The Sugar Quill
Author: Night Zephyr (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Strategy Isn't Everything  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Strategy Isn't Everything

Strategy Isn’t Everything
A Harry Potter fanfiction
by NightZephyr


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Disclaimer: Many, many thanks to J.K.Rowling for so graciously letting us share her playthings. The Potterverse is all hers and I remain in awe...

Acknowledgements: Oodles of thanks go to Christina Teresa and sunshyndaisies as well for helping me get back on my ‘writing feet’ in a ‘Points’less and post-OotP world. Ladies, you are wonderful for helping to let me know I hadn’t ‘lost it’ completely!

A/N: This little fic was inspired by the between-O.W.L.s chess game in OotP and a light discussion of chess symbolism on the SQ ‘Ron and Hermione’ thread. An Order of the Phoenix Missing Moment...
hope you enjoy it!

~~~***~~~


“You should have seen the look on Umbridge’s face when that Patronus leaped from my wand and rounded the hall,” Harry said triumphantly. “I wish I could have made it trot right over that evil smile of hers.”

“Yeah, that would have been great,” Ron agreed. “Hoof-in-Mouth Disease.”

Laughing, the two boys sprawled in their chairs in front of the open window in the common room, Ron taking care not to upend the chessboard with his elbow. Even though today was like being in the eye of the O.W.L.s hurricane--a day of no exams between several grueling exams the day before and loads of studying to do over the coming weekend--the delicious late spring weather made it feel like they hadn’t a worry in the world beyond whose turn it was to make the next move.

“I’d tell you about my exams, but they were deathly boring and awful and I’m bloody sick of them, so let’s talk about something else, shall we?” Ron said.

Harry appeared to focus on something outside the window, then quickly sat more upright in his chair, still staring.

“What is it?” Ron asked, sitting up as well and trying to spot what Harry was so interested in.

“Look there,” Harry said, pointing toward the edge of the forest. “Hagrid must have something exciting down there today--take a look at his class.”

Ron peered at the group huddled in a tight circle at the edge of the forest near the gamekeeper’s hut. He couldn’t see what kind of animal they were studying; but he felt that the fact that the students hadn’t found it necessary to make a break for it and run for their lives was probably a good sign for Hagrid, especially since he had lately been under such close scrutiny from Professor Umbridge. “What do you think he’s got?”

“Hmmm...don’t know,” Harry said, craning his neck to see if he could get a glimpse of anything between the sea of student legs. “Can’t see anything this far away--but the boys are standing back, so it could be unicorns--they usually let witches go near them first, Hagrid says.”

“It always worries me when you mention that Hagrid’s got ‘something exciting’ with him,” Ron said. “I’ve always thought he had the concepts of ‘something exciting’ and ‘something lethal’ rather confused--and it would be a bad time to get them mixed up with Umbridge around to fire off a report to the Ministry.”

Harry nodded. “Unless Hagrid managed to drag in some seriously deadly creature and then get Umbridge just close enough to it...”

Ron laughed and sighed, sinking back in his chair once more. “All of this lovely weather brings such happy thoughts--had you noticed?”

Just then the portrait hole opened and Hermione threw herself through it, snapping her body ramrod straight after stepping through with a scowl on her face. She reached back and yanked her robes from the edge of the entrance with an irritated flourish that nearly jarred a cowering second-year from his seat nearby.

Ron and Harry watched this display, then looked back at one another, eyebrows raised.

“Uh-oh,” Ron whispered under his breath, then continued sarcastically. “Here come some happy thoughts now.”

Harry just rolled his eyes and turned back to feign studying the chessboard, apparently not in the mood to deal with someone who was as bad-tempered as he himself had been of late.

“How were the runes?” Ron asked, yawning, stretching, and hoping against hope that his innocent question wouldn’t set off the rant that looked poised to burst from Hermione’s lips at any moment.

“I mistranslated ‘ehwaz,’” said Hermione furiously. “It means ‘partnership’, not ’defense,’ I mixed it up with ‘eihwaz.’”

Ron thought he was listening carefully--he really did. But he was hard pressed to figure out what she claimed to have done wrong. The words she said she’d confused sounded virtually identical--who wouldn’t mix them up? But we don’t dare go there now, do we? Better go for the general condolences...

“Ah well,” said Ron lazily, “that’s only one mistake, isn’t it, you’ll still get--”

“Oh shut up,” said Hermione angrily, “it could be the one mistake that makes the difference between a pass and a fail. And what’s more, someone’s put another niffler in Umbridge’s office. I don’t know how they got through that new door, but I just walked past there and Umbridge is shrieking her head off--by the sound of it, it tried to take a chunk out of her leg --”

