|[by A V Brown, using stock images.|
See here for full list of sources.]
Unicorns are legendary animals from European folklore that resemble white horses with large spiral horns on their foreheads. They appeared first in ancient Greek natural history, rather than Greek mythology, as the Greeks were convinced that unicorns actually existed, believing that they came from India. Unicorns also appear in Chinese mythology and in The Bible.
Unicorns were widely used as a symbol of purity and grace during the Middle Ages and Renaissance as it was said that they could only be captured by virgins. 'Unicorn horns' were highly valuable, believed to have magical and medicinal properties such as healing sickness and removing poison from drinking water. The tusks of narwhals were often sold as unicorn horns, sometimes crushed into a powder and used for medicinal purposes.
Unicorns in Harry Potter
In the Harry Potter series, some unicorns can be found living in the Forbidden Forest. They are gentle and pure creatures, and it is a terrible crime to kill them. Voldermort kills at least two of them in order to keep himself alive, and is cursed to live a half-life in Quirrel's body as a result.
"Only one who has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, would commit such a crime. The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something so pure and defenceless to save yourself, you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips."
~Firenze in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Unicorns are born pure gold, but later turn silver, and eventually a pure white 'so bright it makes freshly fallen snow look grey in comparison'. Their hooves are golden and their bloog is silvery. As in the legends, they prefer a woman's touch but can rarely be caught by humans.
Unicorn hair is used as a core for some wands, producing the most consistent magic. Wands with unicorn cores are usually the most difficult to turn to the Dark Arts, and are the most faithful of all wands, though not extremely powerful. Draco Malfoy, Cedric Diggory, Quirrel and Ron Weasley all have wands with this core. Unicorn hair is very strong and valuable and can also be used in potions.