You can choose any one spell, potion, artifact, ritual, plant, or animal from any of the Harry Potter books. Which would you pick?

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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74 Responses

  1. LeeEsq says:

    I’d pick accio since I tend to misplace things. It’ll save me time at least. You can also start a lost and found business.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to LeeEsq says:

      There are a ton of businesses you could start with Accio.

      Note that the following ought to work:
      – “Accio Murder Weapon”
      – “Accio Cancerous Tumor”
      – “Accio Diamond Ore”Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Accio Oil! No more need for complicated machinery and purification processes.

        You’d be a billionaire, and global warming would speed up even faster.

        I think a spell that physically pulled a tumour out of someone would be likely to do lethal damage to their internal organs in the process.Report

      • In my head, I was imagining a doctor cutting someone open and then midway through surgery using the spell to lift up the tumor to cut out more easily. Or using Accio to find the end of an artery that needs to be stitched, etc.

        The spells in general seem to be very…friendly in how they operate. Aguamenti produces the desired amount of water, not 1 gallon when you want an ounce or an ounce when you want a gallon. Hopefully Accio is similarly coded.Report

  2. Caleb says:

    Time turner, without question. As the humorists put it: “It solves every problem!!!” I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve wanted a redo button or the ability to Groundhog-day a scenario a few times to find the optimal decision path.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Caleb says:

      Also becoming arbitrarily rich sounds pleasant.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Caleb says:

      Dude, be ready for pushback. I called out the time turner for solving everything a week ago and caught hell for it!Report

    • FridayNext in reply to Caleb says:

      But that’s not how it works.

      If you us the Time Turner to go back in time, the original you is still there doing his thing and your having gone back in time has already influenced events. If you did something stupid and went back to try to change it, then you going back already either had no effect or caused you to do the stupid thing, plus there would be multiple you’s hanging around. If Bill Murray used a Time Turner instead of whatever mechanism was sending him back, there’d be hundreds of Bill Murrays hanging around Punxetawney by the end of the movie.

      (was this the push back Kazzy was talking about? I missed that thread)Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to FridayNext says:

        Right, I think Potter time travel works the same way as in the show Lost rather than as in Back to the Future. There are no parallel realities that created or destroyed because you change time. Rather, your body would experience a given hour multiple times sequentially. But there is still only ever one reality.Report

      • Patrick in reply to FridayNext says:

        It’s more or less established that you can’t have a time paradox in the HP series (else Dumbledore could have fixed everything)… you can’t change the past. When Hermione is given the time turner she has a set of rules to follow, IIRC. She doesn’t exhaustively list them in the book, but if you read a lot of time travel stories you know JK wasn’t really trying to write a time travel story, she blows past a lot of the exposition.Report

      • Caleb in reply to FridayNext says:

        I interpreted the strict rules given to Hermione as rules explicitly designed to prevent time paradoxes. (In other words, the time turner can create paradoxes/alternate time streams, but are a massive bother to deal with. So the time turner is given strict use controls. If the opposite is the case, and the time turner cannot effect the time stream/causality, then why have the rules?) Of course, given the time turner, I would immediately, repeatedly, and flagrantly disregard said rules in search of my optimal time stream.Report

  3. veronica dire says:

    There’s the thing that makes you beautiful, right? I’d take that. No so much for shallow adoration, but for me to be more beautiful would mean (I hope) to be more feminine. And then maybe I’d pass.Report

    • There is a beauty potion. But I’m curious as to why everyone wouldn’t just take it though. Does it have serious side effects? Is it temporary like polyjuice? If there really were a one-time, low-risk potion I could take to look fantastic forever, I don’t see myself hesitating to take it, but we don’t read about anyone having used it.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Well, right, everyone would just take it, so I assume it must have some hard-to-get ingredients or something, like a wyvern heart and feathers from a griffon or whatever. That’s how this stuff usually gets limited.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Of course if they had a sex change potion I guess I could just take that. I assume that would have a more balanced economy.

        (Although I do confess I would take beauty too if I could get it. Goddess knows I spend enough on makeup.)Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        “If there really were a one-time, low-risk potion I could take to look fantastic forever, I don’t see myself hesitating to take it, but we don’t read about anyone having used it.”

