Spells are the bread and butter of the wizarding world.
In Harry Potter’s world uttering “Incendio” creates a bolt of fire and saying “Aguamenti” produces a stream of water. What would happen if you somehow manage to say both at once, even Dumbledore couldn’t say.
In other less convoluted words, magic in Harry Potter is a mystical monkey wrench used for everything from the simple manipulation of pots, pans, and other cookery to ruining the livelihoods of opticians and other specialists. The poor, poor dentists.
So why can’t a Muggle – non-magic folk – just pick up a stick, start waving it around, and transfigure seagulls into flying, gold bricks? Well, there are rules to this stuff.
Harry Potter and limitations on spells
Hey, you remember when Dumbledore says to new students, “Ohohoho welcome to Hogwarts all ye bright faced witch and wizard worm babies! Eat food!” He then snaps his fingers like Bobby Badfingers and magical plates of turkey, ham, and candied rum appear on the tables. Well, that’s not magic. That’s House Elf slave labour.
Yes, in the kitchens of Hogwarts an army of Dobbys slave away night and day making food for their magical overlords. On several occasions in the books, Fred and George Weasley sneak into the kitchens to take food from the elves. Even though they are happy to just give the food away, you can’t help but feel some of that food might have a little elf saliva hidden on them somewhere. In other words, like in the real world nothing is free.
Yes magic can do practically anything in Harry Potter, but there are limitations. According to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration, or me knowing way too much about this series of novels, it’s impossible to just make food. I think it has to do more with the inability of wizards to control bacteria – like yeast – as they have zero understanding of how science works.
This doesn’t stop wizards, however, from just using spells like Accio – a summoning spell – to yank fish out of rivers like Dean Thomas and Edward Tonks do, but it sets a precedent that you cannot be a gourmet chef from magic alone. Wizards can, however, take an existing piece of food and multiply it for further consumption or enlarge it to further insult the world’s starving. But that’s just the start on the limitations and workarounds that these magical cheat codes possess. Magic can make you powerful, but there are always consequences to conquest.
For instance, dark magic only works if you really, really mean it. If I got a magic wand right now, went up to your face with it, and whispered “Avada Kedavra” into your ear you better hope we’re friends. In Goblet of Fire, “Mad Eye Moody” tells his class that if they used the killing curse on him he’d likely only get a slight bruise from the spell. In other words, you can use spells, but if you don’t mean them or practice with them they practically mean truck all in a fight. In Harry Potter you can do anything except everything is what I’m trying to say.
With that in mind, wake up! You just received your Hogwarts Letter.
Spells for my frenemies
You’re 11-years-old and walking into Diagon Alley. With your Hogwarts letter in one hand and a fistful of Galleons in another, you step into Ollivanders Wand Shop looking for the perfect magical stick. He gives you a wand made of bamboo with a core made from a troll’s intestine, so maybe Ollivander’s lost his touch. Whatever, you’ve got a genuine magic wand! Let the magic begin! But wait a second.
As a little kid in the Harry Potter world you have two things going for you and two things going against you. First of all, you’re totally new to the world, a blank slate who has immeasurable magical talent to develop. The problem is that your magical abilities – like your academics in school – are all determined by how much you learn and practice. Characters like Hermione Granger are able to become great spell casters because of pure determination and skill while others like Harry Potter just have that natural magic talent that makes you hate them.
Secondly, kids in the Harry Potter universe all get to attend Hogwarts where they can hone his or her magical abilities. Like any school, teachers who play favourites can screw you over in one aspect of this magic world’s academics. If you want to be a potions master, you better hope that Severus Snape takes a shine to you, though a shine from him would most likely result in some strange fan fiction. In other words, your unlimited capacity to learn spells only exists if you have the right mentors to teach you. That’s to say if your family can afford to send you to Hogwarts in the first place.
You’ve been dealt a bad hand in life.
