Chapter Eight: Pawn Advance
Everyone finished breakfast (except for Rafi, who didn't eat anything). The servant stayed behind, while al-Hadoud and Ron walked down to the tourney floor. The day's schedule of games was up on a large board by the chess tables. Fortunately Ron had remembered his badge, while the official sitting at the registration table stood and bowed to the emir.
Most of the games for juveniles were in the mornings and afternoons, while the adults usually had theirs in the afternoons and evenings. Ron looked at his elimination tree and didn't recognize anybody. Then he glanced at the adult schedule. Snape was up against several names he did recognize, and early, too. Whatever his record was before, the Potions Master was going to have to earn a new one as an adult. Lucius Malfoy and al-Hadoud wouldn't meet each other till late in the tournament. Snape was in the middle leg, and stood a strong chance of not meeting either one if he didn't hack his way through his other opponents first.
Then Ron noticed that one side of the board had nothing but blanks, and asked the official about it. "Oh, that is for private games, young sir. Some people won't meet each other in the tournament but still want to play grudge matches against each other. Sometimes they're the most interesting games in the lot. If they're recorded, they can count for personal ratings."
Ron's first game began in less than an hour. Al-Hadoud had them both sit while the old man regaled him with stories from other tournaments, including his first one as a youth. Ron listened with fascination, though he flat out didn't believe the one about the chess-playing monkey. But it was a good story anyway, so he saved it up for later. Fred and George would like it, even if nobody else did.
Then it was time. He went up to registration, signed in, and went to his table. This wasn't just for his personal glory; this was for Hogwarts, just like if they were playing Quidditch against another school. For a moment he was distracted as he decided who would play what in an all-Hogwarts team-Harry for Seeker, but Malfoy would have to be Reserve, since the Slytherin really was good. He wondered if Crabbe and Goyle would remember not to go after Harry if they were picked for Beaters, since they worked as a team almost as well as Fred and George did, then realized he'd better play chess right now.
The boy sitting across from him was from Beauxbatons and his English was so heavily-accented Ron could barely understand him. They shook hands and began to play.
His opponent's game seemed oddly hesitant. Ron rapidly developed his knights and began supporting them with his pawns. The boy desperately built up his pieces to protect his king. Ron remembered the way McGonagall had reacted to Snape's rolling thunder down the middle, and wondered if he could risk trying it in this game. So far his own style seemed to be working, but he had enough pawns out of the way to bring more powerful pieces out.
The actual pieces were obviously tournament-trained and never opened their mouths at all. One of his pawns had a tendency to lie down if he didn't have anything to do. Well, Ron didn't blame him a bit. He hastily covered a yawn, feeling a bit sleepy after such a big breakfast. Then he stared down at the board, feeling he was walking into a trap.
But this time things were the way they appeared to be. Despite the protective wall of pieces that his opponent had around his king, Ron obviously dominated the board.
Then things started happening. The Beauxbatons player began ripping through Ron's pattern, as if he'd played Filch, too. Several of Ron's pieces shouted their dismay, especially the once-sleepy pawn. All right, so that's his plan, Ron thought. He attacked right back, but in a way that kept his pieces threatening the opposite side. His opponent was good, but Ron thought the boy had left his thrust forward till too late.
Indeed he had. Ron was able to preserve both bishops, though one of his knights was gone, several pawns lay by the side of the board, and it was going to take a queen sacrifice to clear the way for victory. When the queen was taken, she stomped her foot and looked indignantly back at Ron for letting this happen to her.
And then both bishops pinned down his opponent's king. The boy glumly tipped it over.
They shook hands and reported the results of the game, though al-Hadoud had been watching, too. Ron hadn't even noticed the old man coming up and getting into a chair close enough to watch.
The emir congratulated him. "An auspicious start to your first of many tournaments," he said. Both of them noticed Ron's next game was in about an hour, and sat together in a quiet corner of the lobby near the tourney area.
"I'm surprised someone who won a school tournament wasn't better," Ron said.
