Chapter 2: Candlemas
“Check.” Harry’s voice was nearly quivering with
It was the coldest day of the winter so far; only the
roaring fire in the grate kept the Gryffindor common room tolerably warm. Ron
was hunched over the chessboard, his forehead facing Harry’s. Lavender Brown
was perched on the arm of his chair, wrapped around him with her chin on his
shoulder. Behind him, Ginny and Dean Thomas sat back to back on the large sofa
directly before the fire. Ginny faced the chess table, her eyes closed and her
head nestled in the nook formed where Dean’s back met the sofa’s; Dean was
facing away, drawing idly on the sketch pad propped on his thighs. Beyond Dean,
a large stack of books on a side table indicated the presence of Hermione
Granger in the accompanying chair. Ron, for his part, was intent on the match,
because Harry was playing in top form.
“Oh-oh, Won-Won, is he winning?”
“Let’s see now,” Ron mumbled, tensely surveying the board. Suddenly
he took in a short breath. His eyes quickly traced several paths on the board,
then the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly as he ordered his rook
to interpose itself between the king and Harry’s attacking piece. The rook
looked askance at this, but Ron winked at it surreptitiously, and it slid into
place. “There,” he declared, finally letting his breath out. “Nice try,
“Don’t breathe too easy. I’m not finished with you yet.
Oh, hey, Hermione.”
Not all that long ago, Ron would have been happy to have
Hermione join them. But even though he had spent nearly a month trying especially
hard to be nice to her, she had ignored almost every one of his attempts, and
rebuffed the few that she hadn’t. And right now, having Lavender growing out
of his shoulder was making him feel a bit self-conscious.
“Hullo, Harry. Oh, on the attack, I see? Your opponent
looks rather diminished, shall we say?” It didn’t seem that Hermione
would be getting any friendlier today.
Harry, on the other hand, seemed unambiguously glad to see
her. Not to mention confident. “I’m just about to move in for the kill. Watch.”
“Wait, Harry, do you really want to capture that rook? Look
at where his bishop is.”
“HERMIONE!” Ron shouted in outrage. Harry hadn’t spotted the
trap he had set, but Hermione had. He watched helplessly as Harry made a much
shrewder move than the one he had been about to make. Ron felt his heart start
to hammer. Bad enough that Harry was on top of his game today, while he
had to play with Lavender distracting him. Now, in addition to that… “Lovely,”
he muttered. “Now I get to play two-on-one chess.”
“Two-on-two!” Lavender exclaimed triumphantly, picking
up one of Ron’s pieces to make his next move for him.
“Put that down!” he snarled, snatching the piece out
of her hand and slamming it back onto the square it had been occupying.
“Touch move,” Hermione said silkily.
“You know the rule, Ron. You touched the piece, you have to
move it.” Damn, she sounded like she’d been taking voice lessons from Snape.
Apoplectic, Ron frantically searched the board for something
decent to do with the piece that Lavender had now so helpfully forced into play
for him. He finally made the least bad move he could find, but his strategy
lay in ruins. Harry and Hermione were both very good players; the two of them
in consultation were formidable. A synergistic combination, Ron thought, the
whole greater than the sum of the parts. But he still might have been able to
beat them if not for … “Would you please leave the board be, and let me think?”
If not for having to play two against one-plus-minus-one. There must be a word
for a whole that’s less than the sum of its parts, he mused while
watching his position crumble. “Synergesic,” or some such thing?
“Lo, how the mighty are fallen,” Hermione was saying to
Harry. So nice that she gets so much enjoyment out of twisting the knife, Ron
thought bitterly. Lavender was now pouting over his having snapped at her, which
was at least less distracting than having her kissing him Taking advantage of
this opportunity to concentrate on the game, Ron desperately searched the board
for a way out. Winning was out of the question; the best he could hope for at
this point was survival. Suddenly he spotted his opportunity, grabbed his
knight and slammed it down onto the board. The knight glared at him, no doubt
offended at having been manhandled so, but he ignored it as he shouted, “Stalemate!”
“Stalemate?” exclaimed Harry and Hermione together.
“It’s your move,” he shot back, “and you have no legal
moves. That’s a stalemate. Game’s a draw.” He looked daggers at
Hermione, then without another word to anyone but himself he stood up, turned
his back on the lot of them, and stormed out the portrait hole.
