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The Potion Master's Muse Challenges > The Highly Unlikely Challenge

The Quest by smoke [Reviews - 22]


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The usual disclaimers apply.
Much gratitude to my Beta – Marianne.

~~


The Quest

Severus Snape was having a seriously bad day. There was nothing unusual in this, but it didn’t stop him from feeling an extra measure of resentment toward the world.

The new class of first years was even more thick-headed than last year’s. He had not thought it possible, but it seemed to be true. A little Hufflepuff had melted her cauldron half way through her second class, beating even Longbottom’s record. He had deducted twenty points, given her detention with Filch and she had burst into tears. The rest of the students had sat in horrified silence as he deducted another five points, then banished her from the room for the remainder of the class.

And now Dumbledore wanted to talk to him. Oh, joy! His day was complete.

He entered the Headmaster’s office to find McGonagall, Granger and Potter in attendance as well. Not even lunchtime, and now this. The only consolation was that Potter looked as unhappy as he himself felt.

He nodded a curt acknowledgment to the room in general, and slouched in the one remaining chair.

“Kind of you to join us so promptly, Severus.” The Headmaster’s voice was mild. “Care for tea?”

“No thank you.” It was ground out in a barely civil tone from between clenched teeth. Dumbledore seemed not to notice.

“Severus, as you know, there was, at one time, a second Philosopher’s Stone.”

Snape nodded and tried not to fidget. “Lost, I believe.”

“That was what was believed. Because of its importance, I have been researching it quite thoroughly. Actually, Miss Granger has been of invaluable assistance in this matter, taking the investigation to America last summer under the guise of a family vacation.”

Snape was surprised, but did not let it show. His surprise was in Dumbledore’s allowing a student to undertake something as potentially dangerous as arousing the suspicion of a second stone’s existence. He was not surprised that the student was Granger. Her skill, thoroughness and tenacity – not to mention her intelligence -- were certainly well suited to the project. Insufferable know-it-all.

“We know the first part of the story. Nicholas Flamel lost the stone while hiking in the Pyrenees. It was found, centuries later, by a Portuguese peasant who traded it to a merchant for a wagon and a pair of oxen. The merchant then traded it to a ship captain for passage to the Americas. The ship was sunk off the coast of Maryland, the stone believed lost with it. However,” Dumbledore took a sip of his tea, “this is where Miss Granger’s research came in. She found evidence to support the idea that the stone was not lost. The ship that carried it was set upon by pirates who looted and sank it, killing almost all aboard. The one survivor was a cabin boy who was taken on by the pirate captain, and served with him for years. This boy kept a journal. The pirate captain had a long life – as pirate’s lives go – and worked the entire East Coast of North America. His home was New England, where he was reputed to have buried a lot of his booty on some of the islands off the coast of Maine.”

“Fascinating,” Snape shifted in his chair, “I suppose this is relevant? To something?”

Dumbledore ignored his rudeness. “Through diligent research, Miss Granger believes she has found the location where the stone was hidden. I feel we need to retrieve it.” He looked pointedly at Snape.

“I beg your pardon?” Snape sat up straight. “You can’t be suggesting that I go haring off on some wild goose chase.” He got up and started to pace. “Excuse me, but I believe I am the Potions Master at this school, not some...treasure hunter. I have classes to teach.”

“Sit down, Severus, please.” Dumbledore held up a placating hand. Snape settled back into his seat, but continued to scowl. “I do mean for you to go. You and Mr. Potter, as a team.”

“What?!” The two in question bolted to their feet.

“I’m not going anywhere with him!” Harry’s voice was strident.

“For once in your life, hold you tongue!” Snape hissed at Harry. Then, with an effort, he seated himself, took a deep breath, and leveled a narrow-eyed look at the Headmaster. “Please explain, Headmaster.”

Dumbledore hid a smile behind his teacup.

“Thank you, Severus. It seems that the pirate captain had a first mate who was from St. Thomas. The man was a “witch doctor” as they were called at the time. We would simply have called him a wizard. Between them, he and the captain devised a method of guarding the treasure that has confounded Muggles to this day. It is accepted as fact that treasure is on one Oak Island, but, so far, no one has been able to gain access to the chamber where it is buried. From the information Miss Granger has gathered, we,” he indicated Professor McGonagall and himself, “have concluded that it can be accomplished by two persons. A powerful wizard, to hold the enchantments at bay, and someone of small and wiry stature to physically access the treasure chamber. The one holding the power will have to enter a deep trance that he cannot come out of without assistance.”