"Perhaps Beauxbatons does not have many chess players this year. I suspect your competition was somewhat harder."
"I'll say! There's a girl in Ravenclaw who's really good. And Malfoy, I mean Draco Malfoy, could be good if he played because he wanted to and not just because of his father. Abercrombie in Hufflepuff is fairly decent." He was about to wish out loud that both Harry and Hermione were more interested, but decided the less he said about them the better. "It would be neat if we had a chess club. I bet Professor McGonagall would help."
"Ah, yes," al-Hadoud said. "I have played her by owl a few times. She would likely be pleased if you were to ask. I heard a story once about a live chess trap she set to protect something stored there at the school."
Ron nearly bit his tongue in two to keep from boasting about beating it. But he couldn't think of a way to say anything without telling about stuff he shouldn't. He knew he was no good at talking around a subject. Once he started, everything spilled out. And besides, he didn't want to be Harry Potter's friend here. He wanted to be him, Ron Weasley.
"It was interesting to play her and the rest of the staff during the second part of the tournament," he finally said. "Professor McGonagall is hard. But playing Snape is like getting run over by a train."
"Ah yes, 'the Hogwarts Express'. It will be interesting to see what he has remembered."
"Well, he beat McGonagall two out of three, so he's got to be pretty good. But they're not the only ones who played. Professor Binns still plays, though he has to have someone move the pieces for him."
"Is he crippled?"
"Um, no, he's a ghost. He teaches History of Magic, probably because he was there for most of it if you want my opinion. We all fall asleep in his class, but he never seems to mind," Ron said. "Filch is the caretaker, but he plays, too. His set is all cats, and if you want them to behave it helps if you get them to purr. Professor Sprout teaches Herbology, and her set is all plants. She's got a nasty trick you have to watch out for, too. You've probably heard of Vector and Flitwick already." Ron couldn't remember seeing the Arithmancy or Charms teacher in any of his dad's chess magazines, but he hadn't looked that hard, either.
Al-Hadoud nodded. "When you get back, be sure to continue playing them as well as your friends. You are incredibly lucky to have so many there who are interested. You would be wise to take advantage of it."
Ron hadn't thought of it that way, but knew the emir was right. He spent the rest of the time before the next game telling the old Arab stories about Fred and George, and some of the pranks they got up to. Al-Hadoud laughed like anything at them, especially the time they dyed Mrs. Norris in Slytherin colors so Filch would go after the wrong house.
His next game began. The boy he was up against this time was much younger, and didn't have a school affiliation. Konstantin Smerdlov didn't look old enough to go to any school, let alone one like Hogwarts. That worried Ron. He didn't want to take advantage of a little kid, but discovered in a very short time that he was in deep trouble. His opponent had an unusual attack that Ron had trouble countering. He certainly wasn't able to set up one of his own. Well, if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, you can try to baffle them with baloney, he thought. Maybe if I throw some of the Squirrel's spiderweb at him it'll at least slow him down.
It seemed to help. And then Ron saw a chance for a Brentwood pawn swap that might open up a way to the other side, and took it. He was surprised the younger boy fell for it, but then again, he had the first time he'd seen it, too.
After what felt like hours, they ended up in a draw. Ron would have been humiliated if he'd been beaten by someone so young. The boy looked like he was going to cry, so Ron offered him a piece of candy from his pocket. "You're really good," he said. "And I'll probably get beat by someone else later today. Is this your first tournament?"
"Yes," said the boy, who had brownish hair, blue eyes, and an accent. He took the candy. "I beat grownups all the time."
"I bet you do," Ron said. "Well, my dad says you learn more from the people who beat you than the ones you win against."
"But you don't have a regular style!"
"If you stick with one thing all the time, someone's going to figure it out," Ron said. "I've gotten whacked enough that way to learn that much. I know people who smile every time they see me lead with my knights, because I like to do that a lot. So I try to change around. But you have a lot of time. I was never this good when I was your age.
The boy looked happy about the compliment. A harassed-looking older man with a really big mustache the same color as the boy's hair came and got the boy and took him off somewhere.