What’s the conversion rate of Galleons to the British Pound or Canadian Dollar? And you wonder why Hermione spend so much time in the library where there’s free books. Now that you’re at Hogwarts with your bamboo-with-the-intestine-of-a-troll-as-a-core wand you start to realize that not everything in the wizarding world is made equal, especially its inhabitants. The Weasleys are a perfect example of a magical family that struggles with money, but still manage to get by without becoming wholly evil. In the second book, Ron Weasley breaks his wand and is forced to take a hand-me-down from his brother Charlie. He just can’t go out and buy a new wand! There’s a reason why.
Damn, I broke my wand.
The wand chooses the wizard, as Ollivander says. If you’re at Hogwarts and your wand breaks it practically the end of your school year unless you excel at the History of Magic. Students at Hogwarts use wands for everything. In your first years at Hogwarts you will take part in Transfiguration classes, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Charms that all require the use of a wand. Students are prohibited from having free-for-all magical fights in the corridors, but they spend time practicing magic spells and using magic to perform tasks. So don’t break your goddamn wand!
Another problem associated with breaking your wand – aside from draining your bank account at Gringotts – is that whatever wand you use next won’t gel with you in the same way. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry manages to break his Holly and Pheonix Feather Core wand. When Ron brings him a Blackthorn wand it just doesn’t work in the same way, and the same will happen with you and your garbage wand Ollivander gave to you.
That wand Ollivander gave you created a life-long bond with your dominant hand. As much as it was a horrible stick of death it was your stick of death, and the wand knew that too. In a way, your wand becomes your closest friend like an M4 carbine to a soldier. You’re stuck with it and its stuck with you. Witches and Wizards are able to use his or her hands to cast spells, but it’s a trick that only high-level casters are able to accomplish. Losing your magic wooden cudgel in an accident is one of the worst things that can happen to a wizard, but it can also be taken from you forcibly.
There are economic constraints that witches and wizards have to take into account as repairing wands is both an expensive process and sometimes an impossible one. An easy way to fix this is to duel another wizard. Even if your wand is broken there’s a good chance you can at least get off one good spell to win their wand. You’re a little kid, so maybe dueling isn’t the best idea, but when push comes to shove you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. “Accio piano dangling from the ceiling!”
Getting better at spell casting
According to the members of Dumbledore’s Army, practice makes perfect… assuming you’re part of the boy’s club that is the DA who was able to escape the ravages of Dolores Umbridge. In Order of the Pheonix, an entire year of school was lost due to Umbridge’s interference in the school curriculum. It’s a given that students at Hogwarts did have an unbalanced education up until that point, but what school is actually able to avoid imbalances?
Anyway, the only ways to get better at spell casting is to practice what you know and learn more from more experienced wizards. A big part of Dumbledore’s Army was that its members learned how to use the Patronus Charm. For those who don’t know what it is, a Patronus is the embodiment of your inner spirit. Through thinking about the happiest memories you have, witches and wizards can use a Patronus to protect themselves from Dementors and send messages to their allies. The problem is that the DA was only able to learn it from Harry and Harry learned it from Remus Lupin.
Throughout the books and films, Harry Potter learns his spells almost entirely from other people. Teachers and professors all take it in turn to personally teach him important spells he’ll need to survive his eventual bout with Voldemort. Do you think Dumbledore is going to sit down with you to teach you the differences between Lumos and Nox? No, you’ll have to learn on your own using books and listening to teachers. Harry, Hermione, and Ron learn spells constantly, and you won’t. It’s just the reality of not being the protagonist of this story.
Unless you find the Half-Blood Prince’s Diary.
The Diary of the Half-Blood Prince is a tome that teaches Harry Potter a number of dark spells. Using them in an experimental fashion, Harry is able to just learn new spells without even knowing what they do. What the hell, you might ask the TTC passengers beside you. Using the diary, he’s able to cast spells just from knowing what they’re called. For instance, Sectumsempra – a spell that creates blades of wind – was created by the Prince. He invented a spell, and that’s among only a few Harry read about in the book. Like magic, the Prince is able to just make spells. Why the hell can’t we?
