What IS clear is that Rowling always did intend some kind of rigamarole to do with wands choosing their owners to figure in the final confrontation between Tom and Harry. I’m just not convinced that what she intended was the version that we got. But I'm not going to explore the issue of the Elder wand here, much as it would seem to fit. This article is only concerned with the construction and behaviour of normal wands.
The whole point of the Elder wand is that it is unique. So I’ll talk about that one elsewhere.
In this article I examine wands in the context of what they are made of and how they work — and just ignore the fact that, apparently, we are suddenly, at the 11th hour, supposed to understand that they are semi-sentient little wooden bimbos which are capable of acting on their own initiative, and will betray you in a heartbeat.
• • • •
For quite a while, in the early days of the fandom, it seemed like every few months or so on one or other of my discussion lists somebody would raise the question of; what are the components of this, or that, or the other character’s wand? Most typically, the question was brought up by someone who was trying to write a fanfic and wanted to find out if anything was officially known. Given the lists that I hang out on, the character under investigation was usually Severus Snape, although there were no few inquiries as to the components of Miss Granger’s wand as well, or that of other supporting characters, like Neville.
Ms. Rowling never did tell us anything of the components of (Headmaster) Snape’s wand, and up until December 10, 2004, while we knew both the wood and the core types of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley’s wands, we still knew nothing of Hermione’s.
Up until that point some fans reasoned that; given that Ron’s wand seems to mirror the known qualities of Lily Potter’s, someone with a mind for patterns might reasonably wonder whether Hermione’s wand mirrored James’s. Or, conversely: Given that Harry’s wand is cored by phoenix feather and Ron’s is cored with unicorn hair, symmetry would seem to demand that Hermione’s be cored with dragon heartstring. We could, however, reasonably assume that all three of these characters’ wands were purchased from Ollivander’s shop. Which assumption, in Ron’s case proved to be somewhat inaccurate. The wand may well have originally come from Ollivander’s shop. But it was not originally purchased for Ron, and possibly not even for Charlie.
Well, as of December 10, 2004, we knew that we were on the right track in some of our reasoning. Ms Rowling posted an update to to her official website (the old official website, that is) upon that date in which she confirmed the theory that Hermione’s wand was indeed cored with dragon heartstring.
Ms Rowling also went on to spin us a rather charming holiday story regarding a “hidden connection” between the wood types of the trio’s wands. As she stated it on her website (on Dec, 10, 2004. I suspected there might be some alteration of these statements once the conflict was pointed out to her, but it never was):
“I gave Harry a wand made of holly wood back in 1990, when I first drafted chapter six of ‘Philosopher’s Stone’. 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 was 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.
Some time after I had given Harry his holly-and-phoenix wand I came across a description of how the Celts had assigned trees to different parts of the year and discovered that, entirely by coincidence, I had assigned Harry the ‘correct’ wood for his day of birth. I therefore decided to give Ron and Hermione Celtic wand woods, too. Ron, who was born in the February 18 - March 17 period, was given an ash wand (I think I had originally marked him down for beech), and Hermione, who was born between September 2 and September 29, received a vine wood wand (I can’t remember what I originally stipulated for Hermione; possibly I had not specified a wood for her at that stage).
I have only used the Celtic assignations for Ron and Hermione. Hagrid, for instance, has an oak wand though by this Celtic system he should have a wand made of elder; in Britain the oak is ‘King of the Forest’ and symbolizes strength, protection, and fecundity; what other wood could ‘choose’ Hagrid? In any case I liked having a hidden connection between Harry, Ron and Hermione’s wands that only I knew about (until now, anyway).
For those who are interested in the trees assigned to the different parts of the Celtic year, below is the chart that I used. I apologize to any Celtic tree experts out there for any inaccuracies I may have reproduced (I have found slight variations between sources since I first came across this information).
December 24 - January 20 = Birch (Beth)
January 21 - February 17 = Rowan (Luis)
February 18 - March 17 = Ash (Nion)
March 18 - April 14 = Alder (Fearn)
April 15 - May 12 = Willow (Saille)
May 13 - June 9 = Hawthorn (Huath)
June 10 - July 7 = Oak (Duir)
July 6 - August 4 = Holly (Tinne)
August 5 - September 1 = Hazel (Coll)
September 2 - September 29 = Vine (Muin)
September 30 - October 27 = Ivy (Gort)
October 28 - November 24 = Reed (Ngetal)
November 25 - December 23 = Elder (Ruis)”
Unfortunately, as any attentive reader will notice, in the story above Ms Rowling has confused Ron Weasley’s wand with Cedric Diggory’s. Cedric’s wand was indeed stated as being made of ash and unicorn hair. And Ron was indeed born in the portion of the year that the Celts assigned to ash.
But, Ron quite clearly informs Harry (and the reader) early in PoA (Pg. 56, American pb) that his new wand is not ash, but willow. Since PoA came out in 1999, I suspect that the period at which she assigned Ron a Celtic wand “Some time after I had given Harry his holly-and-phoenix wand...” was in fact several years after she had given Harry his wand. And after she had already publicly assigned Ron a willow wand in PoA, too.
In that regard, the story above must be regarded as merely a story. From where I am standing, until she either changes the information in the books in a new edition, or gives Ron yet another wand in the course of the story, his wand, in canon, is willow.
In point of fact, Rowling did give Ron a new wand in the course of DHs. He captured and kept Pettigrew’s chestnut and dragon heartstring wand. Hermione was also now in need of a new wand. We were not told that she got one, but it is expected that she probably would have after the shouting was over. She might not be expected to keep the walnut and dragon heartstring wand that Harry took from Bellatrix. Although it must be admitted that it gave her no further trouble once it had been through the Goblins’ security dowsing.
