Chapter Ten: Pawn Sweep
Ron woke up, dressed, and went to the emir's room. Surprisingly enough, al-Hadoud was up and as eager to get to the chess floor as he was. Most of the day was like the others, though he lost the second game to a Chinese boy from Singapore. He watched the emir carefully, but tried not to let his concern distract him from playing.
That afternoon, he was worried about the old Arab, but he still looked fine. Al-Hadoud admitted that he had used half of some potion that Rafi had procured for him the night before, and had taken the rest that morning. "So tomorrow I am likely to need more rest," the old man admitted ruefully while they sat in the restaurant eating an early dinner. "The gentleman at the table actually apologized for scheduling a night game for me."
Ron nodded. He didn't want to admit it, but he was beginning to feel tired, too. But there was only one more day of games for the juveniles after today. In just a couple days the whole thing would be over, and he and Snape would be on their way back to Hogwarts. It felt like he'd been here forever. There were some tours of the city scheduled, but between his games and al-Hadoud's, he wasn't going to be able to go. Besides, he doubted he would be able to get Snape's permission.
That night he drank several cups of tea just to stay awake. If nothing else, needing the loo kept him from nodding off! The emir lost that game, though, and wanted to talk about it once they'd gotten back to the room. Rafi mercifully intervened and sent Ron back to his own room. "You have taught me enough, master, that we can play this game over ourselves. Tomorrow is the boy's last day, and he will need his rest."
Ron had been amazed at how high he was in the ladder, all things considered. He had three more games to play before the final standings were calculated, unless he needed a playoff session. If he won all of them, he had a chance to come in third. The small Russian boy was likely to be second or third, while the boy from Durmstang was clearly going to be first unless he was hit by lightning tomorrow. Lee from Singapore was right above him, but Ron knew he could do better if he played him again. During the emir's last game, al-Hadoud's opponent had done something really sneaky with his queen, maneuvering it one or two spaces per turn till she had been in just the right spot to swoop down and corner the emir's helpless king.
But he was too tired to set up his board right now, and went straight to bed. Snape was still playing, or so he thought. The Potions Master had either drawn or won all of his games. The adult schedule went a day longer, since there were a lot more of them. Al-Hadoud, Malfoy, and Snape seemed to be the three leaders, though the emir had probably dropped a spot after tonight. Morris of the States was right behind him, though he might move up depending on how Snape did tonight. Biggerson of Sweden wasn't doing nearly as well as he probably should have. Ron wondered as he lay in the bed if losing to Snape right at first had disheartened the man. Jefferson of the States was doing all right. I still wish McGonagall had been able to come. He'd never really thought about it before, but it was strange how few women or girls played chess at tournaments. Maybe Ginny will be the next Tiger! Too bad Percy doesn't play much. Dad would like it if the Weasleys carried on the family tradition.
He dreamed of every Weasley showing up at a tournament and making Dad proud by sweeping all the places...
The next morning Rafi told him that the emir was resting till noon again. "Is he all right?" Ron asked. "I mean, I know how old he is, but the Headmaster never seems to be this way."
"Ah, but he is in his own place. As wizards and witches age, they sometimes develop an affinity for a certain place and draw strength from it. My master is far away from his. I wish he would let me take him home at night through the bottle so he could sleep in his own bed and thus rest much better than here."
"How does that work? Didn't you get here through the Floo like everyone else?"
"Of course, but once here I can go to other bottles, which are in his palaces. And as you saw, I can take him with me. But alas, he said it would not be fair to the other players, some of whom are also old. The rules also do not allow any to sleep in other than the place where the tournament is taking place. This gives an advantage to any wizard born in the place where the games take place, of course, or why many compete fiercely for the privilege."
That was interesting! And it also explained why Dumbledore almost never left Hogwarts that Ron heard about, even in the summer. The Ministry often met with the Headmaster right there at the school, too, though he knew from Dad that they preferred seeing people in London.
"Thank you, Rafi. I'll be here."
