Lesson 9) Fish and Flowers

Fish and Flowers

Professor Mitchell was just sitting down behind her desk as the Second Years filed in.  The room was lined with aquariums on either side, all filled with various colorful fish, and on the desk sat a tall stack of papers.  As the students took their seats, the professor rose and began the lesson.

Welcome back to your final Transfiguration lesson of your Second Year!  I can’t believe how fast the term has gone by. It feels like just last week I was introducing you all to the world of animate transformations, yet here we are.  As you all know, I will be giving you your final at the end of today’s lesson, but first we do have one more animate to inanimate transformation to learn….well, sort of, but I’ll explain that momentarily.

Plants and Animals
All this year we’ve been discussing animate to inanimate transformations, but I have yet to actually define either of these terms.  This is because there is a slightly fuzzy line in terms of what is defined as “animate.”  Many go for a broad definition that includes anything that has life, meaning all plants and animals.  For the sake of this class, we will be defining animate as something that lives and moves of its own accord.  This definition includes animals, but cuts out nearly all plant species as most can’t move on their own.  This split is a generally easier one to make and also simplifies the applications of concepts in terms of animate transformations.  While plants still have that same spark of life that animals do, it is generally weaker as plants lack a consciousness and the mental complexity that we have encountered in our transformations this year.  But even then, there is still some indistinction for plants that closely ride this line.  Here to talk about those is our lovely Herbology professor, Professor Tudor!

Hello Year Two Transfiguration students! It is so nice to see you all. So today I am here to talk about the difference between animate and inanimate plants. If any of you have attended the sixth Herbology class of this year, you would know that I talked a bit about plants and transfiguration there. In that lesson I focused on the essence of each plant, that which makes it how it is, and how the transfiguration of plants should be understood partially as mystery. When transfiguring a plant (in general) it is important to be aware of what you know, as well as what you do not know. Just like how each individual person is different, so is every plant different, and a billion years would not be enough to know every plant completely. Understanding this, we are able to look at the basics of animate versus inanimate plants. First of all, all non-magical plants are considered inanimate. While these plants may be used for magical purposes, they do not have magical properties of their own and their lifeform is entirely dependent on factors outside of their control. Magical plants (for the most part) are different. For example, Devil’s Snare is able to sense the presence of other living things and reach out to strangle unprepared souls. Bouncing Bulbs are actually able to move around on their own! These plants clearly have some form of consciousness and even movement. Typically, a magical plant is understood as animate if it can move around on its own, make choices, or can eat “food” in addition to sunlight and plant nutrients. With other magical plants it is not clear if the plant has consciousness on its own, or if it only appears to because of the presence of magic within the plant. Some examples of “on-the-fence” magical plants are dandelions, dittany, and raskovnik. When transfiguring something into a magical plant we know that neither life nor magic can be created; however, recognizing this complication adds a level of difficulty to the spellcasting. It is certainly easier and a little less mysterious working with non-magical plants. If you have any more questions about where a particular magical plant falls under our understanding of animacy, feel free to come by my office or send me an owl.

Thank you Professor Tudor! As mentioned, life itself still plays a role in transfiguration, even at its most basic.  Plants still present some increased difficulty as they do still grow and develop with time.  I know some of you might be catching on now and understanding that objects are easy to work with, creatures are difficult, and plants lie somewhere in between, with animacy differentiating them from creatures and life differentiating them from objects.  While generally true, it is still even more complicated than that when you begin to ask “Well what actually defines life?” Something which has biological processes that allow it to grow and function is defined as having life.  Even this line is blurred, however, when things are disconnected from their source of life.  For example, when you get a haircut, your hair, though an organic material and previously “living,” is clearly not living once it is separated from your head.  In contrast, some say that a flower disconnected from its root system may continue to “live” in a vase with some water for a period of time before wilting.  With plants, there is a much more indistinct separation between life and death in comparison to that with creatures. For our purposes in transfiguration, we must deal with these issues on a case by case basis by assessing the characteristics of whatever it is we are dealing with and adjusting the mental components of our spellcasting accordingly.  It is not an exact art, but it is one you will get better at as you gain more experience in the transfigurative field.

Fish are aquatic animals defined by their possession of gills, skulls, and fins.  They have an extraordinarily large species diversity as many of our water dwelling friends fall under the aforementioned definition, from sharks to guppies.  Funny enough, many animals that have “fish” in their name, such as starfish or jellyfish, are not actually fish.  For today’s transformation, we will be dealing with some of the smaller, fish-tank-sized species of fish, including goldfish, danios, angelfish, and betta fish, among others.  This is due mainly to size relations, though the spell will work on some slightly larger fish as well.

