Disclaimer: The inhabitants of Hogwarts are the property of JK Rowling.
Thanks once again to everyone who reviewed. Incidentally, if anyone thought the last chapter title made no sense, it probably didnít. I was thinking of erumpments being like hippos, when of course, they are more like rhinoceroses. Silly me.
Games of Skill and Chance
Part 7 - Chess
Yet another Thursday evening rolled around and Snape dropped an enormous pile of sixth year essays onto his classroom desk before turning to wedge open the door of the potions lab, ready for the by now familiar and unavoidable arrival of the games club.
The Grote twins were the first to appear, the two girls choosing seats at the back of the room and setting up the pieces for their game. The Ravenclaw chess-players arrived a few minutes later, accompanied by (of all things) a pair of Gryffindors. A spotty-faced boy and a girl with pigtails politely stammered their request to make use of the room, since Michael and Alistair had challenged them to pitch bravery against brains on the chessboard.
Itís cunning you need on the chessboard, he thought privately. Aloud he gave them the same glowering warning about playing quietly as all of the others had received and turned back to the homework mountain, vaguely wondering where the four original gamers had got to. Their absence joined several other irritating concerns dancing distractingly around his concentration.
There had been no reply from Lupin to his letter. The owl had returned, with potion and letter removed, but there was no answering note to be found. The werewolf had survived the war, no doubt he could look after himself, but the silence was bothersome. Obviously, he wasnít going to fret over the well-being of one of his childhood tormentors -- he just didnít like sending off complex potions into the ether, with no idea if they were even being used. And thatís all there is to it, he told himself.
The upcoming trials of the captured Death Eaters also preyed on his mind. It would be satisfying to see justice done, but he wasnít looking forward to giving evidence. A lot of families had to face up to what their members had done, but some wouldnít hesitate to curse the messenger who brought them the details. At least the Ministry had followed his suggestion to transfer all of the dozen or so Hogwarts children whose parents or older siblings were awaiting trial, to wizarding schools in other countries.
Added to all that, it was already mid-November and he still had no more idea of what he would do after the end of term. No one had been found to take his job, but he would not stay on a day longer than necessary, damn it. Hermione Grangerís surprisingly pleasant visit had brought the subject back to the forefront of his thoughts. Perhaps he too should travel abroad, escape from the limitations of wizarding Britain, filled as it was with people who remembered him either as a loathsome teacher, as a Death Eater or as a war hero.
Half an hour passed, during which he achieved very little actual marking, before Roger, Nicolas and Dafydd arrived at the classroom door, all looking rather weary and worried. Their Ravenclaw friend was absent and inwardly Snape heaved a disappointed sigh Ė house loyalties had got the better of them already, then. The glittering circle of friendship had tightened and Rupert was to be left in the darkness, peering enviously in. "Good evening gentlemen," he said coolly, feeling the need to make some snide comment about their petty ousting of the fourth boy. "Your numbers are somewhat depleted."
Roger made a face. "Rupertís in the hospital wing after falling off his broom and breaking his wrist," he explained. "Madam Pomfrey just kicked us out so he could get some rest."
Snapeís carefully masked emotions made a complete volte-face, although the boys would have been none the wiser, even if they had known to look for the change. He could picture them huddled around the hospital bed, trying to make their pained chum feel better. He suppressed a smirk at the sickeningly sentimental image his mind had conjured up, but felt oddly warmed nonetheless.
The trio scuttled to the cupboard which had been cleared of cracked old cauldrons to make way for the battered collection of games that had been gathered from various common rooms or owled from the studentsí homes over the past few weeks. Apparently they couldnít find anything suitable for three players as eventually Nicolas and Dafydd set up a game of draughts while Roger sat off to one side, watching.
Snape made a third attempt to make sense of the opening paragraph of the essay in front of him. He wasnít entirely sure whether the student was simply writing gobbledegook or whether he was just reading it wrong. Either way, his ability to concentrate on marking was clearly shot to pieces. Throwing down his quill, he glanced up at the room full of gamers. A full set of houses, he noted, and not a squabble in sight. Some fairly fierce competition, for certain, but it was an oddly friendly and peaceable atmosphere for all that.
His gaze settled on the one youngster who was not participating in a game. "Do you play chess, Mr Treaster?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," said the boy, eyes widening as he realised he was being invited to take on his housemaster in a match.
Ten minutes into the game and Snape was disturbed to find himself at a tactical disadvantage. Of course, he was fairly rusty at the game Ė the last time heíd played had probably been when he was at school, he reflected. And even in Slytherin heíd struggled to find someone willing to give him a game. But it wasnít as if the rules had changed and his mind had undoubtedly had plenty of exercise at thinking several moves ahead of the opposition.
He applied himself to out-thinking the boy with renewed vigour and was eventually rewarded with victory, although he had to admit it had been a close-run thing.
"Checkmate," he announced. "Good game, Mr Treaster, thank you."
The good thing about chess, he remembered, was how it required oneís uppermost thoughts to focus on the here and now, and the next several moves. For 40 minutes he hadnít once given a thought to the things that had been worrying him earlier. And apparently he had made a decision while his conscious mind had been distracted by the game. He was going to visit Remus Lupin.
To be continued.
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