“Good,” said Ron and Harry together.

“It is not good!” said Hermione hotly. “She thinks it’s Hagrid doing it, remember? and we do not want Hagrid chucked out!”

Ron watched Harry struggling with himself to stay out of any discussion with Hermione. But Harry had already been drawn in with the Umbridge issue, and Ron figured there was nothing else he could do on short notice to keep his best mate from pitching himself out of the frying pan and into the fire.

“He’s teaching at the moment, she can’t blame him,” said Harry, gesturing out of the window.

“Oh, you’re so naive sometimes, Harry, you really think Umbridge will wait for proof?” said Hermione, who seemed determined to be in a towering temper, and she swept off toward the girls’ dormitories, banging the door behind her.

“Such a lovely, sweet-tempered girl,” said Ron. He spoke quietly so that Hermione wouldn’t come back to bite his head off; then he prodded his queen forward so that she could begin beating up one of Harry’s knights. Somehow it was a relief to watch some other poor bloke get the snot beaten out of him by an irate female--Ron had certainly taken his turn with Hermione’s verbal jabs this year.

Harry watched closely. “She’s just a bit brutal if you ask me.”

Ron glanced toward the staircase to the girls’ dorm. “Well, you know how she gets with any exam, and now that we’re talking about O.W.L.s...”

Harry raised his eyebrows at his opponent. “I was talking about your queen.”

“Oh--yeah--her too,” Ron said. “But at least I get something out of it when she’s being brutal.”

Both boys watched as Ron’s queen backed Harry’s knight off the board, staring into his face defiantly as she advanced on him, shoving and pummeling him along the way. The knight looked protectively and sadly toward his own queen, now left alone, but couldn’t keep his eyes from the charismatic hellion in front of him as she returned to her own place on the board. He stood on the side of the board, breathing hard and glaring at the saucy opposing queen.

“Poor bloke,” Ron said in amusement. “If they were real, I’d say he fancied her. Don’t do it, man, she’ll break your heart. One day you’ll find all the love letters she’s been writing to some--” for some reason, the words ‘ fancy Quidditch player’ nearly fell out of his mouth, but he quickly substituted, “--fancypants-- and it’ll all but kill you.”

Harry looked at him oddly, then snorted, turning to look out of the window again as he caught a glimpse of something from the corner of his eye. ‘”Uh-oh--looks like Hagrid’s got trouble.”

Ron shifted his position in the chair so that he had a clear view down to where the class had been standing. Several of the students were backing away from the circle quickly. There was a lot of nervous movement among the huddled group and a widening hole was forming in the center. The boys still couldn’t see what kind of animal could be causing the problem, but when some of those who had moved to the back broke and ran for the castle, they were both certain something had to be done.

“I’m going down there,” Harry said. “We can’t afford to have Umbridge get even a whiff of Hagrid’s, erm, hands-on classes going bad, or he’ll be sacked for sure. Maybe we can do something...”

“Yeah, let’s go.” Ron glanced briefly at the chess pieces, then decided to leave them--after all, they certainly weren’t going anywhere on their own.

Ron and Harry stood and crossed the common room, stepping through the portrait hole and out into the corridor. They hadn’t made it to the first staircase down when a younger boy who was only vaguely familiar ran up before them, trying to catch his breath.

“You’re--the--Gryffindor--prefect--right?” he choked out to Ron between gasps for air.

“Yeah--one of them,” Ron answered, just now realizing that he hadn’t bothered with his badge today

“Professor McGonagall--sent me.” Though he wasn’t wearing his tie, Ron finally saw from the emblem on his robes that the boy was a Hufflepuff. “She needs a Gryffindor prefect because she has to leave--in the foyer--by the main entrance--two kids in a fistfight--a Slytherin and a Gryff--now.”

“But I was just on my way--” Ron said, looking at Harry.

“Maybe you’d better go take care of that instead,” Harry said.

“We could send Hermione for the fight.” Ron heard himself say, then heard his mind tell itself what a bad idea that was. “Erm--or maybe not with the mood she’s in...after nearly strangling those first years just for giggling? She’d probably kill someone for fighting-- or at least damage them for life. Where are those stupid sixth- and seventh-year prefects when you need them?”

The Hufflepuff boy was getting a bit exasperated. “Are you coming, or do you want me to find someone else?”

“No--no, I’ll go,” Ron said. “Tell you what, Harry. I’ll do whatever needs to be done for these brawlers, then...I’ll see if you’re still at Hagrid’s. If you are, I’ll come down. If you’re not, I’ll meet you at dinner.”

“Okay. Have fun,” Harry said sarcastically.

“Yeah, you too,” Ron replied. “Tell Hagrid that isn’t exactly what we had in mind when we told him to ‘lay low’.”

