The Chess Set
The young witch had been past the pawnshop on two other occasions, each time feeling strangely conspicuous in the Muggle street. The shops here were run down and shabby, their alleyways dingy and lined with rubbish. A group of young layabouts catcalled as she passed in the street to avoid them, fingering the wand tucked in her pocket, hoping she wouldn’t have need of it. Luckily, the boys were too lazy to cause her real trouble, preferring to merely call out rude remarks from the front stairs of the aging building where they lounged.
She had first seen the shop when she and her girlfriends had become lost on a tour of Muggle London. This had most definitely been the wrong stop on the underground. When passing the pawnshop on this street, she’d stopped dead at the display window, one item in particular catching her eye. She had stared, wondering if what she was seeing could possibly be what she thought it was. It looked like it, she had considered, intrigued at the possibility. Most unlikely, she had told herself as her girlfriends had pulled her away. It was a Muggle shop, after all, in a Muggle street, in Muggle London. How something like that could have ended up there, she hadn’t been able to imagine.
A few days later, after consulting a photo and returning to peer through the grimy shop window, what she saw had left little doubt in her mind. It had to be the one. She’d known instantly that she had to have it, resolving to return with Muggle money.
The day was pleasant when she returned - the sky, blue, and the air, warmed, from the bright sunshine of late summer. The woman finally reached the pawnshop that was her destination. This particular shop was as decrepit as the other establishments lining the narrow, dirty street. The front window, as unwashed as it had been the last time she’d been here, contained an odd assortment of items. Her eyes roved over the items in almost lazy anticipation. A shiny silver salver rested on an intricate marble plant stand. A dented French Horn leaned against an ornate gold-framed mirror. Three electric guitars in lacquered primary colors were suspended over a large mounted fish of a variety unknown to her. Her eyes finally reached the small table where she had first seen the thing she was here for. Instead of the item she sought, however, her eyes found only an old fashioned camera. Her heart started to beat fast and she felt a little sick. Where was it? Had she missed her chance? Had it been sold?
Hurrying to the door, she yanked it open, bursting into the shop. Her eyes searched frantically as her spirits sank. In the small shop, nearly overflowing with junk, it was a few desperate moments before she noticed the display cabinet. Closing her eyes, she breathed a sigh of relief. There it was.
“Might I ‘elp you, miss?” A man’s voice sounded through the silence of the cluttered shop. The young witch looked up to find the Muggle shopkeeper, a small, stooped man who looked to be in his late seventies. Standing near the register, he watched her closely, a curious but guarded expression on his face. Absurdly, above his head hung a taxidermal pelican, frozen awkwardly in mid-flight.
Mentally kicking herself for letting anxiety blind her, she straightened up and smoothed her skirt. There was little chance of coming off composed at this point, she realized, but she hoped that the man wouldn’t suspect she was anything other than a normal, ordinary Muggle. She had done quite well in Muggle Studies at Hogwarts, although now that she was actually here in a Muggle shop, she wasn’t feeling particularly confident.
She took a deep breath. “How much is that, please?” she asked politely, pointing to the small wooden box in the display case.
The shopkeeper didn’t look surprised by her inquiry. He looked at her closely, as though taking all of her in, his bright eyes peering sharply from behind crinkled lids. She cringed slightly under the intensity of his gaze. With a sudden movement, he nodded resolutely, as if he’d made some kind of decision. He smiled at her. “Them? Oh, you got a noice eye, miss. Genuine antiques, they is.” He waved a shaky hand at the box, lid open to display its contents. “You won’t find another set like ‘at in all a’ Britain.” The old man pulled out a ring of keys, and with a slightly shaky hand, opened the display cabinet. He dusted the box delicately with a crumpled cloth before setting it gently on the counter.
“But how much?” The woman absentmindedly twirled her unruly copper hair as she examined the box and its contents. No, she thought to herself, there wouldn’t be another like this to be found in Britain, would there?
Still smiling, the shopkeeper winked at her. “For you miss, a special rate. Just for you, mind, luv, on account of your being so pretty.”
She fought the urge to roll her eyes - pretty was something that she knew she was definitely not - and waited expectantly.
When he told her his price, the young witch quickly and silently calculated with the Pound to Galleon exchange rate. Was that correct? She took in a sharp breath, embarrassed immediately at the loud sound in the quiet shop. Forcing herself to smile pleasantly, she looked at the shopkeeper. “As much as that?”
“Oh, yes, miss. Rare. Fings like that as don’t come cheap.” The old man nodded.
She sighed inwardly. She knew that she had to have it. She also knew that from her display of anxiety earlier, the shopkeeper was aware of her need as well. She would pay his price. She smiled inwardly. She would have paid more if she’d been asked.
The shopkeeper wrapped her purchase with care as she counted out a thick stack of Muggle bank notes. When the man handed over the box, she noticed with surprise that his eyes were moist, and he seemed reluctant to let the package go.
Once at home, she examined her purchase, comparing it closely to the photograph. In the picture, a young man played a game of chess, his queen taking his opponent’s bishop with a violent smash. Yes, she thought, scrutinizing the photo, this has got to be it. The chess set she had purchased was identical to the one in the photograph.
She checked thoroughly to make certain that the carving was the same. It was, as was the color of the stone. The young witch smiled as she polished each of the chess pieces with a soft cloth. As she held each chessman in turn, she noticed the beauty of their carved faces, and the character of the stone from which they had sprung. She could sense the magic in them. In an enchanted slumber, the chessmen were waiting to spring to life at the touch of a game board. If she’d had more time, she would have liked to try them. Muggle Studies was not her only talent.
Once the pieces were meticulously buffed and polished, she carefully wrapped the wood-inlaid box in festive paper and ribbons. She smiled, looking forward to tonight very much. This would be the perfect gift.