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There are several times in the books (and movies) where it is either mentioned or depicted that magical people, in moments of stress, are capable of accidentally causing magic to happen. The biggest examples are probably in the first book when Harry makes the glass disappear from the boa's tank at the zoo (it is also mentioned that accidental things have happened before earlier in his childhood), and in the third book when he inflates Aunt Marge. The thing I've noticed, though, is this only ever seems to happen when they're out in the Muggle world, surrounded by non-magic folk. It is fairly obvious Harry faces some extremely stressful situations while at Hogwarts (the books wouldn't be very exciting otherwise!), and yet throughout all of those situations, Harry (or the other characters for that matter) never once make anything accidental happen like what happened with Aunt Marge. Is there a particular reason for this? Note: Canon answers would be greatly appreciated.

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I recall there also being another incident in the first book where he rounded a corner to escape bullies, and wound up shooting himself to the roof of the school. –  Zibbobz Mar 14 at 13:50
    
Oh yeah, I forgot about that one :) –  thnkwthprtls Mar 14 at 14:00
    
Statue of Secrecy! –  Mew Mar 14 at 21:18

6 Answers 6

up vote 26 down vote accepted

The reason why there seems to be a bias is simple: Harry didn't grow up with wizards, and Harry's experiences are the ones we know. Given that the Dursleys gave him an inordinate amount of stress, it's understandable that he would have a few outbreaks like this while in their care.

Accidental magic certainly doesn't require muggles - Neville mentions his Great-Uncle Algie, also a wizard, who attempts to scare him into performing magic. Indeed, he succeeds by dropping Neville out of a window, causing him to bounce unhurt down the road.

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Thanks for your answer :) I honestly had kind of forgotten about the situation with Neville, I guess it can happen around magical folk... maybe it's something tied into age? They were young when those things happened, maybe they become better at controlling it as time goes on? Also, I'm not sure I remember the Lumos thing, which book was that in (that may actually disprove what I just said haha) –  thnkwthprtls Mar 14 at 13:40
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Lumos working when his wand was a few feet away is not an example of accidental magic. The magic was intentional, he just didn't expect it to work. –  Anthony Grist Mar 14 at 13:48
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After Dumbledore tells Harry about the prophecy at the end of OOTP, Harry has a meltdown and fries Dumbledore's trinkets in his office. That's certainly accidental magic. –  pleurocoelus Mar 14 at 13:48
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@pleurocoelus Is that movie canon? I'm pretty sure in the book he just physically breaks them, he doesn't fry them with magic. –  Anthony Grist Mar 14 at 14:19
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Additionally, when he's in the wizarding world, he usually has his wand and is practising magic. so there's no reason for him to accidentally cast magic, when he's purposefully casting magic. –  Moogle Mar 14 at 14:20

I think there's a bit of bias in the medium.

We certainly have accounts of accidental magic by wizards and witches around other wizards and witches, but those are by nature not nearly as interesting. In those cases, we often get a hint of the comedic outcome, but the event itself isn't as funny/interesting/dramatic as it would have been if there were muggles around, in particular muggles who are ignorant of magic. In fact, in the movies we have several montages of this kind of thing happening in classrooms and such, so there are LOTS of occurrences, but they're only interesting enough to show about 3 seconds of in a montage ;-) The accidents that happen with Harry while he's at "home" wouldn't be nearly as interesting if they'd happened at Hogwart's, amusing maybe, but not worth writing about.

All of which is to say, the fact that it's a story means that the author is interested in telling the interesting bits, not the mundane bits. And accidental magic around muggles is much more interesting than accidental magic around witches and wizards.

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Let's not forget Dumbledore's sister Ariana accidentally killed her mother in a magical accident. Not all accidental magic is funny, nor does it only occur when muggles are around.

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Wands seem to be a tool explicity for the focused use of magical ability, and magic lessons are to help young wizards learn to use that focus. This is why spontaneous spells would seem so chaotic - they're unfocused, and dangerous because of that lack of focus.

So it stands to reason that a young wizard completely unaware of their powers, or in very stressful situations, could accidentally release some of their magic, especially if they have long periods of time where they can't use their magic at all (which would be true for Harry during his long stay at the Dudleys each Summer).

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They're not just for young wizards. It was mentioned at one point that a large part of the reason Voldemort was helpless in his mostly-dead state is because most of the spells that would be useful to him would require a wand. –  Mason Wheeler Mar 14 at 17:58
    
@MasonWheeler My emphasis was more for a young wizard to LEARN how to focus his magic through a wand, of course other magic-users are wand-dependent too. But I will revise my answer to be more clear. –  Zibbobz Mar 14 at 18:00

This is not true. Remember when Neville was telling how his uncle used to try to scare him into showing signs of magical ability and one day when he was hanging Neville out of a window and dropped him, he started to bounce. This event happened in the presence of Neville's wizard family and not muggles.

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So this is how I see it. At a young age, you are more susceptible to fantasies.. like being chased down a street, Harry could have wished, he could just fly onto the roof..Neville being dropped from the window, could have thought what it would feel like if he were a ball and would just bounce around. Such accidental magic would probably not happen with a level minded person like Hermione who was mostly in control.. As they grew up, they started realizing what is possible, and started reigning in their fantasies. Like I used to have this recurring dream growing up that I am running over a big green ground a few feet above the ground (levitating).. But now its been years since I have had that dream now... I remember it cause I had once written it down as soon as I woke up..

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Paragraphs are your friend. You cite no evidence to support this theory. –  James Sheridan Mar 15 at 8:18

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