Harry Potter and the Case of the Missing Spell

by Cristalle Watson

Cast your minds back to the graveyard dueling scene in GoF. Harry and Voldemort’’s wands have just connected. We see Harry force the golden beads of light back into Voldemort’’s wand and, as he does so, it reveals (as with the Prior Incantato spell) the last spells that Voldemort’’s wand has cast. In order, the following appear:

  • screams of pain (representing the Cruciatus curses he cast at Harry)
  • a smoky hand (the silver hand he gave Wormtail)
  • shouts of pain (more Cruciatus)
  • the “ghost” of Cedric Diggory
  • more screams of pain
  • the “ghost” of Frank Bryce
  • the “ghost” of Bertha Jorkins
  • Harry’’s father, James Potter
  • and, finally, Harry’’s mother, Lily Potter

As we can see, each spell is represented either by a “ghost” (when a person was killed), a sound (as with the Cruciatus Curse) or a visual sign (e.g. Wormtail’’s hand.) In other words, no spell cast by the wand is NOT represented. Furthermore, we know that the spells are in the exact reverse of the original order they were cast. (Yes, Lily and James Potter are in the wrong order; J. K. Rowling has acknowledged this.)

Taking these facts into account, it appears that Voldemort cast the following spells, and only the following spells, in this order: he killed James Potter with an Avada Kedavra; he did the same to Lily Potter; then, less than a year before the graveyard scene, he killed Bertha Jorkins after torturing her…

But hang on a second. Do you see the problem? Isn’’t something missing here?

There is no sign, absolutely NO sign, of the spell that destroyed Voldemort’’s physical body, blew up the house at Godric’’s Hollow, and left young Harry with a scar on his forehead.

There are four possible explanations I could think of for this problem. The first is the most mundane and boring: it’s that J.K. Rowling just forgot to put that spell in. (After all, she already made a mistake in the same section!) However, we don’t want to think that — and, besides, if she remembered to put every other single detail in the Priori Incantatem section, you’d think she wouldn’’t forget the spell that’s the entire reason for the books!

So, assuming J.K. Rowling knew exactly what she was doing and there is a perfectly good reason that the spell in question is NOT represented in this scene, what are some other possible explanations?

Half a Spell Isn’t Better Than None?

The next explanation I can think of is also rather uninteresting (and, personally, I find it a bit of a cop-out.) Perhaps the fact that the AK curse was (at least partially) a failed spell, it would not “count” for the purposes of Priori Incantatem. It may be that only spells that work exactly as planned — in other words, “successful” spells — appear as “prior incantations” when the two wands connect. We have no evidence of a failed spell appearing, but then no evidence of it not appearing either. However, since the spell in question had some very dramatic effects (even if they weren’t the intended ones) one would think it would be represented in the Priori Incantatem series.

Although this is a possible explanation, it’’s certainly not a very interesting one. I’’ll keep it in mind as a possibility, but first I’’ll turn to the other alternatives.

Another Wand?

This is a rather obvious explanation. After all, we’ve seen characters throughout the books grab other people’s wands and use them perfectly well (though perhaps not as proficiently as their own.) Barty Crouch Jr. used Harry’’s wand to cast the Dark Mark; there is no reason why Voldemort couldn’’t use another wand to cast an Avada Kedavra at Harry.

The question is, why?

Let’’s try to reconstruct the scene. Voldemort has just killed James Potter (with his own wand, as we know from the graveyard scene) and is now advancing on Lily, who is begging Voldemort to kill her and spare Harry. With a laugh, Voldemort finishes her off with a quick Avada Kedavra, turns to Harry and…drops his wand, picks up a different wand, and uses this to cast the spell at Harry? But why on earth would he do such a thing?

There’s only one reason I can think of. Somehow, Lily put his own wand out of action, at least temporarily. His wand was not destroyed permanently (because we see it later) but perhaps, in her last moments, she managed to disarm him with a quick Expelliarmus! I could see the scene: Voldemort’’s own wand goes flying off into a darkened corner of the room (or maybe even out the window) as Lily Potter collapses in death. Enraged, and determined to finish his dirty task as soon as possible, Voldemort grabs up Lily Potter’’s wand from where it lies beside her and aims it at Harry, resolving to retrieve his own wand as soon as possible. Of course, he never gets the chance… It’’s possible that, in his warped, sadistic mind, he even relishes the idea of using Lily Potter’’s wand to kill her own son.

