The first things the students noticed as they entered the Transfiguration classroom were the statues and suits of armor dressed in extravagant robes lining the front of the room. There were also miniature versions of the figures set up on the professor’s desk, though she was nowhere to be seen.
Once the last student entered, a woman in a vibrant red dress strode down the center aisle, seeming to appear out of nowhere, from the rear of the room, the doors slamming shut behind her. Turning on the spot, Professor Mitchell clapped her hands and began the lesson.
Welcome back to Transfiguration and the day of your last transformation! Well, your last transformation until we get into human transfiguration in Year Seven, that is. Are you all excited? We will be going over three spells today: two new switches and a charm that you should already be familiar with. Before you go getting confused, let’s move on and begin our discussion of the blurry line that separates charms and transfigurations.
Charms v. Transfiguration
I’m sure some of you have come across a spell or two in your magical career that you haven’t been able to immediately classify as one category of spell or another. The defining line between a charm and a transfiguration was drawn by brothers Lazarus and Morpheus back in 1538. They differentiated them by noting that a charm is a spell that adds a quality to an object or creature, while a transfiguration is one that will change its target into something completely different. In other words, charms supplement a target. In doing so, they change the way it acts or interacts with the world. Transfigurations alter a target, changing what it is.
While this all sounds fine, dandy, and perfectly clear, there are a few issues with the brothers’ definitions that have caused years of debate within the magical academic community. For starters, it’s not always clear exactly what properties a spell is changing or what the spell is doing in order to create the desired effect in a target. As we will see with some of the spells we are looking at today, it may require a more in-depth knowledge of the workings of the spells to actually classify them one way or the other. In some cases, the science to procure this knowledge doesn't even exist yet, complicating the process further.
Switches, in particular, are the spells that seem to walk this line between charm and transfiguration. Looking back at our definition of a switch, you’ll remember that it is a spell that changes a feature of the target, whether that be a physical part or its animacy, location, or color. Now, the definition of this branch of transfiguration is very close to the way some people describe a charm, which is as a spell that “does not fundamentally alter the properties of the subject of the spell, but adds, or changes, properties.” Here, “properties” is the key word that people often equate with “feature,” which is why they may mistake a switch for a charm and vise versa. Therefore, in order to fully separate these two definitions, one must examine how the actual atoms of the target are reacting to the spell. If they are being physically modified in order to create the change (or, if we look back to our definitions, changing what the target is), the spell would be defined as a transfiguration. However, if the molecules are merely being moved around or reorganized to induce the change, the spell would be classified as a charm. Unfortunately, we do not currently have the ability to track such tiny particles throughout the casting process of a spell. Because of this, all attempts up to this point have either turned up inconclusive data or have failed to be properly executed.
Conjurations have also been a point of discussion for many theorists. Although they are an official branch of transfiguration, as likely defined by Fritz Holtz, there are some in the charming community who believe they’d be better categorized as charms. This comes down to the current theory on how conjurations actually take place. I mentioned back in First Year that conjurations pull atoms from the surrounding environment and change them as necessary in order to create the desired object. Well, some claim that there is no actual changing of molecules and atoms in that process, that all the atoms necessary for the object can be found within the environment and are pulled and assembled as they are, making all conjurations actually charms. Though certainly an interesting theory, it has not been able to gather much support due to both its longstanding status as a transfigurative branch and the fact that it is not provable one way or the other.
With the theory out of the way, today we are going to start out with the Statue Animation Spell. You should remember a little about the effects of this spell from Lesson Nine of last year, but in case you forgot or can’t gather from the name, I’ll give you a reminder. This spell animates statues, or any other ceramic inanimate object with legs. It was famously used by Professor Minerva McGonagall both in protecting the Philosopher’s Stone in 1991 and the Battle of Hogwarts in 1998. Just looking at what the spell does on the macro scale, many would automatically assume that it falls under the definition of a charm. After all, it gives the statue the ability to move, adding a property. However, as we talked about above, it may not be quite as simple. You see, when the Statue Animation Spell is performed, it must act specifically on the material of the target, changing its basic nature, therefore affecting what it is. Stone is constructed of molecules held together by very strong ionic bonds. These are what make it hard and brittle, to the point that it has little deformation when a load is applied, but instead will hold its form until it fractures rather abruptly. As you can imagine, this structure is not very conducive to the full joint rotation required for a statue to fight off Death Eaters. Therefore, it only follows that the Statue Animation Spell must do something on the atomic level to allow the molecules the wiggle room they need to, well, wiggle. What this something is, we do not yet know, but it is one of many active areas of research in the field.
A common variation of this spell is to cast it on a suit of armor, rather than a statue, which, interestingly enough, actually makes it a charm. The joints in a suit of armor allow for a full range of motion - not seen in a stone statue - without fundamentally altering the material of the target. Therefore, in this case, the spell need only provide the energy and direction for the desired movement.
Now, to cast the Statue Animation Spell, you’re going to need to channel your concentration and willpower into that movement. You need to make sure that your spell is strong enough to overcome the stiffness of the stone that restricts its movement and your concentration needs to direct the target where you want it to go and what you want it to do. Though you’re not creating a consciousness the same way you were with inanimate to animate transformations, the process is rather similar. The difference is that, rather than giving the mental commands in real time, you give them all at the moment of casting. This slightly limits the applications of what you can do with one wave of your wand, but it is sufficient in most situations.
