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The Five Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration

by David Haber

Elemental transfiguration, the class which Professor McGonagall teaches at Hogwarts, is the magical art of physically converting one thing into another. But as with all types of magic, there are limitations to what you can do with transfiguration, as we learn in Harry Potter and the ly Hallows, when Hermione mentions the five Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration. But she only tells us one of them.

What are the five Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration?

Exception #1: Food

This is the only exception of the five that is stated specifically in the books. In chapter 15 of Harry Potter and the ly Hallows, Hermione uses food as an example the first time she mentions the five exceptions:

"My mother," said Ron one night, as they sat in the tent on a riverbank in Wales, "can make good food appear out of thin air." "Your mother can't produce food out of thin air," said Hermione. "no one can. Food is the first of the five Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfigura --" "Oh, speak English, can't you?" Ron said. (DH pg. 292/240)

Later, in Chapter 29, Neville explains how they discovered the passage from the Room of Requirement to The Hogs Head, and Ron remembers the earlier scene:

"I went through it and met Aberforth. He's been providing us with food, because for some reason, that's the one thing the room doesn't really do." "Yeah, well, food's one of the five exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration," said Ron to general astonishment.(DH pg. 578/465)

This may be the only exception of the five mentioned specifically in the books, but I think we know for sure about at least two others.

Exception #2: Money

We see an example of not being able to create money out of thin air in Chapter 28 of Goblet of Fire:

"Count yer coins! An' there's no point in tryin' to steal any, Goyle," he added, his beetle-black eyes narrowed. "It's leprechaun gold. Vanishes after a few hours." (GoF pg. 544/472)

Earlier in the book, Ron appeared to not have known that the Leprechaun gold wasn't real:

"Excellent!" yelled Ron as the shamrock soared over them, and heavy coins rained from it, bouncing off their heads and seats. (GoF pg. 104/95)

Ron thought he had paid Harry for the omnioculars at the World Quidditch Cup with the Leprechaun gold, and Harry had never mentioned to him that it had later vanished. This is not a contradiction, though. It makes sense that Ron didn't realize that Leprechauns couldn't conjure money from nothing, as we know he also never realized his Mum couldn't conjure food out of thin air, either.

From what we've seen of Harry's world, it is logical to assume there is a restriction that wizards cannot use transfiguration to make money. If you could, no Witch or Wizard would be poor like the Weasleys. Every Witch and Wizard would be rich like the Malfoys, with grand estates and servants.

It's interesting to note here, however, that there is a small difference between the restrictions to elemental transfiguration of food and money. In ly Hallows, Hermione goes on to explain to Ron and Harry:

"It's impossible to make good food out of nothing! You can Summon it if you know where it is, you can transform it, you can increase the quantity if you've already got some --" "Well, don't bother increasing this, it's disgusting," said Ron. (DH pg. 293/241)

But, you obviously can't increase your quantity of money if you've already got some, that would be no different that conjuring it from scratch to begin with. So, it would seem that each exception can have its own special circumstances.

Exception #3: Intentional Curse Damage

Harry has been seriously injured several times throughout the books, and been magically healed each time, including having all the bones in his arm totally regrown from scratch. But in ly Hallows, after George is almost ed by Snape with the sectumsempra curse, we see there are restrictions to healing charms. When Harry asks if George be OK, Lupin says:

"I think so, although there's no chance of replacing his ear, not when it's been cursed off--" (DH pg. 71/64)

Later, Molly gives us even more info:

"I can't make it grow back, not when it's been removed by Dark Magic. But it could've been so much worse...He's alive." (DH pg. 73/66)

There are other examples through the books of wizards with unhealed injuries. Dumbledore's broken nose, Ludo Bagman's squashed nose, all of Mad-eye Moody's various injuries, and Bill's face after being savaged by Fenrir Greyback.

It's possible, in some of those cases, that the wizard did not want to seek treatment (Dumbledore's nose, after being broken by his brother Aberforth) or could not seek treatment fast enough (Bagman, who Harry thought had been injured by a bludger, but who had more likely been injured as the result of a gambling gone bad). But that could not explain Moody. Who wouldn't want to have their real eye? And of course, we know they tried but could not completely fix up Bill.

When describing George's injury, Molly says it couldn't be repaired because of "Dark Magic". I think another way to say this is that you can't transfigure something when it has already been transfigured, and the intent of the original transfiguration was that it not be able to be undone. Obviously, the intended effect of "Dark Magic" would be damage that couldn't be undone.

So, we know Food is one Exception for sure, and I think we can be pretty sure that Money and Curse Damage are two others. I think we can guess about one more.

Exception #4: Bringing a human being back from the

We've been told over and over again in the Harry Potter books that is .

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, in the Battle of the Ministry, after Sirius has fallen through the veil, Lupin tells Harry:

"There's nothing you can do, Harry--" "Get him, save him, he's only just gone through!" "It's too late, Harry--" "We can still reach him--" Harry struggled hard and viciously, but Lupin would not let go... "There's nothing you can do, Harry... Nothing... He's gone." (OotP pg. 806/711)

If you could bring a human back from the , there wouldn't be any need for infiri, which are animated bos that are nonetheless still . Why not bring them all the way back? (Unless you wanted them to be extra scary.)

If you could transfigure a human being back from the , there'd be no need for the Philosopher's Stone, and the Resurrection Stone wouldn't have been one of the three Hallows. But most of all, if you could transfigure someone back from the , Voldemort wouldn't have needed horcruxes to achieve immortality.

So, that's four. But Hermione said there are five Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration.

Exception #5: ?

What's the fifth exception? I can't find any more clues to this puzzle, but they must be there, because J.K. said there are five, and showed us examples of several.

What information in the Harry Potter books can you find which describes or suggests the fifth exception?

As we discuss this topic, I know the subject of Magic is vast, but if we can, please let's try to stick to discussing information given to us in the Harry Potter books, or related to that info (for example, info about Nicholas Flamel). Also, remember we're talking here about Transfiguration. Limitations to the abilities of Professor Trelawney, for example, wouldn't apply to this question, since that's Divination and not Transfiguration.

What do you think is the fifth exception?


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Published April 30, 2008

This article is Copyright © 2008, David Haber, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission


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