Aunt Marge’s Big Mistake

chapter two of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry puts up with a visit from Aunt Marge for a week, but things turn disastrous on her last night when Harry loses control and blows her up like a balloon. In a fit of rage, he then grabs his things and storms out the door.

The Dursleys' Big Family, by Helene Sirois

Harry went down to breakfast the next morning to find the three Dursleys….


Uncle Vernon, by Tealin Raintree

“Right,” he snapped finally. “I shall monitor your behavior carefully during Marge’s visit. If, at the end of it, you’ve toed the line and kept to the story, I’ll sign your ruddy form.”


Aunt Marge, by Laurence Peguy

On the threshold stood Aunt Marge.


Aunt Marge, by Laurence Peguy

She seemed to be swelling with inexpressible anger – but the swelling didn’t stop.


by gerre

“MARGE!” yelled Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia together as Aunt Marge’s whole body began to rise off her chair toward the ceiling…. Harry tore from the dining room before anyone could stop him.

(by gerre)


about the chapter


Anyone want to take bets on whether Marge (clearly the bully in the family) is Vernon’s older or younger sister? None of the Dursleys seem to like it when she visits, so it’s hard to imagine why she comes. She must just enjoy pushing around her younger brother and being nasty to Harry from time to time; otherwise why bother? She and Vernon must have had a very interesting childhood growing up together….

The Power of Magic

It’s sort of funny that Harry didn’t get an official warning from the Ministry of Magic for making Aunt Marge’s wine glass explode. They don’t come after him later, when he blows up Marge, because they don’t have time before he leaves the house and disappears. But he’s in the house for several days after the glass explodes, so why wouldn’t he get a letter? It seems likely that the strength of the magic involved is important – even Muggles don’t consider a broken glass to be a big deal, and if Aunt Marge really does have a firm grip, it would only take a tiny bit of magical force to explode the glass. Other spells, like Lumos, also don’t seem to register strongly enough on the Ministry’s sensors to trigger a warning. I wonder how they determined how strong the sensors should be?

47 Responses to “Aunt Marge’s Big Mistake”

  1. The last portrait of Aunt Marge has a Quentin Blake quality to it, which is wonderful. Thanks for posting twice this weekend–Prisoner of Azkaban is definitely my favorite book and I can’t wait to read what insights you may have!

  2. maybe the exploding wine-glass was a combination of both Harry’s magic and Marge’s firm grip on them. Therefor, Harry only had to give a tiny, little push of magic before it broke… just an idea:P

  3. Yes – great idea Kim. That’s basically what I was thinking, but I didn’t put it nearly so eloquently as that. ;)

  4. You know it’s interesting that you mentioned “minor” bits of magic because I’ve always wondered about Lumos. Harry uses it to light up the place where Sirius is watching him, and later on, in GoF Hermione uses it in the forest right before the Dark Mark is cast into the sky. Lumos seems to not register as a spell at all, I’ve always wondered why that was.

    Also, I LOVE the last Aunt Marge!

  5. I’ve edited the commentary a bit to reflect what you all have brought up – very good points.

    Lola, remember that when Hermione uses Lumos it’s in a forest surrounded by wizards, so nobody at the Ministry would have thought anything of it. On the other hand, it’s also true that when Harry uses Lumos in the alley, the Ministry is probably already actively looking for him, and his using magic doesn’t seem to help them find him (unless maybe it registered but he was gone before they got there?). Either way, it’s hard to say what registers and what doesn’t. I bet we could ask Fred and George though, I’d imagine they have a pretty good idea how much you can get away with. ;)

  6. I always wondered if Colonel Fubster, was a wizard and accidentally broke the glass while Aunt Marge was visiting him.

    As to Fred & George, they live in a wizarding home where magic is routinely used. How would the ministry know if it was them or their parents?

    I love both Aunt Marges. In the first, her expression and pearls exactly mirror her bulldog.

  7. For Fred and George–it probably hast to do with the Trace, since the underage wizards would have it and their parents wouldn’t. Most wizarding families would be similar to theirs (entire families of wizards), so there’d have to be a way to distinguish between the kids & I’m not sure how that would be done in a wizarding household (since the Ministry mixed up Dobby and Harry in book 2, although that might’ve been part of Dobby’s magic).
    I bet small, accidental magic like Harry’s wouldn’t register that well since there’d be no Muggles around to see it.

