Disclaimer: (c) 2005 harmony bites. All rights reserved. This work may not be archived, reproduced, or distributed in any format without prior written permission from the author. This is an amateur nonprofit work, and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by J.K. Rowling or any other lawful holder.

Thanks to Kobe Grace for her beta!


I'm better than this.

That's what keeps running through my mind as I eye the chessboard. I glance at Harry across from me, seeing him nervously push up his glasses. Hermione, from her perch on the windowsill beside me, tries to catch my eye. Her teeth are worrying her bottom lip — which is better than her chewing her hair, I suppose, like she was doing a few minutes ago. That's a habit I haven't seen from her in years. It's as if with Dumbledore gone, instead of growing up, we've been retreating into childhood a bit.

But who would blame us for that?

Harry always picks white. I wonder if it's because of the symbolism of the colour, because his playing style isn't really suited to it. White goes first; it's the colour of aggression, of a good offence. Me, on the other hand — either way suits me fine. And black is good, if you like to lay traps.

I don't think Hermione knows, but by the way she keeps looking at me and opening and closing her mouth, I know she's chewing over something. For all her brilliance, her mind would skitter away from the conclusions. She's not Gryffindor for nothing. The pure shining heroism of risking, sacrificing herself, she understands. But using others; moving them along the board? Might she think of that as evil?

And she could never conceive of Dumbledore as evil. Never black. Not a silvery grey, even. Even though she was always defending Snape, she'd be more comfortable with him being black to the soul than Dumbledore being less than bone-bleach white. Dumbledore's the charming oddball babbling out nonsensical words, the cuddly grandfather doling out sweets. Not some kind of puppeteer.

Blimey, I think I'd be more comfortable, too; my skin crawls at the thought of defending that nasty git. But I can separate how I feel about the personalities of my pieces from how I use them on the board.

Hermione has never been good at chess. At least not wizard chess. She sees the pieces as real beings, you see, not just personalities. Just as she sees the house-elves as people, not creatures. So she can't sacrifice them. All her pawns have to do is sniffle a little, and she'll pull back. She even flinches from taking the pawns on the opposing side if they start crying. Hell, especially if it's just a lowly pawn. Never mind that they can become queens that could mow down the major pieces.

I doubt she'll ever have the callousness to kill. Despite what she did to Umbridge, to Marietta, despite how she fought at the Ministry. All I have to do is remember the founder of SPEW, and I can't see it.

Which means she'll be the first among us to die, since it's not like she'd leave me and Harry to fight without her…

Hermione must see something of what I'm feeling on my face; she reaches out and takes my hand. I squeeze back tightly.

…Or maybe it'll be worse if, by the end of this, she can kill.

I won't think about that, but I have too much space not to. I can see the moves in my mind ten or twenty ahead. I have so much time to think while Harry agonises over moving a pawn, his knuckles having turned white as he holds on to it, rather than release her onto a square. That's Harry for you. He'd save all of them if he could.

I finger one of my knights, mulling things over. In chess, knights are usually sacrificed early and seldom last to the end of the game. I doubt that either Hermione or Harry has the ruthlessness to order another to kill, then leave the loyal knight to be shattered to bits by both sides.

I keep running over the plays in my mind. In chess, position is everything, you see. Snape was in the perfect position to do so much more damage that night. Felix Felicis — just how did that potion make Hermione and Luna lucky? Were they lucky that Snape didn't kill them when he had the chance? Or were they lucky because it was Snape who came across them — and not someone — well — a lot worse?

I love the end game. With the opening moves, it's like clearing brush. There are so many combinations and possibilities. In the beginning, there are some standard combinations I apply, but they're almost rote. Coming to the end, you finally see all the strategy paying off, your game clicking as it comes down to just a few moves.

What moves did Snape have up on the Astronomy Tower? White knight defends white bishop. Black pawns take white's bishop, knight, pawn — and our king is cornered. Dumbledore was weakened and surrounded; he would have died at the others' hands even if Snape had tried to save him. Then Snape would have fallen to the Unbreakable Vow, if not to the other Death Eaters, and Draco and his family would have suffered at the hands of Voldemort who'd have been furious at Snape's betrayal and Draco's failure to commit murder.

Voldemort? Oh, yes, in the privacy of my mind, I use that name.

And Harry would have been captured. Pawns would have trapped our king. No more moves. Checkmate. Game over.

Instead? Bishop sacrificed. Knight still on the board — for now — protecting king.

In the absolutely bloody perfect position to protect the king.

It's how I would have played it.

Oh, yes, I see it.

I send my bishop out, willing the wizarding piece not to make a face. He trusts me, trusts my plays. All my pieces do; they won't give Harry a clue.

I know Harry will see that my bishop can easily be taken with his pawn. He can see the obvious — he just can't see beyond it. He can't see how that will open up a line to use the trickiest piece on the board. My knight. Of course, I'll lose him, too, but that will force moves from Harry that will inevitably lead to checkmate.

I can see all the moves from both sides. I know you've got to make some sacrifices. And I know that sometimes if I bury myself in Quidditch, it's because it's easier than what people would push me to do if they knew I could see it. See those moves and that I have the ruthlessness to make them.

I could be the next chess master. I could outdo all my brothers, I know this. I know that I can see all those moves ahead and that they can't. I know I could steel myself to make the choices and finally be more than 'the spare'. The brother who isn't as charismatic as Bill, as athletic as Charlie, as smart as Percy, or as funny as the twins.

I think Dumbledore saw it. I think that's why he made me a Prefect.

I could be the next Albus Dumbledore, even, sending out a lone black knight in a move so subtle that it gives you a headache just thinking of the permutations.

That's what makes me afraid, you see. I've been jealous of Harry, sure, but I've also taken stock of what being pushed forward costs him, and I know what would happen if I lay everything before them. And I don't know which part of leadership scares me more — paying Dumbledore's price or Snape's. What's braver to face? Death or disgrace?

Right now, though, it's a matter of braving Harry's anger and risking our friendship.

I'm scared because Harry can hate now. Avada Kedavra hate, green as his eyes. It's flashing out at me now, without my making a move or saying a word, because Harry's got so much of it that it can't help but spill over. I can see it, and I'm afraid of deflecting that my way. And I'm afraid of what it would do to all of us if Hermione agrees with me.

Or doesn't.

But I'm better than that.

So, even though I know I could win this game, I tip my king. It might make Harry a bit more willing to listen.

Besides — I'm tired of playing games.


The End

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