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In the Harry Potter books, magic cast by a wand is often accompanied by a visual or audio special effect, described in varying levels of detail as either a jet of light, a jet of sparks, a puff of smoke, a flash of light, a popping/cracking/banging sound, or no visible or acoustic effect at all.

These effects are often inconsistent in appearance and sound, as in the case of the Disarming Charm, which is described as appearing as either a jet of red light, a banging sound or as completely silent and invisible on different occasions.

Snape cried: "Expelliarmus!" There was a dazzling flash of scarlet light and Lockhart was blasted off his feet ... - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 11, The Duelling Club, pg 142, Bloomsbury Edition.

Harry reached his wand just in time. Lockhart had barely raised his, when Harry bellowed, "Expelliarmus!" Lockhart was blasted backwards [no mention of spell effect] ... - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 16, The Chamber of Secrets, pg 220-221, Bloomsbury Edition.

Before Snape could take even one step towards him [Harry], he raised his wand. "Expelliarmus!" he yelled - except that his wasn't the only voice that had shouted. There was a blast that made the door rattle on its hinges [indicative of sound]; Snape was lifted off his feet and slammed into the wall ... - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 19, The Servant of Lord Voldemort, pg 265. Bloomsbury Edition.

Voldemort was ready. As Harry shouted "Expelliarmus!", Voldemort cried, "Avada Kedavra!" A jet of green light issued from Voldemort's wand just as a jet of red light blasted from Harry's ... - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 34, Priori Incantatem, pg 575, Bloomsbury Edition.

Harry moved off into the middle of the room. Something very odd was happening to Zacharias Smith. Every time he opened his mouth to disarm Anthony Goldstein, his own wand would fly out of his hand, yet Anthony did not seem to be making a sound ... Fred and George were several feet from Smith and taking it in turns to point their wands at his back. "Sorry, Harry," said George hastily, when Harry caught his eye. "Couldn't resist." - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 18, Dumbledore's Army, pg 349, Bloomsbury Edition. [This suggests that Expelliarmus is invisible and soundless, for Smith not to notice the direction from which the spell was coming].

I figure that this is simply the nature of magic - unpredictable and illogical at times. But is this right? Does Rowling keep these things a little vague and ambiguous just so that we, the readers, can decide what we want the spells to look and sound like ourselves? Or has she explained the rules of spell effects in an interview or through some other medium (e.g her website)? If so, can someone please tell me what the rules of spell special effects are? When does a spell appear as a flash of light and when a puff of smoke?

P.S. I sometimes wonder if spells with no apparent special effect (e.g. Cruciatus Curse, Imperius Curse) actually do have an effect imagined by Rowling. If so, then I would guess that Rowling leaves the descriptions blank so that the readers' imaginations can fill them in. Has Rowling said anything to support this idea?

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    Mostly, depends on the make of LSD or Shire Pipe-Weed one is partaking of. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 23 '14 at 3:49
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    @DVK Haha, maybe Harry Potter isn't a wizard, after all? Maybe he's just a kid on hallucinogens and we're reading from his point-of-view? – Arachno-Sapien Jan 23 '14 at 4:22
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    Ok, edits made! Really? I've got to read that. There's also a Harry Potter Puppet Pals episode where they parody Shutter Island (the film) and Dumbledore tells Harry that he's actually not a wizard, but a mental patient in a psych ward. :) – Arachno-Sapien Jan 23 '14 at 5:12
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    Thanks, DVK, it's probably overlong but I was trying to give an example of each "special effect" type I'd mentioned before :) – Arachno-Sapien Jan 23 '14 at 6:51
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    No such thing as overlong when it comes to documenting canon. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 23 '14 at 6:59
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Perhaps the reason that the effects change are because of the way magic works in Harry Potter...

There's one driving force behind magic and that's emotion.

In each example the wizard could be using more or less emotion...

Magic as described in the Wikia regarding emotion.

http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Magic

A witch or wizard's emotional state can affect their inherent abilities. For example, Nymphadora Tonks temporarily lost her power as a Metamorphmagus after suffering severe emotional turmoil and sadness over her grief for the death of Sirius Black, and when Remus Lupin would not return her affections. In effect, the form of her Patronus changed to reflect her love for him. The form of her Patronus changed to reflect her depression. In 1995, when Mad-Eye called her by her first name, her hair temporarily turned red. Wizardkind are also weakened when in the presence of Dementors for prolonged periods, as said creatures attack their prey psychologically by making them recall their worst memories, leaving the victims physically vulnerable.

Perhaps when different Wizards cast certain spells the changes are attributed to that particular wizard's emotional state.

An example would be Harry trying to fight Voldemort using his Expelliarmus versus the Dark Lord's curse. This duel would be fueled by lots of emotion, therefore perhaps giving the effects of the spell a more powerful look and effect.

As stated by the wikia as well..

Several magical spells involve the use of emotion when casting them. The Patronus Charm, for example, requires the caster to concentrate on a happy memory. Force of will under extenuating circumstances also helps in casting spells, and affects the force with which they are cast. An example of this is when Harry is able to conjure a corporeal Patronus when Sirius Black is in danger of being administered the Dementor's Kiss.

