The Balognium Factor:
Bolognium is an element that you will find upon no Periodic Table in any classroom in the world. It is, however, far from rare.
Balognium, or, alternately, boloneyum (from: “baloney”) is an element highly familiar to SF fans. Or, in any case, that is the context in which I first encountered the term. The term may be unique to that venue, but the phenomenon is far too widespread to make any argument about the element being so as well. It just seems to be particularly easy to recognize it when you are pretending to be dealing with hard science.
Bolognium is an element in a story that makes absolutely no sense, is unsupported by any branch of science or natural law, or is laughably internally inconsistent, and is all but completely impossible to rationalize.
But it is — always — absolutely necessary to make the story function. And the unspoken contract with the reader is that the reader will suspend disbelief over the bolognium’s improbability and in return the author will attempt to limit himself to only one piece of balognium per story.
The Imperius Curse is Goblet of Fire’s allotted piece of bolognium.
I would have to say that in the Imperius curse Rowling handed us an absolutely classic piece of bolognium. We were going round and round on this issue for weeks on one of my lists. And not just once, either.
And the whole issue is completely irresolvable; even despite the fact that sometimes what is the purest, most unalloyed bolognium in science fiction may be a staple genre “trope” in fantasy. The Imperius Curse does not fall into this comfortable “safe zone”. The Imperius Curse is pure bolognium in any genre, falling solidly within the classically defined subject heading of “mind control”.
The main problem is that, in Imperio, Rowling has tossed us all a plot device bone which wasn’t properly realized in canon to begin with, so of course we can’t come to any kind of a consensus about it. Rowling isn’t a bit clear on how it works and she is internally inconsistent with how it is depicted. As well as how it is distinguished from any of the other forms of “mind control” that she has handed us. Because she’s handed us more than one.
We never heard of Imperio before GoF and in that book we are given three supposed demonstrations, or reports, of this curse in action and they simply do not add up. They especially do not add up to what she had already shown us, and masterfully shown us, of the operation of a similar, but perhaps subtly different form of mind control all the way back back in PS/SS in the possession of Professor Quirrell, or yet another variant of this skill which was used in CoS in the possession of Ginny Weasley.
In fact we are left unclear as to whether Inperius is or is not a form of curse-induced possession. Although it certainly appears to behave like it at first glance. The matter was not clarified in the course of DHs, either. The subject only became even more confused.
From a totally outside perspective we have Barty Crouch Sr’s frankly astonishing behavior upon his surprise reappearance at Hogwarts, which is later explained as being a result of his attempts to throw off the effects of the curse. His disjointed speech makes next to no sense at all. He doesn’t know where — or when — he is. He recognizes nobody. He comes across as completely deranged.
Actually, what he is behaving like is someone right out of a “B” movie. No, not even that. Something more like a “D” movie. One of the ones directed by Edward G Wood Jr, to boot.
It’s completely unbelievable that anyone under this kind of curse could have gone out in public and behaved “normally” and aroused no suspicion (as we are later given to understand that Crouch was doing at any time we saw him after his first appearance at the Quidditch World Cup).
We get further amplification of this general impression in HBP when we get the report that someone botched the curse and the intended victim started quacking like a duck. Excuse me? What has a duck got to do with someone failing to take control of your will? The author is presenting what is repeatedly stated as being a horrific, unforgivable curse, and she is playing it for laughs.
From a “1st person account” we have Crouch Jr’s confession. Of which I have been suspicious from the beginning, and even more so ever since we were later told in passing (very late in OotP) that Snape keeps false Veritiserum in his stores as well as the genuine article. But even if falsifying the Veritiserum was not a factor in that confession, so much of the account didn’t match up with the way things must have actually worked, that I am still suspicious.
In this account, young Crouch — who certainly ought to be in a position to know — describes being under the curse as moving in a fog, hardly aware of what was going on around him. This really makes it sound as though the Imperius Curse must be something other than useful for purposes of long term or long-distance sabotage, since your puppets don’t seem to be able to act upon any personal initiative and are suffering from sensory deprivation.
It certainly doesn’t match up to Madam Rosemerta’s behavior in HBP where she is supposedly under the Imperius curse any time we saw her over the whole book, and no one got even a hint.
Which also does not match Crouch Sr’s behavior before he was pulled out of his office and imprisoned in his own home. Despite the fact that he was supposedly under the Curse any time we saw him after the World Cup. If the curse is apt to fade off or be thrown off that consistently you would think that it would be discovered a lot more easily than the characters seem to understand.
Nor does it really match what young Crouch had told us earlier in Moody’s classroom. Neither does it jibe with what we were shown of his classroom examples. But, like I say, I am currently inclined to view any information that Crouch Jr gave us in that confession with grave suspicion. Especially anything to do with how he apparently, if we are to believe him, just managed to throw his father’s curse off so conveniently with such perfect timing to further Voldemort’s aims.
And stacked up against those portrayals we have Harry’s own experience when Crouch attempted to put the curse on him; during which attempts the curse swept over him with a feeling of relaxation and peace leaving him open for whatever suggestion the “controller” might give him. Sounds like sensory deprivation again. We’re also told that he wasn’t altogether clear on his actions while under it, but there is no indication in the narrative that he was behaving like an obvious puppet. And he was aware of the controller’s actual instructions. Whether they were verbal or not.
