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Something always bothered me with Fudge's accusations:

“Disciplinary hearing of the twelfth of August,” said Fudge in a ringing voice, and Percy began taking notes at once, “into offences committed under the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery and the International Statute of Secrecy by Harry James Potter, resident at number four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey." - OotP Ch. 8 "The Hearing"

Harry cast the Patronus Charm, so he violated the Decree for Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery alright - extinuating circumstances aside - but how did he breach the Statute of Secrecy?

The only witnesses were Dudley and Mrs. Figg, both of whom already knew that Harry is a wizard. Earlier, even Hermione gets it wrong (don't tell her!):

They haven’t even reported that you broke the International Statute of Secrecy. We thought they would,... - OotP Ch. 4 "#12"

Yes, Harry does use magic in front of a Muggle, Dudley, but even Dudley is not so thick that the fact that Harry's a wizard would come as a revelation to him. Harry cannot breach the Statute of Secrecy to someone already in the know.

Shouldn't Dumbledore point out that glaring error in the indictment sooner rather than later? Or at least mention it, at all?

Is there maybe a source that mentions the Statute of Secrecy containing a clause, that even the mere possibility of magic being witnessed by an uninitiated muggle is sufficient for its breach?? Cause if so, wouldn't even adult wizards have a really tough time doing anything, ever.

Possibly related: How strict is the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 32 down vote accepted

Loose wording of the law, and a corrupt court.

When Harry gets his first letter, for Dobby’s hover charm, the wording is somewhat ambiguous, and sounds like it’s an offence to perform such magic, even if no uninitiated Muggle actually notices it.

We would also ask you to remember that any magical activity that risks notice by members of the non-magical community (Muggles) is a serious offense under section 13 of the International Confederation of Warlocks’ Statute of Secrecy.

Chamber of Secrets, chapter 2 (Dobby’s Warning)

So it sounds like mere possibility really is enough to get a conviction. We don’t get a more rigorous definition of section 13 than this.

Now consider the circumstances: Harry has been talking about the return of Voldemort, and the Ministry/Fudge are trying to smear him and damage his reputation. Perhaps in more sensible times, the court and/or members of the Improper Use of Magic Office might realise that

  • The Patronus charm is usually used to ward off dangerous creatures, which might explain Harry’s use of it here
  • The only witnesses were a close relative of Harry, and a Squib, both of whom already know about magic

But they want to smear Harry, so of course they’ll take a loose interpretation of the law that allows him to be convicted for a fairly serious charge. Had Dumbledore not intervened on Harry’s behalf, he’d probably have lost the case.

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Agreed, but I always wondered why Dumbledore didn't mention how weak Fudge's arguments were here. Knowing Dumbledore, he probably had an ulterior motive... or I'm giving the old guy too much credit. –  BMWurm Aug 7 at 19:34
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@BMWurm Fudge is not going to listen to a rational discussion of legal nuances, and if he were convinced, then he’d change the law to suit his argument. –  alexwlchan Aug 7 at 19:58
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Add yet we hear nothing of Arthur Weasley after performing magic inside 4 Privett Drive when they came to pick Harry up for the world cup –  pinkfloydx33 Aug 8 at 0:02
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@pinkfloydx33 Arthur arranges for the Dursley fireplace to be specially connected to the Floo Network, and presumably it’s allowed because the Dursleys already know about magic. That would cover his using magic, and the Ministry aren’t out to smear Harry. Also, the risk of being seen in a private dwelling is much less than in a public alleyway. –  alexwlchan Aug 8 at 9:37
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@alexwlchan actually he traded in a favor for that connection and he is a ministry employee and presumably the improper office detected that –  ratchet freak Aug 8 at 12:49

There are a few things to keep in mind

  1. Harry didn't just do the Patronus Charm in front a Muggle. He did it in plain view on a Muggle street. We have no way of knowing for certain that no one else saw him. And even if no one else did, reckless disregard for the possibility of being seen by Muggles could still be a crime.
  2. Harry's trial for committing the Patronus Charm was basically a sham trial designed to find him guilty. It's possible Fudge is stretching the law to its breaking point.
  3. The Ministry is able to tell when magic is cast around Muggles, but seems incapable of telling who was actually present. When Harry was cited for Dobby's Hover Charm, for example, they seemed entirely unaware that Dobby was in the room. And both letters from Mafalda Hopkirk only mentioned "Muggles." Later in the trial, Fudge only asks if Harry did magic in front of a Muggle. It's Harry who informs the court that it was his cousin.
  4. Harry is underage, and a repeat offender. It may be that while adult wizards are given discretion to perform magic in front of Muggles in the know, underage wizards who continue to break the rules are considered enough of a danger to the entire Wizarding community to make it an international matter.
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ad 2: He most likely is. It is supposedly a hearing, Fudge himself says so, yet as Dumbledore points out, it is infact more akin to a full criminal trial. ad 3: Very good point!! –  BMWurm Aug 7 at 19:54
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Regarding #1... And even if muggles didn't see him in this case, they very easely could have. –  Baard Kopperud Aug 8 at 9:37

2 ways in which Harry broke the statue of secrecy.