~~~***~~~

Gingerly holding his shirtfront away from his body with his fingertips and shaking his head, Ron mumbled the password to the Fat Lady without looking up. “Bowtruckle Bogies.”

“What? I can’t hear you, boy--speak up,” the Fat Lady replied, gazing down her nose at him haughtily. But after a moment, she gasped. “Oh, my--what in the world happened to you?”

“It isn’t anything that happened to me,” Ron said irritably. “And if it would have been up to me, I’d be wearing more of that other little snotrag’s blood than what this kid’s nosebleed gave me. Now--Bowtruckle Bogies--and let me in to go change this mess.”

Ron had arrived at the site of the fistfight just as Professor McGonagall was making a parting threat to the two first-year boys--Scott Glenby and Devin McFarland-- who had been found duking it out on the foyer floor. They were now being held apart from each other by their own housemates, but it was obvious that there was still bad blood between them, as the two opponents continued to try and pull free and make threatening faces at one another.

Since McGonagall had left her third-year class to attend to the fight, and the third-years were in the midst of transfiguring candles into horned lizards, she was anxious to get back to them before there were any--unfortunate--incidents. She put Ron in charge of escorting Scott Glenby to the Gryffindor common room where the boy would await a later summons from her. Malfoy was to take Devin McFarland to Snape’s office straight away and wait for Snape to meet the two of them there.

Ron cast a sideways glance at Malfoy, then reached for Glenby’s elbow to guide him through the small surrounding crowd of onlookers.

“Come on, kid. Goyle, grab his wrist,” Malfoy ordered.

The rest happened far too fast. Ron remembered watching McGonagall round the corner into the next corridor. He had started to swing Glenby around in the opposite direction to return to the Gryffindor common room. The next thing he knew, the sandy-haired Slytherin brat named Devin McFarland had somehow managed to free himself from Goyle’s grasp long enough to take three quick strides, draw back, and land a horrific punch square in the middle of Scott Glenby’s face.

His nose clearly broken, Glenby leaned over as blood gushed into a puddle on the floor below him. Several other Gryffindors now jumped to Glenby’s defense, as a few of the surrounding Slytherins stepped up to take on whatever the Gryffindors had to offer. Ron and Draco turned, each eyeing the other to see how to react. But Ron evenly held his gaze at his Slytherin nemesis as he did no more than raise two fingers to his mouth and let out a shrill whistle that stopped everyone in mid-motion.

There was an ominous pause.

“All right--knock it off!” Draco finally said to the first-year Slytherin group who seemed to be looking to him for permission to continue the fight. “Not the time nor the place. They’d come stop it again anyway. Besides, they’re just ruddy Gryffindors--why waste our time?”

Malfoy had then flashed a smirk that Ron would have given anything to wipe off Draco’s face at that very moment. But realizing that he was there in official prefect capacity, he used every ounce of self-control he possessed to walk away with Scott Glenby and take the remaining Gryffindor students with him.

By the time Ron had delivered Glenby to the hospital wing instead of the common room, the shirtfronts of both he and the first-year were fairly covered with blood, so much so that Ron was wondering if people ever needed an infusion of Dragon’s Blood Elixir for sustaining a broken nose. He notified Professor McGonagall of the incident and the change in the boy’s location, and by then it was already quite late. Leaning through one of the corridor windows to check on Hagrid and Harry, Ron saw Hagrid in the distance, sitting alone on a flat boulder outside of his hut; he was fiddling with something in front of him that was difficult to see in the dusky light. But since Harry was nowhere to be seen, Ron assumed he’d already gone down to dinner with most of the rest of the school.

The portrait finally swung wide and Ron stepped through the hole, swearing about all that had happened since he’d left. Climbing the stairs to his room, he quickly balled up the bloodied shirt and threw it in the corner from which the rest of the dirty laundry disappeared each night, only to reappear on the end of the bed the following morning, cleaned and pressed.

Whispering a Quick-Shower Charm and pointing his wand at himself, Ron was surprised at how refreshed he felt now that the charm had removed any possible remaining traces of blood. He slipped on a clean white shirt (“stupid ‘dressing for dinner policy’” he grumbled), but he’d be damned if he was going to cinch up his tie and leave his sleeves buttoned on a Friday night. He knew the common room was empty so he stuffed his tie in his pocket, strolled out of the dorm room and down the stairs, first rolling his sleeves, then starting to button his shirt as he began to cross the floor.

His stomach rumbled loudly and stopped, but then he heard more rumbling. Ron could feel it wasn’t his stomach anymore, but something else was making noise--conversational noise. Visually checking all of the chairs and corners in the room again, there was no doubt he was alone, but he could still hear talking. Carefully following the sounds, he found himself approaching the chessboard that he and Harry had left in their haste to depart and help Hagrid so many hours ago.

What he saw as he moved closer to the chessboard caused him to stop and stare, his jaw dropping as he listened.

“I’m only doing my job,” Ron’s queen snapped at Harry’s knight, who had returned to the board along with some of the other pieces; they had somehow been moved about and toppled in his and Harry’s absence. The queen and the knight were only an inch or two apart, when Ron knew that the two had been half a board apart when he and Harry had left. “I don’t know why you have such a problem with rules. They’re made to be followed, and we follow them--it’s that simple.”

“It’s not following the rules that I usually have a problem with,” Harry’s knight replied. “It’s the way you follow them. I know the rules are part of the game, but do you have to be so damned mean?”

The queen gasped. “Language, Sean.”

Sean sighed heavily and rolled his eyes. “Do you have to be so brutal when he tells you to make a move?”

“This--is Wizard’s Chess. So what do you want me to do?” the queen asked before speaking in a sickeningly sugary voice. “Just tiptoe over all girly-like, flutter my eyelashes, and request that you take leave of my presence at your earliest convenience?”

“No, but--”

“Good!” the queen spat, her voice far from sugary now. “Because it’s not going to happen!”

“Hey--hey!!” It had taken a moment, but Ron had finally found his voice. “You aren’t allowed to talk to each other! Just--to us--during a game!”

Both of the chess pieces swung their heads around to look up at whoever had caused the sudden interruption.

“Says who?” Sean asked cheekily. “Besides, she’s always the one who starts.”

Ron’s queen gasped again. “I do not!”

