Chapter Thirteen: Putting Away the Pieces
"Malfoy Manor?" Ron asked. "But how do you mess up a Floo?"
"Easily. A few coins to someone there at the hotel. Perhaps he distracted the wizard in charge of it and reset it himself. I'm just surprised he worked so quickly." Snape looked disgusted.
"Or he did it last night. You wanted to go to Hogwarts right away when the first antidote didn't work."
The Potions Master blinked. "That's a possibility, too. Playing this much chess has certainly improved the quality of your thinking. Except for this morning, of course."
Ron ducked his head. Part of him was still wistful over losing so many Galleons.
Then Snape did something really strange, and rang the bell at the gate. A servant answered it. "Yes, who is it? Oh, Professor Snape! Lord Malfoy said we might be expecting you fairly soon."
"Unfortunately I can't stay. Might I oblige you for the loan of one of the carriages?" Snape showed several Galleons in his hand. "Your master is still at the tournament, but he won't be in a good mood when he gets back. He just lost a game and didn't look pleased about it."
"Lady Malfoy will be disappointed not to see you."
"Not this time. Since I'm the one who beat him, I doubt my presence here when he returns would improve his temper. Lady Malfoy has seen our arguments before, and has told us both what she thinks about them. It would be a favor to her to see me on our way."
The servant reached through the gate, took the money, and disappeared. In just a few moments a horseless carriage arrived. The man piled up the luggage for them, though Ron picked one bag to keep with him. Snape gave the man yet another golden coin. Ron gulped to see so much money thrown around, but had enough of his wits left to realize how much danger they were in.
Soon they were on their way to Hogwarts. "This will take longer," Snape said, "but it'll be safer than trying to Apparate everything all the way. A public floo in Diagon Alley should be all right, especially if I'm rested enough to check it myself.
"Now that we have a little time, Mr. Weasley, would you care to explain yourself?"
Ron began, knowing there was no way to get out of it. "I was running for tips on the tourney floor when Malfoy gave me a whole Galleon to be a bad-luck charm against Gerrit of Germany. The German lost twice so far when I was around, and the other night he tossed me a coin to go away. Then Draco's father beat him, and started talking about how well I was playing. I shouldn't have stayed. I know how awful he is. But he was different, I don't know how to explain it."
"Grown men have fallen to the Malfoy charm when Lucius bothers to use it," Snape said grimly. "Continue."
"Then he suggested a game, and some money to make it interesting. I never meant for the stakes to get all the way to twenty Galleons. But with three to one odds?" Ron shook his head. "I know I was stupid."
"Yes, you were. You do not ever want to be in debt to a Malfoy!" Snape thundered.
"I...I was in real trouble when you got there," Ron said. "I don't know how I would have told Mum or Dad if I'd lost."
"No doubt Malfoy was hoping that you wouldn't so he could use your debt against you. And possibly against your father. I can just imagine how he would have had you pay it back."
"He said that maybe I could tutor Draco in chess," Ron said, knowing how lame it sounded.
"And how long would it have taken before either father or son started asking questions about your friend Potter?"
"Oh!" Ron hadn't thought of that. "But I'd never--!"
"You would be surprised, Mr. Weasley. And there might even be questions about Miss Granger. Lord Malfoy is not pleased that she continues to get higher scores than his son in all their classes. You know what he is capable of, even against his own son."
"Yes. I should not have been surprised that a Gryffindor vain of his prowess would try to bite off more than he could chew. But it could have been worse. He could have let you win."
"What?" Ron didn't understand that at all.
"Sixty Galleons is a lot for someone your age. You might have liked having that kind of money to spend, and Lord Malfoy undoubtedly has ways of helping you earn more. He likes finding out what people want and giving it to them. There is more than one way of being in debt to a Malfoy." Snape seemed to be looking inward.
Ron bit his tongue. The Potions Master continued. "You are extremely lucky that it turned out the way it did. Your little gesture in returning the other coin, though, will enrage him. Don't be surprised if he tries again."
"He might think he still had me in his pocket if I'd kept it," Ron said.
"Granted. But it's just the sort of foolish gesture your father tends to make, which led to the financial situation you're so dissatisfied with. What were your plans for the money if you had won? Did you have any?"
