How Dumbledore Won the Elder Wand: A Prediction
In the new movie series Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Gellert Grindelwald takes center stage as he gathers followers and prepares his bid to take over the world. His evil machinations and thirst for power are thoroughly illustrated as never before, murdering wizards and Muggles alike, women and children not excepted.
In the Harry Potter books, Grindelwald is mentioned twice in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a dark wizard defeated by Dumbledore in 1945. He is not mentioned again until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where there are over 60 references. In that last book, we learn during Harry’s hunt for Horcruxes that Dumbledore somehow defeated Grindelwald and thereby became master of the Elder Wand, one of the Deathly Hallows. As the Fantastic Beasts series moves toward its obvious conclusion – the battle between Dumbledore and Grindelwald – our biggest question is: how was that possible? If Grindelwald mastered the Elder wand, which the Harry Potter series indicated he had, how could Dumbledore beat him?
Rowling has woven two intriguing themes into the Potter books – two themes that point to what will happen when these powerful wizards meet for the final time, and that give us clues as to how Dumbledore will triumph.
The Nature of the Elder Wand
One is the lore surrounding the mythical Elder Wand, the wand that Dumbledore uses throughout the Harry Potter series. To begin our analysis, let’s review the qualities of elder as a wand wood given to us by Ollivander on WizardingWorld.com:
The rarest wand wood of all, and reputed to be deeply unlucky, the elder wand is trickier to master than any other. It contains powerful magic, but scorns to remain with any owner who is not the superior of his or her company; it takes a remarkable wizard to keep the elder wand for any length of time. The old superstition, ‘wand of elder, never prosper,’ has its basis in this fear of the wand, but in fact, the superstition is baseless, and those foolish wandmakers who refuse to work with elder do so more because they doubt they will be able to sell their products than from fear of working with this wood. The truth is that only a highly unusual person will find their perfect match in elder, and on the rare occasion when such a pairing occurs, I take it as certain that the witch or wizard in question is marked out for a special destiny. An additional fact that I have unearthed during my long years of study is that the owners of elder wands almost always feel a powerful affinity with those chosen by rowan.”
From this description of elder wood, there is a very integral bit of information that doesn’t precisely come out in the books but is very important in explaining how Dumbledore won the duel against Grindelwald. It’s really the only characterization we have of the wood – the remainder of the details being the consequences of that quality. It is:
Elder “…contains powerful magic, but scorns to remain with any owner who is not the superior of his or her company; it takes a remarkable wizard to keep the elder wand for any length of time” (emphasis mine).
Let’s break that bolded part down because it’s quite incredible. “Scorns,” as used here, is a verb that means to reject, refuse, or ignore with contempt or disdain. Is it possible that a wand can experience such a level of contempt or disdain for its owner that it would “reject, refuse or ignore” the spells that its master wishes to cast? Inconsistent results from such a wand would certainly explain why the wood had developed the reputation of being deeply unlucky, hence “wand of elder, never prosper.” And there’s a very important qualification for that scorn: “an owner who is not the superior of his or her company.” Company is simply any person in close proximity to the owner – friend, foe, or, indeed, possibly anyone passing nearby. Superior would seem to mean that the wand makes a judgment between its owner and those around it. This would indicate that any display of power would sway it if it were considered greater than its owner’s regardless of the wand being won by force (i.e., defeated/killed in battle or murdered).
It seems very likely that a wand made of elder could 1) refuse to work for a master it despises and/or 2) switch its allegiance at an inopportune moment.
What Rowling has said about the wand extraneous of the Potterverse canon does not contradict this possibility, specifically that it is “…ruthless, dispassionate and that it’s only loyalty is to strength.”2
In 2018 she made a further clarification about the wand in a Twitter post:
The secret of the elder wand is that it’s more sentient than any other. It can identify the caster of any spell that touches it and keeps tally of which wizard has beaten which, giving its allegiance to the one it judges the victor. Physical possession is irrelevant.”
So it seems plausible that, during his duel with Grindelwald, Dumbledore wins because the wand judges him to be the more powerful wizard.
Lending more credence to this possibility, Dumbledore remarks to Harry in the Deathly Hallows, chapter “King’s Cross,” about winning the wand from Grindelwald: “I was permitted to tame and to use it, because I took it, not for gain, but to save others from it” (DH 720, emphasis mine). So who permitted Dumbledore to take the wand? It certainly wasn’t Grindelwald, and there was only one other entity on hand that could have given permission, and that was the wand itself.
But why does the Elder Wand believe Dumbledore to be the more powerful wizard? In the chapter “King’s Cross,” Dumbledore himself says, “I knew that we were evenly matched, perhaps that I was a shade more skillful” (DH 718). Wouldn’t having the mastery of the Elder Wand weigh in Grindelwald’s favor, making him much more powerful than Dumbledore?
That question brings us to the second argument for how Dumbledore procures the wand. It is the major theme running from the first book of the Harry Potter series to the last: Love is the most powerful magic.
This is a principle that Dumbledore stresses book after book, trying to get Harry to understand. And that raises another question: how does Dumbledore know that love is the most powerful magic? He was a scholar of magic – was this knowledge simply theoretical? We see no illustration, in past stories or through examples given by Dumbledore himself, as to why he believes this to be so, and yet he stakes everything on that idea. The answer is the basis of my prediction: Dumbledore’s knowledge about the power of love is not theoretical – he saw it in action for himself during his duel with Grindelwald.
Now let us examine Grindelwald’s own words, his witness, about the Elder Wand. In his final moments before Voldemort murders him in his prison tower in Nurmengard, Harry overhears two statements from the frail, defeated wizard:
Kill me, then, Voldemort, I welcome death! But my death will not bring you what you seek. . . . There is so much you do not understand. . . .” (DH 469, emphasis mine)
What does Dumbledore repeatedly claim that Tom Riddle does not understand?
Voldemort doesn’t understand the power of love.
Kill me, then!” demanded the old man. “You will not win, you cannot win! That wand will never, ever be yours —” (DH 472)
Grindelwald knows Voldemort cannot master the Elder Wand for the same reason he himself lost the wand: love is the most powerful magic.
Revisiting Dumbledore’s statement to Harry about how he mastered the Elder Wand: “I was permitted to tame and to use it, because I took it, not for gain, but to save others from it” (emphasis mine). How does Dumbledore save others from the wand?
Here is the prediction: Dumbledore will track down Grindelwald, and the two will begin a duel the likes of which has never been seen before. At some point, Grindelwald will threaten an innocent person or persons – and I suspect this will be Aurelius Dumbledore, his brother, or Newt Scamander, his protégé, or most likely, both. Dumbledore will then choose to sacrifice himself to save those he loves. At that moment, the wand will betray Grindelwald and give its allegiance to Dumbledore. Why? Ironically, the ruthless, dispassionate Elder Wand, whose only loyalty is to strength, recognizes that love is more powerful than any other magic.