In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, when Harry goes to the zoo with the Dursleys and Piers Polkiss, he starts to communicate with the snake. When Piers Polkiss notices that the snake is active (and Harry is talking to it), he calls out to Dudley, who knocks Harry down to look at the snake. Harry's anger toward Dudley causes him to magically vanish the glass covering the snake's cage.

According to the book:

The keeper of the reptile house was in shock.

"But the glass," he kept saying, "where did the glass go?"

The zoo director himself made Aunt Petunia a cup of strong, sweet tea while he apologized over and over again.

My question is,

How could the Muggles explain the Vanishing Glass?

The Muggles would feel there has to be some explanation, since it wasn't like the glass had shattered(there were no shards of glass anywhere), it just completely vanished. This kind of news would normally make the Muggle newspapers, or trigger an inquiry in the zoo at the very least.

We know the Ministry of Magic Obliviates Muggles who witness magic, but does that include underage magic that the young magic folk can't control? Would some Ministry officials come and Obliviate every Muggle who witnessed the zoo incident and wasn't already aware of magic (including Piers Polkiss)?

There are other incidents where Harry's magic just comes out, but the only one mentioned that Muggles apart from the Dursleys noticed was the one where Harry ends up on the roof of his school, which Muggles would have managed to convince themselves was just Harry being good at climbing buildings. The zoo incident, however, is very much within the realm of the 'impossible' for Muggles.

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    Worried about ol' Piers, are ya?
    – Skooba
    Feb 16, 2016 at 5:57
  • @Skooba Haha not really. Just wanted to include him in it since Piers has been mentioned in later books as well. So would he remember? The Dursleys wouldn't be Obliviated since the Ministry would have known they were one of the few Muggle families to know of magic. But would Piers have been Obliviated? Feb 16, 2016 at 6:55
  • Often wondered that myself. If they were going to Obliviate everyone who saw it, they should have been there immediately, and they weren’t—lots of people will have ‘left the scene of the crime’ already. Besides, this was before Harry got into Hogwarts: he didn’t have the Trace on him yet, so they wouldn’t even know of the magic he did there. We don’t hear of it, but I almost assume the incident must have made it onto the news (though perhaps Vernon managed to scare the zoo into not blabbing—harder to do with random people who happened to be there, though). Feb 16, 2016 at 8:42
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    @JanusBahsJacquet To be fair, I don't think the zoo would want to blab about this to any media source. It's not exactly an advertisement for the zoo, vanishing cage glasses and boa constrictors on the loose. If anything, the zoo would have probably paid the witnesses to keep their traps shut. Feb 16, 2016 at 16:59
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    What vanishing glass? That brat found a way to climb in, and then lied his ass off, not being able to find a better excuse. And the keeper was surely mistaken, or tricked by a childish prank. (if you want to see an example of a magic world being kept hidden, told in large part also from the Muggle perspective, I would recommend to read the Master and Margarita, and see how the Muggle government tries to explain away - both to themselves and to the general population - weirder and weirder supernatural events)
    – vsz
    Feb 16, 2016 at 18:27

2 Answers 2


Muggles from the wizarding perspective are seen to be quite inept at noticing things. So something like a vanishing glass because of magic would be common for them to just miss out, in the same way a bus roaring down the streets is just ignored by muggles.

"How come the Muggles don't hear the bus?" said Harry.

"Them!" said Stan contemptuously. "Don' listen properly, do they? Don' look properly either. Never notice nuffink, they don'." - PoA

Furthermore, if anyone did notice anything, wizards put it on the fact that muggles consider magic impossible, and thus place it on the security that they will never blame magic or else be considered insane.

Still chortling, Fudge had thrown some powder into the fireplace, stepped into the emerald flames, and vanished with a whooshing sound. The Prime Minister had stood there, quite motionless, and realized that he would never, as long as he lived, dare mention this encounter to a living soul, for who in the wide world would believe him? -HBP

Not only that, but the ministry of magic has wizards on standby (like you said) to work their own magic to reverse magical damage and adjust the memories of the witnesses (if someone heard about an incident, but the main witnesses have no idea what they are talking about anymore...who would you be more inclined to believe? The witness who was there or the person who heard about it?).

They probably would have investigated more, but had their memories reversed. Note below, Harry’s Aunt, Uncle and Cousin didn't have their memory changed, as the Ministry knew they wouldn't blab to anyone about the magical incident.

"Eat, Harry, you look dead on your feet. Now then... You will be pleased to hear that we have dealt with the unfortunate blowing­up of Miss Marjorie Dursley. Two members of the Accidental Magic Reversal Department were dispatched to Privet Drive a few hours ago. Miss Dursley has been punctured and her memory has been modified. She has no recollection of the incident at all. So that's that, and no harm done." -PoA

Another thing is Harry was still being monitored since his childhood, so his actions could have been reversed by Dumbledore and the remnants of the Order without his knowledge, or his Aunt, Uncle, or Cousin knowing.