Which is another issue. When Harry almost failed to comply with the instructions how would the rest of the class *know* that that was what happened on no more than Moody’s say so unless Moody had informed them of what Harry was expected to do? Evidently, even though Harry was hearing a voice in his head, there may have been a voice in his ears as well. Or else they were a trusting lot, the Gryffindors.
For that matter, spiders do not understand English, but Moody was still able to (nonverbally) instruct one to dance. And evidently such instructions must operate on a long-distance mind-to-mind link, or an improbably perfect “post-hypnotic suggestion” which can be maintained at a distance, for even Percy Weasley would probably have noticed someone hanging about the office and prompting his employer’s actions; at least after the fact. Or somebody, over a matter of several months, might have noticed that Madam Rosemerta was periodically acting a bit strangely.
Let alone anyone under attack by a puppet back in VoldWar I, which makes next to total nonsense of Lucius Malfoy and others’ “Imperius defense”. (Unless the whole thing was a blatant case of political deal-making in which Barty Crouch Sr must have taken active part. I mean, stop and think about it for a moment.)
But, as for Rosemerta; I suspect that Albus Dumbledore had figured the matter out at least by the time they had the poisoned mead incident at the beginning of March, and he was forced to — perhaps reluctantly — leave matters as they stood, for fear of tipping Malfoy off to the fact that Albus knew what he was up to. His pretense of only just then realizing how the situation stood was intended to pass the information to Harry, so Harry would tell someone, now that it was safe to do so. Someone who could rectify the situation. Albus was staging his exit that evening and would not have been able to take charge of it himself. Nor would Snape, who undoubtedly knew of the situation as well, but Snape wasn’t going to be around, either.
Unless there is an alternate reading of that classroom business which has not yet been considered.
This appears to have provisionally been the case. When the discrepancy was pointed out to me it made for a shift in perception of what may have been going on in that classroom.
The way Crouch/Moody describes the curse in class is inconsistent with both the testimony in his “confession” and with his father’s external behavior as Rowling showed it to us in the same book. His description was not that it forced the subject to partake of actions “against his will”, but that the subject had NO will of his own while under it. That it did not force anyone to DO anything. It forced them to be completely open to the suggestion that they WANT to do something. Much like the old-fashioned perception of hypnotism, or the even older “Mesmerism’.
What Crouch’s classroom description actually DID seem to accurately describe was not anything we were shown in GoF at all. But it was an excellent definition of “possession” and matched up perfectly to the behavior of Professor Quirrell throughout the course of PS/SS.
Voldemort (or VaporMort at that point) did not have Quirrell under a classic Imperius curse — which requires the use of a wand — but what he had done to take control of him certainly was something in the same general class of total perceptual control.
Ergo: we might want to consider that the Imperius Curse is in fact a form of curse-induced possession.
We know already that possession exists in the Potterverse. But we have no idea of how rare it may be. The only person in the whole series who has ever been stated as having taken possession of anyone, beast or being, is Tom Riddle. You would think that with wizards having existed all the way back into prehistory, there would be more to be said on the subject than that.
Or at least there would be some kind of a flap over the fact that he is known to be able to do it.
And as for the way Rowling has shown it working: “mind” control is clearly a misnomer. Quirrell’s intellect was not affected at all. It was his will, his perceptions, and his judgement which were distorted, in fact disabled, and overwritten by those of his Master. Voldemort’s values, opinions and priorities had become his own, and he was tragically unable to even recognize the difference, apart from a vague memory of having once thought and felt otherwise about such things. And even that memory was now being processed and viewed through the contemptuous filter of his controller’s opinion of it.
The condition really does appear to have been a malady of the soul.
It has more recently occurred to me that there may well have been an additional emotional constraint on Quirrell as well. Young Tom Riddle, when we caught up to him in his orphanage boasted that he could make people feel what he wanted them to, as well as do what he wanted them to. We have been given no information of what that particular talent may be, but whatever it is, it sounds highly disturbing.
If any of this mimics how Imperius really works, then it is no wonder it is unforgivable. That would be the true horror of the curse. Once it takes hold, the subject is not consciously acting “against his will”. He simply has no sense whatsoever that what he is doing may be wrong. While in this state of brutally twisted “innocence”, the subject is utterly free of both doubt and guilt. The perfect vassal and the perfect vessel — so long as you can keep him under it.
The actions a person takes while under such an influence are also his own — it is only the impulse and the “reasons” for those actions which have been superimposed. Under Imperius, one may act counter to one’s own values and against one’s own best interests, but one does not act out of character. Which is what is supposed to make Imperius tampering so hard to detect. NO ONE suspected Madame Rosemerta. A one-eyed baboon could have seen that there was something wrong with Crouch Sr.
And, unless obliviated, one probably remembers the actions one took while one was under the curse. At least vaguely. Quirrell was indeed quite literally “full of hate and greed and ambition”, but none of that was his own.
And Rowling showed us this. Very clearly, very adeptly. But when she did it, we did not understand what we were seeing, because we lacked the proper context in which to examine or interpret it. Now we know, and can. And she immediately stopped giving us believable examples.
For, while Rowling showed us this brilliantly in PS/SS, she did not even come close to showing us this in GoF, where it really mattered. And I don’t know why she didn’t. Since she obviously can.
