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The Most Terrifying Moments In The Harry Potter Franchise

From the release of "Sorcerer's Stone" in 2001 to "Deathly Hallows Pt. 2" in 2011, the "Harry Potter" film series has always been one that grew and evolved with its audience. The early films capture the sense of magic and childlike wonder as we explore the wizarding world, while the latter take us to a much darker place, with real-world consequences, life-altering events, and some genuinely scary situations for our heroes to overcome.

With rich world-building and a host of memorable creatures and characters, the "Harry Potter" franchise has the ability to make us laugh, cry, cheer, and cower in equal measure. One of the core themes of the series is the battle between good and evil, and while of course, we want to see the good guys triumph, there's an undeniable thrill to be had in the darker and scarier moments as well, courtesy of the unforgettable villains.

With Lord Voldemort in particular, the series brings us one of the scariest screen villains — one who is so evil he vows to kill a child and will stop at nothing to see this through. The darker side of magic has always been present throughout the series, with the delicate balancing act between the good and the wicked evident from the beginning. Grab a cushion to hide behind as we look back on the most terrifying moments in the "Harry Potter" franchise.

Voldemort feeding on the unicorn

The presence of Voldemort looms over the series from the very start, and long before he returns in full bodily form, he is the driving force of evil. When young Harry Potter finds out that he is a wizard from the kindly Hagrid, it isn't long before he also learns of the connection he has to the Dark Lord.

In "Sorcerer's Stone," Harry, Ron, and Hermione are trying to uncover the mysteries of the stone: Why it is being kept in the castle, and who is trying to steal it? Caught out of their dorms late at night, the trio — along with Draco Malfoy — are forced to serve detention in the Forbidden Forest. Something has been attacking the unicorns in the forest, and they are sent with Hagrid to investigate. Without getting into the questionable appropriateness of this punishment, it isn't long before they happen upon something very frightening indeed, and audiences experience the first really chilling moment in the franchise.

Harry and Draco reach a clearing in the forest where they see a hooded figure feeding off a slain unicorn. The figure — who we later learn is Voldemort — turns towards them, and we see fangs under the hood, still dripping with silvery blood. Perhaps the most frightening thing is the way it moves towards Harry, unnaturally gliding across the forest floor, giving the impression that whatever this creature is, it isn't entirely human.

Quirrell reveals Voldemort's face

The jittery and stuttering Professor Quirrell is one of the first Hogwarts teachers that Harry meets while in The Leaky Cauldron on his way to Diagon Alley with Hagrid. A nervous and unassuming character, Quirrell seems least likely to be a villain, at least on first impression. When Harry arrives at Hogwarts and the truth about the Sorcerer's Stone starts to emerge, Harry's suspicion naturally gravitates towards the serious, dark-haired Professor Snape instead.

Believing that Snape is trying to steal the Sorcerer's Stone on Lord Voldemort's behalf, Harry, Ron, and Hermione venture off to find it themselves first. After a particularly brutal game of wizard's chess, Harry heads off to face Snape himself, but to his — and our — surprise, he instead finds Professor Quirrell.

Even with this unexpected twist, there is a further shock to come. A sinister snake-like voice seems to be in the room as well, although we (and Harry) can't see where it is coming from. When the voice requests to speak to Harry himself, Quirrell slowly removes his turban to reveal the arresting sight of Lord Voldemort's face underneath. Living as a parasite in the body of another, Voldemort — working through Quirrell — is trying to steal the stone. Notable for being the first conversation between Harry and his nemesis, this face reveal of Voldemort remains one of the franchise's most surprising (and frightening) moments.

Harry escapes from the Basilisk

"Sorcerer's Stone" may give us a giant three-headed dog, but "Chamber of Secrets" ups the monster stakes considerably with the basilisk, with a noticeably darker plot than we see in the first film. Following a sinister message written in blood, the students and professors learn that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened, and the monster that dwells within is attacking those who are Muggle-born.

