Garbage In, Garbage Out

Ginny Weasley was groggy when Madam Pomfrey got her up; she had not sleptwell. Her classmates would continue to sleep for another half an hour; she wasbeing woken up early to compensate for the time she would lose transferring toher proper dormitory.

“You’re good to go,” said Madam Pomfrey. “You’re keyed into the wards so thatyou can enter any girls’ dormitory in the school. Don’t worry about thelavatories; there aren’t any gender-based wards placed on them in the firstplace, in case of emergencies. And we just checked to see if you’re beingpossessed by any Dark Lords. Rest assured, you’re not. Oh, and you got an owlfrom your mother.” She handed Ginny a letter and started away, but stopped andturned around. “If anybody asks why you were here, tell them you had anallergic reaction to the interior of the Sorting Hat.” Then, she left.

Ginny examined the letter; it was the distinct red color of a Howler. Well,then, she’d better open it now, in the privacy of the Infirmary, rather thanwaiting until she was in a more public place. Despite their nickname andreputation, Howlers weren’t always sent in anger as a punishment. Sometimes,they were simply the magical equivalent of voicemail, used for messages thatit was determined needed the precise inflections of speech. Nevertheless, theyhad a reputation for being loud and embarrassing to listen to within earshotof others. Ginny ripped the seal on the envelope, and the letter unfurled andfloated in the air in front of her, and began to speak in her mother’s voice:

“Ginny! I’m so sorry if I gave you the impression you had to go to Gryffindor.I’m not disappointed or upset at all. I am a bit surprised, though, of course,for obvious reasons. I didn’t actually hear about your Sorting from you first– a few of your brothers wrote home about it too. But don’t worry that itmeans that you’re Dark, or we won’t love you. Ginevra Weasley, you are a greatwitch, and I know that you will accomplish great things. You have a greatsense of right and wrong, too, and you don’t need to go to Gryffindor Housefor that. They say the winds are changing and Slytherin House might come outmuch better than it has been during my life. As for the other thing… I’m notgoing to say it out loud, because it is very much a secret, which nobodyshould know about. But don’t worry about that, either. It was a bit of asurprise for me to hear about that, too, but not a complete surprise. Becausethe truth – which I should have told you about much earlier, but I neverthought to, sorry – is that that’s a Prewett family secret. Some of us can dothat. I can’t, neither of my parents could, none of your brothers can, as faras I know. But sometimes it happens. I believe your uncle Gideon could, whenhe was alive. Use that talent for good if it ever comes up, but stay out oftrouble with it if it doesn’t. Don’t stress, make good grades, and have fun! Ilove you! Goodbye, Ginny.” And the letter made a puttering sound, and rippeditself into shreds and went up in fast-burning magical flame. Well, thatanswered some questions as happily as she could imagine them being answered…but Ginny doubted she would send her mother a follow-up letter asking why hersoul was recognized by the wards as a boy.

Soon, Ginny had packed up all of her supplies and was ready to move into theSlytherin Girls’ Dormitories. On her way downstairs, she was met by herbrothers Fred and George, who were also up early. They cheerfully hissed ather.

Very amussing,” said Ginny.

“Ooh, you hiss better than us,” said Fred.

“Did they teach you that in Slytherin?” said George. They showed no sign ofcomprehension, confirming her mothers’ claim that her brothers could not speakParseltongue, and she tried to smile. Deep down, she still had not forgiventhem for whatever mystery prank they had pulled last year (or at least thatshe suspected them of pulling), to get a news story printed that she wasengaged to Harry Potter. The point of the prank was that it was a joke, athing ridiculous on its face, that there was no way on Earth that Harrycould wind up with Ginny Weasley, of all people. She had barely been the buttof the joke at all; the real victims were Rita Skeeter and the Daily Prophet.But she had still been a butt of the joke, and it had been a very cruel joke.They knew how she felt about Harry, everyone teased her for it, especiallyFred and George, who took every opportunity they could to tease anybody.

“So are you applying to run a first year army?” said George.

“Or are you too busy getting your Dark Mark done?” said Fred.

“Ron’s absolutely certain he’s going to be one of the second year generals,”said George.

“Wouldn’t count on it if I were him,” said Fred. The structure of Hogwarts’Defense class was very different this year. In honor of Professor Quirrell(also known as Professor Monroe), much of the class’s curriculum would betaught by the seventh year generals, who had been selected over the summer, invast independent study sessions. The seventh year generals would also pickthree generals each from each of the six lower years, and each year wouldfight battles similar to those arranged by Professor Quirrell. The only ruleon who could be selected as a general (besides that all generals needed toapply voluntarily) was that no one could be a general in two consecutiveyears. The actual Defense Professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, had some authority,but was more of a supplementary guest lecturer on Special Topics In BattleMagic than the true leader of the class. The true leader of the class was thestill-burning spirit of Professor Quirrell.

“I might sign up,” said Ginny. “I might not. I have a lot on my mind.”

“Slytherins always have a lot on their mind,” said George.

