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Chapter Nine: A Warm Reception

The next morning Ron hastily shut off his alarm, got washed and dressed, and went to the emir's room. Snape's door had been closed, so he must have come back after Ron had gone to bed. I sure hope he didn't hear the alarm, or gets back to sleep anyway, he thought. So far the tourney had been relatively sarcasm-free, and he would really like to keep it that way.

This time al-Hadoud was up when Rafi let him in. Ron was glad he'd remembered the notes from the game he'd watched last night.

Once the emir was done with his tea, Ron began his report. He illustrated the game with his own set. Between the notes and his memory of what he'd seen, it didn't take long.

"Professor Snape used the same attack he did on McGonagall and didn't have much trouble ramming it through. I think the Morris or the Biggerson game would probably be a lot more interesting. Do you want me to get the moves, especially from the first one? It was a draw, but it should be a pretty interesting game anyway."

"Yes, if you would. This is much how he played as a child, but he guards himself much better now. I wonder how much experience he's had since then?"

Ron remembered the remarks about playing with live pieces that Snape and Dumbledore had swapped at the beginning of their game, but decided not to mention them. Besides, the Headmaster couldn't really be like that.

Then he and the emir went downstairs. This time they used the ellyvator, a Muggle invention that was kind of scary, but easier for al-Hadoud than stairs. Ron had visited Hermione for a week last summer, and she'd taken him someplace called a mall that had one, so it wasn't too bad for him. But the old man looked sour and said, "I should have stayed on the ground floor, but Rafi didn't like the idea. He said that thieves could come through the window in a strange city like this. But thieves can walk up stairs, too, or even stand in this infernal machine."

"At least the lazy ones will go after other rooms first," Ron said. The emir probably had wards on his windows even though they were off the ground. Even he could tell that Snape had put strong ones on theirs. Considering how he, Fred and George, had gotten Harry out of his at the beginning of second year, maybe Snape had the right idea.

But moving staircases like the ones they had at Hogwarts would have been more fun, except then he would have gotten really lost here. The only way he'd coped with the arrangement his first few weeks at the school had been following the others around.

They stopped at the registration table. His games were all in the morning or as close to it as time allowed, while al-Hadoud's were later.

He started the day with his first loss against an older boy from Durmstrang that he vaguely recognized from the All-Wizards' Tournament the year before. The emir was a real help afterwards, though. They both went over the moves and Ron discovered where he'd screwed up. The next game against a girl from the States went better. He had no tendency towards chivalry on the chessboard, not after being trampled by Brentwood back at school. These days even Ginny was better than Harry was. She would have gotten further in the tournament at Hogwarts except she'd gone against Oliver Wood for her first game and had lost heart afterwards. But just before he'd left for this tournament, she had come very close to winning against him, and that didn't happen very often.

Besides, after getting beaten so badly by Petrosian, he felt like beating someone back. But he did offer to get his current opponent a sweet roll afterwards. She shook her head. "I have to go to another game, and so do you."

"This afternoon?" he asked, then realized he'd be with al-Hadoud. The emir's first game would start right after lunch.

"Afraid not," she said. "Mom wants me to stick pretty close to her."

"Wait, is she Glenna Jefferson?" Since the girl's name was Lisa Jefferson, it wasn't a hard guess. Jefferson was one of the few rated women players, along with McGonagall and some others.

"Yes. She'll probably go over this game with me, too." She stared down at the board.

"Watch out for Petrosian. He does some really weird stuff with his queen. And Smerdlov is just a kid, but he's a lot better than some of the grownups."

"I got creamed by Petrosian yesterday. I have to play Devereaux later today."

"Oh, he's the one from Beauxbatons. You have a good chance against him. Go after him hard and fast, but watch for his counter. Say, if you ever come to Hogwarts, I'll introduce you to Professor McGonagall. She keeps saying she doesn't understand why there aren't more girls involved in chess. My sister Ginny isn't too bad, and there's a girl in Ravenclaw who's good. She's probably working up every game there is to get the drop on me when I get back,"

"Isn't the Tiger here this time? Her name was in the article in the magazine Mom and I read, but I haven't seen her name on the board."