"There are worse things than to be like my dad!"
"About time you realized it. But answer my question."
Ron looked down at the floor of the carriage. "Mainly for Ginny. I can always borrow what I need from one of my brothers, but she's a girl. She has to have new stuff. But there's never enough. She never says anything, but she hates wearing the same dress more than once a week, even with the robes. I know she says she has to study on Hogsmeade weekends, but it's really because she doesn't want her friends to see she doesn't have any money."
"Why is this your worry, Mr. Weasley? She has two parents and several other brothers."
"It is up to me! She won't complain to Mum and Dad. Charlie and Bill are gone, and Percy's too busy being important. Fred and George worry some, but their idea to keep her occupied is to have her work in the shop. For one thing, they don't have to pay her.
"She almost died her first year because I wasn't watching her, Professor! If I had paid any attention, she might have told me about the diary. 'Mione--I mean, Miss Granger--might not have been petrified. And I should have gone down to the Chamber with Harry. Gildylocks wasn't going anywhere. I hate being such a coward sometimes!"
"But that was several years ago." Snape didn't sound so angry now.
"But Voldemort's back! Harry told me how ugly he was. What if he wants to become Tom Riddle again? Maybe he doesn't need the diary any more. Maybe he only needs Ginny." Please tell me I'm full of it, Ron thought. Yell at me for being an idiot, or something.
Instead his teacher's eyes went narrow and his lips thin, as if he'd spotted a nasty trap on the chessboard he hadn't noticed before. "I shall speak to the Headmaster about this," Snape said quietly.
The carriage continued, though Ron didn't recognize the road or the countryside around them. Then again, he wasn't really sure where Malfoy Manor was, or how far from Hogwarts they were now. He wished that Snape wasn't so quiet. He didn't like getting chewed out, but that would be better than wondering what might happen to his sister. Having these thoughts in his own head was bad enough, but having the Potions Master take them seriously was worse.
The road started looking funny. The sky went all gray and dark, but not like a storm. "Where are we, Professor?"
"We're going a different way than anyone expects," Snape said. "I don't believe that Lucius knows this route." His face looked pale and drawn, as if his arm was hurting again.
"Um...are we making any stops?" It'd been a long time since breakfast, and almost as long since he'd last visited the loo.
"In a couple of hours."
Well, Ron wasn't going to argue when hearing that tone of voice from the Potions Master. He opened up the bag that had been left inside and pulled out one of his school books. He also found a Canary Cream and a couple of chocolate frogs that he'd missed during the week. He was about to devour both of the frogs, then remembered his manners. "Chocolate frog, Professor?"
"Yes, thank you," Snape said unexpectedly.
Ron handed it over, then realized that his teacher had probably slept through breakfast and had the game on top of it. He decided not to push his luck by asking for the card, though.
"What was that other candy?"
"That was a Canary Cream. Fred and George make those," Ron said, and explained how they worked. "I gave a lot of those to Konstantin to show his friends when he gets home."
Snape smiled sourly for a just a moment. "That reminds me how I cured Black of getting into my book bag," he said. "I left a tube labeled pimple cream in there, and he took it. It was pimple cream all right, but not the way he thought it was."
Ron figured it out, and grinned. "Brilliant! My brothers could sell a million of those!"
"The formula is not difficult, Mr. Weasley. I suggest you do some research."
I bet Hermione could find it for me, Ron thought.
"I also suggest that you do the research, and not add to Miss Granger's study schedule," Snape added acidly.
How did he do that? Ron wondered. He nodded in hasty agreement and pretended to read his book for a little bit.
The Potions Master slumped against a corner, obviously exhausted. Ron tried to make sense out of the chapter about the goblin wars he was supposed to have read two weeks ago, but it was no use. Reading was hard for him anyway, and the motion of the carriage made the letters bounce around even worse than usual.
Something suddenly occurred to him, and his mouth acted before his brain could stop it. "Professor...what did Malfoy offer you?" He realized what he'd said and thought, Oh Merlin, I am so dead now!
Snape blinked, coming up out of a half-doze. "You don't want to know, Mr. Weasley. You really, really don't want to know."
A while later Ron had one last question that wouldn't keep. "How many points have I lost for Gryffindor this trip?" he asked in a quiet voice.