Evidently that water not only removes enchantments, it resets wands to their original state. Hermione was using that wand against Bellatrix herself in the final showdown and holding her own quite competently with it, too.
A bit more information regarding the trees of the Celtic calendar can be found on a number of websites. I used to include a link here, but that particular site appears to have disapeared since the previous iteration of the site was uploaded. So you will need to do a web search.
• • • •
In the course of our first introduction to him, Mr Ollivander of Diagon Alley assured us that his wands are produced using cores of only unicorn hair, phoenix feather or dragon heartstring. He implies that wands cored with other materials tend to be temperamental, unreliable, or otherwise unsatisfactory. Clearly Mr Ollivander and his predecessors have limited their wand cores to those three materials, because those have proved to be the most effective and consistent in quality of response. Other wandmakers whether British or otherwise, may not be quite so discriminating, however. Rowling has also stated (although not in the books) that in some other parts of the world other reliable core materials may be available that Olivander has never specialized in.
But then; Mr Ollivander also assures us that a wizard will never get as fine a result from a wand that did not specifically “choose” him as he will from one that did. This has since turned out to actually be the case, although I think that the balance of the illustrations used for presenting examples of the statement was seriously off-kilter. But given that both of Harry Potter’s dorm mates who came from pureblood families were sent off to Hogwarts with “legacy” wands, we may conclude that this is an assertion that not all wizarding families are prepared to accept merely on Mr Ollivander’s say so. I — who had been suggesting for years that part of Neville’s problems in school might have been due to his having been sent off to school with one of his parents’ wands, which did not “fit” him properly — felt extremely smug upon discovering that I was absolutely correct.
Another thing that we don’t know for certain is whether Ollivander really is the ONLY wand maker in Britain as Hagrid asserts, or whether he is simply the most prominent one in Diagon Alley and the one that Hagrid was instructed to take Harry to. Hagrid’s sweeping statement of Ollivander’s being the “only” place for wands sounds like a bit of typical Hagridian hyperbole, but Rowling’s statement in the joint interview following the release of HBP that the entire population of the British wizarding world is about 3,000 suggests that the market may not really be large enough to be able to support more than one or two wandmakers. This being the case; there is a very good chance that Ollivander’s establishment is the oldest in that location, or indeed in Britain dating as it does from before the Roman conquest, but we have no certainty as to whether his is the only one, and in HBP are given strong suggestion that he may not be.
That he was the “expert witness” called in to perform the Weighing of the Wands for the Tri-Wizard Tournament only establishes that he and Dumbledore have some degree of association, which had already been confirmed in CoS by Dumbledore’s statement that Ollivander had alerted him when Harry was chosen by the second of the Fawkes-cored wands.
• • • •
A more debatable subject is the question of just why we are given a choice of three predominant core materials, and just what influences are at work in the “choice” of a specific wand for a particular wizard. Rowling implies in her story above that it is the wood, rather than the core, that actually does the choosing. I find this difficult to swallow. For that matter, I find the whole proposal of a conscious choice being made by a stick of wood to be preposterous.
My own interpretation, which is shared by a number of others, is that magic, like other forms of energy, can be channeled at different “frequencies” over a fairly broad spectrum, and that, as in music, each individual has a different “range” in which he works (or resonates) most effectively.* The three standard wand core materials are those which have proven over the ages to be capable of channeling magical energy across the broadest portions of the total “harmonic scale” with the best “signal to noise” ratio.
[*Under this interpretation, a Squib would be analogous to the tone-deaf. Able to hear the sounds and to communicate with the world around them, but unable to hear the music and unable to effectively “sing”.]
The reason that all wands are not all cored by the same material is that while magic operates across a broad range of potential resonance, individual wizards are likely to work most effectively when channeling magical energy in only one specific portion of the overall “scale”. Some wizards probably have a broader inherent range than others. But none can access the full scale unassisted. That is one of the reasons they need wands.
The core of a wand, as modified by the wand’s wooden casing, will respond most readily to the wizard whose inherent harmonic range is the best match for its own base “resonance”. Much in the way of determining a proper fit for eyeglasses. That a wand “chooses” the wizard is a misnomer. The wand amplifies and focuses the wizard’s chaneling of magical energies. The better the fit between wand and wizard, the clearer and more focused these energies will be. While the potential range of any wand is likely to be greater than that of any specific wizard, with a good fit the individual base resonance of wand and wizard will match. Making it easier for the wizard to access the full range of the wand. Including sections of the “scale” that he simply cannot access unassisted.
Unlike with eyeglasses, however, an experienced wizard should be able to channel magic through a wide variety of wand types. But a proper fit of wand to wizard is essential for young wizards who have yet to master the skill of channeling magical energies through a focusing device, such as a wand. Following this analogy; Charlie’s old wand fit Ron reasonably well, since they both needed the same general type of focusing adjustment, whereas Neville, with his father’s wand, could not see the blackboard.
In addition, since very young wizards may not yet have fully grown into their adult resonance, their first wand must be able to allow for such variations which may be expected to occur over the next few years. The measuring tapes used by reputable wand makers are probably charmed to measure for such potential.
• • • •
A wizard, so far as we have seen, typically uses only one wand, and performs all of his spells with it. He does not use one wand for one sort of spell and another wand with different properties for others. His wand must therefore be able to channel his magic at the correct resonance for a given spell without interference and must be able to amplify and focus his intent over the full magical “scale”. Magical spells are not living entities, and they only engage and execute at their own specific magical “pitch”. Consequently a wand must be capable of enabling a wizard to perform spells which may lie outside of his own natural range without unwanted “feedback” or other forms of transmission error.
