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What is a Patronus? The most difficult Harry Potter spell explained

The Patronus Charm allows the best sorcerers to defend themselves from evil with a shiny animal companion. Here's what we know about them.

Harry Potter - Patronus explained

When you talk about the most magical moments in the Harry Potter franchise, you’d have to mention the scene in which Harry first conjures a Patronus. Daniel Radcliffe’s lung-busting yell of “Expecto Patronum” starts a triumphant battle between our hero and a horde of Dementors hoping to suck out the souls of anyone nearby.

All Harry Potter fans will know that moment, but how much do you really know about Patronuses? We know they’re powerful, and we know the Harry Potter cast is tired of being asked about what form theirs would take. But let’s look deeper into one of the most advanced Harry Potter spells and find out the secrets of the Patronus Charm. We expect (o patronum) to learn plenty of new things.

What is a Patronus?

A Patronus is a magical guardian, usually conjured in the form of an animal, created when a witch or wizard is able to access their happiest memories to defend themselves against evil, such as Dementors.

The Patronus Charm is a particularly tricky spell as it relies upon the caster’s ability to summon their most intensely happy memory and focus on it in the face of Dementors and their power to induce hopelessness. Only the most talented witches and wizards are able to produce an animal-shaped, corporeal Patronus when they use the incantation “Expecto Patronum”.

An incorporeal Patronus, sometimes known as a “shield form”, can also provide a degree of protection from Dementors. Sometimes these are used by Harry Potter characters who aren’t magically gifted enough to produce a full-bodied Patronus, but it can also be a choice.

Remus Lupin produced a shield form Patronus in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Remus Lupin often used an incorporeal Patronus to conceal the fact his corporeal Patronus took the form of a wolf – something of which he was deeply ashamed due to his lycanthropy.

As for the animals themselves, they often reflect hidden attributes of the caster. Magical researcher Catullus Spangle (via Pottermore) wrote that “the Patronus is the awakened secret self that lies dormant until needed”. So while some people produce an obvious form of Patronus, it is more surprising to others.

We could’ve all guessed that Dumbledore‘s Patronus would be a phoenix, Hermione Granger, however, had a carefree otter Patronus. This reflected the fun-loving side that few saw beneath her studious, serious exterior.

Harry Potter uses a Patronus to save Dudley from the Dementors

Patronus powers and abilities

The Patronus Charm is primarily used to protect people against Dementors, but a Patronus is also useful for delivering messages across long distances. 

Patronuses are a manifestation of pure light and goodness, which creates a wall between their caster and Dementors. They attempt to feed off the Patronus, only to find absolutely nothing there for them. This drives them away. A strong, corporeal Patronus can fend off hundreds of Dementors.

The other use for Patronuses is for communication, and this was devised by none other than Dumbledore. As Patronuses are unique and cannot be copied, they made for a perfect way to pass messages between members of the Order of the Phoenix. They’re also resistant to dark magic because of their status as embodying everything good.

It’s an ingenious method of communication in every way. WhatsApp might boast about its encryption technology, but it’s got nothing on sending a glowing penguin to your partner to say what time you’ll be home for dinner. Perfection.

The Patronus Charm protects Harry Potter characters from Dementors

What is the rarest Patronus?

Mythical and magical creatures, such as dragons and thestrals, are surprisingly the rarest Patronus forms.

Writing about the history of the Patronus Charm, the Harry Potter author wrote that owls were surprisingly rare as Patronuses given their prominence in wizarding society. However, it was mythical creatures that made for the most uncommon Patronuses. We’d be very jealous of anyone who could conjure an ethereal dragon to protect them.

Of course, with this in mind, that makes Dumbledore’s phoenix Patronus even more special. Given the strong link between the Dumbledore family and these birds, we’d imagine it was a common familial trait.

Notably, though, Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth had a goat as his Patronus, reflecting his slightly awkward and worrying obsession with those creatures.

Ginny Weasley learned to cast a Patronus in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

What is the strongest Patronus?

The strength of a Patronus has nothing to do with the form it takes. It’s based entirely on the magical ability of the witch or wizard, so in theory, an insect Patronus could be more powerful than an enormous creature like an elephant.

