My main question is about the process of doing spells. If it is explained in the books, I am eager to know what consisted spells except words and waving the wand.

In the Harry Potter series, Hogwarts taught magic to wizards. Now except in Potion-making classes, all they learnt were some spells like "lumos", "stupefy" etc. Now we mostly see a dozen spells mainly used by Harry and teams in the whole series in which they wave their wand and say it, may be with a bit of concentration. Except Expecto Patronum, which including a lot of practice to get hold of your happiest memory, and the apparating process, which can be dangerous (actually it was never taught in school and Hermione just seem to know it somehow), none other spells seems to be tough and can be taught maximum in a week. Were there any technicalities to perform each spell, except waving wand and saying it?

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    I'm not sure about Apparition never being taught in school. I seem to remember something about Apparition classes in Book 6: Deliberation, destination, and determination. Or deliberation, divination, and desperation, if you prefer.
    – Adamant
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 4:56
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    @jonah it was never taught in movies.... Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 4:57
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    Oh, yeah. Well, the movies left a lot of stuff out.
    – Adamant
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 5:02
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    So are you asking specifically based on the movies? Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 5:12
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    @CandiedMango My main question is about the process of doing spells. If it is explained in the books, I am eager to know. Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 5:16

4 Answers 4


TL;DR - the movies are incredibly unreliable.

The process of learning spells is far more drawn out and difficult than the movies indicate. Since the books more or less answer this question I won't do much but provide quotes. Here are some from the first few weeks Harry is at Hogwarts.

And then, once you had managed to find them, there were the classes themselves. There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words.

They had to study the night skies through their telescopes every Wednesday at midnight and learn the names of different stars and the movements of the planets. Three times a week they went out to the greenhouses behind the castle to study Herbology, with a dumpy little witch called Professor Sprout, where they learned how to take care of all the strange plants and fungi, and found out what they were used for.

In McGonagalls class...

Then she changed her desk into a pig and back again. They were all very impressed and couldn't wait to get started, but soon realized they weren't going to be changing the furniture into animals for a long time. After taking a lot of complicated notes, they were each given a match and started trying to turn it into a needle. By the end of the lesson, only Hermione Granger had made any difference to her match; Professor McGonagall showed the class how it had gone all silver and pointy and gave Hermione a rare smile.

Flitwick and Wingardium Leviosa...

"Now, don't forget that nice wrist movement we've been practicing!" squeaked Professor Flitwick, perched on top of his pile of books as usual. "Swish and flick, remember, swish and flick. And saying the magic words properly is very important, too -- never forget Wizard Baruffio, who said 's' instead of 'f' and found himself on the floor with a buffalo on his chest."

It was very difficult. Harry and Seamus swished and flicked, but the feather they were supposed to be sending skyward just lay on the desktop. Seamus got so impatient that he prodded it with his wand and set fire to it -- Harry had to put it out with his hat.


"You're saying it wrong," Harry heard Hermione snap. "It's Wing-gar-dium Levi-o-sa, make the 'gar' nice and long."

In the dueling club in Chamber Of Secrets, Lockhart (attempts) to indicate how to block/parry spells (interestingly we never see how this is actually done, though some of the adults do it on occasion).

He raised his own wand, attempted a complicated sort of wiggling action, and dropped it. Snape smirked as Lockhart quickly picked it up, saying, "Whoops -my wand is a little overexcited -"

Half-Blood Prince takes us through learning to Apparate, which is rather akin to learning to drive. It takes at least several weeks of lessons, and you have to pass a test since it's extremely dangerous. Harry's first attempt...

Harry spun on the spot, lost balance, and nearly fell over. He was not the only one. The whole Hall was suddenly full of staggering people; Neville was flat on his back; Ernie Macmillan, on the other hand, had done a kind of pirouetting leap into his hoop and looked momentarily thrilled, until he caught sight of Dean Thomas roaring with laughter at him.


The second attempt was no better than the first. The third was just as bad. Not until the fourth did anything exciting happen. There was a horrible screech of pain and everybody looked around, terrified, to see Susan Bones of Hufflepuff wobbling in her hoop with her left leg still standing five feet away where she had started.

Finally, note that simply getting a spell to work isn't considered a success - you have to master it. Here's a comment about the first year transfiguration exam -

Professor McGonagall watched them turn a mouse into a snuffbox - points were given for how pretty the snuffbox was, but taken away if it had whiskers.

This is a continuous theme - characters casting spells that only half work, or 80% work, and a focus of the teaching seems to be to bring this up to the 100% mark. In other words, it's not just about getting a spell to work, it;s about getting it to work right, in a consistent manner.

I won't include any more quotes, since it's more a matter of stacking little things than any large explanations (gotta keep that magic vague).