I propose that the reason why Ollivander uses three different wand core materials, is that while all three of these materials are able to transmit magical energy over a broad range, each of these materials is particularly effective within a different sector of the overall magical “scale”.
That Ollivander is able to so confidently state that a given wand will be good for a specific type of magic is a strong suggestion that the operative “pitches” of different classes of magical spells tend to group within different portions of this scale. Consequently, while all well-constructed wands are capable of transmitting a spell at any point along the Magical scale, the components used in each of Ollivander’s wands are naturally calibrated to be most effective for channeling and modulating energies at the equivalents of either upper-register, or lower-register resonances.
I postulate that spells within the same general class of magical processes will naturally group within specific registers across the total harmonic range of potential Magical resonance. I am currently inclined to believe that these registers correspond roughly with the degree of involvement that a particular class of spell has with its object. And that by an application of the laws of Similarity, this is reflected by the degree of involvement that the most consistent of the standard wand core materials had with their original source.
Upper Register Magics:
I propose that the uppermost level of the magical scale is that most associated with the performance of Charms. Charms can be extremely powerful, and the generality of them, expertly cast, are quite permanent. Some may be fairly easily countered or canceled, however. Moreover, some are designed to be temporary, or in some cases are semi-permanent, intended to gradually wear off. The basic function of a Charm is to constrain and compel the behavior, appearance, perceptions or state of its subject without altering the subject’s underlying nature. A Charm may enable a pineapple to tap dance across a desk, but the pineapple remains a pineapple.
Most of the charms that we have seen demonstrated in canon have tended to be temporary, or semipermanent. But this is far from being universal, one needs only to consider the example of Memory charms to realize that upper register magic is every bit as likely to be as powerful and as permanent as that of lower register.
For the sake of symmetry, I assign unicorn hair to the upper register of Magical harmonics. There is at least some canon support for this, given that much of the Weasley family seems to have an affinity for charms and we have been told outright that at least two of the Weasleys (Charlie and Ron) were “chosen” by unicorn hair wands. I suspect that Ron and Charlie are not the only Weasleys whose wands are cored with unicorn hair, either.
The hair of a beast is a superficial attribute. It may be removed with perhaps some discomfort, but no actual harm to the creature.
The traditional method of capturing a unicorn is for a maiden to wait seated upon the ground in a location that unicorns are believed to frequent. If all goes according to plan, eventually a unicorn will approach, kneel down and place its head in her lap. What is notable about this particular folktale is that whenever such a scene has been depicted in manuscript illuminations or tapestries, in nearly all of the most typical examples the maiden is shown to be holding a comb, or is actually grooming the unicorn’s mane.
According to all traditional accounts, unicorns are exceedingly dangerous. And, popular culture of the 1970s notwithstanding, they are not equines.
Nor do they even particularly resemble horses in any manner other than that their heads are much the same shape. In strict accuracy they are composite beasts (by the standards of the science of Heraldry they are classified not as beasts but as monsters), and they are shy of humans, but they can become accustomed to being handled, more readily by witches than by wizards. I suggest that while some wizards, such as Mr Ollivander may insist upon collecting his stock of unicorn hair personally, it is more common for a wizard in need of unicorn hair to purchase it from a supplier.
The manner in which modern suppliers are likely to come by their stock of unicorn hair (apart from simple gleaning, the way that Hagrid’s harvest of unicorn hair was acquired) is thus: witches who live in proximity to forested areas known to harbor unicorn herds might annually (or monthly, or whatever) take a set of grooming brushes and go out into the forest in search of the glades which show evidence of unicorn presence, find a comfortable spot to sit, and wait for them to show up. Once the unicorns have been coaxed into coming near enough, the maidens will start grooming them. Any hairs which are collected in this manner would have none of the nasty consequences pertaining to harming a unicorn for personal gain. The unicorns, in fact, probably grow to enjoy being groomed and look forward to it. The herds would gradually become accustomed to being approached by witches with brushes and it would become a win-win situation all around.
The only question remaining is whether this unicorn harvest is managed as a cottage industry or whether the witches who undertake the collection of unicorn hair are employed by a consortium. It stands to reason that there are many more uses for unicorn hair than merely the making of wand cores, so the business is probably fairly lucrative.
Magic by Degree:
The feathers of a bird have a deeper involvement with the bird than the hair of a beast does with the beast. A bird’s feathers are not merely its covering, but its tools. Without its feathers, a bird cannot fly.
I seriously doubt that wands cored with Phoenix feather are cored with anything other than those feathers that are necessary to flight; namely the quills of the wings and the feathers of the tail, which help to stabilize the bird’s progress through the air. The smaller, body feathers of a Phoenix, and the down undercoating, although inappropriate for wand cores, are probably highly valued for other purposes, such as Potions brewing, or as a component of other magical artifacts.
A fairly compelling counter-indication to my original reading — that midrange magic is most closely concerned with “change” magic — is that Harry Potter who was “chosen” by a Phoenix feather wand showed no inherent excellence in either of the two most widely-practiced change magics as they are taught at Hogwarts School. His performance in Potions through his 5th year was seen to be quite genuinely sub-par and his performance in Transfiguration is stated as being inferior to his performance in Charms. Even his enormous improvement in Potions in his 6th year was less due to any true understanding or feel for the subject than the fact that he had now proved that he is capable of following detailed instructions if you engage his interest and leave him alone to do it. Clearly it is not change magics that occupy whatever range of the magical scale is best conducted by Phoenix feather.
At first glance it appears to stand to reason that there must be some other magical processes native to this part of the magical scale that are more relevant to Harry’s affinity to the frequencies of magic as channeled by a Phoenix feather wand core. By all of the indications we have been given in the series, we might provisionally assume that this range is the portion of the scale in which one is most likely to encounter spells used in magical combat and defense. These are certainly the spells at which Harry has been seen to excel, beyond all question.