To practice, you will be using the small statues I have here on my desk. As you get more familiar and comfortable with the spell, you will be able to target larger and larger figures, but for now, these will do. Another possibility with this spell is to target many statues at once. This is done in a manner similar to targeting a whole paw’s worth of claws, which we discussed last week, but because of the size and complexity involved with giving each statue their “marching orders,” it is remarkably difficult and has only been done successfully by experienced charmers and transfigurists.
Moving on to yet another spell you all should be familiar with, we have the Color Change Charm. Now, yes, the name does give the indication that this spell is a charm, however, transfigurists have made some pretty compelling arguments to suggest that it may in fact be a transfiguration. The color that you see when you look at an object is dictated by the wavelengths of light it reflects and absorbs. The light that is reflected is the light that hits your eye and is perceived as one color or another. There are molecules within every material called chromophores that determine what colors are absorbed and what are reflected based upon their molecular structure. I won’t get too much into the physics of how all of this works, but if you’re curious, feel free to send me an owl and we can talk about it.
So, given this information, how might the spell function as a charm and how might it function as a transfiguration? The long-standing theory is that the spell simply makes an aura or filter of sorts, just above the surface of the target, changing the wavelength of light reflecting off of it so you see the changed color rather than the natural color. Some transfigurists argue, however, that it may actually alter the molecular structure of the chromophores in the object itself such that they reflect the alternative wavelength of light. The only flaw in this hypothesis comes when you consider the fact that the spell is only temporary, fading away after a few days. All transformations we know that affect inanimate objects are permanent unless untransfigured.
I know you’ve all learned how to cast the Color Change Charm back in Year Three of your Charms class, but I put the details up on the board for you in case you’ve forgotten.
The third and final spell I’m going to teach you admittedly doesn’t align very well with today’s topic as it is rather solidly a transfiguration. However, I wanted to make your last switch something a little more fun and exciting. It is most definitely not just because I wanted to wear a fancy dress and put all the suits of armor in dress robes… Anyway, the Outfit Transformation is a spell that changes the style and color of the targeted outfit. This is still classified as a switch, rather than a typical inanimate to inanimate transformation, as the garment itself remains mostly the same. The resultant piece of clothing must be worn by the person or mannequin in a similar fashion to the original. If there is a body part that could possibly get in the way of the transformation, it will not work. So, for example, you could not change a skirt into a pair of pants or a shirt into a hat. What can change, however, is the style, through its length, color, fabric, design, and size. Any article of clothing may be targeted, from hats to shoes.
Though a relatively easy spell, first-time casters typically have trouble judging the appropriate size of their target garment. It is for this reason that we will be practicing on the suits of armor rather than our classmates today. You can target whichever item of clothing you wish, and you may change it however you want, but please keep all outfits school appropriate. The details of the spell are up on the board.
Where did this come from? Why do I care?
The Statue Animation Spell was invented by the very same person who created wizard’s chess: Mr. Lutor Mallie. Lutor was a French wizard who lived in 16th century France and whose family was largely involved in the French Wars of Religion. He was fascinated by the art of war, but was unfortunately unable to join his brothers and cousins in battle due to an illness that affected his mobility. Instead, he channeled much of his energy into the game of chess. He related the tactics of war to the tactics of the game, but still it wasn’t enough. Having a certain knack for spellcasting, Lutor set out to create a more lively and brutal version of the game, and ended up with what we now know as wizard’s chess. Through one of his many iterations and attempts to get his pieces to move the way he wanted to, the Statue Animation Spell was born.
For the creation of the Color Change Charm, we owe our thanks to one Leise Henot, a German artist and witch, for the creation of the Color Change Charm. She was having a rough year in 1622, trying to make a name for herself by incorporating magic into her art, but failing miserably. That is, until the evening of November 23, when she finally succeeded in changing the color of the painting she was working on from green to blue. Ecstatic at her discovery, Leise spent the next three years composing her works, practicing her new spell, and journaling everything she did. She didn’t tell anyone about the Color Change Charm until her gallery opening in 1625 that blew the minds of the wizards in attendance as they watched her sunny fields of green change into raging oceans under a night sky.
The story of the Outfit Transformation is by far one of my favorites. Elizabeth Fae was your average witch in 1862. Her life was pretty good, but for the worry she had for her best friend Ella, who was orphaned at a young age and left in the hands of her not-so-nice stepmother. Knowing the only way Ella would be able get away from her unfortunate home life was if she married a noble and successful man, Elizabeth made it her goal to make that happen. Through a few months of experimentation she came up with the Outfit Transformation, just in time for the town’s annual ball. She surprised her friend, who who would otherwise not have been able to attend, by transforming the flimsy dress she often wore into a stunning ball gown and her meager sandals into beautiful glass slippers. Sure enough, with the help of her ensemble, Ella’s caught the attention of one of the most esteemed young men at the party. He courted her in secret for the following months, with help from Elizabeth to avoid Ella's stepmother, and soon asked her hand in marriage. The rest, as they say, is history.
I hope you’re all still with me after that! Your assignment will let you share your opinion on whether or not you believe the spells we covered today are charms or transfigurations, though I will share that, on the whole, the Statue Animation Spell is generally accepted as a transfiguration, while the Color Changing Charm is generally accepted as a charm. That is all I have! Good luck on your studying and I will see you all back here next week for your final!
 JK Rowling’s official website
*Lazarus and Morpheus image credit: Giovanni Cariani, Portrait of Two Young Men*
*Statue image credit: http://www.raccoongames.es/en/product/harry-potter-wizard-chess-set*
*Prism image credit: http://kids.britannica.com/students/assembly/view/164517*
*Suit in robes image credit: Serafina Rosenquist*