Harry Potter's mind being invaded by Severus Snape during their Occlumency lessons

"The mind is not a book, to be opened at will and examined at leisure. Thoughts are not etched on the inside of skulls, to be perused by any invader. The mind is a complex and many-layered thing, Potter. Or at least most minds are... It is true, however, that those who have mastered Legilimency are able, under certain conditions, to delve into the minds of their victims and to interpret their findings correctly."
Severus Snape regarding the art of Legilimency[src]

Legilimency is the act of magically navigating through the many layers of a person's mind and correctly interpreting one's findings. A person who practises this art is known as a Legilimens. Muggles might call this "mind-reading," but practitioners disdain the term as naive. The opposite of Legilimency is Occlumency, which is used to shield one's mind from the invasion and influence of a Legilimens.

Some magical creatures, such as Wampus cats, can also perform Legilimency.[1]


It is unknown who invented the art of Legilimency and just when it was invented. It is safe to assume that the art has been around for a fairly long time, as Salazar Slytherin, a very skilled Legillimens, lived in the 11th century, and, along with the other Hogwarts founders, enchanted the Sorting Hat to have the skill. Other witches and wizards have used Legilimency on several different occasions as well.

Queenie Goldstein was a talented Legilimens who would frequently read those around her and verbally respond to those thoughts. She did so without malicious intent but was often scolded for looking into others' minds without their permission. Whereas most had to learn Legilimency, Queenie was born with a great aptitude for the skill.[2]

Harry Potter's first Occlumency lesson with Snape

Professor Snape used Legilimency on Harry Potter while attempting to train him in Occlumency in the 1995-1996 school year. He also used it nonverbally and wandlessly in 1997 by making direct eye contact with Harry in order to find out where he learned the Sectumsempra spell and to find out the location of his old advanced potion-making textbook that contained said spell. Snape was able to use it during a duel with Harry later that year, anticipating all of Harry's attempted spells and countering and negating them before they could be performed.

Voldemort has used Legilimency extensively, both wandlessly and nonverbally, to enter the minds of those he wished to interrogate. It was even said that it was "the dark lord's pleasure to invade the mind". In the past, Voldemort entered the minds of his victims and create visions that would drive them to madness. Due to the link between himself and Harry, both can access each other's thoughts, if Voldemort does not block it off with Occlumency. Voldemort has been considered, mainly by his Death Eaters, to be the most accomplished Legilimens ever.

Albus Dumbledore also used Legilimency to find out Kreacher's plot to lure Harry to the Department of Mysteries; whether he used his wand and incantation or not is unknown.


Severus Snape: "It appears there is a connection between the Dark Lord's mind and your own. Whether or not he is aware of this connection is for the moment unclear. Pray he remains ignorant."
Harry Potter: "You mean if he knows about it, then he'll be able to read my mind?"
Severus Snape: "Read it, control it, unhinge it. In the past it was often the Dark Lord's pleasure to invade the minds of his victims, creating visions designed to torture them into madness. Only after extracting the last exquisite ounce of agony, only when he had them literally begging for death would he finally... kill them."
Snape explains Voldemort's abilities as a Legilimens to Harry[src]
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Harry Potter being possessed by Lord Voldemort through Legilimency

The most advanced Legilimens can perform Legilimency nonverbally and wandlessly, but less talented practitioners must use the incantation Legilimens to enter their victim's mind. If a target is not skilled in Occlumency, a Legilimens will be able to detect if the person is lying, as well as delve into their thoughts, emotions, and memories. Highly skilled Legilimens can also influence a mind that they invade; for example, Lord Voldemort, considered perhaps the most skilled Legilimens of his time, was able to send Harry Potter incredibly realistic visions of the Department of Mysteries and his godfather, and later to temporarily possess him (the latter of which was extremely painful to Harry, to the point where he begged Dumbledore to kill him, just to relieve him of the pain). It is easier to perform Legilimency when the target and practitioners' eyes meet.[3]

Severus Snape was able to see one of Voldemort's memories of the Department of Mysteries that Harry Potter himself had not experienced because of the unintentional Horcrux that linked them.[4]

Like Occlumency, Legilimency is not regularly taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Considering that it invades peoples' privacy, Legilimency may be a legally restricted magical practise, just as the use of Veritaserum is strictly regulated by the Ministry of Magic. Queenie, who would use Legilimency on those around her and respond to their thoughts verbally, was constantly scolded for this invasion of privacy, but was never prosecuted.