Ron didn't know if he ought to be jealous or not. Maybe the boy's father was like Malfoy's and expected him to win all the time.
It was past noon already. The game had taken a lot longer than he thought. Al-Hadoud, who had been watching the whole thing, went with him to the restaurant. Both of them had lunch, though it was an educational one. The emir critiqued the game while Ron eagerly listened.
After that they went to the table and looked at the schedules again. Ron saw how his name had moved up the ladder a bit. His last game for the day would be later that afternoon, while the emir would have two today. His first one would start in just a little bit. Professor Snape had three games scheduled, two this afternoon and one at night. He ought to be pleased about that, Ron thought.
"I will retire early this evening," said al-Hadoud. "If you could observe your professor's evening game and take notes for me once your last one is over, I would appreciate it."
"Of course, sir," Ron said. It was that or homework. The choice was easy. And it would be interesting to see how the Potions Master played against opponents outside of Hogwarts.
Al-Hadoud's first game began. Ron kicked his heels sitting in a chair watching the emir slowly and thoroughly demolish the other player. The old Arab's style was a bit like Dumbledore's, with a dash of the Squirrel, in its patience and inevitability. Wouldn't it be great to watch the emir and the Headmaster play? Ron wondered.
The game wound to its conclusion. The gray-bearded gentleman on the other side of the board tipped over his king, then rose and bowed. "It is a privilege to play you, sir," he said.
Al-Hadoud remained sitting and inclined his head. "You still have promise, Kittering. Do not give up so easily." After the man had left, the emir snorted and said, "Flatterers! They will be the death of you if you let them! Give me an honest man who digs in his heels and refuses to surrender rather than someone who offers poison with his honeyed words. It is too easy to let your game go soft if you listen to men such as that fellow."
Then you should definitely play Snape! Ron thought. In fact, he saw the Potions Master on the tourney floor now, looking like a raven among the rest. "The Professor fights to the last pawn," he said. It was only right to tell the truth.
"Hmm," the emir said, looking displeased.
"I know you don't like what he did, but he's still a good player."
"So is Lord Malfoy," al-Hadoud said, still looking grim.
Maybe he's more angry at Snape because he used to like him? Ron didn't know. "Do you want me to get anything more to eat or drink? I can go to the restaurant here or run upstairs and see what Rafi has."
"If it is not too much trouble, then go upstairs. I forget how young you are. Only the old really know how to sit for so long," the emir said with a smile.
Ron took al-Hadoud to one of the big chairs over to the side and then took off. All this sitting had gotten to him. It felt good to tear up the stairs and to the emir's room. Rafi answered the knock.
"How is the master?" the servant asked.
"He looked fine to me. We both had lunch downstairs and he ate most of his." Needless to say, Ron had cleaned his plate and then some.
"Good," Rafi said. "His appetite sometimes fails as he grows older."
It never had for the Headmaster as far as Ron had been able to tell, but everybody was different. "Do you have anything for me to take to him? Is there anything special he should eat or drink?"
"He is to have this potion in a cup of tea after his second game," the servant said, handing him a little green bottle. "Three drops only, no more or less. And then he should come upstairs for his dinner, for he grows sleepy early these days. I only wish he did not wake in the night."
"I have a game later this afternoon. If his second game goes long, I might have to leave in the middle of his game to go to mine."
"Then send a boy up here with a message and I will manage from there."
Ron blinked. Then he thought of something. "Are you able to leave this room?"
"Wise boy, to guess so soon. No, I may not, unless the emir commands me. He dislikes doing that among strangers, though as the slave of his ring I will gladly do his bidding. To be honest, I find it uncomfortable being out of my bottle for this long a time away from one of his palaces. Many masters would not care, but this one does."
"Are you a genie?" Ron's mouth dropped open.
"A djinn, if you please. But I can move about if I must. Take the potion to the emir, and with luck I will see you both this evening."
Ron thanked him and raced back down again. Harry and Hermione will never believe this! Even if the servant was having him on, it made a wonderful story and he wouldn't change it a bit.
