Chapter Seven: Preliminary Maneuvers
Ron sighed with relief when he got back in the room and Snape wasn't there. The Potions Master had left a note on the front table. Mr. Weasley, I am down in the restaurant and will return shortly. If you have not eaten yet, I suggest you do so. The room service menu is in the top drawer of the desk if you prefer to stay there. I also suggest you begin work on your assignments tonight. The emir and your scheduled games will keep you busy for much of this week.
He's probably right, Ron thought. He really didn't want to go downstairs by himself and take the chance of getting lost, at least not till he could look the place over. He glanced at the menu, only a small part of which was in English, and ordered the most reasonable meal. Even its price made him gulp. While waiting for the food to arrive, he got out his books. Ron was glad Harry had taught him about tellyphones. He was surprised to find a Muggle invention like that here, but it made sense. Nobody wanted that many owls in a kitchen, and how else were they going to get their orders? Before he sat down to study he owled his father about the emir and what being a chess rat was like so far.
When his meal got there he signed for it, like he'd been told. Then Ron remembered how Snape had given a coin to the men who had brought the luggage up here, and went for his pouch. He hoped a couple of Knuts would do, then thought better of it and gave the servant a Sickle instead. I'm going to eat down at the restaurant from now on, he thought. His pocket-money would be gone in two days at this rate. McGonagall hadn't said anything about a slush fund when she'd said he was going, and Ron hadn't wanted to bother her about it after she'd said she wouldn't be able to go herself. Harry had offered to lend him some money. Ron wished now he'd taken his friend up on it.
He ate as he read a chapter in Transfigurations. For once the letters didn't turn themselves around as they sometimes did. That always gave him a headache. Hermione had told him once that Muggles had books you could listen to. Ron wished he could find some for himself. He typically learned more from lectures than he did from books (though he fell asleep in History of Magic just like everybody else).
He was struggling with an essay for McGonagall when Snape came in. The Potions Master nodded at Ron, muttered a greeting, and headed for the bathroom. When he came out, he turned towards his bedroom, the one on the right.
Ron cleared his throat. "Professor, I have a question."
"What is it?"
"When I sign for a meal, how much extra do I add in?"
Snape blinked, as if he hadn't expected anything like that. "They won't expect much from someone your age. About ten percent of what the meal cost should do."
"Even in the restaurant?" Ron wondered if he was going to be able to eat this week.
"Of course. But you simply add it to the meal total and sign for the whole thing," Snape said. "You'll get better service this week from the staff once they know you are thinking about them. Word gets around very quickly in a place like this during a large gathering."
"I saw you give money to the men who took the trunks," Ron said.
"That's observant. For most of this week you'll be with the emir unless you're at the chess table. He'll take care of everything then. In fact, he would be insulted if you tried to pay. In return, it's appropriate to leave him a gift at the end of the week or send him one shortly afterwards. He won't expect anything expensive, but something you put a bit of work into would be appreciated."
Ron wondered what he could get, and hoped he could afford something halfway nice from the souvenir table. "Yes, sir."
"How did your meeting go with him?" Snape sat down.
Ron's head whirred. The Potions Master wasn't yelling at him, but how long would that last? "It went really well. My chess pieces recognized him, and the emir said that he'd played my Grandpa Bart a long time ago. Then we played a game. I got murdered, but it was fun watching how he played. I think he was testing me to find out if I really knew what I was doing."
Snape nodded, scowling a bit less than before. "Continue."
"We had a platter of some stuff I didn't recognize, but it tasted good, and then I poured tea, and then he said I needed to get some rest for tomorrow. I have to be there tomorrow morning. How early should I go over there?"
"Close to dawn. He was always an early riser. I doubt he's changed. If you're too early, Rafi will have you wait."
"Rafi was his servant back then, too?"
"Yes. I don't think he sleeps much, so don't worry about waking him." Snape looked off into the distance, as if remembering something. "It's good you're getting some of your homework done before things get too busy." He got up and turned back towards the bedroom. "I will be reading in my room. Don't stay up much later."
Ron took the hint, finished up the last couple inches of his essay, and went to his own room. It was so quiet compared to either Hogwarts or the Burrows. Oh, he could hear a little noise, but nothing like what he was used to. Snape might be used to being by himself, but he wasn't. The only time he'd ever slept in a room this big by himself was the one time he'd spent a few nights in Hermione's place in the spare bedroom. Even there the noise of the telly had drifted up a bit and made it more comfortable for him.
