History of Wands
Disclaimer: while the guest professor is mine, I do not own the students, normal faculty, or school grounds of Hogwarts.
Distribution: as with the previous Pottery Shards.
Notes: a little poking into possible Potter-verse history.
Harry and Ron made their way towards History of Magic, still trying to figure out what to think about this morning’s first Divination lesson. The fumes had left their heads spinning, the teacher had been creepy, and… Harry had a bad feeling about the whole year. The teacher was going to drive him crazy, especially if she kept seeing death omens everywhere. Even having Transfiguration class wasn’t enough to put the matter completely out of his mind.
Nobody expected the note on the History of Magic door. It was a half sheet of parchment, with spidery letters in green ink, reading ‘If you want to actually learn something historical today, report to the classroom behind you. The ghost will be droning on about goblins as usual behind this door.’
“I wonder what we might learn?” Hermione’s voice was an excited whisper. “Maybe about the development of a medical potion? Certain legal traditions and processes? The passing of the Statute of Secrecy?”
Knowing that there would be no living with Hermione if they denied her the chance to learn things, especially in History of Magic, Harry sighed, “There’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?”
Hermione grabbed hold of their wrists and practically dragged them into the room across from their regular History of Magic class. It was a very similar looking room, with rows of desks, several tall, cloudy windows that let in light without permitting a good view, and a pair of chalkboards on the front wall. They settled into some desks at the front, and Hermione was still muttering possibilities as they pulled out parchments and quills in case of notes. Other students filtered in, also murmuring questions about what they might be learning, speculating on who might teach them something, and what was going on.
Susan Bones speculated, “Maybe it’s an Auror, trying to help us learn something in case of danger. The escape of Sirius Black has raised a lot of concerns.”
Neville muttered something about a rare plant.
Blaise Zabini absently murmured, “Perhaps something about the recent political climate?”
“Actually, I plan on telling you an abbreviated version of the history of magical staves and wands as used by European magicals,” a voice drawled from the corner. There was a slight hissing accent to the words, and a bit of something that suggested English wasn’t the man’s first language. He was of average height, though he carried himself with the utter confidence and grace of a predator, and had a light brown complexion with dark brown curls falling to his collarbones. His eyes were hidden behind smoky sunglasses, set in golden wire frames. The brown outer robe had a broad irregular diamond like pattern in browns that set off warning signs in Harry’s mind. It reminded him a little too much of a snake.
“Abbreviated?” traces of indignation colored Hermione’s voice.
“You don’t expect me to be able to give the full version of something close to forty thousand years of history in one afternoon, do you? Thus, abbreviated. There are very substantial volumes that delve into more details that you may look up if you are so inclined.” His expression was a smirk, the sort that suggested he knew all sorts of useful secrets.
Everyone settled into their seats, quiet and ready to take notes. Barely over a quarter of the third years had made their way into this classroom, suggesting that most preferred the tedium of Binns’ lectures or at least the lack of supervision the ghost placed on them.
“Excellent. The earliest magical history is rather sketchy, as all human history of that time was likewise sketchy. Humans of forty thousand years ago lived in small groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers, with a small number of these individuals possessing a measure of magical ability. There were no magical schools similar to Hogwarts, Beauxbatons or Durmstrang in that time period, so magical instruction and tradition back then was radically different from the way things are done now. Every individual believed in powers beyond those of their muscles, in spirits and energies affecting the world. It was believed that these powers could bring good or ill fortune to their tribes. Certain individuals studied secrets that were believed to make things happen. Some of these secrets were what would now be called astronomy and herb-lore, to tell the changing seasons and the effects of certain plants as medicines or poisons,” the man paused, and gestured at the board, where a few things jotted themselves down in the same spidery handwriting as the note.
“There were a few things that you would call real magic. One was the ability to start fires. The other is perhaps one of the few surviving wandless magical practices in your culture; the animagus transformation. The ability to change oneself into a different shape was believed to be a sign of great power and communication with the animal spirits. I do believe it has changed considerably over the many, many generations, but the result is substantially similar,” He gestured again, and ‘animagus = wandless magic = ancient magic’ scrawled onto the board. “Needless to say, these tricks were not easily learned.”
“But… I thought this was going to be the history of staves and wands?” asked Susan Bones.
“Indeed. Over the next several generations, those early magical humans began to carry big sticks, often separated from trees by lightning strikes. They would adorn them with bits of powerful creatures, distinctive crystals or shells, and other things that they felt were signs of power or the spiritual world. By carrying these things, they believed that they would be able to work their magic faster, with more effectiveness, and greater power,” he gestured and a staff reaching a little over a foot taller than himself formed into being. It was strung with feathers and strings of dangling shells and teeth, set with a chunk of gleaming black stone at the top, and wrapped with several bits of leather. The whole thing was big, and dramatic.