“You expect me to put my life in his hands?” Snape and Harry spoke the same words as one.

Dumbledore looked from one to the other. “That’s right.”

Snape closed his eyes for a moment. This really could not be happening.

“If I might speak, Headmaster?”

“Of course, Severus.”

“Why us? Surely the job can be done by any number of others?”

“Well, there is more.” The Headmaster sat back with a sigh.

Snape tried not to grind his teeth.

“The island must be approached under the same circumstances and conditions as were present the night the treasure was hidden. In a sailing ship, on the dark of the autumn moon, in a thick fog.”

Snape snorted. “Even if we could arrange for the weather to cooperate, just where are we to get a sailing ship?”

“Actually, fog is common enough off the coast of Maine in fall. As for the sailing ship, that may prove to be the easiest part of all. There are several of the old schooners that sail the coast of Maine, taking three- to five-day trips with people who wish to experience a quieter, slower pace. The people sleep on the ship at night, and it puts into various coves and islands during the day, where people are free to explore. The ships accommodate two people per cabin, the total varying, depending on the size of the ship. This ship,” he handed Snape and Harry glossy brochures, “is of the same era and size as the pirate ship, and it usually spends a day at the island where the treasure is known to be, so the passengers can explore and speculate.”

“You expect us to do this in front of an entire boatload of people?” Snape was incredulous.

“No, you can spend the day scouting; deciding which charms you will need and exactly how to go about it. The ship spends the night in the island’s cove, as well. Weather permitting, you should be able to complete the job in a couple of hours at most.”

“And if the weather doesn’t permit?”

Albus spread his hands. “Minerva and I shall do our best.”

Snape tapped the brochure against his hand. “You still haven’t explained why it has to be Potter and myself.”

“This is going to take a powerful wizard, and a small and athletic person.” His look became speculative. “And two people who can trust each other absolutely.”

Snape sneered. “So, I ask again, why us?”

Dumbledore looked from one mutinous face to the other. “It would be impossible to find others as dedicated to the defeat of the Dark Lord, and as brave, as the two of you. All you have to do is trust one another.”

Harry may have had too much respect for the Headmaster to snort, but Snape did not.

“And where do you think that is likely to come from?”

Albus just smiled and waved a hand at the brochures.

“You’ll be sharing a cabin; traveling as father and son.”

Snape went pale and Harry went red, but neither spoke.

“Miss Granger has put together an appropriate wardrobe for you both, based on the recommendations of the ship’s crew.” Dumbledore waved, and two packs that had been in the corner came to rest at Harry and Snape’s feet. “You should have everything you need.”

Snape looked at the brochure in his hand for the first time. The front featured a photo of an 85’, black-hulled schooner under full sail. The elegant clipper bow and graceful hull cut the water with something akin to majesty. He snorted at the name. “The Potion Master’s Muse.”

Dumbledore was watching him with a twinkle in his eye. “I assure you, Severus, the name is entirely coincidental.”

“Mmm.” Severus wasn’t remotely convinced. “Since the dark of the moon is in three days, I assume this is supposed to happen at once?”

“You’re to be on board the ship tonight for a morning sailing.”

“But there’s a Quidditch game tomorrow!” Outraged, Harry spoke out in protest.

The Headmaster put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Harry, I truly am. You know I wouldn’t send you if it wasn’t important.”

Harry gave in with bad grace, and grabbing his pack, headed for the door.

“Please be back here right after dinner. You’ll portkey to the States then.”

Hermione had ducked out with Harry, and Minerva left with Snape.

“I think I will go back to bed.” Snape swung the pack over his shoulder. “I’m sure when I awake, I will find this has all been just a very bad dream.”

McGonagall couldn’t suppress a smile. “You know you can do this, Severus.”

“Yes,” he gave her a fierce scowl, “but I don’t want to. What if Bloody Potter decides that vengeance is very sweet and uses the opportunity to get rid of me?”

“He won’t.” McGonagall spoke with quiet assurance. “Any more than you would use the opportunity to get rid of him. You two may hate each other, but you are both men of honor. Nothing could force either of you to betray a trust.”

Snape sneered. “He’s a boy.”

“Not any more, Severus.” She sighed. “Not any more.”

~~


They port-keyed into a narrow space between two tall brick buildings. A quick look around to get their bearings and they headed off toward the town wharf. Having studied a map of the small town of Dark Harbor before leaving, they had no fear of losing their way. Their arrival had been timed so they would miss the evening get-together meal, but they still had a few hours of socializing and getting-to-know-your-shipmates ahead of them. It was hard to say which of them was dreading it more.

“Try and remember not to call me Professor,” Snape hissed at Harry and they crossed the crowded parking lot heading for the wharf.

“I will not call you Father!” Harry ground it out between clenched teeth.

Snape flashed him a quick look. Harry’s face was drawn with a stress that had nothing to do with their current situation, and Snape felt of flicker of understanding that surprised him.

“Not if you know what’s good for you! Sir, will do.”

Harry nodded, but didn’t answer.

The Potion Master’s Muse was the largest of the fleet tied to the dock. They were greeted warmly as soon as they set foot on the gangplank, and a chatty crewman showed them to their quarters. The cabin was tiny with barely enough room for the two of them to stand in it. Snape had to be careful not to hit his head on the overhead beams. He eyed the bunks critically, and tossed his pack on the top one.

“It’s longer,” he snapped when Harry started to protest. They were showed the location of the communal head, then invited topside when they were ready.

The cabin had a tiny cubby for hanging things, and Snape unbuckled his pack to see what Miss Granger had chosen for him to wear over the next three days. At the moment he wore black jeans, an oxford shirt in a narrow maroon and white stripe, and a heavy cotton sweater in dark blue. There was another pair of jeans, blue, a soft denim shirt, a chamois shirt in slate blue, a hunter green pullover in a light weight, warm, fuzzy fabric that Harry said was Polarfleece and a black jacket of what the label said was Gore-Tex. Water and windproof, and expensive, Harry explained. It was hip length with bulky shoulders and an inside drawstring at the waist to keep out drafts. A hood rolled neatly into the collar. All in all, not too bad, considering he couldn’t have his own clothes. There were several pairs of heavy socks, but Snape was glad to see Miss Granger hadn’t felt the need to supply him with undergarments. Perhaps that was because wizard and muggle undergarments weren’t that different. Perhaps that was because no one was going to see his undergarments, he thought with a sudden, rare grin.

They finished putting their things away, being very careful not to bump into each other in the cramped quarters, and went up on deck.

The boat could carry twenty-four passengers but only twenty were on board for this cruise. Mostly made up of couples, there were only two other teens in the group. A girl about Harry’s age was there with her mother, and a boy a few years younger than Harry but considerably larger who, it was clear at first glance, was a spoiled bully. He had a cabin to himself, next to his parents, who had the deluxe accommodations with the only private bath. Their berths were astern while Harry and Snape were just forward of midship.

Harry looked the boy over and sighed. Just what he needed. As if Snape weren’t bad enough, he was going to be trapped on a boat with a Dudley Dursley clone. The adults mingled and chatted, and after a brief moment of wonder that Snape could carry on a civilized conversation, Harry wandered forward, finally coming to sit on the capstan.

“What do you think you’re doing?” The taunt was all too familiar to Harry. He turned and drew himself up to his inconsiderable height.

“What’s it to ya’?”

The smirk on the boy’s face was one Harry had seen many times just before Dudley had punched him. He suddenly realized that the tactics he used against Dudley wouldn’t work here. He always simply out-ran Dudley. Harry broke into a cold sweat when he remembered that here on the boat, there was nowhere to run.

“Harry, what is all this noise about?” The deep voice made Harry cringe.

Oh, good. Snape was here to witness his humiliation.

Snape came to stand behind Harry’s shoulder with his arms crossed. The bully took one look at Snape’s best classroom scowl and backed down. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he slouched off.

“I don’t need you looking out for me!” Harry’s embarrassment made him angry.

Snape studied him for a moment. “Of course you don’t. At least not against the likes of that buffoon. I merely came to tell you that they are starting some kind of board game below.”

