(A version of this article was published for Pirates & Princesses on April 11, 2022.)
Pottermania is surging once again. Two 20th Anniversary specials were recently released to HBO Max, and Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore hits theaters in just a few short days. The Wizarding World is once again front and center in the film entertainment world.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is full of colorful characters, curious charms, magical creatures, and ingenious spells. The characters come in all shapes and sizes – good and bad, large and small, old and young, and magical and non-magical. More than a simple battle of good vs. evil, Harry’s story is ultimately about love – played out through the struggles of youth, maturity, family, and sacrifice.
While the characters may be the heart of the story, the setting and location help set the stage for the adventure that unfolds. Author J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World uses a host of ingenious objects, props, and devices to propel the story forward in fascinating detail. Many of these objects are personified, and elevated to the level of being something of a character in their own right. This could be due to their importance to the plot, a pinch of magic, or some cerebral attributes.
Let’s explore some magical semi-sentient characters in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
“Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” – Albus Dumbledore (later amended to specify “those who deserve it.”)
Hogwarts Castle is the heart of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, regarded as the finest wizarding school in the world. But it is much more than a simple castle and a school. Hogwarts is a living – even breathing – home to countless aspiring wizards, and more than a few other magical citizens and surprises.
Hundreds of wizards who have left the living world now reside in the portraits adorning the halls of the school. Ghosts frequent every corner of the castle. One hundred and forty-two staircases throughout the castle are constantly in motion, and their patterns must be closely studied if a wizard is to travel throughout the castle without getting lost.
The Room of Requirement within Hogwarts is a particularly well managed secret, and one that has the ability to determine a seeker’s worthiness. The room will only be known and available to those who are in great need of it, and can form a shape and surroundings as needed by the user.
Hogwarts is truly the most magical place in the Wizarding World. It knows who’s good and who’s not, and it soundly keeps the secrets of hundreds of years of wizarding history.
Snitches and Bludgers
The elusive Snitch and the mischievous Bludgers make Quidditch a challenging game to play (aside from the fact that it is played on flying broomsticks). Unlike a soccer ball, baseball or any other Muggle sports equipment, these items were bewitched with a healthy dose of personality to add an additional layer of challenge to the game.
The Snitch is something like a bird, playing “catch me if you can.” This small golden ball with silver wings knows where the Quidditch seekers are located, and does an excellent job of scurrying around just out of reach. Their wiley personalities come with high stakes – the team who catches the snitch during a match is awarded 150 points, which almost always seals the deal for a win.
Bludgers, on the other hand, have more nefarious goals. The 10-inch iron balls aim to knock players off their broomsticks (and at least temporarily out of play) during the match. The Beaters’ jobs are to knock the Bludgers away from their teammates, while also trying to redirect the Bludger towards the other team’s players. Of course, the Bludgers often have other ideas.
“The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter. It’s not always clear why.” – Mr. Ollivander
Wands are the centerpiece magical items in all of the Wizarding World. Receiving a wand as a student wizard is a rite-of-passage, which serves as a personality assessment of sorts. A young wizard cannot successfully choose their own wand, for the wand itself has a certain degree of personality, and only the proper match for a wizard can use the wand to its greatest ability. Part of the makeup of a wand’s personality is attributed to the material of which it is made (usually various forms of wood). The core of a wand also helps determine its personality.
The bond between a wand and a wizard is strong, but it is not unbreakable. The allegiance of a wand can change if the wand is won from another wizard in combat. This precept regarding wands is what ultimately led to Harry owning the allegiance of the Elder Wand, which in turn allowed him to defeat Lord Voldemort. Of course, there was also the matter of both Harry’s and Voldemort’s wands sharing the same phoenix feather core.
The Marauder’s Map
Perhaps the most clever of all magical items, the Marauder’s Map is a lot more than simply a map of Hogwarts Castle and grounds. The map – created by “Messrs.” Moony (Remus Lupin), Wormtail (Peter Pettigrew), Padfoot (Sirius Black), and Prongs (James Potter) can track the whereabouts of anyone who roams the castle grounds. It is not fooled by animagi, Polyjuice Potions, or invisibility cloaks. Even the ghosts inhabiting Hogwarts cannot hide on this map. The user of this map can see everything, as the map cannot help but confess the whereabouts of all Hogwarts inhabitants.
The Marauder’s Map appears to most as just a simple piece of parchment paper. Its contents can only be unlocked by uttering the famous phrase “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.” Upon completion of consulting the map, a simple “Mischief Managed” will vanish the map’s contents to unsuspecting onlookers.
The Whomping Willow
Most trees serve primarily scenic purposes (and maybe to make a little oxygen out of carbon dioxide). But the Whomping Willow does a lot more than look pretty. This temperamental tree uses its branches as arms. It moves and swings at will, and usually not in a friendly manner (just ask the Weasley’s flying Ford Anguila).
The willow swings and swats at all who come within its range. It wasn’t until Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that we learned the willow is in fact protecting something – a secret passage connecting Hogwarts to the Shrieking Shack in Hogsmeade.