Ron had heard of the nickname for McGonagall in chess magazines himself, but since he wanted to live, had never used it. "No. She had some family thing. But Professor Snape beat her this time anyway. He played chess a long time ago and is getting back to it. Look, there he is." The Potions Master was at the registration table talking to someone.

Lisa's eyes widened a bit. "Wouldn't mind having that tall and dark one teaching at my school! He looks so...interesting."

"Are you nuts? He hates everybody," Ron said, certain she must have bad eyesight. "By the time he's done ripping us to pieces, we're just glad to get out of Potions alive."

It was true. Girls were insane. There was a vague rumor at school that some little Hufflepuff actually had written a love note to Snape, only to get it back corrected for spelling and grammar.

"Well, I have to go," she said. "Good game."

"Same for you." They shook hands tentatively.

Al-Hadoud was smiling as Ron came over to see if the emir wanted anything before he had to go to his next game. "I see a little romance among the pawns, perhaps?" the old man said.

"Not hardly. She thought Snape was interesting to look at. That would last for less than five minutes if she was ever in one of his classes."

"Of course he must discourage such nonsense. In your bizarre system where both girls and boys learn together, there might be serious trouble if he did not. Do you know if he is married?"

"He isn't as far as I know," Ron said. The whole idea of Professor Snape in a close relationship with anybody hurt his brain. "Actually, none of the staff is." Teachers were...well, teachers. Imagining them with a personal life had never crossed his mind, though others at school had more vivid imaginations. "But if you ever saw Snape run a class, you would see just how weird the whole idea is."

Then it was time for his third game, against some boy from Singapore. It was a long, nasty draw, and he was starving by the time it was over. Al-Hadoud had already begun his first game, so he went to the restaurant and got something quick to eat. As soon as he was done, he went to the emir's table and asked if he wanted anything.

"Not till after the game is over. I shall eat then."

Ron sat down to watch. For a moment he felt bored, and wished he was back at Hogwarts where he could go outside and fly around the Quidditch pitch. I haven't been outside since I got here, he thought.

Then he started watching the game. Al-Hadoud was playing black and in a little trouble this time. Ron could see why. The rules didn't allow him to suggest any moves, though. He began taking notes. The emir had helped him enormously already. It was time for him to do what he could.

At one point he saw where the old man needed to watch his right flank. Ron stared pointedly at white's knight, hoping that al-Hadoud would notice it. He couldn't say a word, of course, but he was sure that once the emir noticed where it could go in the next couple of moves that something could be done about it.

Apparently that worked. Al-Hadoud brought up a pawn where it would threaten the knight if the piece wandered in that direction. After that the game began going better for black, and ended in a draw.

Once it was over, they went to eat a real meal in the restaurant. "I must thank you, boy, for noticing that knight," the emir said when they were settled at the table. "I cannot think of what is wrong with me today."

"I made some notes," Ron said. "I think it was when white's queen-side bishop moved towards your queen and you decided to take it that things started going bad. I would have done it myself, but I think he was hoping you'd do it. Maybe you should have brought the queen between those two pawns instead."

"That wouldn't have worked," al-Hadoud said. "There was a trap there, too. I think I chose the move I did because it was the best one there. Now after that I should have retreated, and brought up some other pieces. Even the best can sometimes get overconfident."

Ron nodded. That was certainly true! Then a girl brought the food, and he concentrated on it for a while. Then he wondered what kind of gift he ought to get the emir. He hadn't gone by the souvenir table yet, because he already knew he couldn't afford anything on it that didn't look cheap. Maybe I can write up one of the better games, like the draw between Snape and Morris.

Once they had eaten, the emir rested in one of the overstuffed chairs in the lobby. Ron went over to check the standings. Snape was doing remarkably well so far, with two wins and one draw considering who his opponents were. Malfoy had won two games yesterday, but hadn't started any for today so far. Ron didn't recognize the names of his partners, though.

The Potions Master was playing some Russian in just a little while, but had only one game after that. That was strange. Why weren't there any evening games today?

"Don't forget about the reception tonight, Mr. Weasley." Snape's familiar voice came from behind.

"What reception?"

"The invitation should be in your packet up in the room. You don't have to stay for very long, especially if al-Hadoud leaves early, but you do need to show up."

