Chapter 1 : Act One
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A Game of Chess
There was much unrest in the castle of Hogwarts that new school year, the fair summer plummeting into dismal autumn, the leaves swept from the trees just as they began to flame gold and scarlet, plunging the world into shades of murky brown as though a poison had been fed into the land, killing all within sight. In such a world, there could be no hope, only the dreams of those who could remember the raging colours of dawns and sunsets, the soft pastels of spring flowers, and the chilling blues of winter.
As time passed, even those memories grew dim beneath threatening grey skies and tumbling piles of parchment.
Rain fell for weeks without end, leaving the ground impassible, the skies thick with mist, always a danger of lightning or hail to put a halt to any outdoor activity, especially flying. The students of Hogwarts had little to do except for their homework, and such a radical measure to counteract boredom was their last resort. They instead often gathered in the Great Hall, where wizard’s chess, exploding snap, and gobstones stood in for Quidditch and midnight duels. The air grew tense with each passing round of games as idle amusement ripened into fierce competition.
“We’ll play our best against yours,” a brash Potter exclaimed, his chin tilted to raise him above the height of his challenger.
“It’s a fair deal.” Montague put out his hand, a dangerous gleam in his eye.
Potter, the elder of two, frowned as he regarded that hand.
It was a fatal hesitation. Montague withdrew his hand, lips twisting into a sneer. “Don’t trust me, Potter? Or am I just too dirty for you?”
Other Slytherins stepped forward, arms crossed, looking grim.
Potter was too honest for his own good, an unfortunate inheritance.
“I’ve just got a bad feeling about this.”
“What is it?” Bletchley asked in his high-pitched waver. “Is your Potty-sense tingling?”
Montague gave a glare at the minion that sent him scurrying back into the crowd, shielding himself behind Malfoy, who, standing near the back, listened with his keen ears and watched with his keener eyes.
Potter did not hesitate this time, the creases across his brow clearing away.
“I’m not sure that you’ll like our champion, Montague. Probably not what, or rather who, you’d expect.” He smiled with one corner of his lips, brushing aside strands of red hair with a negligent hand, not bothering to consult with his younger brother, who raised an eyebrow in silent query.
“Then we’re on, Potter?”
Montague nodded and turned to the others who crowded around him, suggesting various names, discounting those whose skill was somehow flawed or their patience untrustworthy. This battle, the greatest chess battle in all of Hogwarts’s history – or so they claimed – would require the finest wizard’s chess players its four noble houses could offer.
Every so often, Montague looked back toward Potter, who waited with insolent patience, that smile still playing about his lips. The sight of it brought blood to Montague’s cheeks, but his eyes would flicker toward the prefect standing at the end of the table, and he would turn back to his compatriots, seeking retaliation in the pursuit of victory.
He whispered a name to the girl beside him, causing her to frown in disgust.
“If you must. Personally, I don’t think he’s got the stuff for it.”
A chorus of whos rang up from the crowd, silencing abruptly when Montague’s voice rang out, echoing to the ceiling of the Great Hall.
He whirled around to face Potter once more. “There is our champion, Potter.” He pointed toward the pale waif who came forward, eyes narrowed and lips tightly pressed together.
“Now name yours.”
Albus Potter’s eyebrow further encroached upon his hairline while his brother regarded Malfoy with a cool gaze, his brow furrowing in thought, hesitation again plaguing his ability to act, preventing his voice from mounting the final step onto his tongue.
A girl threw herself forward, sending various individuals head over heels as she pushed them aside with arms stronger than she would have sworn to, but that was always the way with Rose Weasley. None who stood in her way escaped unscathed.
With a toss of her head, bushy red hair flying in all directions, Rose snatched up Malfoy’s hand in her own, giving it a powerful shake.
“Well, I’m ready. Let’s get started.”
Bounding away, she took her seat on the other side of the table, folding her hands as she regarded not her opponent, but the chess set, her eyes darting side to side as her strategy began to take root in that mind of hers.
Potter and Montague, standing side-by-side for the first, and perhaps only, time in their lives, surveyed the competitors.
“A girl?” Montague pursed his lips. “Are there no real wizards on your side, Potter, that you have to let a girl fight your battles?”
Albus’s green eyes flamed, but the beside him with hair the colour of mud placed a calming hand on his shoulder, silencing whatever impetuous reply threatened to burst forth. He looked sideways at Rose’s brother with a stiff nod of gratitude.
Potter was smiling again, experiencing amusement where his brother found offence.
“I’ll tell you one thing, Montague.”
The elder boy frowned, failing to comprehend the reason for Potter’s amusement.
