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There's a lot of emphasis on Harry becoming the master of the Elder Wand after he defeats Draco. But what constitutes a “defeat”?

It seems that Harry wins a wrestling match with Draco, so now he’s the master of the Elder Wand.

But lots of other stuff happens to Harry: Nagini almost kills him, and he escapes just in time, but his wand breaks. The Snatchers chase him through the forest. He and his friends practically surrender (and Hermione even tries to disguise Harry). Voldemort almost kills Harry in the Forbidden Forest (or actually does, depending on how you look at it).

Why are none of these considered to be “defeats”?

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    "You still don't get it, Riddle, do you? Possessing the wand isn't enough! Holding it, using it, doesn't make it really yours. Didn't you listen to Ollivander? The wand chooses the wizard . . ." (Deathly Hallows -- Chapter 36) – Valorum Dec 20 '14 at 17:22
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    The snake and the snatchers come after he steals Draco's wand. And I'm not sure that allowing someone else to kill you counts as them defeating you, as that is what Dumbledore was originally planning with Snape. – Beast-a-tron Dec 20 '14 at 17:28
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    @Beast-a-tron I assume you meant to say that they came before, not after? – Anthony Grist Dec 20 '14 at 17:39
  • @AnthonyGrist yeah, that is what I meant. Whoops – Beast-a-tron Dec 20 '14 at 17:39
  • Its complicated. Harry is part Voldy horcrux when he defeats Malfoy. Harry is part Voldy when Voldy kills him. But Voldy is also Harry's horcrux when that happens. Voldermorts kills part of himself but fails to kill Harry in the end. The one that is defeated there is really Voldermort. – user16696 Dec 20 '14 at 23:59
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First, a quick timeline for Deathly Hallows:

  • The trio flee Bill and Fleur’s wedding, and go on the run. They break into the Ministry and overhear some refugees in the woods, and Ron leaves the group. (Chapters 9–15)

  • Harry and Hermione go to Godric’s Hollow, where Harry is attacked by Nagini. (Chapters 16–18)

  • Ron returns, they recover Gryffindor’s sword, visit Xeno Lovegood, and learn about the Deathly Hallows. (Chapters 19–22)

  • They get picked up by Snatchers (end of chapter 22), taken to Malfoy Manor (chapter 33), and Harry steals several wands from Draco during their escape (end of 33). This is when Harry first becomes master of the Elder Wand; see a related question for more detail.

  • They break into Gringotts, steal the sword and the cup, head for Hogsmeade, prepare for the battle of Hogwarts, Harry goes to the Forest, and upon Voldemort’s return to the castle, they have their final duel.

So Nagini and the Snatchers don’t factor into Harry’s mastery of the Elder Wand, because both of these occur before he takes possession of the Elder Wand. As to why Voldemort’s killing curse in the Forest doesn’t give him mastery, I think the answer comes from this line in their final duel:

Harry saw Voldemort’s green jet meet his own spell, saw the Elder Wand fly high, dark against the sunrise, spinning across the enchanted ceiling like the head of Nagini, spinning through the air toward the master it would not kill, who had come to take full possession of it at last.

Deathly Hallows, chapter 36 (The Flaw in the Plan)

Because the wand couldn’t attack Harry (at least, not fully) in the Forest, Voldemort didn’t really “defeat” him. Had he attacked Harry with any other wand, Voldemort would probably have taken mastery of the Elder Wand.

  • that's a perfect answer and at the time of Voldemort tried to kill harry he killed the Horcrux inside Harry Potter... – VENKI Dec 22 '14 at 11:26
  • I can't believe this answer got 12 upvotes. Read my answer below. Killing has nothing to do with mastery or the "winning" of a wand. And in several other instances VM did try to kill Harry with another wand (his own, Lucious's, etc.) and his spells wouldn't work. So what you said there was incorrect as well. There are a lot of plot holes in HP that simply cannot be answered. – JMFB Mar 30 '15 at 1:21
  • I have to say, I disagree with the last paragraph in this answer. The Elder Wand did attack Harry fully in the Forest and did kill him, as much as any Killing Curse could possibly have killed him. King’s Cross was as dead as Harry could get at that point, at least at Voldemort’s hands (regardless of wand). The fact that Harry wanted it to attack him fully is probably why it did, though, which is where the Forest differs from the Great Hall: there he knew he was master of it and had no intention of dying or letting himself be killed. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 15 '15 at 20:43
  • As I argue below, it wouldn’t have mattered in the Forest if Voldemort had used a different wand—he would still have killed Harry, and Harry would still have come back. It would, however, have mattered in the Great Hall. The only thing that protected Harry there was the fact that the Elder Wand would not work against him, and if Voldemort had used his own wand, there’s a good chance his Killing Curse would have bested Harry’s Expelliarmus, and Harry would have been killed—properly, this time. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 15 '15 at 20:46
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The very simple and short answer:

Because Harry was never defeated as Master of the Elder Wand

alexwlchan’s answer has already pointed out that the Snatchers and Nagini’s attack on Harry occurred before Harry was Master of the Elder Wand and therefore do not affect this in any way; the following explains why Voldemort did not become the Wand’s Master after killing Harry.

