From Pottermore:

Isobel later told her daughter that she had displayed small, but unmistakable, signs of magic from her earliest hours. Toys that had been left on upper shelves were found in her cot. The family cat appeared to do her bidding before she could talk. Her father’s bagpipes were occasionally heard to play themselves from distant rooms, a phenomenon that made the infant Minerva chuckle.
(Pottermore, "Professor McGonagall").

I know that young wizards and witches can do uncontrolled magic from a young age. But controlling animals is the sort of behaviour more often associated with Parselmouths, who can speak to snakes. McGonagall may have a strong affinity with cats but surely she couldn't speak to or direct the cat? How did she get it to do her bidding?

  • 4
    McGonagall is quite the cat person later in life as you say, and that might very well be an inborn trait that a cat can pick up on and it might see her as a strange kitty, it'd like to help. Maybe the toys from the top shelves got into her cot with the help from the family cat. Cats have been know to travel top shelves and to knock things down from there at will.
    – Bent
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 16:29
  • 1
    I like the idea that she's a Mewmouth (or whatever the equivalent of a Parseltongue would be for someone who could talk to cats). No idea if any canon source implies that the Parseltongue/snake association is something that exists with any other animals.
    – RDFozz
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 19:35

1 Answer 1


Probably through the (unconscious) use of the Imperius Curse.

Young wizards are often seen to perform acts of magic that are very far in advance of their capabilities as students until much later in their education. Harry, for example wandlessly performed what appears to be the Apparition Charm at the age of nine.

On the other hand, he’d got into terrible trouble for being found on the roof of the school kitchens. Dudley’s gang had been chasing him as usual when, as much to Harry’s surprise as anyone else’s, there he was sitting on the chimney. The Dursleys had received a very angry letter from Harry’s headmistress telling them Harry had been climbing school buildings. But all he’d tried to do (as he shouted at Uncle Vernon through the locked door of his cupboard) was jump behind the big bins outside the kitchen doors. Harry supposed that the wind must have caught him in mid-jump.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: CHAPTER TWO — The Vanishing Glass

And some kind of disappearing (and reappearing) spell at the age of 10.

Harry sat up and gasped; the glass front of the boa constrictor’s tank had vanished.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: CHAPTER TWO — The Vanishing Glass

McGonagall herself performs (again wandlessly) several charms and spells that are vastly in excess of what she should be able to do as a baby, including the Accio spell.

Toys that had been left on upper shelves were found in her cot.

(Pottermore: "Professor McGonagall").

Young Tom Riddle also seems to have had this ability to control animals merely using the power of his mind.

‘I can make things move without touching them. I can make animals do what I want them to do, without training them. I can make bad things happen to people who annoy me. I can make them hurt if I want to.’

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: CHAPTER THIRTEEN — The Secret Riddle

Under the circumstances, it's not in the least bit unlikely that she was able to (unconsciously) cast a spell that should have a) been beyond her ability b) needed a wand to cast under normal circumstances and c) would be considered inappropriate as an adult.

  • 4
    That a) doesn't seem in keeping with McGonagall's character and upbringing and b) is a very tough piece of magic probably not possible to be pulled off by a baby without a wand (see Moody's comment on AK needing "a powerful bit of Magic behind it"). Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 13:50
  • Maybe cats are much more susceptible to imperius than humans are? Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 13:51
  • 4
    @TheDarkLord - Many of the spells you see being cast by babies and children are spells that take years to master at Hogwarts. Put it down to natural magic leaking out. Queenie mastered legilimency wandlessly before she'd even got to school.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 13:55
  • 2
    So a baby cast an Unforgivable Curse? Do they have a nursery wing at Azkaban? Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 15:42
  • 4
    @Thunderforge The use of an Unforgivable Curse against another human being is punishable. I don’t believe it says anywhere whether their use on animals are. Since the human sense of consciousness and awareness—which is precisely what the Imperius curse overrules—is far more developed than any other animal, we might well expect it to be much more difficult to Imperius a human than an animal. Commented Feb 3, 2018 at 16:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.