He got down there just in time to see the emir sat down to his second game. From where he was sitting, he noticed that Snape was still on his first game. The light-haired man on the other side must be Morris from the States. He longed to go over and check out how the professor was doing, but knew he had to stay with the old man.
This time al-Hadoud had to struggle. His opponent, a much younger man, was obviously out to dethrone the older one.
Ron was distracted by a noise from the lobby during the middle of the game. Lucius Malfoy and his entourage stood near the counter waiting to be served. Draco's father stood gleaming from the top of his pale hair to the toes of his brightly-polished boots. He's probably standing there because he knows he'll catch the light, Ron thought cynically.
He deliberately turned away from Malfoy back to the emir. I need to talk to Snape about the note Draco's father sent me right before the end of the Hogwarts tournament, he thought, not looking forward to it.
Al-Hadoud finally won the game, but had to work at it. The old man sighed and bent his head.
Ron leaned forward with the bottle in his hand. "Your servant said you were supposed to have three drops of this with tea once you were done with this game, sir."
"Then let us go upstairs," al-Hadoud said. "For I am weary, and once I return to the room, I will not want to go anywhere else."
Ron couldn't understand why the emir's room was two flights up, then. The old man looked really tired. "I'm not too bad at levitation any more," he volunteered. "Just let me levitate the chair you're in and you won't have to climb any stairs. I still have to work on direction, but once you're up in the air, it won't be any trouble to haul you along."
"Why, thank you, child." The emir smiled sweetly at him. "But I was not thinking. Rafi was right all along. Once I have drunk my tea I'll-oh, what is the English for it?-move myself to the room with a spell."
"Oh, yes, Apparate," said Ron. "We're supposed to start practicing that this spring. But you could always use the hotel fireplace and Floo up."
"Hmph. Such things can be meddled with."
Ron went over to the restaurant and signed for some tea. He carefully measured out three drops into al-Hadoud's tea. Between Mum and Snape, he'd learned a few things!
Afterwards, the emir's colors looked better. The old man simply disappeared. Ron took the teapot and the cups back, not wanting to make extra work. After that, he quickly ran up the stairs and went to the door. Rafi let him in, and then they sat down to a real dinner.
Al-Hadoud wanted to talk about his second game, which he obviously found far more interesting than his first. Ron was glad he'd brought his notebook and had recorded the moves. He was going to have to get a new one pretty soon, and a new pencil, too.
Once the emir leaned back in his plush chair and began to snore, Rafi told Ron that he could go for the evening, but needed to be back first thing in the morning. It was a good thing that the emir's game had been shorter than usual, even if it had been hard. He still had a little bit of time before his third one for the day started.
Ron stopped at his room and got out his alarm clock. If Snape was up late with a game, he would be, too. When he had to be up for an Astronomy class, he always slept hard the next day, and sometimes Potter had to shake him awake. Because of that, Mum had gotten him this alarm clock. It was a good thing that it was loud, because when he was really tired that was the only kind that would wake up him. But Snape was sure to hear it in the next room. Everyone knew the Potions Master was up half the night during the week, though he was always on time for the first class. However, everybody also knew that anyone disturbing the Slytherin dungeons on Saturday or Sunday morning had better have a really good reason to be there or the unlucky student was going to spend the rest of the weekend scrubbing cauldrons the hard way. Even Malfoy wasn't immune-Ron had heard Draco complaining about it once. He wished he could figure out a way to wake up that didn't bother anybody else.
He scrabbled in his luggage looking for another notebook, and didn't see one. He'd have to use some of the paper meant for homework after recording Snape's game tonight.
Ron went back downstairs. He wasn't as worried about getting lost now as he was before. Once he'd gone over new places physically, he didn't get turned around as much. He got a cup of tea for himself at the restaurant, because his own game was starting soon. Once back on the tourney floor, he saw on the board that Snape had drawn his first game and was in the middle of his second.