Instances of Legilimency

User Date Instance
Severus Snape 31 October, 1991

"Snape gave Harry a swift, piercing look. Harry looked at the floor."

Winter 1992

"Could Snape possibly know they'd found out about the Philosopher's Stone? Harry didn't see how he could — yet he sometimes had the horrible feeling that Snape could read minds."

1 September, 1992 "This wasn't the first time Snape had given Harry the impression of being able to read minds."
December, 1992 "Snape was looking right at him... "He knew it was me, I could tell."
17 December, 1992 "Snape, too, was looking at Harry in an unexpected way: it was a shrewd and calculating look..."
12 February, 1994 "Snape's eyes were boring into Harry's. It was exactly like trying to stare down a hippogriff. Harry tried not to blink... "Malfoy is not having hallucinations... if your head was in Hogsmeade, so was the rest of you."
"Harry bit his lip. He didn't know what had happened and didn't want to admit it — but Snape seemed to have guessed the truth."
"Turn out your pockets, Potter! He spat suddenly. Harry didn't move. There was a pounding in his ears. "Turn out your pockets, or we go straight to the headmaster! Pull them out, Potter!"
"Or — instructions to get into Hogsmeade without passing the dementors? Harry blinked. Snape's eyes gleamed."
3 March, 1995

"Don't lie to me," Snape hissed, his fathomless black eyes boring into Harry's. "Boomslang skin. Gillyweed. Both come from my stores, and I know who stole them."

Early May, 1997 "Liar" said Snape."
"Harry's throat went dry. He knew what Snape was going to do and he had never been able to prevent it... The bathroom seemed to shimmer before his eyes; he struggled to block out all thought, but try as he might, the Half-Blood Prince's copy of Advanced Potion-Making swam hazily to the forefont of his mind..."
"And then he was staring at Snape again, in the mids of this wrecked, soaked bathroom. He stared into Snape's black eyes, hoping against hope that Snape had not seen what he feared, but - "Bring me your schoolbag", said softly, "and all of your school books. All of them. Bring them to me here. Now!"
"The cold, black eyes were boring once more into Harry's, he tried not to look into them. Close your mind...close your mind... but he had never learned how to do it properly."
"Do you know what I think, Potter?" said Snape, very quietly. "I think that you are a liar and a cheat and that you deserve detention with me every Saturday until the end of term. What do you think, Potter?"
Lord Voldemort 4 June, 1992 "He lies...He lies..."
"Now...why don't you give me that Stone in your pocket?"
August 1994

"Do not lie to me! I can always tell, Wormtail!"

Wormtail:"But you seem so much stronger, My Lord '—" Voldemort:"Liar"
Wormtail:"I — I thought she might be useful, My Lord —" Voldemort:"Liar"
"Do not lie to Lord Voldemort, Muggle, for he knows..."
18 June, 1996 "So, you smashed my prophecy?" said Voldemort softly, starting at Harry with those pitiless red eyes. "No, Bella, he is not lying... I see the truth looking at me from within his worthless mind... months of preparation, months of effort.. and my Death Eaters have let Harry Potter thwart me again..."
2 August, 1997

"Do not lie to Lord Voldemort, Gregorovitch. He knows... he always knows."

"The hanging man's pupils were wide, dilated with far, and they seemed to swell, bigger and bigger until their blackness swallowed Harry whole."
March, 1998

Grindelwald:"So, you have come. I thought you would... one day. But your journey was pointless. I never had it." Voldemort"You lie!"

Albus Dumbledore 31 October, 1992 "[Dumbledore's] twinkling light-blue gaze made Harry feel as though he were being X-rayed."
31 October, 1994 “Professor Dumbledore was now looking down at Harry, who looked right back at him, trying to discern the expression of the eyes behind the half-moon spectacles…. [Harry] really couldn’t think of anything to say. The inside of this head seemed to be in complete disarray, as though his brain had been ransacked.”
Late May, 1995 "I wanted to talk to you. Professor." Harry said quickly, looking at Dumbledore, who gave him a swift, searching look."
"Voldemort?" said Dumbledore, looking at Harry over the Pensieve. It was the characteristic, piercing look Dumbledore had given him on other occasions, and always made Harry feel as though Dumbledore were seeing right through him in a way that even Moody's magical eye could not."
10 March, 1997 "I see" said Dumbledore eventually, peering at Harry over the top of his half-moon spectacles and giving Harry the usual sensation that he was being X-rayed."
30 June, 1997 "Boiling with anger at Snape, his desire to do something desperate and risky had increased tenfold in the last few minutes. This seemed to show on Harry's face, for Dumbledore moved away from the window, and looked more closely at Harry, a slight crease between his silver eyebrows.

