The North Tower #26: Wonderings About Wands

by Maline

Hi everybody. Sorry this has taken so long. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been just as anxious as you guys to get this article published (I wrote it in June). Due to some things beyond my control (not being able to reach my editor for five weeks for reasons unknown) this article was put on hold. It’s up now though (thanks to my new editor, Rachael) and I hope everything will run smoothly from now on. I’ve got a pile waiting (6 articles right now) so there’ll be more of the North Tower soon (I hope :-)) If you can’t wait, visit my new homepage, which I’m slowly filling with HP-related stuff and where I’ll give little previews of future articles. (sorry about the annoying advertisement, I’ll try to get my own domain soon)

Today I thought I’d analyze something that has puzzled me for quite some time: the mystery of wands. We know from PS/SS that the wand chooses the wizard, which has lead to much discussion and speculation on just what kind of wand different people in the HP-series carry and what that means in terms of the plot. A little while ago, I read the essay on wandmaking on Red Hen (you all know that site by now I imagine… :-)) and though it was very interesting, there are some things there that I really disagree with and so I thought I’d present my view on the matter.

1) What we know about people’’s wands
Person Size wood core comment
Harry 11″ holly phoenix supple
Ron 14″ willow unicorn
Charlie (Ron’s first wand)
Lily 10 ¼ “ willow
swishy, good for charms
James 11″ mahogany
pliable, powerful, good for Transfiguration
Hagrid 16″ oak
Voldemort 13 ½ “ yew phoenix very powerful
Fleur 9 ½ “ rosewood veela inflexible
Cedric 12 ¼ “ ash unicorn springy
Krum 10 ¼ “ hornbeam dragon rigid and thick

Ok, so it seems quite obvious that the length of the wand reflects the height of the wizard (once fully grown)—Hagrid the half-giant with his 16″ one, Voldemort and Ron (also really tall) 13 ½ ” and 14″ respectively), Harry and James both 11″ and so on. What I found most interesting when I started to think about the whole wand problem was the comments about Lily and James’s wands: good for charms and good for transfiguration. The red hen article divides magic into three groups and attributes a wand core to each group as follows:

  • Upper range magic (Charms)—Unicorn hair
  • Mid-range magic (“change magic”—Potions, Transfiguration, Alchemy)—Phoenix feather
  • Lower range magic (“creation magic”—Herbology, healing)—Dragon heartstring

Now, I really like the theory of magic being channelled at different “wave lengths” and I agree that each wand core substance probably facilitates one type of magic more than another and that this is linked to the wizard’s natural talent (or “magical register”). From this would then follow that James and Lily have different wand cores. I disagree with the grouping and the core attribution though…

Wands in the HP-series are used for the following things:

  1. CHARMS (e.g. “silencing charm”, “patronus charm”)
  2. SPELLS (vague word, which often seems to be used as “any kind of magic done when saying an incantation and using a wand”, but it seems to mainly be attributed to transfiguration magic, e.g. “vanishing spell”, “conjuring spell”)
  3. JINXES (mainly to cause small amounts of harm it seems, e.g. “jelly-legs jinx”)
  4. HEXES (cause more serious harm, e.g. “bat-boogey hex”, although “jinx” and “hex” seem to be used interchangeably sometimes, e.g. the case of Mariatta’s spots in OotP, “I put a jinx on that piece of paper” (p. 315) and “Unfortunately, at that point this hex… came into operation” (p. 540))
  5. CURSES (causes serious harm and are often illegal, e.g. the “cruciatus curse” although not always e.g. “reductor curse”)

Wands are not used for:

  1. Apparition (including the silent version of “being gone with a swish of the cloak” that at least Dumbledore, McGonagall and Voldemort are capable of)
  2. Animagus transformation (though the initial becoming an animagus probably does)
  3. Metamorphomagus transformation (ability you’re born with, like Tonks)
  4. Some conjuring (Quirrell makes ropes appear out of thin air in PS/SS, p. 209, note that when it says that “Quirrell raised his hand to perform a deadly curse”, it doesn’t say that he hasn’t got his wand. He might have been raising his wand to do the Avada Kedavra as far as we know)
  5. Going to spirit state and possessing (e.g. Voldemort in OotP when he disappears in the fountain and possesses Harry)
  6. Potion making
  7. Herbology (as far as we know)
  8. Divination

And, in some cases, wizards (especially young ones when under emotional stress) can perform magic without a wand in situations where they’d usually need one (e.g. Harry making the horrible sweater shrink in PS/SS)

2) Wands and wizard talent

Ok, so my thought is that if you’d look into different characters’ talents and then look at their wands, you might be able to see some patterns, and I thought we’d start with the Triwizard Tournament.

