Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows raises as many questions as it resolves concerning the Elder Wand and wandlore but J.K. Rowling has at least given us some answers and clues to pursue. Rowling uses terms like allegiance, affinity, and choice in relation to wands but what does she mean by them? Dumbledore, Voldemort, and Harry all become, for very different reasons, obsessed with the legendary power of the Elder Wand but what is its true significance? Can wands make decisions or act independently, and how do wands interact with wizards? This essay explores the centrality of the Elder Wand to Deathly Hallows, as the case for its role as both parable and instrument of Voldemort’s self-destruction is made. Finally, the relationship of the chivalric code to wandlore and the Elder Wand and its connection to Godric Gryffindor, Dumbledore, Harry, and Severus Snape is also examined.
All the terms that apply to wandlore offer insights into wizard culture but allegiance is one of the most revealing, and fortunately Rowling went into some detail in an interview as to how it applied to mastering the Elder Wand:
“To truly own the Elder Wand, which means to receive the full benefits, double-edged though it is, of all its power, you have to have conquered the previous owner,” explained Rowling.
At the end of Book 6, “Half-Blood Prince,” Draco disarmed Dumbledore before Snape killed Dumbledore.
“And that meant he [Draco] conquered him, even though Dumbledore was very weak at the time, he was very ill. He was on the point of collapse when it happened,” Rowling said. Dumbledore didn’t want to lose his wand at that point and Draco disarmed him. So that meant the wand gave Draco its allegiance, even though Draco never touched it.
“From that moment on, that wand gave its allegiance to Draco, and it wouldn’t work as well for anyone but Draco.”
When Harry wrestles Draco’s “everyday” wand out of his hand at the Malfoy’s mansion, he conquers Draco, and therefore the Elder Wand — hidden in Dumbledore’s tomb at the time — transfers its allegiance to Harry.1
The historical context for the use of the term allegiance in wandlore is discernibly medieval.2 As Rowling put it “I’ve never wanted to be a witch, but an alchemist, now that’s a different matter.” 3 Nicolas Flamel (1330-1418)4 and the legend of the Philosopher’s Stone, Hogwarts “founded over a thousand years ago,” 5 the Great Hall, the suits of armour throughout the castle, the banquets, etc. conjure a particularly medieval contextual setting and of course alchemy reached its apogee in medieval Europe. The wand is “conquered,” the previous owner “disarmed,” all indicate a violent and hierarchical context in which the parameters for wandlore have been set.
Rowling focuses on the word allegiance to describe the Elder Wand’s transference of mastery over it from Dumbledore to Draco and finally to Harry. This appears to imply an independent existence if not the ability to make independent choices. Although allegiance in the modern sense can refer to a citizen swearing fidelity to the flag or Constitution, in feudal society it meant “the obligations of a vassal to his liege lord,” 6 which is an accurate description of the relationship between wand and wizard: one is called “master” the other is a subject, vassal, or servant. Rowling’s description of the wand as “merely a vehicle – a vessel for what lies inside the person” 7 confirms its subservient position within wizard culture.
Ollivander also tells the trio “Of course, the manner of taking matters. Much also depends upon the wand itself. In general, however, where a wand has been won, its allegiance will change.” 8 So, there are exceptions, but the general rule is that a wand’s allegiance is won through conquest of the previous owner, whether it concerns the Elder Wand or any other. This information is later applied by Harry to understand Hermione’s difficulties with Bellatrix’s wand.
Allegiance-related wandlore only becomes significant at the closure of Half-Blood Prince with the sudden termination of the trio’s childhood along with Dumbledore’s life and protection. It is only from that point, when the trio leave Hogwarts and wholly enter the very distinct medieval-like world of wizard combat, that they are exposed to the full, often brutal, ramifications of wandlore.
Wand: Time and Travel
The Elder Wand is capable of sensing over considerable distances the conquest of its previous master, from Dumbledore’s tomb in Scotland to Malfoy Manor in Wiltshire, roughly 500 miles. So, the Elder Wand’s receptivity is therefore not restricted by distance and it appears to react instantaneously.
It can also apparently sense the passage of time. Compare these two descriptions of the wand entering into new ownership. The first is when Voldemort takes the Elder Wand from Dumbledore’s tomb: “The spider-like hand swooped and pulled the wand from Dumbledore’s grasp, and as he took it, a shower of sparks flew from its tip, sparkling over the corpse of its last owner, ready to serve a new master at last.” 9 And, when Harry takes possession: “[he] saw the Elder Wand fly high […] spinning through the air towards the master it would not kill, who had come to take full possession of it at last.” 10
In the first instance the wand had not been used since Dumbledore’s funeral in mid-June of the previous year, roughly nine months. In the second instance the Elder Wand’s allegiance had been transferred from Draco to Harry in March but possession was only finally transferred to its true master in May upon Harry’s defeat of Voldemort.11 The way the two quoted passages are constructed appear to indicate that the sensation of “and not before time” (at last) is attributed to the Elder Wand.