Harry eyed him suspiciously before heading toward the companionway.

Snape watched him go with a thoughtful look on his face. He had assumed, the first few years, that Harry was the same pampered hero at home as he was at school. His few forays into Harry’s mind last year had left him with some doubts, but he hadn’t looked at them too hard. Earlier, when Harry had stripped off his sweater to don a T-shirt and sweatshirt, Snape had noticed how scrawny the boy was. More telling was the way Harry had flinched when Snape had reached over his head for something in their tight quarters.

A sudden anger welled. Who did those people think they were to abuse a child left in their care? Dark memories and emotions boiled up in Snape for a moment before he drove them back. Turning, he strode angrily to the bow and studied the lights of the harbor town.

An hour later, Snape returned to their cabin. While it wasn’t late in Maine, at Hogwarts it was well past midnight, and he was ready for some sleep. Harry was already in bed, curled on his side facing the bulkhead; the oil lamp turned low. Though Harry didn’t move, Snape was sure from his breathing that he wasn’t asleep. Snape skinned out of his clothes and attired only in his undergarments, he turned out the lamp and hopped up onto the upper bunk. There was a solid ‘thunk’ as his head connected with the low ceiling. He cursed Albus soundly before rolling over and pulling up the blankets.

Snape awoke to the splash and gurgle of water running merrily along the hull. The boat was rising and falling in a gentle rhythm that was infinitely soothing. Rather abruptly, the ship turned and rolled to her starboard side, slanting the bunks sharply. Snape caught himself but heard a startled squawk followed by a thud as Harry was rolled out of his bunk. Snape gave Harry a moment to recover before swinging his feet off the bunk and sliding to the floor. Harry sat on his bunk rubbing his elbow.

Snape donned jeans and the Polarfleece, and with a nod to Harry, headed out. After a brief stop in the head, he followed his nose to the galley and the pot of fresh coffee. Gratefully accepting a large mug of the strong, steaming brew, he grabbed a pastry and headed topsides.

The Muse was carrying full sail, running hard before the wind. The sails were bellied out, full of wind, and she was heeled well over showing the speed and style that had made her such a success on the East India trade route.

“Mornin’!” Captain Ed waved to Snape as he approached the helm. “Hope I didn’t tip you out of bed. This wind is just too fine to resist.”

Snape managed a genuine smile. The man’s obvious love of his ship and the sea were infectious.

“Ever sail before?” Ed was eyeing him speculatively as Snape stood, swaying easily with the motion of the deck, both hands wrapped around his coffee mug.

Snape shook his head but didn’t bother to answer. He was rather surprised at just how much noise there was, what with the creaking of rope and timber and the wind whistling in the rigging.

Ed nodded. “Ya’ got good sea legs. What about yer boy? Think he’ll be sick?”

Oh, gods! Not in that tiny cabin. “I hope not.” Snape gave him a feeble smile.

“Last night, the rest of the group all said they’d sailed before. Said they were fine in a good wind and had no trouble with the motion.” He laughed. “We’ll see.”

One by one, the rest of the passengers came on deck clutching mugs of coffee, and beaming. All except the bully who sat huddled by the rail wrapped in a blanket, green of face and glassy of eye.

Harry showed up last. Snape eyed him worriedly, but Harry seemed fine. He was a bit unsteady on the heaving deck, but there was no sign that he was feeling unwell. The boy made his cautious way from one person to another, coming to Snape last.

“Breakfast is ready.”

Snape nodded, following Harry and the others below.

The galley was cheerful and noisy, and smelled wonderful. The cooking was done on a woodstove. A fragrant hint of apple smoke mingled with the aromas of bacon, ham, eggs and pancakes. Harry sat next to Snape, trying to look as though he wasn’t rubbing elbows with his most hated teacher.

Everyone ate hungrily, the sea air having given them all appetites. The bully’s mother took him some dry toast and a pill the cook – who was also the captain’s wife – said would have him feeling better in no time. Secretly, Harry hoped it wouldn’t work.

After breakfast, almost everyone went back on deck. Snape sat with his back to the main mast reading a book. It looked like a book on the history of New England sailing ships, but Harry knew it was really a book on the magic of St. Thomas. Harry was staring out to sea watching some dolphins, when he was startled by a voice at his side.

