"Midnight by the Weasley Watch"
Everything belongs to J.K. Rowling, except the emir and Rafi (you'll meet them in future chapters). Her pitch, her Snitch, and her players. Also, this story has a lot to say about chess. If you are allergic to chess, you'd best wander off (though I think I've managed to keep the games from being too terribly boring). If you are truly expert in chess, have mercy, I'm doing the best I can. The title is a tribute to story about chess (well, sort of) by Fritz Leiber called "Midnight by the Morphy Watch", which itself was a tribute to Paul Morphy, the first American grandmaster.
Let the games begin!
Chapter One—Setting the Pieces
Ron was excited. Who wouldn't be after learning about the Hogwarts Wizard Chess Championship? Students were going to play other members of their own House first and establish a champion. Then the champions would play off against each other, along with members of the staff. "The winning professor plays Dumbledore," Ron said, as he explained all the rules in exquisite detail to the members of the Gryffindor common room who had yet to make their escape. "And then the staff and the student Hogwarts champions go to the real chess tournament in Bulgaria." He decided not to mention the prize money for the top placers in Bulgaria. He didn't always miss the looks even Harry and Hermione gave him sometimes when he complained. But it would be nice to see Mum's face if he could put a sack of Galleons in her lap, instead of always having to make do.
It would be nice to walk into Mr. Ollivander's and get a wand that was really his, too. Then he glanced at his sister, sitting as close as Harry would let her. Ginny ought to have better than the leftover junk that all her brothers had already been through. Mum did her best, but there just wasn't enough for everybody sometimes. And Ginny had to have some new things, just because she was a girl.
Filled with dreams of glory and (maybe) money, Ron pored over the rules again in silence, barely noting the looks of gratitude as he finally shut up. The games between the House champions and the staff would be timed, though that usually wasn't his problem. Students who were eliminated in the earlier would be asked to help, or more to his liking, allowed to observe the games higher up the ladder. Ron had never seen anyone but McGonagall play, though he knew that Dumbledore did. His father got him chess magazines sometimes and they went over old games during the summer when there was time. But the other members of the staff were a mystery to him.
"What are you going to do for the tournament, Harry?" he asked absently.
"Go practice Quidditch," Potter answered. "You've slaughtered me enough already."
"You're not that bad," Ron said. "You'll probably win a couple of games. Besides, we need to have a minimum number of people signed up per house. What about you, Hermione?"
"I'm going to help Professor Binns," she said. "He's going to play, but he needs someone to move the pieces. It'll help my game to watch him."
Something's got to, he thought to himself, but decided not to say it out loud. If Granger gave chess half the concentration she did to anything else, she could play a lot better.
"Look, we'll be your cheering section," Harry said. "I'll sign up if I have to, but as soon as I get wiped off the field I'll come watch you. I won't have any idea what I'll be looking at, mind, but I'll be there."
Ron nodded. "The games for Gryffindor begin in a week. I wonder who else is going to play?" Oliver Wood might; strategy at Quidditch and chess weren't all that different.
He was worse than usual at his classes for the next few days. Of course it was in Potions that he was the most absent-minded.
"Mr. Weasley, do try to pay attention. Even Mr. Longbottom has completed the assignment adequately. Five points from Gryffindor and a detention this evening."
Ron glumly complied that night, though he brought along his chess set in case he was left unsupervised. Professor Snape spotted it immediately, unfortunately, and made him set it aside. Washing cauldrons was not his idea of a pleasant evening, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been as Snape spent most of the time scowling at papers instead of him.
Just before he was dismissed, the Potions Master asked him a question. "Mr. Weasley, what sort of set do you have?"
At first he didn't want to show anything that meant so much to him to Snape, who would only sneer at it, but he grudgingly obeyed.
"That's a better one than I expected you to have," the professor said, looking at the pieces intently.
"They were Grandfather's," Ron said, fondly remembering the old man who had taught him how to play. "He left them to me because I'm the only one besides Dad who really likes the game. Mum does, some, but she usually doesn't have time."
"I would imagine not," Snape said, with only a little bit of sting to it. "If you don't mind some advice, Mr. Weasley, I would suggest that you play more than just Gryffindors this next week. There will be time for non-tourney games and plenty of boards once the first eliminations are over. You will also be able to observe members of the staff playing the week after that. Filch, for instance, has a very unpleasant endgame just when one think it's over."
Ron's jaw dropped open to hear something helpful from the greasy git. "T-thank you, sir," he managed, then packed up his chess set and left.
Once he was back in the Gryff common room, he found that Hermione had snagged a few books on wizard chess out of the library, though she complained the Ravenclaws had been there before her. Ron recognized most of the titles already, but thanked her anyway. They were all basic ones, but it couldn't hurt Hermione to have some idea of what was going on.