"Why didn’t you tell me you’re a Squib, Mrs. Figg?" asked Harry, panting with the effort to keep walking. "All those times I came round your house - why didn’t you say anything?" "Dumbledore’s orders. I was to keep an eye on you but not say anything, you were too young.

EDIT: It's also worth noting that muggles do notice these things, and strange activity, but they just put it down to being unable to explain bits.

Experts are unable to explain why the owls have suddenly changed their sleeping pattern." The newscaster allowed himself a grin....

..."Well, Ted," said the weatherman, "I don't know about that, but it's not only the owls that have been acting oddly today. Viewers as far apart as Kent, Yorkshire, and Dundee have been phoning in to tell me that instead of the rain I promised yesterday, they've had a downpour of shooting stars! Perhaps people have been celebrating Bonfire Night early -- it's not until next week, folks! But I can promise a wet night tonight."

Mr. Dursley sat frozen in his armchair. Shooting stars all over Britain? Owls flying by daylight? Mysterious people in cloaks all over the place? And a whisper, a whisper about the Potters... -PS

Only Mr. Dursley who knows for fact about the existence of magic (despite being a mean old man, but smart and deft enough to run his own company) can start to add 2 and 2 together, but even then, he is skeptical about where his thoughts are going, and tries to ignore them.

  • I wonder how much of this is culture. Muggles by JK Rowling seem to be very traditionally British in an amusing own-experience depricating sort of way. And part of that is a sort of Aunt Petunia-esque capacity for denial above all logic. I wonder in and out of universe how this might be seen in other cultures.
    – ThruGog
    Feb 16, 2016 at 11:29
  • I always got the feeling that there might be some sort of widespread low-level magic that nudged Muggles to ignore or explain away magical phenomena. Not really powerful - it won't suppress obvious stuff like flying cars and dragons over London - but enough that small things will go unnoticed. Official canon never says so but it feels like something that would exist. Uncontrolled magic happens based on your emotions; perhaps the desire of the magical community to stay hidden amounts to some sort of subconscious mass spell, everyone adding a tiny bit to create some sort of suppression effect. Feb 16, 2016 at 13:32
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    "smart and inept"? I don't think those two words go together... Feb 16, 2016 at 16:28
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    @user3564421 "smart and inept enough to run his own company", should that be "smart and deft enought..."?
    – zzzzBov
    Feb 16, 2016 at 16:29
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    I am leaning to a combination of this answer, Megha's answer and @anaximander's comment to this answer. Muggles trying to convince themselves it never really happened, or convince themselves its a hoax, or being nudged toward one of these two thoughts by a blanket protective spell. Come to think of it, the International Statute of Secrecy had to be more than just a verbal/contractual agreement to keep the magic world hidden, and had to include measures like this kind of spell to address something minute like this. Feb 16, 2016 at 16:53

I'm not sure how it actually got explained in the books, I'm pretty sure it isn't mentioned. I think the movies had the glass reappear once Dudley was in and the snake was out, so the explanation would have to be different there.

If you're asking how it didn't alert people about magic, it's likely they would have explained it as an elaborate prank or hoax. People would think that's what they saw because glass vanishing is impossible - after all, even eyewitnesses aren't "proof", people would be likely to shift their accounts to fit what they believe.

In the book version, someone would have removed the glass (probably the night before), and replaced it with some thin plastic sheeting (that can be torn down quickly and squished small) so that it was visible until it was time for a bit of acting and to let the snake loose - anyone who touched the glass might think they were mistaken, or have others not believe them.

In the movie version, kids get a snake out and Dudley in, a bit of acting with a similar looking kid who ducks away, lets the snake out, and Dudley drawing attention from inside by pounding - might distract people enough to think the glass vanished and Dudley got trapped on the wrong side.

It would work because people are not observant, people could believe they were distracted by the escaping snake enough to miss someone tearing down plastic sheeting and hiding it, or that the kid "trapped" inside the glass wasn't the same kid banging on it before. A few would be convinced, those who were there, and observant enough, and willing to believe their own senses would be convinced... and it would be nothing to get others to believe those few were fooled by a hoax, once somebody came up with the theory. It may be that once everyone calmed down, Dudley and Piers (and perhaps Harry) were suspected of having pulled off an elaborate prank, and would be asked not to return.

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    I'd call child services if a parent let a kid into the snake hut! Feb 16, 2016 at 9:50
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    I like the idea that the eyewitnesses would at least say "A mad prank happened when we were at the zoo," and probably not go into detail.
    – ThruGog
    Feb 16, 2016 at 11:27
  • Smells like the kind of explanation of magic we get in Unimeko when they cry visual novels where proving the magic wrong is the theme ! Feb 16, 2016 at 12:57
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    Actually in the book the snake was asleep when the Dursleys arrive. Dudley is disappointed at it and whines to Vernon about this. Vernon raps on the glass to try and get some reaction from the snake. Though of course, Muggles might choose to forget that part (if they had seen it) in order to convince themselves that it was an elaborate prank as you said. Feb 16, 2016 at 16:46

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