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Binding Magical Contracts

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Polkiuj, Feb 25, 2018.

  1. Polkiuj

    Polkiuj Squib

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    So as far as I know we have the Goblet of Fire, the Unbreakable Vow and whatever Hex Hemione put on the DA membership list as the only confirmed forms, right?

    The Goblet of Fire made 'binding magical contracts', but to what extent? And it seemed like Crouch could circumvent it when he 'placed Harry's name for him'.

    The Unbreakable Vow kills you if you don't comply, seems pretty straightforward.

    But Hemione's Hex seemed not to require the signing persons informed consent.

    My question is what realistic effects would these types of Binding Magical Contracts have on the society of the Wizarding World, small scale and at large?

    Could there be other variants? (Not including the Fanon Magical Marriage Contracts, please) I'm looking for plausible world-building that doesn't clash with what we see of the canon Wizarding World.

    Thank you.
     
  2. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Magically binding contracts have the ability to guarantee loyalty as well as the absolute performance of certain actions. And yet by and large, wizards have to trust each other much as Muggles do, without certainty of loyalty, and must depend on each other as Muggles do, without guarantee that promises will be fulfilled. The only plausible conclusion is that magically binding contracts are not in widespread use.

    I would suggest that this requires certain things:

    1. It's difficult to trick someone into a binding magical contract. An exception to this might be the parents of children or their guardians who act in loco parentis (such as teachers). It's common in many societies that parents make decisions for their children. This would explain GoF nicely.

    2. There is a social taboo against insisting on magically binding contracts, or otherwise it is simply a matter of convention that people are wary of them.

    And an additional third possibility:

    3. The Ministry has the power to break magically binding contracts which are considered illegal or fraudulently made.
     
  3. Methos

    Methos Seventh Year

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    Much of our knowledge comes not from Experts on the subjects rather from the character view points, who might have flaw information or partial information.
    We don't know if the Unbreakable Vow is really Unbreakable, maybe curse breaker can undo it.
    Nor we know much about the contract in GoF, same about Hermione sign sheet.
     
  4. Sesc

    Sesc Slytherin at Heart Moderator

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    Which examples are you thinking of? The obvious case of loyalty is Voldemort and the Death Eaters, and while we don't know exactly what the Dark Mark does(?), Voldemort simply didn't need to ensure absolute loyalty, because he would just kill you if you ran away.

    The same is true for Bagman and the Goblins, who as far as I can tell, do the old-fashioned thug routine to get their gold back, and that, too, seems to work. Though possibly goblins lack the ability to create such contracts anyway.

    Do we see any other transactions in the books? I mean, there would be something like a principle of proportionality in action, presumably -- demanding an Unbreakable Vow for the sale of a house would be entirely unreasonable, but for all we know, failing to pay what is owed could cause lesser consequences.


    Or are you deducing the lack of magical consequences in everyday life from the existence of the Wizengamot, i.e. a place to settle disputes? In that case, magical contracts could simply be outlawed, by and large, because in times past they were abused, and wizards found it more convenient to settle matters in court.
     
  5. arkkitehti

    arkkitehti Groundskeeper

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    I'd say you should broaden the question a bit.

    A magical contract seems to only be a specific application of wider class of magic, i.e. conditional magic. And there seems to be quite a few examples of that: there's the boat Voldemort spelled that was fine for one person but would sink with more, there's exploding snap cards that are spelled to explode when conditions are met, there's staircases (or was it doors?) in Hogwarts that only exist on one day of the week or something like that, there's Dumbledore's spell on the snitch that made it open when Harry had "accepted death", etc. The trace seems to be this kind of spell, as is the taboo on Voldemort's name.

    So a magical contract is simply a curse or other type of spell placed on a person or a thing that activates when a certain condition is met. What kind of applications of limitations you wish to have to it is again dependent on whether those limitations make for a better story or not. HP magic by nature is pretty much broken, meaning you can MoR the shit out of any of it if you so wish.
     
  6. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast Prestige DLP Supporter

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    @Sesc yeah my point was somewhat broader, i.e. that every human interaction and the entire nature of society would be different in a world where you could trust people entirely.
     
  7. Darth_Revan

    Darth_Revan Secret Squirrel Prestige DLP Supporter

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    Perhaps there are limitations about when and how a magical contract can be used, or what situations it would work in where in others it wouldn't. I think JKR was actually pretty unhelpful on this topic because she was pretty inconsistent with how she used it as a plot device in the books. People threw the term around a lot, but didn't have much consistency.

    For example, Hermione seemed to have created one when she jinxed the sign-up sheet for the DA, but her terms of the contract weren't written, she said them aloud. In GoF, the Goblet was said to have sealed a binding magical contract, but Harry was ostensibly bound by its terms even though he never physically 'signed' or whatever; Crouch did it for him, and yet it still took.

    The most stark version seems to be the Unbreakable Oath, but that seems more like a blood oath than what I would think of as a contract. And the fact that it's unbreakable is disingenuous. It's not that it's unbreakable, it's that if you break it, you forfeit your life.

    It also suggests that other contracts can be broken. So what does magically binding mean, if it can be broken, ignored, etc.?
     
  8. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast Prestige DLP Supporter

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    In the real world, contracts are described as binding even though freedom to breach your contracts is a fundamental part of contract law (known as efficient breach of contract). "Binding" essentially means that agreements that meet certain requirements are recognised at law such that breaking them carries legally enforced consequences (as opposed to performance being unavoidable). So binding magical contracts may indeed still be breakable, it's just that doing so carries consequences.

    There's no need for that consequence to be universal. It could equally depend on the terms of the contract in question. Though I imagine that the Ministry has made laws on what you can and can't put in a contract.
     