 

The much more complex and longer answer:

As is mentioned many times throughout the series, wandlore is a complex and not fully understood subject. Even experts like Ollivander (and Dumbledore, it must be added) do not fully understand it and are frequently left with no better alternative than to make educated conjectures. However, it seems clear from various tales and incidents throughout the books that the Elder Wand was actually different from other wands in how it chose and changed its allegiance.

Allegiance in regular wands

As far as we can tell, regular wands maintain their allegiance to their master until they are forcibly taken from the master and not returned. These remarks by Ollivander bear that out (all quotes from the books are from the UK/Bloomsbury versions):

‘Hawthorn and unicorn hair. Ten inches precisely. Reasonably springy. This was the wand of Draco Malfoy.’
‘Was?’ repeated Harry. ‘Isn’t it still his?’
‘Perhaps not. If you took it –’
‘– I did –’
‘– then it may be yours. Of course, the manner of taking matters. Much also depends upon the wand itself. In general, however, where a wand has been won, its allegiance will change.’

Deathly Hallows, ch. 24 “The Wandmaker”, p. 399

Note that Harry took the wand from Draco here, at Malfoy Manor. He did not use magic to do so, but he took the wand nonetheless, and he did not intend to give it back (and I think it’s safe to assume that Draco did not willingly let Harry have it):

As Ron ran to pull Hermione out of the wreckage, Harry took his chance; he leapt over an armchair and wrested the three wands from Draco’s grip, pointed all of them at Greyback and yelled: ’Stupefy!

On the other hand, practice sessions and games do not seem to constitute ‘winning’ a wand. Since people can often feel it if they are using a wand they are not the master of, we would expect quite a lot of Hogwarts students to lose mastery of their wands every time someone Expelliarmus’ed them in class or in DA (Dumbledore’s Army, not Dark Arts) training. Simply beating someone up does not cause their wand to change allegiance, either, or Hermione would have won Draco’s wand when she punched him in the face in the third year, for example. Finally, there are several instances of people borrowing wands from each other with no sign that the wands perform suboptimally for the borrower.

 

Allegiance in the Elder Wand

The Elder Wand, on the other hand, has neither of these limitations. It is (presumably) the most powerful wand in existence, but it is also more fickle than regular wands. It changes allegiance as soon as it senses that its current master has been defeated or bested by another wizard, in any way:

  • When its original owner, a Peverell brother, is knifed in his sleep, it changes its allegiance (though it is not taken from him until after death)
  • When Draco disarms Dumbledore at the top of the Astronomy Tower, it changes its allegiance (though Draco never takes it)
  • When Harry bests Draco by scuffling with him and forcibly taking his wand at Malfoy Manor, it changes its allegiance (though Draco doesn’t even have it)

 

Defeat and intent

Very crucial here, however, is the concept of being defeated. We need to look at Dumbledore’s plans for his own death a year earlier for this:

‘Well, really, this makes matters much more straightforward.’
Snape looked perplexed. Dumbledore smiled.
‘I refer to the plan Lord Voldemort is revolving around me. His plan to have the poor Malfoy boy murder me.’ […]
‘The Dark Lord does not expect Draco to succeed.’ […]
‘Now, I should have thought the natural successor to the job, once Draco fails, is yourself?’
‘That, I think, is the Dark Lord’s plan.’ […]
‘Ultimately, of course, there is only one thing to be done if we are to save [Draco] from Lord Voldemort’s wrath.’
Snape raised his eyebrows and his tone was sardonic as he asked, ‘Are you intending to let him kill you?’
‘Certainly not. You must kill me.’

Deathly Hallows, ch. 33 “The Prince’s Tale”, p. 549–550

It was Dumbledore’s belief (correct, as it turned out) that if his objective was to be killed, the Elder Wand would not consider him defeated and would not change its allegiance. Its allegiance would remain with a dead man, and there would be no True Master to wield the wand. If you intend to lose, losing is actually winning. However:

‘If you planned your death with Snape, you meant him to end up with the Elder Wand, didn’t you?’
‘I admit that was my intention,’ said Dumbledore, ‘but it did not work as I had intended, did it?’

Deathly Hallows, ch. 35 “King’s Cross”, p. 578

From this, we glean that Draco disarming Dumbledore was a chink in the plan. The wand considered Dumbledore defeated when it was forcibly taken from him—and losing the wand before being killed was not part of his plan. His plan had failed, and the Elder Wand still had a True Master, although this master is not aware of it.