However, an alternate reading might also be suggested by examining what we know of the abilities of the only other wizard in canon who is identified as the holder of a Phoenix feather wand. Which is to say, the former Tom Riddle. The most cursory examination of Mr Riddle’s abilities, however, immediately reveals major anomalies in that Mr Riddle’s most striking abilities are ones which seem to have little to do with any sort of wand. We have seen, both in PS/SS and in OotP that he does not need a wand to perform expert Legilimency, nor does he require a wand to establish dominance, or to take possession of the wills of others. Not even the grounding of a physical body was required for him to be able to overcome young Professor Quirrell — who was a wizard of considerable skill, if not, perhaps, raw power — nor is a wand required for understanding or speaking Parseltongue.
Which raises the question of whether it may not be magic of a specific “type” which resonates best to a Phoenix feather, but magic of a certain “degree”. Magic of a caliber which requires a greater amount of amplification of the necessary power in order to be channeled effectively. Magic, in short, which might benefit from being channeled through a hollow quill rather than a solid hair.
We have already been warned that the Unforgivable Curses require greater power than the standard spells taught to students. The Patronus Charm is also defined as an extremely advanced piece of magic, for all that its classification as a “Charm” would indicate that it falls somewhere in the upper register of the magical scale.
It is not unreasonable to suspect that the real advantage of Phoenix feather is not one of “range” but of “force”. This would be very much in keeping with what Mr Ollivander had to say about the wand that he sold to Tom Riddle.
For that matter, Phoenix feather wands may be uncommon enough that not even Mr Ollivander can identify their particular strengths for certain.
If one examines the logistics, Phoenix feather wands are almost certain to be comparatively rare. There are not a great many Phoenixes in the first place, and few of those have chosen to live as companions to wizards. For that matter, those that have chosen to do so are no more widely generous to wandmakers with their feathers than those in the wild.
However, birds groom themselves regularly and they DO lose feathers and they have favored places to roost. It stands to reason that anyone in the wizarding world who hears rumors of a Phoenix sighting is going to either go, or send someone to try and find the favored roosting spot. And once the bird is away will investigate the area for shed feathers.
It doesn’t always have to be tail feathers. Fawkes is described as being about the size of a swan. Swans are BIG birds (I would have expected him to be more in line with the size of a pheasant, or, at most, a peacock myself. Shorter tail, though*). A quill feather would also core a wand quite effectively. Even a tertiary quill feather, or smaller.
*In strict accuracy what is gernerally identfied as a peacock’s “tail” is, in fact a *train*. A peacock does have a tail, but it is fairly short and being underneath the decorative train, is only visble when the train is spread in its traditional display.
In addition, a Phoenix also goes through a period of limited moult before immolation. We witnessed one such immolation in Book 2. Fawkes also immolated from his perch, not from a nest of shed feathers. Feathers gleaned in this manner would be a nice monetary bonus to their finder. But I do not believe that there is any way of managing a controlled harvest of Phoenix feathers, and there is almost certainly no way to “ranch” them. Which would make the feathers which are discovered or contributed all the more rare and valuable.
And, for the record; I sniff at some of the wilder theories that I used to occasionally see posted stating that a Phoenix feather will burn or disappear when the Phoenix next immolates. That would make Phoenix feather totally unsuitable as a material for wand cores altogether. This theory is directly contradicted in canon as well. Harry watched Fawkes immolate in Dumbledore’s office in his second year, and his wand went on working just fine. And, no, the feather does not have to be “given” it only needs to be released. A shed feather will work just fine. I suppose it is possible, however, that donated feathers are particularly conductive.
And, also for that record; it is probably not possible to pluck a feather from an unwilling Phoenix. For one thing, they CAN simply disappear at will. Feathers and all...
Magical Bass Notes:
Which brings us to Magic’s lower register and dragon heartstring. Unlike the harvesting of feathers or hair, to collect a dragon heartstring requires the death of the dragon. The number of wands which can be cored with a single heartstring probably varies with the breed of dragon and its age or size. And, coming from an internal organ, some form of preservation is probably required before it can be effectively used.
Because this core type requires a death before it can be harvested, many fanon writers seem to believe that dragon heartstring is the core of choice for Dark wizards. This is unlikely to be the case, although quite a few Dark wizards probably do use wands cored by dragon heartstring. But just as many probably use wands cored by unicorn hair.
Given that I believe that the primary distinction between Dark and Light magic is that of the method of channeling the magical energies rather than specifically the intent of the caster, I do not agree that a wand component that requires a death in order to harvest must necessarily affect the channeling method used for the magic which that wand will someday be required to conduct, any more than I believe that all “good” wizards must necessarily be vegetarians who wear wooden shoes.
And, for those who do not agree with this interpretation of Magic itself, the source of the core material still will not affect the intent of the caster. If this were so, to restrict the production of dragon heartstring cored wands would be the obvious step the Ministry would take in order to regulate the use of Dark magic. Which certainly does not appear to be the case.
But, I do believe that Magic at this level demands a total involvement with its object. This is no surface make-over. Nor is it merely a question of attack and defense. At these lowest of resonances we are dealing with deep, authentic, from-the-root, from-the-seed growth. Or with a level of change that will affect its subject’s underlying nature. At this level the wizard brings into the physical world something that did not exist before, or he promotes its growth or development at a rate, or of a sort, which is outside the parameters of natural law. This is not about compulsion or protection. This is the magic of creation itself.
