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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 —"
Hermione Granger regarding Transfiguration[src]

Transfiguration is a branch of magic that focuses on the alteration of the form or appearance of an object, via the alteration of the object's molecular structure[1]. Transfiguration can be done to most (if not all) objects and, as with most forms of magic, it includes — but is hardly limited to — Transfiguration spells. Transfiguration is also regarded as "very hard work" and is "more scientific" than any other form of magic, i.e. the practising witch or wizard has to get it exactly right for the transfiguration to be successful.[2]

Nature

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

Transfiguration is a very systematic, exact magical discipline, working best for the scientifically-inclined mind, and as such it is deemed "very hard work" (especially compared to Charms, which affords 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 are a number of factors a wizard must take into account when carrying out Transfiguration spells. The intended transformation (t) is directly influenced by bodyweight (a), viciousness (v), wand power (w), concentration (c) and a fifth unknown variable (Z),[4] as described by the following mathematical formula (as taught to first-years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry):

$t = \frac{(w \times c)}{(v \times a)} \times \mathrm{Z}^*$

Limitations

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

The branch of Transfiguration known as transformation magic has the largest number of restrictions placed upon it (both natural and legal). Firstly, even before one becomes an Animagus (both a Trans-species transformation and Human transfiguration) one is monitored closely as attempting to become such a thing is highly dangerous and even if one succeeds one must then 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 is also limited by the fact that they can only transfigure into one kind of animal this way. Conversely, general Human Transfiguration is more varied in that it allows one to transform another into a plethora of different animals but, on the other hand, the object of transfiguration will then possess the intelligence of the creature they become (unlike Animagi, who retain all their mental faculties in animal form). If this is an animal of lower intelligence (which is more likely than not) then one will, 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 is not recommended to cast this type of transfiguration on oneself).

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 of the similar size).

Transformation is also limited by the fact that the dead cannot be revived via magic and hence one cannot "transfigure" the dead back to life, no matter how recently the death occurred. 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, even by a skilled transfiguration expert like McGonagall.

Conjuration is principally limited by the Five Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration. The first (and only known) of these is the restriction that one cannot conjure food (though, pre-existing food can be charmed in certain ways — such as by summoning & multiplication — and transfigured by the other branches). Similarly, Wizarding law sets legal limitations on what one is and isn't allowed to conjure[5]. Finally, even if it is both possible and legal to conjure something it will ultimately never last.[5]

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

Dangers

"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]

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

If it is done improperly, the Transfigured object can 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 was not stuck in that form, so it may have been intentional).

Classification

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

Transformation

Main article: Transformation

This refers to any Transfiguration that deforms or alters the target in some way.

It should be noted that whilst this branch of transfiguration is the first covered in the Hogwarts curriculum (containing simple transfigurations such as Match to needle) it also pertains to the most complex and dangerous forms of transfiguration too.

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

Human Transfiguration

Main article: Human Transfiguration

Human Transfiguration is a sub-branch of Transfiguration and a form of transformation in which one transfigures human body parts or an entire human being into another form. This branch is more difficult than any other and is only taught at N.E.W.T.-level.

Many general human Transfiguration spells exist, this category houses the following type of Transformation magic as well:

Switching

Main article: Switching

Switching is another sub-type of transformation magic. During switching, a physical feature from one of the two targets is switched with that of another, hence the name. It differs from a straight transformation in two ways: firstly, switching targets two objects simultaneously; secondly, the change in one of the pair is 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 are learned is not known. However, Professor McGonagall was impressed when Hermione knew about switches as a first year student but was disappointed in Neville for not being able to perform even simple switches by fourth year. Therefore, students must start learning switches in second, third, or (early) fourth year (most likely third), earlier than almost all the other branches of transfiguration save transformation.

The only known sub-group of Switching is Cross-Species Switches.

Trans-species tranformations

This is a term which refers to transformation magic that (partially or completely) changes the target organism into a new species. It includes Cross-species switches and hence has some overlap with switching magic.

Vanishment

Main article: Vanishment

Vanishment is the art of causing things to Vanish; to make things go into non-being. Vanishment is moderately difficult — learned in fifth year — and is considered one of the hardest transfigurations to be tested on in one's O.W.L. The difficulty of the Vanishment to be performed positively correlates with the complexity of the organism to be Vanished (for example, invertebrates are easier to Vanish than vertebrates).