Concomitant with this, the wand needs to have some form of memory, or it would not be able to learn or retain information of its previous encounters, nor would it have any sense of time, assuming the Elder Wand sensed its having been neglected for example. The most graphic example of wand memory is Harry’s wand recognising Voldemort during their initial battle in “The Seven Potters” chapter of Deathly Hallows.
Affinity: Alchemy and Combat Combine
Rowling spent a great deal of time creating the parameters of her magical world:
The five years I spent on HP and the Philosopher’s Stone were spent constructing The Rules. I had to lay down all my parameters. The most important thing to decide when you’re creating a fantasy world is what the characters CAN’T do.12
These parameters apply to the wands as well and Rowling chooses a particular term for a successful interaction between wizard/witch and wand: “The best results, however, must always come where there is the strongest affinity between wizard and wand.” 13
The Collins English Dictionary defines one of affinity’s meanings as: Chemistry: a. the force holding atoms together in a molecule; chemical attraction. b. a measure of the tendency of a chemical reaction to take place expressed in terms of the free energy change.14
One of the most famous examples of the use of the term “affinity” in chemistry is Ētienne François Geoffroy’s Tables des Rapports (1718-20),15 translated as tables of affinities, which listed chemicals that reacted with one another or helped promote chemical reactions. Rowling’s description of Harry’s initial encounter at Ollivander’s is interesting: “Harry took the wand. He felt a sudden warmth in his fingers […] red and gold sparks shot from the end like a firework.” 16 Both the warmth in Harry’s hand and the mention of a firework are suggestive of chemical reactions, or, in human relations, a “chemical attraction.”
But affinity works both ways, the wizard or witch can feel an absence of affinity from the wand as well as a lack of affinity towards it, should they feel ambiguous about their wand for any reason.
Voldemort senses he is not the true master of the Elder Wand: “No, I have performed my usual magic. I am extraordinary, but this wand … no. It has not revealed the wonders it has promised. I feel no difference between this wand and the one I procured from Ollivander all those years ago.” 17 Voldemort then kills Snape incorrectly believing that he had “conquered” Dumbledore. Voldemort believed Snape having the Elder Wand’s true allegiance apparently explained its lack of affinity and underpowered performance during his possession.
Harry confirms Voldemort’s feelings were right: “Does the wand in your [Voldemort’s] hand know its last master [Draco] was Disarmed? Because if it does … I am the true master of the Elder Wand.” 18
Examples of the witch or wizard feeling a lack of affinity towards a wand, as well as sensing a possible absence of affinity from the wand, include Hermione’s response to possessing Bellatrix’s wand, and Harry’s response to his blackthorn wand, which had been seized from a “Snatcher” by Ron and given to Harry to replace his broken holly and phoenix feather wand:
Hermione looked frightened that the wand might sting or bite her as she picked it up. “I hate this thing. I really hate it. It feels all wrong, it doesn’t work properly for me … it’s like a bit of her. […] This is the wand that tortured Neville’s mum and dad, and who knows how many other people? This is the wand that killed Sirius!” 19
Hermione was perhaps too afraid to add that it was also the wand that was used to torture her.
Also, Hermione had conveniently forgotten her advice to Harry after he made similar complaints about his Snatcher wand that was almost certainly used to abuse others: “You just need to practise, it’s all a matter of confidence, Harry.” However, Harry “knew why she wanted it to be all right: she still felt guilty about breaking his wand.” 20Harry’s sense of loss is a reminder of another meaning of affinity: a conscious emotional attachment, of which there appears to be no evidence from the wands themselves.
Harry offers the real answer to the dilemma of how to create an affinity with a wand and win its allegiance: “Remembering what Ollivander had told them of the secret workings of wands, Harry thought he knew what Hermione’s problem was: she had not won the walnut wand’s allegiance by taking it personally from Bellatrix.” 21
So, although the wand’s attraction to the wizard is described in terms of choice this may not allude to any form of independent consciousness:
The wand chooses the wizard. That much has always been clear […] these connections are complex. An initial attraction, and then a mutual quest for experience, the wand learning from the wizard, the wizard from the wand.22
The wand’s choice, or perhaps affinity, and what Ollivander terms an ability to “learn,” may in fact be based mainly on alchemy but, of course, we must add magic, the ability to connect with supernatural forces, which would remain the incalculable element in any wand’s relationship with its owner.