Perhaps this is even part of the explanation for why the spell backfired — Lily Potter’’s nature was so different from Voldemort’’s that his attempt to use her wand to cast his evil spell failed, destroying him instead and blowing the house to smithereens. (Remember, we have to account for that heap of rubble as well!)

(A quick note: I know some people will object to this, saying that Mr. Ollivander specifically says to Harry, speaking of his wand, “”It’s brother gave you that scar”” — implying that Voldemort’’s wand was used to cast the AK curse at Harry. But I think this is just an assumption, rather than any sort of absolute knowledge, on Mr. Ollivander’’s part; he may just be wrong.)

No Wand at All?

We know that wizards can often perform magic without wands — especially if they are feeling powerful emotions at the time (as when Harry “blows up” Aunt Marge). We also know that when it comes to certain magic — the Dark Arts especially — the intention or emotion behind the spell is as important as correctly performing the gestures and words associated with the spell. (Take Bellatrix Lestrange’s oft-discussed comment in the MoM: “You need to mean them! You need to really want to cause pain — to enjoy it — righteous anger won’t hurt me for long…”). Also keep in mind that, although working magic without a wand is much more difficult and less focused, Voldemort was (besides Dumbledore) the most powerful wizard of his age. Also remember that he had undoubtedly had plenty of practice using the AK curse.

Is it possible, then, that Voldemort cast the spell without using any wand at all?

More than possible, I’’d say. The question is, once again, why? The answer is along the same lines as before — perhaps Lily disarmed him during their fight. Furious, too impatient to retrieve his wand yet too disdainful to pick up Lily’’s where it lay on the floor (or perhaps it had already been destroyed), he merely gestured at Harry and cast the spell on his own. This could also help to explain why the spell went so awry; magic cast without a wand is more unpredictable and harder to control (helping to explain how the house became a heap of rubble).

Where Have all the Wands Gone?

This whole issue — of what wand Voldemort used — leads into another question, which I’m surprised never occurred to me (or, as far as I know, anyone else) before. What happens to a wizard’’s wand when they die?

We know that Ron;’s original wand is, like most of his things, a hand-me-down from one of his older brothers (he gets one of his own in the third book.) We also know that Neville’’s wand used to be his father’’s. However, none of the people in question are dead (though Neville’’s father is insane.) We really have no example of a dead wizard or witch’’s wand being passed down to someone else.

For that matter, what happened to Cedric Diggory’’s wand when he died? He must have been holding it at the time, since he’’s just come out of the maze. (We also see Sirius Black die, but he, along with his wand, falls through the veil. And although Voldemort’’s physical body dies, his wand evidently remains behind). So where have all those wands gone? When a wizard or witch dies, does his or her wand just vanish? Or does it remain behind? If the latter is the case, one would expect to see a flourishing black-market trade in wands. Those people who have had their wands confiscated and broken by the Ministry shouldn’t have much trouble getting hold of a new one, leading to all sorts of difficulties. Maybe when a witch or wizard dies, his or her wand is deliberately broken by the Ministry to prevent this from happening — although people in the magic world die in all sorts of nasty circumstances, posing a problem to this attempt. Or perhaps the Ministry confiscates them, or returns them to the wand-maker for “recycling.” If the wands remain “at large,” however, I could see evil wizards such as Voldemort buying several “spare” wands in case something happens to his or her main one (or just to use in laying false trails, disguising his identity, etc.).


Well, I’’ve raised a lot of questions, but without many answers so far. I think that J.K. Rowling knew very well what she was doing when she decided to omit the spell in question from the graveyard scene in GoF. But why is another question. Is it just a boring detail based on the fact that the AK spell went awry, or is it actually an important clue?

I would like some definite answer from J.K. Rowling about what happens to wands when their owners die. Do they vanish, are they deliberately destroyed or confiscated by the Ministry, or do they remain behind for anyone to pick up? And if the latter circumstance is true, then what has happened to the wands of the most famous wizards of the past (e.g. Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, etc.) after they died? In the wrong hands, these wands could do a great deal of evil — or, in the right hands, a great deal of good.

Well, it seems that the Case of the Missing Spell must remain unsolved. For now, anyway……

But perhaps some clever detective out there can find a clue. Feel free to e-mail me your ideas or comments. “Elementary, my dear Watson…”