The Sugar Quill
Author: Madaline Fabray  Story: Attacking Pawns  Chapter: Default
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Attacking Pawns

Attacking Pawns

A tall, well-built young man with smooth black hair and piercing eyes paced back and forth along the outer wall of the small room he was in. The square-shaped room was very small -- the man only took about a dozen or so steps with his long legs before reaching a corner and having to turn around again.

The room the man was in was sparsely furnished. The walls were alternating black and white. A small, rectangular white table with a black slipcover rested it the center, with two plain black and white wooden chairs on either end. In the middle of the table was a chess board with black and white chess pieces of gleaming marble.

An hourglass, the most decorative item in the otherwise stark room, was placed on top of the right edge of the table. The columns supporting the transparent bases were alternating twists of black and white. The bases depicted a moving picture of the solar system that seemed to float within the clear, glass-like substance. Sand the color of ash slipped through in a slow, ceaseless stream from one side to the other. The top portion of the glass was nearly empty.

The young man's metronomic footfalls echoed dully on the smooth tile floor, which, along with the ceiling, looked like a larger version of the black and white chessboard on the table. His long, sable robes brushed the surfaces of the alternating black and white tiles like filmy shadows.

A loud "pop" from the other side of the room brought his pacing to a sudden halt. The man looked up to see an older man with a billowing white beard. He was wearing dove-gray robes and matching hat. The newcomer's piercing light blue eyes solemnly looked at the young man over his half moon spectacles, which were perched on a large, crooked nose.

"You're late," the young man said coldly.

"Indeed," the older man replied mildly. "But you must understand, Tom. I've had many other things to occupy my time, and besides, I don't look forward to playing your games."

"Afraid, are we Dumbledore?" Tom Riddle replied, and his handsome features twisted into a sneer. Dumbledore straightened himself and looked Riddle straight in the eye but did not say a word. Riddle met his gaze, but after a moment he seemed to waver, then wilt under the intensity of the older wizard's ice blue eyes. Finally, Riddle turned away and moved towards the table.

"Yes, I am," Dumbledore said softly. Tom stopped in his tracks and once again he looked up uncertainly. "But not for the reasons you think."

Riddle's mouth became a thin line. He sat down on the side of the table with the white chess pieces. He pulled his wand from his robes and pointed it at the chair opposite him. The chair moved out from the table and swiveled slightly.

"Let's begin this," the younger wizard said, his eyes gleaming with malevolence. "I have waited years for this game."

"This is more than just a game, Tom," Dumbledore replied as he sat down, almost wearily, in the offered chair. But there was nothing weary, nothing wavering in his eyes, in the set of his features.

Again, Riddle recoiled slightly. But the younger wizard soon regained his composure. He picked up the hourglass, shook the remaining sand into the other side, then flipped it over.

"Perhaps," Riddle said, adopting a careless tone. "But we've put this off long enough. I have waited for many years for the chance to challenge you again, and that moment has finally arrived. So, what are we waiting for? Let us begin, shall we?"

"You have the first move, Tom," Dumbledore said, and the corners of his mouth twitched under his copious facial hair. "You are white."

For the third time during their brief exchange, Riddle seemed to wilt.

"Queen pawn, forward two," he snapped irritably. It was almost as if he were shouting at the mindless pawn, demanding why it hadn't already moved of its own accord.

Dumbledore calmly took his turn next, moving his own pawn forward to block the enemy pawn. The pawns drew their swords and raised their shields, but since neither was in a position to capture, they could only stand there and glare menacingly at each other.

Riddle's next move was to bring up the king pawn beside the first, offering Dumbledore's queen pawn a chance to do battle. Dumbledore declined to capture, electing to bring out his kingside knight instead. Riddle captured Dumbledore's queen pawn with his king pawn.

"First blood is mine," he gloated.

"So it appears," Dumbledore agreed softly as the two pawns dueled fiercely until only one remained. "But early losses do not often determine the outcome." He took the triumphant white pawn with the black kingside knight.

The opening progressed for several more turns, with each wizard trying to get the better position for his pieces, before Dumbledore spoke again.

"You know, Tom," Dumbledore said. "One of your greatest faults is your tunnel vision. That, and not being able to accept that some things in this world cannot be changed no matter how much you would like for them to."

