Lesson 5) Mice and Snuffboxes

Mice and Snuffboxes

Professor Mitchell sat at the front of the classroom behind a large stack of papers as the students filed in.  On the floor next to her desk was yet another box with small air holes cut into it that the students were getting accustomed to seeing.  This box had quiet scuttling and squeaking sounds coming from the inside.

As you all should know, this week marks the halfway point in your Second Year and as such will also include your midterm!  But before we get to all of that, we will first be performing an interesting little transformation that will turn a mouse into a snuffbox.  At its most basic, this transformation is slightly easier than last week’s as a mouse is a smaller creature and the spell is made specifically for it.  I figure you all could use a break before your exam, though I’ll be giving you an extra challenge, too, just to keep you on your toes.  But, I shall get to that in a moment.  First, let’s delve into the squeaky little creature that is the mouse.

Mice are small, nocturnal mammals that usually measure two to four inches in length.  They’ve got thin tails that can be as long as, or longer than, their bodies and large ears.  There are currently 30 known species of mice, but the term is occasionally used more broadly to refer to any small rodent of the superfamily Muroidea.  Mice are found most places around the world and are adaptive to their environment, being able to live inside or outside and in rural or urban areas.  They eat almost anything, though they prefer grains and plants.  In terms of physical ability, mice are excellent jumpers, swimmers, and climbers, and fast runners.

Mentally, mice are curious creatures.  They have some level of intelligence and will run if they get spooked.  Due to this, you want to be slow when you’re approaching them and beginning to cast your transformation.  Move too fast or give them any other reason to panic and you may find it slightly harder to suppress their mind as it will be on high guard.  Though we’ll be dealing with mundane mice today, there are also magical species.  It is possible to apply this spell to these magical variations, but it will require more willpower as their inherent magic will work harder to resist the change.

A snuffbox, as some of you may know, is a small, pocket sized ornamental box.  It was originally used to hold snuff, a scented tobacco product, but today is largely used by witches to hold various cosmetics. They are made in a variety of materials including, but not limited to, silver, copper, brass, wood, and even tortoise shell.  When they were popular back in the 17th and 18th centuries, they were a canvas upon which artisans could show off their craft, including intricate designs that were painted on or worked into the metal. Many were also inlaid with jewels, making them valuable gifts.

I’m not going to pass around an example snuffbox as I want each of you to come up with your own design to try to execute. There’s a multitude of possibilities when it comes to what you can create, so my challenge to you today is to try to come up with the most detailed design that you can. Of course, the more detail that you want to add, the more concentration you will need while casting the spell.

The Transformation
Like I mentioned earlier, today’s transformation will be slightly easier in terms of willpower compared to last week’s, however, the level of concentration will be increased depending on how much detail you want to put into your snuffbox.

Some possible issues that you could run into with this spell include a lack of detail, incorrect details from what you were aiming for, a snuffbox that still has whiskers or a tail, or a snuffbox that squeaks. If the latter occurs, please revert your snuffbox back into a mouse as this is an indication that you did not use quite enough willpower to completely overcome the mouse’s, so it is still conscious.

A Note on Variations
You may or may not have noticed that we have not discussed the concept of variations this year like we did last year. This is because variations with live targets are a little trickier than those with inanimate targets.  Due to the more complex nature of living creatures, it is harder to define what is similar enough to pass as a variation unless you know a lot about animals.  For example, in today’s transformation many may assume, based off everyday knowledge, that you could also cast this spell on a rat.  While there are plenty of similarities between a mouse and a rat, such as the fact that they’re both nocturnal, swim well, and have generally similar appearances, there is much more that distinguishes them.  It’s a surprise to many, but rats will actually prey on mice.  They are larger in size, have coarser and generally darker fur, and have a more curved nose in comparison to the mouse.  The two species have different life spans, with the rat living one to one and a half years and the mouse living only 9-12 months. They also have different diets, different reproductive cycles, and are even part of different genera (the biological classification below family, but above species).  It is due to these differences, and the nature of animate transformations, that none but the most experienced transfigurists will ever attempt variations on live creatures.  Even when it is done, it is only after an exhausting amount of research into the two creatures at hand.

Where did this come from? Why do I care?
Unfortunately, not every spell can have an interesting creation story, and today’s, I’m sorry to say, is one of those uninteresting ones.  The Mouse to Snuffbox Transformation was invented by Miss Helga Ornby, who was an elderly witch simply fascinated with snuffboxes.  Whenever she saw one in a shop, she could not resist buying it.  As you can imagine, with such a pricey fascination, her financial situation quickly declined.  Frustrated that she no longer had the money to add to her collection, she decided to try to transfigure anything she could find into a snuffbox, finally succeeding with one of the little mice in her garden.

Historically, this spell was used by witches and wizards in an attempt to give off an air of wealth.  They would transfigure some of the most intricately designed snuffboxes they could imagine to show off to their friends.  Soon, however, more and more people caught on to the use of the spell, so the trick no longer worked.  Today, this transformation is primarily used by witches in need of an extra box in which to store their cosmetics.

In terms of teaching, the Mouse to Snuffbox spell is great preparation for the transformations you will all be performing next year.  While overall you are simplifying your starting object, the mouse, there is still a multitude of details that you need to be concentrating on in order to successfully complete the transformation.  This will be especially important next year as you will be transfiguring living creatures with much more complex body systems that you will need to be able to think about simultaneously. Today you are focusing on the extensive visible detail in your result, while next year you will be focusing on the extensive internal detail in your result.

I hope you all enjoyed today’s transformation! Be sure to take a look at your notes before completing the midterm and I will see you all next week.

*Mouse image credit: https://med.stanford.edu/news/*
*Snuffbox image credit: http://www.leopardantiques.com/object/stock/detail/85*

In Transfiguration 201 we delve into animate to inanimate transformations and discuss some of the complexities and ethics behind these spells. Enroll