  1. First he performed magic in front of a muggle. The ministry does not care at this point that the muggle is a relative of Harry's or not (as their intent is to get Harry discredited). As I believe the law doesn't care either. While traditionally we can assume that families of muggle borns or witches/wizards who marry muggles have an exception we cannot be sure of the law.
  2. the Second and probably most likely way in which he broke the law is a physically observable form of magic in daylight in an entirely muggle community. As far as we know Harry and Mrs Figg are the "magical" people in the neighborhood, and Mr Figg is only there because Dumbledore placed her there to watch Harry. Generally we find that Wizards do not live near muggles unless they deal with them daily. While it occurred under a bridge (or alley) It still happened that any muggle looking out of their window, walking down the street, or driving by could have witnessed the patronus charm.
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The following leads into the answer for the question:

The first offence that the ministry hangs on Harry is Dobby's hover charm. This tells us that the ministry cannot tell who is doing the magic, only that the person performing the magic in that location is NOT authorized to do so. This information is given to them by "The Trace" charm that we find out about in book 7.
We also know that that potion based magic is not detectable by "The Trace" because Fred and George are able to make their "Ton Tongue Candy" which was a great hit with Dudley and family. We can assume that they did not use spells to create the Candy because they were underage when they made it and while we know that it is up to the parents of young witches and wizards to maintain order with their youngsters "The Trace" would still tell the ministry that the law was broken but not WHO broke the law. The reason Harry gets the notice from the ministry about the hover charm in book 2 is because he is the ONLY wizard in the place so when they detected an unauthorized bit of magic from that location they naturally ASSUMED it was Harry. The magic was not authorized because the ministry knows where the house elves are and there was not supposed to be one present at that location.

How did he violate the Statute of Secrecy?
We know from the above that the ministry assumes quite a bit in many cases. More so when they have a motive against the accused. We know from Book 2 the following:

...ANY magical activity that risks notice by members of the non-magical community (Muggles) is a serious offense under section 13 of the International Confederation of Warlocks’ Statute of Secrecy.

— Chamber of Secrets, chapter 2 (Dobby’s Warning)

Dudley is a muggle. Therefore regardless of whether he knew the secret or not he was not authorized to see Harry perform magic even if he did know about Harry being a wizard or not. He is part of the non-magical community. This differs from squids who are born to magical parents but have no magical ability in that they were actually born to the community and we know from statements from death eaters and voldemort himself that blood status means a great deal to members of the magical community. As was pointed out by TenthJustice he also performed the charm in an ally which could have been viewed by other nameless muggles.

The reason Dumbledore does not actually point this out to Fudge during the trial is simply that he already knows that the court is bias against Harry. He knows this because of a number of reasons.
1. The fact that the hearing was being changed from an office hearing to a full court was because of Fudge who must wield enormous power as minister to be able to change this. That would be the same thing as having your traffic ticket venue being changed to the supreme court by the prime minister/president of your country!

2. Given Fudges known bias, Dumbledore knows that any attempt to have the case thrown out on the grounds that the Muggle knew about Harry being a wizard would fail so he did not even try. In fact the only reason the court cleared Harry was because the majority of them believed the witness who saw the dementors! Clearly it would have been possible to teach Harry how to extract memories and then use the pensieve to show the court that Harry was telling the truth but this option was not taken, again, likely because Fudge would have not trusted Dumbledore, thinking he would try to tamper with something(we know that taking memories out and storing them is possible for many witches and wizards and house-elves because Dumbledore collected many memories to show Harry and the only way we have been shown that such memories are removed is by the witch or wizard themselves. So Dumbledore could not extract a memory from someone with his wand).

3. Dumbledore knows that Mrs. Figgs evidence is likely to be "taken with a grain of salt" and he does not wish to further detract from her testimony by having the reputation of "grasping at anything to clear Harry". Had he tried to use a combination of tactics that included trying to get Harry cleared by saying that he was not actually breaking the law he would have marginalized any further testimony presented even more that it already was due to the prejudices of the Wizengamot.

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He didn't. He's being railroaded by Fudge and the upper levels of the Ministry as part of their campaign to discredit him and his claims that Voldemort had returned.

If you take out the Dementors, as the Ministry conveniently did, then casting the Patronus charm in front of a Muggle, in a Muggle populated area, technically justifies a breach of the International Statute of Secrecy. However, that probably doesn't apply to those who are already aware of magic, and there are provisions that allow for exceptions in life threatening situations (as was actually the case).

They were simply hoping to rush through a conviction, praying on Harry's young age and ignorance of the law, as well as his inability to mount a convincing defence for himself alone. They knew there was no chance of a conviction in a regular proceeding, which is exactly why they went to so much effort to change the time and keep Dumbledore away from it.

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Going back to the actual law for a moment, I would like to add a caveat as this type of question has been brought up before.

The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery and the International Statute of Secrecy I believe would be more of a where than a what. Muggles and humans rarely live in the same spaces so the minstry would know that Harry performed a very powerful spell, in the street, of a muggle neighborhood.

It's like drinking underage in your house vs getting wasted in a bar. No one is going to knock down your door for having a taste of beer or wine with your parents in your own home. On the other hand, going out and getting wasted in public is obviously a much graver offense. I believe their view on underage magic has the same philosophy. Likewise, if you got wasted at your own house, but didn't do anything that caused great uproar, than it's unlikly you would get the police banging on your door. (to tie this back in with HP, consider him using lumos to study with vs casting the Patronous)

Of course, in this specifc case, as others have said, the minstry was just looking to charge him with something. At most, if he had done this at any other time, he probably would have gotten a firm "Don't do that again" (though, this is Harry with quite the rap sheet with misuse of magic :p )

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