"Stop calling me 'Tom!'" the younger wizard snapped. "I stopped using that name years ago, and so should you. It is dead to me, as is my father and other Muggle relatives. The past means nothing to me. I am Lord Voldemort."

"The name you have fabricated for yourself is as false as the dreams and lies you have woven around you and those who follow you," Dumbledore said sternly as he castled his King. Much of the usual twinkle was gone from the elder wizard's eyes. "By concocting this alternate identity, by pretending that your past has no claim on you, you have not changed what is. You have merely deceived everyone around you. Most of all, you have deceived yourself. Can't you see how blind you are? Why can't you stop running and accept who you are? There is nothing wrong...."

"There is everything wrong with my acknowledging my worthless, Muggle father," Riddle replied heatedly. Then he narrowed his eyes and laughed malevolently as his queen moved sideways and smashed Dumbledore's kingside knight. Black shards scattered everywhere on the board while the white queen refastened her mace to her belt, folded her arms, and nodded her approval. "You are a fine one to talk about being blind, Dumbledore. Since you delight in discussing failings and self-deception, why don't we talk about you for a while?" He gave another evil chuckle. "How about your blindness in not realizing the spy within your ranks? The one who led me to destroy the Potters?"

"I admit, I miscalculated with Pettigrew," Dumbledore said heavily. "I had hoped the Order would help him aspire to something greater, that he would feel protected. But you have forgotten one thing, Tom. You did not destroy all of the Potters." Dumbledore, taking advantage of an opening created by Tom, used his remaining knight to capture Tom's queenside rook and threaten the white queen.

"For a wizard who likes to claim the moral high ground, you certainly delight in pointing out my failings," Tom said, almost sulkily. He withdrew his queen to the center. Dumbledore withdrew the knight to safety, then Tom moved his kingside knight to threaten Dumbledore's bishop.

"I do not take delight in pointing out your failings," Dumbledore said mildly. "I know I have my own shortcomings. I freely confess to have misjudged Pettigrew -- although I still have hope that he can be redeemed." He moved his queenside bishop out of the reach of Tom's looming knight.

"You hope the same for another in your camp, I know. But someday you will learn that he is quite wholeheartedly committed to me and always has been. Otherwise I would have had him killed years ago."

"You are deceived. He has no love for you, Tom."

"He is not yours! He never was. He loathes you and your foolish sensitivity. I know he does."

"I know that his loyalties are questionable, and that he can be a bit of an opportunist. But I will not write him off. Not while there is still hope for him to demonstrate true repentance."

"It is you who are deceived, Dumbledore. He will betray you."

"Only time will tell whether or not he is or ever was redeemable," Dumbledore replied, studying the board intently. "I want to give him every chance."

"You should have let Crouch lock him away in Azkaban when you had the chance."

"I would not send anyone to Azkaban if there was the slightest hope that they could be saved."

"You are a sentimental old fool, Dumbledore!" Tom said venemously. "You honestly believe you can sway everyone to your cause of peace and mercy, and then you refuse to acknowledge it when you have so obviously failed. And I am not only talking about your potions master. I am also thinking of Pettigrew. Crouch's son. Quirrell. And oh yes, let's not forget your former school chum, Grindelwald. Your simplistic faith in others will be your downfall, Dumbledore."

"I do not consider my belief in the human condition a failing," Dumbledore replied quietly. "Nor do I think it will be my downfall. Could it lead to my personal demise? Perhaps. But I do not need to be physically here and alive for my work to continue. I have every confidence that others will follow, that perhaps someone will even be able to replace me and do a better job than I have done."

"Someone like Grindelwald?" Tom said, and he bared his teeth in a wolf-like grin.

A period of tense silence followed. Dumbledore looked at Tom Riddle with a gaze that was part anger, part sadness. This time, Riddle did not wilt under those ice-blue eyes.

Dumbledore finally looked down and sighed. "I admitted long ago that I made a mistake with him, a colossal one, and that I was too slow to respond before major damage had already been done."

Tom gave another high-pitched cackle as he took one of Dumbledore's pawns with his kingside bishop and threatened to take another on the next turn. "'Made a mistake with him'? Oh, Dumbledore! In an effort to -- how did you so quaintly put it? -- steer me on the right path and avoid the dark pitfalls you saw before me because of my temper, hatred and curiosity for the Dark Arts, you gave me just the mentor I needed -- no, craved!You had hoped I would look up to Grindelwald and would follow his example. I did, so your little plot worked -- although I'm sure not in the way you wanted. I find the irony absolutely delicious!"