Ron almost gulped. He had just enough clothes so he could wear fresh ones each day, but hadn't brought anything for a party. "Yes, sir," he said.

Then Snape strode off, no doubt on his way to his next opponent.

Ron went back to the emir after finding out when al-Hadoud's next game was. The Arab was asleep in the chair, but otherwise looked all right. Ron sat down and waited, checking his wristwatch every few minutes.

When there were ten minutes left, Ron gently shook the emir by the shoulder and said, "Sorry to wake you, sir, but it's almost time for the next game."

Al-Hadoud looked startled for a moment, and said something Ron didn't understand. Then he seemed to realize where he was, and said, "Ah, yes. The game. Who am I playing?"

"Gerrit of Germany. He's the one that Snape played last night. We talked about the game at breakfast."

"Yes. I know him." Al-Hadoud stood up and sighed. "Let us go meet him, then."

Ron didn't think the emir looked too steady. He made a note to fetch some tea and a sweet roll. The old man hadn't eaten much of his lunch today. Maybe I ought to run upstairs and talk to Rafi after this next game.

Once at the chessboard, though, the emir straightened up and seemed more awake. Gerrit glared at him a bit, clearly remembering him from Snape's game the night before.

Al-Hadoud drew white and set his pieces out in a pattern that Ron was beginning to understand, though not quite ready to emulate. It reminded him of the way Dumbledore had played, but not quite. I wonder how the emir and Professor Binns would play?

Gerrit's strategy seemed to be a little more effective in this game than it had with Snape, but Ron got the feeling that his cheerful air wasn't going to last much longer. Al-Hadoud blunted the right-side attack and replied with a few feelers of his own. Gerrit sent out a knight and bishop hunting team as he had before. It was interesting how he coordinated them.

The emir appeared to falter before that attack, only to lure the two pieces into a trap after a pawn sacrifice. After one piece was gone and the other in retreat, the old man briskly sent out his queen and a bishop to lead a charge on his left-hand side.

The German started looking unhappy then. He made a couple of moves that Ron thought were mistakes. Apparently al-Hadoud did, too, because his eyes brightened and he attacked with some pieces that he had managed to slide up through his pawn-screen in the middle.

It was by no means hopeless for black, at least Ron didn't think so, but then Gerrit lost his temper and resigned. He stalked off in rage, judging by the way he walked. Ron thought he knew what that looked like by now after many years in Potions class.

"Well," said the emir. "I certainly didn't expect that."

"Neither did I," said Ron. "I didn't think his side looked that terrible."

"Ah, I have an idea. Let us go record the results, and then see what you can do with what he left you."

Al-Hadoud and Ron went to the judges' table, only to find that Gerrit had already told them the result of the game. The emir told said, "I wish to teach this boy how to salvage bad situations if possible. May we play out the game?"

"Certainly," said one middle-aged man. "We don't have to reset the table today anyway, but we will have to clear it off in a couple of hours to start getting the room ready for the reception."

They went back to the tourney table and sat down. Ron studied black's position and didn't find it nearly as appalling as it could have been. Al-Hadoud had several pieces' advantage on him, but that could be taken care of. No, he'd been in worse shape in lots of games and still managed a draw.

He was tempted to pull a Filch to even the odds. And then he thought, Let's see how much I remember how Quirrell played. The emir might not expect that.

Ron began pulling his remaining pieces into a web of defense, ready for anything the emir might send him.

"I have not seen you use that style before," al-Hadoud said.

"I saw it during the Hogwarts tournament," Ron said. "Malfoy's father was worried that Draco wasn't good enough to win, and so he sent a ghost to help. Only, it took over Draco instead of just giving him advice. Professor Binns, the teacher who is a ghost, too, played Draco and made the ghost come out. The Bloody Baron and Nearly-Headless Nick grabbed him and took him away. Then Snape took Malfoy to the infirmary."

"How did it take this ghost teacher to get the other one to come out?"

"Not very long. They were barely into the game when Quirrell rose up, turban and all, and the two others grabbed him." Ron moved his remaining pawns into a net and then started sending them forward, supporting them with a bishop on one side and a rook on the other.

"Then the boy must not have let the ghost in willingly," the emir said, "or it would have taken stronger measures than the presence of another ghost to draw him out. I pity this Draco."