“You can see it in their eyes,” said Fred.

“They’re deciding who to help – for now,” said George.

“Who to screw over,” said Fred.

“How to best get their way,” said George.

“How to best prevent their enemies from getting their way,” said Fred.

“Ambition and cunning, those are the Slytherin traits,” said George, but Ginnyhad already walked away. She didn’t want to hear any more.

The next human being Ginny saw was Draco Malfoy, who was arguing with hisHouse Elf about something.

“These are completely useless,” said Draco, holding up a stack of papers withsomething illegible scrawled on them.

“Dobby is very sorry!” said Dobby, who was crouched on the floor, holding ontoDraco’s leg. “Dobby will do better next time!”

“No, I’m not sure you will,” said Draco. “I’m not sure you understand what youdid wrong. I told you to write notes on all of my schoolbooks, that I couldstudy. Maybe that was a mistake. This is illiterate gibberish about thebindings, types of paper, fonts, formats… Absolutely nothing about thecontent.”

“Dobby did best Dobby could,” said Dobby. “Dobby is very sorry that that wasnot good enough.”

“Dobby,” said Draco, “can you read?”

“No, sir!” said Dobby. “House Elves are not allowed to learn how to read, forfear that we might launch a rebellion against the wizards! We can only readand write in shorthand. If we try to learn the regular way we shrivel up anddie.”

“Oh, well,” said Draco, sarcastically, “I’m glad we cleared that upbeforehand. Why didn’t you tell me you couldn’t read when I asked you to?”

“Master told Dobby to look through his books and take notes for Master tostudy,” said Dobby, “and Dobby did his best.” At this point Dobby was tryingto grind his head off with the floor.

“Stop!” commanded Draco, and then his attention changed. “Ginny! I didn’tnotice you.” He gestured for Dobby to go to his room, and he teleported away.

“Hi,” said Ginny. “It sounds like you’re having some House Elf trouble.”

“Yeah,” said Draco. “He’s been in my family for my whole life, but I’m notquite used to ordering him around. I only just inherited him, when-” Hestopped, and choked up.

“I heard,” said Ginny. “My condolences.”

“And when Mother reappeared, she decided to let me keep him,” said Draco.

“My family doesn’t have one, so I wouldn’t know where to begin to help you,”said Ginny. “My parents say it’s wrong to keep House Elves, but they can’teven afford one, so what would they know?”

“I think that it was wrong to make House Elves, but now that they’re here,what are we going to do?” said Draco, “Commit genocide?”

“That’s exactly the line of reasoning I’ve taken up,” said Ginny.

“Yeah,” said Draco. An awkward pause. “Oh, um, by the way… I noticed yourproblem last night. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else noticed, but I’mnot going to tell anyone about it.”

“Okay,” said Ginny.

“It’s a common enough problem, and it’s not your fault,” said Draco. Hedecided not to add “and I have no interest in destroying you.”

“Thank you,” said Ginny. She decided not to add “I worried about that allnight.”

“You seem like the kind of person I’ll be interested to get to know,” saidDraco. “You’re not like any other Weasleys I’ve met. I think the Sorting Hatwas right to put you in Slytherin.”

“Thank you,” said Ginny, and she smiled.

“See you around,” said Draco.


Ginny arrived in Charms class after she had selected her bed in the SlytherinGirls’ Dorms, and placed her books and supplies beside it. “Selected” mightnot be accurate terminology, seeing as there was only one bed left, betweenPansy Parkinson and the wall. But she was sure she would soon acclimate to hernew home; it was certainly better than the Infirmary.

Professor Flitwick tapped on his glass with a spoon to get the class’sattention.

“Good morning!” cried the Professor.

“Good morning, Professor Flitwick,” said the class, half excited and halfasleep.

“I’m sure you’re all very excited to finally begin performing magic of yourown,” said Professor Flitwick, “but we will begin with basic Charm theory. Cananybody tell me what a Charm is?”

There were no Hermione Grangers in the class that day.

“A Charm,” said Professor Flitwick, writing on the board, “is the opposite ofDark magic. Now, can anybody tell me what Dark magic is?” Colin’s hand shotup.

“Yes, Mr. Creevey?” said Professor Flitwick.

“It’s bad, evil stuff bad, evil people do!” said Colin. “It’s stuff what hurtspeople.”

“One point to Slytherin for an honest attempt,” said Professor Flitwick, “butincorrect. Correct in the general vernacular, but not in an academic context.Can anybody else tell me what Dark magic is?” Nobody could. “Dark magic ismagic that cares about your intent to cast it. A Charm does not.”

Everyone frantically scribbled down notes copying what Professor Flitwick hadwritten on the board; it screamed “quiz question”.