Another gesture caused five more examples of the early magic staves, each drastically different in adornment. One looked to have a griffon claw set at the top, while another had dangling tufts of fur and feathers as well as many strips of leather wound around the length of the stick. A third had many heavy bulges along the length, and was set with an assortment of claws and teeth. “As an added benefit, in addition to looking quite impressive, the early staves could also be used to hit a problem over the head.”
The class giggled a bit at that comment. Harry couldn’t help imagining hitting Malfoy upside the head with that big stick. Malfoy, or Snape, or even the red-eyed face of Voldemort that had been in the back of Quirrell’s head in his first year.
“Various cultures over the following thousands of years kept the basic size and heft, but refined the staves a bit. The rough edges would be smoothed out, some carved shapes along the length of the staff, and the bits of feathers, leather, stone and shell would be placed with more artistry,” the man gestured again, and a row of long staves appeared. There were some that were elaborately carved and set with gems, others with feathers, some wrapped in leather or scales that must have been dragon-hide. One had a top set with very large claws. Several had curves at the top that suggested shepherd’s crooks, others bore large stones. “You will notice that they are still very obvious, very impressive, and still place what would be classed as magical cores on the outside of the stick.”
“They aren’t very subtle,” offered Blaise Zabini.
“No, they weren’t subtle. Traditionally, they were also crafted by the individual who used them, using bits and pieces that they gathered themselves. Though in later times, some would buy the items that they added to their staves. At this point, while very elaborate, they could be used just as equally as magic sticks as whapping sticks. Problems that defied magic were still often beaten about the head and shoulders until it went away,” the smirk was still there.
“I want a magic whapping stick,” Ron muttered.
“Three thousand years ago, magical in this area started running into frequent problems caused by their arrogance. Because a magical could do things that their non-magical neighbors could not, many proceeded to do whatever they wanted. They would take their non-magical neighbors possessions, seduce their wives and daughters, and generally behave irresponsibly and made a great nuisance of theirselves. After all, if the neighbors objected, they could simply set them on fire, launch them over the river, or turn them into a chicken. They felt no need to be cautious,” disapproval was obvious in the man’s words.
“Aren’t magicals capable of far more than their muggle neighbors? Why would any skilled magical need to worry about their muggle neighbors?” asked Blaise.
“Mmmm, you are capable of a decent bit of magic already, child. Tell me, do you still need to sleep?” the man looked at the class. “I suspect that you all need to sleep. That your parents also need to sleep. The most powerful spell or technique is useless when your angry neighbors, tired of you taking their crops and livestock and seducing their wives, sneak in while you sleep and express their anger upon your person. When you sleep, your magical stick, regardless of the length, can be taken from you. A great many magical made their neighbors so angry that they formed angry mobs and killed the magical tyrants.”
The students were silent, eyes wide and frightened.
“Unfortunately, many magicals are very slow learners. Sometimes they also learn the wrong lessons. Instead of deciding to behave responsibly and not enrage their neighbors, the result over the next few centuries was to make magic sticks smaller and less obvious,” the man sounded irritated.
He gestured again, and the next group that formed were elaborate wooden or metal shapes, ranging up to two feet in length, set with gems, or shells at the ends. They were covered in elaborate carvings, but no longer sported fur or feathers or scales wrapped around the outside. “As the magic sticks became smaller, bits of magical beasts were placed inside instead of outside. This was a trend that began in multiple places and spread over the next thousand years. By the spread of the Roman Empire, most magicals carried small magic sticks for their daily lives, though some groups had larger staves for specific ceremonial occasions. This was also when it began to become a widespread practice to have someone else make the magical stick. The rise of the wand-maker began in this time-frame.”
“Is something wrong with that?” Hermione’s quill was brushing against her chin. “I would suspect that not everybody would have the skill to properly shape a wand…”
“Whether it is better to craft your own magical focus or to let someone else do so is a question of philosophy and tradition that I am not going to address today. I will point out that many of the more secretive magicals or those focusing on very demanding or delicate work will still create their own magic stick,” he smiled at her. “I will also say that many magicals have believed that knowing what a magic stick is made from, knowing the wood and the cores, can tell you many things about that person’s magic, their skills, and their personality.”
“Those still don’t look like the average wand of today,” commented Justin Finch-Fletchley from the back of the room.
