes quiet yet again, “apparently still lost in thought” (my italics). Then she abruptly returns to her own personality.

In these last two scenes, something happens with Hermione’s eyes, they are described as unfocused and staring. Moody tells us to “watch the eyes” to see if somebody is fighting the Imperius Curse, so conceivably we can look at the eyes to see if they are not fighting it. Since her eyes glaze over and seem to stop working, it seems that Hermione is not fighting very hard.

In the last scene I examined, Hermione is “apparently still lost in thought.” The word “apparently” is very important. Usually, it is used when somebody says something that may not true. For example, the kid in math class apparently forgot to put his homework in his bag to take to school, when in reality he had not done the assignment. Rowling’s use of the word here indicates that there is something about Hermione that she is not telling us.

Based on the evidence, it is clear that Hermione is under the Imperius Curse. However, this opens up a whole lot of new questions, such as:

How exactly does the Imperius Curse work? Can it be turned on or off like a light switch?

Who put the Curse on Hermione? When did they curse her?

Why aren’t they using Hermione to do anything overtly evil?

I think that these questions will be answered, but clearly this is a problem that nobody seems to know about. A Hogwarts Prefect, one close to Harry Potter, seems to be under the influence of one of Voldemort’s minions. The consequences could be disastrous not only for Hermione, but also for the future of the wizarding world.