"I had worried about you from the start," Dumbledore said softly as he advanced a second black pawn to protect the one threatened by the white bishop. "You were so bright, so talented, so ambitious. But you were always cold, angry. I had hoped to change that. Little did I know that the man I once regarded as a good friend and mentor had changed so much. Instead of drawing you away from the Dark Arts, he was steering you right to that path. His real name was Gottfried Kaufmann, did you know that? That's how I knew him in school. But by the time I introduced you to him, Kaufmann was dead. All that was left was an evil shell. Only I didn't see it until too late, when you disappeared the summer of your 18th year, presumably to find him in
Switzerland."

"You unwittingly gave me the greatest mentor I could have had," Riddle said, the wolf-smile never leaving his face. The younger wizard was obviously enjoying rubbing salt into an old wound. "He was the one who started me on path to learning about the Chamber of Secrets and what was in it, about who my mother really was, about many other great things." His knight moved to threaten Dumbledore's rook.

"Yet in the end, he turned to Muggles for his power," Dumbledore pointed out as one of his pawns captured the menacing knight.

The smile disappeared. "Yes, that was his great weakness. He thought he could elevate himself by positioning a Muggle -- a stupid Muggle -- to take over the world. For the life of me, I can't figure out what his rationale was, but when his Muggle puppet died, Grindelwald was exposed and you were able to destroy him. A waste, really. He would have been better off sticking with his own kind." He captured Dumbledore's pawn with one of his pawns. "And you think Muggles are so wonderful! Look at this Muggle Grindelwald chose to work through-- he destroyed millions of his race!"

"There are good and bad Muggles as there are good and bad Wizards, Tom," Dumbledore replied as he moved his bishop so it was on a diagonal path to Riddle's king. "I also find it rather hypocritical for you to condemn the actions of the Muggle when you yourself have so much blood on your own hands. Check."

"When are you going to learn, Dumbledore, that there is no good or evil?" Riddle replied, and he stretched both of his long, white hands towards the older wizard. "I proudly display the blood on my hands, for it proves I'm not afraid of doing what is necessary to achieve my ambitions." He moved his queenside bishop to block Dumbledore's bishop.

Declining the exchange, Dumbledore retreated his bishop back to safety.

"This world you have described would be one without beauty, art or feelings," Dumbledore countered. "Life would be cold, mechanical. Humans would be little better than machines. Is that what you really want, Tom? Do you even know what you want?"

"I have a more concrete plan than you would give me credit for," Riddle replied, his eyes narrowing as he contemplated his pieces. His minor pieces had almost complete control over the center squares, with his queen protecting his remaining rook and knight. And although he had six remaining to Dumbledore's five, his pawns were scattered haphazardly around the board, weak and unprotected.

Dumbledore's pawns, on the other hand, had formed a sort of defense chain reinforced by the rooks. His minor pieces were placed more conservatively in an intricate web of protection. His queen remained on its original square.

Riddle finally moved his bishop in an attempt to dislodge Dumbledore's kingside knight which defended a key square.

Dumbledore smiled thinly.

"Suppose you were to get your wish, that you had conquered the world and defeated death," Dumbledore asked as he forced the bishop to retreat with a pawn. "What then? After you had accomplished your aims what would you do afterwards?"

Riddle scowled as he withdrew the attack. He had hoped that Dumbledore would be tempted to bring out the queen instead. Now his plans would have to change.

"When that happens, I think things will take care of themselves," Tom replied casually. His eyes were still hard, however, as he moved his queen two squares forward.

"I think you are deluding yourself, Tom," Dumbledore said as he moved one of his rooks to better reinforce a protective trio of kingside pawns. "You may have received high marks in history, but obviously you have learned very little from it. The dictators and tyrants of the world have never held on to their power for long. Once they obtained it, they spent the rest of their lives trying to hold on to it only to lose it -- either through political infighting or their own deaths. For example, Tom, look at Ch'in Shih Huang-Ti, the founder of the Ch'in Dynasty. He vowed to build a empire that would last for ten thousand years. He fought for many years to conquer the warring states in
China, and he succeeded...for a while. But in the end he became so cruel and heavy-handed that his people hated and feared him. He became paranoid, and slept in a different room of his palace every night, fearful of assassination. His closest advisors followed him only because they feared him, while behind his back they plotted and schemed, and when he died, his empire fell into ruin and strife behind him. Force and terror cannot unify or solve anything, Tom. They can only destroy. The bitter monuments Shih Huang Ti left behind were the Great Wall, filled in with rubble and the bones of those who died building it, and the lifeless terra cotta army that guarded his tomb."