        I wouldn’t. Feels like cheeting.Report

      • Yes, it would be awful for someone to become good looking through something other than hard work and effort.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Well, it seems as if our society (and maybe most societies) has an irrational relationship with beauty. For example, the idea that it must only come from either hard work — as I believe @kazzy has implied — or else from the sheer fortune of good genetics suggests that it should only come when it is deserved. As in, some of us deserve to be beautiful while others deserve to be otherwise.

        If you unpack this, it turns out to be a really odd viewpoint. Why should we think this way?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:


        First, a bit of clarification on my part. I personally would feel as if I were cheating if I took a magic pill that made me more handsome or in better shape or smarter or faster or whathaveyou. I wouldn’t apply these standards to anyone else. For instance, I don’t object to the use of PEDs and other substances by athletes. I’d never take them. But I wouldn’t object to others — even those I’m in direct competition with. So I was expressing more of a personal belief than a societal norm I’d seek to establish/impose.

        That said, I also must recognize the place of privilege from which I speak. At the risk of being arrogant (again, when do I not risk this?), I’d say I’ve been rather fortunate with regards to the genetic lottery. I think I’m a pretty good looking guy and feedback from others confirms this. I’m naturally fit and can get more results from one week of working out than some guys can get from six months. Etc, etc, etc. So it is certainly easier for me to take the position I do.

        I generally try not to assess the choices others make with regards to their aesthetics. I don’t reflexively look down upon people who are overweight or pity those who are less attractive. Not only do I think that an ugly place to stake out, but I also think it is attempting to attach human worth to things that are often completely outside the control of the individual.

        So rather than look at people deserving or not deserving a certain aesthetic, I go the other way. None of us “deserve” the genes we have. We just have them. If people see fit to take steps to account for those genes which they or society might find less desirable, more power to them. I’d hope they do it through healthy means — physically, mentally, emotionally, or otherwise. But I’d never really fault someone for attempting to improve their lot in life.

        To bring it full circle, the reason I’d feel it would be cheating for me is because I guess I don’t feel a need for any such thing. I can spend 45 minutes a day exercising and be in great shape. I don’t need a pill to help with that. Taking a pill would be taking an easier route when a perfectly viable one is right there for the taking and I do think there is some value in challenging one’s self. Similarly, we don’t look at the person with ADHD who uses Aderall in quite the same way that we look at someone with a perfectly typical functioning brain who takes it because it’s easier than studying.

        I’m not sure if this is making much sense. I don’t know that I have a fully formed philosophy on matters of aesthetics in part because I tend not to think about them too much. I’m very much a live-and-let-live kind of guy in that regard. If you feel your life would be improved by taking a magic beautification pill, I wouldn’t say boo about it. And if you were happier for having done so and no one was harmed in the process*, I’d be very happy for you.

        * I mean real harm. If the pill is made from the scalps of babies, I’d object. If transphobic folks are going to claim they are harmed because you’ve come closer to physically realizing who you are internally, I’d tell them to go sit on a pinecone.Report

      • I think I’m a pretty good looking guy and feedback from others confirms this.

        AH-HAH! Finally we find out why Kazzy is a contributor.Report

    • Reformed Republican in reply to veronica dire says:

      Of course, the obvious question is, whose standard of beauty is used? The person imbibing the potion? The one who creates it? Some sort of cultural average?Report

  4. zic says:

    I would take the invisibility cloak (and hope it had some scent-masking ability) so that I could watch the wild things without disturbing them.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to zic says:

      Despite how much it is used, the cloak is somewhat unclear to me. If you wear the cloak and stumble, but don’t want to be heard, will no one hear it? It can hide you from death. I assume it is something more than just an invisibility cloak then and perhaps a you-can’t-detect-me-if-I-don’t-want-to-be-detected cloak, which would be much more awesome.Report

      • zic in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Way more awesome.

        But I my choice is something more: a clear application, taking responsibility for my magic. I have a very specific use. But not to spy on my friends and neighbors; none of that fly on the wall reporter’s often long for. Though Potter used it in that way; but he did so in the war of goodness; if someone hasn’t already, I’m sure someone will analyze the ration of selfish, magical misuse and consequences witches and wizards face for their misdeeds in the books. But I do recall Harry getting into trouble because he misused the cloak; his father, too.

