Disclaimer: I don't own the characters or world


"Thank you for accepting my invitation, Minerva. Would you like–,"

"Allow me to pre-emptively decline your offer of Muggle lollies, Albus," professor McGonagall broke in.

Dumbledore shrugged, a small smile playing about the comers of his mouth. Unfortunately the expression was insufficient to drive all the weariness away from his features. Despite McGonagall's refusal, however, he placed his bag of humbugs (Hagrid's influence) by the chess board within easy reach of both players, just in case. He was already seated behind a small table with an old but serviceable wizarding chess set.

McGonagall took her seat and was mildly surprised to find her pieces were the lighter shade. The well-loved pieces were too worn to be called white anymore, but the first move was undoubtedly hers.

While she was inclined to think of herself as the best player on the staff of Hogwarts, she had a suspicion that she would be easily defeated by Dumbledore. The main reason she had accepted an invitation to such an inevitable defeat was mostly curiosity. Dumbledore had likely spent most of his life playing this game against some of the greatest minds in what she thought of as history. It would be an education in itself and even in the face of defeat, McGonagall always supported education.

McGonagall didn't hesitate over the first move and the pawn moved confidently at her command.

Dumbledore hesitated, his eyes flicking over the board. Finally he ordered a knight forward, keeping his line of pawns intact.

McGonagall proceeded, paying more attention to Dumbledore's moves than her own. She managed to work out a pattern quite quickly. Dumbledore created open space around his king and he used his higher pieces to almost… McGonagall tried to wrap her thoughts around the difficult concept. Dumbledore seemed to almost be protecting his pawns. Fearing a trap, but eager for victory, McGonagall moved her pieces in to take down the headmaster's king. One of his pawns got in the way and McGonagall was surprised at the way that Dumbledore paled when her knight dealt it a vicious blow. Of course she didn't entirely approve of the gratuitous violence in wizard chess, but it was just part of the game.

Finally she moved in her castle to take Dumbledore's king. She was surprised at such a simple checkmate. It was almost as if Dumbledore wanted her to take his king. She studied the board for a moment before realising that in a few more moves Dumbledore may have been able to take her king with his pawns, since most of her pieces were invested in taking his king.

"Are you quite familiar with the rules, Albus?" She teased.

Dumbledore sighed and retrieved a humbug from the bag. "Yes, Minerva. It's just at my age even a game is seldom a game," he replied cryptically.

"Hmm, you care too much about your pawns."

"Ah yes, but a pawn is a piece of absolute potential. Once a pawn reaches the back line, it can become any other piece."

"I'll concede that, but it's rare. Besides, the rules of the game are set up so that the pawns depend on the king. The pawns couldn't have completed your neat ambush once your king was taken."

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled behind his spectacles and he looked more like himself for a moment. "Ah, I think you'd be surprised at what a pawn can manage, even without its king."

"And I see that we're no longer talking about chess. You know I was almost looking forward to a sound defeat at the hands of an expert," McGonagall grumbled.

"Oh, you've caught me several decades too late for that, Minerva. The last game of wizard chess that I won was in my youth."

McGonagall gaped. "Then why did you invite me to play?"

"Two reasons, really. First, I was looking forward to a sound defeat at the hands of an expert." McGonagall could not resist a little smile at the compliment.

"And second?" she prompted.

"Secondly, I wanted to know if I still cared about the pawns." There was a smile on the headmaster's face, but his eyes were grave.

"Even at the expense of their leader," McGonagall whispered.

Dumbledore nodded once, slowly. The transfiguration professor had no idea how to respond to that.

"Anyway, do be sure to take a humbug on your way out, Minerva, they're quite good." The change to Dumbledore's manner was abrupt, but not unexpected.

McGonagall sighed, but she took one anyway. She suddenly felt like humouring Albus' eccentricities.