My initial reading was that Transfiguration and other “change” magic, occupied the mid-range of the Magical scale. Upon consideration, (and due to what appears to be a direct counter-indication in canon) I realize that this class of magic is more likely to occur within the lowest register. Transfiguration, Alchemy, and Potions are the three “change” processes that come most readily to mind. There are undoubtedly others.
Transfiguration changes the very nature of its object, rather than merely its appearance. A matchstick transfigured into a needle is a needle, and it will remain a needle until the spell is reversed, unless there is a time constraint built into the spell, or the spell has been inexpertly cast. Transfigurations may be partial or total, permanent, semi-permanent or temporary. But this is determined by the parameters of the spell and the skill of the wizard, not the register at which the magic operates. Transfigurations, by default, tend toward the permanent. Potions are impermanent due primarily to the fact that they will work themselves out of the taker’s system, given time, and need a fresh application. It is the most complex potions such as Polyjuice or Felix Felicis which have an incorporated specific time limitation. We saw that when a dose of Polyjuice, which normally lasts only an hour, went wrong it took several weeks for the effects to be eradicated. Alchemy, of course, virtually always produces permanent results.
Magic at this level may also sometimes be initially somewhat slower in response than the magic of the upper register or mid-range. It’s action, however is inexorable, like the gradual encroachment of a root system which will split rocks. Magic at this level will take a concerted effort to halt once it is well begun and will be difficult to redirect once invoked.
We know that there are several breeds of dragon, of different sizes and degrees of rarity, and that there are still dragons in the wild. But most dragons nowadays are confined to officially managed colonies, such as the one in Romania where Charles Weasley is employed. The population of such colonies must be strictly controlled or the colony would get out of hand, and quite possibly its members would start exhibiting some (probably damned dangerous) social pathologies in reaction to overcrowding.
Therefore, given that there is an ongoing and highly lucrative market for dragon products in the wizarding world, it stands to reason that in addition to those dragons that die natural deaths, the colony is also routinely culled of elderly, infirm, injured or redundant members (of the more common breeds, at least) and that these are the source of the dragon products which are used throughout at least the European market. These are effectively “ranched” dragons.
We do not know who owns or operates these colonies. It seems inevitable that they represent a fairly major source of wizarding income to somebody, whether it be private families, wizarding consortiums, various national Ministries, or the International Confederacy of Wizards.
Regardless of where or how the core materials of wands are acquired, it is evident that there is some sort of discernible quality evident in all wands that are in good working order, and that a master wandmaker can both recognize this and gauge where along the magical scale a given wand is “tuned”. For example, in the sequence depicting the weighing of the wands at the opening of the TriWizard Tournament, Mr Ollivander can tell at once, by handling it that Viktor Krum’s wand — made by a competitor, not one of his own, Mr Ollivander has no prior familiarity with this wand — is cored with dragon heartstring. He can also tell at once that Fleur Delacour’s wand, an obvious custom job made specifically for her, (possibly commissioned as a gift from her Veela grandmother) is cored with something quite non-standard.
Putting it All Together - the Wooden Casings:
If we are limited to only three predominant core types, then it would appear that many of the shadings and nuances of character from wand to wand across a wand maker’s total output is likely to depend at least as much upon the wooden casing as it does upon the core material. For that matter, one might well stop to ask why, apart from tradition, wands appear universally to be made from wood, or let us be more specific, from plant material.
I rather think that something of the Laws of Similarity might be being invoked here. Originally a wizard channeled magical energies through his own body. Which is alive. Before wizards developed cored wands, they used staffs. These were most commonly made of wood. It is likely that at some point there were attempts to channel magic through staffs that were not made of wood. Through metal perhaps. I suspect that these attempts did not work out very well.
While no one would be able to maintain a wand which was made from a living plant for any length of time after the plant was cut, it is very likely that wood became the material of choice, both for the fact that there are a lot of different varieties of woods, and that wood was once a living material.
Indeed, the fact that wood when still alive once directed the flow of moisture and nutrients through its host from root to branch to leaf, in only one direction, might not be irelevant. Such a factor might well serve to help to enforce the “polarity” of wands, which are also designed to allow the magic to be channeled through them in only one direction.
That wood has at least some degree of resilience and flexibility is also an advantage, and the fact that wands appear to be most commonly cored with animal products is probably also a factor of the underlying trade-craft of wandmaking.
I would not care to hazard a guess on the possible behavior of a wand which might be made from an animal product directly, such as, for example, bone, or horn. Such a wand would necessarily be very uncommon. And I’ve no idea what such a wand would even be cored with.
There is an amazingly wide range of potential wood types from which such casings might be made. Some of them (like the canon noted holly and yew) are heavily loaded with symbolism. Yew in particular has long association with magic, as is noted in the following;
Yew (Voldemort’s wand);
"It is often found growing near churches’ graveyards and it represents eternal life and the cycle of life and death in pagan religions. Magic wands were traditionally made from yew. The foliage and seeds of a yew contain highly poisonous alkaloids that act to stop the heart of an animal so suddenly that no symptoms are seen, the animal simply drops dead."
Kudos to "mitchbailey" of the Harry Potter for Grownups list who looked this up and passed it on.
As a side note regarding the perennial question of what sort of wand might be carried by Severus Snape: On one of my lists, [*Note: it was many years ago and I’m too lazy to go digging to find the poster’s name. Assuming that the site is even still online, which is uncertain.] someone on HP4Grownups posted a link to a site listing the symbolism and associations of various trees native to the Caledonian forest. I read through a number of the wood types posted there, and think a good argument could be made in favor of juniper. Like elder, it is a bush or small tree which produces berries, and is native to the British isles (and much of the rest of Europe, I suspect). Its most widely recognized use is that of the fruit for flavoring liquor, and in addition, it has a reputation of being favored by people distilling illegally since the wood burns with very little smoke (stealth brewing?) and, what I found even more interesting, what smoke it does produce is very aromatic and in folk remedies is used medicinally for purification. All of which sounded just terribly appropriate for a Potions master. An added kicker is that Juniper is commonly referred to as “Scottish yew”. But some of the other trees listed had some fairly interesting symbolism attached to them as well.
