Author's Notes: You know you're a fangeek when you start to fic ellipses.
For Leviathan. Forever, sweetie!
As he stares across the giant board, Ron remembers his father's tales of battles played like this in days of yore, the Middle Ages, the days of the Dark Arts, and realizes that he knows something his Muggle-born, Muggle-raised friends don't: Life-size wizard chess, like wizard duels, is fatal. He feels his enthusiasm for chess take a sudden downturn. Why couldn't I be a fan of wizard tiddlywinks?
The towering stone figures with blank faces loom over him. He nearly panics, but…
…as he stares up, he shakes himself, makes a mental shift, and the frantic urgency melts away. Harry and Hermione are yelling, but he tunes them out until it's quiet in his head.
Another mental stretch, pulling back and away to see from above, clearing out extraneous matter. The situation, who they are, where they are, dissipate. All that's left is the outline of the board, the position of the pieces, the stark lines of move and counter-move, elegantly clicking into place all the way to checkmate.
Only it's not the outcome he wants.
He only has a moment, but Dad's taught him that with sufficient concentration, a moment can be enough, can be forever. He stares down at his mental image of the board again, moves and counter-moves flashing, chasing into and out of his mind's eye. Intolerable outcomes: Black winning. Harry being taken—that'll get them all killed in short order, along with the whole of Hogwarts, not really what they were aiming for. Undesirable outcomes: him or Hermione being taken. The image of that lethal stone arm smashing into one of their skulls makes his concentration waver, and he shakes it off. Not the time. Ideal outcome: The three of them getting through.
Fully formed, a series of moves pops into his head: an outcome where Harry wins, and he, Ron, gets through, only sacrificing the—Hermione.
He pushes that outcome away without over-analysing it. There has to be one where the three of them can…
No. He can see it now. The game is set up so that there must be a sacrifice. They can't get to that square without losing a piece – if he moves here and here, Hermione will be taken, or if he moves here and here and here, Harry will be, or if he moves here and here—
It's so simple he doesn't know why he didn't see it.
"Yes..." he says softly. "It's the only way..." Harry's got to succeed. Hermione's the brightest of them all; if there's anything ahead, she'll be far more use to Harry than Thicko Weasley. And if—well, if the blow should be fatal, Hermione's an only child; he wouldn't do that to her parents. His own will be upset, of course, but it's not as if he's anything special. They'll get over it. "...I've got to be taken."
Harry and Hermione shout frantic denial, and it should please him, but for some reason only annoys him. He's certainly not about to explain his logic to them. There's no time for that. There's a brief argument, and he calls out, "Ready?" and then, wanting to say goodbye, "Here I go—" and then, suddenly afraid that once he's down, they'll fall on his body and move onto the wrong square or some such idiocy, "now, don't hang around once you've won."
He looks at their white faces, his heart filling, and steps forward, not saying what he's really thinking: Goodbye, Harry, Hermione. It's been really nice to have friends I would die for. Come to think of it, it'd have been even nicer not to have had to actually bleeding go through with it. Story of my life, really—
The Queen's stone arm comes flying down towards his face, and then nothing.