She also did not show us anything even close to the Imperius class of control in CoS, which was a whole other jar of snakes. Diary!Riddle’s control of Ginny Weasley comes across as being more in the nature of pushing her out of her own brain while he was driving it. Until the matter was clarified in DHs it was easy to believe that this may have also been the method used in driving the snake who bit Ginny’s father in OotP. Ginny has still never recovered the memories of what she was doing while he was in control. I suspect she never will.
And we cannot know for sure, because we never actually saw Ginny when Riddle was driving her. She may have acted just like Professor Quirrell.
We were not given any specific reason for why he would have wiped her memory. But it is most likely to be because it was not in his best interests to let Ginny figure out what was going on one minute before such a discovery was inevitable. So, unless he was willing to keep control of her at all times (which was probably beyond his strength, particularly at first) then to keep her as ignorant as possible was a much safer bet. Effectively Obliviating her after each “use” strung the situation out for much longer than he might have done otherwise. As things stand, she did not figure out that it was her “friend” in the Diary that was responsible for her blackouts for nearly two months after the first time he took control of her at Halloween.
What we will probably never know is just how conscious Ginny was during the periods that Riddle was controlling her. Since he effectively Obliviated her after each use, I don’t think she will get those memories back any more than Lockhart has recovered his. But there is a good deal of suggestion in the text that she may have been at least somewhat conscious of what was going on *at the time* given that the Diary revenant tells us that he forced her to write her own farewell and drove her down into the Chamber — and that she put up a fight against it, too. This does not really sound like Quirrell’s passive, mindless obedience.
And for that matter, I think that by the middle of the Spring term, Ginny only had to be in proximity with the Diary for it to be able to take control of her. How likely is it that, with her knowing that it was responsible for what was happening to her, she would have deliberately written in the thing once she stole it back from Harry. And yet there was an attack the same day she did it, and another one some days or weeks afterwards. I think that by then the connection had become strong enough for Riddle too reach out and grab her even if it was packed away in her trunk. Or sitting in her pocket.
And more people than I have pointed out that there may have been something other than mere coincidence at work over that period — apart from Justin Fitch-Fetchley and Nearly Headless Nick, everyone who was actually attacked by the basilisk could be interpreted as a rival for either Percy or Harry’s attention, or someone that everyone actively disliked. (No one but Filch mourned the petrification of Mrs Norris.) That’s three attacks out of six which targeted people who just happened to be *in Ginny’s way.* And Penelope was probably only attacked because she was with Hermione.
Ginny poured a lot of herself into that Diary. And Riddle used every bit of it. Keep Riddle’s own character in mind. He would have loved the idea of forcing his trusting little “friend” to go a-hunting the people who she had moaned about in the Diary. Her reluctance and protests throughout these (to her) nightmare journeys would have only added spice to the dish. He likes making people do things that they truly don’t want to do. Things that they know are wrong. And after her memory of the incident was wiped she might have been left with only a horrible feeling of “wrongness” about how most of the people now in the hospital wing were people she had been jealous of. I do suspect that Justin and Nick may have been an accident. She and the basilisk came across them before they managed to find whoever that evening’s real target was. But the fact that Justin was Muggle-born obscured the issue.
Ginny’s own position was distinctly unpleasant that year, regardless of her lifelong desire to “go to Hogwarts”. Once she got there she was in a miserable state of crushing on Harry, and she was also dodging Percy — who was worried about her, and trying to help, but reading the situation all wrong — and the twins were giving her grief, now that they had her where Molly couldn’t protect her. (And indeed, permitting Percy to take charge of the situation would have only increased the twins’ determination to attack her for joining the “other side”.)
If anything good came out of the Year of the Basilisk, it is that once the truth came out, it spooked the twins enough to back off. We don’t get much of any indication of them going out of their way to get at Ginny during years 3–5. And there is every indication of their having done so in year 2.
Mind you, it is possible — even likely — that the “brain fog” that Crouch Jr describes in his confession is the result of putting someone under Imperius and giving them no further instructions, not even to “act naturally”, leaving them in a sort of limbo instead. But this does not explain the sort of behavior that Rowling describes as Crouch Sr’s attempt to throw off the curse. That simply does not fit anything. It was poorly handled and there is no good excuse for it. We already know that she can do better than that.
As to Crouch/Moody in the classroom; if one re-reads with a bit more care, one can see that Harry’s “instructions” did not appear to come through any verbal orders that he was being given, but from a voice that seemed to be echoing from the depths of his empty mind. The fact that it was a classroom demonstration, however suggests that there may have been verbal orders being given as well as the mental imperative. This may well have confused the issue in the perceptions of the kids who were being put under the curse, or witnessing it used on others. Crouch may have been deliberately giving the kids the impression that originally came through to me, in that the controller “usually” would have to be close enough to give verbal instructions. If such is possible, he may have even been adjusting the effects of the curse itself to exaggerate the “empty mind” feeling as well. Which might make them feel a lot more confident that they would be able to recognize that someone was making the attempt to take control of them than was actually the case. Making them believe that they were rather safer than they, in fact, were. NOT such a helpful lesson after all.
