Forums: Index > The Wizengamot archive > The Physical Appearance of Spells

Here is a topic that I am suprised that no one else has yet brought up for open discussion. It regards all the details on the physical manifestations of spells i.e. what the spells themselves look like rather than their effect on the object/person being magicked. Rowling's style seems to include jets/flashes of light accompanied by loud sound-effects (namely 'bangs'). Sometimes it appears that a spell may not have any visible means of casting. Wingardium Leviosa is one spell in particular that is widely agreed upon to not be associated with any 'light shows', or so to speak. While, as I imagine, every Harry Potter fan has their own idea of what to visualize when thinking of the manifestation of certain spells, it is important to note that Rowling has shown some degree of either inconsistency or complexity in the way she presents a scene involving use of magic. For example, on several occasions Expelliarmus is said to merely cause a wand to "fly" out of a wizard's hand with the implication that the means by which the charm does this is invisible. However, in other scenes, such as in the famous Priori Incantatem segment between Voldemort's and Harry's wands, Rowling specifically states that the Expelliarmus charm appears as a jet of red light. You may ask,"Well, which is it?" It is hard to tell. This is not the only case of such an event occuring. During Harry's and Malfoy's duel in the "the Half-Blood Prince", Harry is said to cast the Leg-Locker curse at Malfoy which rebounds off the wall and destroys a toilet. How could Harry know about the "rebounding" part without the spell actually being visible (as is implied with the Leg-Locker Curse and the Jelly-Leg Jinx)? What do you think?--Yin&Yang 12:11, 27 August 2009 (UTC)

The inconsistencies in Expelliarmus, at least, are mentioned in the spell's article. As for the larger point, you're right that some spells seem to have effects that aren't specified, but we have to work with what we know, so sometimes there will be gaps in our information. The wiki does have a policy for deciding what versions get priority:
  1. As described in the books or mentioned by Rowling herself (such as on her website).
  2. As shown in the movies.
  3. As shown/described in the video games, trading card games, merchandising, etc.
Versions from "lower tiers" are only regarded as canon when they do not contradict a version from a "higher tier", so for example, if what's shown in the movie is different from what's described in the book, we go with the book version.
Nick O'Demus 17:55, September 7, 2009 (UTC)

Maybe physical manifestations of spells depend on how powerful the spells themselves are. We know that the result of a powerful patronus spell looks like a full-grown shining animal whereas a result of a weak one is nothing more than white smoke. Other spells might work the same way: I bet that a killing curse of a first-year student wouldn't look anything like Voldemort's strong green beam. (It is also possible that wizards can adjust the power of their spells since we know they use their wands to focus and control their magic.) As for Expelliarmus, though, and the example you mentioned, I think there's a different reason. In that case, it might have been Priori Incantate that caused Harry's Expelliarmus to become powerful enough to match Voldemort's killing curse and that is why it looked like a strong red beam. --Herpon 16:19, September 10, 2009 (UTC)

We seem to think alike. I also thought that the force of the spell or the power behind it, be it driven by will or sheer rage, would determine the visual effect of the spell. However, there are moments in the books themselves where a flash of light is emitted from a wand casting not particularly powerful spells. One example is in the Order of the Phoenix where Mrs Weasley (or I think it might have been Bill Weasley) used a vanishing charm to remove secret Order maps and plans from Harry's sight. Rowling wrote that Harry got a momentary glimpse of the parchment due to the spell's flash of light. Now, I doubt casting (what most likely would have been Evanesco) on a few pieces of parchment would qualify as "powerful" magic. So there is a flaw in that explanation. I think in Expelliarmus's case, the effect depends on the intention of the wizard's aim. My theory is that, at least with this spell, the wand actually recognises its target before the spell fires. It could be that Harry was aiming at Voldemort's body rather than his wand that caused the red beam. If he were pointing directly at Voldemort's wand, I think the effect would have been invisible. Of course, Priori Incantatem would then have set in (probably with the golden thread of light appearing out of thin air rather than being seen as a transition from a mix of red and green to gold). As for the idea of the wizard exerting some form of conscious control over their spells' effects, wouldn't that mean that most wizards would choose to conceal their spells' effects during a duel (i.e. make them invisible) for the element of suprise? Harry himself thought to himself while spying on Voldemort and Snape in the Shrieking Shack (Deathly Hallows) that to aim a curse at Nagini would give away his position. If so, Harry could not disguise the direction of the spell which, to Voldemort, would have immediately revealled Harry's hiding place. To be honest, I think that Rowling intentionally created these inconsistencies in her spell effects so as to allow the reader a right to their own imaginations. If so, that is mighty considerate. P.S. Sorry for such a long read.--Yin&Yang 11:36, September 15, 2009 (UTC)

If anyone else has anything to add to this page, feel free. The more people join in, the more ideas we can bounce off eachother until we come to some conclusion. I probably should have mentioned that this page is dedicated to the physical appearance of spell effects in the books only.--Yin&Yang 12:53, October 10, 2009 (UTC)

Wow, I read all of these comments and I am just mind blown. I think Ying&Yang is right though, Rowling probably tried to let readers imagine the spells. You've put a lot of thought into this. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs).

Maybe the way the spell is sent (the flicks or flourishes) could affect the colour, strength and the way the spell is shot out...Frosty Earth 12:35, November 3, 2009 (UTC)

Accccording to the movies it depends on your loyalties. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by The Twelfth Doctor (talkcontribs).

There is only one spell that may depend on loyalties in the film: Apparation. This form is, however, considered non-canon, isn´t it?--Rodolphus 17:11, November 3, 2009 (UTC)

No, No! I mean the colours of the spells that a Death Eater or Slytherin would cast would be green but the colour that the Order of the Phoenix, Gryffindor, Harry, DA, Ron is normally red. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs).