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I know of 3 wizards and witches who used a weapon in addition to wands:

  • Godric Griffindor (his sword)

  • Bellatrix Lestrange

    took a short silver knife from under her robes. She cut Hermione free from the other prisoners.

  • Morfin Gaunt

    Morfin leapt out of his chair and ran at Ogden, brandishing his bloody knife and firing hexes indiscriminately from his wand.

In all cases the characters had wands with them, so it would be useless to use a knife. In fact, Bellatrix uses her wand in the same scene at Malfoy manor to cut:

"Good," she said, and with a casual flick of her wand she slashed another deep cut into the goblin's face.

A possible answer for Godric's sword is that he didn't use it, but it was more of a kind of trophy. His sword was also Goblin made, so it absorbed all of the things that strengthen it, so it would be more useful than a wand in, say, destroying Horcruxes.

But what about Bellatrix and Morfin? Do their knives have secret powers? Are they just for decoration? If so, why do they use them instead of wands?

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    How can you cut someone if you lose your wand? Answer: Keep a knife handy at all times :)
    – Shreedhar
    Aug 19 '20 at 13:47
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    In the latter cases we have two sadistic bat-guano crazy people. Do they need a reason?
    – Skooba
    Aug 19 '20 at 13:57
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    Also Pettigrew cut his hand off with a knife. IIRC Molly uses a knife to cook, knives and other hand tools are used in potions and herbology. Magic does not replace everything.
    – Skooba
    Aug 19 '20 at 13:58
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    I think this question is similar to the age-old question, Why do my relatives all ask me tech related questions when they can just ask Google? Answer: They are old fashioned, lazy, or just like to annoy me.
    – BlackThorn
    Aug 19 '20 at 22:34
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Because Blades are Useful

I think you answered your own question about Gryffindor's sword. Goblin-made metal objects have certain magics about them that wizards can't replicate. (Remember in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when Ron was arguing about Goblin/Wizard relations, said goblins can make armor and weapons wizards can't.) So it stands to reason that the sword would have properties superior to wand-use in certain circumstances.

So that leaves the other two, and I think the answer here is "they just happened to have knives on them." For Bellatrix it's a silver knife, which we know from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at least (When Harry borrows Hermione's 'silver knife' to crush ingredients for a potion) can be specifically required to make potions. What's more, it's obviously a common enough tool that year 6 Hogwarts students have them in their potion kits, rather than the school supplying them. (I assume Harry didn't have one because he wasn't prepared to take potions, whereas Hermione had bought all her NEWT Potions equipment.) So perhaps Bellatrix had the dagger on her because it's relatively small and handy to have with you for certain magic rather than in a drawer somewhere.

Also while not expressly stated in the Potterverse as far as I know, silver is known to be very effective against werewolves in western mythology. So Bellatrix may have had a silver knife on her person as insurance against Greyback. It's short because a small silver knife is more easily concealed and therefor won't arouse Greyback's suspicions. She uses it to cut Hermione's bonds for the same reason Mrs. Weasley tells Fred and George "not to whip your wands out for everything" in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Namely that it's simpler on occasion to do tasks without magic. She already had a knife on her and it's simple and quick to cut rope with it, so she decided to use it rather than decide on a cutting spell, aim it, and cast it.

Bellatrix uses magic to cut the goblin a short time later. Why not use the knife? I think that's because of her feelings of "racial superiority". Why get dirty goblin blood on her hands if she can slice him from a distance? Then there's the simple act of using a magic wand on a goblin. Goblin's aren't allowed wands, so her using one on him is a show of her "racial superiority." Using a knife on the goblin might hurt him just as much, but doesn't send the same message.

Morfin's use of a knife I think boils down to his being unstable. He comes across as a poorly-educated sociopath. (Nailing a snake to your door when you know snakes are sentient and speak their language is a different and more serious thing than 'usual' animal torture in my opinion.) Maybe he likes the tactile feel of cutting into something as opposed to just using his wand? Maybe he isn't educated enough to know "cutting" spells, or talented enough to use them accurately if he does? Maybe snakes, though capable of rational thought to some extent, can't quite work out what a wand can do, but do understand knives and cutting. Thus waving a wand threateningly at a snake provokes no fear, but a knife does. "You be nice to Morfin or he'll nail you to the door" and the general vibe of that whole scene seems like Morfin's trying to scare/torture the snake more than anything. So a knife make sense. When Ogden arrives and the altercation begins, Morfin charges him with knife and wand because A: the knife is already in his free hand, so why not? and B: he might enjoy cutting Ogden with his own hands more than simply hexing him.

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    "Maybe he likes the tactile feel of cutting into something as opposed to just using his wand?" Reminds me of the Joker's quote in The Dark Knight about why he uses knives, so he can "savour" the reactions of those he kills.
    – F1Krazy
    Aug 19 '20 at 16:53
  • Adding to "blades are useful", the wizarding world is very much stuck in the Medieval era, in terms of both technology and culture. For a Medieval male above the peasant level, carrying one or two simple knives was something you did both to cut meat, as well as to impale the chunks on the point to carry it to your mouth (peasants largely ate with their hands; forks didn't become popular until the 18th century). They could serve as a weapon in a pinch, but it wasn't their primary purpose. If nothing else, carrying knives to avoid needing to cast Diffindo a dozen times a meal seems reasonable. Aug 21 '20 at 1:03
  • I think JKR has said something about Gryffindor using the sword to duel muggles because a wand wouldn't be fair. Aug 22 '20 at 9:56
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The possible reason wizards back in Godric Gryffindor days were most likely using swords (statues in Hogwarts have weapons) is due to the fact that Severing Charm was actually invented in 1400s and Godric lived pre 976. That charm replaced spells that were liable to shred or burn instead of clean cutting. Godrics' sword might be the elegant tool for the job, besides just being goblin-made with other special properties, and undoubtedly a status symbol too.

