Author's Note: To avoid confusion, this is a short backstory to my longer AU fic, Free Will and Fate. If you haven't read it, a few of the relationships here may seem odd. If you plan to read Free Will and Fate, this story contains spoilers through the "Truth and Consequences" chapter.
Hermione frowned as she watched her queen get bludgeoned into dust by Harry's knight. "Barbaric game," she mumbled. She looked up from the carnage to see her boyfriend smiling, the light from the nearby fire twinkling in his bright green eyes. She knew that look. He was going to gloat. Again.
"You wouldn't say that if you ever won," Harry said, repressed laughter coloring his voice.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "That's not true," she said. She picked up her two remaining pieces and pitched them back into the bag. "Wizard chess is just a pointless exhibition of violence, whereas real chess—"
"This is real chess," Harry interrupted. "The violence is just to give the game a little more excitement."
Hermione picked up her wand and began repairing her broken pieces. "Right," she said between spells. Sarcasm didn't come to her naturally, but there were times the harsh tone seemed to fit a conversation perfectly. "It's there purely to distract real players from strategy."
Harry laughed again. Much as she loved him, even that sound could irritate her. Especially when it was directed at her instead of along with her. "Don't you mean, because you can't focus, you automatically dismiss it as beneath you?"
Hermione's mouth dropped open. "No! That's not what I meant at all."
"Could've fooled me," Harry said. "Your strategy doesn't suffer because the pieces get broken, it's because you don't know how to adapt your thinking. You play the same way every time. That's why I always beat you. If you learned to adjust how you look at the game—"
"I don't see what good that would do." Hermione punctuated this by picking up the game board and folding it shut with a resounding slap. "I read a book on all the best strategies used to win chess in history and—"
"And it never occurred to you that you could deviate from that even if the circumstances make it necessary," Harry said. Hermione frowned. "There's more to life than what's in a book, Hermione. If you could pull yourself out of the safe little world you've set up, you'll find that those of us who don't always follow prescribed paths manage to get things done. We even enjoy ourselves from time to time."
She folded her arms across her chest. "I resent that, Harry. I am perfectly capable of doing something outside of the rules."
"Writing an essay longer than what the professor asked for doesn't count."
Hermione shot him a dirty look. He would make being dedicated to your studies sound like a bad thing. "Just because I haven't descended to delinquent rule-breaking as often as you or Draco does not mean I can't adjust my thinking. But rules are there for a reason. If there weren't rules—"
"Chaos would descend on the world, society would cease to function and you, Hermione Granger, would actually have to think about the game instead of letting someone else dictate to you how it should be played," he said. "Face it, you're stuck in your rule-bound world. One where everything can be predicted and plotted. You wouldn't have it another way."
"That's pretty harsh, Harry," she said in a soft voice.
"I'm sorry if I sounded mean." He reached out a hand and stroked her cheek softly, smiling faintly as she leaned into his touch. "I'm teasing you. I just don't think you'd be able to handle it if the world didn't run on a predictable track. Really, imagine the shock you'll get when we're out of Hogwarts and the rest of world is nothing like you've read."
"I'm not a small child, Harry. I can function in the real world," Hermione said, her voice rising in pitch.
"Of course you can, but—"
"And I can break rules without my world becoming a dysfunctional ruin."
Harry stared at her a minute before saying, "Prove it."
"You heard me," he said. "Break a rule. Any rule." Harry paused as a thought occurred to him. He grinned. "No. One that would get you detention if you were caught."
Hermione gasped. He couldn't be serious. No, he could. He would do something like that. "That was hardly the point I was trying to make. I was merely stating that I don't live in the boring world you've got me painted into."
Harry sat there watching her, a smug expression on his handsome face.
"Fine!" she screamed at him. She lowered her voice when she realized she'd attracted the attention of half the students in the crowded common room. Hermione narrowed her eyes and frowned. He knew just how to get under her skin. Even with a juvenile dare. "I'll do it. I'll do it tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" he asked. "Why not now? It's still early."
"No, because I have to—" She broke off abruptly. She didn't have to finish her statement. He knew purely from her blush of embarrassment that she'd been about to say plan.
"What are you going to do?" Harry asked. "I have a feeling you'll need help with this."
Hermione finished stuffing the chess pieces back into the bag and pulled the drawstring, avoiding his knowing gaze as she thought over her options. She could just tell him she was going to break a rule and then hide out in the library for a few hours until a sufficient amount of time had passed. No, that wouldn't work. Harry would see through it easily. Not only had she never been good at lying to him, he'd probably check the library for her first. Not that she was predictable, he just knew she would be comfortable there. Plus, he'd probably require some kind of proof. She sighed. Maybe he'd even want to watch. So what to do?
