FICTION | Hogwarts Is a Trade School!

By Shaun Tan

By Shaun Tan

Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and Staff Writer

20/9/2021

They say our world is magical.

 

You’d think a race that evolved around magic would be more blasé about it, would have taken it for granted by now. But no, our society can never shut up about how magical it is, and so everything is magical this and magical that. Some species of animals are, rather arbitrarily, dubbed “magical creatures” (grindylow, hippogriffs, flobberworms), whilst others (frogs, platypuses, regular worms) are not. We report crimes to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and register brooms at the Department of Magical Transportation. We don’t play checkers and chess; we play Wizard’s Checkers and Wizard’s Chess – presumably whilst sitting in Wizard’s Chairs and drinking out of Wizard’s Cups.

 

They say our world is magical, but it never felt very magical to me.

 

Take Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, for example, best magic school in all of Britain, and, supposedly, the world, though, of course, it’s the only magic school in Britain and one of just 11 in the world. What do you imagine it’s like there? Inspiring, delightful, edifying? Wrong; it sucks. It’s well-known that Care of Magical Creatures is taught by a grossly incompetent Hogwarts dropout and Divination is taught by a complete fraud. But I even found the more capable professors to be sorely lacking. Why, for example, does chocolate help you recover from an encounter with Dementors? Because Dementors suck all the happiness out of you and chocolate is “pure happiness,” according to Professor Brindlemore. And how do spells work, exactly? How is it some budding witches and wizards sometimes cast them without even knowing the words? How does that make sense? “They just work,” snapped Professor McGonagall, exasperated, “they’re magic! Honestly, Ms Quinn, we live in a world with magic and dragons and elves, and you expect things to make sense?” That tells you everything you need to know about “education” at Hogwarts.

What do you imagine it’s like at Hogwarts? Inspiring, delightful, edifying? Wrong; it sucks.

Hogwarts is also not what you’d call a safe place. There are all these random dangers strewn about the school. On the school grounds is an extremely violent willow tree that tries to kill anyone who approaches it. The castle has staircases that suddenly detach from their platforms and swing to connect to others while you’re using them for, like, no reason. You won’t find this in the prospectus, but every year a bunch of students fall to their deaths as a result.

 

What else? There’s only one sport at the school, which is Quidditch, so unless you’re one of the seven people on your house’s Quidditch team all you can ever be is a spectator. Quidditch itself is an extraordinarily stupid game, since it gives outsize importance to one member of each team (the Seeker), and everything everyone else does is almost always irrelevant.

 

The truth is I spent most of my time there wishing I was a Muggle, at a Muggle school. Why? It’s hard to say; both my late parents were wizards – my father an auror, my mother also an auror, because, really, there aren’t that many professions in our world, and so I had no exposure to the Muggle world. I suppose growing up I’d heard my parents talk Hogwarts up, tell me how my years there would be the best time of my life, and when I got there and found it didn’t measure up, I felt disillusioned. I had this vague, groping feeling that there should be more to school life than this, more to it than a shallow, unsatisfying education, than sitting in the stands and pretending to care about Quidditch, than avoiding pointless death on campus. I sought out Professor Mudd, who taught Muggle Studies, who was able to tell me about Muggle schools. I was astounded. Could it really be that they actually taught students to understand the world around them? That they had multiple sports you could participate in? That they weren’t filled with deathtraps?

I spent most of my time at Hogwarts wishing I was a Muggle, at a Muggle school.

Other students mocked me for being a “Muggle wannabe,” but I didn’t care. Those notions sparked an obsession in me, and so by the end of my second year at Hogwarts I had made up my mind: I would leave Hogwarts, and the wizarding world, and enter a Muggle school, and the Muggle world, to see what I was missing.

 

I remember the elation I felt the day I left Hogwarts. “Goodbye, shitty medieval school!” I sang. “Goodbye, unexamined life! Goodbye, stupid homicidal tree!”

 

The first order of business was obtaining Muggle money. This was easy enough. I seriously have no idea why any witch or wizard would ever be poor. The Weasley family, for example, was famously poor, but I suspect they chose to live that way out of some rustic affectation rather than genuine need. A witch will never want for anything material, not when she can conjure up all sorts of things at will. Yes, of course, the Principle Exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration include money (which is bullshit, really, because actually anything can be money) and precious metals, which means you can’t conjure them into existence. But what’s to stop you from conjuring up diamonds or sapphires or jade or oil and then selling them in exchange for money? Absolutely nothing.

