The North Tower #38: Mastering the Mind

by Maline

Hi everybody. Thank you for your patience during my absence. I don’’t really want to go into the details of why I fell off the face of the earth for a couple of months since it’’s quite personal, but thank you all for the wonderful (daily!) encouragement. You guys are the best. I really appreciate it. Things are still a bit messed up, but hopefully, I’’ll have a bit more time and energy to write from now on. It’’s almost summer, after all. 🙂

I’’ve been looking through my last few articles to see what I needed to round up regarding Snape, and basically, I didn’’t find anything that would merit an entire article. His childhood, blood-status, Patronus, Boggart-shape and so on are all interesting questions, but unfortunately questions of the kind that can only be answered (so far) through sheer speculation, and I don’’t really see the point in that. So let’’s move on to something else, shall we?

What I do want to write an essay on today is the mystery of mind-control. So far, the way I see it, JKR has shown us four different kinds of specifically mental magic: Legilimency, Occlumency, the Imperius Curse, and different kinds of memory-altering spells (Memory charms, Confundus Charm). Since the first two are more closely related to each other than they are to the other two, I’’ll split the analysis accordingly. But first, let’’s go over the basic principles.

Passive vs. active types of mind-control

What all four principles seem to have in common is the importance of exercising one’’s will upon another’s. In Legilimency, you use your stronger will to see past your opponent’s defences. In Occlumency, you block this kind of intrusion. With the Imperius Curse, the caster imposes his will on the victim, who can fight it off if mentally strong enough. Finally, when it comes to Memory Charms, a person’s memories are altered, removed or brought forth according to the caster’s will. There’s a strong attacker-opponent situation in all these cases, only in more or less subtle ways. All four disciplines (with the possible exception of Occlumency, see below) also include an element of violation of another person’s sphere/mind. They seem to be related forms of magic.

Legilimency and Occlumency are chiefly passive branches, as far as we have seen. You read someone’s mind (to use Harry’s unrefined terminology) or you stop someone from doing the same to you. You access/hide information which is actually there and you don’t actually change anything (or do you? I’ll get back to this).

Both the Imperius Curse and the different forms of memory control are active branches of mind magic. You change something, either a person’s will, their memories or their perception of reality. It’s a step further into the violation of personal freedom than the two passive techniques, it would seem.

I think I’ll start with the active types of mind-controlling magic and work my way towards the passive versions from there.

Memory Charms / Confundus Charms

We’’ve seen a lot of memory modification during the course of the books. The Confundus Charm has been mentioned more or less in passing several times – notably at the end of PoA and with regards to the Goblet of Fire. From these passages, we learn more or less what the spell does (or is supposed to do).

In GoF, the Goblet itself is subjected to the charm, which changes the object’s “magical programming” on a very fundamental level. Instead of choosing three champions, the Goblet chooses four, which must be considered an action fundamentally against its “nature”, since three has, as far as we know, always been the number chosen in the Triwizard Tournament.

In PoA, Snape claims (in front of Fudge) that Harry, Ron, and Hermione have been confunded by Sirius Black into thinking he is innocent of the murders twelve years before. The fact that Fudge believes him (i.e. that he apparently thinks Harry and Hermione are acting in a way that’s typical for a person who has been hit with a Confundus Charm) is more important than whether they actually have been (which they haven’t). Even though Fudge is a character who is very good at seeing only what he wants to see, and his point of view isn’t the most reliable one, the fact that Snape uses the term “confunded” to explain the students’ condition rather than any other gives at least an indication as to how a confunded person should behave. From Fudge’s point of view, Harry and Hermione are being completely irrational and very adamant about proving their (to the outsider) utterly insane theory about a dead man being actually alive and a rat who was a secret-keeper etc, etc.

When it comes to Harry and Hermione (still in Fudge’s eyes), they haven’t forgotten who or what they are (i.e. their “basic programming”), only what the circumstances surrounding them really are. The fact “Sirius Black murdered people” has been substituted with “Peter Pettigrew murdered people” and “Peter Pettigrew is dead” has been replaced with “Peter Pettigrew faked his own death and is still alive”. These changes have nothing to do with Harry and Hermione themselves, but with the reality they live in. Whereas the Goblet situation seems to describe identity modification, the scene in PoA (had it been real) rather suggests reality modification. In either case, we are clearly talking about changing something/someone’s memories/perception of reality rather than the “delete” process which seems to be taking place during the use of general Memory Charms.

