How Harry Potter's Wand Works


Witch-in-training Luna Lovegood uses her wand to attempt to summon a Patronus.
Witch-in-training Luna Lovegood uses her wand to attempt to summon a Patronus.

For witches and wizards living in the U.K., buying a wand used to be easy. All you had to do was go to Ollivanders in Diagon Alley, London. Mr. Ollivander's bewitched measuring tape would measure you from every angle, and the proprietor would use his skills and intuition to select the best wands for you to try. The choice of which wand to buy wouldn't be up to you, though -- it would be up to the wand.

Unfortunately, Mr. Ollivander has vanished. N­aturally, it's become a lot harder to buy a new wand, but there's a far more sinister side to Mr. Ollivander's disappearance. The Ollivander family has more than 2,000 years of wand-making experience, and Mr. Ollivander is widely regarded as the world's best wand maker. As such, he may be the only person who can help Lord Voldemort overcome a particular problem in his attempt for world domination. His wand will not work properly when fighting Harry Potter's.

People who have been following Harry Potter's saga probably know precisely why this happens. But for those who don't know Harry's history, it can be helpful to have a little background information about wands in general, Harry's wand in particular and how the two wands' incompatibility may affect the course of the war.

Wands are essential to almost all magic, but there are some notable exceptions. For example, animagi, or wizards who can change themselves into animals, can do so without their wands. The same is true for metamorphmagi, or wizards who can change their appearance. Most witches and wizards can cast some spells without using their wands, and very powerful wizards, like Albus Dumbledore, can sometimes perform great magical feats without them.

But to do good magic, you need a wand, and once you have a wand, it can be a versatile tool. In spite of Severus Snape's implications to the contrary, using a wand is a required step in most potion recipes. A wand can also remove strands of human memory and transfer them to a memory-storage device known as a Pensieve. With the lumos spell, a wand can become a flashlight. With the right wand movement and incantation, a wizard can do simple spells, like fetching distant objects (accio), or spells that require powerful magic, like summoning a protective Patronus (Expecto Patronum). Experienced wizards can also use their wands to perform spells without saying incantations aloud.

A wand's ability to do all this comes from the way it interacts with the witch or wizard who carries it. Next, we'll look at exactly what happens and at the different varieties of wands.

How Wands Work

In the wizarding world, each magic wand is made from wood and has a magical core. Those made by Mr. Ollivander have one of three cores: dragon heartstring, unicorn tail hair or phoenix feather. Since different magical creatures live in different parts of the world, other wand makers sometimes use different core materials, such as veela hair. Mr. Ollivander classifies wands by four criteria. Three describe its physical makeup, including length, type of wood and core material. The fourth, which describes how the wand moves and bends, is more subjective.

Finding a wand that works for a particular witch or wizard is largely a process of trial and error. However, elements used in the wand often reflect its owner's traits. For example, the types of wood used in the wands belonging to Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley correspond to the trees associated with periods of the Celtic year. It's a little like a horoscope -- each character's birthday falls within a certain period, which corresponds to a specific tree. Harry's wand is holly, Hermione's is vine wood, and Ron's is ash.

The woods used in other wands can also reflect their owners' personalities. A wand made from rose wood and veela hair, possibly the most feminine wood-and-core combination possible, belongs to part-veela Fleur Delacour. Wood from a yew tree, which has poisonous sap and foliage, surrounds the phoenix-feather core of Voldemort's wand. A mighty, protective oak contributed the wood for half-giant Rubeus Hagrid's wand. Since holly keeps its green leaves all year and displays bright red berries in winter, some people see it as a sign of hope. Holly is also said to ward off evil, and it's part of Harry's wand.

The affinity between the type of wood and the person who wields it may be one of the reasons why witches and wizards can have less success with others' wands. It's certainly possible to use another's wand in a pinch. Barty Crouch, Jr. created the Dark Mark with Harry's wand, and Peter Pettigrew used Voldemort's wand to cast Avada Kedavra, the killing curse, on Cedric Diggory. Neville Longbottom used his father's old wand until his fifth year at Hogwarts. However, witches and wizards have the best results with the wands that chose them.

Wands have some magical power of their own, and in the hands of the non-magical -- Muggles -- they could be dangerous and unpredictable. But their primary role is to act as a focus for the abilities that witches and wizards already possess. For this reason, witches and wizards become completely familiar with their own wands. They can recognize their own wands immediately and can sometimes match other wands with their owners with little or no thought.

But sometimes, no matter what his intent, a wizard's wand will not function the way he expects it to. We'll look at why in the next section.