  8. When we have the trace explained to us, we’re told that the ministry counts on parents to enforce the underage wizardry restrictions in wizarding homes.

  9. I think, Aunt Marge is the older sibling. As we see in DH, Ch.33), Petunia must be not considerably older than Lily, since she is using a whip-set and was startled at the appearance of Severus Snape, who was just a 10yo boy at that time. I would estimate Petunia not more than 3 years older than Lily. So she must be arround 24, as Lily died. Vernon was already Director of a company at that time, so he must be at least in his early 30, making the age-gap between Vernon and Petunia. Aunt Marge required already a walking stick, when Harry was still a little child, so she must be at least in her advanced 40s.

    And now to the so-called “Trace”:
    As Tom Riddle was underaged, he was even able to do the Avada Kedavra 3 times without being detected. So I guess, that the Trace was just put on underaged wizards, who have already a record of doing magic outside school and/or run afoul of the MoM.

  10. Marco, Vernon is a big lad but part of his authority is based on his size. I’m afraid he would keep himself somewhat fit in order to dominate his surroundings more readily. But Marge is just plain self-indulgent, in her overall behaviour and her eating habits. If she needed a walking stick as a fairly young woman, I bet it’s because she needs extra support for her obese body!

  11. in GoF the trace just showed underage magic was happening, but there were to many wizards. It’s the same with the wizard family were they can’t see who did magic, just that it happened. The parents have to control it. Otherwise Harry didn’t use his wand to brake the glas. I don’t think the ministry can trace accidentally magic. I think they just noticed, that something was wrong, cause Harry left the house and the protective spells around him. And Cornelius must have been quite sure, it has something to do with Sirius.

  12. I liked Marco’s point about Tom Riddle. I had never thought of that before.
    Another scene in which Harry doesn’t get in trouble for using Lumos was in OotP when the dementors came.
    I think the reason Harry didn’t get in trouble for the glass breaking was because it wasn’t like he said an incantation–it was accidental. Though I don’t know why he would get in trouble for inflating Marge then…
    A question about the Trace: wouldn’t the MoM know that Harry didn’t cause the floating pudding, because house-elf magic is different then human magic?
    Just some thoughts… thanks for the blog, it’s awesome!

  13. Actually, Marco, I just realized that your point about the Riddle murders doesn’t exactly apply, because we later find out that it was actually Morfin who killed them. Tom did perform the Imperious curse though, so why wouldn’t he have gotten in trouble for that?

  14. Lara: I’m thinking that the Trace not only picks up ‘underage magic’ but also whether or not it’s affecting Muggles and the likelihood of it being explained without mentioning magic. That, or the Trace picks up everything and then the Improper Use of Magic office determines the same thing. After all, what’s a little Lumos incantation compared to conjuring a patronus in front of a Dementor?

  15. In the picture of Marge and Ripper, they both seem to have the same facial expression, which is marvelous! They always say people become like their pets after a while..

  16. Hi, Lara – are you sure about Morfin killing the Riddles? I was sure it was Tom Riddle (Frank Bryce told the police when he was saying he was innocent that he had seen “a teenage boy, a stranger, dark-haired and pale” near the house) – but Morfin was under the imperious curse to plead guilty to having done it. Tom also told Harry later on that he himself had killed his father.

  17. Lara and Electa:

    Tom Riddle stupified Morfin, took his wand and murdered with that wand his father and his paternal grandparents. Afterwards he he discarted the wand beside the still unconcious Morfin and falsificated his memory. But Tom Riddle never used the Imperius Curse on Morfin. But still a big amount of underage magic in Little Hangleton without the MoM noticing. And it took hours, before MoM officers were sent to the scene. But in Harrys cases of underage magic the MoM reacted very quickly.

  18. Marco, I think you’re on to something: it was certainly underage magic, but neither inadvertent pre-Hogwarts magic nor magic done with a schoolboy wand. Perhaps the fact that the wand belonged to a legitimate adult wizard meant that the Ministry wouldn’t pick up that it was being used?

  19. good point about the wands the trace could be linked to them i think the ministry is sloppy they give harry a warning when dobby uses magic and then try to discredit him with it three yrs later they should have know it wasn’t him not the only example either

  20. I think this was all answered in HBP. Dumbledore says that the trace can detect magic no matter what kind, but if an adult wizard lives in the house or around the place the magic was performed they don’t attend to it because it could be the adult casting a spell. I remember this so clearly because I thought about how the Weasley twins must get away with a bunch of stuff.