"Oh, that. You're still twenty-five ahead. You would have been thirty-five, but you lost ten for being an idiot this morning. But this journey isn't over yet."
Ron hastily turned back to his book.
At lunch, Arthur Weasley came home to eat. He sat by his wife and watched the family clock. They both breathed a sigh of relief when Ron's hand clicked over from Danger to Traveling.
"I didn't think the tournament was over till tonight," Molly said.
"It isn't. Let me turn on the wireless and see if they have any news." Arthur had heard rumors at the Ministry this morning about another Death-Eater meeting, this time in the same city as the tournament. Of course he didn't say anything about it to Molly, but he disliked that kind of coincidence. That bastard Snape! If he's put my son in danger, I'll find a way to get him sacked!
"And now the world of chess," burbled the commentator on the radio. "Experts are still talking about the grudge match between Lord Malfoy and Hogwarts Professor Severus Snape. The professor's unexpected and brilliant victory put him further up the ladder. Lord Malfoy had no comment on his loss. Hogwarts is represented well this year at both levels, since one of its students, Ronald Weasley, placed fourth overall. Actually, his final game was an extraordinary draw against young Smerdlov of Ekaterinburg."
Both Weasleys cheered loudly for their son.
"Many people thought we wouldn't hear much from Hogwarts this year since McGonagall was unable to attend," said another commentator.
"Well, they were wrong. If they had checked the records, they would have found that Severus Snape won the cup as a juvenile for Hogwarts almost thirty years ago. Let's hope he doesn't leave again."
"Indeed. In his first few games at this tournament, he drew against Morris of the States and beat Biggerson of Sweden, which certainly wasn't the way to bet. However, the professor has not shown up for his next scheduled game. That one has been declared a forfeit. One hopes we will see him for his last game against al-Hadoud. We've owled Hogwarts itself, and the Headmaster expressed his pride in both entrants. Obviously, both he and Professor McGonagall encourage the game at the school judging by this year's players?"
Arthur Weasley wondered if the rumors about the Death-Eater meeting and Snape's departure had any connection. At least it seems he's getting Ron out of there. A shame he gave up his own games to do it, though. He had never liked the man much, but he could bring himself to approve of anyone who set his priorities the way the Potions Master had.
He sat down to eat, though he knew he couldn't tell Molly any of it. She'd send Snape a month's worth of Howlers if she thought the teacher had put Ron into any danger. Not half of what I'd do myself! Arthur thought wryly, though he realized just how likely it was he'd still be alive after trying anything on the irascible wizard.
But he was bristling for no reason. Ron was most likely fine now.
Ron was embarrassed that he'd fallen asleep in the carriage over the history book. At least that was probably why he was slumped in a chair in the Headmaster's office. It appeared to be fairly dark, with only a couple of candles giving any light.
"You went by that road? Did you really think you were in that much danger?" Dumbledore asked, obviously talking to Snape. Ron kept his eyes closed to listen in better.
"I have learned never to underestimate Malfoy's sense of humor," Snape said acidly. "It was driven home last night that I can't take the same risks encumbered that I normally do alone."
"It turned out just as well."
"True. Weasley was more assistance than I expect. I believe we have all underestimated him. It's that vacant look when he's trying to get out of something, I suspect. From now on I think I shall give his work more attention."
Ron gulped. He got as much as he wanted already!
"It couldn't hurt. If nothing else, Mr. Longbottom will likely be grateful for anything that distracts you from him."
The Potions Master laughed harshly. "My vigilance is the only thing that keeps him from blowing up the dungeons."
"The boy does seem to have a special gift," Dumbledore conceded. "I still think you're too hard on him. But I digress. How do you think Malfoy will react to losing the chess game?"
"I'll find out at New Year's, I daresay. But it was still worth it. I've known how to beat him for years, but it seemed unwise. It was probably wrong of me to lose my temper the way I did. Still, I can attribute any spite of his at the next meeting to the game, and not to other things."
"Must you go to Malfoy Manor then?"
"If I am invited, yes. It would be suspicious if I stayed away. Besides, it does Draco good to see that not everyone is afraid of his father. I am in favor of anything that persuades the boy to think for himself!
