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In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets it is written that Harry's wand is locked up with the broom in the cupboard:

All Harry’s spellbooks, his wand, robes, cauldron and top-of-the-range Nimbus Two Thousand broomstick had been locked in a cupboard under the stairs by Uncle Vernon the instant Harry had come home.

Later it is written that Harry

had been on the point of unlocking Hedwig’s cage by magic and sending her to Ron and Hermione with a letter

But how could Harry have opened Hedwig's cage if he didn't have his wand?

Countless times, Harry had been on the point of unlocking Hedwig’s cage by magic and sending her to Ron and Hermione with a letter, but it wasn’t worth the risk. Underage wizards weren’t allowed to use magic outside school. Harry hadn’t told the Dursleys this; he knew it was only their terror that he might turn them all into dung beetles that stopped them locking him in the cupboard under the stairs with his wand and broomstick.

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    Either a) Wands aren't essential, they're merely the best tool you can use to focus magic. Other things (twigs, perhaps) can also be used, or b) Harry knows how to open his cage using wandless magic
    – Valorum
    Jan 9, 2022 at 19:15
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    Remember how Harry used magic without knowing he did before he joined Hogwarts, at the beginning of the very first book?
    – Clockwork
    Jan 9, 2022 at 19:45

4 Answers 4

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Harry appears to have the ability to cast an unlocking charm wandlessly.

Harry tore from the dining room before anyone could stop him, heading for the cupboard under the stairs. The cupboard door burst magically open as he reached it. In seconds, he had heaved his trunk to the front door. He sprinted upstairs and threw himself under the bed, wrenched up the loose floorboard and grabbed the pillowcase full of his books and birthday presents.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

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    I think that he was only able to do that by accident when his emotions were heightened after the incident with Aunt Marge ("did you ever make anything happen? Anything you couldn’t explain when you were angry or scared?") To me, the quote in the Question makes it sound much more intentional where it says "was on the point of". Jan 10, 2022 at 13:48
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    He only seems to be able to do this wandless magic when under emotional distress with very very little control over his capabilities, therefore the other answer below: " we don't know" seems far more appropriate. Also your quote is from a year later where Harry is much more formed in his magical abilities.
    – Hobbamok
    Jan 10, 2022 at 13:48
  • @Hobbamok I don't think it was only under distress...every time he was forced to get a hair cut, he would immediately grow his hair back out to it's previous state. The glass disappearing at the zoo wasn't exactly distress either.
    – rtaft
    Jan 10, 2022 at 14:17
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    @rtaft: But it was never intentionally... he did not think "ok, lets get rid of this glass", or "let my hair grow back"... it just happened. And the opening of the cupboard in the above quote also for me seams to be something emotional, done subconsciously... I can not remember one scene in any of the books where Harry performed wandless magic willingly and fully aware what he was doing, but that might be only my bad memory...
    – Tode
    Jan 10, 2022 at 15:27
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Short answer: We don't know IF and HOW he would have achieved this...

Harry is in a desparate situation at that point: None of his friends had contacted him all summer long. He was not allowed to do much (and later even locked in his room).

In such a situation people tend to "daydream" about solutions for their miserable situation. And Harry thought about using his wand to free Hedwig and send a letter.

This does not mean that he would have been able to do so when he decided...
Just that he was thinking about breaking rules (School / Wizarding rules and the rules of Vernon at the same time) to at least do anything.

He just thought about "What if..." but never tried. Because if he did then he would have had to solve some problems first as

  • getting his wand from the locked cupboard under the stairs
  • performing magic without the ministry realizing
  • getting away with Hedwig missing from her cage

And Harry decided -as stated in your quote- that it was not worth trying. That way the "how would he achieve this" was never a question and nothing is said about if he would have been able to.

Later when Fred, George and Ron get him out of his room we see, that there are in-universe (non- magic) ways to open locks with a hairpin. But Harry did not know this before the twins showed him...

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  • This is the correct answer imho. We don't know and he does not have any real control over his wandless magic so it's doubtful that those were part of his plan
    – Hobbamok
    Jan 10, 2022 at 13:49
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    but to say that "Harry had been on the point of unlocking Hedwig's cage by magic" it means that he was in a position to do it. And it wasn't possible because the wand was locked in the cupboard.
    – Armando
    Jan 10, 2022 at 14:05
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    You might be right. My own interpretation is that this means "on the point of DECIDING TO unlock Hedwig's cage by magic"... but this is personal preference I think...
    – Tode
    Jan 10, 2022 at 15:15
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    And remember, he's twelve years old at this point. Twelve-year-old boys have been known to come up with grandiose but unfeasible plans. Jan 10, 2022 at 15:45
  • "Countless times, Harry had been on the point of unlocking Hedwig’s cage by magic and sending her to Ron and Hermione with a letter, but it wasn’t worth the risk." He was not daydreaming, he had a plan and knew the risks. IMHO, I think this is a literary oversight on the part of the author and editor. These books are not written end-to-end, there are rewrites upon rewrites, small details added to support future events. When originally written, he might still have had his wand, but it was removed in a later edit, but this part was overlooked. Jan 14, 2022 at 15:07
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Going off an answer to another question, wands are only a way to channel magic, they don't create it. The magic comes from the wizard, so it can be done without a wand or with nearly anything else to channel the magic.

Can a wand ever run out of power?

The magic comes from the wizard, not the wand. As Ollivander says:

Oh yes, if you are any wizard at all you will be able to channel your magic through almost any instrument.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Chapter 24, The Wandmaker - Page 402 - Bloomsbury

And a comment on that same answer:

An analogy for your amusement: A muggle can use a hammer to drive a nail through a block of wood---something he could never do with his bare hands. Will the hammer ever run out of power?

User : https://scifi.stackexchange.com/users/55152/solomon-slow

A shoe could be used as a hammer, but it wouldn't work as well as the hammer, since it isn't designed for that purpose. Just like a shoe could be used as a wand, but won't work as well because it's not designed for that purpose, either. (And if a shoe doesn't work for you, I've seen a banana frozen in liquid nitrogen used as a hammer.)

Doing further research, there are spells where wands aren't required. It's possible the spell to unlock the cage doesn't require a wand, but isn't formally listed as not needing a wand.

Are there any spells that a wizard/witch can cast without a wand in the Harry Potter universe?

Can a wizard/witch do nonverbal, wandless, spells?

Does a wizard need a wand to Apparate?

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  • Also depends on the wood - you can easily put a nail through balsa wood, cork board, or luan bare-handed. Even some slightly harder woods depending on your pain threshold... Jan 10, 2022 at 19:46
  • I remember seeing someone nail a piece of wood using a frozen banana (although it was frozen with liquid nitrogen).
    – Clockwork
    Jan 10, 2022 at 20:23
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Ron uses a hairpin to open the cage.

“Let Hedwig out,” he told Ron. “She can fly behind us. She hasn't had a chance to stretch her wings for ages.” George handed the hairpin to Ron and, a moment later, Hedwig soared joyfully out of the window to glide alongside them like a ghost.

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    Harry says that he's going to do it "by magic", so I don't see how this answers the question asked.
    – Valorum
    Jan 10, 2022 at 8:43
  • @Valorum i had to read the quastion three times to see how this answer misses the question but yeah. OP asked not how Harry (or Ron) DID open the cage, but instead how Harry had planned/thought about doing so. He himself didn't know lockpicking and could not have known that Ron would come to get him
    – Hobbamok
    Jan 10, 2022 at 13:46

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