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"I do hope they start right away, there's so much to learn, I'm particularly interested in Transfiguration, you know, turning something into something else, of course, it's supposed to be very difficult —"
— Description of Transfiguration[src]

Transfiguration was a branch of magic that focused on the alteration of the form or appearance of an object, via the alteration of the object's molecular structure.[1] Transfiguration could be done to most (if not all) objects and, as with most forms of magic, it included — but was hardly limited to — Transfiguration spells.

Transfiguration was regarded as "very hard work" and "more scientific" than any other form of magic, i.e. the practising witch or wizard had to get it exactly right for the transfiguration to be successful.[2]


"Transfiguration you have to get it exactly right, Transfiguration is more scientific."
J. K. Rowling[src]

Transfiguration was a very systematic, exact magical discipline, working best for the scientifically-inclined mind and as such it was deemed "very hard work" (especially compared to Charms, which afforded a much larger margin for personal creativity).[3] Also "when transfiguring, it is important to make firm and decisive wand movements. Do not wiggle or twirl your wand unnecessarily, or the Transfiguration will certainly be unsuccessful" as stated by Emeric Switch in A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration.

There were a number of factors a wizard had to take into account when carrying out Transfiguration spells. The intended transformation (t) was directly influenced by body weight (a), viciousness (v), wand power (w), concentration (c) and a fifth unknown variable (Z), as described by the following mathematical formula (as taught to first-years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry).[4]


Whilst Transfiguration was an exceedingly useful branch of magic, it naturally had its own set of limitations.

Usually, a wizard or witch attempting to perform a Transfiguration spell would often find it easier to transfigure one thing into something else provided that the state it was originally in had something in common to what it would be coverted into (i.e. a statue of a dragon turning into an actual dragon, albeit the same size as it was when it was a statue). The overall mass and size of the object or entity to be transfigured into something else must also be considered, since it was stated by Hermione Granger that it was extremely difficult to transfigure something as large as a dragon,[5] even by a skilled transfiguration expert like McGonagall. Furthermore, Transformation was limited by the fact that the dead could not be revived via magic and hence one could not "transfigure" the dead back to life, no matter how recently the death occurred.

Conjuration was principally limited by the Five Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration. The first (and only known) of these was the restriction that one could not conjure food (though, pre-existing food could be charmed in certain ways — such as by summoning and multiplication — and transfigured by the other branches).[6] Similarly, Wizarding law set legal limitations on what one was and wasn't allowed to conjure.[7] Finally, even if it was both possible and legal to conjure something, it would ultimately never last.[7]

Strangely, whilst there were a variety of limits placed on Conjuration, the branch referred to as Vanishment seemed to be completely unrestricted (this also appears true of Untransfiguration).

The branch of Transfiguration known as transformation magic had the largest number of restrictions placed upon it (both natural and legal). Firstly, even before one became an Animagus (both a Trans-species transformation and Human transfiguration) one was monitored closely, as attempting to become such a thing was highly dangerous, and even if one succeeded, one had to register oneself at the Ministry of Magic (or face trial), due to the many potential uses of this kind of transfiguration in criminal activity. An Animagus was also limited by the fact that they could only transfigure into one kind of animal this way.

Conversely, general Human Transfiguration was more varied in that it allowed one to transform another into a plethora of different animals but, on the other hand, the object of transfiguration would then possess the intelligence of the creature they became (unlike Animagi, who retained all their mental faculties in animal form).[8] If this was an animal of lower intelligence (which was more likely than not) then one would, by extension, be entirely dependent on the caster to untransfigure them, which could potentially cause someone to be stuck in that form forever (which is why it was not recommended to cast this type of transfiguration on oneself).


"Transfiguration is some of the most complex and dangerous magic you will learn at Hogwarts. Anyone messing around in my class will leave and not come back. You have been warned."
— Minerva McGonagall lecturing first-years[src]

A poorly performed Transfiguration spell, in which the object is half-transformed

Due to the applied, precise nature of Transfiguration magic, there was a large potential for it to go disastrously wrong, even for the experts. This was especially true if the practitioner wasn't taking things seriously and/or punching above their weight (with respect to the magic they are attempting to perform).

If it was done improperly, the Transfigured object could become half-Transfigured or permanently stuck in one state (whether fully or partially Transfigured). For example, Viktor Krum once half-Transfigured himself into a shark in the Second Task of The Triwizard Tournament in 1994, although he wasn't stuck in that form,[9] so it may have been intentional in his case.


Transfiguration was divided into four branches (though — whilst based on canonical information — the typology is conjectural). In these main four branches there were also sub-branches, such as human Transfiguration and Switching, which would be in the branch of Transformation. They were, in ascending order of difficulty: Transformation, Untransfiguration, Vanishment, and Conjuration. They are described below.