“Yes, Persephone, you do,” Sean stated. “I’m just going along, playing the game, listening to Harry--”

Ron was incredulous. “Wait--you know our names?”

Sean seemed appalled at such a ridiculous question and snorted. “Of course--what do you think we are--deaf? We do have to listen to you all the time, even when we don’t agree with the moves you want us to make, and Harry really tries, but sometimes he doesn’t always--”

Persephone raised her nose in the air haughtily. “Hmmph--well, at least some of us don’t have that problem.”

“Stop interrupting!” Sean said irritably.

“I couldn’t let you go on as if you were speaking for all of us when I can’t agree,” the queen said.

Sean sniggered, nodding his head in Ron’s direction. “What--you always agree with him?”

Persephone glanced coyly at Ron. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I? Everyone knows he’s the best. The only complaint I ever have is that sometimes it takes him far too long to make a move.”

“Well, even I know that important things can’t be rushed,” Sean said.

“But other than that, I wouldn’t have anyone else,” Persephone said, blinking demurely at Ron. “He’s the best.”

Ron felt his ears grow warm and the slight pull of an embarrassed smile at his lips. Hmmm, he thought, I didn’t know they thought I was good... Suddenly the absurdity of the situation hit him. What am I doing? Blushing at compliments from the chess pieces? Bloody hell, Weasley, you’re losing it for sure.

“That’s it!” Ron said aloud. “I’m putting you away!” He turned away from the table to look for the storage boxes, still absently trying to button his shirt, since he’d been stopped in mid-button at the sight of the chess pieces deep in heated conversation. He finally spotted the boxes on a divan several feet away, where someone had tossed them aside.

Returning to the board, Ron found the queen slapping at the knight’s leg and chattering irritably at him as he sat astride his steed. Meanwhile, the knight was trying to respond to her words instead of her actions, but his voice rose as he talked ever more loudly over hers.

“Stop it,” Ron said, waiting momentarily for them to heed his order. “Stop it, I said!”

Both of the chess pieces again swung their heads to look up at him.

“Oh--” the queen said in surprise, “are we starting a game?”

Ron looked confused by their reaction. “No, but--look, I didn’t realize it was such a problem to leave all of you here alone. ”

“Well--” Sean began, “most of the others don’t pay any attention to one another, but she just insists--”

“Oh--me?!!” Persephone said testily. “And I insist on what, may I ask?”

Sean took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Nothing, nothing...”

Ron frowned at his inability to keep them from arguing. “I know you’re on opposite sides and all--”

“Oh, and isn’t that so true...” Persephone said coldly.

Sean looked at her, obviously upset. “Hey, I’m the one who’s been trying to keep from arguing with you!”

Ron stopped watching the argument and looked up from the board a moment. Something about what Sean had said sounded vaguely familiar... He shook his head to clear it of this ridiculous situation, and began setting black pawns into their box.
Though Sean and Persephone had never really stopped their bickering, the volume and intensity began to rise again before Ron could get all of the pawns put away. He turned to the queen and the knight once more.

“Will you two stop?” Ron said tersely. “You two just won’t quit having a go at one another and it’s driving me--”

Ron slapped his hand over his mouth and slumped into the chair behind him, the pawns bouncing around in their box on his lap. No, it couldn’t be... Ron was beginning to wonder if he was dreaming this--or maybe he had snapped when he couldn’t punch Malfoy today and was truly going mental.

“All right--here’s the deal,” Ron began. “You two--you have to play with one another--and often--so get over it. You’re going to have to get along--for Harry’s sake--and mine. Godric knows, we have enough fussing and fuming around here without having to listen to the chess pieces going at it.”

Both pieces still had to look up at Ron, even once he was seated in the chair.

“But he--”

“But she--”

“Shut it!” Ron said. “I won’t have any more of that! Shake hands--now shake!”

Sean and Persephone eyed each other suspiciously, but made no move towards each other.

Ron turned and pointed at his queen. “You--you have to do as I say--remember?”

She nodded and reluctantly held out her hand toward the knight.

Turning his attention to the knight, Ron asked, “And you--don’t you think it would be in your best interest to do what I say since you know there’ll be a next game?”

Sean looked back and forth between Ron and Persephone, then finally reached down from his horse and held his hand out to the queen.

As the two clasped hands, Ron set the storage box on the table. “Now--before I put you away--isn’t there even one thing that you do like about each other?”

“Well,” Sean said, “when she’s not sniping at me, she’s really rather nice.”

Ron was pleased to see that Persephone was actually smiling a little at Sean. “And sometimes I do enjoy his company--he makes me laugh.”

“All right, then, much better--” Ron said, thinking that would be the end of it.

Sean continued, a grin beginning to widen on his face as he stared at her as well. “And she’s very intelligent and dedicated and well-mannered--she stands up for her people and protects them.”

Persephone was positively beaming up at Sean now. “He’s brave and strong--he’s very loyal to Harry even when he doesn’t think Harry’s making the right move...”

Ron’s brow furrowed as he noticed that they hadn’t yet dropped hands, though the actual ‘shaking’ had stopped some time earlier. What is it with these two? he thought.

“But if you like her, Sean, what about your own queen?” Ron asked.