Priori Incantatem

Harry Potter and his holly-and-phoenix-feather wand.
Harry Potter and his holly-and-phoenix-feather wand.

Harry Potter's wand is a little unusual. It's a combination of phoenix feather and holly, which isn't often seen in the wizarding world. In addition, its core came from the tail of a phoenix called Fawkes, who was Albus Dumbledore's companion until his apparent death. Fawkes has donated only one other feather for use in making wands. That feather is in the wand belonging to Voldemort. This makes it difficult for Voldemort to attack Harry directly.

Voldemort has encountered numerous difficulties when trying to fight against Harry. The courage and ingenuity of his friends have often taken Voldemort by surprise. Harry's mother, Lily -- who used a wand made of willow wood -- gave her life to defend Harry against Voldemort. In the past, this sacrifice has protected Harry against his foe, although Voldemort's use of Harry's blood in his resurrection ritual seems to have dampened or destroyed this power.

But the greatest stumbling block seems to be the Priori Incantatem effect. When two wands both have cores from the same source, they will not function against each other. Instead, with enough focus on the wizard's part, one wand will overpower the other and force it to display all of the spells it has cast in reverse order. This is true only when the cores are from the same specific animal, not just the same species of animal. The precise cause of Priori Incantatem is not currently known.

Priori Incantatem is a rare event in the wizarding world, and it has some surprising effects. When two wands that share a core are forced to fight against each other, the winning wand may gain some of its opponent's attributes. In other words, in overcoming Voldemort's wand in a duel just after the Triwizard Tournament, Harry's wand absorbed some of Voldemort's power. The holly-and-phoenix-feather wand also gained the ability to recognize Voldemort as the owner of its brother wand -- even if Voldemort was using someone else's wand at the time. As a result, Harry's wand became able to channel extremely powerful magic when fighting Voldemort. It could even perform magic beyond Harry's knowledge or skill, without Harry's conscious effort.

This transfer of power could have made Harry's wand virtually unbeatable when fighting Voldemort. For this reason, Voldemort searched for, and discovered, a legendary wand known as the Elder Wand. This wand had the potential to be unbeatable in all duels, not just when fighting a specific opponent.

However, wands are fickle, and they follow their own particular rules when it comes to ownership. For reasons involving disarming and duels, the Elder Wand wasn't loyal to Voldemort. Wands are also relatively fragile -- Harry's wand was broken in another encounter with Voldemort, and repairing it was beyond even Mr. Ollivander's skill. Combined, both of these factors meant that Voldemort's final encounter with Harry did not go as he expected. Harry had a different wand, and the Elder Wand did not recognize Voldemort as its owner.

To learn more about Harry Potter, wands, magic and related topics, check out the links to the next page.

Related Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • Accio Quote. "What Jo Says About: Wands." http://www.accio-quote.org/themes/wands.html
  • Anelli, Melissa and Emerson Spartz. "The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling: Part Three," The Leaky Cauldron, 16 July 2005. Via Accio Quote (7/29/2007) http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2005/0705-tlc_mugglenet-anelli-3.htm
  • BBC "Red Nose Day." Chat with J.K. Rowling. 3/21/2001. Via mugglenet. (7/29/2007)http://www.mugglenet.com/books/bbcchat1.shtml
  • Rowling, J.K. World Book Day Chat. Via Accio Quote (7/29/2007) http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2004/0304-wbd.htm
  • Rowling, J.K. "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets." Scholastic. 1999.
  • Rowling, J.K. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." Scholastic. 2000.
  • Rowling, J.K. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Scholastic. 2005.
  • Rowling, J.K. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." Scholastic. 2003.
  • Rowling, J.K. "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." Scholastic. 1999.
  • Rowling, J.K. "Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone." Scholastic. 1997.
  • Rowling, J.K. Doctors Without Borders charity event. 8/1/2006. Radio City Music Hall. Via Accio Quote. (7/29/2007) http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2006/0801-radiocityreading1partial.html
  • Rowling, J.K. J.K. Rowling Official Site FAQ. "About the Books." (7/27/2007) http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/faq.cfm?ref=aboutthebooks
  • Rowling, J.K. J.K. Rowling Official Site FAQ. "Extra Stuff: Wands." (7/27/2007) http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/extrastuff_view.cfm?id=18
  • Rowling, J.K. J.K. Rowling Official Site FAQ. "What are the properties of Draco's wand?" (7/29/2007) http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/faq_view.cfm?id=120