Rowling’s choice of words to describe Harry’s reunion with his repaired wand may also be telling: “He picked up the holly and phoenix wand, and felt a sudden warmth in his fingers, as though wand and hand were rejoicing at their reunion.” 23 Rowling could have avoided using as though/as if and simply said “as wand and hand both rejoiced at their reunion” to indicate some form of conscious response on the wand’s part, but chose not to.
Wands and Moral Constraints
The Elder Wand appears to have no sense of conscience; it is just as prepared to serve Grindelwald as Dumbledore, Voldemort, or Harry Potter. Ollivander also tells us the Elder Wand is “immensely powerful.” 24 But is it, or any other wand, capable of independent action? Rowling and Ollivander tell us not: “A wand, in my world, is merely a vehicle – a vessel for what lies inside the person.” 25 And, according to Ollivander, wands are “dangerous in the wrong hands.” 26
Wands, then, are not capable of making totally independent or moral choices. This is strictly the preserve/domain of their masters and mistresses. Or, as Rowling puts it: “I know it’s unfashionable to use this word, morality, and I never set out to preach, but I think the books do explore the misuse of power.” 27
Rowling has also described the books as “moral.” 28 At the heart of the book is the notion that choosing to do good rather than intrinsic powers or abilities is what defines and delineates a moral world: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” 29 Therefore, if wands were permitted an ability to make moral choices we would also constantly have to grapple with whether it was the witch/wizard or the wand behind any given decision or act.
There is one example where a wand “acted of its own accord” 30 but when Harry describes it to members of the Order of the Phoenix Hermione dismisses it as “impossible” and nobody else believes him.31 The incident was in fact considered such an exception that Dumbledore claims, “no wandmaker could, I think, ever have predicted it or explained it.” 32 Dumbledore and Hermione are referring to Harry’s early confrontation with Voldemort in Deathly Hallows when Harry’s holly and phoenix feather wand recognised and attacked “a man who was both kin and mortal enemy.” 33
Revelations at King’s Cross
But Dumbledore’s observation is passed to Harry at King’s Cross. How far can it be relied upon? Is Harry just hallucinating, for example? Can we rely on Dumbledore’s explanations? At least we know that much of Rowling’s “exposition” is done through Dumbledore as she explained in one interview:
Lizo: Does Dumbledore speak for you?
Rowling: Oh yes, very much so. Dumbledore often speaks for me.34
Dumbledore’s exposition in King’s Cross, not only of wandlore, but of the essential issues at the heart of the whole series, is either both genuine and accurate, or illusionary. If Harry is hallucinating then we can dismiss parts, or all, of Dumbledore’s account. However, the case for its accuracy has to be substantiated. So, to begin with, where is Harry? This is Rowling’s answer given in the post Deathly Hallows Bloomsbury webchat:
Elisabeth: In the chapter of Kings Cross, are they behind the veil or in some world between the real world and the veil?
Rowling: You can make up your own mind on this, but I think that Harry entered a kind of limbo between life and death.35
Rowling does not contradict the questioner Elisabeth’s assumption that Harry is in some form of limbo, Rowling does however offer her conception of what that limbo is. Harry describes himself as having been “unconscious,” 36 so he was not hallucinating, dreaming, or fantasising, yet he appears to be in another world of some description where Dumbledore has access. Harry cannot be truly dead, as Rowling has explicitly stated “magic cannot bring dead people back to life.” 37 Even the Resurrection Stone only “recalls” the dead, it does not physically bring them back to life, they remain “separated […] as by a veil,” “sad,” “cold,” and do “not truly belong” to the “mortal world.” 38 The description of Dumbledore during the encounter at King’s Cross is precisely converse to all other descriptions of ghosts and recalled spirits, and Harry even touches Dumbledore at one point.39 We are, then, neither in the land of the living nor the truly dead but an intermediate space, i.e. a form of limbo, where Harry and Dumbledore are able to communicate and meet on equal terms.
Another pointer to King’s Cross being a genuine encounter is Dumbledore telling Harry he need not return. As moral choice is at the heart of the series it would be inconsistent, not to say mildly nonsensical, for Harry to be offered such a profound choice for purely abstract purposes, in other words to show that Harry, theoretically, would have made a brave choice. The choice to go back or “on” was real,40 were it not it would have no heartfelt resonance, no profound meaning. Actions, when derived from a choice rooted in reality, will always resonate more profoundly than abstract intellectual calculations, or hallucinatory desires.
