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Like, if an Animagus walked past a wizard as an animal, would they be able to tell that it's actually a wizard and not a real animal?

  • 8
    Rita Skeeter makes a living out of not being recognised as an animagus – Valorum Mar 4 '18 at 20:07
  • Dumbledore certainly could in the case of Minerva in book 1 – NKCampbell Mar 4 '18 at 20:23
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    Any chance you can tell us what your search has found till now? – Edlothiad Mar 4 '18 at 20:31
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    And given that Peter Pettigrew was not only among wizards but actually spent three years at Hogwarts as a pet, the answer would seem obvious. – Daniel Roseman Mar 4 '18 at 20:36
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    Maybe if they actually know the specific instance of? Of course Sirius would have recognised Prongs just as James would recognise Padfoot but if the wizard never saw them turn into their animal form how could they recognise them? Maybe you mean is there some aura but canon doesn’t suggest this at all so I would say the answer is a definite ‘no’. – Pryftan Mar 4 '18 at 20:45
8

No, they can’t tell just by seeing them.

The reason that an Animagus is supposed to register with the Ministry of Magic is because they could abuse the power, so it’s not something that’s easily detected by other wizards, otherwise there’ be no need for these precautions.

“It takes years to become an Animagus, and then you have to register yourself and everything,’ said Hermione vaguely, now squinting down the index of Weird Wizarding Dilemmas and Their Solutions. ‘Professor McGonagall told us, remember … you’ve got to register yourself with the Improper Use of Magic Office … what animal you become, and your markings, so you can’t abuse it …”
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 26 (The Second Task)

In addition, the Animagi we know of have used their Animagus forms as disguises. Sirius had used his Animagus form as a disguise quite a few times, going out as a dog since he was a wanted criminal.

“What’re you doing here, Sirius?’ he said.

‘Fulfilling my duty as godfather,’ said Sirius, gnawing on the chicken bone in a very dog-like way. ‘Don’t worry about me, I’m pretending to be a loveable stray.”
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 27 (Padfoot Returns)

Harry directly asked Sirius what would happen if he’s seen, and Sirius tells him that only he, Ron, Hermione and Dumbledore knew he was an Animagus. That means he was only concerned about people who already knew he was one catching him.

“Harry, however, continued to stare at Sirius. ‘What if they catch you? What if you’re seen?’

‘You three and Dumbledore are the only ones round here who know I’m an Animagus,’ said Sirius, shrugging, and continuing to devour the chicken leg.”
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 27 (Padfoot Returns)

If Animagi could be recognized by just seeing them, he couldn’t say that as certainly. In addition to this example, Peter Pettigrew used his Animagus form as a disguise for twelve years, some of which were at Hogwarts around skilled wizards like Dumbledore, Snape and McGonagall. None of them realized there was an Animagus in their school hiding as a pet, not even Dumbledore.

They can force an Animagus to become human if they suspect it.

There is at least one way of discovering if an animal is really an Animagus - casting a spell that forces them into their human form.

“What are you going to do with him if I give him to you?’ Ron asked Lupin tensely.

‘Force him to show himself,’ said Lupin. ‘If he really is a rat, it won’t hurt him.”
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 19 (The Servant of Lord Voldemort)

Sirius and Lupin used this spell on Pettigrew to reveal him as an Animagus.

“On the count of three. One – two – THREE!’ A flash of blue-white light erupted from both wands; for a moment, Scabbers was frozen in mid-air, his small black form twisting madly – Ron yelled – the rat fell and hit the floor. There was another blinding flash of light and then –

It was like watching a speeded-up film of a growing tree. A head was shooting upwards from the ground; limbs were sprouting; next moment, a man was standing where Scabbers had been, cringing and wringing his hands.”
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 19 (The Servant of Lord Voldemort)

The spell won’t hurt real animals, so if a wizard suspects an animal of being an Animagus, they could use this spell to check without worry about possibly harming an innocent animal. Theoretically, the very cautious wizard could cast it on any animal they encounter.

5

To sum up from the comments, the evidence against:

  • Rita Skeeter's career would not have been a success were it possible for a wizard to identify an Animagus on sight.

  • At the very start of the first book, Minerva was surprised that Dumbledore knew it was her. (Dumbledore's explanation was that he had "never seen a cat sit so stiffly" though admittedly he had a lamentable tendency to be, well, economical with the truth.)

  • Peter Pettigrew lived with the Weasleys (and then at Hogwarts) for over a decade without being identified as an Animagus. He was only recognized because of his missing toe, and they weren't sure even then until they had cast a spell to force him back into his human form.

The evidence for:

... uh, there isn't any.

However, it is still possible that there are some magical ways to detect an Animagus, even if it doesn't happen automatically. We already know of one; there is a spell that will force an Animagus back into their human form. You could in principle cast said spell on every animal you run across, though it might strike people as just the teensiest bit paranoid to do so.

There might also be artifacts that can detect an Animagus instantly, e.g., Mad-Eye Moody's eye. If so, they must be quite rare, or Rita Skeeter could never have escaped detection for so long.

1

Yes, they can identify animagi

The W.O.M.B.A.T. tests on J.K. Rowling's old website contained the following question.

Question 16 out of 17
A dog acting in a suspiciously un-canine manner is most likely to be
☐ An Animagus
☐ A Boggart
☐ A Crup (or part Crup)
☐ A Grim
☐ Imperius-ed
☐ Magically trained
☐ A Patronus
W.O.M.B.A.T. Grade One, Question 16

Full credit was only given for the first answer choice. ("Crup" and "Magically trained" received partial credit.)

The set up for this question of Rowling's seems to be almost identical to the OP's, and her answer implies that wizards should be able to identify animagi that walk past them.

  • I don't think this means that wizards can simply know that an animal is an animagus. This seems to be saying that if an animal is acting in a non-animal-like way then a potential (and most likely) explanation is that it is an animagus. But if an animagus chose to act like a regular animal then a wizard would not be able to tell that it is an animagus. – Alex Dec 25 '18 at 6:40

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