|Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter - Magic
|Casts spells, enhances wizarding powers
|Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
The primary method of performing magic in the Harry Potter series requires the use of a magic wand. The wand serves to focus and amplify the magical energy present in the witch or wizard.
Extended Description edit
Wands are typically made of wood with a core of some magical material; we hear of wands made with Phoenix tail feathers, Unicorn hair, Dragon heartstrings, and Veela hair, but it is likely that there are many other possible materials that can be used. When a witch or wizard goes to buy a wand, they must try out different combinations of woods, cores, and lengths until they find a wand that works for them. One thing which is told to us repeatedly is that "the wand chooses the wizard"; that a particular combination of wood and magical core, with other details of their manufacture, make a particular wand ideal for a particular wizard, and that it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict what sort of wand an individual wizard will be best able to use. It has been suggested that the length of the wand depends to some extent on the person's height (as Hagrid's wand is the longest one we hear of), the wood depends on the person's astrological signs and personality, while the core of the wand also reflects the user's personality. Of course, for any such suggestion, we can likely find counter-examples. We are told at the outset that it is very difficult to use someone else's wand; and Harry finds out in person, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that this is true.
It is possible to do some magic without the aid of a wand, but that magic is usually spontaneous and found only in untrained children. This is how Harry regrew his hair after the Dursleys cut it off, how he ended up on the roof of the school when Dudley and his gang were chasing him, and how he released the python in the zoo. It is suspected that accidental magic appears in moments of great stress or emotion.
Very few spells are shown that can be performed in a controlled manner without a wand. These include the Animagus transformation and Floo transport. (Note that while this last does not require a wand, it does require other equipment, notably Floo Powder.) It is uncertain whether Apparition and Disapparition require the use of a wand, as no wand gestures are indicated; we never see any wizards or witches apparating themselves without a wand. (Side-along apparition, as when Hermione carries Harry, with his broken wand, does not count, as Harry is not then Apparating, but rather riding on someone else's spell.) House-elves, among others, do not have wands and yet can apparate, however, their magic has been shown to be of a different class than human magic.
There seem to be a very limited number of wizards who can actually produce wands, and they all have their own preferred ingredients and techniques. The only working wandmaker we are directly introduced to is Mr. Ollivander, who is the proprietor of a wand shop in Diagon Alley. Mr. Ollivander uses only three types of magical core for his wands: phoenix tail feathers, unicorn hair, and dragon heartstrings. Other wandmakers use other materials; for instance, Fleur Delacour's wand is made with the hair of a Veela as the core, a material Ollivander does not use as he finds it makes for a temperamental wand. Ollivander immediately identifies the wand used by Viktor Krum as a "Gregorovitch creation"; while he does not much care for the style, he does seem to think that it is a good enough wand. His ready identification and his discussion of the wand style indicates that he is very familiar with the style of this other wandmaker, if not with him personally; this also would indicate that we are looking at a restricted community.
Wands are made from nearly every tree type, and the author has chosen the wood for each character's wand based on its symbolic connotation. Harry's wand, for instance, is holly, which is believed to repel evil. Holly also represents protection, joy, happiness, masculinity, and overcoming anger. Christians also believe that the holy cross was made from holly. The word holly is derived from "holy". Viktor Krum's wand is hornbeam, a wood that represents strength, stubbornness, passion, moral fibre, ethics, and loyalty. It is also associated with a person who is considered the "salt of the earth" or a "common man". Rosewood, which is what Fleur Delacour's wand is made from, represents inner beauty, kindness, and gratitude, while Cedric's ash wand symbolizes adaptability, prudence, modesty, sacrifice, and sensitivity.
Wood alone does not empower a wand. Presumably, its core material magically fuses with the wood it is embedded into, activating the wand's power. It also seems to become somewhat sentient, allowing it to bond to a Wizard who shares similar qualities. Magical creatures provide the core material; Mr. Ollivander's wands only contain Unicorn hair, Phoenix feather, or Dragon heartstring, though other wandmakers use additional substances. Harry's wand contains a Phoenix feather. A Phoenix is a mythical bird that continually dies by bursting into flames and is then reborn from its own ashes, an act symbolizing resurrection and purity. Krum's wand contains Dragon heartstring, and though a Dragon is often associated with evil and destruction, in many cultures it represents qualities such as strength, wisdom, purification, renewal, and power. The Unicorn hair in Cedric's wand represents purity, innocence, loyalty, and mankind's dual nature (evil and goodness). Fleur's wand confirms Ron's suspicions that she is part Veela. The hair forming its core belonged to her Veela grandmother, making Fleur one-quarter Veela. This wand's core is apparently unusual; it seems to surprise Mr. Ollivander when he finds it, and may reflect the Veelas' more temperamental and volatile natures. As seen earlier in this book, the Veelas' real appearance is far different than the images they can project. Though Fleur is certainly beautiful and alluring, we don't know much about her inner character; at the time we discover the core material of her wand, about the only exposure we have to her is her supercilious air when being forced to accept the "little boy" Harry as a competitor in the Triwizard Tournament. The Veela hair may also represent transformation, adaptability, and even deception and seduction. Being that the hair belongs to someone closely related to Fleur, it may also symbolize the power of family, generational legacy, unity, and loyalty.
Ron's and Hermione's wands should also be noted. Hermione's is made from vine and contains Dragon heartstring. Vine can represent great bounty, renewal, and also extreme emotions such as joy and anger. Ron's first wand, his brother Charlie's hand-me-down, was ash and Unicorn hair. His second wand, the one that presumably "chose" him, is willow and Unicorn hair. Willow is associated with gaining knowledge, personal growth, healing, and repulsing evil. It can also represent death and mourning. Though wands typically perform less efficiently for someone who was not "chosen" or had not captured it from another Wizard, presumably a wand handed down within a family offers its allegiance to a close blood relative, in this case, Ron.
