Harry Potter and the Bookshelf of Nerdiness

Becky and I recently unpacked several of our boxes of books from South Bend — yeah, the unpacking process has taken a while :) — and filled up our bookshelf. I’m particularly proud of the “nerd shelf”:

Speaking of which, I recently re-read Half-Blood Prince, which I hadn’t read since the day it came out. I had forgotten a lot of its plot, so several things from Deathly Hallows suddenly make a lot more sense now. :) But I’m more perplexed than ever about one thing. So I have a question — but it’s after the jump, because it reveals a major Deathly Hallows spoiler. (I hear there are still at least 3 or 4 people out there who haven’t read it yet.) So… Warning: spoilers after the jump, and in comments.

In Chapter 2 of Book 6, Snape mocks Bellatrix’s suspicions that his true loyalties lie with Dumbledore, not Voldemort, by saying, “You think [the Dark Lord] is mistaken? Or that I have somehow hoodwinked him? Fooled the Dark Lord, the greatest wizard, the most accomplished Legilimens the world has ever seen?”

Of course, in Book 7, it is revealed that Bellatrix was correct, and Snape did indeed hoodwink Voldemort. My question is: how? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think this is ever adequately addressed in Book 7. I realize Snape is an accomplished Occlumens, but surely he was right in his statement to Bellatrix: nobody should be able to indefinitely deceive Lord Voldemort, the world’s greatest Legilimens, especially when Voldemort has very good reason to be suspicious of their motives from the get-go! So what gives? How did Snape do it?

11 Responses to “Harry Potter and the Bookshelf of Nerdiness”

  1. HPFan says:

    I think that killing Dumbledore gave Voldemort all the proof he needed that Snape was on Voldemort’s side. That’s why Dumbledore wanted Snape to kill him, right?

  2. Mike says:

    Several possibilities here, Brendan. One is that while Voldemort is an incredibly accomplished legilimens, it is possible that his ability would only work against an accomplished occlumens if he were willing to engage in a showdown as it were which could leave the occlumens as damaged as, say, Bertha Jorkins was after her memory charm had been broken and he didn’t want to risk losing Snape over a small suspicion.

    Another possibility is that since Snape only ended up siding with the Order in order to protect Lily, he never really believed that Dumbledore was the greater wizard, had no real love for/appreciation of the man, and thus Voldemort was able to see actual loathing in Snape’s mind for the man (for Snape probably still blamed Dumbledore for not protecting Lily), and felt that that was good enough.

    Third, perhaps Voldemort sensed Snape’s reluctance, but was willing to attribute it to Snape’s admission that he thought Voldemort had been defeated and was gone. Perhaps he even thought Snape might have felt guilty for not having killed Harry when he had a chance, although he had reasons not to even if he had been a bad guy. Snape did have a plausible cover story, after all.

    That’s just off the top of my head. I can overanalyze this in greater detail later, if you wish. ;)

  3. wolfwalker says:

    The obvious answer is that yes, Snape did in fact deceive Voldemort, by whatever means. Events in the last two books make it clear that Snape is a master of evasion and misdirection. He never actually says he told Voldemort the truth; he simply asks if Beatrice thinks it would be possible to deceive Voldemort. Of course, being a devoted Death Eater she would almost have to say no. He never actually says his allegiance still lies with Voldemort; he simply lists all the reasons Voldemort has to trust him, all the things he’s done and can still do for Voldemort, and Beatrice then draws the conclusion that she can trust him.

    Note also that we’re never actually told how Legilimency works or what kind of lies it can detect. Is it like Veritaserum: a spell that removes the subject’s ability to lie by nulling his higher brain functions? Is it a compulsion to ‘answer truthfully,’ which could be evaded by telling the truth but not the whole truth? Is it simply a magical lie detector, which can only tell if the subject says something that he knows to be a lie, but depends completely on the interrogator asking the right questions?

  4. dcl says:

    In the films occlumency is show as some sort of mind reading. Weather this is something that J.K. intended is not entirely clear from the books. I think the Order of the Phoenix book shows this concept as such somewhat when Voldemort places images into Harry’s mind. Though obviously the Harry Voldemort connection is also described as being totally unique so outright mind reading might not be exactly what she had in mind.