The Celtic tree astrology page which I used to have a link for did not list juniper, (and Severus Snape’s birthdate would assign him to birch) although it is a native of the region and period that the Celtic culture was dominant. Kate Greenaway’s late-19th century compendium of the Language of Flowers lists juniper as symbolizing Succor or Protection. In Greenaway, yew merely signifies Sorrow.
Ron Weasley’s lost wand, one of the few whose components are known, was made of willow. Hagrid’s broken wand was made from oak. Rowling implied that it is largely the wood of the wand which directs its “choice” of wizard. I postulate that the issue of “choice” is more a question of “fit”, and there is no conscious process involved, nor should such be assumed. To do so is to be intentionally misleading (which, to be frank, is likely to be Ollivander’s intent in using such a term).
We now are given to believe that were she to do it over again, Ms Rowling would assign Ron a wand made from ash. The Celtic symbolism is quite different from Greenaway’s late-19th century symbolism. In Grenaway’s ‘The Language of Flowers’, Ash Tree = Grandeur. Which seems rather inappropriate for Ron Weasley. In fact, almost laughably so (although certainly no more so than Chestnut = Luxury). Miss Greenaway turns out to list several varieties of willow, however;
Creeping Willow (which is probably not a tree) = Love Forsaken
Water Willow = Freedom
Weeping Willow = Mourning
Willow Herb (also not actually a tree, I suspect) = Pretension
French Willow = Bravery and Humanity
Somehow one suspects that Ron’s and perhaps other Weasleys’ wands are probably made from French willow. Or possibly water willow. Lily Evans’s wand was also stated as having been of willow.
According to Greenaway; holly symbolises Foresight. And although oak leaves are for Bravery the oak tree is Hospitality. White oak is Independence. Live oak is Liberty which somehow seems appropriate in that Hagrid’s wand had “officially” been long broken. Even though he had finally been absolved from all blame in the matter of Myrtle’s death, he seems not to have been permitted to acquire a new wand and live openly as a wizard.
There is no listing in Greenaway for the mahogany that James Potter’s wand is assigned, sorry. And definitely no listing for it among the Celts. Mahogany is an exotic wood, not native to Great Britain.
As to some other wood possibilities;
Acacia = Friendship
Apple = Temptation
Mountain Ash/Rowan (I believe) = Protection
Aspen Tree = Lamentation
Barbury tree = Sharpness
Bay Tree = Glory
Beech Tree = Prosperity
Birch = Meekness (one rather doubts that Professor Snape’s wand is birch, regardless of his birthday. Rowling does tell us that she only gave the trio Celtic-associated wands)
Blackthorn = Difficulty (Hm...)
Box Tree = Stoicism
Cedar = Strength
Cedar of Lebanon = Incorruptible
Chestnut Tree = Luxury
Cherry Tree (common) = Good Education
White Cherry = Deception
Cypress = Death, Despair
Dogwood = Durability
Ebony Tree = Blackness
Elder = Zealousness (!?)
Elm = Dignity
American Elm = Patriotism
Fig Tree = Prolific. An individual fig by itself signifies an Argument. (Well perhaps not ALL the Weasleys use willow. Molly Prewett wasn’t a Weasley yet when she got chosen by her wand.)
Filbert/Hazel = Reconciliation
Fir, Scotch Fir = Elevation
Hawthorn & Flowering Almond = Hope
Hemlock = You Will be My Death
Hornbeam = Ornament
Larch = Audacity, Boldness
Mountain Laurel, = Ambition
Linden, or Lime Tree = Conjugal love
Locust Tree = Elegance
Magnolia = Love of Nature
Swamp Magnolia = Perseverance
Maple = Reserve
Mulberry Tree (black) = I Shall Not Survive You
Mulberry Tree (white) = Wisdom
Myrrh = Gladness
Myrtle = Love (Oh, really!?)
Olive = Peace (Although not, I suspect, in association with “Hornsby”...)
Orange Tree = Generosity
Pear Tree = Comfort
Pine = Pity
Spruce Pine = Hope in Adversity
Plane Tree = Genius
Plum tree = Fidelity
Wild Plum = Independence
Black Poplar = Courage
Privet = Prohibition (!?! Has JKR read Greenaway?)
Spindle Tree = Your Charms are Engraven on my Heart (phew!)
Strawberry Tree = Esteem and Love
Sycamore = Curiosity
Walnut = Intellect
I probably have missed some, but these all seemed semi-reasonable woods for wands. The addition of the Celtic assignment of "vine" would dictate the addition of some further entries.
Most flowering garden vines do not produce wood sturdy enough for use as wand casings. Nevertheless, there are some vines which will produce a very woody base if they are permitted to. I am reasonably familiar with one particular example of a quite common wisteria vine which grew to eventually crush the original house it was planted next to (back sometime around the year 1900), and has been trained to completely cover two suburban residential lots. Grapevines which are generally cut back almost to the ground at the end of each year’s season produce a very massive root system which would be more than capable of being used for any number of wands. There are probably other vine types which will do the same.
Neither Greenaway nor the Celts seem to have been aware of wisteria, which I believe to have originally been native to Asia. However, grape — wild grape, that is, in Greenaway signifies Charity. Generic “vine” signifies Intoxication. Ivy, which the Celts included in their tree zodiac, and which also will produce enough wood for a wand, given time, in Greenaway signifies Fidelity or Marriage. Reed, also a part of the Celtic system, in Greenaway signifies Compliance, or Music.