“I’m not sure where the idea that Dark magic was evil and Charms were goodcame from,” said Professor Flitwick. “Personally, I blame the Patronus Charm.It’s not a true Charm – it’s some of the Darkest magic out there. But it’svery much associated with ‘the good guys’, perhaps for good reason. And thenwe have all sorts of tyrants going around calling themselves Dark Lords, forvarious reasons I find too morbid to discuss. But the truth is that, in atheoretical sense, Dark magic is magic you need to mean to cast, and Charmsare magics that simply do not care what you mean. You will perform both atHogwarts.”

“Of course, it’s a spectrum,” continued Professor Flitwick. “Many Charms haveDark qualities, and all Dark spells have Charm-like qualities. But there aremany misconceptions about what these things mean. Dark spells are not moredangerous than Charms! Dark spells are more likely to be designed as weaponsin the first place. But a Charm can be much more dangerous than a Dark spell,because you can cast it without thinking about it! Many wizards will simplynever be able to muster the malice to cast the Killing Curse, or many otherCurses. But they will be well-able to cast Charms, in combat, to kill; mostcommonly with Diffindo, the Severing Charm, which will sever arteries just aseasily as it severs vines.”

“Furthermore,” said Professor Flitwick, “Charms are more dangerous to castthan Dark spells, because they do not care about context, they only care thatyou have fulfilled the terms of the spell. Let’s take a simple example,Wingardium Leviosa. Do not take out your wands, I am merely speaking about thespell. Wingardium Leviosa, the Levitation Charm, may be modeled as a simplelogic gate.” He illustrated the concept on the board. “If you say theincantation correctly, and make the correct wand movements, the target willfloat – or, more accurately, I suppose, the Charm will try to use some of yourmagical energy to make the target float; it won’t do any good if the target istoo large and your magic is too weak. If any of the conditions of the logicgate are not met, the Charm will not recognize it and the target will notfloat no matter how strong your magic is or how little energy is needed tolevitate it.”

“A student once asked me, ‘if I point at the wrong object, will the spellapply to the correct one?’,” said Professor Flitwick. “I cannot imagine whatpossessed him to ask such a question. No. If you point at the wrong object,the correct object will not levitate. The wrong object will levitate. TheCharm does not care what you wanted to do. It only cares what you did.”

Garbage in, garbage out, thought Colin Creevey, who had briefly studiedprogramming before learning of the existence of magic.

“Some Charms are more complicated,” said Professor Flitwick, “and havemultiple parts, which act as multiple logic gates. For example, Scourgify, theScouring Charm, requires the proper incantation and a series of three wandmovements. If the incantation is incorrect, the Charm will not be activated atall. The first wand movement performs the first part of the charm, whichsummons soap and water. The second wand movement performs the second part ofthe charm, which actually cleans the target. The third wand movement performsthe third part of the charm, which dispels the soap, water, and detritus.”

“The multipart nature of such Charms allows for complex failures with complexresults,” continued Professor Flitwick. “If the first wand movement is failed,but the rest of the charm is performed correctly, there might be some slighteffect on the target, but not a significant one, because the soap and waterare necessary for the Charm’s functions. If the second wand movement is theonly point of failure, on the other hand, then soap and water will brieflymanifest but will do little. A failure in the third wand movement will leavethe soap, water, and detritus in place, potentially further complicating one’scleaning needs.”

“As I said, many Charms have Dark components,” said Professor Flitwick, “andall Dark spells have some Charm-like qualities. Most notably, many Charms havea safety feature wherein basic knowledge of the Charm’s function is part ofthe requirement for the Charm to activate. This is technically a Dark safetyfeature, and blurs the line between a Charm and Dark magic. We would all bebetter off if more Charms were designed with such features in mind, but youcannot count on them. Never use an entirely unknown Charm except when you arebeing supervised by someone who does know its function and has instructed youto use it. When using a Charm of which you have vague awareness, do not besurprised if you run into complications originating from your gaps ofknowledge. Ignorance of a Charm is no excuse, and a Charm works precisely howit works, not how you expect it to work.”

“A Charm is not intelligent,” concluded Professor Flitwick. “You areintelligent. A Charm is a law of the universe. It has been there as long asanybody can remember, it will be there forever so far as we can predict, andit will not move to accommodate you. It will only move in its own way, and youmust use your intelligence to decide when to exploit that. By next class Iwant a full-scroll flowchart where you tell me how to determine what I amdoing wrong if I am attempting to cast Wingardium Leviosa on my chalkboard andit is not raising. Class is dismissed early, and I advise that you all take anap.”

Ginny followed the rest of her class to the dormitories, and on her bed, sheconsidered Draco’s House Elf problem in terms of Professor Flitwick’s shortCharms lecture. It occurred to her that, while the core of a House Elf’s brainundoubtedly ran on pure Dark magic – it wanted nothing more than to do exactlywhat its Master wanted – most of its brain probably operated through Charms,unable to do anything but what it was told, using only information it knew inpatterns it knew. In fact, Dark magic could all ultimately be reduced down toCharms – Charms where the condition of their action is a feeling in someone’shead, but Charms nonetheless. By extension, all brains were in a senseentirely reducible to logic gates – but what would that mean? Ginny didn’twant to think about it.


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