“I wouldn’t cross Rose Weasley, not if I were you or anybody else.” After a pause, watching Montague closely, he added in a lower tone, “You know what they say: every rose’s got its thorns.”
Montague rolled his eyes and, with an uncaring wave of his hand, motioned to the crowd to gather around the combatant and prepare to witness the greatest battle in the history of Hogwarts since the Great Battle itself, a quarter-century before. But instead of garnering the assistance of those assembled, this battle required only their eyes and ears as spectators while the two combatants fought, not with wands, but with chess pieces and, most of all, their minds.
Malfoy took some moments to seat himself across from Rose while he tested the bones of his right hand as though he feared that some part of her strategy had been to break his fingers in her iron grasp. He looked down at the chess set to see that she had chosen the black, leaving the white pieces for his use. It was an odd move, but she was one for doing odd things, never entirely reducing herself to the expectations others set for her.
With her father’s eyes, she scanned the squirming chess pieces, but it was with her mother’s curiosity that she raised her eyes to study the face of Scorpius Malfoy, looking at him as though for the very first time.
Thunder rattled the windows, shaking the castle to its very foundation.
“Your move.” Rose’s face did not smile, but it was there in her voice, as was something else, too, something beyond Malfoy’s understanding at that moment.
He looked down at the waiting pieces, felt the eyes of the waiting watchers, heard the gears turning in the mind of his waiting opponent, the seconds on the clock ticking as he made his decision, the pressure of the whole world bearing down upon his chest, squeezing every inch of pitiful life he had to offer. The chess pieces were as pale as his skin, as fair as his hair. Drained of all colour, even shadow, he and they were up against what was all colour, all life, all shadow. She had life and glory, and she hadn’t yet made a move.
With one last breath, he cast his die, settling his fate.
“Pawn to E4.”
Battle commenced with great deliberation on one side and great fortitude on the other. Time passed. More and more pieces were scattered across the table. Still no end was in sight.
The rain continued to fall and there was always a hint of electricity in the air, thunder rolling down the mountains while lightning flickered across the sky and the ceiling, illuminating the faces of those who watched, silenced, bated of breath, as they took in the expertise of these young players of matched wits and wills, who mercilessly slaughtered one another without raising a finger. The battle was beyond violent, both sides losing far more than they gained.
Malfoy felt beads of sweat trickle down his temples and along the line of his jaw until they came to drip off the end of his chin. He did not care to wipe them away; the workings of the mind taking precedence over the dull mechanics of the body. He was close to something, something big, even extraordinary. Her queen lay unprotected to one side of the board while one of his knights and his queen lay siege on her king. How she should have allowed for such a weakness, he could not comprehend, but he took advantage of its presentment, the breath catching in his throat as he spoke the command to his other knight.
“Knight to G6.”
Her queen fell with a crash, her carved mouth screaming in agony as the knight grabbed her hair and dragged her from the board.
There were gasps from the onlookers, the loudest of all from little Hugo Weasley, who huddled at his sister’s side, knowing better than to touch her, but still near enough that a nargle could hardly squeeze between them. No one could have been as close without disturbing her concentration and exciting her violent impatience. With wide eyes, he looked up at his sister as though to a great goddess, awaiting the inevitable explosion of passion that would burst forth from her now-quaking form.
But it never came.
Her eyes swept across the board, taking note of her remaining pieces, their present positions, and their possible future positions, her lips pressed tightly together, as though entrapping any outburst that may have emerged, unbidden.
As Malfoy continued his attack, he grew restless at her passive manoeuvres and her apparently decreasing interest in the game. Rose lost a bishop and both her rooks before long, and the Potters shifted uneasily on their feet, meeting one another’s gazes with grave uncertainty. Hugo leaned closer until his head rested against Rose’s arm, lending her his strength, his overwhelming confidence in her abilities, as though she hadn’t enough of her own.
Malfoy watched all of this before turning his eyes to her. The torches on the wall silhouetted her form, raising her hair to a shade of scarlet unmatched by any meagre flame. Its volume had increased as they had played, the static of the storm outside, coupled with the intensity of the storm within her mind, standing the frizzy strands on end. He thought she appeared like a rose in bloom, her hair the petals, folding outwards, her face the centre, burning bright, and her robes the blighted stem of a plant too long in the wet.
He admired this rose, this perfect flower, and began to forget his purpose. How could there be purpose when such a one as her could exist? The very sight of her stole his breath, the raging intelligence within her shining from every pore, her soul a guiding light to those lost in the storm, not of the weather, but of the world, wandering their whole lives without ever discovering that one perfect thing that would bring meaning to their wasted days and bitter nights.
