With the beginning of the Winter Session, peace officially deserts Devon. Formality and order replace the easygoing aura of summer, and at the first chapel service, the masters sit in their stalls in front of and at right angles to the student body, as if "they (have) never been away." Continuity is the keynote of the ceremony, although five of the regular teachers are missing because they have gone to war, and it is announced that maids will be unavailable "for the Duration." Gene reflects that the assertion that the traditions of Devon have never been broken is a fallacy; during the summer, "all rules (had been) forgotten." Still, that halcyon time had ended with Phineas's accident, and Gene recognizes that perhaps that tragedy proved the necessity of rules after all. The summer has changed Gene irrevocably, and he is loathe to give up the innocence and freedom of the time, as symbolized by Leper Lepellier's "creeping ivy and snails," to reenter the world of power and intrigue, as represented by the neat and orderly files of the year's "dominant student," Brinker Hadley.
All students are required to participate in a sport during the term, and Gene signs up to be the assistant manager of the crew team. The job is a "nonentity," usually filled by boys with some kind of physical disability. Gene, wounded in spirit by the knowledge of his culpability in Finny's accident, reflects that his trouble cannot be detected by the naked eye. Gene finds that his hopes of simply performing his duties "like the automaton (he) wishe(s) to be" are not to be fulfilled, when he is challenged by the crew manager, Cliff Quackenbush. The two boys fight, falling into the brackish Naguamsett River, and Gene is dismissed from his position as assistant manager before he even begins. As he trudges away from the Crew House, wet and miserable, Gene is approached by Mr. Ludsbury, the master in charge of the dormitories. Mr. Ludsbury has heard that illicit "gaming" had gone on in the dorms during the Summer Session, and he reprimands Gene for not having helped the substitute, Mr. Prud'homme, maintain the high standards of Devon in his absence. Gene, even as he recollects the "nights of black-jack and poker and unpredictable games invented by Phineas," feigns innocence, and when Mr. Ludsbury is done with his obligatory lecture, he grudgingly informs Gene that he has received a long-distance call. Mr. Ludsbury gives him permission to go into his office to dial up the operator.
Thinking that the call must be from someone at home, Gene is stunned when he realizes that the call is from Finny. On the phone, Finny, in high spirits, asks Gene if anyone has taken his place as his roommate, and is elated to discover that Gene is rooming alone. Finny has been worried because of the way Gene had acted when he had come to visit Finny at his house, and he confesses that, for a little while, he had entertained the possibility that what Gene had claimed then was true: Gene really might have caused Finny's accident on purpose. Now that he has discovered that Gene has been saving his place in the dorm, Finny is relieved, sure that Gene had not meant what he had said. Finny, loyal friend that he is, even apologizes for doubting him. Gene does not contradict Finny's assumptions, and the conversation turns to Finny's favorite subject, sports. Finny is aghast that Gene would even think of taking on the job of assistant crew manager and insists that if he, Phineas, can no longer play sports, Gene will have to play for him. Gene feels a sense of liberation then, understanding that in performing in his stead, he will become, in essence, a part of Phineas.