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Magic and Magical Theory

Legilimency

"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... 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

legens - (Latin) a reader
mens - (Latin) mind

Legilimency, a branch of magic not normally taught at Hogwarts (at least, not at Ordinary Wizarding Level) is the ability to extract emotions and memories from another person's mind. Although the word literally translates as 'mind-reading', this is considered a naive interpretation of the art by its practitioners. Someone who practices Legilimency is known as a Legilimens.

Legilimency is easier when the spell-caster is physically near the target, and when the target is off-guard, relaxed, or otherwise vulnerable. Eye contact is often essential, so it is useful for a Legilimens to verbally manipulate his or her target into meeting the Legilimens' eyes, with the fringe benefit that the target's emotional state may bring relevant associated memories to the surface (OP24, OP26). All of this seems to tally quite nicely with what is known of the nature of human memory in Muggle science.

Notice that when Harry wished to avoid discussing his vision of Voldemort's confrontation with Rookwood, and how many dreams he was still having about the Department of Mysteries, he had learned enough to avoid Snape's eyes - but Snape taunted Harry just enough that Harry forgot himself and glared at Snape rather than the potion ingredients jars, so that Snape was able to obtain a more truthful assessment of Harry's progress, which he later reported to Dumbledore, as indicated in Dumbledore's interview with Harry after the battle (OP26, OP38).

Severus Snape is both a Legilimens and an Occlumens, and is apparently better at Occlumency than Voldemort is at Legilimency, which is how he has survived in his difficult role of double agent among the Death Eaters for so long (see Occlumency).

Voldemort is a highly skilled Legilimens, in the estimation of Severus Snape (OP24), to the point where Voldemort can nearly always tell when someone is lying to him. Unlike Snape, Voldemort is never shown speaking the incantation to use Legilimency, if his first appearance in GF1 and last scene in OP36 are any indication. He is able to possess the bodies of snakes while retaining his own body, possibly through Legilimency (OP21). Through his connection with Harry, he was also able to use his ability to feed images and eventually false visions into Harry's dreams, when Harry's mind was most relaxed and vulnerable (OP24, OP38).

Dumbledore is also a Legilimens, describing himself as sufficiently skilled to know when he is being lied to. He is also sufficiently skilled in Occlumency to be able to teach it if he so wishes (OP38).

Since we've been told that the use of Veritaserum is controlled by very strict Ministry guidelines (GF27), the same should be true of Legilimency. (This would not need to be true of Occlumency, since that is purely a defensive measure and only affects the person using it.)

Instances when Legilimency may have been used:

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