The Celtic symbolism for “vine” is;
Blackberry = Prosperity, Protection, sacred to Brid;
Blueberry = Spirituality; Dream Magic (Sounds like Trelawney);
Grape = Fertility, Inspiration, Prosperity, Binding;
Thistle (query; since when is Thistle a vine?) = Courage, Protection, Strength.
While we are at it; The Celtic symbolism (acto the sites above) for Ash is Prosperity, Protection, Healing. The symbolism for Ivy = Healing, Protection, Cooperation, Exorcism. For Reed = Fertility, Protection, Love, Family Concerns.
• • • •
There is also a notation that while the current calendar year starts from the closest full moon to Yule, it is possible that in the earliest times the cycle started with the full moon closest to Samhain; since before the influence of the Norse invaders became widespread, it was Samhain which marked the Celtic New Year. If this is the case The moon of the Birch Tree which begin’s the cycle might be reassigned to the "Reed" moon’s time-slot of October 28 - November 24. But probably not.
If this is done, Ron’s birth date does reassign to willow, but Harry’s holly assignment shifts to vine, and Hermione’s vine shifts to reed. Neither of which fit particularly well. Mind you, since the Celtic symbolism for willow is Romantic Love, Healing, Protection, Fertility, and Women’s Magic, it doesn’t come across as the best possible match for Ron anyway. Whereas Greenaway’s French willow seems quite acceptable. As pointed out above, her Ash Tree = Grandeur seems just as silly when applied to Ron as Celtic willow does.
Another question which newbies seemed determined to raise is whether in order for two wands to be “brothers” it is necessary for the core material to have been collected from the same animal or whether it is only necessary for the two wands’ cores to be of the same type. A moment’s reflection should be sufficient to remind us that if nearly all the wands in Great Britain are cored with only one of three basic materials, if all that was required was that the cores match in type, there would be Priori Incantatums going off just about every third time a couple of wizards got into an argument. Which is clearly not the case.
In order to set off the Priori Incantatum as demonstrated in GoF, not only must the wand cores have come from the same donor animal, but the two spells must also have been cast at exactly the same moment. Had Voldemort’s Avada Kedavra and Harry’s Expeliarmus not been cast at the same time, the first one cast would have gotten in first. Had the two wands cores come from two different Phoenixes, at best we might have seen a repeat of Harry’s impromptu duel with Draco Malfoy, with the spells colliding and ricocheting in midair. Although, given that the AK curse is “unblockable” it is more likely that it would have simply overridden the Expeliarmus and hit Harry if he had not been able to duck out of its way. (We have been shown repeatedly that the much-touted unblockability of the AK curse can be readily overcome by the intervention of any solid physical object.)
• • • •
In the figure of Mr Ollivander of Diagon Alley we get our only glimpse of what may be a professionally neutral party. But even there I think Ollivander’s allegiances are more likely to be with Dumbledore than they are with maintaining his carefully neutral status as a non-combatant. Ollivander is effectively the British wizarding world’s primary munitions manufacturer, and he supplies everybody, regardless of their alignment. He also appears to be a personal associate of Albus Dumbledore’s, although that may simply be a reflection of Dumbledore’s effective position as one of the most well known and influential figures of wizarding Britain. Olivander’s disappearance by the opening of HBP was disquieting. He might indeed have voluntarily taken himself and his stock out of the equation, but since we already know that Ollivander’s shop remained open through Voldemort’s first rise (otherwise how would Muggle-born Lily Evans have purchased her wand from him?), its sudden closure now was ominous.
(It is also hard to understand why, if Ollivander had disappeared, and his shop is reported to be empty, he would have been forced to create a new wand for Peter Pettigrew soon after he was kidnapped by the DEs. Couldn’t he merely have fitted him with one from his stock? For that matter, if Ollivander’s stock also disappeared, why should there be any question about Bellatrix having managed to get a new wand after Harry stole her old one?)
We also do not know just when it was that Dumbledore’s companion bird, Fawkes, donated those two tail feathers to Mr Ollivander’s craft. But it must have been at some point before the Autumn term of 1938, when the young Tom Riddle purchased his 13-inch yew wand, and well before Albus Dumbledore was much more than a rather well-known wizarding scholar and researcher, member of the Wizengamot, currently working as a teacher (and possibly Deputy Headmaster) at Hogwarts. The 11-inch holly wand would probably have been made about the same time, but waited unsold until Harry Potter showed up to claim it (or be claimed by it).
• • • •
It may have been around the time of Riddle’s first disappearance from Britain that Dumbledore might have thought to consult Ollivander to get whatever information was available concerning him. Although what is almost as likely is that Ollivander, who received both feathers from Dumbledore’s own Phoenix, presumably at the same time, would have already informed Albus that one of the wands had been purchased by young Tom. Ollivander, who remembers every wand he has ever sold may have also reminded Albus that that particular wand happened to have a “brother” which was yet unsold.
At the time of his first disappearance, Riddle had been working in Knockturn Alley for at least the previous year and a half, and he may well have been a popular member of the London shopkeepers’ little community. It is also likely that Tom had been in the habit of picking up various random bits of information from his fellow vendors and the various local craftsmen. Ollivander may have known him reasonably well.
From our collection of evidence, it is apparent that Pettigrew* removed the yew wand from the Potter’s house, at some point before heading off to Albania. Whether he did so when he originally staged his disappearance in 1981, or just before he headed overseas in 1994, is uncertain, now that we know the house to still be standing, and unguarded. The wand’s ID may have rested entirely upon Mr Ollivander’s say-so until the Priori Incantatum in the Little Hangleton graveyard confirmed the matter.