Horcruxes are those terrible objects a dark wizard creates by hiding a fragment of their soul in an otherwise unsuspected item. Horcruxes can only be created after committing murder – the supreme act of evil. Fittingly, Horcruxes are filled with a negative energy that can drain and confuse even a polished wizard, causing them to experience a negative change of personality.
Two Horcruxes in particular exhibited a healthy dose of wickedness. Tom Riddle’s Diary did more than hide a piece of Lord Voldemort’s soul. It served as a means for Voldemort himself to craftily gain Harry’s trust, by communicating directly with him, luring him to a dungeon beneath Hogwarts castle.
Salazar Slytherin’s Locket proved to be especially difficult to destroy. While in the possession of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, the locket proved to be too heavy an emotional weight for any of the three friends to carry alone. To avoid the Horcrux’s draining emotional effects, the friends took turns carrying the locket. Even using this protective practice, the locket caused Ron to abandon the team for a period of time in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part one).
Harry found the Sword of Gryffindor in a forest pond, the locket tried to flee from the vicinity of the sword, nearly drowning Harry in the process. It is quite clear the locket had a sense for danger and a will for self-preservation.
Chess is a timeless game requiring a tremendous amount of thought and strategy. The same is true for Wizard’s Chess. But in this magical game, the pieces on the board have movement and personalities of their own. Knights gallop, Queens swing, and Rooks stab. They perform these movements at the direction of their master, but there is an element of trust involved in successfully playing Wizard’s Chess at a high level.
Ron Weasley owned a Wizard’s Chess set, which he inherited from his grandfather. The pieces in the set trusted Ron, and as such Harry could never beat him in the game. Ron’s prowess for Wizard’s Chess proved invaluable in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, as he was able to successfully outplay a magically enchanted adversarial set, while riding one of the knight pieces himself. The penultimate winning move required Ron to sacrifice himself upon his knight, but thankfully he was not seriously hurt in the incident.
The Sorting Hat and the Sword of Gryffindor
The Sorting Hat may be an actual character in its own right. On the surface, it has one primary function – to properly place first-year students in their Hogwarts house. To do this, the hat uses an intellectual element to determine the young wizard’s name, family lineage, and personality. The hat is able to use this information to determine the best fit for a new student. However, as Harry demonstrated himself in his first year, the Sorting Hat does acknowledge the feelings and preferences of the wizard, and considers that information when placing a first-year into their house.
The Sorting Hat sneakily helps save the day twice in the Harry Potter film saga, both times by appearing when needed and magically providing the Sword of Gryffindor. The hat assisted Harry in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and it assisted Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part two). In both cases, the sword was used to successfully kill a Horcrux.
The Sword of Gryffindor also appeared to Harry to assist in the killing of a third Horcrux – Salazar Slytherin’s Locket – as noted above. In this case, the sword simply appeared at the bottom of a pond without any obvious assistance. The sword knew it was needed, and it knew where to be.
Do you remember that very first scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? When arriving at 4 Privet Drive, Dumbledore systematically collected all the lights from every lamp on the street to sneak Harry to the Dursleys – his adoptive family. That was Dumbledore’s Deluminator, and we all thought it was a pretty cool little trinket. But there’s way more to it than simply collecting the light.
When Dumbledore bestowed his Deluminator upon Ron following his death, Dumbledore had a feeling Ron would need it. But not to darken the room. Ron was able to use the Deluminator to find Harry and Hermione after he reconsidered his decision to abandon them. It took him several weeks, but he was finally able to track them down, having heard Hermione’s call for help, broadcast ever so faintly from that very Deluminator. Ron didn’t exactly know how it worked – he just knew that it worked, and he explained exactly that in one of the most touching moments in the entire series. Hermione put up a stubborn front, but we all know Ron’s explanation touched her deeply inside.
The Tale of the Three Brothers – the only animated segment in the entire Harry Potter film series – tells the story of the Deathly Hallows, through the eyes of the three Peverell brothers. In the tale, Death is not simply an end-of-life moment. He is personified as a shrewd and calculating figure, plotting a way to trick the three brothers into giving him their lives. In the end, Death succeeded in taking two of the brothers for his own. The third brother, more humble and wise than the others, outsmarted Death with his own humility. A frustrated Death came up one life short in his quest to obtain three more souls.
Out of this tale, the Wizarding World learned of the Deathly Hallows – the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Cloak of Invisibility. At one point, Harry himself was close to owning all three, which – according to the tale – would have made him the Master of Death. But like that third Peverell Brother, Harry’s humility and respect led him to make better choices than to allow himself to be tempted by promises of power.
Can you think of any additional nominees that act more like a character than a simple object? Reach out here with a comment, or send a direct message on social:
If you enjoyed this look at semi-sentient characters, check out our lists of semi-sentient characters in the animated Disney universe and live-action Disney universe. Also, there are more connections between Harry Potter and Disney than you may realize.
Sources consulted for this article include: