In Illness and Disability, by J.K. Rowling, she clearly states:

"This is the reason that Gilderoy Lockhart, victim of his own mangled Memory Charm, has permanent amnesia..."

Yet there were situations where the Memory Charm was reversed. For example, in The Deathly Hallows, Hermione reversed the Obliviate Charm on the Death Eaters and the waiter:

"Then, on Harry’s count of three, they reversed the spells upon their three victims, and before the waitress or either of the Death Eaters could do more than stir sleepily..."

Does a spell backfiring not have a cure? Besides Ron and his slugs, the only time a spell backfired that I can recall is Voldemort's, which he was able to cure in the end, and that was a Killing Curse, which is supposed to be incurable and unblockable. Any thoughts?

  • 3
    the reason lockhart is IN the closed ward, is because the spell backfired in a way they are unable to fix. they hope he may recover over time, but the medical wizards have no "fix" for him currently.
    – Himarm
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 23:03
  • 4
    I think you should see if you can choose a different example, I don't believe they reversed the Memory Charms they performed on the Death Eaters - what conceivable reason would they have to put the Charm on them, and then undo it. They reversed the spells they'd used to subdue them so that they could plan their course of action and then perform the charms. However, it does seem to be the case that Rowle and Dolohov's minds weren't as destroyed by Obliviate as Lockhart's was
    – Au101
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 23:08
  • 4
    Related: What happens to Gilderoy Lockhart?
    – Möoz
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 23:10
  • 13
    The quote from Deathly Hallows doesn't show what you're claiming it does. They reversed other spells, but not the Memory Charm. There would be absolutely no point in Hermione attempting such a charm if they were just going to remove it... Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 23:30
  • Because nobody was trying too hard. (Dumbledore has a lot of influence in St. Mungos.)
    – davidbak
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 20:01

4 Answers 4


Gilderoy Lockhart was a very accomplished Obliviate user.

“So you’ve just been taking credit for what a load of other people have done?” said Harry incredulously.

“Harry, Harry,” said Lockhart, shaking his head impatiently, “it’s not nearly as simple as that. There was work involved. I had to track these people down. Ask them exactly how they managed to do what they did. Then I had to put a Memory Charm on them so they wouldn’t remember doing it. If there’s one thing I pride myself on, it’s my Memory Charms. No, it’s been a lot of work, Harry. It’s not all book signings and publicity photos, you know. You want fame, you have to be prepared for a long hard slog.”

Considering the amount of practice that he had, it would be pretty good by now. It took Voldemort quite a while before he could break through Bertha Jorkins' mind.

He had tortured her. She told him a great deal. She told him about the Triwizard Tournament. She told him the old Auror, Moody, was going to teach at Hogwarts. He tortured her until he broke through the Memory Charm my father had placed upon her.

And Voldemort was the best Dark Arts user at that time, and it took him a while to reverse it.

Also, backfires tend to be different spells than what the user is actually trying to cast.

“I don’t think there’s anything to do except wait for it to stop,” said Hermione anxiously, watching Ron bend over the basin. “That’s a difficult curse to work at the best of times, but with a broken wand —

Ron, a second year, could not have done that. So it was changed into a different curse, with basically the same intention.

Same with Lockhart. It managed to backfire on him, and transformed into a different curse, and now the staff of St. Mungos don't even know what to do.

More proof from @Voldemort

According to the nurse, he was slowly improving, but he still doesn't remember a thing. He instinctively writes autographs to everybody. The healer responsible also mentions that nobody visits him, and is happy to see that he has visitors (Mistaking Harry, Ron & Hermione for people visiting him).

A motherly looking Healer wearing a tinsel wreath in her hair came bustling up the corridor, smiling warmly at Harry and the others. “Oh Gilderoy, you’ve got visitors! How lovely, and on Christmas Day too! Do you know, he never[ ]gets visitors, poor lamb, and I can’t think why, he’s such a sweetie, aren’t you?”

I don't believe that a normal memory charm works that way, but if someone can disprove me than I'll take this bit off.

  • 4
    There is really no canon information to prove that 'backfired curses transform into different curses.' Rob did tell eat slugs and the curse backfired...
    – Jack
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 23:26
  • 4
    Actually the Bertha Jorkins point is a good one. I think it's only fair to let you have this angle, but at the end of Goblet of Fire, Barty Crouch Jr mentions that the charm Crouch Sr put on Bertha Jorkins addled her mind a little. She became quite scatterbrained, lost some of her memory (that's what Bagman had been saying about her, whereas Sirius remembered her as someone with a great mind for gossip in her youth) - so there's some evidence that the stronger the charm, the more generalised damage to mind and memory
    – Au101
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 23:27
  • @Jack valid point- but the point was that it was very complex and Ron couldn't have done it
    – bleh
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 23:32
  • 2
    @Zommuter: I’d understood it as being still “just” memory wipe, but with its scope expanded as far as the caster can reach. If you lose not just specific recent memories, but all or most of your memories right back through childhood — perhaps including your knowledge of language, basic practical skills, etc — then you have effectively lost your mind. Chilling to imagine.
    – PLL
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 9:40
  • 2
    Exactly right! One thing I always admired about Lockheart's story is that although extremely comical, he is a several tragic character. He used his gift for undue credit that harmed several wizards all in the name of fame. Yet he was such an accomplished Obliviate caster, that he surely would have found prominence and respect as a powerful specialist wizard. His spell was so powerful that it was effectively irreversible. He suffered the same fate he had dealt to others, yet he never had a chance to redeem himself. Very tragic and IMO a brilliant use of depth and nuance for a comedic character. Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 11:20

The spell that Lockhart was hit with was from Ron's backfiring wand. The spell that Lockhart intended to cast was one that would totally destroy Harry's and Ron's memories. This is what he meant to do:

'The adventure ends here, boys!' he said. 'I shall take a bit of this skin back up to the school, tell them I was too late to save the girl, and that you two tragically lost your minds at the sight of her mangled body. Say goodbye to your memories!'

