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In the books it's mentioned that Pettigrew probably wasn't intelligent enough to research (and perform) the animagi... spells... on his own, and that James and Sirius helped him. However, it's also mentioned that they learned how to become animagi whilst still at Hogwarts.

My questions are: 1) How did they research this while still at Hogwarts? 2) What needs to be done/ what spells performed to become and animagus?

  • Never explained, as far as I know. Like Metamorphmagi, Animagi are supposedly born, not taught… except if you’re those three, apparently. Always bothered me. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 21 '16 at 19:49
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    I thought Animagi were taught, but that it was very difficult? – ThruGog Feb 21 '16 at 19:54
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    The same way you get to Carnegie Hall – Valorum Feb 21 '16 at 19:56
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Where did you get "Like Metamorphmagi, Animagi are supposedly born, not taught…" from? – Anthony Grist Feb 21 '16 at 20:46
  • @AnthonyGrist Isn't that how McGonagall or Hermione describes them at some point? I'm not sure exactly where I remember it from. I see the Wiki says the exact opposite, though… – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 21 '16 at 20:48
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A section of the Animagus Wiki article (which I think to answer this question is most useful) cites both The Tales of Beedle The Bard and this site's transcript of facts from the 2014 UK editions of the Harry Potter books. It says:

"It takes skill, practice, and patience for wizards and witches to become Animagi. The process of becoming an Animagus is long and arduous, and has the potential to backfire and cause the transformation to go horribly wrong. Many witches and wizards simply feel that their time might better be employed in other ways, as the skill is of limited practical use unless one has a great need of disguise or concealment. Part of the process by which one becomes an Animagus is holding the leaf of a mandrake in their mouth for an entire month. Once the initial training is over, an Animagus can change at will, with or without a wand."

Additionally, moving into my own thoughts and deductions: We know that Sirius, James and Wormtail worked together on the process of becoming Animagi. We know that it was difficult and did take time, but they were skilled at magic and inspired by Lupin's condition to be animal companions to him. According to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, they learned of Lupin's condition in their second year but James at least didn't perfect his skills as an Animagi until his fifth year. So it took them three entire years:

‘Yes, indeed’, said Lupin. ‘It took them the best part of three years to work out how to do it. Your father and Sirius here were the cleverest students in the school, and lucky they were, because the Animagus transformation can go horribly wrong – one reason the Ministry keeps a close watch on those attempting to do it. Peter needed all the help he could get from James and Sirius. Finally, in our fifth year, they managed it. They could each turn into a different animal at will. (PoA, Chapter 18 - many thanks to @Chirlu).

Becoming an Animagi can normally be learned at school, though not by every student. McGonagall, for example, had accomplished it by her graduation from Hogwarts, but she was a great student with an exceptional teacher - Dumbledore. (See her Pottermore article). It would obviously be much more difficult for these boys to manage it in secret, but I think the point is that both Sirius Black and James Potter were quite exceptional. As for research, the Hogwarts library is pretty extensive (think of the things the trio learned there on their own) and they had the Shrieking Shack to practice in.

  • You quoted the wikia... is there any evidence at all to back it up? – user32390 Feb 22 '16 at 6:45
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    Thou shalt not quote the wikia. – CandiedMango Feb 22 '16 at 20:12
  • Right, I've found time to add to this. It's clearly not a great answer, but I don't think there is anything else out there and I don't like to see these questions going unanswered because there is no direct from the author quote or anything. I hope my revisions are more to everyone's liking. – ThruGog Feb 22 '16 at 21:06
  • No speculation necessary regarding the timeline and Pettigrew’s abilities; from Prisoner of Azkaban: ‘Yes, indeed’, said Lupin. ‘It took them the best part of three years to work out how to do it. Your father and Sirius here were the cleverest students in the school, and lucky they were, because the Animagus transformation can go horribly wrong – one reason the Ministry keeps a close watch on those attempting to do it. Peter needed all the help he could get from James and Sirius. Finally, in our fifth year, they managed it. They could each turn into a different animal at will.’ – chirlu Feb 22 '16 at 21:38
  • @chirlu - Can I pinch that? – ThruGog Feb 22 '16 at 21:41
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Can I direct you to this answer also(perhaps for the second question you ask): What does it take to become a registered Animagus?

For the first part: We know that you start learning about Animagi in 3rd year Transfiguration, and it was probably then that James and Sirius got the idea to become Animagi to accompany Lupin. In the same way that you could learn how to make a Horcrux, or Polyjuice potion from library books, there would most likely have been a book on Animagus. Having access to the cloak, they could easily have read the books they needed to (even at night or if it was in the forbidden section), and once they got the basics correct, would just require practice.

Harry chose a seat right at the back of the room, feeling as though he were sitting in a very bright spotlight; the rest of the class kept shooting furtive glances at him, as though he were about to drop dead at any moment. He hardly heard what Professor McGonagall was telling them about Animagi (wizards who could transform at will into animals), and wasn't even watching when she transformed herself in front of their eyes into a tabby cat with spectacle markings around her eyes. - PoA

And add the fact that Victor Krum, as a 7th year, attempted a form of crude animagus by transfiguring himself partially. It was only to the point that he could partially transform, but Krum was seen as quite a powerful wizard for his age (Worthy enough to join the Triwizard Tournament, International Quidditch Player, ability to cast an unforgivable curse). If we consider Sirius and James to be more gifted than he was, then it is fully possible that they could have learnt it in 3 years successfully, as opposed to him learning a crude form in a few months. Also, he (Krum) was always spending his time in the library, so you could argue that he learnt it from a book in the Hogwarts library, and practised it in the lake when he was swimming.

It was Krum. He appeared to have transfigured himself­ but badly.- GoF

And the quote below to show he may have been practising a month at least beforehand in the lake.

As they passed the Durmstrang ship moored in the lake, they saw Viktor Krum emerge onto the deck, dressed in nothing but swimming trunks. He was very skinny indeed, but apparently a lot tougher than he looked, because he climbed up onto the side of the ship, stretched out his arms, and dived, right into the lake. "He's mad!" said Harry, staring at Krums dark head as it bobbed out into the middle of the lake. "It must be freezing, it's January!" - GoF

So, Sirius and James could have learnt from a book the theory like Krum did, and then just undergo lots of practice in order to get the right transformation after 3 years.

  • I was under the impression that Krum transfigured himself using his wand and a spell, and that it had absolutely nothing to do with becoming an Animagus. Do you have any quotes or sources? – Pwassonne Feb 23 '16 at 10:49
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    @Pwassonne I believe that if a human is transfigured, they lose control and obtain mind of the thing they are transfigured into. Whereas animagus you retain your intelligence and human mind. As Krum was partially a shark, he still did the task and didn't kill humans like sharks normally do, I am under the impression it was a form of animagus as he was aware of what he was doing. – user3564421 Feb 23 '16 at 10:52
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    @user3564421 - I'm struggling to find proof but I'm sure what he did was a more standard transfiguration and the fact that he retained his consciousness was because he had a shark head and shoulders, not because he had turned himself into a shark. – ThruGog Feb 23 '16 at 20:13

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