There seems to be a lot of power attributed to the Elder Wand by various sources in Deathly Hallows.

However, looking at it soberly, there doesn't seem to be almost any actual evidence to support it. Of the known DH owners who used it to duel:

  • Gellert Grindelwald:

    While wielding the Deathstick, lost a duel to Albus Dumbledore.

    Dumbledore himself had evaluated that he was merely "a shade more skilful" than Grindelwald; which means, had the Elder Wand actually been "Immensely powerful, dangerous in the wrong hands" as Ollivander said, that should have easily nullified the skill difference.

  • Albus Dumbledore:

    During the duel at the Ministry, seems to have been equally matched with Voldemort. Again, Deathstick should have given him a pretty big edge.

Is the fabled power of the Elder Wand just that, a fable as far as dueling is concerned? (I know that it was able to repair Harry's original wand which does make it unusual/special, but that was NOT a duel situation - I only care about duels, not boring work tasks).

Just to clarify: an equivalent real world situation would be the Spear of Destiny. It's fabled to make the owner an unbeatable military commander. It was reputed to have been owned by both Napoleon and Hitler during their military expansion. However, those 2 facts obviously do NOT constitute proof that Spear of Destiny does have the attributed power - even if it exists and they both owned it, it would have been merely correllation, not causation.

Same way, just because the tales and fables in Harry Potter Universe claim that some warlocks were made unbeatable because they owned a special wand, it could easily have been simply because they were unusually powerful wizards, ala Voldemort, and NOT due to some special wand powers.

  • Nullified the skill difference in whose favor? Grindelwald's? – Slytherincess May 6 '12 at 1:14
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    @David - NP. Mine deleted as well. Who knew? Deathstick is basically a stick of SuperGlue! :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 6 '12 at 2:36
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    Given the remaineder of the series, I don't believe that Dumbledore was trying to beat Voldemort at the ministry. – TGnat May 6 '12 at 3:22
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    @DVK I'm fairly certain that putting V in prison was not part of Dumbledor's plan. In the end, Harry was the true owner (master) of the wand. In the final duel, The wand was working for him. – TGnat May 6 '12 at 3:55
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    @KeithHWeston - you're saying Elder Wand is Lisp? :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 6 '12 at 21:27

In The Tales of Beedle the Bard, there are examples of the Elder Wand being used in duels.

The first brother in The Tale of the Three Brothers, upon receiving the Elder Wand from Death, immediately sought out another wizard he had a beef with; they dueled, and the brother won.

Naturally, with the Elder Wand as his weapon, he could not fail to win the duel that followed. (pages 151-152)

Of course after this, we know another wizard killed the first brother for the Elder Wand; this started its bloody history.

Regarding the wand, Dumbledore writes in TOBTB that those who believed in the existence of the Elder Wand, from Beedle's message:

at least have some historical evidence to back up their wild claims.
(page 164)

Dumbledore writes of a wizard of the Middle Ages names Emeric, who was called "the Evil" by the communities he terrorized in the south of England; he was a short-lived and unusually aggressive wizard who, it was documented, had a

wand made of elder that was particularly strong and dangerous.
(page 168)

He was defeated in a terrible duel with a wizard named Egbert.

I'll note here that Godelot came around about a hundred years after Emeric was killed, and apparently possessed the Elder Wand. Godelot honed his skills in the Dark Arts with this wand, which likely embued Godelot's affinity for Dark Magic, making the wand more suited to a master with an affinity for handling the most dangerous kinds of magic (page 171) However, there is no notation in Godelot's section regarding any duel he might have participated in.

Next, Barnabas Deverill had a wand he called the "Eldrun Wand" (Eldrun is another word for Elder) and he wielded it viciously in the early eighteenth century -- another reign of terror, like with Emeric the Evil -- until the wizard Loxias "took" the wand from Deverill and named it "the Deathstick," and used it to "lay waste to anyone who despleased him. (page 173)

Is the Elder Wand a fable? For purposes of the Harry Potter series, I think it is not. However, I do think that the Elder Wand is a complicated instrument that responds to a specific kind of wizard: A wizard who has the affinity with dangerous magic and master it (and I say here dangerous magic, not dark magic, because one does not imply the other in all cases). History itself demonstrates that the Elder Wand is not "unbeatable." The wand doesn't only go to the "wrong" hands; it can go to the "right" hands as well. Personally, I think Dumbledore acquitted himself well as owner of the Elder Wand.

