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.