Disclaimer: Jo's world, I just live there.
Summary: This is a companion to Time For Me. In writing that fic, I found myself, in three chapters and a prologue, delving into time travel theory, apparition theory, and ward theory. All of these I had thought through extensively because of various other parts of the book yet to come, mostly to deal with Aries' later profession as Voldemort's jinx-smith. As I didn't want to have to delve in depth in the middle of my fic into my personal theories of magic in Rowling's world, I have decided to present you with a book written anonymously (by Aries), explaining the workings of everyday magic for the everyday person.
Magical Basics Expounded
By: A Quiet Life
Chapter 1 Magical distinctions – charms, jinxes, hexes, and curses
Chapter 2 Potions – how and why it is not 'just like cooking'
Chapter 3 Transfiguration – quarks and the laws of the universe
Chapter 4 Charms – levitation, summoning, banishing, vanishing, conjuring
Chapter 5 Shields – wards, ward-threads, and technique
Chapter 6 Transportation – apparition, disapparition, portkey, and floo
Chapter 7 Dark Magic – and why the Unforgivables aren't
Chapter 1: Magical Distinctions – Charms, Jinxes, Hexes, and Curses
One in the beginning of their magical education may wonder about the distinction between spells. What draws the line between a charm and a curse? A more curious person may look into the ministry guidelines (Spell Regulation, volume 4, sections V-XII), but the complex phrasing needed for regulation circumvents almost entirely the complex magical differences involved in classification.
First one must understand the nature of Magical Sense, and what can be viewed through it. Magical Sense develops as a witch or wizard grows into their majority, usually between the age of sixteen and twenty, though this can vary from individual to individual. All wizardkind have some Magical Sense – that is, some ability to discern instinctively the magic around them – though the majority will never have more than a vague feeling, from a tingling on their nose to the hairs on the back of their neck. As this book is intended for all readers, a full description will be given of each spell.
The primary method of spell distinction is Intrinsic Detriment. Intrinsic Detriment poses the question: Removing any extra-ordinary circumstances, is the spell intrinsically harmful or intrinsically neutral? A Neutral spell is automatically classified as a Charm; for example, levitation does not automatically harm its target. Now, this must of course be qualified, as magic itself is neutral; "magic, as a basic element of the universe, is not sentient and does not adhere to abstract terms such as Good or Evil" (Oberon Mailer's Sorcere and the Defiance of Morality, pg 103). Even the Killing Curse is still just a spell – magic with a purpose; that most would call the purpose evil is beside the point. But I digress, as this will be covered in Chapter 7.
Other spells, neutrality aside, are Detrimental, causing – again in average circumstances – discomfort or embarrassment in the target. These spells are later placed in categories based on degree of discomfort, but all will eventually be classed as Jinxes, Hexes, or Curses.
The secondary aspect of any spell is the presence of visible color, as this is also the first level of distinction. Charms, jinxes, and low-level hexes have no color. Argument could be made against this with the example of lumos, the Light Charm, but here the light, and any color from it, are the Spell-Effect, not the magic of the spell itself. Let me explain; in the case of the Stunning Curse, the magic is visible as a red bolt, the Spell-Effect is unconsciousness of the target. In the Light Charm, the magic is invisible, the Spell-Effect is a glowing wand-tip.
So, the second distinction of a spell is Invisible or Visible. This basically cuts the class of Detrimental spells in half. All Jinxes are invisible, all Curses are visible, and Hexes straddle the border. In order to identify whether an Invisible spell is a jinx or a hex, or a Visible a hex or a curse, the spell must be examined in its spectrum. Visible spells are, naturally, classed according to the visible light spectrum, while Invisible spells are classified by the MSS, or Magical Sense Spectrum. This is the reason why all Spellsmiths are wizards with powerful Magical Sense, they must be able to see invisible spells through their magical eyes. I will not go into describing the MSS, for that would be – and is – another book all in itself (Barry Bottle's Magical Lights: An In-Depth Look at the Magical Sense Spectrum), but suffice it to say that the warmer the color, the lower-level the spell. Spells green and above are low-level Hexes, yellow and below are Jinxes. In the Visible spectrum, spells are classified by brightness; a spell with a tint greater than 50 (referring to the amount of true color to white) is a Curse, lower than 50 is a high-level Hex. A lower tint results in pastel-colors, while a higher tint results in brighter colors.
Of course, not even the ministry will rely wholly on colors to tell them how dangerous a spell is. Spectral Analysis results are cross-checked with a ruling by the Council Detrimenta who each have the spell cast on them in order to rank it on a scale from ) to 10(X), where Quietus is 0 and Avada Kedavra is X. (Yes, Quietus is a jinx, as the Sonorous Charm being cast prior to the Quieting Jinx is considered extra-ordinary circumstance, and so under ordinary circumstance having one's voice Quieted would cause discomfort)
The third and final form of classification, just to make sure they got it right, is duration, without application of a counter-charm. Jinxes are one-time-only, and cause no secondary effects, occurring and dissipating instantaneously or within a matter of hours at most. Hexes cause lasting effects that, though they will fade in time, may take days, weeks, or even months to finally go away. Curses are obviously by far the nastiest when it comes to duration, as they last eleven months to permanency, and compound with time. The Cruciatus Curse, for example, increases with each passing minute to prevent the victim from adjusting mentally or physically to the pain, though the counter-charm is cast simply by lifting the wand away or directing attention elsewhere.
You may wonder where, in all of this classification, transfiguration spells, counter-curses, and other spells you may have learned in classes besides Charms with the dear Professor Flitwik or one of his colleagues. Surprisingly enough, these are all classified as Charms, and what a student would learn in a Charms class is actually any Neutral spell that cannot be assigned to a field of specific study, such as Defense Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, or Transfiguration. A Charms class is a medley, therefore, of un-classifiable, non-detrimental spells.
So, while the average person may never gain a Spellsmith license nor be qualified to declare an unknown spell, at least now you can go out armed with a knowledge of just what you face when someone throws a jinx at you.