You wouldn't if you knew him, Ron thought. Then again, at least he didn't have a father who would sic Quirrell on him if he didn't play well enough. "Oh, well, he's Snape's favorite there at school." He carefully scanned the board. He didn't want to get too distracted.

"Hmm." Al-Hadoud moved his knight forward. "Your school seems very interesting."

That's not the half of it, Ron thought. If it got any more interesting, we'd all be dead! Of course, according to Trelawney they were going to die anyway. So far she'd been wrong.

He ended up losing anyway, but at least he fought for it. By the time their impromptu game was over, he was starving. The emir looked exhausted. "Do you want me to go upstairs and get Rafi?" Ron asked. "Or the ellyvator can take us up, if you need to go to the room."

"I think I shall rest a bit down here first," al-Hadoud said faintly.

Ron walked really close to the emir as they went over to the bigger chairs. If nothing else, he could break the old man's fall. He wished he remembered more of what Madam Pomfrey had taught him and the two others a couple of months ago. McGonagall had told them that they needed to know some basic mediwitch magic, just in case. She hadn't had to say in case of what.

Hermione had already known some Muggle first-aid, but had eagerly accepted every book Madam Pomfrey would lend her. Harry had been pretty hopeless, but had learned a few spells to stop bleeding and mend broken bones. Ron had gone in there knowing only a childhood charm for scrapes and cuts, but had learned what Harry had.

The mediwitch had cornered him away from the others afterwards, asking him to come in another weekend. "You might have the Touch like your mother does," she had said. "But I'm not quite sure. I need to see you when you're by yourself."

It was true that his playground charm had worked better for him than anyone else in the family, especially the summer that Ginny had somehow gotten a Muggle toy called a skateboard. She had come to him dozens of times then for skinned knees and elbows, especially after Mum had told her to stop playing with the wretched thing.

I wish I'd done what Madam Pomfrey had asked me, he thought. He might know something to help the emir now if he had. He finally got al-Hadoud settled in a plush chair, then ran up the stairs to consult the genie.

Rafi frowned once Ron told him how the emir was. "He is exerting himself too much again."

Ron apologized for keeping the emir in the game. The djinn shook his head. "He has a will of his own, and there is not much a boy your age can do about it. Take this bottle down to him after I have gone in it, and I will care for him from there."

"What about the reception tonight?"

"I hope I shall be able to talk him out of it. But I am but his slave, so who knows if he will listen?" Rafi sighed.

"I could ask Professor Snape if he has something that could help," Ron said.

"If he has a restorative suitable for an elderly man, I would not turn it down," Rafi said. "It would be easier than going to one of the emir's palaces for something. I have more than one bottle, you see, and I can go between them. Yet if young Snape has something already made up, it would be welcome."

It felt weird to hear people talk about the Potions Master that way. If he remembered what al-Hadoud had said right, Snape was actually a year younger than Lupin or Sirius Black. He sure didn't look it.

Ron nodded to the genie. Rafi somehow leaped into the bottle, and left Ron holding it. He quickly went down the stairs and brought it to the emir, who still looked sick as he sat in the chair in the lobby corner.

The old man grimaced, obviously recognizing the bottle. "I see that Rafi is going to insist that I rest with him a while," he said.

"Sorry, sir," Ron said.

"Well, we might as well go." Al-Hadoud stood up with an obvious effort. Rafi came out of the bottle, then held the emir's hand and somehow took the old man with him going back into the bottle.

Ron walked carefully up the stairs, trying not to shake the container too much. Once he got to the room, he realized that he'd left the door locked. A beam of light suddenly emerged from the bottle and the door opened. He went inside and set the bottle on the table where it had been before.

Rafi leaped out first, and bustled around preparing tea. Once everything was ready, he folded his arms and chanted a spell in a language like the one Ron had heard Snape and al-Hadoud talking in when they'd first met.

The emir appeared, looking dazed. Rafi caught al-Hadoud as he fell and carried him to the bedroom. The djinn returned and said, "Thank you for bringing me. Come here again two hours after sunset, in case he recovers more quickly than I expect."

Ron agreed and left the room. He went back to his own to look for the invitation. He didn't have anything fancy to change into, so he just stuffed the pasteboard in his pocket and left it at that.