During the next few days he quickly became aware of his potential rivals. Draco Malfoy made himself odious as the uncrowned chess king of Slytherin, though nobody had played any games yet. Ron bit back a number of rejoinders. Maybe next week I ought to play him and find out if there's anything to back up the mouth.
He thought McGonagall's classes were great. She'd given up on getting anyone to care about Transfigurations for a while and talked about chess. Ron listened carefully, since she was the one who had designed the chess trap to guard the Philosopher's Stone.
"The All-Wizards' Tournament is held every five years," she began. "Each school sends one student and one member of the staff to represent them. Of course, any wizard may enter if they like, though players who are already rated are placed in the eliminations differently than those who are not. The only allowed transfiguration during a game of chess is when a pawn reaches the eighth row and may become any piece it likes, though usually a queen is chosen. However, some players have made that piece a knight instead. Unfortunately there have been some unallowed transfigurations during a game. One of them led to a wizard's duel between Auguste Dupin and an American from New Orleans in the mid-nineteenth century in the streets of Paris. Mr. Weasley, since you were so kind to bring your set with you to class today, would you please allow me to demonstrate?"
Hermione mouthed busted! at him. Ron took his case up to Professor McGonagall and set out the board and pieces at her direction.
"Pawns are usually bespelled to transform on the eighth square. Most of the other pieces are resistant to any spells at all for obvious reasons," the teacher said. "I shall attempt to change this pawn into a rook while it's on the third square. Watch."
She chanted a spell and waved her wand. The pawn writhed for a moment, shook all over, and then sighed as it stayed a pawn. Then it bent over, briefly pulled down its trousers, and stood up again.
"I see the Weasley sense of humor extends everywhere," McGonagall said with a sigh. "But most professional grade wizard chess pieces do have some kind of reaction set into them against being transformed improperly. As an additional precaution, no wand use will be allowed in the tourney area, not even by the staff. Part of the main hall will be cordoned off for student and staff play.
"Student play begins next week. The champions and the staff will play the week after. This does not eliminate schoolwork altogether during that time. Those of you who aren't playing are encouraged to review what we've done so far. Those of you who are playing—well, try to think about something besides chess every once in a while. Remember, only one person from each house will be playing in the second week. Of course, there will be some observation time allowed for the rest of you even if you don't make it past the preliminaries. However, your schoolwork must come first. I will be playing the week after next, but you will still be responsible for your work. Some members of the staff aren't playing and will be supervising your study."
She passed out the Gryffindor schedule to nearly everyone. "The other students will get next week's schedule from their own head of house. A copy of this will also be posted in the Gryffindor common room. Mr. Weasley, a word with you after class, if you please."
Ron couldn't think of anything he'd done wrong this time, but felt guilty out of reflex. Once the other students were gone, he started packing up his set.
"Oh, don't look so doomed, Mr. Weasley," McGonagall said dryly. "I only wished to ask if you'd like a bit of coaching when and if you slaughter the rest of your fellows. And don't get vain, you're not the only one I plan to speak to."
"Um, yes, I mean of course…" Ron stuttered.
"Good. Since you will obviously be playing the first week and possibly the week after, I suggest you take this assignment sheet and get some of it done ahead of time. I would like to see most of it completed before I schedule any coaching sessions."
"Yes, Professor." Well, that was plain enough. If he wanted any help, he'd better do what she said.
Snape discussed the tournament in his class, too. His threats were more obvious. "Don't expect to get out of any work," he said in his usual unpleasant manner. "Most of you will be eliminated early anyway. You do need to know that there will be no Potions Class the week after next. Don't cheer too loudly or you'll wake up some of your fellow students. I will be holding office hours after the tournament is over for the day for the few of you who actually care about keeping up. The Slytherin schedule will be posted in the House common room. I suggest you make notes."
Ron didn't know that the Potions Master played. Maybe he was going to be one of the judges, which was even more frightening. Draco smirked as if he'd already won. Once class was over, though, Malfoy looked sober enough as Snape spoke to him in a low voice. Probably telling him the same thing McGonagall told me, he thought ruefully.
Everyone in Potions got an extra assignment sheet, too. In fact, he picked up one in every class, including History. He took them back to the Gryffindor common room and looked at them blankly. There were a dozen things he'd rather be doing.
"Pick one. Do it. Then pick another one," advised Hermione, who sat down and plunked her books on the table next to his.
"It doesn't matter." She closed her eyes and stabbed down blindly with one finger. "That one."
It was the Potions sheet, of course. Ron sighed, and decided Granger was right. All he really wanted to was to get out his pieces and run through a few games from memory. But if Snape was going to be playing or judging, or worse, both, it couldn't hurt to have as much of his stuff turned in as possible.