Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Magic in Harry Potter
The nature of magic
In the Harry Potter books magic is depicted as a natural force, one that can be used to override the usual laws of nature. Many magical creatures exist in the series, as do ordinary creatures which exhibit some magical properties (such as owls, which are used to deliver mail). Objects, too, can be enhanced to become magical. Humans with the ability to perform magic are referred to as witches and wizards, in contrast to the non-magical Muggles.
In humans, magic or the lack thereof is a natal attribute. It appears to be semi-inherited, as magic is the norm in the children of magical couples and highly rare in those of Muggles. Exceptions do exist: those unable to do magic who are born to wizarding parents are known as Squibs, whereas witches and wizards born to Muggle parents are known as Muggle-borns. Muggle-borns are far more common than Squibs, however.
For a person's ability to perform magic to be useful, a good deal of training is required. Without this training the ability will however still manifest itself when used subconsciously in moments of strong apprehension, fear or anger. For example, Harry Potter once made his hair grow back after a bad haircut, and made the glass front of boa constrictor's cage disappear.
Almost all magic is done with the use of a supporting tool, typically a wand. By using a wand one's magical powers are greatly increased. Furthermore, most actual spell-casting is done by using short incantations (most often in what sounds like a modified form of Latin) accompanied by gestures. Accomplished wizards and witches sometimes perform magic, especially simple magic, without need for an incantation. Albus Dumbledore has been known to do good-sized feats of magic without the use of a single spell.
It should be noted that within the Harry Potter books the technical details of magic are, intentionally or otherwise, entirely obscure. Of Harry's lessons only those involving magical creatures, potions or astronomy are given in any detail, none of the clearly magical lessons are shown with any structure.
Regardless of how powerful a witch or wizard is, she/he is by no means without limits. For instance, while it is possible to conjure things out of thin air it's far more tricky to create something that fits an exact specification rather than a general one -- moreover any objects so conjured tend not to last. It's also impossible to resurrect the dead, though much remains to be seen of the nature of death in the Potter series...
... and wizards of the Ministry of Magic study it in depth in the room of the Department of Mysteries which contains the enigmatic veil through which Sirius Black fell in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (this suggests some sort of portal between the worlds of the dead and the living, but the exact significance of the veil is still unclear). Furthermore, magical techniques have been used to prolong life: the Philosopher's stone (or sorcerer's stone in the American books) has the ability to postpone death indefinitely, and Voldemort has long sought to "conquer death".
The wizarding world
The wizarding world exists as a shadow society to the Muggle world and works as hard as it can to keep its existence a secret to all but a few Muggles, such as those who are related to witches and wizards, or important Muggles such as the Prime Minister. To most magical people the Muggle world is unknown, and their attempts to disguise themselves as Muggles often have mostly humorous results (Muggle Studies at Hogwarts is considered a soft option). Most things of magical nature are hidden or otherwise obscured from Muggles, others (such as Dementors) can simply not be detected by them.
The terms "wizard" and "witch" are used in magical society more or less the same way the terms "man" and "woman" are used in the Muggle world. "Mage" or similar words are rare and usually only seen in titles or such.
The technological development of the wizarding world is far behind that of the Muggle one. This is partly due to the fact that magic greatly lessens the need for such, and partly due to magic's tendency to cause interference with electrical equipment.
While J. K. Rowling has never been very consistent regarding maths and dates in her works, it is interesting to estimate the population of wizards in her world; such gives an idea of how easy it is for a wizarding world to exist alongside our own.
The equation for approximate population is: Population = Birth Rate * Average Life Span. This is close to accurate under the assumption that these values remain relatively constant for a duration greater than the average life span, which is usually a bad assumption but is good enough for the moment.
According to J.K. Rowling, all people with the potential for wizardry that are born in Britain are invited to Hogwarts. Assume the numbers of students at Hogwarts has been consistent for the last century or so. We can estimate that about 40 students are in Harry's class (about 10 per house), and by our assumptions that would mean about 40 students per year. Assuming an average wizard life-span of, say, a century (which isn't too far off based on lists of known wizard life-spans, although they can live to over 150 if they don't blow themselves up or otherwise get killed), that places P = 40 * 100, or 4000 wizards and witches, with rather conservative estimates.
More optimistic estimates could easily double or even triple that number. One could assume, for example, that many wizards or witches are home-tutored, take a correspondence course by owl, learn in covens, or simply learn on their own by reading esoteric books, and that the average number of wizards attending Hogwarts over the last century is higher (Voldemort's reign may have had an impact on birthrate). One might also add those that have the ability, but choose not to educate themselves (usually Muggleborn, I'd presume). In any case, it would be difficult to justify a population of much more than twelve thousand wizards.
So... pick a reasonable and convenient range of, say 5500 to 11000 potential wizards in Britain in 1991, the official WB date for Sorcerer's Stone. The population in Britain of 55 million would indicate that about one person in ten-thousand to one person in five-thousand has magical ability. Assuming the same average ratio worldwide would mean that there are between 1/2 million and 1 million wizards and witches in the world.
In any case, with at most one person in five-thousand having magical ability, in combination with attempts to keep it secret, it is easy to see how magic could be kept secret from the Muggles.
Main article: Blood purity (Harry Potter)
A term for a wizard or witch whose ancestors have possessed magical powers for untold generations. Many seek to keep this purity, and don't allow their children to marry anyone who is not pure-blood. Since this makes for a limited number of choices, all the pure-blood families are interconnected. A pure-blood who doesn't seek to keep the purity in their family is believed by purity-of-blood fanatics to be a "blood traitor". Examples: Lucius Malfoy, Draco Malfoy, Neville Longbottom, Weasley, James Potter, Sirius Black. See Pure-blood for more information.