A wizard will generally have a single wand for an extended period of time, largely because it works well for him; and because a wizard is by and large powerless without his wand, he will protect it. This will allow wands to be used as a form of identification. We see a wand being used for identification in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where the disguised Hermione uses Bellatrix Lestrange's captured wand to prove her identity to a Gringotts goblin.
A little known fact unrelated to the series' plot is that the woods used in Harry's, Hermione's, and Ron's wands happen to correspond to some variants of the Celtic Tree Calendar, which is divided into thirteen lunar-based periods. Each one is represented by a different wood. The author has indicated that quite by accident she had selected an appropriate wood for Harry's wand from this calendar; Harry, being born on July 31, receives a wand made of holly wood. Similarly, she selected hawthorn wood for Draco Malfoy's wand without realizing that it was correct for his birthday. She does say that not all wands are selected according to the Celtic chart; Hagrid's wand, for instance, by his birthdate ought to be elder, but how could Hagrid have a wand that was anything other than oak? And while the Celtic assignment would suggest birch for Voldemort's wand, there are reasons for making it out of yew. To quote the author: "It was not an arbitrary decision: holly has certain connotations that were perfect for Harry, particularly when contrasted with the traditional associations of yew, from which Voldemort’s wand is made. European tradition has it that the holly tree (the name comes from ‘holy’) repels evil, while yew, which can achieve astonishing longevity (there are British yew trees over two thousand years old), can symbolize both death and resurrection; the sap is also poisonous." Ron's March 1 birthday falls within February 18 - March 17, which is ash. His new willow wand is outside this period, however. Hermione's vine wand reflects her September 19 birth date, which is within the Calendar's September 2 - September 29 cycle.
As we learned in Book 1, Voldemort's wand is yew and contains a tail feather from the same Phoenix that donated the one in Harry's wand. In European cultures, yew wood, which is toxic, is generally associated with long life, death and resurrection, transformation, as well as evil; this certainly seems to fit Voldemort. This wood being combined with a Phoenix feather core is curious, however. While a Phoenix can represent resurrection, its fiery demise also symbolizes purification. This hardly seems to apply to Voldemort, who, if he is resurrected, will probably be as evil, if not more so, as when he died. It is curious why Mr. Ollivander would craft a wand from wood having such a dark connotation, though its particular magical properties would naturally be a consideration.
Greater Picture edit
Dumbledore's wand, known as the Elder Wand, should also be mentioned. It is made from elder, a wood believed to intermingle both good and evil and whose flowers, which produce a strong odor, suggest death. The author has stated that a Thestral hair lies within the Elder Wand's core. Thestrals, gentle magical creatures often associated with death, appear first in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. A wand containing a such a hair can only be mastered by a witch or wizard who is unafraid of death.
The fact that "the wand chooses the wizard," introduced in the first book, becomes an important plot point in the seventh book of the series. Voldemort, convinced that Harry's ability to avoid him is due only to his wand with its core that is twin to Voldemort's own, seeks a wand more powerful than Harry's. He searches for the fabled Deathstick or Elder Wand, a wand that is unbeatable in a duel. This wand has left a long and bloody trail through history, and Voldemort in the end tracks it to its last rumoured owners: the wand-maker Gregorovitch claimed to have it, but it was stolen from him by Gellert Grindelwald, who in turn lost it to Dumbledore. Voldemort claims it from Dumbledore's tomb, but finding that it resists his commands, and believing that the wand will only transfer its allegiance when its previous owner is killed, murders Severus Snape, who had killed Dumbledore.
Mr. Ollivander tells Harry that death is not required to change a wand's allegiance, even the Elder Wand. Instead, merely forcefully removing it from its owner, either by physically wresting it from his hand or using a disarmament charm, can cause a wand to change "loyalty". (Presumably this only holds if the original owner does not reclaim his wand; else nearly every magical duel would end up with the loser left effectively wandless.) As a result, it being Draco Malfoy who had disarmed Dumbledore, the Elder Wand would owe allegiance to Draco. As Harry had captured Draco's regular wand, the one with which he had disarmed Dumbledore, the Elder Wand might transfer its allegiance to Harry; if not, according to what Ollivander tells Harry, it would still be Draco's wand, rather than Voldemort's. Thus Voldemort would be unable to receive its full benefit. As it turns out, the Elder Wand, apparently aware that Harry was holding the wand that had wrested it from its former owner, apparently had given its allegiance to Harry, and would avoid harming him.
While there is much talk in the seventh book about allegiances and awareness by the wands, it is never meant to be an indication that wands are alive. Like Muggle computers, the fact that a wand behaves in a particular manner may make it seem alive, but it remains inanimate and unthinking. A good indication of this is the way the Elder Wand shows allegiance to Harry; after all, it was not Harry who disarmed Dumbledore, but Draco. However, Harry is now carrying Draco's wand, which had itself transferred its allegiance to Harry when he wrested it from Draco. So the Elder Wand, rather than a specific person, apparently senses the holder of the wand that performed the successful charm as the one to whom it owes allegiance.
We note that in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the Daily Prophet says that the "Muggles have been told that Black is carrying a gun (a kind of metal wand which Muggles use to kill each other)". Wands do indeed take much of the role that pistols (and other weapons) take in non-magical stories; this includes the concept of specially powerful weapons, weapons particularly suited for use by specific persons.