What was not evident until about Book 6, however, is that although he did not succeed in teaching anyone but Harry to resist Imperius, it seems likely that his instruction may have gone a long way in teaching Malfoy how to cast it. We never got to hear how “Moody’s” lecture was phrased for anybody but the Gryffindors. Although given Crouch Jr’s detestation of any DE who escaped, I can’t imagine him being all that helpful to the Slytherins, unless under Voldemort’s orders. Which he might well have been.
It is also necessary to attempt to resolve the paradox of a Voldemort follower actively teaching Dumbledore’s students to resist Imperius. But you will notice he seems to have managed to keep it so that no one in the class but Harry actually accomplished it. And we are directly told that he spent several class sessions working on it until Harry could do it. I now suspect that he probably put all of that classroom time into teaching Harry to do it in order to avoid putting in the time it would have taken to teach any of the others.
In fact, recognizing that Harry had a high enough level of natural resistance to the curse that he could not have reliably kept him from figuring it out, he may have made a virtue of necessity. It made him look a lot more genuine to Dumbledore, too, to be able to point to at at least one success story.
We were handed yet another piece of mind control magic in HBP with the discovery that through Legilimency/Occlumency/Memory charms or what have you, a wizard can implant a false memory in the mind of others. The true memory is still there, although buried, and with skill can be extracted.
Why on earth Dumbledore did not use Morfin Gaunt’s true memory related to the Riddle massacre as grounds to file an accusation of murder against Tom Riddle, which might have put Riddle on the wanted list before he even returned from his self-imposed exile, I do not know. He was willing enough to use it to campaign for Morfin’s release. Rowling simply seems incapable of writing adults who consistently act like adults.
But as to a few other bits of balognium scattered throughout the series:
Prisoner of Azkaban’s piece of balognium was the bloody Time-Turner.
Again, this is an absolutely classic piece of balognium. As is just about any other form of time travel. Regardless of the genre.
I defy anyone to explain the working of a Time-Turner in any manner which makes coherent sense. The closest anyone has ever come is the level of “good enough”, never all the way to “convincing”. But there is no question that the Time-Turner was absolutely necessary to the functioning of the story, and so we must suspend our disbelief. Even the somewhat dicey methodology regarding Animagi cannot compete in the balognium sweepstakes with the Time-Turner. Or its baggage. Purest top-grade balognium, that Time-Turner. Finest kind.
What is not balognium, however, is Albus setting Harry and Hermione up to rescue Sirius and Buckbeak. Not once one's disbelief in the Time-Turner itself has been suspended at any rate. Since there simply isn’t any better place in the collection to tuck this in, I am stowing it here, but I admit that it is a digression.
Albus was having a very odd sort of an evening on June 6, 1994.
First off, there was that strangeness over the case of the disappearing hippogriff. Albus had seen the beast lying tethered in Hagrid's pumpkin patch himself, and a scant few minutes later, the beast, and the tether, were simply gone.
To be sure, Albus was relieved for Hagrid’s sake. He didn’t think the beast was especially dangerous, either — although it hadn’t been wise to use the creature as an example in a class of 3rd years. But Albus knew that he had nothing to do with the creature’s disappearance, and he was just as sure that Hagrid hadn’t either. An oddity, indeed.
A couple of hours later he was roused out of bed and to the window, by one of his little silver monitors, where he was treated to the perfectly appalling sight of every Dementor in Hogsmeade swarming onto the school grounds and converging upon something by the edge of the lake. Apparently they had finally caught up to Sirius Black. Given what we know about Albus’s opinion on Dementors, it's the last thing that he had hoped to see, regardless of what he thought about Black.
And, then, from the other side of the lake, a Patronus galloped, charged the Dementors and drove them away from their prey.
And Albus recognized that Patronus. He had seen Harry cast it during one of the last season’s Quidditch games, when young Malfoy and his friends had dressed up as Dementors as a prank.
But then, once he had thrown on his robe and made his way down to the entrance hall, he met Snape, floating Black, and three 3rd-year students, one of them Harry, all unconscious, into the castle on stretchers.
Harry had not been on the other side of the lake. He had been in the group that was being attacked.
So who cast the Patronus? He didn’t know of any other living wizard who might have a stag Patronus.
He sent Snape and the students on to the infirmary to be checked over and to contact Fudge, while he questioned Black.
It didn't take long to finally bring out the discovery of the Secret Keeper switch. And Albus being a master Legilimens, could tell that Black was not lying. In any consideration of decency, Black had to be gotten away from the castle before Fudge arrived.
Which must have been just about when the recollection that the Granger girl had the use of a Time-Turner this particular year finally got a chance to surface.
And, of course that was the answer. Harry had cast that Patronus because he had gone back to cast that Patronus. Ergo: Albus must have sent him back to cast the Patronus.
— and to rescue Hagrid’s hippogriff. And, now, to rescue Black.
After all, once the Dementors had shown themselves to be so poorly under the Ministry’s control as to mob a Quidditch game in broad daylight, you know that Albus must have set one of his little monitors to alert him *at once* the moment one of them glided onto the school grounds again. Once you add that possibility to the equation, it all adds up.
Although I will have to say that I think Rowling made a very silly decision over the reasons given in the text for the “you must not be seen” exhortation. Namely that wizards had been known to attack their future, or past selves if they encountered them unaware.