For the exact same reason, when Harry entered the clearing in the Forest and let Voldemort kill him, he was not defeated. Quite the opposite: he won that duel. Being killed was precisely his intention. If one of the Death Eaters standing there had sprung forth and disarmed him first, it is entirely possible that that Death Eater would have won the Wand’s allegiance, because that was not part of his plan or intent—but unlike with Dumbledore, no one did. Harry allowed Voldemort to kill him, and the Wand’s allegiance remained with him when he died, and after he came back from King’s Cross as well.

Harry is not Master of the Elder Wand for very long, and during the time he is, he is only involved in four real fights:

  1. charging their way out of Gringotts
  2. fighting Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle in the Room of Requirements
  3. his non-duel with Voldemort in the Forest
  4. his duel with Voldemort in the Great Hall

The only one of these that could count as a defeat is 3, but the fact that 3 is also a victory is confirmed both by Dumbledore’s plan and the fact that the Elder Wand hadn’t changed its allegiance before 4, when Voldemort ends up killing himself (again).

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    100% with you on the matter of intent being the crucial factor when dealing with the wands allegiance. As a bit of supporting evidence you might want to consider Lily's sacrifice, it neatly shows why matters of intent are so important to the Old/Deep magic, of which wandlore seems to be a part. – DavidS May 15 '15 at 16:47
  • @DavidS Good point. Lily ‘defeated’ (as it were) Voldemort as well because she was prepared and willing to die for her son, even though I hardly think we can call it her intention as such. If she had been the Master of the Elder Wand at that moment, I wonder if it would have switched allegiance to Voldemort or not—if her willingness was enough to count her death as a non-defeat. Overall, though, I think it probably would have: after all, in a normal duel, you don’t enter at all if you’re not prepared on some level to lose. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 15 '15 at 16:51
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    I wasn't really saying the situations are the same, just have similar elements. I'm pretty sure JK has stated that the fact that Lily was unarmed and was willingly giving up her life for Harry was a major part of what triggered the protection, and that if she'd fought back (like James) it wouldn't have worked. She didn't know about the protection so we can't say she "defeated" V (indeed, I still think it would count as a defeat for the Elder Want) in the sense we're talking about, but it does show that intent ("I will sacrifice myself willingly") triggers the old magic. – DavidS May 15 '15 at 17:00
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    @DavidS Yes, I see what you mean. And we mustn’t forget that when Harry lets himself get killed in the Forest, he’s not only killing off the bit of Voldemort that lives in himself, but simultaneously also ‘doing a Lily’ and giving protection to everyone fighting for him at the school. Hence why Molly Weasley successfully finishes of Bellatrix Lestrange who, in fairness, was vastly more powerful and skilled than Molly. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 15 '15 at 20:49
  • @Janusbahsjacquet I was excited to read this...but...I was hoping for some in canon quotes, if you could add them that'd be great otherwise it's conjecture. You didn't answer a lot of issues we were discussing and didn't address certain things. You also contradicted yourself a few times. I have a question. Did Draco fight back or resist in any way when Harry took his wand? – JMFB May 18 '15 at 20:12
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It is an excellent question and I haven't ever heard a sufficient "In-Universe" answer because there is none. I've struggled with it for years and have concluded there is no acceptable answer, other than it's a plot hole.

I'll address the answers given and explain why it's simply a plot hole:

Answer 1) Harry didn't put up a fight in the forest, he let himself be killed by voldemort so it doesn't constitute a real defeat.

-That makes absolutely no sense. Dumbeldore did not put up a fight against Draco when Draco disarmed him. Dumbeldore wanted to be killed, which would happen either by Draco, or if not Draco then by Snape. Dumbeldore gave no resistance yet the wand considered him defeated. This is the exact same scenario, yet the ownership transferred to Draco. Fighting or putting up a defense is not requisite for losing a wand

Answer 2) Harry didn't actually die in the forbidden forest just Voldemorts piece of him.

-You don't have to die to lose possession. You only have to be defeated and a minor defeat at that. Dumbeldore didn't fight back at all and didn't die to lose his mastership over the elder wand. Draco lost it to Harry and all Harry did was take Draco's wand out of his hand, and it wasn't even the elder wand, but his other wand, there wasn't even a fight. Draco didn't die and he lost mastery over the elder wand. Harry clearly lost the fight in the forest whether Harry defended himself, fought back or wanted to lose is immaterial. What part of Harry died, is also immaterial. Since death is not a necessary factor in winning a wand. Voldemort should have become its master at that point.

Answer 3) The wand chooses the wizard.