Dumbledore:"What has happened to you?"

Harry:"Nothing," lied Harry promptly.

Dumbledore:"What has upset you?"

Harry:"I'm not upset."

Dumbledore: "Harry, you were never a good Occlumens."

Harry Potter (indirectly) 2 May, 1998 "Why was it so easy? Because his scar had been burning for hours, yearning to show him Voldemort’s thoughts? He closed his eyes on her command, and at once, the screams and bangs and all the discordant sounds of the battle were drowned until they became distant, as though he stood far, far away from them."

Known Legilimens

Texts on Legilimency


The word Legilimency is probably derived from the Latin legere, "to read", and mens, "mind".

Behind the scenes

  • Bellatrix Lestrange may have been a Legilimens as she is known to have trained Draco Malfoy in Occlumency; presumably she had to be able to penetrate his mind with Legilimency in order to teach him how to repel such an attack. However, it is also possible that she simply coached him on repelling mental assault whilst having someone else attempt Legilimency on him during practise.[8]
  • Whilst Snape chides Harry for assuming that Legilimency and mind-reading are the same, he does not elaborate on the differences at all (save for saying that Legilimency is much subtler and more complicated than that). In fact, he even states that it would be possible for an advanced Legilimens like Voldemort to read another's mind. However, given all the canonical information one can work out a reasonable distinction between the two; mind-reading assumes that one is simply eavesdropping on the thoughts currently running through the head of another. Legilimency, however, appears to actually require the wizard to navigate and move through the various areas of the brain. Whilst it would therefore be theoretically possible then, for one to access the area controlling conscious thought (and hence "read another's mind") other areas of the brain are open to the Legilimens too, such as the area housing memory and the part of the mind controlling the voluntary muscles. This would fit with Snape's description of the mind being a many layered thing, as well as Voldemort's ability to possess Harry Potter in this way and how Harry is seen delving through Snape's memories using Legilimency (As opposed to just hearing his current thoughts like a stream of consciousness). It would also support Snape's assertation that equating Legilimency to mind-reading would be a fallacious, reductionist attitude towards such a skill.
  • Ironically, in the first book, Harry suspected Snape was capable of reading minds (though Snape says he does not care for the term "mind reading," considering it an oversimplification). Prior to learning the details of Legilimency, Harry always stared at Snape eye-to-eye as a means of defiantly lying to him, which ironically allowed Snape to easily penetrate his mind to learn the truth; after learning how Legilimency works at best, Harry would avoid such contact when confronting Snape.
  • Harry Potter was able to use his connection to Lord Voldemort to briefly invade the latter's mind to determine his location during the Battle of Hogwarts. However, it is unknown whether Harry was using legilimency to accomplish this. If he was using legilimency, he may have been using it in a very indirect approach.
  • During a 2007 web chat on Bloomsbury's website, a technical glitch caused it to appear as if J. K. Rowling answered a fan's question before it was asked. Regarding this, Rowling joked that she was "clearly getting better at Legilimency".[9]
  • Queenie stated that people are the easiest to read when they're hurting.


See also

Notes and references

  2. West, Kelly (December 26, 2016). A Key Difference Between Snape And Queenie's Abilities, According to JK Rowling. Cinemablend. Retrieved on 2016 December 27.
  3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 26 (Seen and Unforeseen)
  5. 'Fantastic Beasts' Character Descriptions Revealed
  6. Wizard of the Month feature from J. K. Rowling's official site (archived here on the Harry Potter Lexicon)
  7. Writing by J.K. Rowling: "The Sorting Hat" at Pottermore
  8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  9. J.K. Rowling and the Live Chat,, July 30, 2007
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 In each of the books, Harry states that he gets the feeling Snape can read minds, when Snape is looking right at him, and when Snape knows things Snape wouldn't know unless Snape was reading Harry's mind.
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