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From the Diaries of Minerva McGonagall: November 21, 1972

One of my second-year students asked me today how a person becomes an Animagus. I like to amuse my first-year students, on the first day of class, by entering the room as a cat and only revealing myself to be their Transfiguration professor after giving them ample time to wonder about my whereabouts; this left a lasting impression on one James Potter, apparently, and now he wants to know how to do the trick himself.

The trouble is, I’m not sure I believe him. He said all the right things, to be sure, the whole bit about my appearance as a cat being “the most astonishing thing I had ever seen” and “it opened my mind to what a wizard could do,” but he said it like he knew they were the right things to say; as if, provided he could spout the right combination of compliments, he would unlock whatever secret I was keeping from him about Animagi transformation.

James is one of those students who is too bright for his own good, unfortunately; he does well in class without trying, so I fear he’s never learned how to try. Everything has come easily to him, so far—friendships, sports, even adolescence, which so often makes children awkward. Mr. James Potter carries himself as if he were already a grown man, well past caring about schoolboy trifles, because everything he’s had to do so far has been trifling and quickly accomplished.

But becoming an Animagus is a difficult task, and very few students can handle it—and certainly not a second-year, who hasn’t even learned how to transfigure a looking-glass into a glass of water. I told James that the prerequisites for Animagi study began in the fourth year, and only one out of every fifty students might be able to pass on to the next level and begin the lengthy training process. 

“But what if I were just curious?” James asked. “How it worked, the spells involved, and so on. You’ve always said that learning how a spell is done is just as important as learning how to do it yourself.”

This is the kind of question that I would love to receive, if it came from a student who was beginning to master first-level transfiguration spells and had realized that learning the vocabulary of magic can help you form more complicated sentences, so to speak. But I sensed that something about James was not quite sincere. He did want to learn how to become an Animagus; that much was obvious. But he absolutely did not care how a spell was done. He never has, since he’s always been able to just do them. 

I told him that he could find all of the information he needed in the library. I can’t imagine him actually going—and if he does, it’ll be good for him.

Yours faithfully,


Previously in The Diaries of Minerva McGonagall