 

Long story short, after a few weeks I’d conjured myself up a small fortune, enough to pay my fees at one of the best schools in London. It wasn’t hard getting in – a false memory charm or two got me past admissions, but no spell could have helped me with what came next.

 

Wizards and witches in Britain are usually homeschooled (rather badly), you see, and my parents homeschooled me until they passed away, shortly before I began at Hogwarts. My first two years at Hogwarts had taught me to cast spells and brew potions and little else. And so it was that matriculating into year 9 at age 14, I found that I had the education level of a 10-year-old Muggle child. My reading and writing were rudimentary. Mathematically, I could barely multiply and divide, let alone handle fractions or geometry. Worst of all was science, geography, and (Muggle) history, of which I was almost completely ignorant.

 

The first half-year was a morass of shame and confusion. To everyone else there, I was the stupid kid who didn’t know anything. But I worked my ass off, and I stayed back for extra remedial classes after school, and I picked things up quickly. I learned a great deal. I learned how to use punctuation, how to build an argument, how to appreciate poetry. I learned how to work out probabilities and calculate the area of a circle. I learned about energy and tectonic plates and the Magna Carta. Most shockingly, I learned that Britain was not actually the center of the Muggle world, that beyond the sea was another country, the United States, a former British colony whose power now dwarfed that of its parent.

 

Determined to learn more about this new country, I crossed the sea to New York. I rented an apartment on Madison Avenue and enrolled at one of the private schools in the city.

 

In America, I learned just how terrifying the Muggle world could be. At my school we had active shooter drills, in which we practiced how to barricade the doors and hide if a deranged gunman were to enter the campus. Guns freaked the hell out of me. Wizards generally have a condescending attitude towards Muggles, but the power any Muggle with a gun wields is stupefying. The deadliest spell in the wizarding world is the killing curse, Avada Kedavra, but even that can only kill one person at a time, and can only be cast by a wizard of considerable power. And yet, any teenager with an automatic rifle can kill a roomful of people at once. How insane is that?

In America, I learned just how terrifying the Muggle world could be.

Indeed, what could wizards really do against guns? A Protego spell can deflect one bullet at a time, if the caster gets it up before the gunman pulls the trigger, which she almost certainly wouldn’t, and it would be next to useless against a volley of bullets. Wizards like to think they are the most dangerous thing there is, but if a Muggle with an AR-15 entered Hogwarts, he’d probably kill dozens of people before anyone could stop him.

 

Later, I’d learn that guns were the least of Muggles’ weapons, that their full arsenal included fighter jets and tanks and nuclear missiles, all employed by professional militaries of thousands, sometimes millions, of people. I came to understand one of the reasons why wizards try to hide their existence from Muggles: if the Muggle world ever turned on the wizarding world, the latter would be toast.

 

The Muggle world wasn’t all dangerous, though. For example, it’s much safer than the wizarding world when it comes to rape. In the wizarding world, rape is endemic. This is what happens when memory charms are, for some stupid reason, not illegal, and there’s no such thing as DNA testing. Anyone can just rape you and then wipe or alter your memory, and you’ll be none the wiser. I, like most other people, have no idea how many times, if any, I’ve been raped in this way, but there’ve been occasions when I seem to have lost track of time and found something that seemed suspiciously like semen in my nether regions. Quite a few witches I know seem to have gotten pregnant from this, and some speculate this may be behind the phenomenon of so-called “virgin birth.”

 

Another perk was the sheer variety of things in the Muggle world. Unlike the wizarding world, in which almost every product and service is provided by a monopoly, in the Muggle world many different brands compete with one another, which makes for a way better customer experience. Take Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, for example, the only brand of jellybeans in wizarding Britain. Bertie Bott was clearly a sadistic asshole since “every flavor” really does mean every flavor and you have no idea which it is until you try. You might get lucky and pop a jellybean into your mouth which turns out to be “toffee” or “pecan,” but it might just be “earwax” instead. I once threw up after eating a shit-flavored jellybean. Muggle jellybeans are much better since they, you know, only contain nice flavors. If Bertie Bott lived in the Muggle world, he would quickly have gone out of business.

 

Anyway, I found school in New York to be a feast for the mind. Because I came from a world without anything like it, unlike many of my schoolmates, I never took my education there for granted. I became a learning machine, consuming vast amounts of information daily and constantly studying and reading. Imagine my delight when I discovered that, unlike wizards, many Muggles didn’t stop formal education at age 18, but usually had at least four more years of university after.