For example, there’s the story of the wizard Ilyius. He was a shy orphan who lived in a village terrorized by the dark sorcerer Raczidian. Villagers learned the Patronus Charm at a young age in order to defend themselves against Raczidian’s army of Dementors. Everyone laughed when the young Ilyius conjured a tiny and quite pathetic-looking mouse as his Patronus.

However, when the villagers’ other Patronuses failed in an enormous battle with Raczidian, it was Ilyius’s mouse that shone brightly and defeated the horde of dark creatures, ridding the village of its tormentor for good.

But if you’re looking for an answer as to the most powerful Patronus you can find in the Potter stories, we’d have to say that Dumbledore’s phoenix is the one. However, that’s because of Dumbledore’s immense magical power rather than the fact that phoenixes are just awesome.

Dumbledore's Patronus took the form of a phoenix in Harry Potter

Can your Patronus change?

The form of a Patronus can change throughout a witch or wizard’s life, shaped by emotions such as love and loss. For example, Tonks’ Patronus changed from a jackrabbit to a wolf when she fell in love with Remus Lupin.

The Harry Potter author has explained that true love often changes the form of a Patronus because, when reaching for a particularly happy memory, the caster will almost always opt for the person they love. Sometimes this results in matching Patronuses, such as Severus Snape mimicking Lily Potter’s doe, but it can also result in complementary forms. James Potter’s stag is the male form of that doe.

Grief also plays a part, such as in Harry’s Patronus taking the stag form. The reason for this is likely that Harry chose a memory of his parents in order to help him achieve a shield Patronus for the first time in Lupin’s office.

When he cast his first corporeal Patronus by the lake at the end of one of the best movies in the franchise, his mind was full of his father as he believed he had seen him cast the Patronus earlier that day. The stag makes complete sense for Harry.

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Why can’t Death Eaters make a Patronus?

Death Eaters don’t use the Patronus Charm because they have no need for repelling dark creatures. The Dementors, for example, are very much on their side.

It’s bad news for all of the most evil Harry Potter villains because they simply can’t use the Patronus Charm, as it’s commonly believed you have to be pure of heart to make the charm work. The dark wizard Raczidian, who we mentioned above, was ultimately devoured by the maggots his wand produced when he attempted a Patronus.

Mostly, though, Death Eaters have no need to defend themselves from Dementors and so regard the Patronus Charm as something completely unnecessary. We’re creeped out just thinking about what Bellatrix Lestrange might choose as her happiest memory.

Severus Snape was a rare example of a Death Eater who could produce a Patronus, so it’s no surprise that he kept such a giveaway of his loyalties secret from his evil pals. Dolores Umbridge could also perform the Patronus Charm, suggesting that someone who believes strongly enough that they are morally right can also make a Patronus – even if they’re one of the worst people on the planet.

Dolores Umbridge is one of very few evil Harry Potter characters capable of casting a Patronus

Every known Patronus in Harry Potter

We’ve been through the Harry Potter movies in order, and the books as well, to bring you all of the Patronuses that have been officially confirmed to date.

List of every Patronus in Harry Potter:

  • Harry Potter and James Potter — Stag
  • Severus Snape and Lily Potter — Doe
  • Hermione Granger — Otter
  • Ron Weasley — Jack Russell terrier
  • Albus Dumbledore — Phoenix
  • Minerva McGonagall and Dolores Umbridge — Cat
  • Remus Lupin — Wolf
  • Nymphadora Tonks — Jackrabbit, then a wolf
  • Kingsley Shacklebolt — Lynx
  • Arthur Weasley — Weasel
  • Luna Lovegood — Hare
  • Ginny Weasley — Horse
  • Cho Chang — Swan
  • Seamus Finnigan — Fox
  • Ernie Macmillan — Boar
  • Aberforth Dumbledore — Goat
  • Fred and George Weasley — Magpie (tweeted by author)
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For more on the dark side of the Wizarding World, find out interesting info about Voldemort and Azkaban. Alternatively, learn about how Emma Watson had the worst birthday ever while filming Harry Potter.

Elsewhere, we’ve got you covered on new movies and TV in the Wizarding World with guides to the Cursed Child release date and the Harry Potter TV series release date. You can also learn why we think the Cursed Child movie should be a gay romance.

The creator of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling, has made a number of transphobic remarks on social media in recent years. If you’d like to learn more about transgender equality or lend your support, here are two charities we encourage you to visit: the National Center for Transgender Equality in the US and Mermaids in the UK.