If at any point during the year (after the evening of the Start of Term Feast) Hermione had miscalculated and met herself she might have given herself a minor shock and no doubt castigated herself for carelessness, but the explanation that people had hexed their future or past selves is ridiculous. At any point after the evening she arrived at Hogwarts and was issued that Time-Turner both her future and her present or past selves would have been fully aware that she had access to a Time-Turner and would have known perfectly well what had happened. Hexed herself? No. Not even close. Too silly, too silly, much, much too silly. That reasoning smacks of the overheated sort of exhortations which promise blindness or insanity resulting from various private activities which are as harmless as they are commonplace.
And for that matter; let’s take a bloody reality check here. She was using that Time-Turner to attend classes. She was “being seen” by everyone in those classes and the instructors! What the hell do you mean by “you must not be seen”, eh? How is she supposed to avoid being seen is more like it! Sheesh!
I am still not altogether sure that we were given any genuine balognium in CoS. Apart from the possession of Ginny Weasley, and that all took place off-stage. The Polyjuice comes closest, and it may very well turn out to qualify by the time the series winds up. (It did. It didn’t have to, and it wouldn’t have if Rowling could have been arsed to keep track of how long a dose of the stuff is supposed to last. But she didn’t.) But shape-shifting is unmistakably one of those issues where what is balognium in SF does not always translate to that in fantasy. Shape-shifting is a staple genre trope used in just about every branch of fantasy.
But unless it is stated as being simply the nature of the shape-shifter it requires intelligible rules. Tonks is a Metamorphamagus. That’s her nature. No further explanation necessary. You can either accept it, or you can be a pill. I agree that the introduction of this particular class of shape-shifter might have had a smoother transition if we had ever heard of the existence of Metamorphomagi in passing before we actually got to meet one. And I also agree that we were never shown any good reason in canon for why Rowling felt that she needed to introduce one, anyway, but that’s a minor issue.
And in any event, in the same way Polyjuice couldn’t technically have been balognium in CoS since, in that story, nothing of real importance depended on it, Metamorphomagi aren’t balognium now.
Animagi are a slightly different case. The storyline actively needs them. There are a lot of fiddling details about Animagi which make no sense. Like the way their clothing and their wands transform with them. Rowling may have snuck a minor piece of balognium here into PoA along with the major one of the Time-Turner. But this isn’t a conclusive issue. I tended to doubt that Animagi were going to be a major issue in Book 7, and indeed they weren’t, but considering the weight they carried in the plotline of PoA I wasn’t going to bet the farm on it not coming up at all.
I’ll admit that I’m still inclined to put Polyjuice on the list for CoS’s allotted piece of balognium, even though Rowling didn’t actually use it until GoF, where it became one of those things which is essential to the function of the story, which is a requirement for determining true balognium (rather than just a detail which turns out to be a dud). Given the gallons of the stuff Crouch Jr must have needed to produce in order to tide him through the school year, it is surprising that “Moody’s” office didn’t smell of cabbage the way Myrtle’s loo did the year Hermione and her friends did their illicit brewing in it. But most of the “...but? ...but?” moments regarding Polyjuice in GoF can be weaseled around without that much difficulty, even if the total doesn’t quite add up.
On the other hand, AIs like the Riddle Diary (and the Marauders’ map, or the Sorting Hat for that matter) all show definite promise in the balognium sweepstakes. But we may have seen the last new introduction of anything like that kind of thing by now (and the Riddle Diary was fairly conclusively explained away in HBP). I was beginning to have reservations about the Pensieve, but they were not put to the test. And the other shoe has never fallen regarding the Hat.
PS/SS seems on a surface rereading to be a “balognium free zone” so far as I can tell. Apart from the mind control of Professor Quirrell. But that certainly qualifies, even if in that instance it is handled in a way that makes internal sense.
I am not sure that we were given any definite bolognium in OotP, either, although we have a couple of candidates. Both of which on close examination can be unraveled satisfactorily enough to pass muster as far as we have seen to date. Even the Room of Requirement is still well within the range of the workable — regardless of the fact that it is as instantly ripe for fanon abuse as the Time-Turner and the Trelawney Prophesy.
Half-Blood Prince was too recent an addition to the storyline for me to be able to nominate any definitive candidates for balognium in it back when I first wrote this essay. Unless you want to count the sea cave. Although, on reflection, to me, that one stank less of balognium than of red herring.
I suspected this conclusion would not last. There were a lot of things in HBP which directly, or tacitly contradicted information that we had been given in earlier books, but a continuity glitch does not automatically translate into balognium. I thought that there may be further revisions to this particular article as details got properly digested, or as observations finally sink in, but they haven’t worked their way to the surface yet, and by now I suspect they never will.
However it is rapidly occurring to me that we’ve got a whole related class of magics which are beginning to show every symptom of turning into a ripe cargo of balognium. And that is the whole issue of contractual magic.
It clearly exists in the Potterverse. Rowling has used various forms of it throughout the series. And done so quite openly. And there appear to be at least as many different varieties of it as there are of mind control. But unlike mind control, it isn’t absolutely certain that the issue is one of balognium, yet.
But I suspect that contractual magics are pretty widely used in the Potterverse. And anything that’s widely used is unlikely to be a part of the Dark Arts, even if it may have originally been developed from them.