        So I posit that your magical choice has moral consequence.Report

  5. Kazzy says:

    “…Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, or Tupac…”

    If you had to guess which of those three would be brought back via hologram, would it have been Tupac?Report

    • zic in reply to Kazzy says:

      Personally, I’d go for Billie Holiday.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

      Yes, the entertainer is the obvious choice.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy says:

      The Resurrection stone is kind of like bringing back a hologram, isn’t it?

      If the people you call are able to think as if alive, I’d go with the first two. If not, the last.Report

      • FridayNext in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Isn’t this how the portraits work? You can interact with the portraits of dead people and they have all the memories of the deceased person and can carry on a conversation as if they are that person. So if you wanted to carry on a conversation with, say, Einstein, pick a magical portrait of Einstein.Report

      • Questions:
        1. Do portraits get made of non-magicians?
        2. Portraits talk, but do they really…think new thoughts? Would a portrait of Einstein continue to make new discoveries?

        I ask #2 because it doesn’t seem like anyone in the books really tries to get original knowledge from portraits. It seems like interacting with a person who has all their old memories but might not be able to form new ones. If it doesn’t work that way, then the books seem to ignore a huge source of human potential.Report

      • FridayNext in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I have to declare I don’t know off the top of my head for all of it.
        1. No examples are given to my knowledge of a non-magician image, but an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
        2. I have vague recollections of past Hogwarts Headmasters offering advice to Dumbledore, but admittedly wasn’t reading for this purpose at the time, on how to handle certain situations. So unless they encountered the exact same situation in their real lives, they have to be able to react in some way to new events. Also, I believe Phineas Nigellus Black continued his assistance of The Order of the Phoenix by carrying messages between Hogwarts and 12 Grimmauld Place over many days, so he would have had to retain memories of the whole situation or have it explained anew each day.

        But even if they didn’t form new memories, merely being able to interrogate a historic person about their lives would be of immense value. (assuming non-magicians could be depicted in this way, of course.) As a historian I originally thought a Quick Quotes Quill would be awesome. Just say “Put some Derrida crap here” and then have it write it all out with all the appropriate jargon and puffery. That would be awesome. But to be able to actually talk to the person who is the subject of my dissertation?? Priceless. But then what could I do with it? I can’t quote him. What would I footnote??

        So maybe I will choose to disapperate instead. A nice, simple spell with a multitude of different uses.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        One of the portraits (a former headmaster who had been a Slytherin) understood that Voldemort had been defeated and insisted that Slytherin had helped beat him (in addition to serving as his toadies, agents, and fifth column.) So they can take in new facts, even if that doesn’t result in any new conclusions.Report

  6. FridayNext says:

    I have to take issue with one of your premises:
    If, as you say, a wand wouldn’t work because I am not a wizard, then none of the spells will work either. They all presume a working wand, matched to the wizard or witch it chose, or someone who can legitimately claim if through battle. So not only will a wand work, it MUST work for any consideration of spells to be fruitful.

    Less importantly, I think there are some bad picks for spells. For example, I can’t imagine how useful a Petronus would be if there are no actual Dementors. A Petronus can be used to carry messages to other wizards and witches, but are there any in this hypothetical or is each one of us an island of magic in a Muggle world? I think a Petronus Charm would be a bad pick.

    I’d go with the Time Turner. I think it is more limited in going back than most people would allow, but I’d love to go forward 5 hours and come back and place some money on The Belmont Stakes.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to FridayNext says:

      You can’t pick the wand because it’s the obvious dominant choice and renders the exercise boring.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to FridayNext says:

      In this hypothetical, you go on to live your own regular, actual life except you get this one thing. No one else gets any other magic. There are no new magical threats introduced.

      Yes, without Dementors, the Patronus is reduced to simply delivering messages (maybe you could receive them too?). We do live in a world with mobile phones, so I can understand how few would see the point, but it isn’t exactly an awful thing to want to have either, I think.

      But, yes, compared to some of the other stuff available, it would be kind of boring.Report

  7. James Hanley says:

    As a parent of three kids, I want the Weasely’s clock.Report

  8. Marchmaine says:

    Wait, what world is this where the answer isn’t Magic Missile?Report

    • James K in reply to Marchmaine says:


      Magic Missile is a near-useless spell. It’s worth using only if you run out of good stuff.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to James K says:

        Oh, so a little bit like drones and cruise missiles.