 

The more I learned, the more apparent the shortcomings of a magical education became. I realized that Hogwarts, supposedly the greatest seat of magical learning in the world, is actually what Muggles would call a trade school – a polytechnic! It’s like going to school to learn to be a lawyer or plumber or electrician! Think about it: pretty much all people ever learn at Hogwarts is how to cast spells and brew potions. There are no classes on maths, so students are generally unable to do any but the simplest sums. There are no classes on science or geography, so students aren’t taught how the natural world works. There are no classes on politics or economics, so students aren’t taught how society functions. There are no classes on ethics and philosophy, so, though they learn magic, students aren’t taught how they should use it. And there are no classes on art, or music, or literature, these things that help make life worth living. The closest thing to a class at Hogwarts that actually helps students understand the world is History of Magic, but it’s taught by the notoriously boring ghost Professor Binns, and is taught in an incredibly idiotic way that mostly involves memorizing names and dates.

I realized that Hogwarts is actually a trade school – a polytechnic!

Most damning of all is the fact that, whilst it calls itself a magic school, Hogwarts barely teaches anything about the nature of magic. There is no class on the theory of magic, and what few explanations we get on how magic works are deeply unsatisfying. For example, are spells invented or discovered? Invented, is what we’re told. But if spells are just a way of unlocking power, isn’t that more of a discovery than an invention? And if spells are invented, how were they invented? If a spell wasn’t just waiting for the right person, the right words, and the right wand motion to activate, what exactly did whoever invented it do to enable people to cast it henceforth? And why do spells always seem to be derived from Latin, especially since magic is thought to have originated in Africa? How did the ancient Greek witch Circe cast spells when Latin wasn’t even invented yet then? Not only do our eminent professors fail to answer these questions, they never even bother to explore them.

 

But then again, no one in the wizarding world more broadly seems to be thinking about these questions, and here we hit on one of the biggest failings of our world – just how shallow and pig-ignorant we are. Magic is our crutch, and it has made us incredibly intellectually lazy. Because so many injuries can be healed with a wave of a wand, we never really bothered to understand how the human body works. Even those wizards obsessed with the purity of blood have no understanding of genetics, and no idea how magic is passed on. British witches and wizards fly exclusively on broomsticks, even though they’re hugely uncomfortable (which is unsurprising, since brooms are designed for sweeping floors, not riding) and not very aerodynamic, and no one really knows why. Our technology is stuck in the Middle Ages. Against all reason, we still write with quills and ink instead of ballpoint pens. Muggle doorbells work using electricity – pressing the doorbell completes a circuit that triggers a sound. Know how wizard doorbells work? You trap a pixie in a tiny box behind the doorbell. Pressing the doorbell compresses the pixie, making it scream an alert. Wizards are completely ignorant of electricity, of course; even those who are considered Muggle experts can’t even pronounce the word properly, and there is no wizarding equivalent. This is despite the fact that there is lightning in the sky during thunderstorms.

 

Our institutions are similarly underdeveloped. All of wizarding Britain is served by one bank, and our entire monetary system is based on three types of coins of impractical prime-number denominations, and wizards have to carry sacks of coins everywhere. Our justice system is opaque, lacks all due process, and is so absurd that it allows judges to preside over cases involving their own children.

 

But what did I care, right? I was out of that vale of ignorance, getting the education I always wanted. I had cut all ties to that primitive society and never intended to go back.

 

One day in class, though, one of my teachers taught us about Plato’s allegory of the cave. Many people live in darkness and ignorance, Plato said, as if they’re stuck in a cave, oblivious to the rest of the world. Occasionally, one of them will manage to escape and experience the wonders of the world outside. She’ll learn that there’s so much more to life than staying in that cave, staring at shadows on the walls. When this happened, this enlightened person had a responsibility, a duty, to return to the cave and educate her fellows, guiding them out into the light.

 

Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit! Plato was right. Now that I was out, now that I had seen the light outside the wizarding world, I realized I had a duty to go back.

Now that I had seen the light outside the wizarding world, I realized I had a duty to go back.

I arrived back in Britain four years after I had left Hogwarts. Immediately, I sent an owl to Ayesha Patil, one of my former classmates, who was now in her final year at Hogwarts. I’m back, I wrote. I have something very important to show you. Meet me in the basement of the Hog’s Head next Friday at four. Bring as many others as you can.

 

Because I was no longer a student at Hogwarts, I decided to pick the Hog’s Head Inn in the neighboring village of Hogsmeade as a neutral ground. Besides, I needed to demonstrate to these people the wonders of Muggle technology, much of which wouldn’t work within the magic-saturated environment of Hogwarts.