This was his last day. He checked the standings again, though in his category they shouldn't have changed from last night. Petrosian was first, as he thought, and Lee from Singapore second. Even with his losses, Ron was happy knowing he was tied with Smerdlov. Ok, so he's only seven years old. But I'm still proud of that draw! On the adult board, Snape was third. Malfoy was first since he'd won more games, but against lesser opponents, while al-Hadoud had dropped to second after his loss last night. Morris was fourth, and Biggerson was all the way down in tenth. Gerrit was fifteenth, and Ron smiled to himself. That's what happens when you give up too soon!
He sat down to his first game for today, with a boy from Argentina. They could barely understand each other, but it didn't matter. The pieces would talk for them.
His opponent's style was deceptively simple, a bit like Abercrombie's. Ron led with his knights as he generally liked to do, and opened up a way for some of his other pieces. The various strategies he'd learned over the past few months were starting to feel less like separate bits and pieces and more like a whole, though he was sure it wasn't there yet.
Then the Argentinian began running his pieces down the middle. Someone else has been watching Snape, Ron thought. But not well enough. The other boy hadn't taken the trouble to guard with his pawns the way the Potions Master usually did. Ron grinned and let Vinnie and Greg out to play among the lesser pieces his opponent had left behind.
Then white had his queen lead a wrecking crew against Ron's defense. As interesting as that certainly was, Ron noticed a hole where he could send his own lady to pin down half of the other back row. He carefully checked the rook on that side-McGonagall had taught him to be wary of that piece-and slid his queen into the right spot despite her loud protests.
His opponent's eyes went wide as he realized his peril. The boy drew his bishop back in an attempt to scare the queen into retreating, but when Ron maneuvered one of his knights into a fork between the king and rook on that side, the fellow tipped over his king.
One game down and two to go, Ron thought. He felt twitchy and restless. Then he spotted the boy he'd run tips for the day before. "Here's your two Knuts!" he said, and gave the boy the coins. "I didn't mean to cheat you out of anything. Remember, I'm the one you asked me to take that tray to Jinowitz."
"Right. Thanks!" The kid jingled the money, then put it in his pocket. "Say, I could really use someone tomorrow morning."
"I bet most of the other kids will sleep in," Ron said. "But I'm used to getting up early at my school. I'll be here." He'd already checked the board, and the emir didn't have any morning games tomorrow. Since he didn't have anything scheduled either, this being the last day, al-Hadoud would probably sleep, too. "I've got a half hour till my next game," he added. "Anybody need anything out there?"
"No adult games till another hour," said the other kid. "And you're the only juvenile except for the little kid's dad who tips. Why are you helping me out?"
"The school takes care of what I sign for, but I get to keep what I pick up," Ron said.
"Smart! Well, be here tomorrow. The adults will play all day, and the way I see it, whoever shows up first gets to help out as much as he wants."
"You speak English really well."
"Have to. I get paid extra for every language I learn."
"Wish I did!" Ron said.
"You're lucky, going to school like you do. I have to work evening shifts whenever I'm going to school. It'd be nice just having school or work, not both at the same time."
"Yeah, I guess I am lucky," Ron said. Now that he thought of it, things could be lots worse, even with Potions class with the Slytherins and the annual attack by Voldemort.
"Here's an extra cake. Don't tell anyone I'm giving anything away for free, it'll get me in trouble."
"Thanks!" Ron said, and munched it down. He looked up at the clock. It was time for his second game. It was against another Russian from Durmstrang, someone named Suvarov, who was also near the top. Ron quickly discovered why. It was hard to describe his opponent's game, because it was a style he wasn't familiar with, but it was certainly a good one. Ron counterattacked as hard as he could, but it didn't do any good. He was ready to resign.
Then he remembered Gerrit of Germany, and the way Draco had given up on the teaching board back at Hogwarts. Ron also recalled how the emir had felt about giving up too easily. Though it used up some time on the clock, he forced himself to look at the situation as if he'd just come to it.
Yes. There was a way to drag things out. Suvarov would have to earn his win. Ron moved a pawn forward. When the greater pieces were mostly gone, you made do with what you had left.
