Inspired by Childcat15's comment on this question In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone McGonagall transfigures the chess pieces that the trio battle to gain access to the Philosopher's Stone. In the Deathly Hallows she does a (I'm assuming similar) spell to bring Hogwart's statues to life.

From what we know of the subject, transfiguration is changing the form of something. So in what way were the chess pieces, and statues, transfigured.

(Process of elimination is not a preferable answer, but I understand if that's the only way to get one)

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    Superficially I would have pegged "making chess pieces move" as a charm and "giving keys wings" as a transfiguration; maybe JKR just didn't have her terms nailed down yet? – KutuluMike Aug 10 '15 at 17:15
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    I've always thought of transfiguration to be related specifically to animate/sentient things in some way: both the chess pieces and the statues are transfigured from a non-sentient state to a sentient state, which the keys are not: they are given the ability to fly and partly interact with the world (at least in the movie), but not to think or act consciously as such. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 10 '15 at 17:24
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    @JanusBahsJacquet - Transfigure is to change form/shape/appearance. Animation is not necessarily part of that. I assumed that she transfigured a normal size wizard chess set into the life sized one. The animation was already a part of the set. – JohnP Aug 10 '15 at 17:38
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    @JohnP, a bog standard set of wizards chess pulled out of a cracker and simply enlarged? I must admit I never actually thought of that. Begs the question of how do you give sentience (chess pieces talk in the books (the little ones, not the big ones)) to an object? (I stress sentience, not charming like the keys). If you root out an explanation for that, it would explain the statues at least into plausibility and would be a good answer (not, of course, that said statues are necessarily transfigured. I'm sure McGonagall can do other kinds of magic haha) hmm ive managed to second guess myself. – Mac Cooper Aug 10 '15 at 17:48
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    @Mac Cooper Trouble is I'm not sure the same thing applies to the chess set :-s – ThruGog Aug 10 '15 at 20:11

Transfiguration includes the magic of animating inanimate objects

Sadly I don't have the books to draw quotes from, but here is what I have gathered.

I have no idea if the Harry Potter lexicon is seen as a valid source of information, but it lists animating objects as part of Transfiguration.

Transfiguration is magic which changes one object into another. It is possible to change inanimate objects into animate ones and vice versa. -HP Lexicon http://www.hp-lexicon.org/magic/transfiguration.html

Additionally, the HP Lexicon lists the petrification of Mrs. Norris as transfiguration, implying that depriving an animated being of its animation is also transfiguration (again no idea how canon that is).

From Pottermore and the books:

Professor McGonagall transfigures a life-size chess set as her piece of protection for the Sorcerer's Stone - Pottermore biography on McGonagall learned in "The Chessboard Chamber" instance

While my original thought had been that she transfigured it by making it larger, the text says she transfigured a life-size set, implying it was already big before she transfigured it (although I suspect she did in fact make it bigger). She could have taken a regular chess set and just made it bigger, but she still would have had to change it to make its own decisions, and to not be as chatty as Ron's set was.

Similar instances of animation occur when McGonagall summons the suits of armor to protect Hogwarts during the Battle of Hogwarts, and when Dumbledore animates the statues from the Fountain of Magical Brethren during the battle at the Ministry of Magic. One interesting bit of trivia about Dumbledore:

McGonagall sent an owl to Hogwarts, asking whether she might be considered for a teaching post. The owl returned within hours, offering her a job in the Transfiguration department under Head of Department, Albus Dumbledore. - Pottermore bio on McGonagall, unlocked content

So Dumbledore was the head of the Transfiguration department, and when in battle one of his first instincts is to animate statues to help him fight. While hardly conclusive proof, it makes sense that someone would rely on their specialties when they're in a rush.

Some have pointed out that the spell to animate the Hogwarts statues, Piertotum Locomotor seems to be a variant of the Locomotor spell which is a Charm. It could be that animation is in the middle between Transfiguration and Charms, but throughout the books we primarily see Transfiguration experts using these spells.

This ultimately means that McGonagall transfigured the chess set by animating it to play on its own.

  • The pottrermore quote doesn't leave much ambiguity. They're lifesize and animate. They were lifesize to start and then she transfigured them. You make a good point with dumbledore too ... Like animating soldiers is transfiguration end game :P (oh, and nice work answering your own question haha) – Mac Cooper Aug 12 '15 at 18:20
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    @MacCooper lol I said I was curious! and technically it's now your question :P – childcat15 Aug 12 '15 at 21:47

McGonagall Transfigured the small wizard chess into a giant size one.

The animation which they do is the way a wizard chess works,

“Ron also started teaching Harry wizard chess. This was exactly like Muggle chess except that the figures were alive, which made it a lot like directing troops in battle.”

-Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone-Chapter 12,The Mirror Of Erised.

So there is no need for McGonagall to apply a special charm for the chess set for them to animate.

But the statues and the plinths of armour are brought to life by Transfiguration by McGonagall using Piertotum Locomator.

The mechanism in which both the wizard chess and statues are transfigured is same.

  • @sumelic I learnt that McGonagall changed the size of wizard chess by transfiguration in Pottermore, the rest is from the book for which I've attached necessary phrases. The final sentence is supported from my above sentences. So I can tell that there is no speculation in my answer. – axelonet Aug 11 '15 at 3:22
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    pottermore.com/en-us/book1/chapter16/moment2/… ,You need to login and must have complete the Wizard Chess scene to view the doc, where it states Professor McGonagall transfigures a life size chess set as her piece of protection to the Philosophers stone. – axelonet Aug 11 '15 at 4:05
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    Piertotum Locomotor is classified as Transfiguration where? To me that was an activation charm that is a clear variation of the Locomotor charm spell, which caused pre-charmed (enchanted) objects to do their magic. We have no reason to presume it was a Transfiguration spell because she taught that subject. We should, however, presume that only she, as Headmistress, was able to activate that spell. In summary: the mechanism is not the same at all. – user31178 Aug 11 '15 at 5:52
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    "So there is no need for McGonagall to apply a special charm for the chess set for them to animate." This is at odds with what Hermione observes of the chessmen, "McGonagall transfigured the chessmen to make them alive." – Etheur Aug 11 '15 at 13:40
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    @Mac Cooper She does. Just not mine ;-) – ThruGog Aug 11 '15 at 14:56

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