Now, we can probably leave Fleur Delacour out of it, because her wand contains a hair of a Veela, which is a non-standard core that she’s probably alone in having among the characters we know in the series, since probably all the students at Hogwarts bought their wands from Mr. Ollivander who uses only phoenix feather, unicorn hair and dragon heartstring (it just makes sense that they’d buy them there, his shop is in Diagon Alley after all and it’d be a practical choice for a first wand, even if Hagrid’s statement that “Ollivander’s the only place to go” to get a wand would happen to be a typical Hagrid hyperbole (that means “exaggeration”) meaning that there are in fact other wandmakers in Britain).

That leaves Harry (phoenix feather), Cedric (unicorn hair) and Krum (dragon heartstring). Nice and symmetrical. Now, let’s take a look at the magic each of them uses in the tournament (because one can assume that they’ll use the spells they feel most comfortable with whenever they have a choice)

First task: getting past the dragon

Harry—Summoning Charm. Though he got help from the fake Moody to realize that this was the thing to use, it makes sense for him to use it. He could hardly have used transfiguration (Harry’s not very good at transfiguration) and even if Sirius had told him about the Conjunctivitus Curse, I find it quite out of character for Harry to choose a way that would cause a lot of pain over a way that wouldn’t.

Cedric—Transfiguraion, and a pretty advanced version of it, it seems. From stone to dog must be pretty difficult.

Krum—Conjunctivitus Curse in the eye of the dragon. (though I don’t doubt that Karkaroff tipped him off in the first place)

Second Task: down in the lake

Harry—Gillyweed. Doesn’t really count as a choice since it was Dobby who gave it to him, but the fact that Harry didn’t have a clue to what it was or how it worked says something about him. I mean, he, Ron and Hermione went through a great many books looking for ways to breathe underwater, and none of them seem to have thought about a potion or a magical herb to achieve this. Interesting indeed…

Cedric—Bubble-head Charm.

Krum—Human transfiguration, turning himself into half a shark. Krum’s obviously got a talent for transfiguration too, even if his transformation was incomplete (which might have been the plan—he wouldn’t have been able to use his wand in the lake or carry Hermione to safety if he had become all shark)

Third task: in the maze

Harry—”four-point spell”, “patronus charm”, “Boggart banishing spell”, “reductor curse” (which didn’t work very well), “stunning spell”, “impediment jinx”, “disarming spell”

Cedric—”stunning spell”

Krum—”cruciatus curse” (when controlled by the fake Moody, but he managed it nevertheless)

It’s really too bad that we haven’t more information on Cedric and Krum. I find it interesting that Krum used a painful curse twice during the tournament. But then again, he was probably told to do so both times, so it doesn’t qualify him as a Dark wizard. We saw in GoF, during the DADA classes, that a person controlled by the Imperious Curse is able to do things he’d otherwise be incapable of (e.g. Neville’s astonishing gymnastics) so Krum’s Cruciatus Curse might not mean that he’s able to do it out of his own free will at all (like Harry’s incapable of doing it on Bellatrix in OotP).