Main article: Transformation
This refers to any Transfiguration that deformed or altered the target in some way.

It should be noted that whilst this branch of transfiguration was the first covered in the Hogwarts curriculum, containing simple transfigurations such as Match to needle,[10] it also pertained to the most complex and dangerous forms of transfiguration too.

Transformation was divided into three sub-types, each with their own divisions and all of which overlapped with one another to some degree:

Human Transfiguration

Main article: Human Transfiguration

Animagus (left), Metamorphmagus (middle), Werewolf (right)

Human Transfiguration was a sub-branch of Transfiguration and a form of transformation in which one transfigured human body parts or an entire human being into another form. This branch was more difficult than any other and is only taught at N.E.W.T.-level. One of the spells learned in sixth year at Hogwarts was the transfiguration of the colour of one's eyebrows.[11]

Many general human Transfiguration spells existed, this category housed the following type of Transformation magic as well: Animagus (a wizard that elected to turn into an animal), Metamorphmagus (the rare ability to change physical appearance at will), and werewolves (they however had no choice).


Main article: Untransfiguration

Sirius Black and Remus Lupin untransfigures Peter Pettigrew

Untransfiguration was the art of reversing a previous transfiguration, being therefore considered both a transfiguration and a counter-spell. It was a mysterious branch of transfiguration. It was known that untransfiguration for failed transformations was taught early.

Reparifarge was a general spell used to counter the effects of a Transformation spell that was poorly performed and only partially transfigured the object in question. This spell was covered in A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration.[12]


Main article: Switching

Hermione Granger performing the Switching Spell

Switching was another sub-type of transformation magic. During switching, a physical feature from one of the two targets was switched with that of another, hence the name. It differed from a straight transformation in two ways: firstly, switching targets affected two objects simultaneously; secondly, the change in one of the pair was dependent on a change in the other.

It is difficult to gauge the relative difficulty of switches exactly compared to other types of transfiguration because the exact year in which they were learned isn't known. However, Professor McGonagall was impressed when Hermione knew about switches as a first year student,[10] but was disappointed in Neville for not being able to perform even simple switches by fourth year.[13] Therefore, students must have started learning switches in second, third, or (early) fourth year (most likely third), earlier than almost all the other branches of transfiguration apart from transformation.

Trans-Species Transformation

Trans-Species Transformation was a sub-branch of transformation magic in which one organism was transformed into something of a different species. This is a term which referred to transformation magic that (partially or completely) changed the target organism into a new species. It included Cross-species Switches and hence had some overlap with switching magic. The only noted sub-branch to be more difficult was Human Transfiguration.


Main article: Vanishment

Severus Snape vanishes a snake

Vanishment was the art of causing things to Vanish; to "make things go into non-being". The difficulty of the Vanishment to be performed positively correlated with the complexity of the organism to be Vanished (for example, snails, as invertebrates, were easier to Vanish than mice, which are mammals).[14] Vanishment was moderately difficult — learned in fifth year — and was considered one of the hardest transfigurations to be tested on in one's O.W.L.[15]

Strangely, only one incantation was needed to Vanish any object - Evanesco , Latin for "disappear" (with the intent of the caster alone directing it), unlike conjurations (which could require a variety of complicated incantations)


Main article: Conjuration

Hagrid conjures fire

Conjuration was the art of conjuring things ("bringing things into being") and hence was the opposite of Vanishment. It was harder than its counterpart, being a N.E.W.T.-level feat, and was taught to sixth and seventh years at Hogwarts.[16][17] It was also considered to be very advanced magic, though some conjurations were considered simpler then others.[18]

There were numerous restrictions (both in Law and Nature) placed on the art of Conjuration, unlike Vanishment which appeared to be unrestricted. For example, something that was conjured would not last (or, "remain in being"), but it is unknown whether or not something that was vanished could forever remain in non-being if left to its own devices.

Known Transfigurations

Human transfiguration


  • Squibbert transformed a teapot into a ferret.
  • Fat white rabbit changing into a top silk hat and back in the Magical Menagerie.[30]
  • Fred and George change Percy's badge to read 'Bighead Boy'.
  • Cornelius Fudge transfigured a teacup into a gerbil, while trying to prove to the British Prime Minister that he was a wizard.[31]
  • Hermione trying to transfigure the mould off bread when at 12 Grimmauld Place.[32]
  • McGonagall Transfigured the chessmen guarding the Philosopher's Stone to giant size.[33]
  • Dumbledore may have transfigured the Slytherin banners in the Great Hall to become Gryffindor banners when he awarded Gryffindor last minute points.[34]
  • Cedric transfigured a rock into a Labrador retriever to distract the Swedish Short-Snout.[35]
  • Snape Transfigures McGonagall's fire into a black serpent.[36]
  • McGonagall turned Snape's black snake to smoke and then transformed the smoke to daggers.[36]