"Yes, but unlike Huang-Ti, Hitler, Grindelwald and all the others, I don't plan to die," Riddle said with smoldering intensity. "When I reach my ultimate goal of immortality, then even things such as your Great Wall will crumble."

"Do you really think immortality will solve your problems?" Finally Dumbledore brought out his queen and demolished the white pawn at e-4 which hadn't moved since capturing Dumbledore's queen pawn at the beginning of the game.

Riddle swore under his breath. He had forgotten to keep this key pawn guarded and he realized that his own defense was now compromised. He thought for several minutes before responding to Dumbledore's sudden and unexpected activation of the black queen.

"I will have plenty of time at my disposal to find out now, won't I?" he said at last. And at his command the white queen marched across the board and destroyed one of Dumbledore's bishops.

Dumbledore responded by taking one of the pawns in front of the white king with the black queen. "Are you familiar with the story of King Midas, Tom? Check."

Tom scowled furiously at the chessboard and struck the table with a fist. Dumbledore had placed him in the position where the only way to get out of check was to trade queens. And because he wished to use the queen, his favorite piece, to further decimate Dumbledore's forces, he found that his strategy was now hopelessly compromised. "Curse you, Dumbledore! You think that you have beaten me by disrupting my plan, but I am still more powerful than you! And stop calling me Tom! I'll have you kneeling before me and addressing me as Lord Voldemort yet!" This last sentence was almost petulant.

"That will never happen, Tom, not even if you win this game, which I think is highly unlikely."

The two wizards played in silence for several minutes. The only sound that could be heard was the soft, continuous hissing sound of the ash-gray sand slipping through the neck of the hourglass. The top half of the glass three quarters empty when Tom Riddle spoke again.

"So, Dumbledore, how is the Potter boy doing now?" Tom asked, his tone sly. He moved his bishop to threaten a black pawn at b-4.

"Curious about Harry, are you? I wonder..."

"But of course! He is so very much like me..."

"He's doing as well as can be expected," Dumbledore replied calmly. He moved the pawn forward a square where it was guarded by the queenside knight.

Tom stared at Dumbledore incredulously before using a bishop to capture Dumbledore's remaining Knight, which had been left open by the move.

"That was a bad play," Tom mocked. "You have lost a knight and gained nothing in return."

"Was it now?" Dumbledore replied mildly, pushing the pawn forward another square.

"What do you see in that pawn? Why would you sacrifice a more powerful piece to protect it?"

"Pawns have great potential...if you have the patience to develop them properly," Dumbledore said. "You would do well to remember that just as much thought should go into deciding whether to sacrifice a pawn as a queen. In some circumstances, sacrificing even a pawn can be too costly."

Tom snorted. "That is utter nonsense, Dumbledore. If you don't realize that, then you are a fool. The main purpose of the pawns is to protect the stronger pieces and sacrifice themselves so that the stronger ranks may continue fighting. The only purpose ... ahhhh, I see now," Tom's eyes narrowed as he looked at the chess board.

Dumbledore's advanced kingside pawn was only two moves away from reaching the far side of the board, and the older wizard's remaining rook was guarding it from Tom's bishops. Dumbledore's next move made it obvious that he was attempting to safeguard the pawn's path to promotion.

"Yes, I see now," Tom breathed. "You are looking to promote, but I will stop you. And you know that I can because you are too far behind in material. Two bishops and a rook will always beat a bishop, rook, and pawn."

By now the board was littered with the fragments of sacrificed chess pieces. It resembled a battlefield much more than it did a gameboard, and this was just the way Riddle liked it. He contemplated how best to use his king, two bishops, and queenside rook to destroy the rest of Dumbledore's remaining forces while Dumbledore studied his kingside bishop, rook and sixth rank b-file pawn. Riddle glanced at the hourglass; the sand had nearly run out of the top. He quickly moved his queenside bishop to threaten Dumbledore's pawn, which placed the bishop in the line of fire of Dumbledore's black rook.