Sean spoke sincerely. “Well, of course, I’d fight for her to the death--and I often have--but she feels more like a sister to me--not like--”

The knight looked down at the white queen, who shot him a shy glance, then looked down, smiling demurely.

Sean appraised her with a look of wonder. “I mean, just look at her...” Sean started to pull at Persephone’s hand, gently tugging her closer as he leaned down toward her.
She stared into his face now, mesmerized, and accepted his arm as he reached around her shoulder.

Ron was looking back and forth between them, watching them get progressively closer until it dawned on him what they were about to do.

“Hey!!” Ron said loudly, his eyes widening. “You don’t have to get along that well!”

“Ron?” questioned a familiar voice from behind him.

Ron gasped loudly, jumped from the chair and swung around, a startled look on his face. He deliberately threw himself in front of the chess pieces to cover what they were doing.

“Gah! Don’t do that, Hermione!” Ron said, breathing hard once his wind had come back to him. “I thought you were at dinner with everyone else.”

“No, I didn’t feel like eating,” Hermione said, looking around them. “Were you...talking to someone?”

Ron felt his ears reddening, but shook his head. “No...no...”

“Hmmm, I could have sworn I heard voices...”

He noticed that her temper seemed to have calmed a bit. But he was also certain that temper wasn’t lying far below the surface either.

“Are you--okay?” he asked, noting that her expression still looked strained.

“No, not really,” she replied. “I mean, I’m not sick or anything--it’s just--I still can’t believe I did so horribly on the Runes exam.”

“I’m sure you did fine--you always do,” Ron said, trying to sound comforting. “Don’t worry so much about it. It’ll be okay.”

“No, it won’t,” Hermione said pointedly. “You see, that’s why you and Harry get so behind. You don’t worry about your schoolwork enough--”

“And you worry about it too much,” Ron interrupted.

“Well, these are important things, Ron,” she continued. “You should be worrying about them. They can affect your whole life.”

“In some ways, yes,” Ron tried to find something to agree with her on. “But there are other things besides school. And there will be other things besides ‘careers’ once we’re older.”

“Like what?”

Uh-oh--the temper begins to rear it’s ugly head...“Like--” he knew very well indeed what ‘things’ he meant, but he wasn’t quite sure how to put it without upsetting her. “Like your friends.” Yeah, that was safe.

“That’s true. But friends needn’t interfere with your studies, at least very often.”

“But if your friends need you, you go help them, no matter what. Right?” Surely she couldn’t disagree with that...

“If they need you, yes,” Hermione agreed. ”But if they just want to do something silly, like play games when they should be studying...”

Ron bristled immediately, watching as Hermione got a strange look on her face and glanced down at the chessboard. She obviously realized that she’d said the wrong thing--she knew Ron took his chess very seriously. She also seemed to know it was already too late to take it back.

“Something silly, eh?” Ron said, narrowing his eyes at her. “Well, maybe you’re just a little too focused on school, you know? No wonder you mixed up partnership and defense on that exam--do you even know the difference?”

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him this time. “Do you even know the difference between acting like a boy and acting like a slug?” Tossing her head and swinging around, she started determinedly for the stairs.

Ah, yes, thought Ron, and the temper’s back--with a vengeance. Although I suppose I asked for that one, didn’t I?

Ron was shaking his head in exasperation when he heard the small voice behind him.

“You idiot!” Sean cried behind him. “Call her back!”

“Are you sure?” Ron asked dryly. “Do you really want her back like that? I don’t think I do.”

“Don’t be stupid!” the knight said. “Of course you want her back--now do it!”

Persephone took the opportunity to begin whining again at Sean. “See? See how men can be? He may be the best at chess, but he’s got a thing or two to learn about women.”

Ron didn’t want to listen to advice from little carved stone figures any more. “Shut up, both of you!” But he couldn’t keep his eyes from Hermione as she stomped up the first four or five steps to the girls’ dorm.

Sean still seemed to feel compelled to tell Ron what to do. “Call her back, I tell you! You’ll be sorry if you don’t!”

Frustrated, Ron shook his head and gritted his teeth first, but tried to sound at least remotely pleasant as he called out, “Hermione!”

Uncertain that she would actually stop, he watched her slow and then pause on the stair.”What?’ she asked shortly, turning to look down at him.

Taking a deep breath, Ron said, “Don’t go. Come here a minute.”

“Why?” Her voice had softened somewhat, but she hadn’t moved even an inch back down the stairs. “What’s the point?”

“Just for a minute--please?”

Hermione didn’t say a word, but turned and started slowly descending the stairs.

“Okay, Mr. Knight in Shining Armor--now what?” Ron whispered under his breath. hoping the words would carry behind him, ”Here she comes.”

“Persephone and I will take care of it--right, my dear?” Sean answered.

Out of the corner of his eye Ron could see Persephone nodding her head. Ron shook his own head and rolled his eyes to the heavens. I can’t believe I’m listening to this...

“First you have to tell her you don’t want to fight any more,” Sean whispered.

Hermione had finally reached and stopped in front of him, staring down with her arms crossed across her chest. “Yes?”

“Hermione, I--I shouldn’t have said that,” Ron stammered quietly. “I--didn’t mean it. Sorry--okay?”