About an hour later, they shook hands on a very ugly draw. The pieces were still arguing among themselves about what should have been done, which Ron suspected was unusual for tourney pieces.
It was close to noon, and Ron was starving. By that time Snape was at the board looking at the standings. As he walked up to the Potions Master, the board changed to reflect his draw with Suvarov. "That was a long game," Snape said.
"And I was glad to get the draw," Ron said. "A good thing the book will have all the games. Dad and I will be replaying them all summer, if he has the time."
"I hope he does," Snape said, a peculiar look on his face as he rubbed his left arm.
Ron realized what his teacher meant, but tried to look like he didn't. Voldemort didn't care about chess, or if he did, played like Filch with real people. "I hope so, too," he finally said.
He didn't have as much appetite as he thought once he finally ordered something, but finished a plate of noodles with meat sauce anyway.
Then it was time for his third game of the day, and the last of the tournament for him. He was surprised to find his opponent was little Konstantin Smerdlov again, probably to play off the draw. The only other game scheduled for the juveniles was between Lee of Singapore and Petrosian from Durmstrang. Ron realized what that meant, once he looked at the standings and the scores. He would need a win for third, and a draw for fourth, as he'd drawn Suvarov, and the other Russian was right behind him. The money awards only went down to third, but even that place was worth fifty Galleons.
He sat down across from the child, and drew black. Ron closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again. Each game was a new one, no matter how many times you played someone. He felt a little dizzy for a moment. Ron began to play once Smerdlov opened.
About five moves into the game, something clicked. It all made sense now. He understood how Konstantin was playing, and how he needed to play back. It was like that one game with Abercrombie when he could see ahead almost all the way to the end. Only, as long as Konstantin played the way he was now, Ron didn't see any way to win.
But right now it didn't matter. He could see that the boy across from him had the same kind of understanding in his eyes. "It's so simple sometimes, isn't it?"
Konstantin smiled and said, "Yes, it is. Almost nobody sees it but me most of the time."
"Except I want to change to where I win, instead of you." Ron knew their conversation wasn't making sense, but he didn't care.
He saw an alternative and took it. His vision changed, then, as he hoped it would. His moves were rapid and smooth.
So were his opponent's. What is Konstantin seeing that I'm not? Ron used up some of the time he'd saved and tried to follow the path all the way to endgame.
Yes. There was a way. It like during McGonagall's chess trap, when it didn't matter having to sacrifice himself to move Harry forward. Now in this game he ruthlessly allowed both bishops to go to the side. It was necessary. His pawns were waiting for Konstantin to enter the killing ground now.
But the boy held back and played defensively. Ron was puzzled. That hadn't been in his visions. He stopped again. Aha! What looked like hesitant play was really a trap. Change, and change again. Ron drove his pawns forward, creating a net of controlled squares between them.
He barely noticed the people standing around, even though he had a vague feeling that Snape was watching. A survival skill he'd learned at Hogwarts, no doubt. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered but the chessboard in front of him. He wasn't using bits of strategy from others any more, or if he was they had become his now. "Is chess like this for you all the time?" Ron asked, knowing the boy would understand.
"Only with one or two people," Konstantin said.
The game ended in a draw, but Ron wasn't surprised. He was a little disappointed not to make third place, but playing chess like this, the way he dreamed of it sometimes, was worth coming here even if he didn't win any money.
Konstantin's father didn't look angry with his son after the game. In fact, the man came over and shook Ron's hand. "Boy, I know enough to see good play. Owl us in Ekaterinburg any time you like."
"Thank you, sir. Your son is really good. I am Ron Weasley from Hogwarts in England. It would be great to play by owl." Then the elder Smerdlov went off with his son.
Snape came forward out of the crowd and nodded approval. "I suspect you'll be playing him for many years."
"Yes," said Ron. "I think I will." He was beginning to feel a bit letdown now that the game was over. "I hope someone kept notes. I don't think I understood what I did."
