Disclaimer: Everything except the plot belongs to J.K. Rowling, and not to me. I would like to apologise to J.K. Rowling and anybody else who could sue me for having forgotten this disclaimer the first time I posted this chapter.

"Game of chess, Harry?"

"Sorry Ron."


"No thanks!"


Ron sighed when Neville shook his head. It was becoming increasingly difficult to get a decent game of chess these days. Ron was so good at the game that everybody else's pieces refused to play against his, the casualties were just too high.

"Exploding Snap, anyone?" Harry produced a pack of cards, and a noisy game began. It was a Friday evening, and they were sitting in the Great Hall. Since the beginning of the fifth year, inter-house co-operation had been encouraged to try to create more team spirit and a sense of unity against the growing power of the dark wizards. At first everybody had continued to socialise mostly with their own houses, but now they were much more likely to mix. Several other sixth years from Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff had come over to join in the card game. Slytherin students still didn't mix with Gryffindors, but nobody was exactly surprised by that.

Ron lost all his cards fairly quickly, he wasn't really concentrating on the game. He liked Exploding Snap, but it wasn't really a substitute for chess. There was no strategy, no planning.

He looked across the table to where Hermione was immersed in a book, as usual, apparently totally oblivious to the exploding mayhem around her. He reached out across the table and laid his hand over hers. She glanced up, smiled at him, and went back to her book, moving her hand slightly and tangling her fingers through his.

Harry and Ron had both spent the last few days of the summer holiday at Hermione's house. Her parents had gone out one evening, leaving the three of them with some Muggle alcohol and the TV to themselves. They'd rented a couple of films and spent the evening getting slightly tipsy, used to the much weaker Butterbeer. Harry had fallen asleep, leaving Hermione and Ron curled up on the sofa together. Being in such close contact with her in a situation where they were in danger of neither sudden death or interrupt by his brothers, combined with losing some of his nerves after a few beers allowed Ron to gather his courage and kiss her. He'd been quite surprised when she kissed him back, but they'd now been going out for nearly two weeks. He still couldn't believe his luck, even if she wouldn't let his get too "soppy", as she put it, around Harry for fear of ruining the friendship the three of them shared.

"Still want a game of chess, Weasley?" Ron jumped.

"What do you want, Malfoy?" It was unusual for a Slytherin to approach the Gryffindor table. Especially Malfoy.

"I felt like a game of chess, and they're aren't many people around here who are worth playing. Much as I hate to admit it, you're one of them."

Draco was bored rigid trying to hold a conversation with Crabbe and Goyle, bored of having to explain any word longer than two syllables. He wasn't about to admit that to the Gryffindors, though.

Ron sat back and looked at his enemy for a moment. He preferred to have as little as possible to do with Malfoy, but he'd wanted a decent game of chess all evening. And he doubted that Malfoy's chess set would be scared of his.

"Okay, Malfoy. You're on."

They set the board up on the Ravenclaw table, and settled themselves either side. Other students began to gather round as the game began, fascinated by a Slytherin/Gryffindor match.

It was slow to start with, both boys enjoying a game that actually made them think for a change. They were fairly evenly matched, and their pieces were equally brutal.


"Let's make this more interesting." Most of the spectators had drifted away. Roughly half the pieces were gone from the board. Ron was winning, but only just. Malfoy's suggestion broke the developing tense silence. "Let's make this worth something."

"What did you have in mind, Malfoy?" Ron wasn't sure that he liked the sound of this, but his pride made him hide his doubts.

"A few Galleons. Twenty, maybe." He smirked, knowing that Ron didn't have that kind of money.

"I don't have that kind of money." Ron's face was bright red. It clashed with his hair.

"Okay then. What's the most valuable thing you have?" Malfoy was enjoying Ron's discomfort. Ron's eyes flicked automatically to Hermione, still reading but now sitting at the Ravenclaw table to give him moral support.

"Your girlfriend? How sweet. Okay then, how about fifty Galleons against a date with Mudblood Granger?" Hermione dropped her book, and several people lunged for Malfoy, who quickly realised that he was outnumbered.

"My apologies. Hermione."

Hermione looked from Ron to Malfoy and back again.

"Ron?" Her voice was quieter than normal. Malfoy suppressed another smirk. He'd rattled the Mudblood as well as Weasel.

"That's a lot of money." Ron didn't notice Hermione's shoulders stiffen. Malfoy did.

"Fifty Galleons if you win, a date with Granger if I do."

"What's going on?" Ginny wandered over from the Gryffindor table, where she'd been trying to tidy Harry's Exploding Snap cards. She was nursing a burn on her right thumb.

"Malfoy and Ron are discussing a bet." Hermione's voice was cold. "Malfoy wants to bet fifty Galleons against a date with me." She sounded faintly disgusted. "Ron's thinking about it."

"Ron! Hermione's worth more than that! How could you even think about it?"

"That's a lot of money… and I'll win! It's chess."

"Harry, stop him!" Ginny appealed to her brother's best friend. "Harry?" He was sitting a few seats up, but appeared not to have noticed anything. This was probably due to the fact that Cho Chang was sitting next to him. They were talking Quidditch. Harry was unlikely to be any help.

"Hermione, I'll win. And with that money I can take you out properly." Ron coaxed. It was a sore point with him that he couldn't treat Hermione the way he thought he should do.

"The money doesn't matter, Ron." Hermione insisted, but he'd stopped listening, and was looking at Malfoy. "Ron, don't do this!" It was too late, however. Ron and Malfoy were already shaking hands.

Hermione snatched up her book and stormed back to Gryffindor tower. How could Ron do this to her? How could he treat her like property, especially where Malfoy was concerned. If Ron lost this game, she'd never speak to him again. Hell, if he won she still wouldn't talk to him. Nobody was going to treat Hermione Granger like that and get away with it.

She was still sitting staring into the fire, ignoring her book, when Ginny burst in through the portrait hole. Hermione looked up.

"Well?" Ginny's shoulders sagged.

"Ron lost."