Hermione quickly glanced up at him before her gaze moved to the floor again. “I know--me, too.” She let out a huge sigh. “And I know, we promised Harry we’d try harder not to argue.”

“Yeah, well--we can still go at it when he’s not around, though, can’t we?” Ron asked with a teasing tone.

As she snapped her gaze to Ron’s face with an accusatory glare, he couldn’t help but snigger a bit. There’ll be no joking with her tonight... “Okay, okay--just kidding. You know, we’re probably both just hungry. Why don’t we put these pieces away and then we can go get something to eat?”

Looking doubtful, she shook her head a little and said quietly, “No, I don’t think so. I’m still not very hungry...I think I’ll just go back upstairs.”

Ron leaned down a little to look up into her face. “Come on, Hermione, you know you’ll feel better. You’ve got to keep your strength up for all of that studying you’re dying to do this weekend.”

She finally let his hopeful eyes catch hers and bring them up with him as he stood straighter. “Thank you--really-- but I don’t think so, Ron.” Hermione turned to start walking away again when they both heard a commotion coming from the chessboard.

Sean and Persephone were at it again, this time pushing and yanking each other about. After the initial shock of watching the chess pieces fighting for no reason had worn off, Ron and Hermione each grabbed for the pieces in hopes of prying them away from each other. Hermione’s hands landed on the struggling chess pieces first and Ron’s larger ones closed around hers.

It was actually rather amazing how strong the chess pieces were and how much they could struggle. In trying to find a way to part the two without breaking them, Ron and Hermione found themselves holding the chess pieces tight between them, as they stood only inches apart and stared down at the mass of hands and stone.

“Blimey, what is their problem?” Ron said, finally looking into Hermione’s face and finding himself only inches from her beautiful cinnamon eyes. He stopped tugging at Sean at once, realizing that his fingers were more tightly intertwined with Hermione’s than clasped around the chess piece; his sudden awareness of the heat from her touch stunned him. Being this close to Hermione made every nerve on her side of his body stand up and take notice.

Hermione must have felt a change, too, as Ron’s attempts to pull the chess pieces apart suddenly ground to a screeching halt. She turned to look up at him through her long eyelashes and almost immediately realized why he had stopped; from the expression on her face, the same feelings were coursing through her as well.

“Er, er, er--sorry,” Ron stammered, certain that his ears were brighter than the setting sun now before them in the window. “I didn’t realize...”

“Me either...” Hermione answered, her cheeks turning pink as she quickly looked down.

“We can just put them...” Ron said, trying desperately to put a sentence together.

“Not struggling as much now...” Hermione added lamely.

Sean and Persephone had indeed stopped fighting with one another, quieting to watch what was happening between the other couple in the room. But the awkward silence in the room was deafening; Ron knew it was definitely time to change the subject

“Erm...tell you what,” Ron said. “I’ll make you a deal. If I promise to study both tomorrow and Sunday for that Potions exam on Monday--then will you come have something to eat with me?”

Hermione looked into his eyes briefly, searching. She acted as if the way he was looking at her made her feel a bit strange, but she didn’t look as if she didn’t like it. “Well, you do look a bit hungry--and I guess I am, too, if I think about it hard enough...You promise to study both days? Even Potions?”

“I promise--even Potions.”

Pausing a moment, Hermione let out a sigh. “All right--I suppose. But I need to get some books to drop off at the library. Will you wait?”

“Sure. We’ll all be here,” he joked.

Even though she still wasn’t smiling, Ron was pleased that he’d at least made some progress. Maybe if she had something to eat and made some idle chitchat with the others in the Great Hall, she’d forget about that stupid exam and forget she intended to stay in that foul mood. Besides, Harry surely had something entertaining to tell them from his adventures with Hagrid’s beasts. He watched her start once more for the stairs, where she turned again a few steps up.

“Oh...and you...” She waved her finger at him aimlessly and he looked at her with eyebrows arched, trying to figure out what she was playing at before she continued, “...missed a button.”

She said the last few words quickly, then immediately turned and ran up the stairs.

Ron looked down and was instantly mortified. Between his not having a chance to finish dressing earlier and the tussle with the chess pieces, only one lone button remained fastened a few inches above his navel. He scrunched his face into an embarrassed grimace and felt it go as hot as if someone had hit him with a Solarburn Charm.

After buttoning all but the top two buttons of his shirt --and checking them twice-- Ron flopped into the chair again to re-roll his sleeves and finally to just sit in silence, staring straight ahead.

Sean and Persephone stood close on the chessboard, watching him quietly for a few moments; the ‘fighting act’ was no longer necessary. The two of them seemed able to forego their own problems if it came down to helping someone else.

Sean was the first to speak cautiously. “Well--you’re still friends.”

Ron snorted before speaking in a thoroughly dejected voice. “Yeah. Still friends.”

Sean seemed to know he had to tread carefully here. “What? That’s bad?”

Ron sighed. “No. Not really--it’s just--”

Interrupting him with a quiet aside to Sean, Ron had no trouble hearing Persephone. “He likes her. I know he likes her.”

Sean turned to her, furrowing his brow. “Well, if that isn’t obvious enough...”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence--both of you,” Ron said, finally looking at them. “But it doesn’t matter--nothing’s going to change. I know I’m afraid to start anything different when she’s so...touchy and--”

Persephone interrupted him immediately. “You? Afraid to start something? Since when?”

