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In Chamber of Secrets, during one of the gang's Transfiguration classes, Ron is asked to demonstrate a spell on his pet, Scabbers, that is supposed to turn animals into fancy goblets.

Figure 2-1: success

But at this point in time Ron is still using a broken wand, and it appears that it at least has something to do with the spell failing.

Figure 2-2: failure

As COS progresses, this assumption is reaffirmed after Ron ends up eating his own slugs, and Lockhart's memory charm blows up (literally) in his face. It isn't until later in the series that we find out that Scabbers is actually an Animagus. I'm unsure of the subtle differences that separate real animals and Animagi, but it would make sense that certain spells would react differently when cast on each.

So is there anything to show that, even if Ron had a working wand (and maybe a little more proficiency), that the spell would fail regardless because his pet rat was actually a human in disguise?

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    Nice question! I like the idea that animagi are more difficult to transfigure. – Mikasa Oct 17 '17 at 16:59
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    Would this also account for his failing to turn Scabbers yellow on the train, or is that attributed to Ron just making up a spell? :) – JohnP Oct 17 '17 at 17:20
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    Hermione didn't think "turn this stupid, fat rat yellow" was a real spell, and considering every other spell that has been shown, it likely wasn't. The closest thing to a verbal prose enchantment seen is that which Pettigrew uses in Goblet of Fire over the cauldron, but, it is unclear if that is part of the magic, or him just repeating the recipe to himself – NKCampbell Oct 17 '17 at 17:21
  • Ron's weak skill as a spell caster is a regular motif. – fredsbend Oct 18 '17 at 21:43
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It isn't clear if Scabbers being an Animagus would affect the spell.

Transfiguring animals is relatively simple - it's taught to the first-years at Hogwarts. Their Transfiguration exam in their first year required them to turn a mouse into a snuff-box.

“Professor McGonagall watched them turn a mouse into a snuff-box – points were given for how pretty the snuff-box was, but taken away if it had whiskers.” - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 16 (Through the Trapdoor)

Mice are similar creatures to rats, so Transfiguring an average (non-Animagus) rat is presumably also fairly simple.

Transfiguring a human is presumably much more difficult than transfiguring an animal, since Hogwarts students only start learning that in N.E.W.T.-level Transfiguration classes.

“They had just embarked upon the immensely difficult topic of human transfiguration; working in front of mirrors, they were supposed to be changing the colour of their own eyebrows.” - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 15 (The Unbreakable Vow)

Hermione also mentioned how difficult human Transfiguration is when she's helping Harry prepare for the Second Task.

“Of course, the ideal solution would be for you to Transfigure yourself into a submarine or something,’ she said. ‘If only we’d done human Transfiguration already! But I don’t think we start that until sixth year, and it can go badly wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing …” - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 26 (Yhe Second Task)

However, it's never mentioned (or tried in any situation with no other variables) whether transfiguring an Animagus would be like transfiguring a human, an animal, something between the two, or if it would even work at all. Transfiguring an Animagus isn't quite like transfiguring a human, and isn't quite like transfiguring an animal, so it's not clear what would happen.

In the book, his second-year spellcasting problems are because his wand is broken.

In the book, Ron never tries to transfigure Scabbers into a goblet. However, all his spells in his second year failed, ever since his wand broke in the encounter with the Whomping Willow.

However, Ron may have still failed, even with a working wand and a non-Animagus.

Ron's failed Transfiguration was probably not his fault in this case. However, that doesn't mean he would have succeeded given better circumstances. In their first year, Ron doesn't do well at Transfiguration, with a working wand and on animals provided by Professor McGonagall. In later years, he isn't particularly successful at it either.

He doesn't do well at it in his fifth year either. The first time he attempts to Vanish a snail, it maybe gets paled, but that's all.

“She was quite right; Harry found the Vanishing Spells horribly difficult. By the end of a double period neither he nor Ron had managed to vanish the snails on which they were practising, though Ron said hopefully he thought his looked a bit paler.” - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 13 (Detention with Dolores)

He's left with a mouse tail when he tries Vanishing a mouse.