As the attacks begin to strike closer and closer to home, Harry learns that he may have a connection to whatever or whoever is responsible, when he discovers he can talk to snakes. When Ron's sister Ginny is taken by the monster, Harry uses his Parseltongue abilities to open the chamber himself to save her. In the chamber, Harry discovers the monster that has been attacking the students is a giant snake, known as the basilisk, and that it is Voldemort's younger self – preserved in his diary — commanding the beast to attack the students.

Facing a giant snake that can kill just by looking at you is frightening enough, and even after the snake is blinded, the beast is still deadly. In trying to escape, Harry reaches a dead end in the pipes and must remain completely still and silent as he comes face to face with the creature. It's an undeniably tense moment, and there's a great jump scare when the snake re-emerges unexpectedly from the water before Harry eventually kills it.

Dementors on the Hogwarts Express

In "Prisoner of Azkaban," events become increasingly sinister, with a story that centers on escaped murderer Sirius Black, and the perceived threat that he poses to Harry. We eventually learn that Black has been framed and is actually one of the good guys, but the film still delivers a memorable villain in the form of the dementors — the ghastly prison guards of Azkaban, who make their memorable entrance on the Hogwarts Express.

Harry and his pals' train journeys from Platform 9¾ had previously been full of candy and excitement. However, this time there is the sense that things are going to be very different indeed. When the train comes to a sudden stop, a chill descends before the hooded dementor enters the carriage. From the moment we see the skeletal hand gripping the door of the train carriage, we know that these creatures are to be feared, and when an ear-piercing scream is heard and the screen fades to black, we suspect the worst.

We later discover that dementors feed off happiness and torture the inhabitants of Azkaban by sucking out their souls. While Harry eventually learns the powerful Patronus charm – the tool he needs to keep the dementors at bay — we see the genuine fear the dementors give him, affecting him more than others due to the horrors of his past. Dementors are terrifying both in appearance and ability, making them one of the franchise's most memorable villains.

Lupin transforms into a werewolf

From the moment we meet Professor Lupin, we know he is one of the good guys. After the Dementors' unexpected appearance on the train, he not only fends them off but affectionately offers Harry some chocolate after he passes out. This makes his transformation into a werewolf later in the film even more jarring.

Before learning the truth about Lupin, there are some suggestions that he has a secret. When Snape has to cover one of Lupin's Defense Against the Dark Arts classes, he explains to the students that Lupin is "incapable of teaching at the present time," before rather pointedly teaching them about werewolves.

After Ron is taken by Sirius Black (in Animagus form) to the haunted Shrieking Shack, the truth is uncovered with a series of shocking reveals: Lupin and Sirius are childhood friends, Sirius isn't a murderer, and it was Peter Pettigrew (living for many years as Ron's pet rat, Scabbers) who had betrayed Harry's parents to Lord Voldemort. With the truth out, it seems that Sirius' name will be cleared and Pettigrew brought to justice. However, things take a turn for the horrifying when a full moon appears and Lupin transforms into a werewolf.

The most frightening aspect is the fear in Lupin's eyes as he tries to fight what is about to happen to him, and seeing the kind professor's face warp and change into a monster is both tragic and terrifying.

The Merpeople Challenge

The big plot point of "Goblet of Fire" is the Triwizard Tournament, in which a champion is chosen to represent their respective magical school, hoping to win eternal glory by competing in a series of challenges. We can question the ethics of having children compete in potentially deadly challenges, especially when they are forced to dive into the Black Lake and recover a hostage.

The hostages are specifically chosen as being someone important to the competitors, and the sight of their lifeless bodies hovering eerily underwater is sinister enough before you even get to the frightening inhabitants of the lake. Whatever your preconceived image is of merpeople, it's probably nothing like the depiction in "Harry Potter," where they are reinvented as wild-haired and sharp-toothed monsters.

Harry saves the day, of course, and all of the hostages are recovered. However, it isn't necessarily clear that they all would've been safe had Harry not intervened. As well as saving his hostage, Harry also saves Fleur Delacour's sister — to the displeasure of the merpeople. The challenges are designed to be high-stakes and dangerous, so it's possible that had Harry not stepped in and saved Fleur's sister, she would've been left in the lake at the mercy of the merpeople — this alone is a horrible thing to think about.