Furthermore, Rowling has all but confirmed that it was an accurate account: Harry was a direct descendant of the Peverells, and he was a distant relation of Voldemort as are “nearly all” wizards,41 Voldemort did end up as we see him in King’s Cross upon his death,42 Dumbledore’s account of Grindelwald was true, he did believe he might have killed his sister and resisted fighting Grindelwald (we now know that this had even greater pathos due to his “infatuation” with Grindelwald in his teens), and Dumbledore did conquer the Elder Wand in a “duel” with Grindelwald.43 Rowling also confirmed Harry was the master of death and the Hallows,44 and that the Resurrection Stone really could “recall the dead.” 45 It follows he did not hallucinate his parents, Lupin, or Sirius, on his way to his sacrificial “death” in The Forest Again chapter either. Unlike Dumbledore in King’s Cross they were “neither ghost nor truly flesh,” and they were a “part of” him.46
Assuming Harry’s encounter with Dumbledore in the King’s Cross chapter is genuine, and the information given accurate, we can further deduce that the wand’s magical and alchemical ability stretches to recognising other wizards and other wands’ traces, whether upon direct or indirect contact.
For example during the first Deathly Hallows battle with Voldemort the wand acts “of its own accord,” drags Harry’s hand “round like some great magnet,” and fires a spell at Voldemort because it recognises “a man who was both kin and mortal enemy” having “imbibed some of the power and qualities of Voldemort’s wand […], which is to say that it contained a little of Voldemort himself.” 47 Voldemort was at some distance from Harry, yet the wand was able to identify Voldemort whilst both he and Harry were in mid flight and without the presence of Voldemort’s wand to aid it. Voldemort had previously discovered his and Harry’s wands were twins and were unable to duel to the death, so he had temporarily rejected his and had instead taken Lucius Malfoy’s wand to kill Harry.
Then, there is another intriguing example, which Rowling, as far as I know, has yet to give an explicit answer to. Did the phoenix feather wand recognise Harry in Ollivander’s shop through alchemical or magical traces left by its twin following Voldemort’s failed attack upon Harry? If so, the wand is capable of recognising its twin directly upon contact with the hand of the wizard who, in this case, had been attacked by its twin. Could Harry’s wand also have been just as attracted to the power of Voldemort’s curse and soul fragment within Harry, as originally its twin had been to Voldemort himself?
Elder Wand as Parable
The accuracy of the King’s Cross exposition, particularly as it applied to the Elder Wand, is also vital to support its role as parable. The Elder Wand’s purpose as one component of the Deathly Hallows as well as in “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” a story contained within The Tales of Beedle The Bard,48 is to conjoin two of Rowling’s great themes of the series: Death and Moral Choice. The Tale of The Three Brothers is in effect a parable that embraces the nature of good and evil, how they manifest themselves, and the twin ultimate goals: to live life with love and moral choice as guides that in turn facilitate facing death with equanimity.
How are these abstract goals explored within the series? Rowling points us towards the theme of tolerance: “The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry” … and … “one way to learn tolerance is to take the time to really understand other people’s motives […] to look beneath the surface.” 49 To this end Rowling repeatedly and imaginatively reinvents the theme – never judge a book by its cover – throughout the series.
Dumbledore explains that those who do not practise tolerance reject whole areas of knowledge that would otherwise enlighten their understanding, that it is in the nature of evil to ignore such knowledge, and in so doing evil sows the seeds of its own demise:
And his knowledge remained woefully incomplete, Harry! That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped. 50
Voldemort’s ignorance is based on an inability to tolerate anything that does not further his “love [of] power.” 51 The result is that he is blind to the possibility of Kreacher’s escape from the cave and his subsequent escape with the locket Horcrux. His ignorance of loyalty and of the power of love makes him blind to the consequences of Lily’s sacrifice or the possibility that Dobby, and so many others, would risk everything to support Harry and help him destroy Voldemort himself. But, most importantly in relation to the Elder Wand are the legends that surround it and the children’s story, The Tale of the Three Brothers, that warn that far from being “unbeatable,” far from being able to “conquer Death!” the Elder Wand is a powerful object that attracts envy and fear, and leaves nothing but a trail of death in its wake, paradoxically especially of its previous owners.52 The Tale may have been a parable or as Ron put it “just one of those things you tell kids to teach them lessons,” 53 but within it lay a “truth” that Voldemort never explored and therefore never grasped.