Now it was time for his third game of the day. His opponent this time was a boy about his own age from Jamaica. They said hello to each other. Ron knew there were several dark-skinned boys and girls at Hogwarts, but he'd never seen anyone with such black skin before. It was like Snape's eyes had been turned into dye and this boy was covered in it.
They started playing after Ron drew black. It was a fairly long game, and turned into another draw. I'm sure glad I had something to eat with the emir before playing this one! he thought, scribbling the moves once it was over. He was so tired he wanted to go back to the room, but remembered that he'd promised to look at one of the Professor's games for the emir.
He walked over to where Snape and his second opponent were playing. Ron could tell by looking at the game that the Potions Master had this one in the bag unless he did something really stupid right at the end, and that wasn't likely to happen.
In less than half an hour Snape's opponent tipped over his king. The piece cursed in a tiny voice. Ron recognized the man's face from one of his dad's chess magazine. The Potions Master had just beaten Jorg Biggerson of Sweden. And then he remembered that the game that Snape drew had been against David Morris of the States, rated as one of the favorites.
This is going to be a really interesting tournament, Ron thought.
"Mr. Weasley. Avoiding homework again?"
"The emir asked me to take notes on your third game."
"I saw he won both of his today," Snape said.
"But he didn't have the kind of opponents you had," Ron said. "Dad follows chess, and lets me have his magazines to read when he's done. A draw against Morris is worth two wins against almost anybody else. Lots of people would like to say they beat Biggerson, especially as quickly as you did it." He'd taken a look at the chess clock, of course.
Snape seemed surprised at the compliment. "My next game is in less than half an hour. My time is fairly good, but Biggerson took forever to decide on his moves."
"I can run over to the restaurant and get you something. That's what I've been doing for the emir all afternoon. But he's done for tonight and Rafi told me to come by early tomorrow again. Oh, and I just remembered! My alarm clock is really loud. Is there any way to fix it so only I can hear it?" It felt really strange to talk to Professor Snape like he was a real person. He knew it wouldn't last, but it was interesting while it did.
"Don't worry about the clock. I'm supposed to keep an eye on you," Snape said. "But you can fetch me a cup of tea. I'll be at table three for the next game, in case there's a line and it takes longer than you think."
Ron dashed off. When he got to the head of the line (and there was one), he was amazed at all the different kinds of tea listed. He picked one called Basic English Tea, since Snape might have a hard game and would want to stay awake. He didn't know if the Potions Master took sugar or cream, so he took two cubes and a miniature cream dish along with the cup, and put it all on a small tray. Then he realized that Snape probably hadn't had dinner yet, with his games running so long, and ordered sweet roll to go with it.
He quickly signed for it and took it over to the table three. The board at the registration table had said this game was Gerrit of Germany vs. Snape of English (the highest rated player was always listed first for the adult players, he'd noticed). The game had already started. Ron set the food and drink down on a little side-table, and quickly scribbled down the few moves that had already been made.
Snape nodded, then turned his attention back to the board. Ron noticed that the Potions Master was already beginning to move out his more powerful pieces. He tried to remember if he'd ever heard of this Gerrit, and didn't think he had.
The game proceeded fairly rapidly. Ron wished he'd been able to watch Snape's first two games. He made notes as the Potions Master quickly developed a column of pieces, brought together his pawn support, and beat off a quick attack from the other side.
Things bogged down a bit as Gerrit rallied his defenses. Ron could guess what might happen if Snape tried to crack through them out of impatience, and wasn't at all surprised that his teacher seemed to see it as well. Snape changed to a different tack of nibbling at the German's edges. That took longer but had the advantage of exposing fewer of his own pieces in case Gerrit reversed course and attacked again.
Ron also saw that his teacher was spreading his pieces out over the entire board, controlling all the squares on his side and protecting those ahead.
Then Gerrit sent a bishop and knight out hunting together. Ron hadn't seen that combination very often. He preferred to send out a pair of knights, or if playing Abercrombie's way, Vinnie and Greg the Bishop Beaters. It was interesting to watch what the German was doing with them, though.