That contractual magic is used in the Potterverse, and used pretty widely is pretty much of a no-brainer, otherwise wizards would be attempting to cheat each other left, right, and forward.
The first piece of blatantly contractual magic we got our noses rubbed in turned up in in GoF. Once Harry’s name came out of the Goblet of Fire he was magically bound to compete. Leading one to wonder whether the fire in that Goblet was anything like the three ropes of fire that were later generated by the three clauses of the Unbreakable Vow. I’m inclined to believe that it was. In fact I’m not convinced that it wasn’t the same thing altogether.
And, I repeat, once Harry’s name came out of the Goblet, he was magically bound to compete in the Tournament. Which also consisted of three clauses, excuse me, tasks.
He wasn’t bound to win. He was only bound to compete, which is to say, to take part, and go through the motions, try to do his best. If he survived the danger of the task itself, but didn’t win, no harm done. He had effectively pledged to compete before several hundred witnesses. So long as the witnesses were satisfied that he had met the requirements he would not incur the consequences of a refusal.
We were never actually told the consequences of a refusal, were we?
Just that he had to compete. That he couldn’t refuse, and they couldn’t do the selection process over.
Funny thing that it’s taken until now to figure out that we were missing a rather important piece of information here, weren’t we?
And of course, the latest addition to this particular class of magic was HBP’s Unbreakable Vow.
Frankly, I think the readers are making a lot more of that Vow than seems indicated.
Harry’s pledge to compete was made publicly (by someone else without his knowledge and permission) and depended upon satisfying the witnesses to that pledge.
I think Snape’s did also.
There was no demigod with a checklist following him around, comparing, and marking off his actions to Voldemort’s precise phrasing of Malfoy’s mission. I think that he and Narcissia were making an end run around a planned double-cross which would have cost Draco Malfoy his life — and quite possibly Narcissa’s as well.
It was Snape’s own magic that was tied up in that knot and ready to bite him unless the Bonder released him before the whole thing came off.
I doubt that such Vows could be at all uncommon if a pair of country-bred, home-schooled, geographically isolated 7-year-olds know about them, and how to set one up. C’mon, this is something that is general knowledge, even if Harry hasn’t ever heard it referred to by name.
Let’s face it, the Weasley twins didn’t learn about it from television, and even if Arthur did mention it when talking shop at home, just mentioning the term would not have told them about the whole “handshake agreement” format for casting the spell.
Admittedly, from a meta standpoint that whole exercise was probably just in aid of producing a dodgy joke regarding Fred’s left buttock, and getting out the information that to undertake such a Vow is to put your life at stake. But the fact remains that having handed it to us, it is now canon, and we need to find a rational context for it. Preferably one which would also allow for Draco Malfoy’s dismissive and contemptuous reaction when Snape claimed to have sworn one to Draco’s mother. Malfoy had always acted as if he liked Snape up to then.
And I’m not all that impressed by it, either.
What I suspect is that rather than some obscure, mysterious piece of Dark Arts booga-booga, the Unbreakable Vow is generally regarded as a antiquated, ceremonial, faintly embarrassing, anachronism. Ghod knows, if it’s underlying principle is incorporated into the selection process of the TriWizard Tournament — which hadn’t even been held for a couple of hundred years — the odds are that it’s hardly the latest word in sophisticated contractual magics. I’m sure the wizarding world has something much more efficient and manageable by this time.
In fact that Vow is probably something right out of the times of Beedle the Bard.
Such Vows can still be dangerous, however. And are probably just not invoked for long-term, or casual contracts in modern times (except perhaps by drunks). But they are certainly out there. Essentially an Unbreakable Vow is simply “cross my heart and hope to die” made literal.
And, frankly, I’m not that impressed with the concept of “wizard’s debt” either. But in that case what we are missing is mainly a convincing explanation, which Rowling hasn’t even attempted to give us. Just a vague reference to an even vaguer concept. Which never actually paid off.
One of our hottest candidates for balognium, in the whole series of course, is the Fidelius charm. There was originally a lengthy section on the Fidelius charm at this point in this essay, but that has been moved down to the next article since Rowling has so, er, improved upon the concept in DHs.
This spell, like the Imperius curse has already demonstrated a nasty tendency to morph into whatever Rowling seems to think she needs it to be whenever she has decided to deploy it. Regardless of whether each new iteration is consistent with any of the earlier ones.
Legilimency and Occlumency also have a bit of the taste of bolognium to them, but at this point, that is just as likely to be due to clumsy handling as anything else. None of what we have been shown of these skills so far seems to be beyond the reach of a good explanation. If we are lucky, I thought we might yet get one. But we haven’t had one yet. And we’ve already got some major inconsistencies in the handling.
Most of which are fairly transparent attempts on Rowling’s part to deliberately conceal information in OotP so she could spring it on us in HBP. Which is cheating.
These were compounded in DHs when, upon absolutely no explanation, Harry was once again seeing out of Tom’s eyes, and this time even seeing into Tom’s mind — which had not ever happened before — and Tom remained completely unaware of the process over the course of the whole book.
But this I think may not be exactly relevant to the issue. Harry was told to study Occlumency to stop the process, and later told that Tom had used Occlumency to do so. But we are never actually told that the connection between him and Tom Riddle was Legilimency. And indeed the revelation that he was an unintended Horcrux goes a long way to contradict that hypothesis. Therefore, the issue of Harry’s window into Tom Riddle’s mind is an issue which will be explored in the following essay which is primarily concerned with the fresh, new, or vastly enhanced balognium which Rowling deployed in DHs.
