An Animagus could literally transform back and forth from its human self to the animal self at will. It was a very difficult and arduous skill to master and took a lot of effort to achieve perfection. Unlike being a Metamorphmagus, the ability to be an Animagus was purely acquired and had nothing to do with hereditary traits.
However, most wizards and witches decided not to follow this path as there were very few practical applications to being an Animagus unless one was to tread into concealment or espionage. For this reason, a register was maintained in the Ministry of Magic to keep track of all the Animagi and their animal forms. This would ensure that no wizard or witch would commit crimes and then use their Animagus forms to protect themselves.
The term Animagus is a fusion of the word “animal” in English and “Magus” in Latin, referring to “wizard.” Therefore, Animagus translates to “animal wizard.”
History and Process
The process of becoming an Animagus was very difficult. The initial stages of training required the witch or wizard to keep the leaf of a Mandrake for an entire month in their mouth. This process had to happen between two consecutive full moon days. Then, they had to make sure that this mandrake leaf was used to concoct a potion, all while they chanted the incantation “Amato Animo Animato Animagus” every day, both at sunrise and sunset. If the leaf was swallowed by mistake or removed, they had to start the whole process from scratch. They had to spit the leaf into a phial such that the moon’s pure rays fell on it from a non-cloudy sky.
The witch or wizard would then have to add their own hair from their body, a silver teaspoon of dew that hadn’t been in contact with human feet within the last seven days or was not in the sunlight. They would then have to add the chrysalis of a Death’s-head Hawk Moth. Finally, they would have to keep this potion in a dark place undisturbed, only to drink at the emergence of the next electrical storm. The lightning storm formed the final stage of this training. This completed a major part of the training, and drinking the Animagus Potion during the storm ensured the possibility of transforming into one’s Animagus form.
Several wizards and witches, including Minerva McGonagall, Sirius Black, and Peter Pettigrew, who were known to be Animagi in the Harry Potter series had to undergo this same arduous process. Furthermore, it is speculated that technically, it is possible for a witch or wizard to take the form of any magical beast or even a dementor and not just normal animals. While it is believed that there is a reversal charm that is used by Remus Lupin and Sirius Black to turn Scabbers back to Peter Pettigrew, there is no certainty as to what it is exactly. However, it is believed that it might be the Homorphus charm, the one Gilderoy Lockhart claims to have used on the Wagga Wagga Werewolf.
The book Tales of Beedle the Bard consists of children’s stories for the magical community, and in it, there exists a story called Babbitty Rabbitty and the Cackling Stump, which is a story about a witch who is also an Animagus and can turn into a rabbit at will.
Appearances in the Harry Potter Universe
The first appearance of an Animagus in the Harry Potter universe happens very early in the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when Vernon Dursley sees a cat in his parking lot. This cat happens to be Professor Minerva McGonagall, who is keeping an eye on the Dursley family as Dumbledore intends to bring Harry here immediately after his parents’ murder by Voldemort. She eventually reveals herself in her human form when Professor Dumbledore identifies her. The next appearance of an Animagus happens to be that of Scabbers, Ron’s pet rat, who is not known to be an Animagus until it is revealed in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that Scabbers is in fact Peter Pettigrew in Animagus form.
We next see another Animagus in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when Harry sees a black dog near the bushes in Privet Drive right before the Knight Bus arrives. This dog is eventually revealed to be Sirius Black in his Animagus form. In the same book, it is also revealed that Harry’s father, James Potter, was also an Animagus like his friends Sirius and Peter and took the form of a red stag. They became Animagi because their other friend, Remus Lupin, was a werewolf, and they thought that it would be a good way to keep him company if they turned into animals themselves. They would all go to the Shrieking Shack and transform into their respective Animagi forms. Together, they called themselves the Marauders. Interestingly, their Patronus forms matched the animals they turned into.
While James Potter’s Patronus took the form of a stag, Sirius Black’s Patronus was a large dog. Furthermore, all the three – Prongs, Padfoot and Wormtail are unregistered Animagi, and therefore, no one other than themselves, and not even Albus Dumbledore, knew that they were Animagi.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, we are introduced to Rita Skeeter, the reporter from The Daily Prophet who interviews the Triwizard Tournament champions. Interestingly, she seems to be aware of a lot of private details from Harry’s life, something that Hermione Granger observes to be a strange occurrence. Eventually, she does some research and espionage to find out that Rita Skeeter is an Animagus herself, not recorded in the Animagus Registry and therefore committing an illegal offense. Her Animagus form is that of a beetle which she uses to listen in to conversations of wizards and witches without getting caught.
The Real Animagus – The Dog (Man) from Japan
While it is impossible for a human being to turn into an animal and maintain all its actual features and transform back into a human at will, there exists a recent example that is taking the internet by storm. A man turned himself into a dog in Japan. It is still not an exact Animagus transformation, but it comes quite close in appearance.
A man from Japan named Toko, with the help of a costume company called Zeppet, turned himself into a life-sized Collie over a period of 40 days and after spending two million yen. Like the Animagus transformations, which take a lot of time and dedication, this too seems to have taken a long time in the making. It is believed that this man has always wanted to transform himself in appearance into a Collie and has eventually performed this feat. A lot of people on the internet have commended him for his dedication to turning himself into an uncanny Collie.
Was Voldemort an Animagus?
No, Voldemort was not an Animagus. He didn’t see any reason to become an Animagus despite being a gifted wizard and knowing a lot of magic. This may simply be because his sole purpose was to obtain immortality and become the strongest wizard who could control the world around him. Being an Animagus wouldn’t grant him any otherworldly powers and most of the powers he wanted, he already had. He used Horcruxes to preserve his soul and was also very arrogant to see any loopholes in his plan.
Was Crookshanks an Animagus?
No, Crookshanks was not an Animagus. However, he was a very clever cat and had great abilities for a normal house cat. He was able to communicate with Sirius Black in his Animagus form and was able to understand that Scabbers is in fact a human being in the form of a rat. Crookshanks kept helping Sirius and also helped Hermione and Harry enter the Shrieking Shack by tapping at the right knot at the base of the Whomping Willow.
Who were the seven registered Animagi?
Despite there being several unregistered Animagi in the 20th century, there were only seven Animagi who were registered as such in the register maintained by the Ministry of Magic. One of the registered Animagus was Professor Minerva McGonagall, who could turn into a cat at will. Another registered Animagus was Talbott Winger’s mother, who could transform herself into a white swan. Talbott Winger himself was an Animagus and could take the form of an eagle but was unregistered. While Talbott Winger never appeared in the books, he was a character in the Hogwarts Mystery videogame. The five of the other registered Animagi of the 20th century are never mentioned in any of the Harry Potter books or derivative material.