Chapter Three: Possession of the Board
That weekend, Draco Malfoy read a letter from his father with dread. He was champion of Slytherin--wasn't that good enough? But he knew that somehow word had gotten out about his losses to the Weasel.
My dear boy, it began. I must congratulate you on becoming the champion of your House. However, I hear you have had trouble with those outside of it, despite all the care I have taken with your training. Teaching boards are hard to come by, and you must admit that Professor Snape has done his best to coach you.
Draco knew it. He was sick of the damned game by now. Just because Father wants to waste his time with this nonsense, does that mean I have to as well? If he wants to go to the All-Wizards' Tournament, why doesn't he just go and leave me out of it? He had to be careful about showing how he felt, though. Professor Snape was already aware of it, judging by the cutting remarks the older man had made in their private playing sessions. Once Draco had let slip how important this was to his father, though, Snape had sighed and let him work with the teaching board Lord Malfoy had sent.
If Snape wasn't here, I would have given up a long time ago. Only the Gryffs can trust Dumbledork-everyone knows the Headmaster thinks Potter's the greatest thing since the invention of fire. Even with all the sarcasm, Snape understood a lot of things none of the other teachers here at Hogwarts ever would.
Draco bent his head to the letter again. I have taken the liberty of providing you additional help. Sometime before the beginning of the next round, go to the third floor and to the empty hall to the right. Follow instructions properly, and you will meet your new coach. I trust he will prove most helpful.
For no particular reason Draco was afraid. Maybe I ought to show this letter to the Professor and have him come with me. Snape had already defused some unpleasant situations at Malfoy Manor itself that Mother hadn't been able to deal with. Father sometimes bragged how Voldemort could bring the Professor to his knees any time the Dark Lord wished; but didn't that show more strength than the way Lucius Malfoy willingly bent his own?
I'm not a child any more, Draco thought. I can't go crawling for help every time something seems odd. He read the rest of the instructions in the letter, and sighed as he put the note in a small chest near his bed.
Late that night he crept out of Slytherin and to the third floor of the main hall. He didn't have a special cloak like the one he'd heard that Potter had, but had learned that Mrs. Norris was especially fond of herring. It hadn't been hard to convince Mother to include a can or two in the packages she sent from home.
The hall on the right was empty. Potter and his friends must have been out of their minds to come here when that horrible beast of Hagrid's had been chained up in the place.
Go down through the trap door, a mental voice directed.
Draco did as he was told, then walked through another empty chamber. Again the voice told him which way to go. I don't like this, he thought, but kept following the instructions. He hated the way he was shaking. Surely it was only the cold breeze making him shiver.
Finally he was in one of the basements. It was so dark. He couldn't make himself move forward. I should have told Snape after all, he thought. He knew that he wasn't particularly brave. Vince and Greg never suspected, but when he was by himself he had to face the truth.
"Master Draco," said the soft voice, this time out loud.
"Who...who is there?" he asked, his voice going high.
"S-someone to help you with chess." A ghost appeared.
Now that he could deal with. The Manor had an entire squadron of ghosts, many of them far more frightening than this one. He stepped closer.
The pale shade became more solid. Draco blinked. He was surprised the fellow was still hanging around. "I know who you are," he said.
"Yes. I s-see you do. I died here, after all. And H-He thought I might be useful again someday."
Draco could manage this. "You mean, you'll tell me the moves the way Binns will be telling Wormy Hermie when he plays."
"No. Another ghost out in the open w-would be detected. I have to cover up better than that." The spectre moved closer.
Draco stepped back, suddenly terrified. "No, wait! I can win on my own!" Then his back was against the wall and he couldn't remember where the door was. The ghost embraced him like a brother and sunk inside.
Nobody heard Draco Malfoy scream.
Ron awoke on the first morning of the second week of the tournament. He was surprised he'd been able to sleep at all. He bolted down a quick breakfast and showed up over half an hour early. Even if he didn't win, he'd get to play and watch a lot of chess for the next week. It was going to be the most fun he'd ever had.