Make up your own spells
Ok, so you’re in Raven Claw and you’re trying to figure out the easiest way to complete an essay. Save finding Rowena Ravenclaw’s Diadem, you’re in a rut and in trouble if you can’t get it done by tomorrow morning. Here’s how you can get it done: make you own damn spell. Etymology plays a big part in the Harry Potter universe. For instance, here’s a excerpt from Muggle Net:
n Latin, “sectum” means to “cut, wound, or amputate” and “sempra” is derived from the word “semper” meaning “always” or “at all times.” Hence, “to wound always or make a permanent wound.”
So by incanting Latin-like words, wizards are able to cast complex spells. For instance, “write” in Latin is “scribe”, which is a verb. So if you say something like ScribeJus (Jus meaning right) then your quill should write something “right” every time, but heck, I’m no wizard. This spell would likely end up penning the word “Jus” indefinitely. Yet, the Prince is able to create a dark spell from just a combination of words and magical talent. How far does this road go?
By sitting in the library inside of Hogwarts with a Latin dictionary and a whole lot of parchment you could potentially create a cavalcade of useful spells. The problem with this is that wizards better than you have probably had the same idea. This means that there could quite possibly be a whole host of useful spells that you just don’t hear about in the novels and the movies. There’s a way for you to make a spell to do anything, except make you McDonalds.
It’s a given that making your own spells could be more problematic than these words make it seem. Using the Prince’s spells, Harry almost eviscerates Draco and another wizard manages to cut off one of the Weasley Twins’ ears, I don’t remember which one, yet there is a spell for almost anything. As the twins showed the Wizarding community with their Protego Hats, Gloves, and Coats, you just have to think outside of the box to excel in the world of Harry Potter.
The spells you didn’t learn in school
So you’re in fourth year and the Yule Ball is almost upon you. Damn, no date. Damn, no swanky clothes. Damn, no money. Hey, you’re magic, so no problem. There are a whole host of spells that you can cast to help yourself out of this sticky situation including a few cosmetic ones that no one seems to know about.
Spell Hermione uses to fix her teeth
In Goblet of Fire, Hermione is able to change the size of her teeth to make her more prom-worthy. If we understand Harry Potter logic correctly you can increase and decrease the sizes of your features on the fly. Instead of having to suffer through years of orthodontics to fix her teeth, Hermione is able to get through all of that with one visit to Madame Pomphrey – Hogwarts’s resident nurse. Imagine the medical advances, imagine how tall you could make yourself even if it is temporary.
Impervius could make you invulnerable
The Impervius charm is one of those spells that should just break everything in the Harry Potter universe. If cast correctly, the charm is able to make objects just bounce of off other objects. So what if you took a bullet-proof vest and cast the spell on it? Magic Bullet protection, and it also works great on tiles, grout, and stain-resistant surfaces. In other words, by getting really good with this spell you could essentially make any spell bounce right off of you making you practically invulnerable.
Aguamenti and the refilling charm
Do you know who the world’s most powerful corporation is? It’s Nestlé. The bastards at Nestlé have a monopoly on three things: non-perishable foods, nutritional supplements, and water. With a wand, a wizard could come to the world of Muggles with a ever-refilling bottle of water that would solve practically every problem in the entire world. Drought is non-existant, crops will grow forever, clean water will save lives, and you could make a tonne of money… if you’re a bastard like the wizards at Nestlé.
Controlling Barack Obama
Guess what, as a student your favourite year at Hogwarts was when Alecto and Amycus Carrow started teaching. Instead of teaching you namby pamby baby spells, they taught students how to use the Crucio curse, probably Avada Kedavra, and the Imperio curse. Students had a chance to learn these unforgivable curses they would be otherwise unable to learn scot-free. Imperio, in particular, is a nasty one is that it allows you to control practically anyone and get them to do anything. No date? No problem. The most beautiful boy or girl at Hogwarts is now yours to control, but don’t expect the guards at Azkaban to be nice to you when you walk through those doors.