"I am also afraid that Lucius is lying about waiting till next summer for Draco to take the Dark Mark. Lady Malfoy is quite worried, too. I may be able to prevent it, but only if I am there."
This isn't the first time he's talked about Draco's mother like he knows her pretty well, Ron thought. The gate guard didn't seem surprised when Snape mentioned her, either, like it was normal. Weird.
"You are taking a grave chance, Severus."
"Almost as much as the one you took on me. That's why I wanted to meet with Karkaroff. He might have been ready to think for himself, too."
"Well," said the Headmaster, who sounded pleased. Then his voice changed. "Your left arm appears to be hurting again. Surely you aren't being summoned again so soon."
"It's not what you think. I did see Igor, only to have him greet me with a poisoned knife. The poison mimicked one that I thought I knew. Unfortunately, he knows his potions almost as well as I do, and it turned out to be a different one calculated to react badly to the antidote I used. Mr. Weasley obtained the correct antidote through his friendship with al-Hadoud and Rafi. It's healing nicely now."
Ron was astounded to be given so much credit. Then Dumbledore sighed. "You will go see Poppy and have it looked at. That is not a request."
Snape sighed right back. "If you say so, Albus."
"But before you go, you'll have something to eat. I know you spent less time on the road than the hours that passed outside of it, but somehow I suspect you've been skipping meals again."
"I'm not going to argue this time," Snape said. "Oh, and Mr. Weasley, you can stop pretending to be asleep. I hope you got an earful. The next time you're annoyed with young Mr. Malfoy, remember what sort of father he has, and what sort you have. You have made that comparison once already."
Ron sat all the way up and grudgingly nodded. "But what about my sister?" he asked.
"He has a valid concern about her, but I would rather talk about it later," Snape said, as he scowled at a house-elf bringing in a tray of food.
"Ah. The two of you had best eat, then."
The Headmaster sat in silence as Ron and the Potions Master tucked into a late supper. Ron was starving, and barely noticed what was on his plate before devouring it.
"Now, off with both of you. And don't forget to see Madam Pomfrey, Severus. You know what she's like--wants to collect the entire set."
Snape rolled his eyes and left. Ron hesitated for a moment, then said, "The whole tournament was great, sir. Thank you for letting me go."
"I am not the only person you should thank, Mr. Weasley. You aren't the only one who will have a great deal of work to make up because of this trip." Dumbledore smiled.
Ron sighed. "I know, sir. I'm just not looking forward to the next Potions class when he's going to be yelling at everyone again."
"Many people have survived it. You will, too. Now go on to bed. I'm sure your friends are sitting up waiting for you."
"Yes, sir!" Ron took off for the Gryffindor common room, with a brief stop at a loo, any loo, on the way. Once with his friends he could really talk! Well, about almost everything. He wasn't sure he wanted Harry or Hermione to find out how stupid he'd been about money again.
The next night at supper McGonagall announced the results from the All-Wizards' Tournament. "In the juvenile division," she said proudly, "Mr. Ronald Weasley of Gryffindor placed fourth, a fine showing for a first tournament. I am also pleased to announce that Mr. Weasley participated in the juvenile game which was chosen as the most interesting. His match against young Mr. Smerdlov shows great promise for the future. Three cheers for Mr. Weasley and Gryffindor!"
Most of the room erupted into shouts and clapping. Then McGonagall became sober. "I am also proud to announce the results for the general competition. Our own Professor Snape placed fifth overall, though it has been over twenty years since he was at any tournament."
Slytherin went wild, then, though the cheers from the rest of the room were more subdued. Ron clapped enthusiastically, though, and eyeballed Harry and Hermione into joining him. He was the reason Snape had forfeited his last two games, which might have placed the Potions Master higher yet.
"Hogwarts has done doubly well this year. Professor Snape's victory over Lord Malfoy was chosen as the most interesting game among the adult participants. Three cheers for our own Potions Master!"
Ron noticed she failed to say and Slytherin, but wasn't surprised. The Snakes whooped and hollered anyway, though Draco was obviously torn. No wonder. Slytherin had won, but his father had lost.
It could have been a lot worse, Ron thought. I could have had to tutor the Ferret in chess!
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