“Well, it’s a start,’ said Ron, holding up a long wriggling mouse-tail and dropping it back into the box Lavender was passing around.” - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 15 (The Hogwarts High Inquisitor)

  • Curiously, each time I read the quoted passage between Harry and Ron I interpret it differently. Sometimes I read it as Ron trying to be optimistic about his own skills, other times I read it as Ron trying to encourage Harry by saying that to his eyes, Harry seems to have had some effect at least. – Cronax Oct 18 '17 at 15:13
41

Good question - ultimately one for the movie though, since, in the book, Ron wasn't trying to transfigure Scabbers, but rather, beetles into buttons.

Here is what we do know about Transfiguration and Ron and good vs broken wands:

Even in their first year Transfiguration class, Ron (and the rest of the class) are unable to successfully perform transfiguration, except for Hermione:

After taking a lot of complicated notes, they were each given a match and started trying to turn it into a needle. By the end of the lesson, only Hermione Granger had made any difference to her match; Professor McGonagall showed the class how it had gone all silver and pointy and gave Hermione a rare smile.

- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

As regards Ron and his broken wand and the book scene in question:

He [Harry] was supposed to be turning a beetle into a button, but all he managed to do was give his beetle a lot of exercise as it scuttled over the desktop avoiding his wand. Ron was having far worse problems. He had patched up his wand with some borrowed Spellotape, but it seemed damaged beyond repair. It kept crackling and sparking at odd moments, and every time Ron tried to transfigure his beetle, it engulfed him in thick gray smoke that smelled of rotten eggs.

- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Thus, in the book, Ron's wand is much less useful than in the film and it seems that even with a working wand (Harry in book 2, the whole class [except Hermione] in book 1), Transfiguration is a difficult magical art, made even more difficult with a faulty wand, regardless of the object in question.

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    The fact that it wasn't even Scabbers in the book makes it pretty clear the intent was to depict it as something he couldn't do, rather than something that was being mysteriously thwarted somehow. – T.E.D. Oct 17 '17 at 18:27
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    that is my thinking as well @T.E.D. - that it was simply an easy sight-gag for the film that shows his wand is busted – NKCampbell Oct 17 '17 at 18:31
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    Great answer, I've upvoted! :) There isn't much to go on with regard to transfiguring an Animagus, but I don't think it was intentionally the reason Ron's spell failed. – Bellatrix Oct 17 '17 at 19:24
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To answer the question as set by the title, yes, it is likely Ron's fault due to his skill, but the broken wand does not help the situation by any means.

We know from Goblet of Fire that it is possible to transfigure a human.

Harry spun around. Professor Moody was limping down the marble staircase. His wand was out and it was pointing right at a pure white ferret, which was shivering on the stone-flagged floor, exactly where Malfoy had been standing.

[...]

‘Moody, we never use Transfiguration as a punishment!’ said Professor McGonagall weakly. ‘Surely Professor Dumbledore told you that?’
Goblet of Fire - Chapter 13: Mad-Eye Moody

human transfiguration

And from Prisoner of Azkaban that is it possible to transfigure an animal.

Exam week began and an unnatural hush fell over the castle. The third-years emerged from Transfiguration at lunch-time on Monday limp and ashen-faced, comparing results and bemoaning the difficulty of the tasks they had been set, which had included turning a teapot into a tortoise. Hermione irritated the rest by fussing about how her tortoise had looked more like a turtle, which was the least of everyone else’s worries.
Prisoner of Azkaban - Chapter 16: Professor Trelawney’s Prediction

animal transfiguration

(I know the picture does not match the quote, but it does show an animal transfigured in the films)

There is no indication that it matters if a human is an animal when they are being transfigured, mostly due to that never happening in the books and only the once in the films. Given what we know in regards to human and animal transfiguration, I don't see any reason an Animagus would pose issues when being transfigured.

In the book, in this scene, Ron is trying to transfigure beetles into buttons, and having issues due to his wand. Though in either book or film, this is still only the students' second year. This is supposed to be challenging magic for them. Therefore we can assume that the spell failed because of Ron's inability to cast it correctly. And also the broken wand, but it would not have made a difference either way.

  • Nice how Ferret!Malfoy lands perfectly in the circle of leaves. – Azor Ahai Oct 17 '17 at 19:01
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    Is transfiguration fundamentally different from an animagus transformation? If not, is there a risk that, when an animagus in animal form is transfigured, and then the transfiguration is reverted, he would revert to his human form? That would have been a bummer for Wormtail in the CoS film. – Meni Rosenfeld Oct 17 '17 at 19:32

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