The maze and Voldemort's return

Not since "The Shining" has there been a maze this terrifying. In this challenge, the competitors must find the Triwizard Cup, hidden somewhere within the maze. While this might seem simple, it is shrouded in a perma-mist and Dumbledore ominously imparts to the challengers that "people change in the maze."

It isn't long before bad things start to happen, with Fleur Delacour being stunned and pulled into the hedges, and Viktor Krum cursed, compelled to torture Cedric Diggory. We later find out that all of this is happening to orchestrate Harry's win, but his morals prevail and he helps Cedric take the joint victory with him.

The horror continues as Harry and Cedric lift the cup to find it has been replaced with a portkey, transporting them to a graveyard and coming face-to-face with Peter Pettigrew and Lord Voldemort. Cedric is referred to as "the spare" before being callously killed by Pettigrew, leaving Harry to witness the horror of Voldemort's return in bodily form as he is tortured by the Dark Lord. Voldemort's return is something that had been built up from the very beginning of the series, so seeing it come to fruition is even scarier than you could imagine. Harry manages to escape this time, but this marks a definitive turning point in the series and a sign that things will only get more chilling from this point.

Harry's visions of Nagini attacking Arthur Weasley

Throughout the franchise, Harry has been plagued by nightmares and visions, as the truth of his connection to Voldemort becomes clearer. After the infant Harry somehow manages to be the only person Voldemort is unable to kill, there has been something tying them together, whether it is the twin feathers in their wands or their shared abilities to communicate with snakes.

In "Order of the Phoenix," this commonality between Harry and Voldemort becomes even more potent, as Harry finds himself afflicted by distressing nightmares, the Dark Lord's attempts to deliberately infiltrate his mind. While they initially appear to just be nightmares, there is one involving Arthur Weasley that ends up being horrifyingly real. A recurring image for Harry is a door in the Department of Mysteries, and one of his visions sees him enter it, where he finds Arthur Weasley. From the point of view of Nagini the snake, we see Arthur attacked, and it transpires that this "vision" was very real, and Harry was experiencing the attack as if he were Nagini.

Fortunately, Harry is able to alert someone to help Arthur, and his life is saved because of this. The attack itself is brutal, but the implication that Harry is the one carrying it out is not only terrifying for the character but shocking to the audience as well, with concerns about how Harry will continue to be affected as Voldemort's power grows.

The Cursed Necklace

One of the most arresting images of the whole franchise comes in "Half-Blood Prince," when a cursed necklace falls into the hands of Quidditch player Katie Bell. Draco Malfoy is tasked with killing Dumbledore, and it is in one of these assassination attempts that Katie becomes unwittingly involved. Placed under the Imperius Curse by Malfoy, Katie is forced to deliver a package to Dumbledore — a cursed necklace. When Katie accidentally touches the necklace, a blood-curdling scream is heard before she is thrown into the air. This image is undoubtedly one of the most disturbing in the entire franchise, evoking similar demonic possession moments in horror films such as "The Exorcist."

The fact that this happens to a relatively minor character somehow makes it even more chilling. It emphasizes that no one is safe and that the dark forces working for Voldemort will stop at nothing to achieve what he asks them to do. It's also a key moment for Draco, even though we don't see him cursing Katie, as we have to believe that he is capable of doing such an evil deed to make his eventual redemption and change of heart even more powerful.

The Inferi attack

In "Half-Blood Prince," Harry is tasked by Dumbledore to retrieve an important memory from Professor Slughorn, pertaining to a controversial form of dark magic that the young Voldemort had quizzed him on. With a little bit of "liquid luck," Harry eventually gets the missing piece of the memory and learns about Horcruxes — a dark magical object that is used to store part of one's soul, with the ultimate goal being immortality.

With the knowledge that Voldemort created many Horcruxes, and that these are the key to being able to defeat him for good, Harry and Dumbledore head to a cave where Dumbledore believes a Horcrux has been hidden. In one of the most heartbreaking moments of the series, Harry is forced to give Dumbledore poison to uncover the offending object.