He watched her and he loved her.
He was certain of that. There could be no other possible explanation.
“Pawn to F8.”
Very few had seen this move before. To many, it made no sense at all to move a pawn to the far side of the board until they witnessed a resurrection of the sort impossible in real battle. The black queen lifted herself from the sidelines, and with a regal step forward, holding her skirts up from the table top, took the pawn’s place.
Rose’s petals peeled back to reveal a beaming, no longer burning, face, her eyes aglow with all the glory of the ages.
Malfoy blinked, but said nothing, his face flushing in shame for it was all lost now. Her queen was too near his king and he had not the pieces left to counteract any onslaught from as savage a weapon as Rose Weasley’s queen.
In ten minutes, his king threw down his sword, defeated.
Rose’s fellow Ravenclaws sang her praises to the towers, her Gryffindor cousins gathering around to pat her shoulders, anything to touch such brilliance. Hugo and his Hufflepuffs danced around them all, tossing their pointed hats into the air.
The Slytherins, and those who had joined Montague in his challenge, were silent. Most silent of all was Scorpius Malfoy, who stared at the board, cursing himself, cursing everything in the world but her, that rose whose thorns had torn his mind to shreds even as all else about her had brought new life into his quietly-beating heart.
He slipped out of the Hall before the others to loiter beneath the stairs, hiding his rose-blushed cheeks in the shadows where no light, and no one, could find him.
He had to see her again.
The defeat was nothing, nothing at all, nothing to one who had felt the touch of that thing which must be love, one who had seen its resplendence and tasted the sweetness of its fruit. All his senses had been awakened. Only his mind had dulled, his intellect finding slumber beneath the blanket of snow upon which the last rose of summer dropped its petals, one by one.
She came out at last with her brother in tow, accompanying him to the stair that led to his house for the final good night she bid him every night. Malfoy listened from the shadows, watching the way that she smiled differently as she looked down at her brother, the way that the torchlight glittered in her eyes, the delicacy with which her hand rested on the balustrade, even though her thick fingers betrayed a strength that was matched by the firm set of her jaw and the squareness of her shoulders. She was like no other girl in Hogwarts, past and present, at least in the eyes of he who now loved her, or claimed to do so.
Hugo leapt down the steps, eager for one last foray of the kitchens before bed, his final good night echoing up from the brightly-lit stair.
Rose, about to turn away, stopped only when she heard Malfoy’s tread behind her.
“Rose. Just a moment. If you please.” The words emerged disjointed, and his flush deepened at the knowledge of how insignificant he must sound.
Her hand remained on the balustrade, her foot upon the first stair.
“You played well for a while, Malfoy,” she said in a low, harmonious voice. “I thought you might be a challenge.”
He fell back a step, feeling the blade of her disappointment strike deep into his heart.
“It was the light, the way it hit you. I thought you were perfect.”
The words were pouring from him now, and he was lost in their fatal current.
Her fingers clenched, her lips drawing into a frown.
“‘Were’, Malfoy? Only in a certain light, I think. The light of battle, perhaps.”
She began to move away, her feet light on each stair.
“Please. Don’t.” Malfoy’s voice broke and he swallowed, his breath coming in light gasps that gave him no relief. “Not yet, at least. Rose.”
Something in his voice, the sheer agony of his speech, forced her round to face him. From the fifth stair, she looked down upon him like a queen at the beggars who grasped at her train, eager for any touch, any look. A glance alone would bring them fame. A touch would bring them fortune. Her glory would rain down upon them and they would be beggars no more.
Rose saw that beggared expression in Malfoy’s eyes, her frown growing as she leaned forward, attempting to discern the meaning of such an expression. Many had envied her. Some had despised her. None had worshiped her. Not before this.
He came forward in a rush, as though the sheer act of stopping was response enough to beckon him toward her. Stopping on the stair below hers, he stared up into her face, stricken neither by awe nor fear, but something else, something inexplicable and incomprehensible to her mind, so careful, so calculating. But it had never accounted for this.
She reached out her hand to touch his face, mesmerised by what she saw there, the goddess extending a golden hand to her humbled, cowering priest.
That was when it happened.
That was when the scorpion’s tail took aim, piercing her to the heart, its poison taking root in the deepest, darkest corner of her being. He hardly knew himself that he possessed such a power, that he was more dangerous than her, that he could permanently, mortally wound even the strongest of spirits, even the most hidden of hearts.
That was the moment when Rose Weasley fell in love, losing herself to the illusion of that great temple, high above the velvet clouds, where she stood, high above him, the idol with a heart of black.
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