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Big Brother Is Watching You?

After the publication of The Deathly Hallows, I found myself disgruntled with Rowling over some things.  A study of HP web forums shows that I am not alone in this feeling.  In this book, there are two major issues in which she seems to have thrown narrative consistency completely out the window.

The first is the moldy old issue of the Fidelius Charm.  I've written another essay about that one, but I bring this up because the other big problem in DH, and the one that relates to the subject of this essay, is the issue of underage magic.  However, unlike Fidelius, it can be resolved—but only by making the assumption that characters are mistaken in what they say about it.

Consider this timeline:

  • In Chamber of Secrets, Harry receives a warning from the Ministry due to the Hover Charm cast nonverbally by Dobby.
  • In Prisoner of Azkaban, the Ministry detects the wandless magic Harry accidentally performed on his uncle's sister, but does not punish him.
  • In Goblet of Fire, Arthur Weasley performs magic to fix Dudley Dursley's tongue after his sons feed him candy that makes it expand.  No one receives a warning.  We can assume that Arthur took care of this as a Ministry official, perhaps even deactivating the tracking magic before he went to the Dursleys'.
  • In Order of the Phoenix, Harry performs a Patronus Charm and gets in serious trouble.  While smuggling him out, the Order members perform a variety of magic in his house, including a Disillusionment Charm and Scourgify.  Nothing comes of it.  We will have to assume that those members who were in the Ministry took care of it in secret before leaving work.  (Why they didn’t Side-Along Apparate him out of there is completely beyond me. I don’t think Rowling had invented that yet.) It's later revealed that Harry is the only wizard living anywhere near Privet Drive, as the Minister himself bellows that they have no record of anyone else.
  • In Half-Blood Prince, we view a memory of 16-year-old Tom Riddle meeting his uncle Morfin in a Muggle village.  It is revealed that he knocked out his uncle by magical means, and later that he committed three murders by the Avada Kedavra curse.  He also performed a memory modification charm on his uncle.  Given that J. K. Rowling has since revealed that Riddle used his father's murder for the Ring, I now strongly suspect that Riddle also cast the Horcrux curse that very night as well.
  • Shortly after viewing this memory, we learn from Albus Dumbledore that the Ministry cannot identify the specific spellcaster when an underage wizard performs magic in the vicinity of an adult wizard, and that is why no one went after Riddle, and why Harry was blamed for Dobby's charm.  We get a further demonstration of this in the sea cave, where Harry performs a number of spells far away from Hogwarts, but he is with Albus and he is not where anyone would suspect him to be, so no one finds out.
  • In Deathly Hallows, we learn that this tracking spell is called the Trace, and that, according to Remus Lupin and others, it could provide the Ministry with Harry's location, even if adult wizards are around.

Cue to Sesame Street.  One of these things just doesn't fit in here, one of these things just doesn't belong....

Here's an undeniable fact:  If the Order of the Phoenix was right in DH, then it should've been game over for Tom Marvolo Riddle when he killed his Muggle relatives.  If they had a spell on him that identified magic no matter where he was, and identified spells by name, then there was more than enough evidence to lock him in Azkaban and throw away the key even if I'm wrong about him creating the Ring Horcrux that night.  Even if the spell did not identify him as the caster. It still would have identified “underage magic,” and Morfin wasn’t underage. That meant that the Ministry would have gone looking for someone who was underage, and given the names of the victims, he is the obvious suspect. There is absolutely no way around this.

I'm inclined, given the evidence, to take Albus's word over anyone else's.  I also think the Trace is put on locations rather than people. Although the Trace can identify specific spells that are cast within its boundaries, and therefore should have alerted the Ministry that someone had used a Stupefy, three Avada Kedavras, a memory modification charm (thereby casting serious doubt on any “confession” made by anyone), and possibly the Horcrux spell, it seems that the Trace is only useful in identifying underage magic if the young person is in a place where the Ministry expects them to be.  In HBP in the sea cave, Harry performs a number of spells far away from Hogwarts, but he is not where anyone would expect him to be, so no one finds out.  (After all, the Ministry didn’t know where he was! The Minister himself had to ask.) Riddle was supposed to be at the orphanage at the time, since it was summer.  He wasn't expected to be in Little Hangleton, so the Trace didn't pick up on it. The Ministry only found out about the murders after the fact.