Weakened by the poison, Dumbledore gasps for water, and when Harry bends down to the surrounding pool to get him a drink, a monstrous hand reaches out and grabs him. Soon, we're met with the unsettling sight of hundreds of these creatures — known as Inferi — crawling out of the water towards our hero. Described by Snape in the book as, "a corpse that has been reanimated by a Dark wizard's spells," these beings quickly overpower Harry and he is dragged under the water. The previously weakened Dumbledore somehow manages to rally and save them both with a powerful firestorm, in a final display of his immense power.

Bathilda becomes Nagini

After their temporary split from Ron, Harry and Hermione are continuing their search for Voldemort's Horcruxes. Eventually, their hunt leads them to Godric's Hollow — the village where Harry was born and his parents were murdered. After a heartfelt moment in the graveyard where Harry's parents lay, Hermione spots an old woman who has been watching them, and they decide to follow her.

The woman — or so they think — is Bathilda Bagshot, a renowned author believed to be the person who knows Dumbledore better than anyone else and part of the reason why Harry and Hermione went to Godric's Hollow in the first place. However, what they end up discovering is something truly unsettling.

Harry and Hermione explore separate parts of the house in a scene that unfolds like a horror film, slowly building the tension before the horrifying reveal. Just as Hermione discovers a corpse, we return to Bathilda and Harry as she decomposes before our eyes and Nagini (Voldemort's snake) appears, relentlessly attacking Harry, who tries to fight her off. Hermione rushes to him and manages to stun the snake, before the scene sneaks in one final scare with the snake leaping through the floor towards them. Arguably the scariest moment in the franchise, Harry and Hermione's encounter with Bathilda is one you'll see in your nightmares for a long time after.

Bellatrix tortures Hermione

The "Harry Potter" series has never been afraid to "go there" in terms of showing peril towards the young students, and this is something we see escalate as the films go on. Hogwarts students have faced the threat of a basilisk, the dementors, and a death eater disguised as a professor, but there is something particularly dark about this moment, where we see Bellatrix Lestrange torturing Hermione.

Bellatrix is one of the most notoriously wicked characters in the whole series, responsible for the death of Sirius Black and Neville Longbottom's parents, amongst others. When Harry, Ron, and Hermione find themselves at Malfoy Manor, Bellatrix is waiting for them, and when she learns that Hermione stole the sword of Gryffindor from her vault, she decides to punish her.

Harry and Ron are locked away and forced to listen to Hermione's distressing screams as she is tortured by Bellatrix. Perhaps most shockingly, we later see that Bellatrix has carved the derogatory term "Mudblood" into Hermione's arm. The films have never shied away from showing the discrimination some witches and wizards experience, which Hermione has known firsthand as a Muggle-born. There are people like Bellatrix who hold the opinion that only those with "pure blood" are worthy, and this moment is one of the starkest examples of the disturbing consequences when those with such tyrannical views are let loose.

Harry and Voldemort's faces merge

The connection between Harry and Voldemort is something that has been explored throughout the series, becoming more complex as the films progress. In "Order of the Phoenix," a pivotal discovery is made with the emergence of the prophecy, stating that "neither can live while the other survives," or (in one interpretation) Harry would have to be the one to kill Voldemort.

In "Deathly Hallows Pt. 2," Harry knows that he needs to find all the Horcruxes in order to kill Voldemort. But he then makes the gut-wrenching discovery that he is one of Voldemort's Horcruxes, and he has to die to defeat the dark wizard. After what appears to be their final showdown, Voldemort emerges victorious, believing he has killed Harry. However, Harry is still alive, and with the Horcrux destroyed, Voldemort is weakened.

As the battle rages on, Harry takes on Voldemort high up in the castle, saying, "Let's finish this the way we started it, together!" before grabbing Voldemort and throwing them both off the tower. Voldemort may be weakened, but he still has some power over Harry, frighteningly evident in the way he warps and manipulates Harry's face to the point where it is hard to distinguish who is who. As well as being an arresting visual, it demonstrates that this connection still exists for as long as any part of Voldemort survives with Nagini the snake — the final Horcrux — alive (for now).