Or, how does that work, really?

When talking about Memory Charms, the term “modification” is used more often than the term “removal” and the question is whether, when changing someone’s memory, you actually change an existing memory into something else or just remove it all together. Perhaps you have a choice.

When Marietta Edgecomb’’s memory is tampered with, she no longer has the memory of having attended or heard anything about the DA. But, when asked questions about the association, she answers “no” rather than “I don’t know”, which might indicate that she now has other memories to fill the massive gaps she otherwise ought to have in her mind. Likewise, when the Muggle at the camping in GoF is obliviated, he is disoriented (“Merry Christmas”), but he still remembers that Mr Weasley has paid him and returns his change. This suggests that Memory Charms are more subtle in nature than simply pressing a delete button inside someone’s mind. On the other hand, the incantation (“Obliviate”) suggests the opposite, meaning something like “to make forget”.

I doubt JKR will tell us exactly how it works. It’s very possible that there is a grey scale, i.e that you can put more or less effort into it, depending on whether you wish to just remove something or make a cleaner, more coherent job of it.

What is obvious, however, is that memory modification has a damaging effect on the victim’s mind, everything from making them slightly disoriented to completely change their mental personality structure. Lockhart seems to have lost most of his arrogance and ruthlessness with his memories, and Bertha Jorkins is quite differently described by Sirius (rather sharp, if not pleasant) and Bagman (completely out in the blue).

What we’re also told is that, similar to deleted files on a hard drive, removed/modified memories can be retrieved if the wizard/witch attempting to do so is powerful enough (Voldemort). This, however, also seems to be a damaging process, even though it’s unclear whether Bertha Jorkins was broken down from the memory retrieval or by the subsequent (assumed) torture session (à la Neville’s parents).

In any case, the casual use of obliviates on the Muggle population is quite telling when it comes to the wizard-Muggle relationship. I highly doubt that it is legal in the wizarding world to Obliviate another wizard or witch in the same way, without any consideration of their personal integrity.

Legilimency and Occlumency

These are obscure branches of magic, we are told, and the treatment of them is quite obscure as well. When it comes to Occlumency, we really only have two instances of successful practice – one for Harry and one for Snape, and they are very different.

In Harry’s case, the use of Occlumency seems to work similarly to his first attempts at a Patronus – it gives him enough clarity and control to be able to keep fighting. Harry doesn’t use his mind to push Snape out (his one “out-push” is accompanied by a Stinging Hex, and it might very well have been that, rather than the mental push that made Snape retreat during Harry’s first attempt), he uses his wand – to reverse the Legilimens spell cast by his Professor. He puts up a shield which makes the spell rebound on its caster – he doesn’t actually beat it.

In Snape’s case, on the other hand, we have a description of how Harry gets mentally pushed out of Snape’s mind in a rather violent way. I very much suspect that it was pure surprise on the Potion Master’s part which allowed Harry to get in in the first place, and it’s really too bad that we never got to see a second attempt by Harry to look inside Snape’s mind (which would most likely have failed).

We don’t know what a person attempting to break in encounters when facing an Occlumens. Fanfiction has been extremely creative in this respect, describing everything from a blank wall (i.e. the attacker doesn’t get in at all) to subtle levels of manipulation where the Occlumens decides what memories (real or fake) to show the attacker. I don’t really see anything in the books pointing clearly in either direction.

Legilimency then. Here we have a lot more to go on. From what we’re told, Dumbledore and Voldemort are the two greatest Legilimentes (or however you want to decline it, I just chose the Latin model of mens/mentes, similarly to the declination “magus/magi” or “corpus/corpora”) alive. Harry often has the impression that Dumbledore (and Lupin – hold that thought) “can see right through him” and Voldemort claims that he cannot be lied to. Snape, on the other hand, is never described as a Legilimens, and the fact that he needs to use his wand (and that Harry at all times is completely aware of his actions) strengthens the claim that he probably has very little power concerning that end of the mind-reading stick. When Snape broke into Harry’s mind, Harry was aware of it the entire time, saw everything Snape saw (or so we assume) and got a jumble of memories which, though personal, weren’t really connected.