Another, innocent, not to say loopy, viewpoint of the legend of the Elder Wand that Voldemort would never have pursued is Xenophilius Lovegood’s “Quest.” 54 Voldemort would not have wasted his breath listening to Xenophilius but if he had he would have learnt “that the possessor of the wand must capture it from its previous owner, if he is to be truly master of it.” 55
One particular dictionary definition of capture “the act of taking by force; seizure” 56 has a suitably medieval flavour, and when combined with Rowling’s and Ollivander’s descriptions of how the wand gives its allegiance, offers yet another clue as to how a wizard becomes a true master of the wand as opposed to a nominal master as owner or possessor. The wand’s previous owner has to be “disarmed” or “conquered” and the wand has to be “captured” or “won” 57 in the medieval sense, by some form of combat. The wizard that uses cunning or simply steals it, as both Grindelwald and Voldemort do, could never become its true master. Grindelwald for example had already stolen the Elder Wand when he used it to cast a spell at Gregorovitch, as he made his escape, he neither “captured” or “won” the wand from its previous owner.58 Voldemort simply stole it from Dumbledore’s tomb; he then murdered Snape and would have murdered Draco had he known Draco had disarmed Dumbledore. Again, this would still not have made him a true master of the Elder Wand. Would Voldemort have ever realised that he would have had to duel Draco to become its true master? The way he murdered Snape would indicate not. Both Harry and Dumbledore physically wrestle and duel with their opponents exhibiting courage, or more precisely chivalry, before they become true masters of their wands.
The legends surrounding the Elder Wand derived from The Tale of the Three Brothers and The Deathly Hallows should not be confused. The former is fictional parable and the latter partly distorted history. The fictional brother in The Tales would never have been master of the Deathly Hallows version of the Elder Wand anyway. He did not “conquer” death, displayed no chivalry, and was immediately murdered. His murderer would also have been master of the Elder Wand in nothing but name and certainly not a true master.
But Rowling adds the most important and devastating caveat of all: the wand is utterly self-defeating, fool’s gold, “a lure for fools.” 59 Dumbledore, one of the undoubtedly few true masters of the Elder Wand, having won it in his duel with Grindelwald, describes it as “the meanest” of the Deathly Hallows, he could not “boast” of owning it, he could not “kill with it,” he could only “tame” it and “save others from it.” 60 The Elder Wand is then a supreme paradox, for the true master has to somehow survive without being “defeated,” despite its being a magnet for violence, and then only in order to destroy its power forever.61 The Resurrection Stone is another paradox, its true master can only use it safely to embrace the terminal nature of death rather than avoid it.62 The “lesson” in relation to the Elder Wand is clear: to become a true master of power one must not seek it,63 but should power be thrust upon you, you must render it impotent.64 In other words one must exhibit all the qualities of the chivalrous knight: “courage, honour, justice, and a willingness to help the weak” 65 before one can become a true master of the Elder Wand. Dumbledore and Harry epitomise the spirit of Godric Gryffindor, or as the Sorting Hat explains:
You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart.66
The Elder Wand: Self-Defeat and the Nature of Evil
The self-defeating nature of evil is acted out, absolutely literally, with the Elder Wand as its instrument, in the two final confrontations between Voldemort and Harry. The first confrontation is crucial to Harry’s reclaiming his soul and Voldemort losing yet another part of his. The second restores Harry’s mortality.
Dumbledore explains that Voldemort’s soul is “attached to, and protected by Harry.” 67 This was a product of two magical processes one born out of love, one out of evil. Lily’s sacrifice to save Harry produced an enchantment that kept Harry alive by forcing Voldemort’s Killing Curse to rebound upon him. Voldemort’s previous evil acts in creating Horcruxes had made his soul so “unstable” 68 that his own curse “blasted apart” a fragment of his own soul, which “latched itself on to the only living soul [Harry’s] left in that collapsing building.” 69
Dumbledore, much to Snape’s irritation, speaks of the link between Harry and Voldemort’s souls before he eventually tells Snape it is “essential” Voldemort kill Harry.70 But why? We know that Harry had to die in order to destroy a fragment of Voldemort’s soul, and, that it may also have been essential he sacrifice himself at Voldemort’s hand in order to render Voldemort’s spells non-binding. But, there is also a very strong case for suggesting that it was essential because Voldemort alone was capable of reversing the process of their conjoined souls by detaching his own soul from Harry. Dumbledore was clear that “the connection between them grows ever stronger, a parasitic growth.” 71 Had Harry been brought to the edge of death by anyone else his and Voldemort’s conjoined souls would have “survived” in limbo still attached, with Harry still tethered to life by Lily’s enchantment that continued to linger in both himself and Voldemort. As Dumbledore says in the King’s Cross chapter: “Your blood in his veins, Harry, Lily’s protection inside both of you! He tethered you to life while he lives!” 72