An examination of the obscure skills of Occlumency and Legilimency is here. Although I am not altogether convinced that either of these skills qualifies as balognium.
My own take on it, is that Legilimency and Occlumency are closely related skills, but they are not quite the same thing at all, and someone who is a real expert at one of them is unlikely to be as expert in the other, although anyone who can learn either can certainly learn both, and handle both of them well. Some of the factors that brought me to this conclusion were thrown into slight doubt in HBP, but I am still inclined to suspect that the principle holds in the main. Just not as strongly.
There appeared to be some support for this interpretation by the fact that Snape, who is referred to as a “superb Occlumens” in OotP apparently had to use his wand and speak the invocation for Legilimens in order to attempt to “read” Harry throughout the Occlumency lessons fiasco.
But that conclusion was undercut in HBP when this turned out not to be necessary for him in the least. Evidently my original impression was merely down to the fact that Rowling wanted to be coy about holding off from officially introducing nonverbal magic until Harry reached his 6th year, even though she’s been showing it in use all around the edges of the action from the beginning of the series.
And in all examples but two, when Legilimency has been used on him, Harry has been aware of every step of his being read. And in the two incidents when he was not aware, the person reading him was Tom. Who had advantages not available to other wizards.
I seriously doubt that there is any foolish wand waving or silly invocation permitted when Voldemort looks you in the eye and asks you what you’ve been up to. On the other end of the equation, we have never seen Voldemort waving a wand and announcing Legilimens in order to extract information from anyone he believes has it, and so far as we have been shown, he has always succeeded.
In the same chapter of PS/SS where we first see total “mind control” in action, we also got our first demonstration of what appeared to be Legilimency. And it was a doozy. We did not yet have the information necessary to recognize it for what it was. Then. But we do now.
In that scene, if you will recall, we saw Voldemort force Quirrell to take off the turban and turn around. Then he looked Harry in the eye, taunted him for a moment and then demanded he hand over the Stone in his pocket. Harry — so far as we were told — was totally unaware of Voldemort sifting through his memories to arrive at the knowledge that Harry had already retrieved the Stone from the Mirror.
Again, at the end of OotP Voldemort only had to look Harry in the eye to see that his claim that the record of the Prophecy was destroyed was true. And Harry had no sensation of anyone messing with the contents of his head then, either. Very different from the Occlumency lessons with Professor Snape.
But then Voldemort is not an Occlumens, he is a Legilimens.
For that matter, I doubt that Snape gets a chance to wave his wand around when it is time to keep Voldemort from reading his thoughts, either. But, Snape, as we are told, is an Occlumens, but not primarily a Legilimens. And, for that matter, post-HBP it is now clear that Snape never really *needed* to wave his wand about and announce “Legilimens” in order to read Harry either. He was putting on a show. We still don’t know of any internal reason inside the story for why he was so determined to make such a performance of it, but it was certainly a performance.
I also rather suspect that a person may have a natural aptitude for one or the other, much as Harry has a natural aptitude for flying. And if one needs only an aptitude for this general “class” of mind skills, one’s early environment may determine the direction in which it develops.
It is blindingly easy to imagine a young Severus Snape trapped in the sort of angry, and possibly violent household that we caught a glimpse of, or even just as a small scrawny kid in a rough neighborhood, learning to erect mental barriers to keep anyone from ever getting a handle on something that they could use to hurt him. It is just as easy to imagine a young Tom Riddle, brilliant, personable (when he chose to be), and ambitious, dropped into the harried, institutional environment of his orphanage, and later, Hogwarts, learning to read others’ expectations and mirroring them back in order to manipulate the System to get what he wants, or prying out others’ secrets in order to bring pressure to bear on them. Other children have used both of these methods to cope with whatever situation they were dealt, and both methods work. But some children are much better at it than others.
It is a little surprising that Harry — considering what we’ve seen of the Dursley household — is not better at the “Snape method” than he is, for he certainly never got the chance to deploy the “Riddle method”. Nor was he ever given any real reason to attempt it. In the Dursley’s household Harry had no need or wish to learn to read the inner motivations or intentions of others; the Dursleys, after all, conceal nothing of their intentions or motivations regarding him. Nor would it have ever been possible for Harry to learn to charm them by showing them what they wanted to see from him. All they have ever wanted to see from him is his absence.
Probably the most heartening thing about these two particular magical capabilities, however, is the fact that unlike Parselmouth, this branch of magic is described to us as being merely “obscure”, rather than “rare”. So apparently the information is out there, somewhere, and most wizards can probably learn it if they choose to. That it remains obscure despite its obvious usefulness suggests to me that it is either very difficult to control well enough to be able to rely upon it, or that there is some other process out there which does 80% of the same thing much more easily (*cough* Veritiserum *cough*). If so, there is probably something about that remaining 20% of its functionality which has made it so attractive to the Dark Lord. And to his followers.
For one thing, I suspect that Occlumency might be very useful for resisting Dementors.
Particularly if you expect to encounter them.
Let alone work with them.