He went back down to the tourney floor to see if he could find Snape and ask about the potion. As he passed by the restaurant, a boy asked him if he could take a tea-tray to a player named Jinowitz. "Only players are allowed on the tourney floor when the games are going. I thought he would stick around long enough to pick this up after he signed for it, but he didn't. You can split the tip with me if you'll take care of this."

Ron had the boy show him which player was Jinowitz, then took the tray. The man, who was busy with a game, gave him a few Knuts and thanked him. As he spotted Snape and walked towards him, he passed right by Gerrit of Germany again. The man grimaced and said, "Here's a Sickle if you stay away from me! You're nothing but bad luck!"

He cheerfully accepted the money and moved on. Ron noticed other players his age or younger were going back and forth with trays. Wouldn't it be nice if he could pick up a little change? He might even be able to afford the emir's gift from the souvenir table this way. But he'd better check with the Potions Master about al-Hadoud first.

Snape was in the middle of a game, but appeared to be winning it handily. Not long after Ron got there, the other man tipped over his king and left without a word.

"Well? What is it, Mr. Weasley?"

Ron was glad Snape had won. He couldn't imagine asking this favor if he'd lost. "The emir isn't feeling well. Did you bring a potion that might help him? Rafi said something suitable for an elderly man would be all right."

Snape scowled. "So I am good enough for that. Fortunately, I did bring something that should work. Let's go up to the room. You wouldn't be able to get to it, but you'll have to take it to al-Hadoud."

Ron felt kind of bad about that. "It was Rafi who asked, not al-Hadoud."

"I know." Snape strode off, obviously expecting Ron to keep up.

Once in the room, the professor disappeared into his bedroom and emerged carrying a flask. "This shouldn't do any harm unless the emir overexerts himself. Tell Rafi it's a tisane, not a tincture. Do you know the difference?"

Pop quiz time, Ron thought. "Um...a tincture has alcohol for a base, right? And a tisane doesn't."

"Correct, though there's more to it than that. But Rafi will want to know. And when you get back, you'll need to prepare for the reception. If the potion works the way it's supposed to, you'll probably be with him. I suspect he'll want to introduce you to a few people. You have been doing well."

A compliment from Snape? Ron knew there was something wrong. "Um, thank you, sir. So have you."

"Don't let it go to your head. You still need to work on your middle name. That's where Petrosian got you this morning," Snape replied crisply. "Now take this potion over to the emir."

Ron obeyed. Rafi let him in, and Ron told him what his teacher had said about the potion.

"Ah," said the genie. He opened the flask and sniffed it. "This should help my master."

"Snape also said that al-Hadoud shouldn't do too much just because he feels better," Ron said. Those weren't the exact words, but it was close enough.

"I will see to that. The emir will wish to have you accompany him to the reception tonight, but tomorrow you will have to play your games in the morning by yourself. Come back in an hour."

Ron went back to the room. Snape had taken the bathroom, so he went back to his bedroom to see if he had anything he could change into. He was so tired of being poor and making do with hand-me-downs! At least Ginny got some new stuff every once in a while.

If he changed into a clean shirt tonight he'd have to wear it tomorrow, or run out before the tournament was over. He'd seen the laundry chart in the bathroom, but wouldn't dare run up those kind of expenses even if he could sign for it. Not at those prices!

Well, if the emir wasn't going to be with him tomorrow morning, it wouldn't matter so much as long as he aired out the shirt overnight on a separate hanger. He hoped. Ron shook out his best robe and brushed it down, wiped his shoes down with a dirty sock, and decided the rest of him was all right. After combing his hair, anyway.

The bathroom was finally free. Ron ducked into it and cleaned up a little more. There wasn't really time for another shower by now, but he felt fresher. He clipped his badge on the robe and left. Snape was already gone.

Once over there, al-Hadoud was sitting in a chair in the outer room, and looked much better. He said something in Arabic to Rafi, and then nodded at Ron.

They went down the ellyvator again. The playing floor was clear of chess tables now, and was set up for a party. Lucius Malfoy was holding court in one section, though he looked annoyed and kept glancing over to where Snape was standing. The Potions Master was in green robes with silver buttons and trim, with dark pants, white shirt, and dark green vest. Ron almost whistled out loud in admiration. Sure, his teacher was still a greasy git, but there was nothing wrong with his clothes.