I’ll get back to this in a moment…

Harry—a charming guy

Now, it seems to me that Harry has a special talent for charms. If you take a look at the magic he does without a wand (his early magical breakthroughs and the few times he uses magic by accident), you see that that, which with a wand would be classified as charms, is in the majority:

  • Shrinking the ugly jumper (shrinking charm)
  • Turning a teacher’s wig blue (color change charm)
  • Blowing up Aunt Marge (a combined engorgement charm and levitation charm perhaps?)
  • Unlocking the cupboard door (Alohomora charm)
  • Jump to the roof (Levitation charm, or maybe apparition)

Added to that, we have two occurrences of transfiguration: vanishing the glass in front of the snake at the zoo and growing his hair back overnight (although, this last one might be a charm too, who knows…)

Harry also, by OotP has an easier time in Charms than he does in Transfiguration (“Careers advice” chapter: Harry’s averaging “Acceptable” in Transfiguration and “between Acceptable and Exceeds Expectations” for Charms) and he learned the Patronus Charm (highly advanced magic) in his third year. Sure, his main talent is in DADA, but what is that really? DADA spells seem to be a mix of charms, hexes, jinxes and curses to me, and I think that his good results in that class has a lot to do with interest and how much work he put into it (my theory is that if Harry worked as much as Hermione does, he’d be top of the year, and probably of the school, in every subject).

It also seems to me like jinxes, hexes and curses (i.e. DADA-related stuff) are more closely related to charms than to transfiguration because they deal mainly with “effect magic” (like making a Grindylow loosen it’s grip or making somebody’s legs go all wobbly) and not “change magic” (like turning the grindylow into a goldfish). This would be further supported by the facts that Harry’s so good at both Charms and DADA, a talent that Ginny seems to share (think of the singing “get well card” in PoA (age 11) and her bat-boogey hexes in OotP). And just think of Professor Flitwick, the Charms teacher, who according to CoS was a duel champion in his youth…

And if it’s good for DADA it naturally follows that it should be good for other curses as well (i.e. the Dark Arts), which makes sense, seeing as Harry and Voldemort share wand cores.

I would thus like to attribute the Phoenix feather core to Charms (and DADA), with the natural conclusion that Lily’s wand has a phoenix feather core as well.

Hermione, Krum and Transfiguration

Since Harry has a phoenix feather wand and Ron has a unicorn hair wand, it’d be really nice and symmetric if Hermione had a wand with a dragon heartstring core. This is of course pure speculation, but it really just fits too beautifully for me to ignore, and just take a look at the following…

Now Krum used Transfiguration in the second task at the Triwizard tournament, indicating that this might be his strongest side (especially if he transformed himself into only half a shark intentionally). If his strength wasn’t in Transfiguration, why would he then not have chosen the Bubble-Head Charm like Cedric and Fleur? It’s obviously not that hard, seeing as most Hogwarts students are able to perform it in OotP to escape bad smell in the corridors. Also, as his other two displays of magic were probably not of his own choosing they don’t really count. Crouch Jr. made him curse Cedric and Karkaroff probably advised him most strongly to use that particular curse on the dragon. Hermione’s strongest side seems to be Transfiguration too. Sure, it’s hard to tell as she’s so good at absolutely everything, but she shows especial interest in Transfiguration all the way from the first book (“‘I’m particularly interested in Transfiguration'” p. 93), one of her specialities is conjuring blue fire (which, I admit could also be some sort of charm because the patronus charm conjures a patronus, so conjuring things in general isn’t exclusive to the subject of Transfiguration), she’s head of the class, McGonagall gives her “rare smiles” and she’s quite often the only one in the class to manage a Transfiguration spell in the first lesson (which is not true for Charms, which seems to be a bit easier for everyone). She’s quite often likened to McGonagall (who, as Transfiguration teacher should definitely have this as her strongest side, being an animagus and all…).

I’d thus like to attribute the Dragon heartstring core to Transfiguration. And, in the same way as Charms seems to be related to DADA-stuff (hexes, jinxes and curses), I agree with Red Hen that Transfiguration is probably related to Potions and Alchemy (because it’’s all about “change magic”)

From this follows that James’s wand was probably made with dragon heartstring. I also guess that Dumbledore’s is, seeing as he used to be the Transfiguration teacher at Hogwarts and is a famous Alchemist. Other possible candidates are Sirius and Pettigrew (both animagi, though I have my doubts about Pettigrew’s wand as he seems to have had more trouble with the transformation than the others.) Then there are the Weasley twins, who seem especially gifted for Transfiguration. Just think about their joke shop products: Canary Creams that turn a person into a bird, fake wands that turn into rubber haddocks and the like. There’s also the incident in Ron’s childhood when Fred turned Ron’s teddy bear into a spider. (If I were to guess, I’d say that Fred and George’s three OWLs were in Transfiguration, Charms and either DADA, Care of Magical Creatures or Potions, though probably Potions, seeing to their talent as little chemists with the Skiving Snackboxes…)

So what about the unicorn hair?

