The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is filled with all manner of people, muggles, and creatures. Discerning between who fits in which category often does not come as simply as it may seem. Appearances, typical of any fantastical world, can be deceiving. Contrarily, actions are far easier to employ as a measurement of who someone is and where they stand. With regard to Harry Potter, a character’s actions align them in one of two binary categories: hero or villain. Naturally, heroes represent the selfless of these categories. Heroes act sans concern for themselves, instead centering their behavior toward deeds that ensure the preservation and happiness of others. But, of course, heroes that once walked the halls of Hogwarts wield power extending far beyond the reaches of compassion and valor. Potent magic, too, is at their disposal and the same can be said of their villainous counterparts.
Villains in Harry Potter lore are not merely powerful because of what they can accomplish with magic, though. Their prowess as sorcerers and sorceresses stems from the forbidden horrors they are willing to partake in, the well-defined lines they deem easy to cross. Yet, not all villains comfortably sit in the realm of sorcerers and sorceresses. In fact, a few of Harry Potter’s evildoers aren’t even sentient beings. Still, actions matter, those of giant snakes and faceless specters included. In this list, we will rank 15 of the most formidable foes featured in J.K. Rowling’s beloved Wizarding World from the least powerful to the most.
15 DRACO MALFOY
Draco Malfoy first appears in the form of a school bully. He picks on the children whose parents aren’t as wealthy as his own. Like any bully, those that fail to fit into what he believes satisfies the “norm” instantly become targets of his ridicule, too. For about half of the series, he’s depicted as the stereotypical rogue.
However, Draco does evolve into an incredible wizard. His intelligence and natural born talent ensure he harbors great potential. Unfortunately, such prowess receives ill-use when he’s forced into becoming a Death Eater, an assignment which sets him on his single most villainous task -- a mission to end Professor Dumbledore. Draco’s humanity keeps him from both committing the atrocity and landing a higher spot on this list.
14 PETER PETTIGREW
Poor Peter Pettigrew. To some degree, many may consider Pettigrew worthy of empathy. After all, his fear causes him to give up his friends, Lily and James Potter, to the Dark Lord. Yet, when considering the pain of those directly affected by his actions, the Potter family and Sirius Black, it’s difficult to view the backstabber with anything less than contempt.
Much of what makes Pettigrew a formidable mage is his consistently maintaining an Animagus form of a pet rat for several years. The Weasleys are a rowdy bunch; surely there were times in which he considered running away. Yet, cowardice weighed far heavier on Peter Pettigrew than any dignity he may have ever fostered.
13 LUCIUS MALFOY
Similar to his son, Lucius Malfoy’s introduction reeks of his being a stereotypical bully. Readers and moviegoers later learn the elder Malfoy is capable of insidious deeds far surpassing those of an snobbish socialite. For years, he serves under Lord Voldemort as a Death Eater, believing whole-heartedly in the preservation of pure-blooded wizarding families. Even after his Lord’s seeming demise at the hands of the Potters, Lucius maintains an air of villainy.
Many of Lucius’ more notable acts are considered petty; for example, his planting Tom Riddle’s book on Ginny Weasley. However, Lucius Malfoy’s mastery of magic is not to be understated. Voldemort entrusts him with the sensitive task of recovering the Lost Prophecy for a reason.
A giant arachnid... a mansion-sized, giant arachnid. There’s really nothing else to add. Aragog is a formidable enemy for many reasons, but his species and size decidedly seal the deal. In addition, he proves to be quite the troublemaker, too. After all, Aragog’s responsible for Hagrid’s expulsion from Hogwarts.
During The Chamber of Secrets, when Harry and Ron wander into the Forbidden Forest in search of answers, Aragog tries feeding them to his children. Barring Hagrid, is anyone else upset at Aragog’s passing? No, but his funeral serves as a clear reminder of his sheer power and size. Harry Potter certainly doesn’t feature a beast in its lore more awful to gaze upon.
11 PROFESSOR QUIRRELL
The thrill of Harry’s first adventure rests in not knowing the villain’s identity. Professor Quirrell’s reveal as the foe genuinely elicits surprise. He is soft spoken, clumsy, and awfully nervous. Therein lies the perfect recipe for treachery, it seems.
In what becomes his last year of teaching at Hogwarts, Quirrell finds himself under the thrall of Lord Voldemort. The event isn’t by happenstance, though. Indeed, the Professor seeks Voldemort out, in want of the glory that would come with such a discovery. The Dark Lord uses this to his advantage, possessing the bumbling teacher to infiltrate Hogwarts, and locate the Sorcerer’s Stone. Interestingly, this means much of what audiences know of Professor Quirrell’s abilities in fact belongs to Voldemort, an incredibly weakened Voldemort at that.
10 SERPENT OF SLYTHERIN
The Serpent of Salazar Slytherin is an enormous basilisk that’s haunted the Chamber of Secrets for generations. Deliberately placed in Hogwarts to purge the school of students not born from pure bred families, the Serpent serves as little more than a weapon. With a power that mirrors the famous Gorgon, Medusa, Salazar’s Serpent petrifies all whom look in its eyes.
During Harry Potter’s second year at Hogwarts, Ginny Weasley inadvertently unleashes the Serpent’s reign of terror, causing it to attack Muggle-born students. The Serpent’s ability to perform such a task is made possible only by dark magic, powerful sorcery often considered forbidden. Thus, an ordinary basilisk Salazar Slytherin’s Serpent is not.
9 BARTY CROUCH JR.
Barty Crouch Jr. can be described as nothing but one of Lord Voldemort’s most faithful servants. He’s inarguably one of the Dark Lord’s most trusted, as well. To gain such favor, a Death Eater must be both incredibly well versed in magic and loyal. Barty Crouch Jr.’s troubled past proves he’s both.
