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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 describing the art of Legilimency[src]

Legilimency was the act of magically navigating through the many layers of a person's mind and correctly interpreting one's findings. A person who practised this art was known as a Legilimens. Muggles may have called this "mind-reading", but practitioners disdained the term as naive. The opposite of Legilimency was Occlumency, which was used to shield one's mind from the invasion and influence of a Legilimens.[1]

Some magical creatures, such as Wampus cats, could also perform Legilimency.[2]

Silver lime wands had a reputation for performing best for those skilled in Legilimency and Seers.[3]


Severus Snape: "Get up! Get up! You are not trying, you are making no effort, you are allowing me access to memories you fear, handing me weapons!"
Harry Potter: "I — am — making — an — effort."
Snape using Legilimency to teach Harry Potter Occlumency[src]

It is unknown who invented the art of Legilimency and just when it was invented. It is safe to assume that the art had been around for a fairly long time, as Salazar Slytherin, a very skilled Legillimens, lived in the 10th century, and, along with the other Hogwarts founders, enchanted the Sorting Hat to have the skill.[4] Other witches and wizards had used Legilimency on several different occasions as well.

Queenie Goldstein in Nurmengard SOD

Queenie Goldstein, a born Legilimens who can read minds effortlessly

Queenie Goldstein was a talented Legilimens who would frequently read those around her and verbally respond to those thoughts.[5] 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.[6] Although she admitted to having trouble with the minds of British people, due to their accents.

Jacob and his younger sibling also had natural abilities in Legilimency. Throughout their school years, Jacob's sibling would occasionally receive visions revealing information about the Cursed Vaults and the next step towards finding them. While Jacob's sibling initially believed that these may be visions of the future, the visions were later revealed to be deliberate messages from their brother.[7] The student was also sometimes able to receive insights into their opponent's next move while duelling, even without casting the spell. Jacob's ability to mentally communicate with his sibling was also due to having such abilities.[8]

After learning the skill from Professor Snape, Jacob's sibling later practised it (with both wand and incantation) on Argus Filch, Rosmerta, Pitts, and Barnaby Lee; they remarked that Barnaby, considered simple-minded, was particularly easy to read. They also tried to use Legilimency on Patricia Rakepick, who prevented them from learning anything with Occlumency.[8]


Harry Potter using the spell Legilimens to enter Snape's mind during an Occlumency lesson

Professor Snape used Legilimency on Harry Potter while attempting to train him in Occlumency in the 1995–1996 school year to resist potential attempts by Voldemort to read his thoughts. 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.[9] 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.[10]

Voldemort 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 created visions that would drive them to madness. Due to the link between himself and Harry, both could access each other's thoughts, if Voldemort did not block it off with Occlumency. Voldemort had been considered, mainly by his Death Eaters, to be the most accomplished Legilimens ever.[1]

Albus Dumbledore also used Legilimency to find out Kreacher's plot to lure Harry to the Department of Mysteries;[11] whether he used his wand and incantation or not is unknown.


Severus Snape: "I told you to empty yourself of emotion!"
Harry Potter: "Yeah? Well, I’m finding that hard at the moment,"
Severus Snape: "Then you will find yourself easy prey for the Dark Lord! Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked this easily — weak people, in other words — they stand no chance against his powers! He will penetrate your mind with absurd ease, Potter!"
Snape explaining Voldemort's abilities as a Legilimens to Harry[src]

The most advanced Legilimens could perform Legilimency nonverbally and wandlessly, but less talented practitioners must use their wand and utter the incantation "Legilimens" to enter their victim's mind. If a target was not skilled in Occlumency, a Legilimens would be able to detect if the person was lying, as well as delve into their thoughts, emotions, and memories. It was noted that it was easier to perform Legilimency when the target and practitioners' eyes met.[1]

Jacob's sibling performing Legilimency on Jae Kim HM735

Jacob's sibling performing Legilimency wordlessly and without a wand

Highly skilled Legilimens could also communicate with other witches and wizards telepathically, even when the target was at a considerable distance. They did this by projecting their own thoughts, emotions, and memories into the mind of an intended recipient without directly accessing it, thereby creating visual impressions in their minds. Jacob, a former Hogwarts student, did this as means of warning his younger sibling of the dangers that laid ahead of them whilst trapped in one of the fabled Cursed Vaults.[8]

Similarly, witches and wizards of ill intent could also use this as a way of influencing the mind that they invaded. 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 to lure him into a trap. 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.[1]

Like Occlumency, Legilimency was not regularly taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.[1]

Instances of Legilimency[]