        I wonder if this is the secret origin of all our smart weapons…just a desire to cast MM into the darkness.Report

      • North in reply to James K says:

        Yeah outside of level 1 or 2 it’s pretty gimp. Monsters and NPC’s get hit points waaaay faster than magic missile gains oomph.Report

      • James K in reply to James K says:


        And at levels 1 and 2 you are better off casting Sleep or Colour Spray.Report

      • Patrick in reply to James K says:

        In the original version, there was no saving throw for Magic Missile. It didn’t do much damage, but they never missed.

        Flight and a Wand of Magic Missile and you’re pretty much an orbital laser platform.Report

      • Murali in reply to James K says:

        Also, in the earlier versions, you could cast magic missile to disrupt the other caster’s spell. That and melf’s acid arrow. It has a cast time of 1 or 0, which means that at higher levels unless the mage has protection against missiles cast, (and which is also easily dispelled) you can disrupt further spell casting by casting magic missile every time the other mage tries to cast a spell.Report

  9. Mike Schilling says:

    I’d settle for the royalties.Report

  10. Pinky says:

    I haven’t read the books. Can I choose Emma Watson?Report

  11. James K says:

    The Philosophers’ Stone seems like the obvious one to me. Immortality and wealth (so longs as you’re careful)? Yes please.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to James K says:

      Hell, no. I’ve seen what happens to lottery winners.
      As to immortality, did you learn nothing from Tolkien? 😉Report

      • James K in reply to James Hanley says:

        On the subject of immortality, I’ll take Yudkowsky over Tolkien.Report

      • And then there is the final episode of Alias.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to James Hanley says:

        I’d take immortality in a heartbeat, as long as I am not trapped and unable to end my life. The latter could be obviously hellish — to be the one lonely consciousness that remains after the heat death of the universe? Yikes. But to have a few more hundred years, to carry on until we master human genetics, body modification, or perhaps cybernetics — these things would please me very much.

        Every ten thousand years or so I would make a decision, shall I carry on?Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to James Hanley says:

        I think there’s a huge selection bias problem in assuming that winning the lottery will destroy your life, because by definition all lottery winners are the type of person to play the lottery, and I can think of any number of reasons why people who share that trait might do poorly at handling a sudden large cash infusion. Assuming that you weren’t out actively looking to be granted one artifact from Harry Potter (probably safe), you might have better outcomes.Report

      • Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

        no, you haven’t. At least not the smart ones.Report

    • Patrick in reply to James K says:

      Yeah, you can always stop drinking the Elixer if you get bored.Report

  12. Saul DeGraw says:

    Does Harry Potter’s bank account count as an artifact?Report

  13. KatherineMW says:

    Pepper-Up Potion. People have been looking for a cure for the common cold for ages. If there’s an way to get rid of it instantly, people will come to accept the side effect that it makes smoke come out your ears for a while.Report

    • I had forgotten about Pepper-Up. If we were to ask a corollary question about what you would bring to everyone in the world, that might be a nice, safe choice. Perhaps that goes for anything vaguely medical.Report

  14. Miss Mary says:

    I love this post! 🙂Report

  15. morat20 says:

    Reparo, as noted.

    There are a million gorgeous, broken things out there. Not only could you make a very healthy living repairing them (depending on what you repaired), but you’d be giving someone else’s labor and love back to the world.

    You’d make a killing repairing antiques, damaged works of art, and doing restorations.

    (Honestly, I always assumed reparo was a bit of a time-alteration spell. You took what was broken, and moved it backwards through time until it was at it’s peak condition. Having all the bits and bobs and pieces handy would help, but weren’t necessary).Report

    • paradoctor in reply to morat20 says:

      Reparo, seconded. You have honest, lucrative labor for life; every machine you meet will work; and if you can reparo your own aging flesh, then you have immortality. So it’s the Philosopher’s Stone, plus.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to paradoctor says:

        That’s an interesting idea to test Reparo on your own body. I assumed it wouldn’t work because we never read about anyone actually treating the injured that way. Perhaps you could get some Beautification along the way. Why not Reparo my belly flab?Report

      • morat20 in reply to paradoctor says:

        I doubt it works on people, since they always used other spells to do that.

        But restoring antiques? Easy money. And, bonus, restored antiques.Report

      • paradoctor in reply to paradoctor says:

        And don’t forget the original purpose; every machine will work for you. Your car will drive, your computer will boot up, your phone will connect, every vending machine will vend. Sweet!Report