He almost wished for a few thumps on the ceiling from the family ghoul. Ron changed into his pajamas, ducked into the bathroom to brush his teeth, and saw shaving gear, a brush, and small bottles lying about, like the stuff Dad left on his side of the bathroom sink at home. At Hogwarts the older boys passed down shaving and pimple-erasing spells, but some of them preferred the old-fashioned ways. Ron realized he would be pumped for information about Snape when he got back. What the emir had told him about what happened to Potions Masters was interesting, and explained a lot. And someone who didn't bathe certainly wouldn't bring along a box with his favorite soap in it.
He finished his teeth and left his own junk away from Snape's. Funny how bathrooms were. At home everyone always knocked on the door, though Ron knew that the usual banter exchanged through it ("hurry up already, we're dying out here") could possibly be fatal here. He definitely didn't want to know what Snape's reaction would be to Fred and George's rendition of "How Dry I Am" in two-part harmony.
It was weird. Nobody ever spoke in the boy's loo at Hogwarts, at least not much, while Hermione had hinted the girls' side was a bit more social, and that anybody who wanted a little peace and quiet had to put up with Moaning Myrtle.
Ron went to bed. As he lay down, more of the noise of the city and the hotel came through the bedstead somehow. Strange how that worked. But the background hum didn't bother him at all, and soon he was out.
Snape finished unpacking, except for the secret compartment in his trunk. That held the robe and mask he hoped he wouldn't have to wear on this trip. He looked at the message in Karkaroff's handwriting asking for a meeting. The Potions Master tested it to make sure it had actually come from Karkaroff and that the man was still alive.
It could still be a trap, of course, and the message sent to lure him. He rubbed his forearm, hating the way it ached these past few days.
He heard the light snores from the other room. He'd given Weasley the one that caught the most sound, knowing the boy was used to it. He wished he dared a Silencio spell for himself, unfortunately, under the circumstances he needed to keep a watch on the boy even with the wards he'd placed on the door and windows. One of the reasons he preferred the dungeons was that at night the place was quiet, at least by the time he finally got settled down.
But he'd had one bit of luck he hadn't expected. Al-Hadoud was always invited to the All-Wizards' Chess Tournament, but rarely came. Weasley would make a good chess rat for the old man, and Snape wouldn't have to watch the boy full-time. He stifled his regret that the emir had refused him hospitality. However, al-Hadoud's open disapproval of him might be helpful in persuading certain people that he could be trusted.
At least Draco wasn't here. The younger Malfoy would be under orders to spy on him. If I had asked al-Hadoud to take Draco on as his chess rat, the boy would have been suspicious. No doubt he would have done something to get out from under the old man's eyes.
No, Weasley was a much better choice under the circumstances. His head was going to be full of chess and not much else. There's more behind those vacant-looking blue eyes than I thought, he grudgingly admitted to himself. If only I could get him to use his brain for anything besides a game!
That had been a perceptive question Weasley had asked about tipping, too. It had been easy to spot the despair on the boy's face when he'd been told what was proper, so Snape had felt charitable enough to rescue him.
He sat down in a chair by the bed, weary himself but unable to close his eyes. He knew what would happen if he tried going to sleep now. Some unexpected noise would wake him just as he was starting to drop off, till he ended up lying there wide awake for most of the night. Granted, there had been times when such sensitivity had saved his life. Still, if he dozed off in the chair, then he knew he would be able to fall asleep in the bed. It made little sense sometimes, but that was how it worked for him. He had brought some Dreamless Sleep potions, along with others in the satchel now heavily warded and sitting in the corner of his closet, but he might as well put up a Silencio spell as use anything. Either way would leave Mr. Weasley unguarded.
I suppose this Arithmancy book would put anybody to sleep, he thought.
Ron woke up early, thanks to hearing Snape running the shower. He got up and puttered around till it was his turn for the bathroom. He was well-trained at that. Then the Professor emerged in a bathrobe, and Ron ducked in. It didn't take long to get presentable, and then he left for al-Hadoud's room, bringing his case with the pieces in it.
Rafi greeted him and had him sit. "The master does not sleep well in a strange place. He is still resting, but will arise soon," the short servant said. "You are diligent, though, and that is good." Rafi gave him tea and a hot roll with some meat in it. It tasted a little funny, but Ron didn't mind and made it disappear.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked once he was done.
The servant inclined his head. "It is good of you to ask. But you will be with him all day, and I can rest then. There is little to do here."
Mum would like a place like this a lot, Ron thought. She never just sat and rested as far as he could tell. Even at night after dinner, she'd get out her knitting or her wand and the mending basket. But then, that's when we're home. I wonder what it's like for her when we're all at Hogwarts and none of the older ones are visiting? He still thought she'd enjoy a trip to a nice place where she didn't have to cook or clean. Another thing we don't have the money for.