And there was a knot of people around him, only a little smaller than the one around Malfoy. As soon as al-Hadoud entered the room, though, several broke away from other groups, including some from around Draco's father, to greet the emir. A babble of different languages broke out and Ron was soon completely lost. The best he could do was to find al-Hadoud a comfortable chair and run tea and cakes for people. Nobody paid any attention to him at all. Under the circumstances it didn't bother him.

He was glad he'd brought his watch, though, and reminded himself to talk to the emir about his medicine in a couple of hours. Ron stood around for a bit, saw the old Arab was deep in conversation with someone else in Arabic, and wandered off. Where was the boy who had sent him after Jinowitz? He hadn't meant to run off with money that belonged to someone else.

Then he saw the little Russian boy kicking his heels on a chair too high for him while his father was talking to someone else. Ron went over to keep the child company. Fortunately he had some of the latest toys from Fred and George that he'd left in his school robe pocket. It was fun teaching the smaller boy how to play Exploding Snap. It was noisy enough already that hardly anybody noticed, really. Ron showed off some of the tricks as well (though he thought the Canary Creams might be overdoing it in public), and Konstatin was awe-struck. "You mean your brothers own a store and they let you try them out?"

It had just opened last summer, and was now only going part-time, of course. "Sure. Fred and George make sure I show them around school so they can find out if anybody likes them before they make or buy too many of a new trick. But I have more than two brothers. Percy is the next oldest. He's in the Ministry is really boring these days. Bill is a curse-breaker for Gringott's Bank, and Charlie hunts dragons in Romania."

"Is there anybody younger than you?"

"Yes. I have a sister named Ginny a year behind me." Ron was still angry at himself for failing to protect her during her first year at Hogwarts. He should have watched over her more and noticed how strange she'd looked. Ginny would have told him about the diary if he'd paid her more attention. He tried to do better now, though he sometimes forgot. He'd better send her an owl tonight or tomorrow with a letter just for her.

"I don't have any brothers or sisters," Konstatin said wistfully. "And Papa and I never play anything but chess."

"You go ahead and keep these, then. Just take them to school and tell your friends about Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. You can owl me if anybody wants to buy more of them. I'm Ron Weasley, and if you send me something at Hogwarts, I'll get it."

"Thank you!"

Ron checked his watch. He'd better go see if the emir wanted anything. "I'm with al-Hadoud tonight, and I'm supposed to get things for him. Can I owl you sometime?" He didn't normally hang around with younger kids, but Konstatin looked lonely.

"I'll send you one, if Papa will let me."

"Tell him you want to play chess by owl with me. I don't think I'm going to win the cup, but I'm doing well enough. You can even tell him that you're mad you didn't beat me and want another try!"

The boy laughed. "How do you know it's not true?"

"Hey, maybe I want another chance to beat you, too! But I better go." They shook hands.

Just as Ron reached the outskirts of the crowd around al-Hadoud, a cultured voice said, "You have a knack for making useful friends, Mr. Weasley. First Mr. Potter, then the emir, and now a boy who will likely become great in the chess world someday."

Ron turned around to face Lucius Malfoy, who was smiling in a way that implied they were in some kind of conspiracy together. "He was sitting all by himself. That's no fun. I don't make friends because I think I can use them."

"Isn't it amazing how it works out for you anyway?" Draco's father looked pleased at the thought. "Believe me, I am complimenting you."

Ron gritted his teeth so he wouldn't say something that would get him into trouble. "I have to see if the emir needs anything, sir."

"Oh, of course! I shan't interfere. But just let me warn you that ignoring my invitation may have consequences you don't like."

"I'm sorry if I have offended you, sir," Ron said, though he wasn't. "Professor Snape introduced me to the emir, and I do need to get back to him."

"Certainly," said Malfoy. This time he glanced with annoyance at Snape who was across the room, still with his own small knot of people around him.

Ron took the opportunity to escape into the crowd around the emir. If Snape couldn't manage Lord Malfoy, nobody could. Al-Hadoud seemed glad to see Ron, and even remembered to use English to talk to him.

"Is there anything I can bring you, sir?"