  21. Could it be possible that when Harry uses lumos in the alley, because sirius, an adult wizard, is nearby, maybe the ministry treated it the same way they would with a wizard family?

    This website’s brilliant by the way! I never really thought of the books in this way, but it certainly gives you a lot to think about! Thanks and keep updating :)

  22. But then wouldn’t they realize that the only wizard that lives near Harry Potter’s house is a Squib and, therefore, there’s a wizard performing magic in a Muggle residential area and that should probably be checked out?

  23. We learn from the case of Ariana Dumbledore in Deathly Hallows that it is unhealthy for a witch or wizard to bottle up their magical ability. Suppressed magic tends to burst forth dangerously when emotions are heightened. We also see this with young wizarding children who often exhibit magic when they are frightened or angry. It surprises me then that the Ministry of Magic doesn’t recognize the seeming health concern posed by prohibiting underage wizards from using magic outside of school. Obviously, young witches and wizards at Hogwarts are being taught how to control their magic, so maybe the Ministry thinks that the two-month summer break is a “reasonable” amount of time for students to refrain from its use (the law is called the ‘Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery’ after all). However, after breaking the glass in this chapter, Harry reflects: “It had been a long time since he’d lost control and made something explode.” And surely the reason why he ends up blowing up Aunt Marge in a moment of rage is because he hasn’t had any outlet for his magic for all summer. By contrast, we never see Harry cause accidental magic at school, despite the fact that he must feel similar levels of anger at times in his encounters with Malfoy or Snape. This also makes me wonder about the young wizards who are home-schooled rather than taught at Hogwarts. Are underage wizards allowed to perform magic if being taught by their parents at home? If not, wouldn’t this be just as bad a situation as that suffered by Ariana Dumbledore?

    One of the things I love about this chapter is our first glimpse of Sirius Black on Muggle TV. Harry usually feels starved for news from the wizarding world while on summer break, and here the two worlds actually come together and he doesn’t know it yet. I also love how Uncle Vernon says the “Lunatic could be coming up the street right now.” Little does he know that Sirius is very interested in this neighbourhood of Little Whinging!

  24. Andrea, I don’t think I agree with your idea that “bottling up” magic could be dangerous. Ariana Dumbledore had no problem at all with her magic until she was viciously attacked by Muggle boys, destroying her ability to control herself – only then did her magic become dangerous. As for Harry blowing up Aunt Marge, don’t you think that the cause of that was at least 90% due to his overwhelmingly strong emotions in the moment? These seem to me to be isolated cases, and have pretty clear alternate explanations other than magic being “bottled up.”

    As far as Harry’s emotions with Malfoy or Snape go, I don’t think they’re nearly as strong as with Aunt Marge. Remember that Marge has been needling him all week, and doing so in a place where he has been spending months with no friends, nothing to make him happy, and no ability to fight back in any way. I think his emotions in that scenario would be substantially stronger than with Malfoy or Snape.

  25. I love Laurence Peguy’s picture of Marge and Ripper… Especially how he made them look similar.

  26. On a much different note… these times when Harry’s on Privet Drive have started to make me think about how the Dursley’s have prepared Harry for fighting against Dark wizards. The only specific thing I can think of in this chapter is his bargain with Vernon about the permission slip. His whole life with the Dursley’s is constantly about narrow escapes (from physical harm) and talking his way in or out of things. Seems to be good practice.

  27. Marge is being an absolute cow towards Harry! She deliberately teases and taunts him and waits for him to retort, and when he doesn’t, she decides to go over the touchy subject that is how Harry’s parents’ death, making him explode with anger. And I thought Vernon and Petunia were bad. They teased him but never mentioned Harry’s parents at all.

  28. Responding to The Power of Magic, I’m pretty sure the Ministry of Magic lets Harry off because expelling him from Hogwarts would put him in danger of being attacked by Sirius Black. So, they allow Harry to use wand light, to let a glass explode, and they even excuse him blowing up Aunt Marge like a balloon!

  29. Regarding how strong the magic has to be, I think it probably has to do with how obvious it is that the magic is magic and therefore how big a threat it is to wizarding security. A lit wand could be a novelty torch. A wine glass exploding in someone’s hand could be explained away by too firm a grip. A pudding hovering in the kitchen however, if seen, is very obviously magical, as is a patronus. Likewise blowing up your aunt.

