When it comes to dealing with the blues, there is something to be said about the Wizarding World’s way of handling things. No, not magic. We’re talking positive thinking.
Look at the Boggart spell, for instance. Boggarts, as we know, are shape-shifting creatures that take the form of whatever the person in front of them fears the most. Even Muggles are able to feel a Boggart’s presence, which says a lot about the nature of fear. Because obviously, we don’t have to see a thing for it to make us feel anxious.
Witches and wizards get rid of Boggarts by making them comical – and while we don’t have the option of forcing fear into a funny hat, the idea of laughing at things that scare you is not new. There's the cliche of telling people who dislike public speaking to imagine the audience in their underwear. Or how we laughingly scream through old horror movies. And isn’t the way we share ridiculous (Riddikulus?) memes to help us deal with sometimes fearful situations kind of like point-ing our phones at all manner of unseen Boggarts in a bid to try and laugh them away?
OK, the Riddikulus spell only gets rid of the Boggart and not the underlying fear, but what it shows is the importance of attitude to a spell’s effectiveness – or, indeed, anything. It’s not just about ability; not always. With spells like this, it’s about your emotions.
When Lupin introduced Harry’s class to the Boggart, he asked them to think about their fears, and then to imagine how they might turn them into something comical. In other words: change your thinking and you’ll find your fears reduced. Basically, he introduced the concept of positive thinking.
The Boggart exercise makes this seem a fairly simple task, but given Lupin’s class was the be-ginning of a long series of practice sessions for Harry, it is clearly not easy. Add in external stressors (Dementors, Azkaban escapees, Blue Monday emails) and thinking positively becomes a lot harder. Even in the wizarding world.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with the Patronus charm. That’s the big one. The defensive spell to end all defensive spells, and apparently the only one to have caused Hermione trouble. Because it’s extremely difficult. Like, extremely-advanced-magic difficult.
Now on paper, the Patronus charm doesn’t look all that different from the Boggart experiment: just think of a single, very happy memory whilst also saying the correct incantation.
Except when Harry first tried it, he couldn’t grasp it at all. Aside from the fact that saying one thing whilst doing something else is a feat of memory beyond magic, is it actually easy to think of a single, very happy memory? How happy is very happy? And anyway: how do you hold onto any memory when you’re surrounded by Dementors?
Basically, the answer to all these things is practise (and, in the meantime, chocolate.) There are no shortcuts when it comes to casting a Patronus, although some characters struggle more than others. Hermione, for all her magical achievements, has a propensity to fixate on negative possi-bilities: her Boggart is Professor McGonagall telling her she’s failed her exams. This is clearly not helpful when it comes to the Patronus charm, which depends entirely on conjuring up positivity in the midst of a dark fog of misery.
Maybe that’s why Harry naturally excels at Defence Against the Dark Arts in a way Hermione doesn’t. His attitude to magic is instinctive and emotional, and while he’s not always expert at managing his mood he certainly knows how to focus his energies.
Although it’s not even just about practise and determination – Harry’s real breakthrough arrived in Prisoner of Azkaban, when he discovered that the Patronus he’d thought was his fathers was actually his own. In that Time-Turner-enabled scenario, Harry cast his first (or second, depending on where you are) fully-formed Patronus in the presence of actual Dementors, precisely because he thought he’d achieved it before.
“‘I knew I could do it this time,’ said Harry, ‘because I’d already done it ... Does that make sense?’"
Success breeds success, after all. It’s like Ron when he thought he’d swallowed Felix Felicis. Once you think you can do something, you’ll start to do it unconsciously.
So: casting a Patronus is difficult, just as maintaining a positive attitude is difficult. They both take time, dedication and support – but get it right once, and it becomes easier every time. After all, if practise makes perfect it’s no wonder Harry was the Patronus expert. No other Hogwarts stu-dent had quite as many dealings with Dementors.