But parasites feed off their hosts, not the other way around, so what would have been Harry’s fate had he not had his soul detached from Voldemort’s when he entered the King’s Cross limbo for instance? Harry’s soul would, at the very least, have been in danger. Or, what if Harry’s body had been so badly damaged he could not return to it? His soul would have been left conjoined with Voldemort’s parasitic soul fragment and exposed to the same threat. Hermione confirms that killing the body does not harm or affect the soul “Look, if I picked up a sword right now, Ron, and ran you through with it, I wouldn’t damage your soul at all.” 73 In other words Harry’s soul and Voldemort’s parasitic soul fragment would certainly have survived conjoined. But Voldemort’s act of attacking his own soul using his own curse reversed the magical process and only by his doing so detached it from Harry’s. As Dumbledore puts it “Oh, yes! Yes, he destroyed it.” Voldemort not only murders a part of himself, but also restores to Harry his soul “whole,” and “completely [his] own.” 74
Rowling explores a common religious and ethical theme here, namely, to attack another is in effect an attack upon oneself. The Elder Wand in Deathly Hallows, once it comes into Voldemort’s possession, becomes the symbolic instrument used to carry out this, quite literal, act of self-destruction. As Rowling puts it: “Do you absolutely have a sense of how evil it is to take another person’s life? Yes, I think in my book you do […] I think you see that it is a horrific thing. I have enormous respect for human life.” 75
It appears that one of Dumbledore’s priorities was to save Harry’s soul by doing all he could to get Voldemort to kill him. If we use Gryffindor chivalry as a motivational guide to Dumbledore’s plan we can discern the first priority as the need to destroy the Horcruxes and Voldemort’s soul fragment within Harry (defend the weak), the second priority would be to save Harry’s soul (justice, honour), the third hope would be that by not fighting back, by sacrificing himself, Harry might offer some form of protection, from Voldemort alone, to those Harry loved, or even possibly those defending Hogwarts (courage, defend the weak), and the fourth hope would be that Lily’s enchantment may even allow Harry to return, whole, to rejoin the fight (courage).
But the conjoined souls were not the only connection between Voldemort and Harry, as Dumbledore explains: “he took a part of your mother’s sacrifice into himself,” thus “[ensuring] this two-fold connection,” he “wrapped your destinies together more securely than ever two wizards were joined in history.” 76 Once again the Elder Wand is called upon to sever, and reverse, the connection, and once again it is Voldemort’s self-defeating belief in the Elder Wand’s power that finally separates Harry from Voldemort as his own curse rebounds back upon himself, destroying Lily’s enchantment within himself, thus making Harry mortal once more, and leaving Voldemort “forced to exist in the stunted form we witnessed in King’s Cross.” 77
And, previously, Voldemort had caused his own collapse unconscious in the forest. Once again the Elder Wand is symbolically used in an act of self-destruction when Voldemort uses it to floor himself with a dual combination punch. He not only uses his own curse to destroy his own soul fragment, but he also activates Lily’s lingering protective enchantment tether in his blood, that he himself had seized from Harry, to pull Harry back from the brink of death.78
Dumbledore observes of Voldemort and evil: “if he had been able to understand, he could not be Lord Voldemort, and might never have murdered at all.” 79 As Rowling said, without understanding there can be no tolerance. Ignorance is evil’s companion; seeking knowledge remains the first step towards understanding and the eventual possibility of tolerance. The Elder Wand in Voldemort’s hands becomes not only an instrument of evil’s self-defeating nature but also itself an object in, and of, self-destruction. It is with the Elder Wand that one by one Tom Riddle’s self-imposed self-destructive connections to Harry Potter become severed, allowing Riddle to self-fulfil his own fears about the prophecy.
The Elder Wand: Snape’s Double-Edged Legacy
An as yet unresolved issue remains. Why did Dumbledore intend to leave the Elder Wand with Snape? If Dumbledore had died undefeated its power would have been broken80 and yet Dumbledore confessed he anticipated Voldemort would become obsessed with finding the reputedly invincible wand.81 Why would Dumbledore apparently endanger Snape? It appears that Dumbledore and Snape both believed that a confrontation with Voldemort was inevitable. The plan, which failed in a number of ways, was that Snape would confront Voldemort after Harry had destroyed the Horcruxes and sacrificed himself. It was at that point, and if all went well when Voldemort’s spells were non-binding, that Snape could have defeated Voldemort and got his revenge for Lily’s death. Snape made the Unbreakable Vow with Narcissa to protect Draco, on pain of death, in the full knowledge that it was Voldemort’s intention to sacrifice Draco as a punishment for Lucius’s failures.82 This appears to be a suicidal act on the part of Snape but becomes altogether different when seen as a chivalrous improvisation upon a larger plan.