We were told in passing in HBP that Harry disagreed with Snape’s recommended method for resisting Dementors. We already know that Harry is competent at a very good, if difficult, method to repel Dementors. So what on earth would Snape have been recommending that Harry would disagree with?
Well, I think Occlumency may just be it. Rubbing the boy’s nose in the fact that he could not perform it.
Really, consider; if you can wall off your thoughts and feelings well enough, how would a Dementor manage to get a hold on you? Could it tell you from a dog? Would it even be able to tell that you are there? Remember, we are told that Dementors are blind.
And while the Azkaban escapees are pretty well ’round the twist, some of them are still half-way functional.
Well, maybe we now know why.
And — wakey, wakey! What do we know about these two bits of magic now?
It’s a skill that can be performed wandlessly.
Just what kind of magic has a hallmark of being performed wandlessly?
Draco Malfoy seems to have managed to learn Occlumency much more readily than Harry, who doesn’t seem to have learned it at all. And just who taught Malfoy?
Aunt Bellatrix, that’s who.
And what just kind of magic does she boast of the Dark Lord having taught her himself?
I think we’ve just tripped over one of the Dark Arts.
And Albus Dumbledore is also a master of it.
Well, well, well.
Dumbledore does inform young Riddle that he is not the first, nor will he be the last young wizard who has let his magic run away with him...
Maybe there is a good reason why Albus believes in second chances.
The things you do learn, when you listen...
One really began to wonder about the life and times of young Albus Dumbledore, didn’t one?
But, at nearly 17 Harry may be beyond the age at which such skills are most readily trainable. Although one hoped not. We hadn’t heard the last of this issue yet, for all that Rowling seems to have made a concerted attempt to say “Occlumency? What’s Occlumency?” all through HBP.
If Harry could learn enough to protect himself, and I very much expected that he would at some point still need to protect himself, he would probably not need to become a Master of this particular branch of magic.
Well, instead, Rowling seems to have dodged the issue, and merely had the universe shower him with “special”.
But I certainly wouldn’t have put a lot of faith in the likelihood of Tom leaving the connection closed to the end of the series.
And we got a few hints that there may already be another Legilimens, even if not necessarily a Master of the skill, already in play on this particular game board. One who didn’t learn the skill until he was already in at least his late teens or early 20s.
By the name of Remus John Lupin.
It’s from Lupin that we are first told that Snape is “a superb Occlumens”. And he states this with a considerable degree of authority and conviction. What is more, as above, when we re-examine previous scenes according to new information, it is hard to miss the handling of Lupin’s appearance in the Shrieking Shack at the end of PoA, wherein he stares intently at Black “as if he were trying to read his mind” and then blurts out the truth of Black’s substitution with Pettigrew without a word from Black being said. And that is hardly an obvious leap to be making.
In point of fact this wasn’t the first time Lupin had pulled that trick. There is no shortage of other incidents of such apparent “mind reading” on Lupin’s part throughout the course of that whole book. In fact, it was this sort of thing which served as the basis for our interpretation of Lupin as such a sensitive and perceptive individual in the first place.
Well, just maybe there is just a little more to it than mere sensitivity.
And if Lupin was reading Harry, Harry wasn’t aware of it then, either.
But, given Pettigrew’s activities at the time the Potters were involved with the Order of the Phoenix, I would tend to suspect that while Lupin may be a functional Legilimens now, he almost certainly was not one then. Unless he felt that there was a need to keep that information under wraps, even from his friends. He may have already been spying on the werewolves by that time, and learned it in preparation for that mission. And he never thought to use it on his friends. Which is understandable. After all, they were his friends.
Which did look like it could have been a hopeful sign for Harry’s ability to learn the skill at the advanced age of 17. If Harry spent the last part of the upcoming summer with members of the Order, one speculated that Lupin might even serve as one of his teachers. Lupin has a very good track record of teaching Harry advanced magic, and Dumbledore, after all, is no longer in the picture.
Well, we saw how well that worked out. Indeed the whole Order seems to have been reduced to a platoon of spear-carriers to be called in for the final battle. If Rowling hadn’t been determined to give us that tacky battle we probably would never have heard of the Order again after the breakup of the wedding in chapter 8. That’s probably why she was so determined to give us that tacky battle.
But even if the Legilimens/Occlumens factor is not truly balognium, there is a bit too much clumsiness in play regarding the depiction of these skills, which I sincerely hoped that Rowling would not compound by intermittently forgetting that they are an active factor in the unfolding of the storyline. Ultimately she seems to have done adequately well in that regard.
She had pulled that on other matters, however. Fortunately, the person whose primary statements on the subject introduced the largest “disconnect” in some matters is one of the characters whose judgement was already regarded as severely compromised; Cornelius Fudge.
It was from Fudge that we learned, in the PoA eavesdropping scene that it was officially believed to have been Sirius Black who betrayed the Potters.
This is something that Albus Dumbledore, a Legilimens himself, would probably have hesitated to make an issue of. Dumbledore, of all people ought to have realized that all that might have been necessary would have been for the Potters’ Secret Keeper to have been brought before Voldemort, and to meet the Dark Lord’s eyes for that particular secret to be “betrayed”. It is one of the main reasons why he offered to serve as the Secret Keeper himself, and one now belatedly wonders How he omitted to make the Potters and their friends understand the risk they were taking by refusing his offer.