 

I booked out the basement of the inn and arrived early to set up my demonstration. At four, Ayesha arrived, with a bunch of others in tow. I was surprised at how many came. Here was Kathy Smythe, Valerie Steele, and Celeste Wong from Ravenclaw. From Gryffindor came Denison Creevey and Zaid Shafiq. I saw two Hufflepuffs I recognized: Patricia Duff and Grover Macdonald. Gregory Yaxley and Lamina Greengrass represented Slytherin. Together with them were about a dozen other students I didn’t know from the years below.

 

But of course they were curious to see me – the prodigal daughter who dropped out from Hogwarts and turned her back on the wizarding world. Some who remembered me came for sentimental reasons, others out of a morbid fascination, still others, I realized, had come to sneer.

 

Well, I’d show them a thing or two. I’d show them what I’d learned in my four years away. As I looked at them, I felt a thrill of excitement, my mind bursting with the possibilities of cross-pollination between the Muggle and wizarding worlds. How might magic be used to help solve the climate crisis, for example, a crisis that affected the Muggle and wizarding worlds alike, even if the latter was unaware of it? And why not apply the scientific method to the wizarding world, to analyze unicorn blood, determine the heritability of magic, even understand the nature of magic itself?

 

But I was getting ahead of myself; first, I had to impress them. It’s not easy to impress typical wizards. As I’ve said, they’re generally uninquisitive and shallow. They are blithely ignorant of the world, and knowledge cuts no ice with them. If I were to tell them of the things Muggles have discovered, of the four fundamental forces, the elements of the periodic table, the theory of evolution, they would regard it as esoterica and their eyes would glaze over. No, I had to show them things technology could do that magic couldn’t.

 

“As some of you will know,” I said, when they had taken their seats, “I used to be a student at Hogwarts. Four years ago, I left the school to live in the Muggle world. I learned a great many things. I learned that, in many ways, Muggles are much more advanced than we are.”

 

This triggered a round of sniggering.

 

“Muggles, more advanced than us?” laughed a boy.

 

“Have you gone native, Quinn?” called Greg Yaxley, to more laughter. “Are you a Muggle yourself now?”

 

I felt my face flush. If there’s one thing I hated about the wizarding world, it was this dismissive attitude towards Muggles, this oblivious, casual arrogance. Most of the students were chuckling or looking bemused. Only Ayesha looked at me encouragingly.

If there’s one thing I hated about the wizarding world, it was this dismissive attitude towards Muggles, this oblivious, casual arrogance.

Gritting my teeth, I proceeded with my demonstration. I fired up the laptop I had brought with me, turned it to them, and played a movie.

 

It’s odd, isn’t it, that wizards are so unfamiliar with a technology that in the Muggle world is so old and ubiquitous? Surely, they must have come across videos before or heard about them from those who were Muggle-born? But no, most wizards in Britain live in communities completely insulated from the Muggle world, and what few Muggle-born wizards there are usually don’t talk much about their heritage to avoid scorn. There’s nothing like video in the wizarding world – the closest there is to it are crappy enchanted photographs, which play a few seconds worth of motion on an endless loop. Thus it was that most of them sat there entranced through half an episode of Gossip Girl.

 

Naturally, after that, they too were curious about the small devices the characters in the show used to communicate. Admittedly, so was I when I first entered the Muggle world. I remember being confounded by these electronic gadgets that buzzed and bleeped and that seemed so important to Muggles. I whipped out my own phone to show them. I demonstrated how it worked by FaceTiming a friend in New York. That impressed the hell out of them. Wizarding methods of communication are awful. Most communication is still done through owl post, which is ridiculously slow. The other method, via Patronus – literally sending a spirit animal to the person you’re trying to contact to speak with your voice – is even slower. The only means of instantaneous communication is via the Floo Network, which involves creating a special green fire in a fireplace, and then sticking your head into the fire and talking. Of course, this requires both parties to be in front of a fireplace at the same time. The idea that you could communicate with anyone from anywhere through a small device that fit in your pocket was incredible to wizards.

 

“Does it work using eckeltricity?” asked Celeste Wong.

 

“Yes,” I said. “It’s powered by a battery, which contains energy and converts it into electricity to perform these functions on command. And it’s connected to all these other devices in this global network.”

 

They were coming around now. Their air of condescension had vanished, and whilst some of the Slytherins still acted aloof, they weren’t doing a very convincing job of it. Ayesha beamed at me.

 

“Now I’ll show you something I discovered,” I said. “You might have noticed some large iron rods in the corners of this room wrapped in wire. You’ll see more wires linking the rods together in a circle around us, and connecting to this device behind me. This device is another battery, though much bigger and more powerful than the one in my phone. When I flip this switch, it sends electricity through all the rods, turning them into what are called electromagnets.”