Well, that’s what I can’t figure out really. The only connection I can really see between the people we know have unicorn hair in their wands is a special contact with animals. Charlie works with dragons and was always “the outdoor type”, Cedric transfigures a stone into a dog and Ron’s devoted to first his fake rat and then to his owl (he complains about them in the same loving way as Mrs. Weasley complains about her children) and he did pick the best Niffler out of the bunch in GoF. So I’m thinking that maybe unicorn hair is especially good for magic used with animals (and maybe plants too, it’ll be interesting to see what Neville’s new wand will be, seeing as he’s so good at Herbology and completely devoted to his old toad) and is otherwise a good all-round wand, which works pretty well with both Charms and Transfiguration (supported by the fact that Cedric used both to get through the Triwizard Tournament). I would then guess that Hagrid’s wand contained unicorn hair too—he’s good with his pumpkins and loves all animals and monsters :-). But I recognise the weaknesses of this argumentation. It’s rather speculative and too much of “must put all the blocks in the box and use all of the holes to do it” for me to be really happy with it.

This would actually correspond pretty well to the original Red Hen theory, only with a different attribution of wand cores as follows:

  1. 1) Charms and DADA—Phoenix feathers
  2. 2) Changes (Transfiguration, which’s related to Potions and Alchemy)—Dragon heartstring
  3. 3) Creation (with animals and plants, healing, maybe Divination as well)—Unicorn hair

This attribution would also fit the Red Hen comment that dragon heartstring is probably quite unusual and hard to come by. If it’s used for wands that are specially adapted to Transfiguration, you’d need a lot less that if it was especially suitable for Charms, because Transfiguration (and related magic such as Potions and Alchemy) seems to be the most complex and difficult branch of magic in the Potterverse.

3) Putting it all together

So, if I go by this theory, I’d say that the wand distribution at in the Potterverse looks something like this:


Phoenix feather: Harry, Voldemort, Ginny, Flitwick, Lily, Luna (think of her Gryffindor hat!), Bill (he’s a curse breaker after all), Lupin (he’s pretty good with the Patronus Charm himself for all his modesty), Cho (the silver swan patronus) and maybe even Malfoy (“potter stinks” badges, trip-jinxes and the like)…
Dragon heartstring: Hermione, McGonnagal, Dumbledore, Snape, Viktor Krum, James, Sirius, Fred and George…
Unicorn hair: Ron, Cedric, Charlie, Neville, Pettigrew (I somehow don’t feel him in the dragon group, could be in Phoenix too), Hagrid, Lavender (remember the love for her rabbit who died in PoA, her difficulties with producing a Patronus in OotP and her delight with the unicorns in GoF), Professor Sprout (naturally), Professor Grubbly-Plank…

You can fill in the rest yourselves. I’m mainly wondering where to put Lockhart (I mean, he sucks at DADA and his Memory Charms seem to be quite out of control. Usually when a person has his memory modified, only the unwanted part of the memory disappears, Lockhart wipes out all memory, so his “wonderful Memory Charms” that he takes such pride in seem quite bad actually—kind of the lack of control which makes Hannah Abbott turn her ferret into a flock of flamingos in her OWL exam, I’’m guessing her wand isn’t dragon heartstring…), and also Fudge, Mr. and Mrs. Weasly, Lucius Malfoy and then I haven’t really thought about the rest of them :-).

Ok, so that’s a start at least. It’s still missing the significations of the different woods and the adjectives that Ollivander uses to describe his wands (like “springy”), but since I know absolutely nothing about that, I’ll save it for a time when I have more information…

Ok, so bye for now. See you next time.