He looked at the schedule. The first two days would be devoted to cross-matches between the House Champions, while the staff played only each other. Matches between the champions and the staff would be played the second two days, while the last day would be used to settle any ties between students or staff.
Ron went to his assigned table. Abercrombie, the Hufflepuff champion, was already there. The large young man didn't look too bright, but his pieces were well-disciplined and quietly marched down the board. Ron had to work to avoid getting knocked down, but after a long struggle defeated the simple, but highly effective strategy.
"They said you were really good at this," Abercrombie said.
"You're not half-bad yourself," Ron said, after the result of the first game was recorded. "Um...after the tournament, let's play some more. I'd give you some advice now, but I'm not entirely insane."
"Sounds like a plan," the older boy said. "Well, here goes game number two. You're white this time."
Ron had to watch himself this time. Abercrombie was a fast learner. Both black bishops were soon out and slanting back and forth through white's back row, despite Ron's attempt to use his pawns to screen his stronger pieces. What a tactic! he thought to himself. He was glad he finally found a way to surprise both pieces with his knights.
But in all his worry about those blasted bishops, he hadn't been paying attention to the rest of his back row. He fretted when Abercrombie ran his queen up out of nowhere to threaten the white king, and barely kept it from being checkmated. Then he sat for a bit without making any move. He looked at the situation fresh, as if it was on the teaching board he'd played last week. He nodded to himself as he finally figured it out, then moved out one of his bishops.
Just as the lunch bell rang Abercrombie sighed with disgust and tipped over his king. But it wasn't at all the same as it had been with Malfoy. They sat together at lunch and compared notes on the other players.
"You'd better look out for the Ravenclaw girl," Ron said. "Watch out for her pawns. And it helps if you know some of the classic games with Malfoy. Do something to break up his pattern, if you can figure out what it is. You'll know if you succeed if he stops sneering at you and plays slower. As long as he's winning, he'll make lots of nasty shots at you."
The Hufflepuff boy nodded. "I should have played some of the others last week the way you did. That was smart."
"I got some good advice," Ron said hastily, though he didn't mention who'd given it.
After lunch he sat down against Miss Brentwood. It's going to be a long afternoon, he thought, and reminded himself about pawns.
It was dark already once they were done for the day, one win, one loss, and one draw later. Ron counted himself lucky to have done that well, actually. He was beginning to understand the Ravenclaw's pattern and came up with a good strategy against it, based on some of the games in McGonagall's book.
The Transfigurations Professor congratulated him that evening. "You and Miss Brentwood are nearly tied. Malfoy is next, and then Abercrombie. Your matches with Malfoy tomorrow will probably be the deciding factor. She will play him in the morning and you will play him in the afternoon."
He told McGonagall what he'd noticed about Malfoy the week before. "He knows the classic games really well. If Dad and I didn't go over them, I could be in trouble. But if I spot the game he's using, or break up his pattern some other way, then I have a good chance. I've done it twice so far. And he really doesn't like chess, I don't think."
"Mr. Weasley, few people feel about chess the way you do. Fortunately, I am one of them. You might wish to play one of the staff members, as some of them will come in early as well. Remember, you only have to play each staff member once, but do try to get them in when you can, since there are more staff members than students, and we are playing each other for two games out of three. But do not underestimate Mr. Malfoy. He is quite capable of luring you into complacency. I observed him with Abercrombie, and his play was more subtle than you give him credit for."
He hadn't thought of that. Of course a Slytherin might build up an opponent's confidence when it didn't matter, only to drop on him like a rock when it did. He tried to forget that he'd considered doing the same thing.
Ron went to the tourney area first thing after breakfast. Technically, he could have gone to a class or a study room, but somehow that wasn't really an option. And besides, McGonagall had said it would for the best.
He remembered what Snape had said about Filch. He felt awkward approaching the surly caretaker, but he might as well get it over. As he got closer, he saw that Filch had an extraordinary set. All the pieces were cats, from the Siamese queen to the row of Persian kittens as pawns.
Ron sat down and absentmindedly scratched underneath the black queen's throat. He was amazed when the piece began to purr.
"That's the best way of getting these pieces to behave," Filch said. He almost smiled.