 

I flipped the switch, completing the circuit.

 

The students held their breath, expecting something dramatic. When nothing happened, there was a titter of nervous laughter.

 

“Ok,” I said. “Now try casting a spell. Any spell will do.”

 

The students all pulled out their wands and tried casting incantations.

 

“I…can’t!” exclaimed Ayesha.

 

“Neither can I!” gasped a boy.

 

“Try a non-verbal spell,” suggested Greg Yaxley.

 

“I can’t do that either!” said Kathy Smythe, slightly hysterically.

 

I smiled. “You see, when I flip the switch, it creates what’s called an electromagnetic field, which seems to interfere with spellcasting. It’s known that a high concentration of magic causes electronic devices to malfunction, but it seems with electromagnetism the converse is true, too: a strong electromagnetic field disrupts magic! I first noticed this effect myself when I was experimenting with-”

 

“What did you do to us?” demanded a girl.

 

“I can’t cast anything!” wailed another.

 

“As I was saying,” I said, raising my voice above the din, “I’ve tried this on myself before, and when I switch off the field everything’s back to normal. But think what this means about how magic works! My hypothesis is that magic-”

 

“Stop this, stop this right now!” sobbed Patricia Duff.

 

“Give us back our magic!” yelled a boy.

 

I glanced around the room, saw all of them with their eyes wide with terror. It dawned on me that I’d forgotten something very important: wizards are so proud of their magic, and there’s nothing, nothing in the world that would scare them more than losing it.

Wizards are so proud of their magic, and there’s nothing in the world that would scare them more than losing it.

They’re still in the cave, I reminded myself, it’s no wonder a little light frightens them.

 

Denison Creevey, his face white as a sheet under his mousy brown hair, spluttered, “This is, this is- dark arts!”

 

Others took up the cry. “Dark arts! Dark arts! Dark arts! She’s a dark witch!”

 

I rolled my eyes. This again. The death of Voldermort and the end of his reign of terror didn’t seem to have made many British wizards feel secure. If anything, they’d since grown more paranoid, seeing dark magic behind everything they didn’t understand.

 

“These are not dark arts!” I protested, angrily. “It’s just science.” I looked vainly at Celeste Wong, smart, practical Celeste Wong, for support. “I’m just trying to figure out how magic works. Isn’t that what us Ravenclaws are supposed to do?” But Celeste just shrank back in horror.

 

I turned to Ayesha, but the smile was gone from her face, replaced by superstitious terror.

 

I reached for the battery and flipped the switch, turning the circuit off.

 

“There,” I said. “I’ve deactivated it. You’ll all be able to use magic again. Now everyone please calm down.”

 

But their fear was now a living thing. Greg Yaxley raised his wand and muttered an incantation and tendrils of force lacerated the battery behind me. Lamina Greengrass blasted one of the iron rods to the ground. Others didn’t use their wands at all, instead they kicked at the rods and tore at the wires with their bare hands.

 

“Stop!” I shouted. “You don’t have to do this! Don’t-”

 

I never saw who cast the spell, but it hit me from the side and slammed me against the wall. I gasped as the air was knocked from me and convulsed on the floor in pain. Then another spell made my whole body seize up and I was unable to move.

 

Mobilicorpus,” someone commanded, and my nerveless body was suddenly suspended in midair, and the students marched me up the stairs and out of the inn.

 

I felt the cold air on my face as we emerged into the street.

 

Dark witch!” the students shrieked, Kathy Smythe and Zaid Shafiq and Grover Macdonald, even Greg Yaxley, whose own uncle was a famous Death Eater. “Dark witch! Dark witch! Dark witch!

 

Paralyzed, all I could do was look frantically around and curse myself inwardly. I’d forgotten how fearful the ignorant often are.

 

“Burn the dark witch!” someone suggested, and the students set to work conjuring up a wooden stake and pyre.

 

Other people poured out of the inn and nearby buildings to see what was going on, and curious pedestrians stopped to watch.

 

Incarcerous!” said Aberforth, the innkeeper, and ropes shot out of his wand and bound me to the stake.

 

I looked at my former schoolmates, their eyes glazed with fervor, spittle flying from their lips as they chanted “Burn! Burn! Burn!

 

They’re still in the cave, I thought, tears leaking from my eyes, they know not what they do.

 

Denison Creevey raised his wand. “Incendio!” he cried, and with a whoosh my pyre went up in flames.

 

The people around me cheered as the flames licked my body and the firelight danced like sparks in their eyes.

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