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It’s quite clear from the Harry Potter series that doing magic underage is illegal. Two infractions and your wand is broken and you’re kicked out of Hogwarts. The Ministry keeps tabs on underage wizards and witches with the Trace. Harry thought he was bound to be expelled after making his uncle’s sister float in “The Prisoner of Azkaban.”

Yet on the other her hand, we know from “The Deathly Hallows,” before Voldemort took over the Ministry, it was not obligatory for young wizards or witches to enroll in Hogwarts. They could in stead choose to learn all their magic at home with their parents.

A contradiction arises: can a young wizard/witch do magic at home, outside of school? Is it only illegal for enrolled students? If so, why? One could suggest the Trace is only put on the students once they enroll but isn’t it true that the Ministry keeps track of underage Muggle-born witches/wizards with the Trace?

  • Feel free to add quotes – user3814413 Jul 26 '17 at 20:44
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    @TheDarkLord - This is not a dup of that question, but I'm pretty sure I've seen something like this before. – amflare Jul 26 '17 at 21:11
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    I can't provide exact quotes, but in the forth or fifth book while discussing the trace, I believe they also mention the trace is imprecise (which is why they mistook Dobby using spells as Harry doing underage magic.) I believe it was also said that in the case that households have adult wizards, they depend on the adults to enforce the law due to the impreciseness. In effect, this means that only unsupervised underage magic is illegal. – Kai Jul 26 '17 at 21:49
  • @Kai It doesn’t seem it’s illegal to teach magic without going to school as it there is no obligation to show up at Hogworts – user3814413 Jul 26 '17 at 22:00
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    I don't see why everyone is marking this as duplicate. The linked question is related to this one, but only tangentially. – PlutoThePlanet Jul 27 '17 at 13:33
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The law relies on adults to police it outside of school.

The Trace, which allows the Ministry of Magic to monitor underage magic use, is imprecise and can be triggered by anyone around an underage witch or wizard (for example, Harry gets blamed for Dobby's magic in Chamber of Secrets). Therefore, the Ministry relies on adults to keep children's magic use in check. If there are adults in the vicinity of a child when magic is performed, it's assumed the adult was responsible; if not, it's assumed the child was responsible.

Children being taught outside of Hogwarts would almost certainly be in the presence (or at least vicinity) of magic-capable adults nearly all the time, so the Ministry would assume that those adults would be responsible for any magic performed. While it's not technically known whether the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery actually permits a non-Hogwarts student to use magic, the law would definitely not be enforced.

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There is not much information given about homeschooling in the books. However, there are several possibilities as to how homeschooling would not be in contradiction to the law against underage magic.

First, we know that underage wizards are allowed to use magic in Hogwarts (though even then there are limitations). That means that the law prohibiting underage magic is not all-encompassing; rather there are circumstances in which it is allowed (without even getting into emergency circumstances such as Harry fighting off dementors). Given that an exception is made for Hogwarts, it is possible that an exception is made for homeschooling as well. This exception, if it exists, would probably not be carte blanche. For all we know the parents/guardian would have to file specific Ministry applications to receive a permit to allow their students to use magic at home.

Another possibility is that homeschooled children are actually not allowed to use magic. We know from Chapter Twelve of Order of the Phoenix that there was at least one point when the Ministry's position was that magic could be learned without being performed:

Your hand is not up, Mr. Thomas!” trilled Professor Umbridge. “Now, it is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be more than sufficient to get you through your examination, which, after all, is what school is all about. And your name is?” she added, staring at Parvati, whose hand had just shot up.

“Parvati Patil, and isn’t there a practical bit in our Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L.? Aren’t we supposed to show that we can actually do the countercurses and things?”

“As long as you have studied the theory hard enough, there is no reason why you should not be able to perform the spells under carefully controlled examination conditions,” said Professor Umbridge dismissively.

“Without ever practicing them before?” said Parvati incredulously. “Are you telling us that the first time we’ll get to do the spells will be during our exam?”

“I repeat, as long as you have studied the theory hard enough —”

Given that the Ministry would have no real way of enforcing that homeschooled children don't use magic, it is certainly possible that they would end up actually performing magic as part of their schooling; the point is, though, that homeschooling would be legal because in theory it can be done without using magic.

Taken one step further, it is even possible that the Ministry allows homeschooling even if performing magic was necessary for learning. The Ministry might assume that children living in Wizarding homes will anyway be doing magic (since the Ministry can't detect it) so allowing them to be homeschooled would not really be making matters much worse.

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    I would debate whether that was the Ministry's position, or Umbridge's position that she convinced Fudge was the way to take over Hogwarts/oust Dumbledore. I imagine Schacklebolt or Moody or Weasley (etc) would have had a much different viewpoint on actually using magic, whether homeschooled or not. – JohnP Apr 15 at 17:49
  • @JohnP I mean official position. It's possible that many individual employees don't agree with it. – Alex Apr 15 at 17:50

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