    Jumping in on the Trace argument, it’s actually surprisng that the Ministry didn’t detect Tom’s Avada Kedavra curse, even if it was done with another wizard’s wand. It can’t be the wand that has the trace on it because then they would be tracing use of the wand and other wizards in the vicinity couldn’t be blamed for the spells it casts, and since an adult is unlikely to use a minor’s wand they’d be immediately able to trace all underage magic back to the underage wizard, including in wizarding households. At least magic done by minors who are of school age and own a wand anyway.

    If the trace is on the invidual, which is more likely, Morfin couldn’t have been blamed for Tom’s magic, because the Ministry would know that Morfin couldn’t have triggered the trace without there being another, underage, wizard in the vicinity. Whether they would have caught Tom I suppose depends on whether the Trace is unique to the individual or the same on all minors, i.e. whether the Ministry’s sensors say, “Tom Riddle is using magic in Little Hangleton” or “an underage wizard is using magic in Little Hangleton” and then they look on a list of wizards in Little Hangleton to see who it might be. If the latter, Tom might have been gone by the time they got there and so wouldn’t have been caught because he doesn’t live in the area and wouldn’t have been suspected. Does that make sense?

    On a different subject, I like the development of Harry’s character in PoA. He changed a little between PS and CoS but here we see his temper beginning to emerge more. There were minor incidents of it in CoS but I remember saying on a message board regarding Harry’s behaviour in the Shrieking Shack that I thought his temper would get him into trouble someday – and then OotP came out. :) Dear Harry, a teenager for barely a week and already acting like it. Lol. It’s also worth noting that it’s remarkable how Harry managed to turn out as well-adjusted as he did considering the personal insults he had to endure growing up.

  30. I think that “Lumos” would have registered; I mean, Harry still has the Trace on him and it detects magic, but it can’t tell exactly who cast it. I think it wasn’t registered because Sirius was there, and also because it was a moment of necessity. Also, something to think about the Trace. The Ministry expects parents to enforce laws in their own home, but because the Trace can’t pick up individual casters, it only really works when there are no overage wizards around. So why, when most of the wizards in the world have at least one magical parent in the world, is this law a good idea? It’s to preserve the Statute of Secrecy, but other than that, it’s down to the parents to enforce the laws.

  31. Could the rules about underage wizardry have changed between Harry’s time and Riddle’s time? It would make sense as a parallel to the muggle world, where children used to be allowed to run around on their own and do whatever they wanted in the “olden days.” Now safety is more of a concern, and that isn’t done anymore. Maybe the wizarding world is the same way; the trace might not have been implemented until the ministry started seeing underage magic as something worthy of concern.

  32. Cassidy and Laura II, I always thought of the Trace as being one of those things that just helps the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. They’d have a record of every time it went off, so if there’s other evidence that somebody performed significant underage magic, or performed magic in the presence of a Muggle, this could help make the case. It does seem a little weird, though, and a little bit like an invasion of privacy.

    On top of that, I find it interesting that in DH it’s made to sound as though the trace could only be put back on Harry by a wizard in his presence, but that clearly isn’t happening to, say, Muggle-born children. So how does it happen?

  33. Hmmm… after rereading my post above almost a year later, I don’t think I agree with myself either! Josie, I never saw your response until now, but I completely agree with you that it was the emotion of the moment.

  34. The ministry didn’t send Harry a letter warning him about his magic use probably because Fudge or someone told them not to. Remember he was so glad to have found Harry on the Knight bus, and he dismissed Harry’s questions about being expelled. I think that because of Sirius Black being on the loose, no one at the ministry wanted Harry expelled from Hogwarts- they want to keep him safe- hence the extra protection around it that year.

  35. Also leaving the house before the ministry could send a letter isn’t really relevant… after all the owls seem to be able to find a person exactly where they are- an owl could certainly find Harry only a few streets away from his house- if the ministry had sent a letter.

  36. maybe the you are only sent a letter about he trace when you do magic in front of a muggle. just food for thought

  37. I’m puzzled that Harry has been forced to call Marge Dursley “Aunt Marge” all his life. Certainly Marge hates the thought that Harry is in any way a member of her family. Wouldn’t she insist that Harry call her “Miss Dursley” on the grounds that he wasn’t her nephew by blood?

