There is little scholarly evidence that a wand’s length, thickness, pliability, or shape have any real bearing on the magic expelled. It has stood as tradition for centuries that a longer wand conducts more boisterous magic and shorter wands are more subdued. We all grew up hearing the cautionary tales of wizards with “party-wands” rather than “weekday-wands.” This is all rubbish. As one who’s family has been in wandcraft for centuries, I am of the informed conclusion that these myths are perpetuated by those who allow old-wives’ tales to inform their personal style.
There was a time when wands did not have cores. The power came wholly from the sorcerer and, to a far lesser degree, the trees. This was an age before the advent of my trade—witches and wizards would crudely craft their own wands to varying degrees of success.
Roughly 3000 years ago a clever individual combined their wand with some other magical article (exactly what has been lost to history). An interesting anthropological circumstance to this milestone is that it appears to have happened at different locations around the globe all within about a century. There is no way to know who was first, but the Maori, the Chinook, the Mapuche, the Picts, the Mongols, and the Ethiopians all have reason to claim theirs were the first modern wands. Magical Anthropologists theorize that with these more powerful wands, apparition became possible.
Core, wood, and wizard construct a delicate three-way balance. The combination is not reflexive of the wizard in-the-moment, so much as a composite picture of the wizard’s past, present, and potential; their outer persona and their inner secrets; their ambitions and hopes interwoven with their actual destiny. In cases where wand replacement is necessary, the combination can change dramatically, just as individuals change. So many of us get our first wand at age eleven. How different would they be if we got them at 17? 25? 59?
The Supreme Wand Cores
These three are the cores outlined by the English Master Wandmaker, Garrick Ollivander as being the very highest quality.
Unicorn Tail Hair
Who among us doesn’t want to be chosen by a unicorn wand? These have been the ultimate standard in wandcraft for centuries. Their magic is smooth, reliable, clear, and moderately strong. These are the wands of some of the most esteemed witches and wizards in history.
I count myself fortunate indeed that I live so near to wild unicorns. There are just three locations left on earth where unicorns are still found, and one of them is in northwestern Maine. As unicorns are visible to muggles, there have been some interesting encounters over the years. The last recorded instance of a muggle sighting a unicorn was in the Maine woods in 1673. It still happens on occasion, as the herd sometimes wanders near skiing areas (skiing is a muggle athletic activity where one straps wooden planks to one’s feet, holds long sticks in each hand, and jumps off mountains). They appear as a soft, white glow in the darkness of the trees, like a moon in the clouds. As these sightings are often reported by muggles with schnapps bottles bulging their pockets, they are easily dismissed.
These extremely powerful cores are rightly treasured by their masters. They are the strongest, quickest wands available, but they do have their complications. In the wrong hands, dragon wands are quite accident prone and, given the power of the wand, those accidents can be deadly. But in the right hands, they lend the novice wizard the appearance of an experienced master. These are the easiest wands to tempt to the dark arts. Dragons are marvelous creatures, wondrous to behold. If you ever find yourself in the White Mountains of northern New England, there is a dragon refuge near Mount Lafayette. To make proper use of heartstring, it should be taken within hours of the beast’s passing (before sunset at the latest). Once taken however, it will keep for several months if submerged in the dragon’s blood and sealed in an air-tight container.
Phoenix Tail Feather
Exceedingly rare, phoenix wands can be highly powerful. The creatures are standoffish at best and the wands to which they contribute are equally selective in their fellowship. To be chosen by a phoenix wand one must be powerfully magical. Devilishly tricky to train, you may own a wand for years before you are truly its master.
Only twice in my career have I crafted wands with phoenix tail feathers—they were marvelous specimens, if I may say so—both taken from my sole encounter with such a creature. I had approached the nest just as my field guide had instructed: from upwind, in the light of a gibbous moon, making their ka-koo-koo-koo call. But, alas, when I was within five yards, the lovely thing burst into flames. Fortunately, there were several molted feathers in the nest which remained unsinged and two of these were from her tail.
Premium Wand Cores
On the whole, banshees are to be approached with caution if at all. I have discovered one living just beyond the Plains of Abraham. While still a volatile creature, I was able to ingratiate myself to her with flattery, song, butterbeer, and a “smile like a matinee idol.” (Her words, not mine.)
I seldom use banshee hair in my wands because, despite my best efforts, the results are so often dark. I have tried to counter this by pairing it with inherently good woods like poplar, but the result was so volatile as to be unsafe for use—I pitched it in the stove. However, if the witch or wizard is powerful enough and the wood is strong and true (like a Red Oak or Black Walnut, for example) they may master this core to ply their art. Banshee wands are good for hexes and curses, but also quite good for legilimency.
Cornish Pixie Wing
I have been told by industry experts that my family is alone in its employment of Cornish Pixie Wing as a magical core. This is a point of pride for our small shop, though I’m mystified why other wandmakers haven’t tried it themselves. Each winter pixies of northern climates love to hibernate in any structure they can break into—barns, hen houses, potting sheds, and, yes, wand shops. As they emerge in the spring, they will have shed last year’s wings for a new pair. Eleven months out of the year they are absolute pests, but I can’t help but grin each March as I sweep out the loft space over my shop and find a year’s supply of perfectly usable stock.