"They're beautiful!" Ron said. "I've never seen anything like them!"
"Had these made special. Cost me a lot of Galleons, but they were worth it."
After a bit more chitchat, they began to play. Ron soon discovered that Filch's strategy was strictly opportunistic, based on sweeping as many pieces out of the way before he did much of anything else. Soon the air was filled with the cats' yowling, which soon turned to grim silence pierced by the occasional hiss.
Ron struggled to make what he could of the game. He passed up several opportunities for slaughter on his own account and kept his mind on the main objective. Once they got to endgame, though, he found out that Snape had been right. He nearly lost the game by not paying attention to his king. For once he wished he'd castled the damn thing. But after a bit of smash-and-grab on his own part using his bishops the way Abercrombie had, he managed to bring things back into order. (For the moment he mentally christened his bishops Vinnie and Greg.)
Then Filch crushed one of the bishops and seemed to be going after the other one, when Ron spotted how to open up a path to the back row. He took the rook's pawn with his bishop, as if he couldn't think of any other way to get the piece out of the way of Filch's knight. Filch's rook took the bishop, his own rook took Filch's, and the caretaker stared down at the board, obviously unhappy at what he saw there.
Filch took his time looking. Then he finally moved one of the back pawns to leave an escape path for his king. Ron blocked it with his queen.
At that the caretaker tipped over his king. "Sneaky little bastard," Filch mumbled to himself. "But then I should have figured that out, the way you and your friends get around me into places where you shouldn't go."
Ron couldn't argue with that. Dodging Filch and Mrs. Norris was great fun. He quietly picked up the pieces, petted them till their fur lay down properly, and said, "Thank you for the game, sir."
"Well, at least you know how to soothe them properly," Filch said with grudging approval. "Maybe you aren't a total brat after all."
Ron gave the man a quick grin. How he loved playing so many different people! The more he played, the more he learned. He wandered over to watch Brentwood and Malfoy. Ron worried when he saw how much trouble the Ravenclaw girl was having against the Slytherin. He didn't recognize the game that Malfoy was using at all, or even the style. How sneaky could you get! A good thing he was watching this now. I wonder what he'll pull on me this afternoon?
He walked over to Professor McGonagall, who was playing Binns. Ron waved hello at Granger, who was moving the pieces for the discorporate History Professor, then sat and watched for a bit. The game was almost over, so Ron decided to wait and let McGonagall know what was going on with Malfoy.
The Head of Gryffindor soon checkmated her fellow staff member. "Have you seen any good games lately?" she asked.
"I played a gory one with Filch. I love his set, though."
"A lot of people have trouble with it," she said.
"I bet the pieces like you," he said. "But I got the queen purring right at first, and that must have helped."
McGonagall looked pleased. Ron added, "And Malfoy pulled a big surprise. I played him a couple of times last week and I thought I knew what he was up to, but it turned out to be wrong. He's playing really different today. The Ravenclaw was going down for the third time, or maybe the second, when I saw her. What's really weird is how quiet he was. Usually he smirks and brags whenever he thinks he's winning."
Granger, who was setting up the board for Binns' next game, looked up. "You're right. He natters on like that whenever he gets good marks in Potions, too."
"Maybe he's just paying more attention to the game," Ron said gloomily.
"I think I will watch your games this afternoon." McGonagall's lips were thinner than usual. "Professor Snape can play me tomorrow."
Ron was glad to hear it. He wanted to see how the Potions Master played, and he hadn't been able to so far.
"Yes, the Hogwarts Express is back," Professor Binns said with a faint chuckle. "I want to watch those games tomorrow myself."
Hogwarts Express? Who did they mean by that? Ron wondered. He was about to ask when the bell rang for lunch.
After everyone had eaten, well, except for Binns of course, Ron sat down at a chessboard with Draco. He hadn't been worried before. Now he was.
The first game was a disaster. He couldn't figure out what Malfoy was doing at all. The style was nothing like the way Draco had played before. But Ron blamed himself. I should have figured he was only pretending to lose last week. Play the pieces, not the player, like Dad keeps telling me.
