Snape: "...and the Ministry can punish you if you do magic outside school, you get letters."
Lily: "But I have done magic outside school!"
Snape: "We’re all right. We haven’t got wands yet. They let you off when you’re a kid and you can’t help it."
Severus Snape and Lily Evans as children[src]

Harry Potter inadvertently speaks to a boa constrictor in 1991

Underage magic is any magic used by a wizard or witch who is under seventeen years of age outside of school. While children are permitted to use magic as part of their education, it has been banned from use outside of such under the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery since 1875. Compliance with the Decree is monitored and enforced by the Improper Use of Magic Office at the Ministry of Magic using the Trace Charm. Children under the age of eleven, who have little control over their abilities and no wands, are exempt from the law. Though in wizarding families their parents are expected to keep them under control. The Ministry of Magic can only detect where magic is used, but not who used it. Most experts believe that if a child has magical ability, they will exhibit it by the age of seven.[1]

Accidental wandless magic

Magical children are prone to using magic accidentally when feeling angry, scared, or confused, as a form of self-defence. They typically have no control over this magic.

Known examples

  • Ariana Dumbledore was attacked by Muggle boys after they saw her performing magic, and the trauma affected her to the point of preventing her from ever learning to control her magic. In one of her fits, she accidentally killed her mother in a magical explosion.[2]
  • As a boy, Severus Snape made a branch of a tree snap and strike Petunia Evans in the shoulder when she made fun of him.[3]
  • Before Harry Potter went to Hogwarts, he did several things accidentally using his magical powers. He turned his teacher's wig blue,[4] shrunk one of Dudley Dursley's old sweaters that Aunt Petunia was trying to force him to wear, and found himself on the roof once when his cousin, Dudley Dursley, and his gang were chasing him; this may have been a form of Apparition. He managed to grow all his hair back when his Aunt Petunia gave him a dreadful haircut using a pair of kitchen scissors. He also magically let a boa constrictor free from a zoo after he spoke to it in Parseltongue.[5] In 1993, he lost control of his magic when Marge Dursley insulted his late parents; his anger caused her to magically inflate.[6]
  • Neville Longbottom's uncle Algie accidentally pushed him out of a second story window in one of his many attempts to get Neville to perform magic. Luckily, on this occasion he did and bounced away instead of hitting the ground in what would have been a terrible fall otherwise. [4] He also, as a newborn, magically adjusted his blankets so that he was swaddled more snugly, but nobody noticed.[7]
  • In their childhood, Jacob's sibling shattered a tea set and vase when they sneezed, and brought a flower to life with laughter.[8]

Intentional Wandless Magic

Tom Riddle was able to control his magic from a young age

Tom Riddle: "It's... it's magic, what I can do?"
Albus Dumbledore: "What is it that you can do?"
Tom Riddle: "All sorts. I can make things move without touching them. I can make animals do what I want them to do, without training them. I can make bad things happen to people who annoy me. I can make them hurt if I want to... I knew I was different. I knew I was special. Always, I knew there was something."
Tom Riddle telling Albus Dumbledore of his magical abilities at eleven years of age[src]

Some magical children exhibit mild degrees of control over their magic and are able to use it with intent, but not to cast specific spells, which is an advanced ability (to do magic wandless, not to cast spells) possessed by some adult wizards and witches. According to Albus Dumbledore, it is unusual and even somewhat worrisome for a child to be able to control their magic before the age of eleven. When discussing Tom Riddle's exceptional degree of control over his magic as a child, Dumbledore remarked that his powers were "surprisingly-well developed for such a young wizard and — most interestingly and ominously of all — he had already discovered that he had some measure of control over them, and begun to use them consciously".[9]

Known examples

  • As a child growing up in an orphanage, Tom Marvolo Riddle learned to somewhat control his magic. He could manipulate the minds of animals and creatures (for the free will, thoughts, and minds of animals are quite weak), enchant objects to make them move or travel floating with his mind, inflict harm on those who annoyed him, and speak Parseltongue.[9]
  • As a baby, in the mid 1930s, Minerva McGonagall used to inadvertently summon toys that had been left on upper shelves to her cot, made the family cat do her bidding, and made her father's bagpipes play themselves.[10]
  • Lily Evans displayed some control over her magical abilities as a girl. She floated off a swing set and manipulated the petals of a flower in front of her sister Petunia.[3]