  • Healing requires at least an E on a student's Transfiguration O.W.L.
  • Gargoyle statues outside Dumbledore's office 'coming to life' when password is spoken.
  • Harry considered using Switching Spells to change a dragon's teeth into wine-gums.
  • Harry wished to become an Animagus in order to breathe underwater as a goldfish or as a frog.
  • Lupin studying for Transfiguration O.W.L.[42]

Transfiguration spells

Unknown incantation

Known incantation

Notable practitioners

Wizard(s) Notes
Albus Dumbledore Celebrated Headmaster of Hogwarts. Former Head of the school¨s Transfiguration department.
Minerva McGonagall Celebrated Headmistress of Hogwarts. Former Head of the school¨s Transfiguration department.

She was also a registered Animagus.

Horace Slughorn Successful at human transfiguration. Could take the form of an armchair.
James Potter Successfully became an Animagus (unregistered). James became a stag, Sirius a large black dog, and Pettigrew a rat.
Peter Pettigrew
Sirius Black
Remus Lupin As a victim of lycanthropy was successful at Trans-species Transfiguration.
Hermione Granger A capable student who could perform Professor McGonagall's tasks successfully on the first or with few attempts. She later became the Minister for Magic.
Harry Potter Took the subject at N.E.W.T. level. Later became an Auror and head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
Ron Weasley Also took the subject at N.E.W.T. level. Later became an Auror, until he retired to work in a joke shop.
Rita Skeeter Successfully became an Animagus (unregistered). Took the form of a beetle.[20]
Nymphadora Tonks A natural Metamorphmagus
Teddy Lupin
Lily Evans Successfully transfigured a lily petal to become a fish when Slughorn found it.[43]
Viktor Krum Partially transfigured himself into a shark.[9]
Lord Voldemort Transfigured Dumbledore's rope of fire into a serpent[40] and created a silver hand for Peter Pettigrew.[44]
Bartemius Crouch Junior Transfigured Draco Malfoy into a ferret.[27]
Gellert Grindelwald Transfigured himself into Percival Graves for an extended period of time[45], transfigured himself into Abernathy during his daring escape, transfigured the reins that carried his carriage into living snakes, and Conjured a tongue for Abernathy.[46]

Transfiguration books

See also


Notes and references

  1. JKR on the difference between Transfigurations & Charms, accessed 28/7/2011
  2. J.K. Rowling at the Royal Albert Hall, 26 June 2003
  3. J.K. Rowling on the nature of Transfiguration, accessed 28/7/2011
  4. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (film)
  5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (video game)
  6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 15 (The Goblin's Revenge)
  7. 7.0 7.1 JK on the limitations of Conjuration, accessed 28/7/2011
  8. 8.0 8.1 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 6 (Talons and Tea Leaves)
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 26 (The Second Task)
  10. 10.0 10.1 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 8 (The Potions Master)
  11. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 15 (The Unbreakable Vow)
  12. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery
  13. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 15 (Beauxbatons and Durmstrang)
  14. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 15 (The Hogwarts High Inquisitor)
  15. 15.0 15.1 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 31 (O.W.L.s)
  16. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 13 (Detention with Dolores)
  17. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 14 (Felix Felicis)
  18. Wonderbook: Book of Spells
  19. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 1 (The Boy Who Lived)
  20. 20.0 20.1 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 37 (The Beginning)
  21. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 4 (The Keeper of the Keys)
  22. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (video game)
  23. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (video game)
  24. 24.0 24.1 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 8 (The Deathday Party)
  25. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 5 (Fallen Warrior)
  26. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 4 (Horace Slughorn)
  27. 27.0 27.1 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 13 (Mad-Eye Moody)
  28. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 35 (Veritaserum)
  29. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 31 (The Battle of Hogwarts)
  30. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 4 (The Leaky Cauldron)
  31. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 1 (The Other Minister)
  32. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 11 (The Bribe)
  33. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 16 (Through the Trapdoor)
  34. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 17 (The Man with Two Faces)
  35. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 20 (The First Task)
  36. 36.0 36.1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 30 (The Sacking of Severus Snape)
  37. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 2 (The Vanishing Glass)
  38. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 11 (The Duelling Club)
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 12 (Professor Umbridge)
  40. 40.0 40.1 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 36 (The Only One He Ever Feared)
  41. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (video game)
  42. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 28 (Snape's Worst Memory)
  43. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (film)
  44. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 33 (The Death Eaters)
  45. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay
  46. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald - The Original Screenplay