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  • Great find, but can you cite a more reliable source than the HP Wikia? Wiki/Fandom sites don't tend to make good sources since fans can edit anything into them.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Aug 20 '20 at 10:18
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    @Randal'Thor There are citations in the Wiki, which are to the Wonderbook of Spells, an AR video game which is inherently difficult to cite but which is as official as anything else outside the main series books. Aug 20 '20 at 17:36
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One reason for using weapons is the simple surprise factor - if your opponent is expecting a magical attack, they might not anticipate you doing something as simple as stabbing them. [quote from short story "Johnny Mnemonic" : "It pays to be crude, especially when you have a reputation for subtlety."] I cite two other fictional case:

  1. In the Larry Niven novel "The Magic May Return", the Warlock confronts the Necromancer with a dagger. The Necromancer boasts that none of the magic in the dagger can work against him; he is too strong. Then the Warlock walks up to him and stabs him, whispering in his ear "a dagger always works".

  2. In the Bakshi animated film "Wizards", the good wizard has to stop the evil wizard (who happens to be his own brother). In the climactic battle between them, the good wizard begins by making some arm-waving suggesting he is about to cast a spell, then unexpectedly pulls a Luger out of his robe and shoots the evil wizard.

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    This doesn't really fit within Harry Potter universe. Your enemy may (mentally) cast on you any of hundreds of charms, yet takes out a knife? This is the kind of thing a muggle-born student could do, but doesn't seem a proper approach (note that Morfin is using the knife in addition to the hexes, though).
    – Ángel
    Aug 19 '20 at 23:47
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There are a couple of reasons why you might resort to secondary weaponry in the Harry Potter universe:

  1. weapons like knives are far more useful as a weapon that can be used quickly without attracting too much attention. Even if the witch/wizard in question has mastered the art of non verbal spell casting, many spells such as Avada Kedavra are hardly discreet, creating massive beams of light. Knives do not have this problem. Non verbal spells also require a large amount of concentration, something you're not going to have when all hell is breaking loose. This becomes a problem if you try to off someone in, say, a riot, using the confusion to slip away, as it becomes much harder to slip.away unnoticed when people around you hear you say 'Avada Kedavra'

  2. wand spells are, for the most part, ranged weaponry and are particularly problematic for use in close combat due to how breakable wands are. While some spells can be used in a similar manner to melee weaponry (the unnamed spell Dolohov used against Hermione in Order of the Phoenix comes to mind), the user has to think of the incantation and either say it or non-verbally use it before swinging your wand, putting the user at a major disadvantage in a situation where every millisecond counts.

  3. wands are primarily tools, not weapons, and therefore don't come with things more useful in a ranged weapon, such as a scope or iron-sight. With that said, we don't ever see wizards or witches use conventional firearms either, however it is mentioned in a conversation between Arthur Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt.

  4. if your opponents defences are almost entirely anti-magic, it would make sense to use a muggle weapon, which would sidestep these defences.

  5. weapons can also be enchanted objects, the effects of which cannot always be replicated with conventional spells (c.f. Gryffindors Sword)

As for Bellatrix and Morfin:

Bellatrix is something of a sadist and appears to enjoy the torture she is performing with her knife. It could well be that she prefers the visceral feeling that using the knife provides but the Cructatius curse does not.

Meanwhile, Morfin isn't particularly good at (or perhaps isn't intending to) making his hexes land on his intended target. The knife is useful for ensuring Ogden doesn't try to get to close, or to deal with him if he does.

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There are some obvious answers:

  1. Some wizards are not good enough in duelling, they still need protection against muggles.
  2. Using a sword, they could fight muggles without repercussions from the magical community and from other muggles (the Inquisition).
  3. Some creatures have some immunity against magic, for example giants or dragons.
  4. Ceremonial purposes.
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I think that one might need some sort of weapon instead of a wand because there could be Muggle witnesses. It would be much less troublesome to stab a Muggle and disappear forever than curse one and face the consequences with the wizarding community. With a blade, there would at least be some chance that no one would catch you. There is also something to be said for the fact that there are obvious disadvantages to using a wand:

  • You have to think of an appropriate spell before casting it, and this would slow you down.
  • Spells aren't exactly inconspicuous what with the flashing lights and bangs.
  • Wands can be broken quite easily.

For Godric Gryffindor, the society around that time would have expected chivalrous people and knights to use a sword, as it was an honorable weapon. As for Bellatrix, she probably uses her knife to threaten people; having your wand out can mean several things, but a cruel knife could easily threaten people more than a stick, even if said stick is extremely powerful. In Morfin's case, I doubt he was the greatest with spells, probably didn't use them fluently, and he probably found it easier to rush at people with his knife.

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I'd be tempted to quote Belgarath the Sorcerer "if you want to kill someone, son, get some steel into their body" (due to the implication of using magics to kill someone in that story), but that's out of the Potter universe.

Anyway, I see at least two advantage (additional to surprise) to use blades while you're a wizard:

  • wands do not seem to be very handy in close fights. You need time and space to manoeuver them
  • you usually have only one wand, but you have two hands. You'll be twice as deadly in a fight if you can use both.

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