    Be that as it may, Voldermort is said to have used occulmency to block out Harry after he used him in Phoenix. This block then breaks down in Deathly Hollows. Suggesting that despite Voldermort being possibly the most exceptional occlumens his powers as such might be deteriorated due to his constant agitated mood throughout the final book making him unable to see things that Snape does not want him to see.

    The final point is that Snape might have been using psychology against Beatrice. He is shown to be an exceedingly intelligent and thoughtful as far back as the first book when he employs a logic puzzle to get through to the philosophers stone instead of something involving raw magical power. So it very well could be possible that he is a more accomplished Legilimens than Voldermort.

    So it would seem to me that there are several possible ways to resolve this question based on what we have in the text without necessarily explicitly stating how Snape defeated Voldermort’s powers at occulmency. My feeling is that Snape was an knew he was more accomplished in this regard than Voldermort and simply used Beatrices prejudices and assumptions against her to protect himself against her misgivings.

  5. Trisha says:

    Yeah, what they said ;)

  6. ballin' says:

    Snape did hoodwinked him. He fooled the Dark Lord. However, Voldemort was not , the greatest wizard the world has ever seen. Dumbledore was. Snape is lying when he says this. It stands to reason that he is also lying when he says, “the the most accomplished Legilimens the world has ever seen.” After all, it is likely that snape was far superior to Voldemort when it came to potions, he may also have been far superior at Occlumency. He probably succeded by focusing on the thoughts that Voldemort hoped were true, and accordingly Voldemort could only see those. Mike is really on point about him actually harboring feelings of anger and disgust toward Harry and Dumbledore.

    Further, Bellatrix is an idiot and her mind is plagued by her emotions of jealousy, power greed, and hatred. So JKR is only using this as a device to keep us guessing about Snape until the end.

  7. dcl says:

    I would suggest that in J.K.R.’s own terms in the final book, Dumbledore was / is not the greatest wizard that ever lived.

  8. Bernie says:

    I would agree that Snape was indeed lying when he said that Voldemort was the “most accomplished Legilimens the world has ever seen,” probably because the structure of phrases he uses (“Dark lord, greatest wizard, etc.) are meant to reassure Bellatrix that he believes in the Dark Lord’s supremacy. He probably also would never disclose to anyone that he was a powerful enough Occlumens to food Voldemort (part of being an Occlumens, I guess).

  9. Mike says:

    I think Snape fooled Voldemort because legilimency itself has its limitations. Although Voldemort may have been the “most accomplished Legilimens the world has ever seen”, don’t forget that Dumbledore was also quite talented in the field. In fact, he was so talented that he was able to use legilimency to obtain memories from others while exploring his horcrux theory (I forgot exactly whose memory but I want say Hokey).

    Despite his talent however, Dumbledore admitted to Harry in HBP that even he could not obtain Slughorn’s memory because the potions master was too talented a wizard. If a merely talented occlumens can prevent a merely talented leglimens from seeing into his mind, then it follows that the greatest occlumens (Snape) could stop the greatest Legilimens (Voldemort). I think the science is too subtle to be foolproof.

    I apologize for going off topic, but I have a question bugging me and you seem qualified to answer it. How did Harry get into Shell Cottage if Bill was secret keeper?

  10. dcl says:

    Magic, obviously…

  11. Mary Rose says:

    Snape used a pensieve to keep his thoughts from Harry Potter during their sessions- so that must have some protection against legilimancy. Would think that when he was dealing with the Dark Lord he’d keep any thoughts that might betray him in his pensieve. The pensieve was very secure being at Hogwarts- and Snape was always irrational whenever he thought that someone had been in his lab when he wasn’t looking.
    Another thought was that Voldemort was always overestimating the value of his mental connection to Harry- since Snape spent a lot of time and energy keeping Harry suspicious of him, Harry’s doubts about Snape probably helped reassure Voldemort.
    Voldemort also always underestimated the effects of love- so it might not have seemed rational to him that someone as dark as Snape would turn on him over a little thing like a very necessary death of an obstacle to their success- in other words- Harry’s mother.
    Altogether that would seem to be how it happened- he kept his thoughts in a secure place- there did not seem to be any doubt great enough to make Voldemort go to the trouble of getting into Snape’s lab at Hogwarts (and a very great risk of alienating an ally) and he did not understand Snapes deeper motivations for choosing sides.

    Just my thoughts.