5

This question is heavily inspired by this one, asked just a few hours ago, but takes a different angle. In particular, this comment by NKCampbell was what made me ask, and the inconsistency noted by Slytherincess in this answer further fuelled it.

In Chamber of Secrets, when Dobby hovers and smashes Aunt Petunia’s wobbly pudding, he immediately receives a missive from Mafalda Hopkirk of the Improper Use of Magic Office that reads as follows (emphasis mine):

Dear Mr Potter,
    We have received intelligence that a Hover Charm was used at your place of residence this evening at twelve minutes past nine.
    As you know, underage wizards are not permitted to perform spells outside school, and further spellwork on your part may lead to expulsion from said school (Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, 1875, Paragraph C).
    We would also ask you to remember that any magical activity which risks notice by members of the non-magical community (Muggles) is a serious offence, under section 13 of the International Confederation of Warlocks’ Statute of Secrecy.

Three years later, when Harry conjures a Patronus to fight off the Dementors that Madam Toad sics on him (and Dudley, presumably inadvertently), he receives an even more strongly worded letter from Mafalda Hopkirk (emphasis mine again):

Dear Mr Potter,
    We have received intelligence that you performed the Patronus Charm at twenty-three minutes past nine this evening in a Muggle inhabited area and in the presence of a Muggle.
    The severity of this breach of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery has resulted in your expulsion from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Ministry representatives will be calling at your place of residence shortly to destroy your wand.
    As you have already received an official warning for a previous offence under Section 13 of the International Confederation of Warlocks’ Statute of Secrecy, we regret to inform you that your presence is required at a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Magic at 9 a.m. on the twelfth of August.

Naturally, Dumbledore intervenes and Harry remains safe until his hearing. At the hearing, Dumbledore states (to the entire Wizengamot, nonetheless):

The Ministry does not have the power to expel Hogwarts students, Cornelius, as I reminded you on the night of the second of August,’ said Dumbledore. ‘Nor does it have the right to confiscate wands until charges have been successfully proven; again, as I reminded you on the night of the second of August. In your admirable haste to ensure that the law is upheld, you appear, inadvertently I am sure, to have overlooked a few laws yourself.

These two statements (taking the first two letters as one, as they essentially say the same thing) directly contradict each other, as far as I can tell, and are completely incompatible if taken at face value:

  • The first letter states that Paragraph C of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery (DRRUC) at least makes it possible to expel students for breaches of it, and the second letter seeks to carry this out, actually expelling him.
  • Dumbledore’s statement (which is a repetition, apparently, of what he said to Fudge on 2 August, and which Fudge evidently accepted as true) states that the Ministry, and thereby also its laws and decrees, does not have the authority to expel Hogwarts students.

Now, the wording “may lead to expulsion” could theoretically just be hedging, meaning that the Ministry will suggest that the Headmaster expel the student… but that would be a highly uncommon and misleading use of directly citing a legal decree as the source of a statement that something may lead to expulsion. Depending on how exactly Wizarding laws work, it could even be illegal in itself, if that were the correct interpretation of this “may”. And the second letter definitely seems to bear out the fact that no such scenario is implied, hinting that it is the severity of the breach (Patronus > pudding) that has caused the expulsion, and that “may” therefore means “may, depending on the severity of the breach”.

So who’s right? What exactly does Paragraph C of DRRUC say, and what does it authorise the Ministry to do? Why do the warning letters (seemingly) state something that the Ministry itself recognises to be false?

Canon answers preferably, though I’m fairly sure at least the books are mum on the subject—or, if there is some logical flaw in my reading that fully explains and reconciles all the statements given, that will do fine for an answer, too.

5

I think you're right when you say the Ministry can only suggest expulsion of students and does so only upon direction from administration of the school in question (Hogwarts in this case). The Ministry does have the power to confiscate wands, but only after the defendant has been found guilty via trial.

If we examine the letters carefully, the first letter seems more official in that it mentions the exact decree along with the paragraph that has been violated and the year of inception of the decree. Also, there is the inclusion of the term 'may' as you pointed out, which shows the letter was sticking to the letter of the law in all aspects.

In Prisoner of Azkaban however, we see Fudge use his influence to ensure Harry doesn't even get a citation for using magic to blow up his aunt Marge. This shows that it prescribed laws can be skirted without any fuss, when required.