“Persephone, you’re thinking of chess,” Sean scolded. “He believes in himself when it comes to chess--he always wins. But with her? Different game...different rules...different stakes--and a lot more risky.”

Persephone considered this, then turned to Ron. “But she likes you too.”

In spite of himself, the tone of Ron’s voice perked up a bit. “She does? You think so? Bugger, if she’s like that when she likes me, thank Merlin she doesn’t hate me.”

The white queen continued. “She’s confused about your friendship, too, perhaps.”

“Maybe it’s just...easier... for her to be friends, too,” Sean agreed, shooting Persephone a meaningful wink that Ron couldn’t see.

Ron rolled his head to look out the window, pausing a long minute before responding.
“Yeah, that’s true. I don’t know. We should probably leave it--everything’s okay like it is.”

Sean agreed much too quickly and enthusiastically. “‘Course it is. You’re absolutely right. Why change it?”

The silence in the room for the next few minutes felt like it was smothering them all. Ron finally broke it in a barely audible voice.

“Because being friends isn’t --enough--any more.”

Sean and Persephone glanced at one another knowingly before the white queen spoke. “Does she think it’s enough?”

Ron threw his hands up momentarily in exasperation. “I don’t know. Sometimes there are these looks she gives me and I think she wants me to--well...But the very next moment she’s telling me how pathetic I am or criticizing something I do...”

Sean nodded as if he knew the feeling. “And it hurts...”

“Yeah--sometimes,” Ron admitted. “But she’s still one of my best friends. I know she still cares even when she says that stuff. I cared when I used to say stuff to her. It’s why I try not to say mean things any more, though--she doesn’t deserve them--most of the time...”

The room grew quiet again. Ron pondered the strange achiness that had come to live somewhere in his chest over the past year or so. He didn’t know why it was there or what to do about it--but he did know it most certainly had something to do with Hermione--and nothing to do with them being ‘just friends’. If only bloody Krum hadn’t been the Durmstrang champion...if only he hadn’t come to Hogwarts last year and noticed Hermione sitting in the library...if only--

“So--you’re getting ready,” Sean said.

“Ready?” Ron asked.

“To play the game,” Sean finished.

Ron needed a clue. “A game of chess--now?”

Persephone set her hands on her hips and glared at Ron. “No, stupid! The game of love!”

Ron blinked at his queen and wondered why she had to sound so bloody much like Hermione; it was positively unnerving.

Speaking tentatively, Ron breathed, “So I guess I try to let her know, then, eh?”

Sean released a deep breath himself. “It’s gotta be done, mate.”

The white queen stared pointedly at them both. “It’s like chess, you know. The best strategy in the world sits useless until someone is willing to make the first move.”

Ron nodded a bit as if realizing she had a point. “And it has to be me? Making the first move?”

Sean shrugged. “Well, if you don’t, the whole thing just stays a stalemate. How badly do you want to win?”

Ron furrowed his brow at the question, trying to decide even for himself just what the answer might be. “Win her? Pretty badly, I’m afraid. Though sometimes I think I’m completely mental for it.”

“Case closed then, my friend,” Sean said resignedly.

As if suddenly realizing where he was and what he’d been doing, Ron sat up quickly and glanced around the common room. Luckily, there was still no sign of anyone else around.

“Well, I guess I’d better get you put away,” he said. “I promised Harry...and she’ll be back any second...”

“One moment then, kind sir,” Sean said. The knight swiftly moved to Ron’s queen and lifted her hand, lingering over the soft kiss he placed there. Then he bravely turned to Ron. “All right--now I can go on.”

Ron thought about how strange it was to consider the feelings of the pieces as he carefully put each of Harry’s pieces into the storage box, leaving the knight for last. But Sean was right, the other pieces really didn’t seem to notice much. Maybe it was just the strength of the feelings that Sean and Persephone had for one another that set them apart.

Finally he lifted the black knight and looked into his stony little face. “I’m not sure when there’ll be a next game--after all, I have studying to do this weekend--since I promised. Thanks, mate--and good luck with--her,” Ron said, nodding at the queen as he placed Sean into the storage box and closed the lid. Ron felt at once a bit odd for enclosing someone in a box that he’d been talking to moments earlier and then completely foolish for even thinking about it.

Persephone smiled up at him. “Actually, I guess what I really want to know about is that next game with--Harry.”

Ron smiled back at her, knowing why she was so interested. “I don’t know. That’s kind of up to Harry and he’s got a lot going on in his life right now.” Though there was still no one else around, it seemed right to lower his voice and speak gently to her. “But for you two, I’ll do what I can.”

Persephone smiled and blew him a kiss as he settled her in her storage box.

She still blinked up at him, though she was starting to act a bit drowsy as she fell into the mode of suspended animation that came over the chess pieces once inside of their boxes.

Ron felt silly asking her, but he really wanted to know. “So you do like him, then? Because it’s certainly hard to tell sometimes with the way you treat him.”

