According to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, the intricacies behind wandlore - the history of wands and what makes them work - are "jealously guarded secrets." The books and films offer hints and discussions about such wandlore concepts as cores, wood, and allegiances, but ultimately raise more questions than they answer.
Luckily, Rowling has not completely closed the book on her universe. So in addition to the information available in the books and films, she's offered fans additional tidbits about the inner workings of her magical world. Fans have used this information to add to and speculate on the spells, secrets, and mysteries that wizarding wands wield. How do wands work in Harry Potter? It's more complicated than you might think.
Hand-Me-Down Wands Are Inherently UnreliablePhoto: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets / Warner Bros. Pictures
"The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter," Mr. Ollivander tells Harry. "It's not always clear why."
Harry Potter's first visit to Ollivander's wand shop reveals that wizards don't wield any old wand. Instead, they use a specific wand that is a special match. Instead of the wizard choosing a preferred wood, core, and length, the wand picks those qualities to make the perfect match.
The double-edged sword of this piece of lore is that children with parents who can't afford to purchase a new wand might inherit an old one from another family member. This sets them up for failure early on, as seen in the tribulations of Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom and their inherited first wands.
Ron's first wand was especially bad, according to Ollivander, because an "ash wand cleaves to its one true master and ought not to be passed on or gifted... because it will lose power and skill. This tendency is extreme if the core is of unicorn." Sadly, Ron's first, hand-me-down wand (from his brother Charlie) was an ash wand with a unicorn core.
Ollivander's Three Supreme Cores Aren't The Only OptionsPhoto: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone / Warner Bros. Pictures
A core is the magical power source for a wand, and any number of magical materials will do the trick. For example, some wands have used wampus cat hair, jackalope antlers, and basilisk horns (in the case of Salazar Slytherin's wand).
Young wizards who travel to Ollivander's for their new wands, however, are presented with only three core possibilities: unicorn hair, dragon heartstring, or phoenix feather. What they, and more casual fans of the franchise, might not know is that many more choices for wand cores are available; Ollivander just chooses not to supply them, focusing instead on what he refers to as the "supreme cores."
Ollivander's father used "lesser cores" like kelpie hair for his wands. Throughout his life, Ollivander watched his father struggle with these cores, so he dedicated himself to experimenting with and discovering the finest wand cores.
The Amount Of Magic Imbued In A Wand Gives It A Mind Of Its OwnPhoto: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 / Warner Bros. Pictures
Because wands' magical qualities comes from their "cores," wands are described as "quasi-sentient," meaning they sort of have a mind of their own. "They're not exactly animate, but they're close to it," J.K. Rowling said during a PotterCast. "As close to it as you can get in an object because they carry so much magic."
A wand's sentience appears most prominently in its allegiance to its wielder. As Ollivander states in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the wand chooses the wielder. It also chooses whether or not to change its loyalty, and sometimes will do so if its wielder is defeated in battle.
Wands Can Run Out Of Magic And 'Wilt'Photo: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets / Warner Bros. Pictures
Some wands eventually lose their magic and refuse to perform any longer in a process known as "wilting."
Wands made from hazelwood are so emotionally connected to their owners that they will wilt after the person's passing. Sycamore wands, made for adventures and "questing," will occasionally wilt in spectacular fashion by bursting into flames once their owners grow up and settle down.
Occasionally, a wizard will choose to extract the core from their wilted wand and place it in a new casing.