Incarcerous, gold chains and rims
Do you know what every action hero needs? Rope. Using the Incarcerous spell, wizards are able to capture one another and tie enemies to polls, House Elves, half-giants, or whatever else would be hilarious. This could also make you the rope baron of the Muggle world. There has to be a pretty big rope trade in the West, so why not just magic yourself up a tonne of rope and start selling it wholesale? As well, this spell as seen in the Deathly Hallow films can also take the form of metal chains. Why not make those chains a tad more [Xe] 4f14 5d10 6s1?
Graduate School in Harry Potter
All right, so you’ve made it through school… somehow. Your grades are actually pretty decent and you’re thinking about applying to that summer internship coming up at the newly reformed Ministry of Magic. Things are looking up. During your years at the school, you managed to create some good contacts and saved up your magical money for a better wand made out of a human femur with the core of Neville Longbottom’s heart after Luna Lovegood said no to him.
But wait, what’s your specialty? “I’m pretty good at using anti-raining charms,” you say to the examiner at the Ministry. “Have I got the job for you,” he smirks. Now you’re the guy who stops office blocks from raining all day, practically a maintenance worker. It sucks, but you’re getting paid. A year later, you bounce from that job like a Blast-Ended Skrewt and start looking into graduate school.
The state of education in Harry Potter’s world is trucked. All students who are eligible wizards have to attend Hogwarts to gain first their O.W.L.s (Ordinary Wizarding Levels) and their N.E.W.T.s (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests). So what about retests? What about further education? What about graduate school for those looking to become more qualified in other fields?
Well, you better be working in a good department at the Ministry because there’s no such thing as furthered education in Harry Potter. Most students graduate from Hogwarts when they are 18-years-old, so barely two years over the legal working limit in Canada. Imagine yourself after just high school trying to get a job somewhere in the working world? It’s hard enough trying to get by with a university degree, could you imagine what the job market is like in the wizarding world?
For example, Tom Riddle ends up working at Borgin and Burkes due to his insatiable appetite for shiny things. Tom is practically a Magpie for magical artifacts, but he didn’t get paid well for his close attention to detail at the shop. Riddle spent his time during after graduation pretty much impoverished even though he could have gone off to work at the Ministry with his insane qualifications and talent. So, what are you options now as a 19-year-old, poor maintenance wizard?
Starting your own wizarding business
Harry Potter’s wizards could learn a lot from free-market capitalists. Using some venture capital money given to them by Harry, George and Fred Weasley are able to open up their own business called Weasleys‘ Wizard Wheezes, a joke shop in Diagon Alley. It’s a fairly lucrative business too netting them enough cash to practically give away their products for free, and fulfill some orders for the Ministry.
Ok, so here’s your idea. Let’s start being a wizard private-military contractor.
How many times have you said to yourself, “If I was there I could do that way better.” The that in that sentence would usually be stand in for common-knowledge things. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, putting automated turrets in every corridor or having abstract-shaped holograms patrolling the halls to cut up enemies would solve practically everything. Why send real humans to fight when you can send holograms?
It’s the same in the Harry Potter universe, why use wizards for your PMC when you have perfectly capable magic users with more powerful magic who will work for free? Also, you don’t have to be evil. Contractors are basically escort services with guns and bullets, but in this case with wands and witches.
House Elves are quite possibly the most powerful magical creatures in the entire Harry Potter universe. Able to transport through usually impermeable barriers and cast magic using only their hands, they have unparalleled abilities and there’s also a tonne of them! Using an all House Elf army, however, would require a lot of training including getting elves over their inability to harm wizards. In Deathly Hallows, Kreacher – Harry Potter’s legally owned elf – manages to capture Mundungus Fletcher with the help of another elf named Dobby. They know how to work in teams, they can immobilize wizards, and they can even use knifes, blunt weapons, and clevers as seen in the Battle of Hogwarts. A perfect fighting force that works for free.
However “Dark” people believe Inferius might be, use ’em. Inferni are the reanimated corpses of witches and wizards that dark magic-wielding casters use to fight their battles. They were used heavily the last time Voldemort rose to power and also in his second attempt to seize power. Imagine how pleased your contract will be to know that these forces will protect them at night and an army of House Elves during the day. Who says that these creatures have to be from wizards you’ve killed personally? Remember that most wizard burials are built to keep said interned person in tact as with Albus Dumbledore, and maybe that’s a good first target.