“Are your parents divorced?” It was the girl. She had short curly hair, freckles, and a nice smile.

“Huh?”

She smiled apologetically. “Sorry. I just wondered. My parents are, and I live with my Mom. I don’t see my Dad that often. He tries too hard, and sometimes I’m not comfortable with him.” She pushed her hair back. “Guess I shouldn’t have asked.” She glanced back at Snape. “You just don’t seem that comfortable with your dad, is all.”

“Oh.” Harry looked at her blankly then pulled himself together. “Uh, yeah. But he’s not so bad.” He kicked the gunwale and somehow felt unfaithful to his father’s memory.

“It’s hard.” She was leaning on the railing, watching the dolphins now. “I love both of them, but they both make me feel like a traitor if I have fun with the other.”

“Yeah,” Harry looked back at the man who hated him, yet worked so hard at keeping him alive. “Like a traitor.”

“Well.” The girl straightened up and smiled. “I’ll see you around.”

“Right.” Harry watched her leave with a distinct feeling of unreality.

He glanced at Snape and his eyes opened wide in horror. Crossing the heaving deck with more grace than he had shown that morning, Harry nonetheless basically fell to the deck beside Snape.

“Stop it!” Harry hissed at him, looking around to see if anyone had noticed.

“Stop what?” Snape glowered at him.

“You’re practicing wand movements with your hand. Cut it out!”

Snape paled. “I was?” He clapped the book shut and leaned his head back against the mast, closing his eyes.

Harry had a sudden, very uncomfortable thought. “Uh, you’re not worried about this, are you? I mean, you do know what you’re doing?”

The absurdity of the question made Snape angry, and he started to snap. One look at Harry’s face and he stopped. The boy was pale; worry lines sharply etched in his face. A face far too young for that kind of burden. He ran his hand through his hair. He wasn’t going to lie to him.

“I am worried about this.” He saw Harry gulp. “But I believe we are going to succeed.”

Harry’s face was almost ridiculous in its expression of relief, which for some reason, annoyed Snape even more.

“It will not be easy. Have you been giving it any thought?”

Harry pulled some folded papers from his back pocket and smoothed them out on his knee.

“I’ve been studying the plans.” Without realizing what he was doing, he hitched himself closer to Snape so their legs and shoulders were touching.

Together, they poured over the drawings of the treasure pit. A surprising amount was known about it. The treasure was buried at the bottom of a deep shaft. The shaft had been filled with a variety of materials and sectioned off at random depths with platforms of various constructions. A side shaft had been dug to connect with the ocean so that whenever anyone emptied the main shaft to the level of the side shaft, the whole thing would flood rapidly, like as not drowning the men trying to steal the treasure. Over the years, dozens of people had tried for the treasure, but in spite of modern equipment, no one had managed to wrest the treasure from the bottom of the pit.

Snape shared his thoughts on what magic might work, but they agreed that the next day’s on-sight inspection would tell them the most. They talked easily, immersed in a subject of interest to them both; Snape teaching without lecturing and Harry learning without realizing it.

The call to lunch brought them back to the present, and they joined the others for an on-deck picnic.

The girl with the freckles came and sat next to Harry, introducing herself as Liza. She chatted amiably, not noticing or maybe not caring that Harry hardly answered her.

Snape went back to his book. He hadn’t been reading long when a shadow fell over the page. He barely remembered to wipe the scowl off his face before he looked up a very long pair of shapely, tanned legs, past a pair of short white shorts, over a baggy sweatshirt to the pixie-like face of a woman – a face that was mostly obscured by blowing hair.

“Hi!”

Snape shoved himself up straighter against the mast as the woman sank gracefully to sit next to him.

“I’m Jennifer, Liza’s mother.”

Snape looked blank for a moment until he realized she had looked toward the girl standing with Potter at the rail. He simply nodded.

“What are you reading?”

Snape flopped the book closed to display the charmed cover and she moved close to see it better.

“You’re interested in sailing then?”

Why couldn’t he think of something suitable to say? Snape swallowed. “I like to read up on my surroundings.”

“My husband liked sailing. Ex-husband. He liked racing though. Didn’t have any use for these grand old ladies of the sea.”

“They have a certain...primitive elegance to them.”