* * * * *
Ginny hadn’t really wanted to sit facing her fool of a
brother and his fool of a girlfriend. But apparently Dean had wanted to sketch
something rather more interesting than those two, and facing the other way on
the sofa did give him a rather nice view of the early winter sunset. So
she was stuck facing them, which was the best imaginable reason for her to close
her eyes. Actually a nap did seem a good idea, seeing as how she was most
likely in the coziest and warmest spot north of, say, Bulgaria.
When she heard Lavender ask “Won-Won” if Harry was winning
their chess match, she really didn’t want to open her eyes. When Dean then whispered,
“Oh-oh, here comes trouble,” she knew she had to. What she saw was Hermione
heading toward the chess table, looking like nothing so much as a shark that
had smelt blood. Ginny’s heart sank. Would her friend and her brother always
be like this? Hadn’t they once been the best of friends, at the very least?
Somewhere in the back of her mind she suspected that she had
something to do with all this trouble. Hadn’t it begun just after that holy
row with Ron, when he and Harry had blundered into her and Dean in that corridor?
She earnestly wished that Harry had just let her and Ron hex each other then and
there, and be done with it. But no, he’d had to put himself between them, forcing
her to let fly a much more damaging weapon: words. Not that she much minded;
Ron richly deserved whatever she might have dished out. But it was Hermione who
had paid the price.
Yes, that must be it. She, Ginny Weasley, had attacked
Ron’s manhood, so he’d had to show her. To show her that he could snog
with the best of them. And show her he did. The result? Ron now had a
girlfriend who adored him, while Hermione had suffered months of heartbroken
misery, watching the one boy who really knew what she had to offer fawning over
some girl who had good looks and pretty much nothing else. Oh, if she’d intended
to punish Hermione, even a Slytherin would admire her cunning.
If only she could do something to fix things … but that
really would take the cunning of a Slytherin.
When Ron swept past them on his way to the portrait hole,
muttering things about still being undefeated, Dean sighed and quietly asked,
“Just what is Hermione’s problem, anyway?” At that, Ginny stood up abruptly,
not caring whether Dean toppled over backward or not, and stalked away and up
the stairs to her dormitory.
* * * * *
It was much chillier in the corridors. Ron didn’t meet up
with anyone else – everyone seemed to be huddled somewhere warmer. Even Peeves,
who could always be counted on to find anyone who could be angered,
embarrassed, or otherwise baited, even Peeves was nowhere to be seen. And that
was just fine with Ron. He hadn’t really been by himself since the Christmas
holidays. He had been able to think back then. Since he’d returned to
Hogwarts, though, Lavender had been around for most of his waking hours, and
any thinking he’d tried to do was constantly interrupted. He needed to be able
to complete a thought again. He needed to be alone for a while.
Somehow his steps had taken him to the Great Hall. He was
the only person there, but he knew his solitude wouldn’t last long. Soon
people would begin to arrive for dinner – Lavender would arrive for
dinner – and he would be swept up in the din and Lavender’s arms, and once again
he would lose the ability to think straight. He looked up at the enchanted
ceiling, and saw that outside the sun was fully set, a thin sliver of moon was
about to follow it down, twilight was almost gone, and stars were starting to
appear. There would be loads of stars tonight; the sky was clear, and outside
it would be cold, cold, cold. Cold enough to wake you up and make you alive.
It would be a wonderful night for a fly. Yes, he thought,
an early dinner, then back to the dormitory – I’ll walk right past her, right through
her if it comes to that, because this is important – I’ll get the Cleansweep,
and go out for a fly. All alone, just me and the stars and the cold. Tonight
I need to fly.
A/N: Candlemas, February 2, is one of the cross-quarter
days, midway between the equinoxes and the solstices. “Half your wood and
half your hay / You should have on Candlemas day.”
Synergesic: A friend of mine was once explaining the
distinction between a synergetic combination (a whole which is equal
to the sum of its parts) and a synergistic combination (a whole
which is greater than the sum of its parts). I needed a word for the third
possibility – to describe another friend of mine and her then-boyfriend, in
fact – and “synergesic” had the right sound. Feel free to use it.