The next game was better. Ron threw out any ideas about what he thought Draco was going to do and took the initiative more. It was funny how Malfoy hadn't crowed over his first victory, though. He wasn't even bragging about how badly he'd fooled everybody.
In fact, Draco didn't say much at all. Ron tried to get Malfoy to talk, but only got mumbled comments. Last week Draco had been full of insults about the Weasleys and so on as long as he thought he was winning.
Close to the end of the game Ron felt himself in trouble again. One of his bishops was gone, so he couldn't send them out to play Vinnie and Greg the way he had with Filch. What if I go out and slaughter everything that moves the way that Filch did? I bet Draco won't be expecting that. It was fun to go pawn-hunting, even though doing it in such a random fashion was against everything he'd been taught. But the look of consternation on Malfoy's face was worth it. Eat that, Ferret-boy!
"Wh-what do you think you're doing?" Draco asked. His voice sounded odd.
Malfoy's moves took longer now, eating up some of the time on the chess clock he'd saved up earlier.
Ron looked at his clock carefully. He was going to have to play some combinations he'd used earlier to save time, though fortunately with other opponents. Draco did have a really good memory.
He was exhausted and had only a couple of minutes left on his clock when he finally forced a checkmate. Ron was amazed that Malfoy didn't say anything nasty.
McGonagall walked by and ordered an hour break. As Draco went off, the professor said, "That was a very hard-fought game, Mr. Weasley. I am about to ask you a favor for the next one. Do you remember my moves in the chess trap?"
"Of course I do," Ron said. "I used them against Wood, only he knew them, too."
"I want you to open that way, even though the game may go against you. I think I know what's going on, but I'm not yet certain. Remember, you will be playing against the rest of the staff for the next two days. They will judge your ability even if Malfoy ends up ahead now."
Ron didn't like the sound of that, but agreed. Once he'd visited the lav and gotten a bite to eat, he wandered over to Professor Binns, if only to be close to 'Mione. And it was restful, he argued to himself, to watch other people play. The History Professor's style was an oddly old-fashioned one, though it held up better than Ron thought it would against Filch's brand of savagery.
Once he was called back to the board he saw both McGonagall and Snape sitting by to observe. Ron gulped, Draco went white, and the game began.
At first Ron recreated McGonagall's chess trap exactly. But Draco's response wasn't like Oliver Wood's or his own. Maybe Malfoy had studied the game. It wasn't hard to find out how it had gone, as Ron himself had done the diagrams from memory later. But black's play was extraordinarily different.
He could see what was going to happen, and glanced at McGonagall for permission to change. She firmly shook her head. Ron carried on, and he was badly beaten. Malfoy wore an unpleasant look of triumph, but still said nothing.
Snape turned towards McGonagall and said, "I see what you mean." Then his eyes glittered and he looked at the board. "Mr. Malfoy, have you anything to say for yourself?"
"N-no, sir," Draco mumbled.
Malfoy looked frightened of Snape. Ron had never seen that before. Draco always treated the Potions Master like a favorite uncle.
But Ron had to speak out. "Professor-I mean, Professors-I haven't seen Malfoy use a crib or anything like that. I don't see how else he could cheat, if that's what you're thinking. He is playing different from last week, but I thought he was just being a proper Slytherin." He loathed coming to Draco's defense, but it was the truth.
Snape raised one eyebrow. "Have you noticed anything else?"
It was just weird talking like this about Malfoy while he was still sitting there. "Well, he's been less nasty than usual. Although he's been stuttering like the Squirrel some of the time. But he's probably just nervous." He certainly was.
"Squirrel?" Snape asked with acid in his voice.
"Well, you know, the professor who taught Dark Arts. The one who almost killed Harry. I mean, the first one," Ron added, since there had been a couple like that.
Then he noticed how Draco's face moved around funny, like he couldn't decide what expression to wear.
Snape's face smoothed out and showed no expression at all. "Well, then, Mr. Malfoy. May I be the first to congratulate you on your first place finish?"
Ron's jaw dropped. This wasn't fair! McGonagall gestured at him to be quiet.
