Disclaimer: This lovely old man is the creation of JK Rowling, not me.
Companion piece to Part I: Check.
It is a great comfort to me that Minerva McGonagall never gives up. In all the years that we have played chess together, she has never beaten me, and yet she refuses to give in to defeat. For this, I am eternally grateful. She has often remarked to me that there can be little challenge for me in facing an opponent who has never won a game in over forty years. She does not know how wrong she is.
Blessed (or possibly cursed) as I am with an exceptional intellect, I have found over the course of my rather long lifetime that those I face across the battlefield of Chess frequently retreat and surrender after only one match. I have been fortunate enough to have met with one or two opponents who were not so easily intimidated by my somewhat irritating ability to win every game, but they were few and far between. My dear friend Nicholas Flammel was one of them, indeed I am happy to admit that once or twice he successfully conquered my Queen, providing me not only with considerable intellectual stimulation but also a welcome reminder that I am not so very different from everybody else after all and am just as capable of making mistakes.
Minerva is very different from Nicholas, however. She is certainly very clever, and I am sure that she is capable of trouncing me at least once in her lifetime. She has come very close on several occasions, and I was forced to take evasive action to prevent her from doing so. I have, I must confess, un-gentleman-like reasons for never allowing her to defeat me.
Minerva McGonagall is an exceptional witch. I have known her since she was very young and I have seen her grow and succeed in all she has attempted. A mistress of transfiguration - my own favourite subject - an animagus, a gifted teacher, a first rate deputy headmistress with an ability to get me out of all sorts of administrative scrapes, a loyal and trustworthy colleague and friend…and a very attractive woman. She has never married - a fact at which I often marvel privately, for I am certain that she has had a number of admirers over the years. I know of one for certain, although unfortunately his position in the wizarding world has left him somewhat dangerous and isolated to the extreme that he has found a solitary life to be the safest option. As his friend, she is already at risk from his enemies. As his wife, she would become their prime target.
I refer to myself, of course. I have admired Minerva McGonagall as more than just a talented colleague ever since she came to work at Hogwarts. I do believe that it was the mutual enjoyment of chess that first brought the attraction I feel for her to my attention. It was from that moment that my un-gentleman-like behaviour began.
It is not in the nature of an English gentleman, neither muggle nor wizard, to allow someone to win at a game or a sport out of pity. I believe this stands for all residents of the British Isles, including, of course, the proud and independent Scots. To do such a thing would be considered "unsportsman-like", and Minerva forbid me from even considering it very early on in our chess games. I must confess that at one point the idea did cross my mind fleetingly, but only on one occasion. It was the first time that Minerva had ever come close to defeating me. In her eyes I saw a flash of triumph and her smile was one of imminent victory as she set her trap. I was momentarily at a loss, her face was transformed, no longer frowning in concentration, but shining with happiness, and for the first time in my life I lost my concentration. I moved carelessly, unable to think of anything other than her smile and, quite possibly, I was unwilling to give cause for its removal. She followed through with her plan, and proceeded to take a number of my pieces, one by one as I was further ensnared by her ruse. I found myself at a crossroads in the game when I finally awoke from my enchantment. I could either choose to make one more careless move and hand her the game, or I could behave as all English gentlemen should and remove myself from her grasp. I chose to honour the promise I had made that I would never consciously allow her to win. I unravelled her web and put her in check.
The exchange of her smile for a half-angry frown was a heart-wrenching loss to me. All was made good however, as she sat back in her chair, beaten and disappointed, when, looking me straight in the eye, she said:
"Albus Dumbledore. I swear that I shall continue to play against you until I have won. And when once I have won, I shall play you no more."
She finished her statement with a bright smile of defiance that lit up her whole face and caused my heart to pound.
It was then that I decided that I could never let her win. Not it if meant risking my weekly opportunity to be alone with her. It would mean that I would have to concentrate without fail, and not allow myself to be distracted too much by her charming smile or her delicate hands as they moved her pieces across the board. I knew that she must never win, or I would lose the comfort of her company forever. And so, I am afraid that my selfish need of her got the better of my sense of nobility. I began to cheat.
From early on I decided to employ the tactic of crunching sherbet lemons as we played. Many years ago, this tactic was successful, but nowadays she does not seem to mind it so much. She watches me move my hand to my bag of sweets with a small smile and a shake of the head. It is this movement of hers that makes me eat far more sweets than necessary during our games. I believe that she has taken to counting the number of sherbet lemons I consume between moves, and she frequently reprimands me at other times for having such a sweet tooth. If only she knew that my tooth is not sweet for the sweets, but for the tiniest nod of her head.
I never rush her to move - that would be ridiculous. The longer she takes, the more time I have to admire her. I drink in the sight of her before me, the frown of concentration transforming into a look of determination as she is about to make her move. I do believe she measures her moves to my sherbet lemons. Perhaps she uses them as a method of timing, keeping her game disciplined, maintaining her concentration. I find this rather interesting, and I have adopted this technique for my own moves. I do not require the time it takes to suck on four sherbet lemons to work out my move, but four sherbet lemons do provide a marvellous amount of time for gazing at Minerva McGonagall.
Eventually this most delightful manner of spending an evening must come to an end; I must put her in check, and the game must be won. She is stoic enough about her continuing run of losses. As the years have gone by, I see that the spark of determination in her eyes has lessened, and yet she never refuses the offer of a game. She looses as she lives: with good grace. I can never bring myself to declare "checkmate", however. Not since the day of my promise have I said it aloud. For me, to announce her loss in this manner seems vulgar and crass. Do I not cheat her out of the games, after all? Is she not truly the winner? She may never have captured my Queen in all these years that we have played together, but long, long ago she captured my heart.