In my mind, it seems that we have been shown at least two (if not three) people use real Legilimency so far, we just didn’t recognise it for what it was back then.

The most obvious character is Voldemort, and we first saw him use this power all the way back in the glorious days of Vapormort in PS/SS. Facing Harry down in the chamber with the Mirror of Erised, Voldemort immediately knows A) that Harry has the Philosopher’s Stone and B) that the Stone is in his pocket. Before Quirrell took off the turban – i.e. when they didn’t have eye contact – he only knew that Harry was lying about what he saw in the mirror. This (sensing Harry’s emotions/lying) is comparable to the scene in GoF where he walks amongst the Death Eaters and tells them he can sense their fear and guilt. Likewise, knowing that Harry has the Stone in his pocket is comparable to the scene in OotP when he looks into Harry’s eyes and knows that the orb containing the prophecy has been smashed.

On both occasions, Harry is completely unaware that anything whatsoever is going on inside his mind. He just looks Voldemort in the eye and suddenly the Dark Lord knows exactly what he needs to know. I believe this is true Legilimency.

And if it is, then Dumbledore’s “piercing looks” might be just that as well. It always struck me as odd, in CoS, how the final scene between Dumbledore and Harry – when Harry finally tells Dumbledore what has been bothering him – seems so much like a recap. Like Dumbledore already knows and has waited for Harry to tell him. He has a ready answer to every objection and he never acts surprised. His role seems to be that of a guide to Harry so that he can get through his emotions. Similarly, during Harry’s account of events down in the Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore already knows about Voldemort’s role and when to help Harry along in his narrative. Dumbledore’s alleged omniscience might very well be nothing more than Legilimency mixed with some kind of surveillance system (the Chocolate frogs have been a popular guess).

A third possible candidate for people practicing real Legilimency in the series, I think, is Remus Lupin. One of the cornerstones for the “Lupin is actually James Potter in disguise”-theory (which has been rejected by JKR) was the intuitive knowledge and understanding Lupin seemed to have with Harry. Similarly, the intense eye contact with Sirius and immediate knowledge of the truth regarding Pettigrew at this moment (PoA, in the Shrieking Shack), has been one of the main arguments for Lupin/Sirius shippers (a route I can pretty much guarantee you JKR will not be taking in the coming two books). Even though promoters of both these theories argue loudly for their case, I think the explanation is infinitely simpler: Lupin is a Legilimens.

But perhaps not as good a Legilimens as Dumbledore and Voldemort. Most likely not, in fact. It is also highly possible that he wasn’t one during the first war, since he didn’t realise Pettigrew was the spy. On the other hand, Dumbledore didn’t either, which might indicate that Pettigrew could have something in common with Snape other than being physically described in unflattering terms by the author. Then again, perhaps he was just sneaky and good at keeping below other people’s radar.

Harry and Voldemort’s connection

I said before that Legilimency and Occlumency were passive types of magic where you only saw/hid what actually existed in somebody’s mind. Though I really like the fanfiction idea of an Occlumens being able to manipulate what someone breaking into his mind gets to see, there is no real support for it in canon. On the other hand, I feel there is one type of mind-control left to be analysed, and that is the special conditions surrounding Harry and Voldemort’s mental connection.

Harry can see what Voldemort sees (sometimes, usually in his dreams) and feel what Voldemort feels (when it’s a strong feeling). This strikes me as similar to Legilimency, albeit a rather uncontrolled and involuntary version. In OotP, Voldemort figured this out and proceeded to feed Harry false images of torturing Sirius. We don’t know how he did this, but I believe that this is because of the special connection rather than related to Legilimency/Occlumency. The question is whether Harry can manipulate the connection in return. If he can, things might turn extremely interesting. I’m looking forward to finding out more about the connection in general and how it will change when/if Harry advances at Occlumency.

I’ll do a separate piece on the Imperius Curse, I think. This has become rather long. 🙂

See you next time

Recommended reading: Red Hen’s articles on Lupin