He raised Ron's Spellotaped wand high over his head and yelled, 'Obliviate!'

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - p.224 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 17, The Chamber of Secrets

"'Say goodbye to your memories!'" There's no talk of wiping out the last 24 hours or anything like that. "[Y]ou two tragically lost your minds", he's not just gonna do enough to get away with it.

I assumed that this was the way with Obliviate, it was a mind-wiper. But actually it doesn't seem to be.

I don't believe the trio reversed the Memory Charms they performed on the Death Eaters and the waitress - what conceivable reason would they have to put the Charm on them, and then undo it? They reversed the spells they'd used to subdue them so that they could plan their course of action and then perform the charms. However, it does seem to be the case that Rowle and Dolohov's minds weren't as destroyed by Obliviate as Lockhart's was:

'More, Rowle, or shall we end it and feed you to Nagini? Lord Voldemort is not sure that he will forgive this time ... You called me back for this, to tell me that Harry Potter has escaped again? Draco, give Rowle another taste of our displeasure ... do it, or feel my wrath yourself!'

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - p.145 - Bloomsbury - Chapter 10, A Place to Hide

So Rowle certainly seems to be in possession of his faculties and know who he is, and who Voldemort is, and that he was supposed to be on the trail of Harry Potter.

Hermione definitely casts Obliviate, so it's really a matter of speculation as to how the spell works. It may be, as bleh suggests, Lockhart's innate ability with memory charms, and Hermione's inexperience and lack of confidence. Or it may be that it's possible to deliberately control the extent of the spell.

But the point of this answer is Lockhart was on the receiving end of a spell that was intended to destroy his mind and obliterate his memories completely. And that's exactly what it did, cast, as it was, by someone who was very capable.

Rowle and Dolohov don't seem to have been hit by a spell that did destroy their minds and obliterate their memories, whether by Hermione's design, or due to her lack of skill, or due to their strong minds, as compared to Lockhart's rather mediocre one, or some other factor.

  • 3
    "...lost your minds" suggests Obliviate was not intended to merely let them forget but to actually go crazy - which, given the claimed backstory, would indeed be credible... And as Bleh's answer quotes "If there’s one thing I pride myself on, it’s my Memory Charms." Whether the plural refers to the multiple application of one spell over and over again or different "flavours" is not clear, but it might be the latter.
    – Zommuter
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 6:13
  • 16
    All that makes you think, why Obliviate wasn't Unforgivable Curse? Wiping somebody's mind permanently is only small step down from killing him... Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 6:31
  • 2
    @ArturBiesiadowski Inspired by your comment, I've asked that question: Why isn't the Memory Charm (Obliviate) an Unforgivable Curse? Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 17:28
  • 1
    @ArturBiesiadowski Personally, I wouldn't consider it a small step down. If it was intended to be as permanent as it ended up being, then that strikes me as just a step sideways - different, but not really less-bad (depending on what's left, maybe even a step up). Does the original mind/being in question really exist after such a wipe? Is their continued existence one worth having? At least Lockhart seemed happy when the narrative showed him. Then again for all we know he has moments of horrified self-awareness, a mind aware that it was once more, deeper, but no longer able to reach it.
    – mtraceur
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 5:03
  • 1
    I should think it is possible to deliberately control the intensity. You can change how much you obliviate and Hermione only needed to wipe out a few minutes. As you say, Lockhart tried to remove all memories ever. Commented Jul 16, 2017 at 19:33

There's something wild and unpredictable in the nature of magic (otherwise we'd call it "science", right?) that we see played to humorous effect when the students miscast spells they are learning. So I think in this case, "backfire" doesn't really mean that it had the same effect as just casting the charm on himself. To give a real world analog, consider a table saw cutting a workpiece. The intended effect of pushing the piece is obviously to make cuts. However, improper use can cause a kickback, flinging said workpiece at an astonishing velocity at/through/into things and people. So what we have is intended consequence: a cut in this board, actual consequence: the same forces manifesting as unpredictable violent destruction.

So when Lockhart casts the spell, the intended result to wipe someone's memory. The actual result is the same energies firing wildly back in the wrong direction as some amped-up, chaotic, freak version of Obliviate that even the best wizarding medics have no idea how to fix, because (A) what hits him it isn't even technically a spell, and (B) might have punched a hole they can't mend.


Obliviate is a spell to wipe away the memory of something as shown when Hermione wiped away the memory of the fight or when special wizards called Obliviators come and make muggles forget seeing magic. Lockhart was going to use it to wipe away all of Harry and Ron's memories but with Ron's wand the spell rebounded into him and wiped all of his memories.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.