Underage magic with a wand

Harry Potter at his trial for using underage magic

"Dear Mr Potter, the Ministry has received intelligence that at six twenty-three, this evening, you performed the Patronus Charm in the presence of a Muggle. As a clear violation of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, you are hereby expelled from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hoping you are well, Mafalda Hopkirk."
Harry Potter's notice from the Improper Use of Magic Office in 1995[src]

British witches and wizards between the ages of eleven and seventeen are permitted to use magic within school, but not outside it, as legislated in the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery. When any magical activity is performed in the vicinity of an underage individual, the Trace Charm notifies the Improper Use of Magic Office as to the spell that was used and its location. Small infractions of the law will be met with a warning, but knowingly performing magic in a Muggle-inhabited area or in front of a Muggle is considered a crime punishable by expulsion from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as it violates the Statute of Secrecy. Exceptions are permitted in exceptional circumstances, such as self-defence and other life-threatening situations.[11]

According to Albus Dumbledore, although the Ministry can detect the use of magic near an underage witch or wizard, they cannot determine who performed it. This is why Harry was blamed for the Hover Charm used by Dobby at his aunt and uncle's house; since Harry was the only wizard who lived there, the Ministry assumed he was the only one who could have cast the spell. In the home of a wizarding family, it is up to the adults to enforce the rules for underage members of the household (also according to Dumbledore). This is consistent with the relatively numerous incidences of underage magic mentioned as having been performed at home by Fred and George Weasley.

Also, an underage wizard or witch may perform magic outside of school if given permission by a recognised authority figure, as Dumbledore gave a sixteen-year-old Harry Potter permission to use any form of defensive magic during their journey to Budleigh Babberton in case of an attack.[12]

Known examples

Other underage magic

  • At the age of five, Fred Weasley turned his younger brother Ron's teddy bear into a "great big filthy spider" after Ron broke his toy broomstick. This incident triggered Ron's lifelong fear of spiders.[20] It is unclear if Fred did this without a wand and with some degree of control, or if he took the wand of one his parents or older brothers to perform the spell.
  • In 1995, when gripped by his uncle, Vernon Dursley, Harry Potter emitted a defensive charge, apparently as an automatic defensive response.[21]
  • In 1995, at the age of fifteen, Harry Potter cast Lumos despite the fact that his cousin Dudley Dursley had punched him moments before and knocked his wand from his hand. The spell caused the wand's tip to light up.[22] This was a specific spell, which differentiates it from the intentional wandless magic of children who have not yet learned spells, and it also involved a wand, though it was not in Harry's hand at the time.
  • Moments after Neville Longbottom's birth, he magically adjusted his blankets so they were tucked tighter. No one noticed this, and the midwife believed his father had just tucked him in tighter.
  • Nymphadora Tonks learned the Jelly-Legs Curse when she was little.[23] It is unclear if she was able to perform controlled wandless magic, got her own wand at a younger age or used the wand of another person.

Behind the scenes

  • The LEGO Harry Potter game titles allow unlimited use of certain basic magic in certain instances even when Harry is in the Muggle world.
  • In Hogwarts Mystery, Year 2, chapter 1, Jacob's sibling has the option to tell Rowan Khanna that they practised the spells they had learned before during the 1985 Summer holidays.

See also


Notes and references

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 11 (The Bribe)
  2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 18 (The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 33 (The Prince's Tale)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 7 (The Sorting Hat)
  5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 2 (The Vanishing Glass)
  6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 2 (Aunt Marge's Big Mistake)
  7. Writing by J.K. Rowling: "The Quill of Acceptance and The Book of Admittance" at Wizarding World
  8. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 7, Chapter 2 (More Questions Than Answers)
  9. 9.0 9.1 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 13 (The Secret Riddle)
  10. Writing by J.K. Rowling: "Professor McGonagall" at Wizarding World
  11. 11.0 11.1 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  12. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 4 (Horace Slughorn)
  13. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 2 (Dobby's Warning)
  14. F.A.Q at J. K. Rowling's official site
  15. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 6 (The Journey from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters)
  16. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 7 (Bagman and Crouch)
  17. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 10 (Kreacher's Tale)
  18. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 9 (The Dark Mark)
  19. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 6 (The Ghoul in Pyjamas)
  20. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 9 (The Writing on the Wall)
  21. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 2 (A Peck of Owls)
  22. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 1 (Dudley Demented)
  23. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery Year 4, The Trouble with Tonks
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