The white queen looked back with a wry little smile. “It’s just the way we are together, I suppose. It’s just part of us when we’re sharing the same board. I’ve already told you some of why I like him the way he is--he’s strong and brave and loyal and honest. He loves his friends and his people; he’d fight for them to the end. But most importantly, Sean thinks with his heart a lot--it’s amazing how much that will pull you through.”

Ron had recently been thinking a lot himself. Though he wasn’t exactly sure what Persephone had meant when she’d said Sean ‘thought with his heart’, Ron was almost sure it sounded like something he himself ought to be doing now. What he’d been thinking was that if he tried to change anything between him and Hermione that it could be the end of a beautiful friendship. But why did that have to be so? And what he’d told the chess pieces was true: he had come to realize that things were changing on their own without his help--the friendship really was starting to feel oddly constraining--as if it wasn’t enough. It was still the same strong, comfortable feeling it was before, but there were these other feelings too...It shouldn’t have to be a trade-off. What if they could have the same friendship they had now with something more besides--how amazing would that be? He knew quite clearly what he wanted that something else to be...well, eventually, anyway.

All it takes is that first move...Come on, Weasley, it’s as easy as saying ‘pawn to E5’.

“Are we ready?” Hermione’s voice reached him as she walked quickly down the stairs, books held in one arm and a jumper over the other. She already looked quite a bit more energetic, though the frown hadn’t really left her face. Too bad, too--she’s so much prettier without it, Ron thought. So that was his goal--get her out of the common room and away from thinking about school...

“I’m ready--let’s go.”

Hermione looked around the now-empty table. “You got the chess pieces all put away--in separate boxes, I hope.”

“Yeah, they’re separate for the moment,” Ron answered. “But I think what they feel for each other is definitely strong enough to last until the next time they play.”

Hermione looked at him oddly once more. “Ron--they’re just chess pieces.”

“True.” He wasn’t going to risk starting an argument over something she would consider so stupid, in spite of what he was thinking. Watching her struggle with holding the books in place, Ron gently pulled them from her arms and deftly tucked them at his side before the two friends crossed the common room together.

“Here--let me,” Ron said, climbing through the portrait hole first and offering his hand to Hermione to help her step through.

She’d already been looking at him suspiciously since he’d taken her books from her to carry them, but this certainly appeared to surprise her as something new and different.
Rather hesitantly, she placed her hand in his, pulled her robes a bit higher, and stepped through the hole.

Ron continued to hold her hand, obviously much longer than necessary; he boldly and courageously stared into those beautiful eyes as he did so just to make sure she got the message.

Though she initially looked back at him with complete and utter shock, Hermione’s expression soon melted into one of pleasant surprise and finally edged for a moment toward joyous relief. She seemed to sense he needed a response to what he was telling her--her warm and genuine smile let him know exactly what she felt.

The portrait smacked shut behind the two friends, startling them from their focus on one another.

Ron dropped her hand and turned away when he could face her no more; he could feel himself blushing as they started down the corridor in silence. Maybe a small move, Weasley--maybe something meaningless in the long run--but it was a first move, and she knew it was made. She knew! And she smiled...

He found he couldn’t help himself from grinning from ear to ear as he looked straight ahead down the corridor while they walked. Maybe it was because he was finding it hard to remember to breathe as well, and those butterflies kept crashing and bumping relentlessly inside his ribcage.

Hermione was uncharacteristically quiet as well. But then she started in on reporting what had happened for the rest of her day and everything quickly moved back to normal. In spite of his complete and utter happiness in that earlier moment, Ron had never been more grateful for their friendly normalcy.

It was a while before Ron got chance to get a word in edgewise, but Hermione finally realized she’d been doing all of the talking.

“So, basically, all you and Harry did today was loaf around and play chess?”

See, Weasley? Some things won’t ever change. He found the transition into ‘just friends’ again to come surprisingly easily. Looking down and sneering at her, Ron hoped this wasn’t going to turn into a row about chess and schoolwork again. But then, at least that’d feel--well--normal.

Hermione seemed to realize at once what she’d said, and just as soon after must have decided she hadn’t meant it the way it sounded. She got a strange, embarrassed look on her face and smiled up at him sheepishly.

Ron decided that she really hadn’t said it just to get a reaction from him, and that she was only trying to make conversation. He told himself not to get angry--besides, a lot had been accomplished in his mind today, whether she thought he’d managed to make progress on anything or not.

“Yeah--basically. But I did try a new move today to get the white queen closer to the black knight-- part of a whole new strategy, I reckon,” Ron said. “It’s been on my mind for a while now--but I was sort of afraid to try it out. Then someone reminded me-- strategy won’t help me until I get it out in the open and actually try it out now, will it?”

Hermione stared up at him as they walked, seeming to wonder why Ron was talking about chess, but making it sound so much as if he was talking about something much more important. “Well, you’re right about that,” Hermione said. “Even the best strategy is wasted until someone’s willing to make the first move.”

Ron laughed heartily at how much that sounded like something he’d heard from a little stone queen. Hermione smiled faintly along with him, though she didn’t seem to quite understand what could possibly be so funny.

“You know, there’s no one in the world I’d rather hear that from,” Ron said sincerely, grinning his lopsided grin as the two of them stepped through the entrance to the Great Hall together.


~~~***~~~



Direct quotes from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling,
U.S. Edition, pp. 715-716.






















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