Snape quickly drove them off with his queen and a knight, though he looked irritated. After that, he stepped up the pace in pawn-hunting, though he had to neglect his attack for a while doing it.
The end was inevitable, though. Less than two hours from the start of the game, the other man tipped over his king.
"Well played," Snape said, though Ron could tell he didn't mean it.
"I can say the same," Gerrit replied, and left.
Snape drank the last few drops of his tea and ate the sweet roll. "The emir is training you well," he said. "How were your games today?"
"Won the first one, and drew the second and third. The second one was some little kid hardly old enough for any school, let alone Hogwarts. I don't know where he's from. I think his father brought him. But he's really good." Ron quickly finished writing his notes.
"Each player gets a program afterwards detailing all the games," Snape said.
"But the emir asked me to watch your game. I remember them better if I write it down. It's not the same as reading it."
"If you can read your notes," the Potions Master said sarcastically.
Ron ruefully looked at his stub of a pencil. "Then I'd better recopy this tonight, while I still remember most of the moves."
"If you're going to be up early, then you'd better get some sleep instead," Snape said. "I'll be up in a bit. Don't stay up too late."
"Yes, sir," Ron said, and left. Besides, this way he would get first crack at the bathroom.
There was an owl waiting for him. Dad had written him a note. Ron-you don't know how lucky you are to be a chess rat for al-Hadoud. I had no idea your professor knew him, or that the old Arab would even be there. Behave yourself, and don't muck it up. Oh, and stay away from Lord Malfoy as much as you can.
Ron didn't need reminding about that! He continued reading the note.
He is a good chess player, but you know what I think of him. You did well in your first two games-that little Russian boy is getting quite a reputation. Drawing him is no dishonor. I haven't heard much about any of the rest of your opponents.
We are all so very proud of you. Do your best in the days to come. Just play the pieces, and not the player.
There was a short note from Mum, too. Hope you're having a good time so far. Stay warm and be polite to your teacher.
As if I'd dare be anything else! Ron thought.
He felt warmer just holding the note. He never dared mention it at school, but sometimes it felt like he could feel his mother's love just from holding something she'd sent to him. Sometimes I wish Harry could too, Ron thought. I know that Mum would take him for the summer like a shot. It's not like the Dursleys really want him there. Nobody in the family got jealous over Mum's attention, unlike some families he heard about. Everybody always knew that she had enough love for everyone, even if she didn't always have time.
Ron got out some paper and a quill to recopy the game so anyone could read it, not just him. Before he was done, though, he wondered when Snape was coming up. I'd better get the loo while it's still open, he thought. I'll finish this in the morning.
Snape dawdled on the tourney floor and looked over the standings. How strange it felt to use his mind for something that wasn't life or death! It was like stretching muscles he hadn't exercised for a long time and finding they still held him. His first game against a champion even he had heard of had been full of fierce joy when he'd found himself equal to the occasion. A pity McGonagall wasn't here to see it!
There were stares and whispers, of course, from those who knew of his past. But at the board it didn't matter as much. How ironic that Malfoy, who truly was a Deatheater, had far more public reputation left.
He could have been a star in this world by now, if he hadn't chosen another path. Yet here he was, and not doing too badly. He was supposed to have been an easy win for both Morris and Biggerson. Snape smiled a little, knowing how he had frustrated them.
If only the tourney was like this the whole week. If only he didn't have a separate reason for being here.
A boy much too young to be up this late running errands for tips came up to him and handed him a slip of paper. Snape took it and gave the boy a few Knuts. He waited till the messenger was gone, then unfolded it. Three nights from now. Back room of Gemm's. We have to talk. IK
Snape recognized the handwriting, though that could be faked. The initials, drawn with their usual Cyrillic flourish, would be much harder. There was no way to reply, of course. It would be much too unsafe for either one of them.
A lot of people thought Igor Karkaroff was a coward, but anyone intelligent enough to be afraid of Voldemort was someone he wanted to talk to.
And I had better do so before someone else does.
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