All notations taken from The Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling, US Collector's Edition, Scholastic Books

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    So how do you explain my main problem - the Grindelwald loss to Dumbledore? The rest all seems a bit... fablish (e.g. as reliable as any historical document, that is not at all) - and moreover, could easily be explained merely by those named wizards being very strong ones. Voldie didn't need the Elder Wand for his reign of terror. +1 but I'm afraid I'm not satisfied enough to accept for abovementioned reasons. – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 6 '12 at 2:24
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    Grindenwald could be explained in two ways. Dumbledore, with his wand was a shade more skilled than Grindenwald with the Elder wand (not the best explanation but possible) or Dumbledore was merely being humble. He knew darn well he was much more skilled than Grindenwald, but claimed to be only a shade more skilled. It sounds more like him than the other explanation. – David Stratton May 6 '12 at 2:34
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    You asked if the fabled wand was a fable and you're giving me guff for demonstrating through a fable that there indeed are canon examples of duels involving the Elder Wand? This is what you requested in your question. To clarify, all this information is written by Dumbledore, except the first brother. The Elder Wand can be mastered by wizards with an affinity for handling dangerous magic, which Dumbledore certainly had; it enabled him to whup Grindelwald. Which he did. As well, nowhere did you say historical documents weren't in consideration. It's frustrating and a bit unfair. – Slytherincess May 6 '12 at 2:39
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    Is there anything in canon that says Dumbledore actually dueled Grindlewald? I seem to remember that Dumbledore "defeated" Grindlewald. Remember the First brother was murdered in his sleep, not in a duel. – TGnat May 6 '12 at 3:19
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    @DVK - I'll see if I can tighten up the answer with your comments in mind. I paraphrased, but maybe some direct quotes (hopefully not many) will help clarify. :) – Slytherincess May 6 '12 at 14:55

I think Slytherincess' answer pretty well covers how the Elder Wand wins duels for it's master.

I think you need to be clear about exactly what you say the wand is "reputed" to be able to do.

I will add; from the ToBtB:

...So the oldest brother, who was a combative man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence: a wand that must always win duels for its owner, a wand worthy of a wizard who had conquered Death!...

-Tales of Beedle the Bard (The Tale of the three Brothers).

This leaves us with the only known (reputed) effect of the Elder Wand: that it simply must win any duel; not make it's owner more powerful, or skillful or anything like that.

Dumbledore VS Grindelwald

Dumbledore overcame Grindelwald not in the traditional method of acquiring the Deathstick (by killing him); Dumbledore essentially overcame Grindelwald using his cunning and skill. as mentioned here.

Dumbledore VS Voldemort

Whilst Voldemort did seem equally matched to Dumbledore's skill/power, Dumbledore still won the duel. Voldemort is a highly skilled, very powerful and immensely dangerous wizard; you cannot expect Dumbledore to have won easily regardless of his possession of the Elder Wand, but he did win.

Mind you, after the same duel in the Ministry; Dumbledore says this:

...He (Fudge) looked wildly around at the Aurors he had brought with him, and it could not have been clearer that he was in half a mind to cry, “Seize him!”

“Cornelius, I am ready to fight your men — and win again!” said Dumbledore in a thunderous voice. ...

-Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (The Only One He Ever Feared)

I believe that Dumbledore knew that if he were to duel any number of Fudge's men (who were all Aurors), that he would win.

There are other instances of Dumbledore winning duels against (pretty much anyone) other wizards scattered throughout the series:

  • Defeated Dawlish, Shacklebolt (though he was in on it), Hannah Abbott, Umbridge and Percy in one go (OotP)
  • Defeated Dawlish (when Dawlish was assigned to tail him)
  • Defeated numerous DEs (OotP in the basement)
  • Defeated a Balrog (wait, I mean, that was Gandalf!)
  • And so on...
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  • > Dawlish, Shacklebolt (though he was in on it), Hannah Abbott, Umbridge and Percy in one go (OotP) Abbott? Perhaps you meant Fudge – Siddhartha May 12 at 16:49

The Elder Wand could easily be beaten with not using magic at all, as shown in the main Tale. It may have been that Dumbledore, knowing he could not beat them with magic, simply sneaked up on Grindelwald, neutralized him eg. with a baseball bat and took the wand.

Maybe pure-blood wizards tend to forget that you still can use your boots, something that Dumbledore knew from being fond of muggles.

Note: Although this won't answer the question I'm couldn't add a comment yet for some reason...

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    Although I don't think your answer is correct I absolutely love the idea of Dumbledore sneaking behind somebody and beating them with a baseball bat. You need a certain amount of rep (50 rep) to be able to comment on questions that aren't your own. – Dason Jun 3 '12 at 18:50

It is implied by Harry's statement in Chapter Twenty-Four of Deathly Hallows:

"And Grindelwald used the Elder Wand to become powerful. And at the height of of his power, when Dumbledore knew he was the only one who could stop him, he dueled Grindelwald and beat him, and he took the Elder Wand."

This tells us that Harry thought that Grindelwald was able to become powerful because of the Elder Wand. The Elder Wand apparently gave him enough of a boost that he became unstoppable to anyone other than Dumbledore, who was considered by some to be the greatest wizard of the age.

Of course, this assumes that Harry's assessment was reliable; it is possible, though, that he was wrong.

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