A non-derogatory technical term used to describe the offspring of a wizard or witch and a Muggle -- sometimes extended to mean the offspring of a witch or wizard and a Muggle-born. Examples: Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter,Dean Thomas. The title of the sixth book in the series is known to be Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. This is thought to possibly refer to one of several characters, but does not refer to Lord Voldemort or Harry Potter.
A term used by those who can use magic to refer to those who cannot. The term is sometimes used innocuously and sometimes in a derogatory way, depending on who's saying it. During Lord Voldemort's reign of terror, his Death Eaters performed many Muggle killings for the fun of it. In the Middle Ages, Muggles feared and persecuted magical people, so now all the wizarding people in the world have chosen to remain hidden from Muggles for fear such persecution could happen again. There are some extremists who try to classify Muggles as "beasts" (rather than "beings"). Examples of Muggles: Vernon Dursley, Petunia Dursley.
A term used to describe a wizard or a witch born to Muggle parents. The derogatory term for these people, to be used only by purity-of-blood fanatics, is "mudblood". Examples: Hermione Granger, Lily Potter
The opposite of a Muggle-born, a Squib is someone of wizard heritage—that is, with at least one magical parent—who posseses no magical powers. Though lacking magic, Squibs are capable of seeing some magical things that muggles cannot. Aware of the existence of magic, many (if not most) Squibs live in the wizard society.
Examples of Squibs in the series include Argus Filch, and Arabella Figg, Harry's neighbour. Neville Longbottom is described early on as a "near Squib" because of his difficulties when attempting to perform magic.
Squibs may choose a life bordering the magical and non-magical (Arabella Figg breeds cats for the wizarding population of Britain); others have to find their niche in the wizard society (Argus Filch is a caretaker at Hogwarts).
A derogatory term used to describe a wizard or witch who has "pure" blood but nonetheless refuses to maintain prejudice against "impure" peoples. Examples: The Weasleys (considered the most prominent blood traitors of England), Andromeda Tonks, Sirius Black.
Known magical schools
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
- Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
- Location: Scotland, UK
- Notes: Harry, Ron, Hermione and their friends go here. This school services the wizarding population of the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Beauxbatons Academy of Magic
- Headmaster: Unknown (formerly Igor Karkaroff, he ran off at end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
- Location: Unknown (Somewhere in Northern Europe)
Salem Witches' Institute
- Headmaster: Unknown
- Location: United States, presumably in Salem, Massachusetts
- Bill Weasley had a pen pal at an unknown school in Brazil, who took offence when Bill couldn't afford a student exchange programme and sent him a hat that made his ears shrivel up.
The following is a list of special abilities that a wizard or witch in the Harry Potter universe may have.
An Animagus is a witch or wizard who has the ability to turn into a particular animal at will. This ability can be learnt and is not innate. Animagi must also register at a central authority; it is illegal to learn this ability without registering. Animagi are explicitly differentiated from werewolves in that Animagi can control their transformations whereas werewolves have no choice on the matter, and experience personality changes. An Animagus cannot choose what animal to become, but becomes that animal best suited to him or her.
For more details, as well as a listing of all known characters with this ability, consult the main article on Animagi.
Parseltongue is the ability to speak with snakes, and those who possess this talent are known as Parselmouths. Parseltongue has a nasty reputation: with the significant exception of Harry Potter himself, it was a skill solely attributed to Dark Wizards.
Legilimency and Occlumency
A Legilimens is a witch or wizard who has the ability to extract feelings and memories from another person's mind, allowing them (for example) to detect lies. On the other hand, people skilled at Occlumency are able to counteract the act of Legilimency, by shutting down feelings and memories that contradict the words spoken. Eye contact is often essential in Legilimency.
Lord Voldemort, Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore are skilled in Legilimency, while it seems that Albus Dumbledore is well-skilled in Occlumency as well. Severus Snape is also considerably skilled in Occlumency, having been forced to hide thoughts and feelings from Voldemort himself. Dumbledore also obviously recognises Snape's skills in this area as he trusts him to teach the ability to Harry Potter. Though some say that his Occlumency abilities are lacking because of Harry's ability to see inside Snape's mind temporarily, it must be remembered that Harry is an extremely talented young wizard, and that it was Snape's own spell that allowed Harry to do this, and we can assume that his skill level for both of these abilities would be comparable to one another.
Teleportation. A wizard can disappear (disapparate) from one location, and instantly reappear (apparate) in another. Both apparating and disapparating are typically accompanied by a distinctive cracking sound, possibly caused by the abrupt motion of air due to the sudden presence or absence of a body.
This ability can be learned, but the training is difficult and there is a risk of being splinched — physically split between two different locations, requiring the assistance of the Ministry of Magic's Accidental Magic Reversal Squad . A wizard must reach the age of 17 and pass an examination in order to be licensed to apparate. It is also considered unreliable over long distances, and even experienced users of the technique may prefer other means of transport, such as broomsticks.
The books may suggest that apparating also has something to do with the wizard or witch magically peeking at their desired new position before actually displacing themselves. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Fred and George Weasley apparate from one room to another to show off and end up sitting painfully on Ron's knee instead of the edge of his bed. They apologise by saying that it is harder in the dark.
A list of spells.
A list of magical objects can be found here.
A list and discussion of magical beasts can be found here.
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