“No, it doesn’t,” the man agreed. “The Roman Empire did more than simply spread a common language and try to blend together the diverse magical traditions and cultures. The Roman technologies, simple though you might consider them, allowed an increase in local food production. Increased food means increasing populations. Increasing populations in general mean a larger number of magical people. However, wand-crafting was becoming a less common skill in proportion to the population. This meant a greater demand was placed on each wand-maker. The wands for those who were not of the wealthy and elite became simpler objects, something that could be made in less time. Mind you, these wands were of a simpler appearance, but they were no less effective as tools.”
Another gesture created a row of wands. Some were elaborate, with highly carved wood threaded with gold or silver accenting bits of carving, set with gems at the base or tip. Others were only wood, though carved from base to tip, sometimes set with a small gem on the base. The last of this row were very similar to the wands they had now, though there would still be a bit of elaborate carving, sometimes only over the area where the witch or wizard would grip, and sometimes with threads of carving going all the way to the wand tip.
“As the populations of magical humans became larger, and the populations in general also grew, there were a variety of clashes, conflicts, and political maneuverings as people and groups sorted out who would be in charge, what roles magic held in various societies, and the rules for magical and non-magicals interacting. These were hardly bloodless, civil changes, and they brought about traditions of secrecy regarding just what was and wasn’t possible with the magic of the time and a flurry of magical research to extend the bounds of what could be done. While runes became less commonly used by the skilled magical, all the wanded branches and potions experienced considerable research, magical espionage and sabotage between groups and nations became quite common as political struggles continued. Magical advances were made, lost and sometimes rediscovered,” The man smiled, an oddly sinister expression. “This is the era which produced the founders of Hogwarts. Hogwarts was not the only magical school, though it is the oldest surviving school in the British Isles, and it has generally been the largest on those same isles. A few centuries after Hogwarts was founded, Nicolas Flamel was born. He later became a renowned wizard, an expert spell crafter and alchemist.”
Various murmurs could be heard.
“There have been whole books written on individual magical schools and on notable magical individuals. It isn’t my intention to cover them in vast detail today,” he shook his head.
Hermione was biting her lip, no doubt full of questions. She was also scratching a furious listing of things along the edge of her paper. Possibly a series of things to look up later.
“In the fifteen hundreds, as European nations started to explore the wider world around them, magical families started to withdraw from the broader community. The development of a widespread version of the apparition and port-key spells helped fuel this rapid separation. They began trading more and more with other magical individuals and less with their non-magical neighbors. Advances in home defense and secrecy spells enabled the creation of magically secluded communities, that nobody without magic would even be able to locate. This increasing separation was also encouraged by yet another wave of witch-hunts. Multiple factors combined to persuade the magical leadership of the time to pass an early version of what would later become the Statute of Secrecy. This version strongly discouraged magical and non-magical people from interacting, and made it a crime to reveal another’s magical nature to a non-magical. It was also decided to hide several magical species from the non-magicals, such as dragons, unicorns and griffons. As a side note, I do not believe this plan was discussed with the dragons, unicorns, or griffons before the wizards and witches put things into motion,” his tone here suggested that there was some sort of joke that nobody else knew.
“How would you talk about things with a griffon anyhow?” Ron muttered. “Or a dragon, they’re likely to try to eat you.”
“A side effect of this was a greater disconnect between magical and non-magical humans,” the man shook his head, pacing along behind the row of wands and staves. “The non-magicals no longer had regular contact with the magical, and began to forget that magic was real. The magical became more afraid of what the non-magicals might do to them if they were discovered. This fear prompted the development of the memory modification and obliviation spells.”
“You sound like you disapprove of that course of action,” Blaise Zabini glanced at the man, quill pausing over his notes.
“I believe that entirely ignoring such a substantial portion of the population is unwise. While there were legitimate concerns, I do not believe the leaders of the time chose the best methods to address those concerns. As I was not one of the leaders of the time, my opinion was neither sought nor welcome. Now, of course, it is much too late for my opinion to make any difference at all,” His hands were clasped behind his back as he paced.
Harry frowned, wondering where the man’s wand had been concealed. A pocket? A wand-holster under his sleeve? Come to think of it, he didn’t recall actually seeing a wand, despite the conjuration of the floating examples of earlier staves and wands or the continuing scrawl of references on the chalk-board. And the way he’d just answered that suggested that he had been around back then, watching society separate itself into magical and muggle. But that couldn’t be right; he’d have to be over three hundred years old…
“The increasingly insular – that means avoiding outsiders – nature of the magical communities led to several changes. Any trades that involved actual muscle use or years of training in anything besides magic became less respected. This included many magical architects, magical artists, as for a proper result the majority of the work needs to be done by hand instead of by spell-craft, and the construction of magical artifacts, as opposed to a simple enchantment placed on something crafted by another person. Magical artifacts include flying carpets and brooms, enchanted mirrors of all sorts, portal-doors, healing stones, anti-poison drinking vessels, and magic wands. As a result to this, the number of wand-makers dropped even further, forcing a higher level of simplification in the wands sold. Very few of you will have any complex carvings along your wands, and no student is provided with a wand set with gems in modern times. Some of you from long-established magical families may have seen the more elaborate wands used by some of your ancestors. Few of today’s wand-crafters are capable of making those wands,” he shook his head.