As you may expect, pixie wings are not the strongest magical core and their magic has a decidedly mischievous flavor. While jinxes and hexes are in the wheelhouse, a direct curse will be rather weak unless the wand’s wood is strong enough to compensate. These wands tend toward those of a cheerful personality and a playful spirit. While quite good for transfiguration, charms, conjuring and many other forms of academic magic, pixie wings are not the best choice for dueling.
Devil’s Snare Tendril
There was a time when most wand cores were herbal, today it seems few of them are. I rather like a purely botanical wand. I grow my own devil’s snare for use in wandcraft. We keep a small sunken bed in a mostly-shaded corner of the garden, behind a fence, under a tarp. Only harvest on bright days when you have a sliver of sunlight on the bed. I also recommend gardening gloves treated with a phosphorescence potion.
Devil’s snare makes wands of a medium-strong magic. They often choose wizards of a certain self-reliance—half-bloods or muggle-born witches and wizards who are used to doing things for themselves. A trait singular to devil’s snare wands is that they seem to crave contact with their master. One may often find themselves holding the wand with no memory of having picked it up. When casting spells with these affectionate wands, give a light squeeze at the moment of incantation. Marvelous for all manner of charm work and vanishing spells, Devil’s snare wands will benefit from a well-practiced hand in the arena of conjuring.
The most powerful herbal wand core, dittany is also one of the oldest, found in Chinese and Russian wands of the 3rd century B.C.E. Tradition holds that a defoliated stalk of the dittany should be inserted into the base of the wand, and this is certainly a good practice. I find the root of the plant produces the same powerful magic but with a cheerful flair. Dittany is among the more widely used herbs for healers and so too dittany wands are excellent guardians of well-being. Dittany wands favor the charitable, service-oriented, humanitarian witch or wizard. One singularity to these wands is that after conjuring or charming, some report a light, earthy smell in the air.
Outside of the Supreme Wand Cores, mermaid hair is second only to thestral hair in pure power. It is easily discovered on many northern beaches, tangled in the seaweed at the high water line. As it is free for the taking, one needs restraint to keep from bringing home too much. Soak the hair in apple cider for a full moon cycle, then in a hot cauldron, let the hair simmer over night in a mixture of equal parts dragon’s blood and sea water. Rinse again with fresh water. If done properly, the hair will be fine and nearly white, and should slip into the base of the wand like threading a needle.
In my corner of the world, the mermaids of the Atlantic have had a poor reputation for centuries. In my experience, this is unearned and unkind. While my craft does not require direct contact with the mermish, out of professional courtesy, I periodically take some gillyweed and stride into the sea with a gift for their chief and a note of explanation (as gillyweed is so unpalatable, my aunt taught me to take it with a spoonful of peanut-butter). Mermaid wands are wonderfully consistent with strong, predictable charms and curses. These wands have a light, playful quality but can nimbly change as circumstances dictate. They favor wizards and witches of cunning, wit, with a certain charisma.
Owl Tail Feather
Owls are the most common magical creatures with some 200 varieties distributed across all continents except Antarctica. The tail feathers should not be taken from the owl directly—only a shed tail feather can be used in wandcraft. Therefore, the wandmaker should look to replenish his supplies in harmony with your region’s molting season. The best feathers are those of the larger females and should be incorporated into a wand within a year of molting.
Owls are some of the greatest servants and companions in the wizarding world. It has been my observation that those chosen by owl wands exhibit many endearing owl-like qualities: loyal, affectionate, service oriented, and diligent. On the down side, they can be messy eaters.
Thestral Tail Hair
The most powerful wand core outside of the Supreme Wand Cores. Thestral hair was at the core of the Wand of Destiny. There is no branch of magic beyond the mastery of a thestral wand; this inherent strength make these among the most coveted wand cores. It is fair to warn, however, that thestral wands are not at all sentimental—they pledge no loyalty to their master. They give allegiance only to power.
They are, however, desperately tricky to come by. Thestrals are not native to North America, however there are two colonies that I am aware of: a small group along the southern coast of Newfoundland maintained by the Ancient and Magical Order of Saint Isidore and another larger, wild herd in the coastal mountains of Oaxaca.
Thunderbird Tail Feather
While thunderbirds are not native to this part of the country, their tail feathers may be found at magical supply shops in your nearest wizarding settlement. However, their wholesale cost is dear. If you ever have occasion to visit the American Southwest, I recommend acquiring your stock as nature intended. There is a sharp learning-curve with thunderbird cores, but once mastered make for a powerful wand. A peculiarity to this core is its ability to cast defensive spells of its own accord. Often drawn to wizards of a stormy disposition, thunderbird wands are excellent for conjuring, legilimency, and dueling.
Veela hair should not be sought out, but if you happen to come upon some reliably-sourced, it can be a strong magical core. I somehow found three strands clinging to the lapel of my robes after a befuddling evening in Quebec City. The famous drawback to using veela hair is that the wand can sometimes have a will of its own. While the witch or wizard of a well-organized intellect may change their mind quickly, their wand may not. These wands must be treated with a cool, even temper and dueling is strongly cautioned.
Utility Wand Cores
Plainly inferior wand cores are used by apprentice wandmakers, in honing their craft. These include Kelpie Hair, Kneazle Whisker, and Troll Whisker. I have never known a witch or wizard to be chosen by one of these wands. The only time anyone would purchase one of these is if they were temporarily without their own wand (but still master of it) and therefore couldn’t be chosen by another. They cost just a galleon or two and can get you through the day, though I wouldn’t attempt any spells more complicated than those of a 3rd year student.