  38. I think I can answer my own question. “Aunt Marge” has a measure of authority over Harry that “Miss Dursley” doesn’t. Marge, Vernon and Petunia can insist that Harry sit still and let Marge be horrible to him “because she’s your aunt and you need to respect her.”

  39. Sorry if this has been mentioned, but Harry’s unpunished use of “Lumos” in the alley is not a plot hole: Fudge decided not to press charges for Harry’s blowing up of Aunt Marge, due to Sirius being supposedly after Harry, so it makes sense that he would also not react to Harry’s much more minor use of Lumos.

  40. I don’t know if there is a real St. Brutus’s Secure Center for Incurably Criminal Boys but does it exist within the books since that was how Vernon explains Harry’s time at Hogwarts.

  41. The Dursleys at dinner can’t be a pretty sight, what with currently-five-chinned Dudley shoveling down countless pieces of pie, Vernon and Marge getting drunk, and Petunia’s wincing at the mess.

  42. Jeremy, there isn’t a real St Brutus’s. It wouldn’t be politically correct to refer to a child as “incurably criminal”. There are institutes for young offenders, but the youths are not sent home for the holidays as if they were at boarding school! However, I don’t believe St Brutus’s exists even in Harry’s universe. While the Muggle characters are somewhat caricatured, they are basically supposed to live in the same Britain as we do. If the neighbours believe the Dursleys’ tall story about a semi-prison school for “incurable” delinquents, then we are supposed to understand that they are shallow, gullible and Dursley-ish.

    Scenes like the blowing up of Aunt Marge are exactly why some people consider Harry Potter an immoral story. The young hero should not be allowed to get away with such rampant disrespect towards his elders. (He certainly should not be allowed to stand up to his abusers.) But the problem with this scene is that his elders are disrespecting his real parents. If Harry had sat quietly and said nothing, he would have been acquiescing in this disrespect. So he is caught both ways. And the anti-Harry lobby simply doesn’t want young readers to think about this kind of moral dilemma.

    The reality for Harry is that he either had to stand by to let innocent people be slandered – or stand up and challenge the guilty.

  43. Harry’s growing up and clearly displaying emotions par to that of a rebellious teenager. His fit of rage even made the “cupboard burst magically open”, even without blurting an incantation. I suppose this, somewhat, has something to do with nonverbal spells but since Harry’s is only a result of his anger, it shows that he still needs more practice.

    Re: About The Chapter. Aunt Marge is evidently more infuriating than the rest of the Dursley family members combined. Her self-centeredness and indifference to others’ feelings are shown when she indirectly offends Petunia and, of course, insults Harry countless times. She even blames Harry’s parents to be drunks when she, herself, is drunk at that precise moment! Seriously, she deserves to be inflated like a balloon!

    Reading about Fudge and Harry’s conversation later on, I have reason to believe that the Ministry did detect the glass-breaking and Lumos spell Harry elicited. They just passed it off as nothing because nobody wanted to expel Harry from Hogwarts just when Black had escaped. ;)

  44. I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I read the previous chapter. I’ve returned to uni and everything has been hectic. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find a spare hour here and there to read.

    It’s interesting just how manipulative Harry is in this chapter regarding his permission form. Voldemort was able to charm and manipulate people to get what he wants and Harry is using some of the same skills here. For people so different they do have similar traits.

  45. Why was Harry force to call Marge “aunt” she she is not a blood relative of his?

  46. Regarding the Trace and use of minor underage magic…

    I’ve always seen the Trace as something that can pinpoint the use of underage magic, but not explicitly state who performed it. It’s the only explanation that really makes sense to me, given what we know about the Ministry’s sloppy record.

    I like to think of it as like Muggle cops ignoring smaller offenses against the law. If they see you going 5 mph over the speed limit, they probably won’t pull you over and write a ticket. But if you’re street racing and going 90 in a 30 zone, you’re going to court. The same applies to magic. If there’s a Lumos spell or a bit of accidental magic performed in Little Whinging, then alright. But if there’s a big giant hover charm performed in front of 5 muggles, Harry’s got some explaining to do.

    It just seems like it would be way too much effort (not to mention way too time consuming) to chase down every kid who does a simple charm during the summer. Harry, Fred, and George can’t be the only ones! :)

  47. Why does it matter whether Fudge understands that it was a house elf and hot Harry who did the magic last year?

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