Slytherin House Students
Historically, Slytherin House has been a breeding ground for dark wizards. It’s likely that given the demographic makeup of the students at Hogwarts that Gryphindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw won’t be the best recruiting ground for your PMC, but the students wearing green-lined robes are like dollar bills being blown through a parking lot. As well, many of the students there would likely have belonged to families of Death Eaters – Voldemort’s forces – so they’ll be looking for a prestigious position after they are done school. Why not hold a seminar or two about how your PMC could benefit them and their “special” skill sets?
Veela or Half Veela Assassins
So you’ve got your cannon fodder, your heavy hitters, and your technicians, but you still need a group of assassins to take care of trickier jobs. Veela are damn near impossible to distinguish from human beings, but they’re also powerful enough to distract an entire stadium full of people during the last Quidditch World Cup. If the target you are trying to dispose of is male or even if its female, a Veela or Half Veela could sneak in, trap the target, and quietly take care of business. As a humanoid group in the Harry Potter universe they exist on the fringes of society already making them easy enough to recruit. Speaking of another fringe group…
Animagi are a special breed of wizards. Able to transform into animals, these groups of wizards need a special license in order to use his or her powers out in the field. With a special trip to the Minister of Magic’s office, I’m sure you could persuade him to provide you with a special license to provide homes for those Animagi needing protection from others in society. An elite guard of wizards-disguised-as-animals could protect your client and eliminate their interests through sheer might or through magic. They are the perfect multitools in the wizarding world’s PMC business.
The aftermath of starting your company
Congratulations you are now Voldemort. Seriously, way to go down the dark side of the magical force. However, as someone with real-world capitalist ideals and strong knowledge of the way the Harry Potter world works you would likely have a pretty successful business. Private Military Contractors in the United States and Canada are fairly prominent corporations providing body guards – more or less – to private companies travelling abroad.
The wizarding world is full of opportunity to gain power and wealth, but it’s also a place that has an immeasurable number of restrictions to its magic. For many, this world is a place of peace and prosperity, but for those seeking power there’s almost no limit in what you can grasp if only you try.
Like with any fantasy world there are rules that you have to follow, but there are also rules that you can break. With a Muggle’s understanding of technology – even if there is magic that stops electronics from working – someone with enough knowledge could find a way to make something like a gun work in the magic world.
Harry Potter’s world is your oyster, but don’t trying magicking one up that shit’s hard.
I love your post. There are so many good connections and summaries here that I don’t know where to begin.
I love how spells are cast in the story of Harry Potter with words and movements. I find this a unique connection to our real lives. We ‘cast spells’ on other around us all the time with our words and movements. It just goes to show that magic is part of our everyday lives. 🙂
Thanks for the nice comment :), I’ve always thought of magic spells as real-world cheat codes. When looking into Harry Potter’s world you start to see just how easy it would be for the witches and wizards to hack into their spells, but then you realize that there are also innumerable limitations to what can actually be done.
Very true, there are limitations on the spells in the HP world just as we have limitations in our world with what we can do…There are so many parallels in these books to our regular world. I think that is part of the magic…we can make metaphors out of so many of the ideas from HP.
It’s like I tell those who disregard HP because of the ‘magic.’…
“Like we don’t uses these “magical curses” in our real lives…think about it…the worst three curses are…
1. Cruciatus – to cause others pain…(we most definitely do that)
2. imperius curse – to control or manipulate others (we do that too)
3. avada kedavra – to kill (sadly we do this as well in our world)
It’s not just “magic”…its life.
Hermione would certainly take offence to your treatment of house elves!
I’m so impressed by your insight into the Wizarding world 🙂 Here I thought fiction was supposed to be about suspended disbelief?
Thank you for your kind comment :), and I did wonder about the resistance S.P.E.W. would have given our wizard if she/he started her/his own private military contracting business. The best way to get around it would be to give the House Elves wages/benefits since that’s the main goal of Hermione’s organization, though I don’t think they would approve of the work environment.