So it could be:

  1. How Powerful the Inheret Wizard's abilities are when casting certain spells
  2. Their emotional state
  3. And which spells are being cast to begin with, as stated in the question certain spells do not even have any "effects"
  • I applaud your effort in this answer, DoctorWho22, and as well-reasoned as your points are, they're still speculative. The emotional states of the casters affecting the spellwork applies to such things as Patronuses but there isn't enough evidence in the HP books that show that a flash of light or loud noise is determined by the caster's emotional state. I considered these same theories myself before writing the question, which is why I'm looking for anything specifically stated by J.K. Rowling - if there is anything on this subject at all. Wiki sites can be edited by anyone, to be frank. – Arachno-Sapien Jan 24 '14 at 0:11
  • Either way if there is no concrete evidence of why certain spells have effects while others don't then this particular question should actually be closed.. Only due to the fact that there will be no definitive answer only speculative answers and opinions.. – DoctorWho22 Jan 24 '14 at 14:07
  • It's a little soon to close the question, I think. I'm waiting for someone to quote J.K. Rowling or some other very reliable source. If no one provides anything like this for a very long time, then I'll close it myself ;) – Arachno-Sapien Jan 25 '14 at 13:20
  • I've just thought of something else whilst re-reading your answer: Occlumency. It's a form of magic that requires a wizard to shut down his/her emotions for it to work successfully. So, emotion can't be considered the driving force for all magic in Harry Potter. Sometimes it's all to do with concentration (e.g. Apparition and the three Ds: Destination, determination, deliberation). Not that it couldn't be held responsible for spell effects ... It's possible, after all. – Arachno-Sapien Jan 25 '14 at 13:26
  • It's not always the driving force... but it's stated as the driving force for some of the magical spells... – DoctorWho22 Jan 27 '14 at 17:09
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To my knowledge the only thing Rowling has specifically said on this subject was that it was her desire to give the magic a subdued look. In regards to your comment, however, their are several answers, none of which address all discrepancies.

  • Some variations are do to the skill of the wizard (ie Dumbledore and Voldemort could aparate silently as opposed to creating a loud pop or how Moody's disillusionment charm had more of a chameleon effect whereas Voldemort's/Dumbledore's rendered them entirely invisible.)

  • In some instances Rowling had described the effect previously and shortened the description to save time thereafter assuming we knew what the effect was-

Snape cried: "Expelliarmus!" There was a dazzling flash of scarlet light and Lockhart was blasted off his feet ... - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 11, The Duelling Club, pg 142, Bloomsbury Edition.

Harry reached his wand just in time. Lockhart had barely raised his, when Harry bellowed, "Expelliarmus!" Lockhart was blasted backwards [no mention of spell effect] ... - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 16, The Chamber of Secrets, pg 220-221, Bloomsbury Edition.

  • A change was was necessary to move or uphold a plot point-

Harry moved off into the middle of the room. Something very odd was happening to Zacharias Smith. Every time he opened his mouth to disarm Anthony Goldstein, his own wand would fly out of his hand, yet Anthony did not seem to be making a sound ... Fred and George were several feet from Smith and taking it in turns to point their wands at his back. "Sorry, Harry," said George hastily, when Harry caught his eye. "Couldn't resist." - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 18, Dumbledore's Army, pg 349, Bloomsbury Edition. [This suggests that Expelliarmus is invisible and soundless, for Smith not to notice the direction from which the spell was coming].

The entire point of the humorous segway would have been ruined had the spell not performed in the way mentioned.

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    Do you think you could elaborate on that first point you made? About Rowling wanting the magic to be "subdued"? A quote would be great! You're point about the skill of the wizard being a factor in the effect of the spell is true of Apparition, but the Disillusionment Charm part relates more to the spell's power, not so much a special effect. But a good point, overall! The second dot-point is also on the money, which is similar to what I mentioned in the question about J.K. letting our imagination (or common sense) fill in the blanks. And yes, sometimes the effect is just convenient for the -- – Arachno-Sapien Jan 25 '14 at 13:43
  • -- moment (exceeded word limit), which suggests that Rowling might not have put a lot of thought into this particular aspect of magic: the effects. I hate to believe that, though, considering how meticulous the rest of her storytelling is, but I'm starting to think it's true. I mean, Fred & George were pretty lucky that their Disarming charms weren't alternating between jets of red light, flashes of light, sparks or the no-effect appearances. It would have given the joke away immediately. – Arachno-Sapien Jan 25 '14 at 13:51
  • @Arachno-Sapien In regards to your comment about the disillusionment being being about power- I believe that it follows the same point as the apparition; the skill of the wizard determines the ability of the spell. For instance, considering how important Harry is, I'm sure Moody used the most powerful disillusionment charm that he was capable of (which is I'm sure better than any others save Voldemort/Dumbledore. – xXGrizZ Jan 25 '14 at 18:02
  • @Arachno-Sapien As to Rolwings statement, I planned on looking for the quote as soon as I had time but the general gist of her comment was that she didn't want the magic to be to flashy as it would be distracting and she wanted magic over-all to be somewhat governed by realistic thinking (ie she didn't want readers to say "Well that's just impossible!" – xXGrizZ Jan 25 '14 at 18:05
  • You're absolutely right about the power of a wizard influencing the "effect" the spell has on its subject, but in the case of the Disillusionment Charm, I'm referring to the "special effect" (flashes, light-jets, sound-effects) that goes along with it. It appears the casting of this Charm requires the wand to be tapped onto the person's head. If the book mentioned a shower of sparks trailing around Harry as Moody puts the Charm on him in OotP, but a flash of light when Voldemort puts it on himself in DH, that would be more in line with what I'm saying. Does that makes sense? – Arachno-Sapien Jan 25 '14 at 23:47

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