The Three-Book-Long Chess Match
Let us harken back to Sorcerer’s Stone, to a chess match that won Ron Weasley fifty points for Gryffindor, and ended up being one of the best scenes in the entire film series. This chess match is one of The Analyzed Passages of the Pre-DH Era – those lines or paragraphs in the first five (later six) books that the fandom collectively agreed foreshadowed later books… if we could only understand how! (see also: the prophecy, “in essence divided,” Dumbledore’s “gleam of triumph,” etc.) One of the things that a majority of fans agreed on back in the day was that the chess match secretly foretold how the rest of the series would play out… if readers could only decipher which piece was which character!
Well, now we have Deathly Hallows available to us. Does the chess match indeed foretell how DH ends?
Surprisingly, there is much less consensus now that we actually have the allegedly foretold ending, than there was while everyone was still guessing. On the one hand, broad strokes of the chess match certainly seem applicable. On the other hand, it’s not readily apparent as a perfect fit, and some fans don’t care for jumping through hoops to make it fit.
Where I fell between the two camps really depended on the day. I certainly like the idea of the chess match being prophetic, and it seems like a very Jo thing to write. But thinking casually about it never made it add up. So I plunged into an in-depth analysis of the chess match to see, once and for all, whether I could make it fit with the events of the latter books.
To begin, I will distill Jo’s magnificent prose to the several key events that need to be matched up. So, pulling from Sorcerer’s Stone pages 282 and 283 (because constantly referencing them is redundant):
- Their first real shock came when their other knight was taken. The white queen smashed him to the floor and dragged him off the board, where he lay quite still, facedown.
- “Had to let that happen,” said Ron, looking shaken. “Leaves you free to take that bishop, Hermione, go on.”
- Twice, Ron only just noticed in time that Harry and Hermione were in danger.
- [Ron] himself darted around the board, taking almost as many white pieces as they had lost black ones.
- [Ron] stepped forward and the white queen pounced. She struck Ron hard across the head with her stone arm, and he crashed to the floor.
- “That leaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry!”
The last one, #6, is obvious – all the events of the book and this war lead up to Harry being able to defeat (checkmate) Voldemort (obviously the white king). The devils are the details, however, and some of the intermediate events are not as obviously predictive. So I will work through the steps of the chess match in order of decipherability.
The White Queen’s Kills
If we are looking at Ron’s sacrifice to the white queen, it is rather easy to place: Ron represents Dumbledore, the white queen is Snape. True, many people die in the books, but most of them do so in the thick of battle, not by actively sacrificing themselves for Harry. Dumbledore, on the other hand, chooses to die in order to protect Harry: “Dumbledore had wordlessly immobilized Harry, and the second he had taken to perform the spell had cost him the chance of defending himself.” (HBP584)
The white queen represents Snape, who has by this point become “the Dark Lord’s favorite, his most trusted advisor.” (HBP34) So the knight (Dumbledore) allows himself to be killed by the white queen (Snape)… and this will eventually leave Harry with the opportunity to checkmate the king. That is steps 5 and 6 taken care of.
Now we go back to the other key moment – step #1, when the white queen takes the first knight. I believe that this points to when Bellatrix kills Sirius Black. There can be no doubt that Sirius is a knight – a fighter – and that he was the first battle casualty of the war (Cedric, after all, was not killed in battle; he was murdered in cold blood just before Voldemort’s resurrection).
But wait – is the white queen Snape or Bellatrix? I believe this is the question that has tripped up fans for a long time. Most go for an either/or answer. Either the white queen is Snape, Ron is Dumbledore, and the first knight is… um… someone else he killed? Or the white queen is Snape, Ron is in fact Sirius, and the first knight is… um… Cedric?
The latter was the prevailing theory before Half-Blood Prince came out. Also working towards that theory is the regal language often used to describe Bellatrix – the first time we see her in the Pensieve she is “sitting in the chained chair as though it were a throne” (GF594). Bellatrix just fits the image of a “queen” better than Snape does. But clearly neither of those theories quite works, which has led some fans to just dismiss the whole comparison altogether.