"You know, Hermione, you don't have to do this." She looked up as Harry interrupted her thoughts. "Just admit that you can't force yourself to change and I'll leave you alone." He smiled. "It's okay if you can't, you know."
Her eyes narrowed at his condescending tone. "I'm capable of anything you are," she said. "Tomorrow morning."
"Yes? Tomorrow morning?"
"I'm going to skip our first class."
An immediate burst of loud laughter from Harry was not what she had been expecting to hear. She had expected his congratulations on her idea, or at the very least, a wish for luck. He let his laugh die down into a low chuckle before looking her deep in the eyes. He grew quiet as he watched her. Then he burst into laughter again, holding his side as it began to cramp.
"You're impossible!" she shouted. Grabbing the bag of chess pieces and the board from the table, Hermione got up and stalked across the room to return the set to Ron. She threw them onto his lap without a word and turned to storm upstairs to her dorm; a cloud of bushy hair slapped Ron in the face as she went. Harry stood at the foot of the stairs blocking her way, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Out of my way or I'll hex you." Hermione pulled out her wand before Harry could take a breath. "Don't think I won't."
"No, Hermione. That's one rule I'm sure you won't break." He put his hands on her shoulders and pulled her closer, still smiling faintly as he looked into her eyes. "I'm sorry I laughed," he said. "I just can't imagine you skipping class. Especially with exams a little over a month away. Professor Flitwick would go into shock if someone even suggested you might."
She crossed her arms and stepped back from him. "That's why it's the perfect rule for me to break. So you can see I'm not stuck in my own little world."
"That's not what I meant, Hermione." Harry glanced up as two other students indicated they wanted to use the stairs. He steered Hermione to the side and continued. "You don't have to actually break a rule. I just think you need to loosen up your standards a bit. Learn to go about life with a little less control. I don't want you to do something that will hurt that perfect record of yours."
"Backing out of it now that you know I'm serious?" she asked. "Afraid I'll prove you wrong, Potter?"
He smirked. "Hardly. I just don't want you getting in over your head."
"And taking you on is getting in over my head, is it?"
Harry leaned closer and planted a soft, brief kiss on her lips. Then another. "You discovered that last year, didn't you?"
Hermione felt her face flush with warmth and turned her eyes away from Harry's for a few seconds. He would remind her of how she'd impulsively initiated their first kiss then run away and hid when he'd kissed her back. The story never failed to amuse him. She let her eyes return to his face. "I can do this, whether you believe it or not."
"I believe you can do anything you put your mind to, Hermione. It's whether you'll let yourself that's at issue." He shrugged. "I don't want to see you in serious trouble. How about you just come to class late instead? Professor Flitwick likes you. That probably won't even rate a detention for you."
"No. I'm going to do this properly," she said. "That way you can't say I still followed a rule or bent it or whatever." She jabbed a finger into his chest. "Then you'll owe me an apology."
He laughed. "I'll also owe Draco five Galleons. He'll never believe it when I tell him."
Hermione's eyes opened wide in alarm. "Oh, you can't tell anyone you've dared me to do this, not even your obnoxious best friend." She smiled. "It would take all the fun out of it."
"Rule-breaking? Fun?" He stared at Hermione, his expression a mixture of amusement and mild confusion. "If I didn't know you—and the abysmal way you play chess—so well, I might think you're a different person." Harry jumped back just in time to avoid the open palm headed towards his face. He grabbed Hermione before she could come in for another slap and kissed her again, holding her until she stopped fighting him. She was still frowning when he pulled away.
"You're really going to do this, aren't you?"
"Yes," she responded. "You're not going to talk me out of it now that you've challenged me."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Harry said with a sigh. "Fine. I'm doing it with you." At her cross look, he added, "So you can have someone to blame when you get caught. Tell the professor I asked you to help me with something and we lost track of time. He'll believe it from you and you won't get punished."
She shook her head. "That sounds too easy. Besides, I'm supposed to do this on my own."
"You're doing it because of me," he said. "At least let me help. Besides, I've got to see this new Hermione Granger in action." He smiled and tilted his head to the side as he looked at her. "I wonder if she's as good a kisser."
"Harry!" Another blush quickly colored her face.
"Are we doing this?" he asked.
Hermione crossed her arms and sucked the corner of her bottom lip into her mouth, chewing on it as she considered her options. After a few long moments, she said, "Yes." She motioned to the spot in front of the fireplace where they'd been playing chess. "I don't want to get in trouble and I think I know how to accomplish that. Come over here and I'll tell you the plan."