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    Nice answer, "in a consistent manner" is probably the most important part. You need a lot of muscle memory for wand movements and pronunciation and a lot of, uh, magic thinking for non verbal spells.
    – isanae
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 9:21
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    I should note that this was really intended as a complement to @CandiedMango's answer.
    – DavidS
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 13:27
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    @DavidS You seem to have bested me on this day! :) The real TL:DR is until we know more about creating spells we probably won't know anymore about casting them. Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 14:08
  • +1 for the very concrete and solid citations. Really nailed the proof and helped me out as well.
    – Anoplexian
    Commented Feb 15, 2016 at 18:00

Correct pronunciation of the incantation and exact wand movements

As it seems from the comments, you want movie-only examples, so I will adhere to that.

The first example of this is the ever-famous Wingardium Leviosa which, within an hour of practice, only Hermione has mastered and managed to make her feather levitate. Seemingly an hour is a long time to master a flick of the wrist and an incantation, but if we equate this to a real life example, we could reference a variety of sports. Sure, most people can throw a disc or ball, but it takes a lot of practice to become very good at that. It also takes practice to be able to do it properly in the first place. Then add an incantation on top of that and you're multitasking.

Another brilliant example from the movies is every Dumbledore's Army scene from Order of the Phoenix. Throughout these scenes we see Harry constantly correcting wrist movements. As he does, the spell becomes more effective.

I think it is obvious that it requires practice not solely to be able to cast a spell but to be able to cast it well and more powerfully than a beginner.

Spells Requiring Emotion

You have mentioned Expecto Patronum already and that it requires happiness. Other than this, we know that you have to really mean the unforgivable curses. Harry casts Crucio on Bellatrix as she runs away after killing Sirius but it doesn't work because he doesn't have enough of the right, or wrong, intentions.

Love Magic

This is the only bit of ancient magic that is mentioned in the series, and it is based purely on emotion an emotion often deemed to be the most powerful. This magic required no words or wand movements. The act of self sacrifice and the emotion of love was enough to enact the spell and form the protection.

Emotion Based Magic

The movies also talk about how when magical children become emotional they can inadvertently use magic. This can be used as further evidence towards the emotional base in spells - where if you perform a spell with emotion behind it and the correct pronunciation and want movements, you will perform a more impressive spell.


Not a lot is known about creating a Horcrux but we know that the spell has one crucial requirement: murder. This can lead us to presume that there may be other spells which have certain prerequisites that have to be fulfilled in order to be cast.

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    Referencing the movies, there is also Ron's failed attempt at turning Scabbers into a silver cup. (Although that probably was just his wand acting up.) Or the scenes from GoF in the lake -- mastering the bubble charm, the dangers of Krum's partial transformation, or Fleur (not a bad witch at all!) not being able to counter the... what were those sea creatures? Even in the movies it is clear that mastering a spell is not an easy task.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 10:55
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    @DevSolar it was ze Grindylows Commented Oct 23, 2015 at 14:58
  • Another analogy in our world is using guns. Almost anyone can learn to load and shoot a pistol or rifle in an hour or so, to the point where they can squeeze off a few rounds but be nearly completely ineffective in a real gunfight. It can take years to become an expert marksman or duelist. Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 17:22

There's a difference between knowledge and a skill, and most of magic appears to be a skill, which requires practice and refinement of technique, not just an understanding of the outward appearance of something.

An analogous muggle example would be music. I could take any reasonably intelligent adult for a few hours and teach him the basic mechanics of how to read music and play the piano, but afterward no sane person would claim he can play the piano. That takes many years of practice, with feedback along the way.

Same goes for sports. Technically, I know how to play football, but no one in their right mind is going to draft me, because I don't have the skill to execute on that knowledge.

I don't know if the books ever go into details about the specifics of what's involved in the skill of performing magic, beyond sometimes vague notions of concentration or conjuring certain memories or emotions. There's a certain amount you can learn from a book, but obviously it goes beyond those basic mechanics, sometimes to Hermione's chagrin.

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    Magic seems to be a combination of action and mindfulness, complete with motion and a language component. It's almost like an Average American learning Aikido in Japanese with the nuanced control of a golfer
    – Vogie
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 20:39
  • @Vogie similarly, Ritual Magick a la Crowley et al is not just reading and following directions in a spellbook. The emotional mindset and techniques are critical. Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 17:26

Another point occurs to me: The wand. There seems to be some sort of mental rapport between a wizard/witch and his/her wand. This is clear from several quotes:

Olivander: "The wand chooses the wizard."

Draco (while using his mother's wand): "It's not the same. It doesn't understand."

From this I infer that part of magic training involves training the wand to understand the user's intent, which depends heavily on the user's mental pattern (in much the way that speech recognition works better when trained against a specific speaker).

  • The wand chooses the wizard, as mentioned. Unless there's anything more explicit on training a wand to the user you can find I think this is a bit of a leap.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 13:51

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