As for daily fish life, they mainly eat plants and algae, though some larger fish eat other fish and animals found in the water.  Depending on the species, they live in either freshwater or saltwater and use their gills to filter out oxygen from the water to breathe, unable to live long on land as their respiratory systems are not designed to breathe air.  That being said, fish that inhabit shallow or seasonally variable waters can survive much longer above the water than those which live in deeper areas.  On the note of survival, fish are covered in scales and a thin layer of slimy mucus that are actually protection mechanisms. Mentally, they are lower in the complexity rankings as they typically have a smaller brain relative to their size.

I’m sure all of you know what a flower is, but in general, a flower is the reproductive system of a floral plant.  They may appear on trees or bushes or on their own and may either self fertilize or require fertilization from another plant.  Similar to fish, there is a wide range of flower species and you will have the freedom so pick what type of flower you are aiming for as today’s transformation works for all of them.  

To survive, flowers, like many other plants, require water, sunlight, and nutrients from the soil in which they are planted.  The main parts of the flower are shown in the diagram below.  The pistil, which contains the stigma, style, and ovary, is the seed producing part of the plant.  The stamens, the pollen producing parts, consist of the filament and the anther.  The other parts of the plant are the sepals, petals, and stem. The sepals enclose the developing bud, protecting it while it grows, and the stem brings nutrients from the roots and soil below up to the flower.  The petals are the thin, smooth, colorful parts of the flower that are meant to attract pollinators, or those creatures, such as bees, that spread pollen from plant to plant and allow for reproduction.

The Transformation
The spellblock for today’s transformation is given below, so be sure to practice your pronunciation and wand movement a few times before casting!  I’ve got various types of fish around the room and some smaller fish bowls here for you to transfer them back to your desks.

When casting this spell, it is important to note the apparent lack of similarities that exist between the fish and the flower.  Because of this, you may have to get creative with your thought process, connecting simple ideas such as color and a need for water to draw the two together.  Also note that we are only going for the stem and above part of the flower and not including the root system.  Because of this, our flower is not completely living.  If we were to include the root system, it would in fact be possible for the flower to grow and wilt and die like any other living flower, even though this seems to contradict Gamp’s Law of Life.  We will be discussing this concept in greater detail in your Fourth Year, so this is something to look forward to!

In terms of backfire, this transformation could give you some slightly interesting results.  You could end up with a flower that appears to breathe or wiggles around like a fish out of water if your willpower is a little lacking.  Another possibility is that your petals come out looking more like scales, though I doubt many of you will have that issue as at this point in time you should all be pretty good at at least accomplishing the physical aspects of your transformations.

Where did this come from? Why do I care?
Today’s transformation was invented by one Miss Olivia Penhollow in 1901.  Olivia was a fish farmer who believed the key to happy fish was environmental diversity.  In order to give her scaley friends just that, she had three separate ponds that she rotated them between every week.  Unfortunately, said ponds were all on opposite ends of town, so transferring her fish was a day long ordeal that resulted in many nasty looks from villagers who didn’t appreciate Olivia tracking the smell of fish through the marketplace.  Intent on figuring out an easier way to transfer her lovely fish, it took a couple days of contemplation and wandering the flowery bed of her ponds for inspiration to spark. A few weeks of experimentation later and Olivia managed to perform the first Fish to Flowers Transformation.  With this spell, any time she wished to transfer her fish between ponds, she would simply transform them all into flowers, which were easily carried across town without disturbing the noses of those she passed.

Today, this spell doesn’t see much use outside of teaching or fun party tricks.  Some may find it a handy spell to have in their back pocket on the off chance that a, well, person of interest, shall we say, comes around and they feel having a bouquet of flowers to gift would make for a good impression. If you ever happen to be in this situation, though, please do be sure to keep our ethics discussion in mind and sneak those flowers back so your friend isn’t surprised and doesn’t do anything rash when they turn back into fish.  Not to mention, that might make for a slightly awkward second date.

Now, I mentioned the Fish to Flowers spell being a good tool for learning.  This is due to the discussion we had earlier about animacy and what defines life.  This spell is an excellent introduction to the complexity that you all will be dealing with next year with inanimate to animate transformations and in your fourth year with animate to animate and trans-species transformations.  While the flower that you are all creating today is neither truly alive nor animate, it is still more complex than the objects you have been transfiguring up to this point as it contains all the cells and biological parts that would be required for a living organism.  Next year, you will be creating creatures with similar cells, but much more complex biological processes that are just about as close as we can get to artificially creating “life.”

And with that I congratulate you all on completing your second year of Transfiguration! I cannot believe how quickly the year has gone by and I cannot wait to see you all next term.  I bid you farewell today with your final exam and three optional final essays.

*Fish image credit: http://aquariumfish.net/catalog_pages/cyprinids/danio_for_sale.htm*
*Flower image credit: http://kids.britannica.com/*

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