Snape was recognised by Dumbledore as potentially chivalrous and exceptionally brave,83 both men combined and embodied characteristics of Gryffindor and Slytherin, as the Sorting Hat put it: “those cunning folk [of Slytherin] use any means to achieve their ends.” 84 Dumbledore prepared Harry for sacrifice, and Snape took extraordinary risks to avenge Lily. Both men understood that either Voldemort’s desire to punish Draco or to possess the Elder Wand made a clash inevitable. However, Dumbledore died before he could warn Snape about the importance of hiding the wand, although it remains doubtful Dumbledore would ever have revealed its true identity to Snape. Why did Dumbledore’s portrait not simply warn Snape? Dumbledore had died defeated and he did not want anyone, particularly Snape or Draco, the Elder Wand’s true master, under any circumstances to have it whilst it remained so obviously destructive and such a temptation and danger to its possessor. The focus remained on Snape ensuring that Harry knew he must sacrifice himself,85 upon which Snape would then have the opportunity to strike at Voldemort with at least a good chance of success as the plan dictated there would be no Horcruxes and even the possibility of Voldemort’s spells being non-binding. But Dumbledore failed to foresee a series of interlinked events and consequences: 1. His early death; 2. That he would die defeated; 3. That he would therefore not want the Elder Wand touched, which meant it could not be hidden, resulting in: 4. The Elder Wand being sought and found by Voldemort relatively quickly, leading to Voldemort’s early dispatch of Snape. It is worth pointing out that Voldemort had the Elder Wand for nearly two months before he murdered Snape. Had the Elder Wand had its powers broken and been hidden, it would have taken Voldemort longer to find, which would have postponed the inevitable duel between Snape and Voldemort, and thus, in theory, allowed Dumbledore’s plan to be fulfilled. But as Rowling put it “That sort of puts all of Voldemort’s and Dumbledore’s grandiose plans in their place, doesn’t it? You just can’t plan that well….” 86 In terms of the plot, of course, if Dumbledore’s plan had succeeded, the Elder Wand parable would not have arisen.
Wands: To Be or Not To Be
When Rowling revealed one of the two rejected titles for the final book as Harry Potter and The Elder Wand87 its central role as potential parable and instrument of Voldemort’s self-destruction became yet another path to explore within Rowling’s astonishingly rich world. The perfect symmetry of Voldemort’s demise at his own hand through the Elder Wand appears clear enough but was this Rowling’s real intention? Was saving Harry’s soul from Voldemort’s soul fragment ever a priority for Dumbledore? Were Dumbledore and Snape’s plans really that complex or chivalrous? It would be fascinating to know for sure.
Voldemort could no doubt have used almost any wand to produce the same results but from the moment he chose to pursue the most powerful wand, with all its history of destruction, it became both a symbol and instrument of evil.
The Elder Wand itself remains “immensely powerful” whether one is its true master or not, but any wand’s ability to act independently appears to be severely constrained by Rowling’s rules concerning moral choice, alchemy and magic.
Wands react, have memories, can withhold their total allegiance, “choose” their wizard, imbibe information and power, will not work properly against each other’s twin, and have grades of affinity with their wizard masters. But, there’s the rub, they are totally subservient to their masters and mistresses for good or for ill, they have no capacity for independent thought and action, and they have no language with which to communicate with wizards. The only time a wand did react independently, it did so because it had ventured into “realms of magic hitherto unknown and untested.” 88
All wands remain potentially powerful and dangerous. As Mad-Eye Moody pointed out, you could lose a buttock by stowing one in your back pocket but that never seemed to deter Harry, if it wasn’t in his pocket it was in his belt, or Luna, who preferred to stick hers behind her ear.89
1. Vieira & Brown, “Confused by Potter?”
2. Note that J. K. Rowling Official Site “Wizard of the Month Archive” (est. 31 October 2007) has no pre-medieval dates.
3. Simpson, “Face to face with J K Rowling.”
4. LeMyre, “Historical Notes”; Wikipedia, s.v. “Flamel, Nicolas.”
5. Rowling, Chamber of Secrets, 114.
6. Collins English Dictionary, s.v. “allegiance.”
7. Rowling, “Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp.”
8. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 399 (my italics).
9. Ibid., 405 (my italics).
10. Ibid., 595–96 (my italics).
11. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 501 (June); Deathly Hallows 355 (March), 421 (May).
12. South West News, “World Exclusive Interview.”
13. Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 399 (my italics).
14. Collins English Dictionary, s.v. “affinity” (my italics).
15. Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. “Étienne-François Geoffroy.”
16. Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone, 65.
17. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 525 (my italics).
18. Ibid., 595. (my italics)
19. Ibid., 419 (bold mine; emphasis Rowling’s).
20. Ibid., 318.
21. Ibid., 420 (my italics).
22. Ibid., 399.
23. Ibid., 600 (my italics).
24. Ibid., 402.
25. Ibid., “Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp.”
26. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 402 (my italics).
27. Simpson, “Face to face with J K Rowling.”
28. Rowling, “Barnes and Noble interview.”
29. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 245.
30. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 56.
31. Ibid., 73–74.
32. Ibid., 569 (my italics).
33. Ibid., 570.
34. Mzimba, “Interview with Kloves and Rowling.”
35. Rowling, Bloomsbury.com “Webchat.” Note also Rowling’s Rek interview 17 November 2007 (English translation TLC 18 November 2007), in which Rowling states King’s Cross can be interpreted as either “a place between life and death” or as “Harry is unconscious [his] insight and wisdom [is gained from] his mind travelling further [to grasp information] he already knew deep inside.” Whichever version the reader chooses Rowling appears to assume that the information Harry gathers is to be viewed as accurate and/or true.
36. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 581.
37. Lydon, Connection Interview.
38. Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 332.
39. Ibid., 574.
40. Ibid., 578.
41. Ibid., Bloomsbury.com “Webchat.”
43. Ibid., “J. K. Rowling reading and Q&A,” Carnegie Hall; see note 1; Bloomsbury.com “Webchat”; and Ahearn, “Rowling says she knew ‘early on’.”
44. Ibid., Bloomsbury.com “Webchat.”
46. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 560–61.
47. Ibid., 56–57, 570.
48. Ibid., 329–32.
49. Ibid., “J. K. Rowling reading and Q&A,” Carnegie Hall; and Rogers, “Interview J.K. Rowling.”
50. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 568 (emphasis Rowling’s).
51. Ibid., Bloomsbury.com “Webchat.”
52. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 330–32; “unbeatable,” 336–37, 574.
53. Ibid., 336.
54. Ibid., 335.
55. Ibid., 334 (my italics).
56. Collins English Dictionary, s.v. “capture.”
57. Vieira & Brown, “Confused by Potter?”; and Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 334, 399, 420.
58. Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 232.
59. Ibid., 571.
60. Ibid., 576–77.
61. Ibid., 335, 600.
62. Ibid., 559–60.
63. Ibid., 575.
64. Ibid., 600.
65. Collins English Dictionary, s.v. “chivalry.” For extensive list see “3. the chivalry of Arthur’s followers” in The Oxford Thesaurus (1994).
66. Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone, 88.
67. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 551. Note Rowling states in the Rek interview that “I believe in [something like an] indestructible soul.” In the film version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Harry expresses to Sirius his concern that “This connection between me and Voldemort; what if the reason for it is that I am becoming more like him?” (source: Warner Brothers DVD, Screenplay Michael Goldenberg).
68. Ibid., 89, 568.
69. Ibid., 550.
70. Ibid., 549, 551.
71. Ibid., 551.
72. Ibid., 568.
73. Ibid., 90.
74. Ibid., 567 (my italics).
75. Solomon, “J. K. Rowling Interview.”
76. Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 569.
77. Ibid., Bloomsbury.com “Webchat.”
78. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 568, 581.
79. Ibid., 569.
80. Ibid., 600.
81. Ibid., 577.
82. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince 40–41; and Rowling, Deathly Hallows, 547.
83. Rowling, Deathly Hallows 545.
84. Ibid., Philosopher’s Stone, 88.
85. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 550–51.
86. Vieira & Brown, “Confused by Potter?”
87. Rowling, Bloomsbury.com “Webchat.” Tellingly, the other rejected title was The Peverell Quest.
88. Ibid., Deathly Hallows 569 (my italics).
89. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 48, 168.
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———. “An Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp: Readings and questions,” Radio City Music Hall. 1 August 2006. Transcript by AccioQuote! http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/2006/0801-radiocityreading1partial.html.
———. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998.
———. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. London: Bloomsbury, 2007.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2006.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury 2004.
———. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997.
———. “J. K. Rowling reading and Q&A,” Carnegie Hall, New York. 19 October 2007. Transcript by The Leaky Cauldron. /2007/10/20/...-dumbledore-is-gay-neville-marries-hannah-abbott-and-scores-more.
———. “Webchat with J.K. Rowling.” Bloomsbury.com, 30 July 2007. http://www.bloomsbury.com/harrypotter/content.asp?sec=3&sec2=1.
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