The second letter, however, was sent by the Ministry at a time when Fudge was decidedly anti-Harry. Also, Umbridge (later) admitted to having set the Dementors on him, and hence would have probably been waiting for the Trace on Harry to trigger upon the use of magic by him. She/Fudge would have pressured Mafalda Hopkirk into sending a letter that specified that he had been expelled without ensuring that all details of the decree and the wording of the letter was legally correct. They would have also sent along a team of Ministry officials to break his wand without the intervention of Dumbledore. This is another case of Fudge bending the laws (as Dumbledore mentions in your quote), according to his whims and fancies.

So there we have it, technically a trial has to be conducted after the second breach of the DRRUC. If the defendant is found to be guilty, his/her wand can be confiscated and then expelled from school depending on the decision made by the school authorities.

  • If that were in the real world, I’m fairly sure that interpretation would make the (first, official-sounding) warning letter illegal, though. It would, at the very least, be highly misleading as it is phrased—something that could very easily be fixed simply by moving the reference to the DRRUC up in the sentence: phrasing it “underage wizards are not permitted to perform spells outside school (DRRUC, Paragraph C), and further spellwork…” would have put the Ministry on much safer ground. The fact that they didn’t is what leads me to believe this isn’t the intended interpretation. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 18 '16 at 20:53
  • 2
    @JanusBahsJacquet Maybe Paragraph C deals with the punishments meted out to those found guilty of breaching the DRRUC and that's why its mentioned there. The Wizengamot, being the wizarding equivalent of a Supreme Court of a country, can order the school to expel a student. But again, technically, the school has to perform the expulsion. Either way, the ministry definitely has no authority to expel a student. – ʀᴇᴅ_ᴅᴇᴠɪʟ226 Feb 18 '16 at 21:20
2

As Dumbledore states:

The Ministry does not have the power to expel Hogwarts students ...’

This could imply that it is in fact the Wizengamot court that has the authority to expel a student and/or take their wand. Presumably after a court hearing.

That being said, we do have at least one other example of the Ministry disciplining a Hogwarts student; Hagrid. To my knowledge, it is never explicitly stated if Hagrid was 'put on trial'; but he was acquitted implying that it was part of a legal process.


Slightly weaker argument. Due to the sentence structure it may be unlikely, but Dumbledore's statement could be interpreted slightly differently.

‘The Ministry does not have the power to expel Hogwarts students, Cornelius, as I reminded you on the night of the second of August,’ said Dumbledore. ‘Nor does it have the right to confiscate wands until charges have been successfully proven; again, as I reminded you on the night of the second of August. In your admirable haste to ensure that the law is upheld, you appear, inadvertently I am sure, to have overlooked a few laws yourself.

He could be saying they can't expel Hogwarts students or confiscate their wand until the student has been found guilty.

Perhaps in the haste and confusion of the hearing Dumbledore was slightly flustered and did not use his ability to turn a phrase to its fullest extent.

  • I did briefly consider that, but it seems so out of character for Dumbledore who, after all, appears entirely composed and collected when he says this. He is usually so eloquent and quite often concise that such a slip would be almost unbelievable. No, I think the possibility that the condition of charges being successfully proven applies to both confiscating wands and expelling Hogwarts students is slim to none. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 18 '16 at 20:16
  • 2
    @JanusBahsJacquet Agreed it's kind of weak. There is another way of interpreting it as well... Dumbledore says The Ministry does not have the power.... He could be implying that it needs to be the Wizengamot court (as the outcome of a trial). – Kapler Feb 18 '16 at 20:21
  • Ah, now that is actually a much more sensible and logical interpretation. I had not thought of that, but that could actually make sense. Possibly if more than half of the Wizengamot had voted against Harry at the hearing, they would have been legally able to expel him. I suggest you include that in your answer—it could be the best we’re going to get. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 18 '16 at 20:25
  • i always read this as, ministry can never expel a student that is up to the headmaster, (i believe this is mentioned elsewere), and that after a trial the ministry can only take the wand from the offending student. – Himarm Feb 18 '16 at 20:29
  • also dont forget that hogwarts appears to be a private institution, at least in the states the US government cannon force a school to expel a student, they can arrest the student of course. I feel the british governement would have similar rules with interfering with private institutions, and now were in uncharted territories but i assume the ministry does as well, UNTIL this book in which the ministry is seen clearly overstepping its bounds and forcing the school to comply. – Himarm Feb 18 '16 at 20:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.