*Peter Pettigrew seems to have been in a position to have made quite a collection of other people’s wands. We saw him try to make a snatch for Lupin’s at the end of PoA, although Harry managed to get that one away from him. That he turned up at Godric’s Hollow, and removed Voldemort’s wand at some point is also a certainty. There is also Bertha Jorkins’s wand still unaccounted for, as well as, for that matter, both James’s and Lily’s. While we are at it, Barty Crouch Sr escaped on Pettigrew’s watch, and he clearly fought his way to Hogwarts overland, without a wand, so Pettigrew probably has Crouch’s as well. And, I am sure that after the shouting was over, Pettigrew almost certainly helped himself to Cedric Diggory’s, as well. Harry Potter recovered Cedric’s body, but Cedric and Harry had both had their wands out in the cemetery before Pettigrew turned up with BabyMort, and when Cedric died the wand was probably dropped.
Nobody seems to have thought to search Peter for a wand in the Shrieking Shack, either, so he may have been carrying Voldemort’s even then (although that less likely since it would be difficult for a small man such as Pettigrew to conceal a 13-inch wand) and he probably even still had had his own original one, although he seems to have lost it by the time Ollivander was abducted early in the summer of ’96. He may have been bullied into loaning it to one of the DEs who took part in the Raid on the DoM a month or so earlier. But it is abundantly clear that Pettigrew helped himself to any wand that wasn’t nailed down.
It would be highly embarrassing to the Weasley family if it should be discovered that Pettigrew’s stash of wands, including Voldemort’s, had been stored for safekeeping in their own attic over the years of Voldemort’s absence. But the fact that the Weasleys seem to have removed to 12 Grimmauld Place over much of the duration of year 5 would have made it a simple matter for Pettigrew to have infiltrated the Burrow to collect anything that he might have left in keeping there under the guardianship of the Weasley family Ghoul. If the Weasley family, which we already know is accustomed to recycling family wands, had any others in storage there, Pettigrew is likely to have appropriated those as well.
In any case, since it was known that Riddle’s wand had a brother, once he was the object of an investigation, Ollivander was probably asked by Dumbledore to let him know when the brother wand found a buyer, and Ollivander did indeed do so.
Although, given Albus, he had probably been fully confident that the brother wand would go to Harry Potter long before there was any question of Harry turning up to claim it.
• • • •
Despite my own tendency to suspect that the Dementor attack at the opening of OotP, which would have gotten Harry expelled and — incidentally — his wand snapped, was simply Dolores Umbridge’s very own Bright Idea, it is almost as likely that she may have been led to come up with that particular bright idea through the deft prompting of Lucius Malfoy. Getting that particular wand out of circulation might have struck someone on Voldemort’s side of the game board as a Good Thing. They had nearly all witnessed the kind of mess that wand could make of their Leader’s plans. And it would have been much easier to lure Harry into the DoM if he had been living in London with Sirius than if he was at school.
But Umbridge’s exile to Hogwarts soon afterwards suggests that it may have been decided that her tendency to exceed her orders was better exercised somewhere other than within the Ministry itself. At least during that particular year. Matters in the Ministry were rather delicately balanced that year, and there was far too much of a risk of her upsetting someone else’s rather more subtle strategies by leaving her to barge about on her own authority.
The constant threats of expulsion which Umbridge indiscriminately flung around Hogwarts throughout her year there do not have the feel of any sort of organized plot. Just of Umbridge’s general stance for trying to intimidate anyone who might attempt to defy or oppose her by throwing out the worst threat that she can think of at the moment. And we can take our measure of Umbridge from the fact that this particular threat was invariably grossly in excess of the requirements of the situation.
However, we were also given a strong reminder that expulsion from Hogwarts is a much more serious thing than expulsion from, say, Eton or Rugby. It is not merely a case of being permanently sent down from that particular school. If that were all, it would only be a question of finding another school which would accept the child and would carry no further lasting consequences.
However, quite apart from the fact that Hogwarts is the only acredited magical training school in Great Britain; in expulsion from Hogwarts one’s wand is also snapped. Raising that particular penalty to what effectively amounts to expulsion from ever attaining the subsequent rights and privileges of being a full citizen of wizarding Britain. Expulsion prior to having qualified as a wizard by sitting the OWLs and receiving a passing score on some undetermined number of subjects is effectively expulsion from ever being accepted and legally recognized as a wizard. i.e., Second-class citizenship, forever.
We do not know the actual minimum acceptable number of OWLs, only that the Weasley twins received 3 each, which was enough for them to qualify for Apparation licenses, and left them in possession of their wands, despite never having sat the NEWTs.
As pointed out above, even though Rubeus Hagrid was cleared of all suspicion of involvement in Moaning Myrtle’s death since the end of Harry’s 2nd year, his unquestionably having brought an acromantula into the Castle seems to have permanently denied him any possibility of replacing his broken wand and living openly as a wizard.
Had Umbridge’s ploy with that Dementor attack succeeded in its secondary objective, a similar wandless fate would have awaited Harry. Assuming that the Dementors hadn’t simply removed him from the equation in the first place.
If to disqualify Harry from ever achieving full wizard status was in fact “Professor” Umbridge’s aim, it is one that failed. Harry has clearly received a sufficiency of OWLs necessary for him to qualify to try for an Apparation license when he turned 17. (Even though by that time for him to attempt to do so was out of the question and he Apparated illegally all through the course of DHs.) Even though he did fail to return to Hogwarts for classes, or to sit the NEWTs he had still qualified as an “ordinary wizard”.
Little as Rowling seems to think that description may suit him.