"Then you have some work to do," the Potions Master said, but with only a little of his usual sting.
Snape withdrew as the emir came forward. "Weasley, that was a splendid game," said al-Hadoud, who embraced him. "It is such a joy to see a student grow like that. Sometimes when two players meet it is so, they strike sparks and play better than they could against anyone else. I remember it was like that the first time I played Dumbledore."
"I wish I could have won, though," Ron said. But he wasn't going to bother the emir with the reason. His empty purse certainly wasn't anyone's problem but his own.
"There is no shame in ending up fourth in such a tournament," al-Hadoud said, taking Ron with him over to the registration table. "And with such a game! I am sure your family will be very proud of you."
Ron cheered up, knowing they were proud of him already just for being here. When he went home for Christmas, he knew Dad would rub his hands and set up the board on the kitchen table, no matter how much Mum complained. But she wouldn't mean it, and would just make everyone fill their plates at the stove and put their dishes in the sink afterwards. They'd done it enough last summer, after all.
The standings board rearranged itself and glowed to show no more changes would be made. Petrosian of Durmstrange was first, and Lee of Singapore was second. Smerdlov of Ekaterinburg was listed third, while his own name and that of Hogwarts was just below. Yes, he could have done a lot worse. He'd just have to find another way to get enough money for a present for al-Hadoud and send some to Mum for Ginny.
The emir took him to the restaurant and listened as Ron rambled on about the game. "It was wonderful. I still don't know how to explain how I could see all the way ahead through all the changes. I wish I could do that every game."
The old man smiled. "Understanding sometimes comes later. Some can analyze well, but cannot play. Others play without a thought in their heads how they do it. I think you will be able to do both superbly someday. Almost all the great games, though, are played for joy."
"Almost?" Ron asked.
"A few that are played for blood and revenge reach that level. But passion is the root of them all, even if the passion cannot be seen."
"Professor McGonagall plays like that!" Ron said. "She doesn't seem like that in person, but on the chessboard it's different."
"That is why she is called the Tiger, young man. Malfoy, now, he plays for joy, but it is the joy of destroying others."
"And Professor Snape?"
Al-Hadoud looked sad. "He was not much older than the Russian boy when I first saw his uncle taking him around. When he was with me, he played chess as if the pieces were the only things that were real to him. It was a joy to see how he grew as well. He was like a plant shut away from light finally put into the sun ... but now I do not know him, or why he is here."
"When he played the Headmaster he didn't seem to mind losing. It was like the game was the only thing that mattered," Ron said, trying to find the right words. "Of course, you could tell he enjoyed crushing McGonagall."
"Well, who wouldn't! Winning against her means something. You speak with great kindness of a teacher you don't like, though."
"Dad and Mum said to always speak the truth about people, even if we aren't friends with them," Ron said, who knew he wasn't always good at that. When he was angry at someone, it was hard for him to see anything good about them. It was only right to be fair to the greasy git some of the time.
"Then your family has taught you well."
It still bothered Ron that he couldn't tell the emir that Snape wasn't really a Death-Eater now. But al-Hadoud might tell the wrong person, and even he could figure out what could happen then.
That afternoon he ran tea and sometimes sat as the emir played on his schedule. It felt funny to be done with his own games. He'd probably better work on some of his homework tonight. Tomorrow night after the awards ceremony he and Snape would probably Floo back to Hogwarts. Now that the tournament was almost over, he didn't want to go back to go back to regular life again.
Maybe McGonagall would help him organize a chess club, though he hoped Draco wouldn't want to join. His dad will probably make him, Ron thought. He was really glad not to be Draco now, even with all the money.
Late that afternoon he escorted al-Hadoud back up to the room, and helped Rafi with tea again. Instead of going back to his room, he went back to the tourney floor to run for tips. Maybe they don't add up to a lot, but at least I can get the emir something. I wish I could have made third place. Fifty Galleons would get Ginny all the clothes she'd need for the rest of this year and maybe I could have gotten a new wand.