"You still don't get it, Riddle, do you? Possessing the wand isn't enough! Holding it, using it, doesn't make it really yours. Didn't you listen to Ollivander? The wand chooses the wizard . . ." (Deathly Hallows -- Chapter 36)

But usually what they're referring to is at the time of the purchase. But winning a wand is seems to be a relatively simple process. Ollivander states: :

"In general, however, where a wand has been won, its allegiance will change.” Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter Twenty-Four (The Wandmaker)

-Harry won possession of the Elder wand by simply taking Draco's other wand, not the elder wand, out of his hand at Draco Manor. So it doesn't take much to "win" a wand. The wizard doesn't even have to be in possession of it at the time. Winning a wand trumps the initial choice of the wand, it's allegiance changes.

Answer 4) It wasn't really a defeat, redundant.

-This would be the best explanation in that the elder wand refused to kill Harry. But again the Elder wand had no problem casting spells at Harry. The piece of Voldemorts soul did end up in Purgatory but so did Harry's. So the wand did affect Harry. Dumbeldore even told him he could move on or choose to go back, choosing to go back means that Voldemort using the Elder wand sent him someplace else, easily a win. It wasn't as if just the Voldemort part of harry went to Purgatory Harry did as well.

Harry Potter and the deathly hollows:

Harry Potter: I have to go back, haven't I?

Professor Albus Dumbledore: Oh, that's up to you.

Harry Potter: I have a choice?

Professor Albus Dumbledore: Oh, yes. We're in King's Cross, you say? I think, if you so desired, you'd be able to board a train.

Harry Potter: And where would it take me?

Professor Albus Dumbledore: On.

So the elder wand in Voldemorts possession sent Harry to the exact same place it sent the piece of Voldemorts soul that resided in Harry. Harry elected to come back to the world of the living. Again it doesn't matter whether the elder wand would deal Harry a fatal blow or not, it just needs to be a "win" which it clearly was.

It is an excellent question and there is no acceptable answer for why ownership of the elder wand didn't pass in the forest to Voldemort. It should have. I've addressed every answer given on the site, or the I've ever heard thus far. I eagerly await somebody to adequately find a solution to this so I can reconcile this issue. So my answer is that it's a plot hole, and a large gaping one at that.

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    Dumbledore did NOT want to be killed by Draco, as that would be murder and thus damaging to Draco's soul; damage which Dumbledore wanted to prevent. OTOH, dying at Snape's hand was a sort of mercy killing, since Snape knew Dumbledore had been fatally cursed. – GreenMatt Jan 30 '15 at 15:20
  • I was simply stating that Dumbledore accepted the fact that he was going to be murdered whether it be by Draco's hand or Snape's. Dumbledore: Don't ignore me, Severus. We both know Lord Voldemort has ordered the Malfoy boy to murder me. BUT SHOULD HE FAIL, I should presume the Dark Lord will turn to you. You must be the one to kill me... DD clearly would rather have snape do it, Harry's parents be alive, VM be a good guy, etc., but he was clearly willing to accept his fate by the hand of Draco and that was my point. I do encourage you to address something more Germane to my post. – JMFB Feb 9 '15 at 16:10
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    -1 If there is no acceptable answer, why are you posting one? Also, Dumbledore couldn't put up a fight on the roof, on account of the curse-water. – Dave Johnson May 14 '15 at 18:50
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    As you say, fighting, putting up a defence, and dying are all irrelevant to being defeated. But its master’s intent is relevant. If you go into a duel with the preexisting intention of being successfully hit by a spell (and suffering the consequences of that spell), then being hit by that spell is not defeat. Snape’s Avada Kedavra would not have won him the allegiance of the Elder Wand, since Dumbledore would not have been defeated. But Dumbledore did not intend to be disarmed by Draco—that was a defeat. It allowed allegiance to pass on, rather than die with Dumbledore. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 14 '15 at 19:19
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    Similarly, when Harry is killed by Voldemort in the Forest, he intends to be killed, and the wand does not change its allegiance. If Seamus Finnigan had suddenly jumped out from behind a tree and and disarmed Harry just before, then he would have been the master of the Elder Wand. And if Harry hadn’t had a piece of Voldemort inside, which enabled him to return to life, then the Elder Wand’s allegiance would simply have died: it would have recognised no master. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 14 '15 at 19:21
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The loyalty of the wand did not pass to voldemort because he did not defeat Harry in the forest, In the forest voldemort wanted to kill Harry if harry had died the wand would have switched its loyalty but since harry gets resurrected the loyalty is unchanged

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I don't beleive there is a logical explanation anyone other than JKROWLING could provide to this, none of us have studied Wandlore and it is known to be "Complex and Mysterious" according to Ollivander also we are very aware that wands have a mind of their own. From this we can only determine that the Elder Wand's allegiance must have stayed with Harry and changed from Dumbledore to Draco to Harry for some abstract reason only those who have studied Wandlore could fathom to understand, I doubt even Oliivander and Gregorovitch would have understood since the Elder Wand wasn't like any other wand.

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