Then Rafi said that he could see the emir now. Ron almost tripped over his own feet in eagerness. Al-Hadoud greeted him cheerfully as he sat in a comfortable chair in another part of the large suite. "You have slept well, I see," said the old man. "Ah, to be so young again! Let us eat first, and then we shall go down to the tourney floor."
Ron was about to say he'd already had something, then thought better of it. He'd find room somewhere. Rafi brought in a small table and plates, and shook his head again when Ron jumped up to assist him.
They ate companionably as al-Hadoud spoke of past tournaments. It was really interesting to hear the famous names of the past talked about as if they were just people. "Now, Dumbledore is a subtle player. He has an open invitation to come here whenever he wishes, just like I do," the emir said during the conversation. "I wonder if your feeling that he had to work harder than it appeared to defeat your Professor is a correct one? I should find time to play him this week."
"What was Snape like, I mean, when he was here before?" Ron itched with curiosity.
"Oh, tall for his age. And quiet. He hardly said two words the first couple of days, though he spoke more as he got to know me. But then, his uncle was a quiet man, too."
"Did he ever talk about his home or his family? Who was his uncle?" None of the students knew anything about Snape's background, except maybe Malfoy, and he would never say anything. Ron knew it was hopeless to pump any of the staff. Neither Fred nor George had ever been able to get anything out of them, not even Hagrid. If they couldn't, he knew it was impossible.
"I played young Gerasius a few times, though he wasn't as good as his nephew. I would have said he was unsuited for raising a child, but after Snape's parents died, no doubt he felt obliged to try. But the boy didn't talk about his uncle much. He did talk about his school, and how much he liked it. He was worried about some older boys in the same year who picked on him, though. He was glad they weren't in the same house, but didn't know what to do about them."
Ron had a chilling feeling the emir was talking about the Marauders. "Did he go into any details?"
"Not really. I told him to try to make friends with them if he could, and to talk to his head of house if he had too many problems. Perhaps it is just as well your school will not let anyone in early these days. Young Severus has always looked older than his years, but in this case I do not think it was much help."
Ron wondered what exactly had led up to the Shrieking Shack. He knew what it was like to be taunted, but at least he had friends around him.
Al-Hadoud continued. "We wrote back and forth for a few years, at first in English, and then in Arabic as he learned it. Then I heard nothing for a few months. Rumors flew about Voldemort and the followers around him. I asked about the boy, and was told there had been an unpleasant incident at the school. Snape did not answer my letters. I stopped trying after learning he was caught up with his cousin Malfoy and the others."
Ron gritted his teeth. "I think I know what it was. There was a group of four boys called the Marauders, and one of them was a werewolf. He didn't want to hurt anybody, so whenever he changed he went to the Shrieking Shack and hid. One of the other boys wanted to play a joke on Snape, and got him to come out there during the full moon. According to what I heard, Snape was almost killed. If it hadn't been for a third member of the group who thought the joke went too far and stopped it, Professor Snape probably would have died." Black never did sound too sorry about it.
Ron remembered the incident, almost two years ago. We were paying more attention to Wormtail, and my leg hurt so much I didn't really care. I'm still amazed Snape never got back at us for making him fall over like that. But now he recalled that it had been Lupin who had bent over and checked to see if Snape was still alive, not Black.
"Surely the boys were punished, especially the one who did not care if his friend became guilty of murder?" The emir looked incredulous.
"Not as far as I ever heard." Ron shifted uncomfortably, thinking of how the three of them had cursed Draco and his thugs on the train last spring. But that had been three on three, not four on one, even if the one was Snape. Black had done the kind of thing that made people think of Slytherin, not Gryffindor.
"Ah," al-Hadoud said with a sigh. "I wish Severus had written me. I would gladly have found him an apprenticeship with an alchemist friend of mine if his school was not safe for him. No doubt he looked for protection and found it in the wrong places."
Ron pushed the rest of his food around on his plate. He didn't like Sirius Black as well as Harry did; Black always seemed about the same age as Fred or George in some ways. Even Percy was more grown-up. All right, especially Percy. Then again, anybody would look good compared to the Dursleys. And Black really did care about Potter.
No doubt Snape hadn't even tried making friends! And to join Voldemort!
But then, Scabbers had turned out to be Pettigrew, who had been one of the Marauders too.
Ron had the uneasy feeling that he was still being unfair to Snape, and didn't like it.
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