Draco looked smug. Then Snape continued. "We have a rather busy schedule for the next few days, so we are trying to get in as many games as possible. Your first game with a member of the staff will be with Professor Binns. Now."
Malfoy didn't look happy, but McGonagall looked a lot more cheerful, as if she knew what was going on. Ron wished he did.
Draco walked over to the ghostly professor's table as if he was marching to the gallows. McGonagall and Snape followed. After a moment's thought, Ron did, too.
The Transfigurations Professor murmured, "Thank you, Mr. Weasley. Remember, there were two people who got past my chess trap, not just one. The board I set up recalled both games for me, and I wrote them down."
But how could Quirrell still be around and helping Draco play?
Malfoy sat across from the board from Professor Binns and Granger. None of them looked happy.
Binns began chattering. "My, it's nice to play again, isn't it? Pawn to king-four, if you would, Miss Granger. Thank you, my dear. Have you finished that essay for me, Mr. Malfoy? I daresay not. You are quiet today...queen's knight to queen's bishop three, Miss Granger."
As Ron watched, both the Bloody Baron and Nearly-Headless Nick materialized behind Draco. A house-elf silently walked in and handed a piece of paper to Professor Snape, who glanced at it, grimaced, and put it in his sleeve.
In the middle of moving a piece, Malfoy froze, one hand on a bishop. As Binns kept talking, a ghost started rising from Draco's head up into the air. Ron saw an unraveling turban and a thin man trying to flee, only to be caught by the Baron and Nick.
"Professor Quirrell. What a distinct lack of pleasure to meet you here today," Snape said angrily.
"You again! Why don't you stop meddling in things that don't concern you? The Master knows more about you than you think he does. Someday you'll find out just how much."
Snape glared at the ghost. "It is my job to make sure this tournament is conducted properly. Mr. Malfoy is responsible for his chess play, not anybody else."
An awesome idea occurred to Ron. Snape knew that Binns would be able to get Quirrell to come out, and that he would try to get away. That was why McGonagall wanted him to keep quiet.
The Baron smiled nastily. "We will deal with him, Herr Professor." Other Hogwarts ghosts appeared and took Quirrell away.
"Thank you," Snape said. "Now, Mr. Malfoy, what do you have to say for yourself?"
"It wasn't my fault!" Draco said, looking horribly pale and sick. "I never meant it!"
"We have the note from your father," Snape said gently.
"I only wanted him to give me some coaching!"
"Your games can't count now. You surely must understand that," the Potions Master said. "Come along with me to the infirmary. Possession is extremely unpleasant, even if the subject is willing."
"You know what my father will say!"
"Unfortunately, I do. However, you can't represent Hogwarts. Your helper would have stayed on much longer than you think. And it is against the rules not to play your own games."
Malfoy stood up with obvious reluctance and followed Snape. Ron slipped away out of curiosity to find out what would happen. He followed them behind to the door of the infirmary, and lingered outside.
In only a few moments, both Madam Pomfrey and Professor Snape burst out of the door. Ron wished he had Potter's invisibility cloak, but settled for cramming himself into a corner.
"You shouldn't have frightened the boy like that!" Madam Pomfrey said.
"I want him to be frightened, madam. I want him to be terrified of such things, or he'll see a lot more of them in future! Trust me, I know what it's like to think one can handle anything. I got into a great deal more trouble than you can possibly believe that way."
"You still do!" Pomfrey retorted.
"But I'm not only fifteen, nor do I have a father who will inflict such things on his only son for the sake of a game."
"I suppose you're right about that."
"He'll be in a bad way for the next couple of nights. I'll bring by some potions that will help. Crabbe and Goyle can make themselves useful for once and sit by him tonight."
"It's hard to see such a proud boy so afraid," Pomfrey said.
"Well, he would be better off if he could bring himself to ask for help," Snape said. "And you, Mr. Weasley, had best get back to the hall before they announce the results!"
Ron fled like a hare. He knew when he should be frightened!
<< Back | Story Index | Next Chapter >>
Back to Top | Stories by Author | Stories by Title | Main Page