However, I think the white queen needs to be treated not as representative of a person, but representative of a position – Voldemort’s right-hand Death Eater. At the time of Sirius’s murder, Bellatrix was certainly Voldemort’s right-hand woman, honored by him above all others. In this position, she murders Sirius (the first knight) – that’s step #1 accounted for. She then cedes the position to Snape after the Ministry fiasco – Snape makes much of her falling out with Voldemort in Spinner’s End (HBP29). So Snape is the white queen at the time Dumbledore allows himself to be killed. .
Step #4 is easy to find in the text. Ron darting around taking out white pieces works quite well if Ron represents Dumbledore. This echoes the battle at the Department of Mysteries, when Dumbledore rounds up the remaining Death Eaters like nobody’s business. “Dumbledore had most of the remaining Death Eaters grouped in the middle of the room, seemingly immobilized by invisible ropes.” (OP808) It can also be representative of Dumbledore hunting down Voldemort’s Horcruxes – that would make more sense chronologically, but the former analogy is a better one. Either way, step #4 falls right into place.
That leaves us with steps 2 and 3, and these are the difficult ones to place. Who is Hermione representative of, who is the white bishop, and what two times were Harry and Hermione in danger? This requires a bit of stretching, so bear with me through the thickets of wildest guesswork. If you can think of a better parallel than mine, please sound off in the comments!
My theory is that Hermione in the chess match is representative of Harry’s friends collectively. Hermione takes the part of a castle. As we know, a castle represents everything that Harry loves, an environment where he feels safe and is surrounded by friends. Therefore, much as the white queen represents more than one thing, so does Hermione: she stands for all of Harry’s friends at Hogwarts.
The white bishop is even trickier. A bishop is a leader in his own right, an official and overseer of a congregation, who has quite a bit of his own authority. But even though the bishop has his own authority, he serves the interests of the white king. The bishop in chess does not move in a clear direction one way or the other; he can only move diagonally.
Given all that, I think our white bishop is none other than Cornelius Fudge. I am not saying that Fudge is a Death Eater; he is an independent official with his own authority (like a bishop), whose actions served the interests of Voldemort. By stubbornly refusing to acknowledge Voldemort’s return, Fudge allowed Voldemort to carry out his plans largely unhindered for a year. Much like the chess piece, Fudge did not move directly towards one side or the other; he just moved in weird ways (diagonally) around the board.
Harry and his friends (represented by Hermione) “alert[ed] the world to You-Know-Who’s return” (OP852). In doing so, they effectively took Fudge (the white bishop) out of the picture – Fudge is promptly forced to resign a fortnight after the Battle of the Department of Mysteries (HBP15). There we have step #2. And much as in the chess match, step 1 leads to step 2. The death of the first knight led to Hermione taking the bishop. Sirius’s murder by Bellatrix was part of the battle at the Department of Mysteries, which allowed Harry & co. to finally remove Fudge from office.
Working chronologically, Step #3 has to take place in Half-Blood Prince – two times Ron notices just in time that Harry and Hermione are in danger. If Ron represents Dumbledore, and Harry and Hermione represent Harry and all his friends, then I think we can pinpoint these two instances to Draco’s half-hearted attempts on Dumbledore’s life.
Both instances involve danger to Harry and his friends – the cursed necklace that nearly kills Katie Bell, and the poisoned mead that nearly kills Ron. Both are saved from danger in the nick of time. And we know that Dumbledore is noticing all of these things. So the last part of the puzzle falls into place, and we have our chess match!
I think this all fits pretty well. In fact, I think it fits too well for it to not have been intentional. We know Jo had plotted out the entire series meticulously, and I believe she told us how it would shake out in the very first book.
To recap: the chess match in Sorcerer’s Stone foretold how Bellatrix would kill Sirius, how Harry and his friends would oust Fudge as a result, how Harry and his friends are nearly killed twice as Dumbledore watches over them, how Dumbledore defeats Death Eaters and destroys Horcruxes, how Dumbledore sacrifices himself to Snape, and how this allows Harry to defeat Voldemort. That there is a list of most of the major events in the latter three books.
In short, let us bow down to the genius of Jo Rowling.
 “Bishop (noun)” Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, n.d. Web. 20 October 2014.