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

Conjuration

Main article: Conjuration

Conjuration is the art of conjuring things (bringing things into being) and hence is the opposite of Vanishment. It is harder than its counter-part, being a N.E.W.T.-level feat.

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

Untransfiguration

Main article: Untransfiguration

Untransfiguration is the art of reversing a previous transfiguration (and is therefore considered both a transfiguration and a counter-spell). It is a mysterious branch of transfiguration not much elaborated on in the franchise, though it appears to be covered at some point in the Hogwarts syllabus (possibly at N.E.W.T. level).

Reparifarge is 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 is covered in A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration.

Known Transfigurations

• McGonagall's Animagus Transfiguration.
• Squibbert transformed a teapot into a ferret.
• Animagus transfigurations of the Marauders.
• Rita Skeeter revealed as an unregistered Animagus.
• Hagrid tries to change Dudley into a pig, and fails.
• Testimonial of a man able to turn his wife into a yak after a Kwikspell course.
• Fat white rabbit changing into a top silk hat and back in the Magical Menagerie.
• Healing requires at least an E on a student's Transfiguration O.W.L.
• After Mad-Eye Moody's death, Harry imagines that he was probably "transfigured [and] stuffed".
• Slughorn transfigured himself into an armchair.
• Cornelius Fudge transfigured a teacup into a gerbil, while trying to prove to the British Prime Minister that he was a wizard.
• Hermione trying to transfigure the mould off bread when on the run in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
• When he was alive, Nearly-Headless Nick accidentally transfigured Lady Grieve's broken tooth into a tusk.
• Gwenog Jones had a habit of turning people who disagreed with her into wood lice.
• McGonagall Transfigured the chessmen guarding the Philosopher's Stone to make them 'come alive'.
• Dumbledore may have transfigured the Slytherin banners in the Great Hall to become Gryffindor banners when he awarded Gryffindor last minute points.
• Gargoyle statues outside Dumbledore's office 'coming to life' when password is spoken.
• Draco Malfoy was transfigured into a ferret by Barty Crouch Jr. (under the disguise of Alastor Moody). He remained in this form for several minutes before being untransfigured by Minerva McGonagall.
• Harry considered using Switching Spells to change a dragon's teeth into wine-gums.
• Cedric transfigured a rock into a Labrador retriever to distract the Swedish Short-Snout.
• Harry wished to become an Animagus in order to breathe underwater as a goldfish or as a frog.
• Krum's partial Transfiguration into a shark.
• Crouch having been Transfigured into a bone.
• Lupin studying for Transfiguration O.W.L.
• Snape Transfigures McGonagall's fire into a black serpent.
• McGonagall turned Snape's black snake to smoke and then transformed the smoke to daggers.
• McGonagall transfigures dozens of desks and suits of armour to help defend Hogwarts.
• Percy Weasley transfigured Pius Thicknesse into some form of a sea urchin during the Battle of Hogwarts.

All Transfiguration spells

All Transfiguration spells with known incantation:

Known accomplished Transfigurers

Wizard(s) Notes
Albus Dumbledore Transfiguration teacher at Hogwarts. Later became Headmaster.
Minerva McGonagall Transfiguration teacher at Hogwarts. Known Animagus (takes form of a cat). Later became Headmistress.
Horace Slughorn Successful at human transformation. Can take the form of an armchair.
James Potter Successfully became an Animagus (unregistered). Took the form of a stag.
Peter Pettigrew Successfully became an Animagus (unregistered). Took the form of a rat.
Sirius Black Successfully became an Animagus (unregistered). Took the form of a large black dog (Snuffles).
Hermione Granger One of few students in Harry Potter's year who could perform McGonagall's tasks successfully on the first or with few attempts.
Harry Potter Took the subject at N.E.W.T. level. Later became an Auror.
Ron Weasley Also took the subject at N.E.W.T. level.
Rita Skeeter Successfully became an Animagus (unregistered). Took the form of a beetle.
Nymphadora Tonks A natural Metamorphmagus, along with her son, Teddy Lupin.
Teddy Lupin A natural Metamorphmagus, along with his mother, Nymphadora Tonks.
Lily Evans Successfully transfigured a lily petal to become a fish when Slughorn found it.
Viktor Krum Partially transfigured himself into a shark.
Lord Voldemort Transfigured Dumbledore's rope of fire into a serpent, and created a silver hand for Peter Pettigrew.
Bartemius Crouch, Jr Transfigured Draco Malfoy into a ferret.