Dumbledore used his next move to capture the threatening bishop, thus leaving the pawn's path unguarded. Tom moved his rook to his own second rank so that if Dumbledore tried to advance the pawn, it would be captured posthaste. Dumbledore responded by moving his black bishop on a diagonal path between the white king and white rook, placing Riddle's king in check and threatening to capture the white rook at the same time.

Riddle swore viciously and pounded the table again as he saw that his rook was lost. Although his white bishop was lined up perfectly to seize the attacking black one, alas! His own king blocked its path of attack! In his haste to stop the black pawn from advancing any further, Tom Riddle had made a serious tactical error. However, he still had an opportunity to at least get Dumbledore's bishop in return for the rook. When he moved his king out of check, Dumbledore would take the rook, and then he would respond by taking the black bishop with his white one.

Dumbledore reluctantly made the exchange, followed by a hopeful advance of the black pawn to the now unguarded seventh rank. Only one more advance and the pawn could be promoted to queen, thus giving Dumbledore an advantage huge enough to tip the game decisively in his favor. But Riddle's remaining bishop moved in to prevent the pawn from advancing any further. Dumbledore tried to chase the bishop away with his rook, but Riddle only laughed and retreated the bishop two squares along a diagonal path, still keeping the pawn's intended destination covered.

Dumbledore sighed.

"Your situation is hopeless, Dumbledore. Admit it," the dark wizard observed with a snicker. "You cannot promote the pawn as long as I can block its progress. And you cannot take my bishop with your rook, for I have the entire length of the board at my disposal, with my king to back me up.

"But your situation is equally hopeless, Tom," the aged wizard replied mildly as the tall opposing kings brandished their swords and glared at each other over the much smaller pawn. "Your bishop moves on the dark squares only, while the pawn occupies a light square. You cannot capture it, nor do you have any pawns of your own to promote. All you can do is pace back and forth with your king and bishop."

"While you futilely chase me back and forth with your rook, and your pawn sits stagnant on the seventh rank," Riddle retorted with a sneer.

"Perhaps if I had had more time..." Dumbledore mused sadly. "But unfortunately it is too late." The remaining sand in the hourglass had, indeed, all gone to the bottom. The allotted time for the match had expired. "Time is up."

Tom narrowed his eyes. "Yes, so it seems. We've come to yet another draw. Most unfortunate. I was hoping for a more decisive game this time."

"I think it will take many more battles before we come to a conclusive resolution," Dumbledore remarked pointedly.

The younger wizard stood up and waved his wand over the fragmented marble. The fragments regrouped to become knights, bishops and other chess pieces again. But they were no longer gleaming and new -- there were cracks and chips in all of the pieces.

Three of the rooks had several bricks missing. The black queen was missing an eye and part of her nose. The white queen's crown was shattered, and her right hand was missing. All of the knights and pawns had deep fractures, and one of the bishops walked with a pronounced limp, using its staff as a cane.

"There," Riddle said lazily. "All put back together. All ready for our next match. We will have to play again very soon. You realize that, don't you?"

"I am aware of that, yes," Dumbledore replied as he pinned Riddle with an icy blue stare.

Riddle looked away with a scowl and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "I don't fancy playing again either, but we have no choice, since no one won this game." He walked a few paces from his chair and turned back to the older wizard. "Until next time, Dumbledore." The younger wizard gave Dumbledore a cold nod and disappeared with a loud pop.

Dumbledore stared at the spot where Tom Riddle had Disapparated. "No one won this game," he echoed sadly. The older wizard looked down at the table again to see the fragments of two pawns, one black and one white. Riddle had not noticed their absence when he had restored the gameboard.

The elderly wizard looked down, gently took the fragmented pieces in his left hand and lightly closed his fingers over them. Dumbledore again glanced over at where Tom had last stood, and then he opened his hand to reveal a pile of ash-colored sand.

Dumbledore sighed softly and turned his hand over, palm downwards. The sand fell from his hand in a soundless shower onto the checkerboard-patterned floor.

"How right you are, Tom. No one won this game," Dumbledore repeated, his voice filled with sorrow. "And the irony of it is, you have no idea just how right you are. Alas! That, I think, is the greatest tragedy of all."  

 

-Finis-

 

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