If underage wizards were being tracked all the time because the curse is on their bodies, that also would apply to the time they are at school, and it means that the Traces would be going off all the time in the Ministry with unnecessary and extraneous alerts of magic being performed at Hogwarts. It also would be going off all the time when magic was performed in pureblood and half-blood wizard families’ houses.

Do you think that Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy would have kept their son from doing spells in the house on the Ministry’s say-so? (That would make it rather inconvenient if Lucius himself wanted to cast a Dark spell during times when Draco was around, wouldn’t it?) Or that the Blacks would have kept Sirius and Regulus from it? In point of fact, they didn’t. Sirius attached posters to his walls with permanent sticking charms before he ran away at age 16, which means before he came of age. (Let’s hope so, anyway. It’s pretty pathetic for a man in his mid-30s to plaster bikini models and centerfolds all over his walls because he is “bored” and has cabin fever.)

Uh-huh. That’s right. I don’t think the Trace is merely useless in wizard families. I don’t think it’s even put on anyone except children who are being raised by Muggles. And it is not for the benefit of wizard secrecy, because their families already know about magic. Moreover, all the Tracing in the world cannot stop unintentional outbursts of magic like Harry had in his third year—outbursts that would, in all likelihood, be more likely to occur when people did not release their magic in a controlled manner. I bet that provoking such outbursts among Muggle-borns and reinforcing their “threat” to security was an added bonus and would be used to perpetuate the “necessity” of the Trace every time an incident occurred.

However, the original purpose of it was probably a way to let “blooded” wizards practice during the summer while the Muggle-borns couldn’t, thereby giving them an edge at school. It’s cynical, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised in the least. It is the kind of thing that you would see an awful lot of if you looked at the Jim Crow era in the U.S. or the Nazi era in Europe. The targeted group “had” to be kept down because some immutable characteristic allegedly, according to the government, made it a risk to security (the wizards), neighborhood safety (black people), or economic stability (Jews). Unlike both real-world eras, the targeted group was not banned from participating in society at any level as adults, but the public had long been under subversion by having the Trace specifically on Muggle-raised kids while their own kids could do as they pleased.

The public was trained to just accept that this was OK because of “security.” They’ve been trained to be terrified of Muggles discovering magic. But the real purpose of the Trace was to create a framework in which one specific group would be denied the ability to practice magic and subject to severe penalties if they did. Expulsion from Hogwarts would not automatically spell doom for a person who wanted to get O.W.L.s and become a qualified wizard, but Muggle-born students would not readily have tutors who could teach them at home, and we already know that they are not admitted to Durmstrang. (We do not know about Beauxbatons. Part-human wizards are clearly welcome, indicating that the school is more liberal than Durmstrang and would probably admit Muggle-borns, but I will bet you anything you like that French is the language used there.) The effective result of this would be that if they had so much as two incidents while underage, their opportunity to become a “real” wizard was over. Racism, or blood-ism, was official Ministry policy long before the Death Eaters took it over.

And Molly Weasley’s self-righteousness about underage magic in her house is probably just a function of her frankly idiotic belief that authority is to be respected simply because it is authority, period. (This also explains why she believed the libel of Rita Skeeter about Hermione Granger. It’s just a part of her personality.) I don’t think she has it in for Muggles, and she certainly doesn’t object to Muggle-born wizards, but I also don’t think that she is so uptight about underage magic at home out of some political stand of solidarity. I doubt it even occurred to her that the Trace had a sinister purpose. She probably bought the “security” aspect hook, line, and sinker, and applied it to her own kids (“it’s for their own good too, since they don’t really know what they’re doing yet”). We know that she didn’t let them associate with other children in the area. She has a history of restricting them in the interest of “safety.”

I just wish that Rowling had been more careful of what she wrote.