"Ah, the lost years of my youth when I could talk until dawn and still play chess all the next day!" said the emir.

Ron made a show of looking through his pockets and coming up empty. "Sorry, sir, can't find them," he said with a smile. "I must have left them back in the room."

Al-Hadoud applauded. "Then you will have to make do with more tea and some honey cakes," he said.

"I can manage those all right." Ron went to one of the buffet tables. Snape was away from any group now at one end of a table, talking to a woman who looked vaguely familiar. Ron was startled at the way the Potions Master was using his voice. He didn't know his teacher could make it sound like, oh, like silk the older man was trying to wrap around someone. Then he remembered the girl he'd played earlier today. The woman must be Glenna Jefferson, Lisa's mother. And she was obviously pleased at whatever Snape was telling her.

Ron quickly picked another pot of tea and a small plate of food for the emir. It felt strange to see Snape acting so differently than he did at Hogwarts. What al-Hadoud had said about teachers having to avoid scandal suddenly began to make sense. I'm surprised the Headmaster let Gildylocks carry on the way he did in second year, Ron thought. Of course, since he was the Dark Arts professor, maybe Dumbledore knew he wouldn't last. Since Lupin is back for the second time, he might actually make it past this year. And even though Lupin was a lot nicer than Snape, him being a werewolf probably slowed some of the girls down. He hoped.

He served the emir, who looked happy to see him. Ron decided to stay by the old man for the rest of the evening. He wanted to avoid Lucius Malfoy, and he definitely didn't want to have to think about Snape chatting up women Mum's age.

Ron kept checking his watch, though. When he saw it'd been two hours, and then some, he leaned over and asked, "Are you feeling all right, sir? Rafi is worried that you might do too much."

Al-Hadoud sighed. "I am well, but Rafi is right. And you have been up late too much already." The emir spoke to those around him. "I am old, gentlemen, and you must forgive my departure. The years have not been kind to me."

The others protested, but began to drift away. Ron stood close to the elderly Arab, but he seemed to be walking all right. But he took the emir to the ellyvator instead of to the stairs. He was getting used to it by now, and hoped al-Hadoud didn't mind it too much.

Rafi was glad to see both of them. The emir invited Ron to stay for a bit. Ron shook his head. "I'm so far behind on homework I'll never catch up!" he said. "And I want to go over that game I lost this morning. You pointed out what I should I have done differently, and I want to try something."

"Then we shall see you in the morning," al-Hadoud said. Rafi shot him a grateful look.

Ron was glad to sit down in his room and just do nothing for a little while. Then he remembered he needed to send an owl to Ginny, as well as to Harry. He wrote his sister a quick note, then looked at his homework as well as his game notes. Overwhelmed by it all, he just hauled the papers back to his room and got ready for bed. I wish Harry and Hermione were here, he thought. Even with Snape not being too horrible and being around al-Hadoud I miss them. There didn't seem any point in staying up and looking for adventure without the other two.


Well, Albus, you ought to be happy, Snape thought. I am enjoying myself tonight. The reception was going just as he could wish. Al-Hadoud had been welcomed after his long stay away, the Weasley boy had gotten some of the reflected glory, and Malfoy was in a snit because for once he wasn't the center of attention. What more could one ask?

It was pleasant to drop the sneering mask for once. He would never be the life of any party; but it was a comfort to know there were other things in the wizarding world besides Voldemort and death.

It wouldn't last, of course. But he could savor this evening all the more for knowing how rare it was. Snape circulated, listening to gossip of the chess world. A few people actually sought him out, apparently impressed by his victories so far. They seemed happy to pass on anything they knew about opponents he would meet later. As far as he could tell, they had nothing to gain that he could think of by doing so.

He had been pleased when he saw the Weasley boy amusing young Smerdlov. How many evenings had he spent on similar chairs while his Uncle Gerasius had basked in his nephew's victories? "Ten points to Gryffindor," he'd muttered softly to himself. Fortunately the boy had been able to break away from Malfoy without any need to intervene. And without losing his temper, too. There was more to the boy than appeared on the surface.

It had been fun to watch Mr. Weasley immediately change course and head back to the emir when he'd been talking with the woman from the States. Perhaps he could take advantage of the boy's embarrassment a couple of nights from now.