User Date Instance
Jacob's sibling 1990–1991 school year Used it to read the mind of Zenith Xeep in the Janus Thickey Ward, to see who was responsible for the laughing curse at St Mungo's.[12]
Severus Snape 1989–1990 school year Used it to navigate Beatrice Haywood's thoughts to help her understand her complex emotions in the Potions Classroom.[13]
31 October 1991 "Snape gave Harry a swift, piercing look. Harry looked at the floor."[14]
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."[15]
1 September 1992 "This wasn't the first time Snape had given Harry the impression of being able to read minds."[16]
December 1992 "Snape was looking right at him... 'He knew it was me, I could tell.'"[17]
17 December 1992 "Snape, too, was looking at Harry in an unexpected way: it was a shrewd and calculating look..."[17]
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.'"[18]
"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."[18]
"'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!'"[18]
"'Or — instructions to get into Hogsmeade without passing the Dementors?' Harry blinked. Snape's eyes gleamed."[18]
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.'"[19]
Early May 1997 "'Liar,' said Snape."[19]
"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 forefront of his mind..."[9]
"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!'"[9]
"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."[9]
"'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?'"[9]
Lord Voldemort 4 June 1992 "He lies...He lies..."
"Now...why don't you give me that Stone in your pocket?"[20]
August 1994 "Do not lie to me! I can always tell, Wormtail!"[21]
Wormtail: "But you seem so much stronger, My Lord —"

Voldemort: "Liar"[21]

Wormtail: "I — I thought she might be useful, My Lord —"

Voldemort: "Liar"[21]

"Do not lie to Lord Voldemort, Muggle, for he knows..."[21]
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...'"[22]
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."[23]
March 1998 Gellert Grindelwald: "So, you have come. I thought you would...one day. But your journey was pointless. I never had it."

Voldemort: "You lie!"[24]

Albus Dumbledore 31 October 1992 "Dumbledore's twinkling light-blue gaze made Harry feel as though he were being X-rayed."[25]
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."[26]
Late May 1995 "'I wanted to talk to you. Professor,' Harry said quickly, looking at Dumbledore, who gave him a swift, searching look."[27]
"'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."[27]
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."[28]
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."[29]

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."[30]

Known Legilimens[]

Texts on Legilimency[]


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

Behind the scenes[]

  • Considering that it invaded peoples' privacy, Legilimency may or may not have been a legally restricted magical practice, just as the use of Veritaserum was 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 punished.
  • Bellatrix Lestrange may have been a Legilimens as she was known to have trained Draco Malfoy in Occlumency;[35] 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 practice. However, since she had to resort to asking Hermione Granger where she got the Sword of Gryffindor instead of just using Legilimency on her at Malfoy Manor after they were captured at the forest by the Snatchers, she may not be a Legilimens.
  • 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. Additionally, the most likely etymology of the incantation for Legilimency, the Latin legere-mens, means "to read minds". 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.
  • While in other media, practitioners of this magical ability appear to navigate through the thoughts, feelings and memories of their subject, as most notably shown in the film version of Order of the Phoenix, Queenie Goldstein's abilities allow her to passively perceive minds without any difficulty, with it seeming that she was born with it rather than trained in its disciplines. Additionally, she states that people are the easiest to read when they're hurting and that she's had trouble understanding and interpreting the minds of people with different accents, such as Britons like Newt Scamander. Also, due to her abilities, she could listen and feel the presence of others from a great distance, especially of those she was already familiar with, as she sensed her sister's distress and the fact that she was in danger of being executed from the other side of the MACUSA headquarters, as well as when she could hear Jacob's mind as he and Newt unknowingly passed her in Paris. However, when emotionally unstable, her abilities are shown to react, with her hearing the thoughts of multiple people in her mind at once, overwhelming her.
  • In the first and second books, Harry frequently 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".[36]


Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 24 (Occlumency)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Chapter 2017
  3. Writing by J. K. Rowling: "Wand Woods" at Wizarding World
  4. 4.0 4.1 Wizard of the Month feature from J. K. Rowling's official site (archived here on the Harry Potter Lexicon)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay, Scene 44
  6. West, Kelly (26 December 2016). A Key Difference Between Snape And Queenie's Abilities, According to JK Rowling. Cinemablend. Retrieved on 27 December 2016.
  7. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 5, Chapter 18 (Legilimency and Occlumency)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 24 (Sectumsempra)
  10. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 28 (Flight of the Prince)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 37 (The Lost Prophecy)
  12. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 7, Chapter 29 (Mind of a Diva)
  13. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 6, Chapter 27 (Letting Go)
  14. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 10 (Hallowe'en)
  15. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 13 (Nicolas Flamel)
  16. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 5 (The Whomping Willow)
  17. 17.0 17.1 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 11 (The Duelling Club)
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 14 (Snape's Grudge)
  19. 19.0 19.1 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 27 (Padfoot Returns)
  20. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 17 (The Man with Two Faces)
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 1 (The Riddle House)
  22. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 36 (The Only One He Ever Feared)
  23. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 14 (The Thief)
  24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 23 (Malfoy Manor)
  25. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 9 (The Writing on the Wall)
  26. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 17 (The Four Champions)
  27. 27.0 27.1 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 30 (The Pensieve)
  28. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 20 (Lord Voldemort's Request)
  29. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 25 (The Seer Overheard)
  30. 30.0 30.1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 32 (The Elder Wand)
  31. Writing by J. K. Rowling: "The Sorting Hat" at Wizarding World
  32. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 7 (The Sorting Hat)
  33. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 3, Side Quest "The Tale of Pumpkin Johnny"
  34. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite "Brilliant Event: Constance's Lament"
  35. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 15 (The Unbreakable Vow)
  36. J.K. Rowling and the Live Chat, Bloomsbury.com, 30 July 2007
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 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.

See also[]