“Are you saying that Ollivander isn’t as good as a wand-crafter as the guys from seven hundred years ago?” asked Justin Finch-Fletchley
“I make no judgments on the skills of specific individuals until and unless I have had a chance to evaluate their performance myself, young wizard,” the man’s voice was sharp. “Ollivander is not the only wand-maker in the British Isles. Having seen a good number of currently used wands, I speak of the level of intricacy and ornamentation falling, and that the materials used have narrowed in range. The effectiveness of the tool is seldom connected to the level of embellishment.”
“But…” someone from the back attempted to protest.
“For those of you who doubt my words, or just wonder how complicated making a wand could be, find some pieces of wood. Try to shape them into something like a wand. Longer than your hand, shorter than your forearm, not much bigger around than your finger. Smooth it out so there won’t be splinters. See how easy that is. Then consider adding elaborate carvings to that piece of wood,” the man’s explanation made quite a few people suddenly raise their ideas of the difficulty of wand-making.
“Sir?” Harry raised his hand. “You said that early wizards and witches used their staves to make magic easier. Does that mean that they didn’t need them?”
Hermione was signaling to him, but Harry ignored her hand waving.
“The magic is in you, not in the stick. The stick and the bits of magical things on or within the stick are supposed to make it easier. Magic sticks help focus and amplify. Without the ability to do magic within you, it doesn’t matter what sort of stick you have, nothing will happen. If you have magic, magic sticks can make things easier. But for a strong enough magical being, any magic stick or even just a random stick to help aim will do. The stick helps you focus and concentrate. It looks… not as impressive as they used to, but more impressive than just waving your hand. But it is your magic and your will that makes things happen, not the fancy magic stick,” he was shaking his head.
Harry still didn’t see this man’s wand.
“But they used to have really fancy magic whapping sticks,” Ron muttered, eying the fancy replicas of older wands and staves with envy.
“Each of you may take and keep one, if you want. They are imperfect replicas – the feathers look and feel feathery, but lack any magical properties derived from the specific creature. There is no inherent magic in the scales or stored power in the crystals, and I suspect you would get in trouble for trying to sell the metal. However, the wood is wooden, the weight is there, and they will look impressive and give a hefty knock on the head of any problem at close range,” he gestured at the various examples.
As the third years swarmed up to examine the replicas up close, Harry paused, looking at the strange man. He still hadn’t introduced himself. “Sir? Why are you telling us these things?”
“I take a bit of amusement from the looks of bafflement wizards and witches express when I dismiss their precious wands as magic sticks. The way some of them bristle at the idea of ancient magicals dealing with problems by just hitting it with a fancy stick,” that amused smirk was back, and he leaned forward just a little. His eyes, barely visible behind the sunglasses, were solid yellow with a single line down the center, just like a snake.
Harry felt himself freeze.
That hissing accent was even thicker in his next words. “And I keep hoping that someone will realize that the sticks aren’t needed at all. They make things easier, not possible.”
Harry blinked, wondering if the man had just spoken in parsel-tongue. He reached out, his hand resting against one of the very first replicas, a long twisting branch with a few bumps. Bits of dark green snakeskin had been wound about several places, and several brilliant red feathers dangled near the top, next to what looked like large wolf teeth and a chunk of amber. He was reminded of Fawkes, and the basilisk, and maybe a bit of Fluffy.
“There’s a lot to think about,” Harry whispered.
“I’m sure that all of you have other places to go. Why don’t you collect your things, pick a replica, and move along?” the man’s words carried well.
With no objections at all, students started out of the classroom, most clutching a replica. Some had two replicas with them. Harry glanced back, only to see that the strange man had vanished. And he still didn’t know who he was, or possibly what he was. But he would keep the replica of the ancient staff, partly for the resemblances and partly to help him think about what the man had said. Magic sticks make magic easier, not possible… and the idea of hitting Voldemort upside the head with a fancy stick made the idea of facing him again just a little less frightening.
End Pottery Shard: History of Wands