Glenna Jefferson had obviously been ready for a little adventure of her own. Unfortunately he wasn't going to be able to oblige her. Though he'd gone through more women than Longbottom did cauldrons shortly after Lucius' marriage to Narcissa, Medea Lestrange had cured him of married ones. No doubt he had kept himself out of all sorts of trouble that way.

Of course, by then it had been too late. He wondered quizzically what might have happened if he had owled al-Hadoud after the Shrieking Shack incident, instead of accepting Malfoy's false comfort. What kind of life might he had? Then again, perhaps the emir might have brushed off the attempt on his life the way Dumbledore had. A few days under the care of the older man at the All-Wizard's Tournament thirty years ago and some letters afterwards obviously meant nothing to the Arab now.

Snape considered the Weasley boy again. He would have to find a way to get him to use his brain for something besides Quidditch or chess once they were back at Hogwarts. If nothing else, he could make a few peevish comments to McGonagall, who had played the boy as well. Her academic standards were almost as high as his own, and she might well prove an ally in this quest. They had all let those vacant blue eyes fool them for much too long.

He drained his drink when Malfoy approached him. "Lucius," he said. "What a pleasure to see you here tonight."

"Snape," Malfoy said with a scowl. "Why haven't you let Weasley accept my invitation?"

"Don't frown like that," Snape said in a lighter tone. "That's my job. Seriously, I didn't think you wanted the boy underfoot. I knew al-Hadoud wouldn't mind. You can't imagine what kind of trouble the brat can get into if left on his own. You despise the family anyway."

Lucius Malfoy stopped to think for a moment, though it was clearly an effort. "I didn't mean I wanted to babysit the boy, just show him around a bit."

"Frankly, I doubt you would enjoy it much."

"I was just surprised he beat Draco."

Snape wasn't. It was fairly obvious that Lucius' son played chess to please his father, and not for love of the game. He did well anyway, but only through application and memory. Weasley, on the other hand, would rather play than eat, which was saying something for a boy his age. He was obviously in his element here. Now, if one should hand Draco a pad of paper and some paint, one need not worry about him for hours thereafter. Snape had gleefully confiscated the plague of supposedly anonymous cartoons, and still chuckled over them in private-even the one with the big-nosed snake stuck in Moaning Myrtle's. Draco had cleaned a lot of cauldrons that weekend, and it had taken constant vigilance to keep the boy from etching designs on their bottoms.

"Sons do not always inherit the gifts or enthusiasms of their fathers, Lucius." And in Draco's case, he clearly took after Narcissa's side, which had several noted artists. Of course, Malfoy's towering ambition would never let him listen. "Draco is talented in his own right. It is best sometimes to step back and let a child discover his own gift." He was rather proud at his restrained tone of voice, given that he was still angry at Lucius. How dare he force a ghost on his own son just for a damn game! At least now that idiot Quirrell can't bother anyone else.

Malfoy blinked, as if feeling the edges of his wrath. "You know what he's going to have to do next summer," Lucius said quietly. "You keep telling me he isn't old enough. But the touch of a ghost is nothing compared to what he'll have to endure for the sake of our Lord."

Snape's left arm began aching, as if he needed another reminder. How can I keep Draco from having to suffer this? he wondered. "This is not a good place to speak of this," he said.

"You're right. We'll talk about it at New Years, then. I'm certain the others who will be there will agree with me," Lucius said with an unpleasant smile. "You will accept my invitation, I hope?"

"Of course. I always do, you know." New Year's Eve at Malfoy Manor was one tradition he would rather give up; but he had more than himself to think about.

"Ah." Malfoy smiled again, this time more graciously. "And I must congratulate you on the showing you've made so far. Perhaps we'll meet on the chessboard here as well."

Snape nodded, smiling on the inside. They had played at Malfoy Manor on occasion. At times he had carefully lost hard-fought games for reasons of his own. He hadn't quite decided what he would do if they met on the table here. Keeping Lucius in a good temper had literally saved his life several times, but right now he was not inclined to be charitable.

The two of them separated. Malfoy joined another group and quickly began to dominate it, while Snape stood by himself at one of the picked-over buffet tables. Even here he wasn't free from the shadow of Voldemort. Al-Hadoud was right to shun him.


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