Crouch is better known for dabbling in dark magic. One such instance sees him use the Cruciatus Curse, an Unforgivable Curses, to torture Frank and Alice Longbottom. After a stint in Azakaban, from which he escapes, Crouch returns to the Wizarding World disguised as Alastor Moody. The guise allows him to rig the Triwizard Tournament and place Harry directly in Voldemort’s crosshairs.
Nagini deserves credit as far more than Voldemort's loyal pet snake. To Voldemort, Nagini is a treasure of sorts, courtesy of his making her one of his seven Horcruxes. A Horcrux acts as a container for the fragment of soul that a sorcerer or sorceress separates from themselves.
Yet apart from being one of the Dark Lord’s prized possessions, Nagini also serves as a weapon. Sure, she kills on command; however, Voldemort finds tactical use for her, too. For example, there’s an instance in which he has Nagini hide inside the corpse of a deceased woman in Godric’s Hollow, setting a trap for a curious Harry and Hermione. Surprisingly, Nagini's life prior to her serpent transformation saw her performing other jaw-dropping feats, too.
7 DOLORES UMBRIDGE
Dolores Umbridge warrants consideration as a special kind of evil. She practices cruelty not with a smile, but while harboring the appearance of the overly pleasant next door neighbor. However, friendly she most certainly is not. While headmistress of Hogwarts, Umbridge employs torturous practices to discipline students. Therein lies some of Umbridge’s most powerful uses of magic, punishment.
One notable instance of her mistreating students is reliance on a black quill. When students write a phrase of Umbridge’s choosing, the words are seared into the skin on their hands. Cruel and unusual would be an understatement. Her sway with the Ministry of Magic and her tolerance of Death Eaters make Umbridge and her abilities all the more unnerving.
6 DEATH EATERS
Individual Death Eaters make for powerful villains in their own right. They’re capable of acting independently, performing in a manner that Voldemort considers effective. However, as a collective, Death Eaters couldn’t be a more formidable force. Each member has their role, a certain skill or two separating them from the rest, yet ensures their of value to the group.
Were they not so potent a threat, the Death Eaters would not have been able to maintain their ranks during Voldemort’s extensive absence. The faction of radicals’ immense power is also represented in how they kept the Wizarding World in disarray during the months preceding the Battle of Hogwarts.
5 BELLATRIX LESTRANGE
Despite the various spinoffs, Bellatrix Lestrange remains one of the most vicious characters in Harry Potter lore. She enjoys the cruelty she inflicts, a fact evident in her love and adoration of Lord Voldemort. Unfortunately for her countless victims, Bellatrix’s evil also shines in her antics.
For one, she never appears averse to torture, a practice she uses in helping deal with Aurors Frank and Alice Longbottom. Torture merely constitutes one way in which Bellatrix’s cruelty takes shape. Her penchant for employing dark magic also demonstrates a preference of defeating her foes with unforgivable curses, such as Avada Kedavra -- the Killing Curse.
4 SERVERUS SNAPE
Even as a child, Severus Snape was a remarkable wielder of magic. So impressive was his skill that he himself recognized it. In a text book, he’d jot down potions, curses, etc. Some were clever in design, helpful, quality of life tools. Other creations were downright horrific in nature, such as Sectumsempra, the curse that nearly costs Draco Malfoy his life at Harry’s hand.
But the dark arts aren’t Snape’s sole forte, of course. For several years he holds the post of Hogwarts’ Potions Master, and for good reason. Furthermore, Snape possesses knowledge of ancient magic like Occlumency, the skill he tries to teach Harry so that his mind may be closed to intrusion from Voldemort.
As Remus Lupin notes, Dementors are some of the Earth’s foulest creatures. Drawn to decay and filth, they feed on happiness, hope, pleasure, and goodness of any kind. Yet, a Dementor’s feeding ventures beyond consumption. It’s a slow, painful event for victims on the receiving end of a Dementor’s Kiss. These creatures represent despair personified. Should they succeed in their mission, nothing remains of a person, just a shell without a soul.
Dementors primarily aid in the guarding of Azakaban. However, upon Voldemort’s return, these wraith-like creatures forsake their duties to the Ministry of Magic in favor of the Dark Lord. Their allegiance to him ensures Dementors maintain their status as Harry Potter’s most frightening beasts.
2 GELLERT GRINDELWALD
Gellert Grindelwald is a sorcerer whose power may only be succeeded by that of Lord Voldemort himself. Had they been peers, the world would have assuredly been in trouble. Not just the Wizarding World, either. In his prime, Grindelwald’s plans involved the conjoining of the two worlds and the subjugation of Muggles to the power of witches and wizards. Grindelwald had tyranny on his mind with room for little else.
However, even prior to such thoughts manifesting, a desire to wield dark magic reigned supreme within him. This was evident in the experiments he conducted, behavior that resulted in his expulsion from school.
1 LORD VOLDEMORT
Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort is considered the most powerful wizard in history. In his early years at Hogwarts, his being a quick study and a promising pupil gave him access to all manner of secrets. Riddle’s charm knew know bounds, same with his intelligence. These qualities explain his assault on Muggle students with Salazar Slytherin’s Serpent and his learning of Horcruxes from Professor Slughorn. If nothing else, these events, in addition to several others, set the stage for the dark wizard Riddle would later become.
With his immense power, he wreaks havoc the world over, building an army and with it a loyal following. He grows so potent, so effortlessly sunken in magic’s darkest corners, that only a mother’s love effectively halts his unnerving rise to world domination.