  9. Download

    Download Supreme Mugwump DLP Supporter

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    1 and 3) Requires magic to abide by a social construct. I can't personally see it working like that.

    I'd offer another option:

    Creating contracts with relatively minor curses/charms/jinxes is easy, anything more serious is harder. Relatively minor magic is more of a nuisance than life-threatening or debilitating so no one bothers to use it to enforce contracts.

    I've previously proposed the concept of the Goblet being an ancient enslaving device that was modified for use in the TWT. They got the Goblet, slapped some extra charms on it and they had a device that makes people compete in dangerous tournaments. It fits the idea of someone else being able to confound it as it was originally a device designed to force people to do things they wouldn't ordinarily do. I know some slavery was contract based, i.e. a person would agree to slavery for x amount of years to repay debts or agree to slavery as part of an apprenticeship (old fashioned apprenticeships were actually really awful).

    So a person would write their name down and with (potentially) some restrictions on the slavery and then the goblet sees the agreement to completion.
     
  10. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast Prestige DLP Supporter

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    You mean, a social construct like... contracts? Like job positions? Like the difference between Muggles and squibs? Like the difference between secrets and information? The HP magic system is very comfortable with working with social concepts. Indeed, your own suggestion, revolving around slavery, is also a social construct.

    In any case, any explanation based around the Goblet of Fire alone is rather inadequate, given that binding magical contracts are clearly something that exist beyond the Goblet of Fire. The Goblet is just one example of such contracts.
     
  11. arkkitehti

    arkkitehti Groundskeeper

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    The idea is not that magic can't grasp human concepts, but whether a human bureaucratic body has any kind of direct control over magic itself. Going with the concept of conditional magic, sure, you could build in a backdoor condition for the government to break the contract, but if you didn't, then it wouldn't exist.

    Kind of like when Snape attempted to pull rank on the Marauder's Map: perhaps it's required for all legal joke items to obey the authority of a professor, but obviously magic itself didn't consider Snape to be anything more than the person he is.

    Otherwise you could get a situation where the Wizengamot just decides that Voldemort's horcruxes are null and void, ending the war before it started.
     
  12. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast Prestige DLP Supporter

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    That's very binary thinking. You don't have to commit to the position that either the Ministry has no power or that it's God. There is, I feel, some space between them.

    We already know that the Ministry is capable of certain magical feats that individuals and groups of individuals are not. The Taboo is one example. The ability to collapse the magical protections around the Burrow in DH is another.

    One potential cause for this is that authority carries magical significance. Snape's spell in PoA supports this rather than goes against it. Snape, who is one of the foremost experts in magic we know, apparently believes that his position of authority will increase the chance of his spell's success. The fact that his spell nonetheless fails merely means that the magic of the map was still stronger than Snape's authority-augmented spell. It doesn't mean that the position of authority added nothing.
     
  13. Chengar Qordath

    Chengar Qordath The Final Pony Prestige

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    It's also entirely possible that, considering who made the map, there were some sort of enchantments aimed specifically at not letting Snape get anything out of it.
     
  14. Download

    Download Supreme Mugwump DLP Supporter

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    Alternatively the number of people that made up the Ministry would have allowed them to undo the taboo "spell" and it wasn't until they controlled the Ministry, allowing them to block any attempts to undo it that the taboo would work.

    A similar thing could have existed with the Burrow. While the Ministry still stood attacking the Burrow would take longer than it would take for the Ministry to respond, or they needed Ministry resources to break through.
    --- Post automerged ---
    As for Snape, it could have been that he believed it was possible a semi-sentient object might respect his authority.
     
  15. coolname95

    coolname95 First Year

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    I don't really see how a semi-sentient bit of paper that was clearly intended to prank people would respect his authority except if authority carries magical significance. It's possible, of course.

    The other two points may well be true. However, most of the wizards and witches probably (?) don't work at the ministry, and most of the people who work at the ministry aren't professionals at curse breaking. Why should their numbers matter if they don't know how to undo the spell?

    With the Burrow, I can buy it more easily: the ministry probably has greater resources for breaking wards. But the other two, not so much. Magic in the HP universe is pretty whimsical: you can apparently curse the position of a teacher at a school, loving sacrifice can reflect an unstoppable curse, an enchanted car can become semi-sentient on its own etc. I think trying to fit the magical system in HP in to some strict logical "scientific" framework fails to capture important aspects of it.
     
  16. Sauce Bauss

    Sauce Bauss Headmaster DLP Supporter

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    I think that authority holding intrinsic magical power makes sense. Given that things like a teacher's position can be cursed, then the symbolic nature of a position holding greater significance is internally consistent. The precise mechanics of it get kind of fuzzy though, as you were all mentioning with regards to the Weasley's wards. Does the Ministry's inherent authority give them the ability to collapse wards? Do they have access to artifacts that would allow them to collapse most ward schemes? Are wards constructed in such a way that the government can always dismiss them, similar to arguments against cryptography in real life?

    I don't know which of them I prefer, since the inherent authority one seems too broad, but I don't like any of the others either. The least objectionable would be some kind of artifact, but we have no textual evidence of such.
     
  17. arkkitehti

    arkkitehti Groundskeeper

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    My position is that authority has power only if it's given to it. Perhaps it's expected for producers of prank items to build in certain backdoors for authorities, or maybe the intent of the original creator is kept within the magic, and usually that intent is not to defy authority.

    As for the Burrow, it's explicitly stated by Snape in the opening chapter of DH (citing "a source") that the ministry has had a hand in creating the protections around it, and overthrowing the ministry would give the Death Eaters an "opportunity to discover and undo enough of the enchantments to break through the rest". So I don't see there being any kind of inherent "power of authority" the ministry has over the protections at Burrow; they just have the keys because they made the lock...
     
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