He didn't find the serving boy that he knew already, but found another who didn't mind splitting the take. Ron knew Lord Malfoy was on the floor, and hoped he didn't have to take him any orders. He was a few Sickles richer when Snape finished a game and spotted him.
"Mr. Weasley," he said acidly, "you are better off upstairs working on your homework this evening. I will be going out and I think it best you stay in the room."
"This is going to be the last night here," Ron said.
"No, that will be tomorrow night. The awards ceremony includes dinner, and won't be done till late. We won't leave till the morning after. You will have tomorrow morning, at least, to worry about the emir's gift. It doesn't have to be given him before we leave. Even one of your mother's famous sweaters would likely prove acceptable," Snape said. "You might consider writing up the game you played with the Russian boy and sending him a fair copy. I found it fairly interesting myself."
Ron blinked, startled by the compliment. "It would be easier to write a game I didn't play, sir. I'm not sure I understand what I did yet."
"Then you would learn something by doing so," Snape said crisply. "Now we are going to eat and then we're both going upstairs."
Their meal in the restaurant wasn't as much fun as the ones with al-Hadoud were, but that didn't slow down Ron's appetite. Snape spoke little and ate less. That was normal, though. The Potions Master was known for leaving the staff table sooner than anyone else.
They finished, went up to the room, and Snape immediately claimed the bathroom. Ron wished he'd had first go, but dragged out his books and some paper as he heard the shower running. He was so far behind! A good thing the weather was getting too bad for Quidditch, he was going to have to give up his weekends for a while catching up.
At last the Potions Master emerged in a robe and went into his bedroom. Ron didn't understand why his teacher looked so dour. He hoped he wasn't the cause of any ill-temper. So far it had been an easy week that way. He would have gotten yelled at a lot more in class normally than he had so far here at the tournament. Longbottom will never believe me, he thought. He acted like I was going to my funeral when he heard I was going to have a share a room with Snape.
He used the loo, then decided he'd better neaten up the main room a bit. Snape had gotten a couple of issues of The Daily Prophet and one local paper as well. Ron scanned through them quickly, looking for any articles about the tournament. Snape's surprising progress through the ladder was written about in the most recent paper, so he carefully folded that one and set it aside. The only local one wasn't in English, but it had a lot of color advertisements in it. He opened it briefly just in case they believed in page three girls like some of the Muggle tabloids that Harry had stolen from his cousin Dudley.
He hastily put it down when the professor came out, all dressed up in the same robe he'd worn to the reception two nights ago, except tonight he was wearing a silver waistcoat, too. Ron almost gaped in astonishment.
"I will be at a club called Gemm's," Snape said. "I won't be back till late, and you should be in bed by then. Try not to wake me in the morning, and don't forget to go the emir's room first thing. Rafi may be able to help you pick out something for al-Hadoud. Don't owl me tonight unless there's a real emergency."
"Yes, sir," Ron said.
"And stay up here in the room tonight. There will be consequences if I find you have not," the head of Slytherin said in a harsh voice.
Ron didn't like that at all. Then again, if the emir wasn't feeling well tomorrow, he'd have all morning to add to his purse. And he really did have an awful lot of homework. "Yes, sir," he said.
Snape peered into the small mirror on a stand just by the door, made an odd, yet familiar-looking gesture at his hair, and left.
Once the door was closed, Ron realized that Harry made that same gesture at his hair whenever he went out to see a girl. And where was Gemm's? Ron had seen the name somewhere, but couldn't exactly remember when.
He picked up the local paper again, and found the ad. It was in color, and the girl in it smiled in a way that made Ron blush all the way down to his toes. Part of the ad was in English and mentioned something about fulfilling every desire. I won't owl Snape unless the hotel is on fire! Ron thought. Maybe not even then!
He sat down to a Transfiguration essay with dismay. I'm not used to doing this on my own. I wish Harry and Hermione could have come. Of course, by now they would have killed him out of sheer boredom, he was sure. And this stupid essay wouldn't get written just by staring at the paper.
He sighed and bent to work.
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