Jennifer was watching the teens. “Your son is very nice. Gentle and polite. You don’t meet too many teen-age boys like that.”

Snape choked back the snide remark that was fighting to get out.

“You must be very proud of him.”

Snape had a coughing fit.

She sat quietly until it subsided. “Well, I’ll see you.” She rose in one easy motion and wandered aft.

Harry wasn’t getting on much better than Snape.

“What does your dad do?” He and Liza were watching some gulls.

“Do? Oh…” Harry wished he didn’t sound like an idiot. “He’s a teacher.”

“What subject?”

Harry thought franticly, trying to come up with some memory of Dudley’s conversations about school. “Chemistry.” It seemed close enough to potions.

“Ewww,” the girl made a face. “I don’t like chemistry.”

“Me neither!” Harry’s remark was fervent.

“Is he your teacher?”

“Uh, yeah.” Why couldn’t this Muggle girl, nice as she was, just go away?

“Is he good?”

“Good?”

“A good teacher?”

“He’s ah...he’s kinda strict.”

She nodded. “That can be tough. But is he good? Do the kids get good grades?”

Harry thought about last year’s OWLs. Even Neville had passed. “Yeah,” he could hear the surprise in his own voice. “Yeah, most kids do.”

“I thought he’d be good.” She nodded knowingly. “I was talking to him earlier about the treasure island we’re going to. He knows a lot about it, and was really nice about explaining stuff.”

Harry turned and gawked at Snape. “Oh, uh, yeah. He can be, I guess.”

The girl laughed. “I wouldn’t want to be in a class that my father taught.” She wrapped her arms around herself and looked out over the water. “I’m going for a sweater.”

“Right.” Harry watched her go, feeling like the biggest moron on the face of the planet.

He switched his focus to Snape. The man was wearing blue jeans and a denim shirt. His hair was tied back away from the stiff wind; a book was propped on his raised knees as he read. He looked smaller than he did at school. He looked... almost normal.

~~


At about three, they dropped anchor in a small sheltered cove off a deserted island. Like many of the uninhabited islands off the coast of Maine, this one was privately owned, but, through the generosity of the landowner, was open to the public. There were a number of hiking trails, and within minutes, the passengers who had come ashore had dispersed into the cool, shadowy woods.

“Come.” Snape muttered the command and headed off into the darkest part of the forest.

Harry stood trying to decide whether or not to obey Snape’s preemptory order, but a glance back over his shoulder was all Snape had to do to have Harry scurrying after him. Deep among the ancient firs, up to their ankles in emerald moss, Snape stopped and turned.

“You can levitate things, I assume?”

“Wingardium Leviosa?” Harry looked disgusted. “Since first year.”

“Can you levitate yourself?”

Harry glanced up in surprise. “I’ve never tried. Why?”

Snape sat on a mossy rock. “The treasure pit is a shaft a couple of hundred feet deep. You’ll need to get in and out of it on your own, as I’ll be in a trance and unable to help you.”

Harry suddenly looked ill-at-ease.

“It’s not difficult, although the distance may prove a bit much. The shaft is narrow enough that you can brace your back on one side and your feet on the other to rest.” He drew his wand from the back of his jeans and gestured at Harry. “Try it.”

It took Harry a few tries, but with Snape’s patient coaching, he was soon lifting himself to the top of the tallest trees and lowering himself down again gently.

“Good!” Snape stood and dusted off the seat of his jeans.

Flushed with his success, Harry spoke without thinking. “You’re a pretty good teacher when you want to be.”

Snape gave him a sardonic smile. “A sentiment I’m sure you’ll have forgotten by next week.”

Harry grimaced, but answered stubbornly. “You don’t teach like this at Hogwarts.”

Snape studied him for a moment, an odd look on his face.

“No.” The word was softly spoken.

Harry started to say something but Snape cut him off. “How strong is your, Accio?”

“Pretty good.” Harry was puzzled.

Snape waved at the ground. “Pick a rock, about a foot down, and summon it.”

“A rock?”

Snape closed his eyes. “A rock Mr. Potter. This island is a glacial dump; even you should be able to find a rock.”

A bit angry, it took Harry a couple of tries to pull a rock from under ground. When he finally succeeded, Snape had him do it again, explaining that the stone they were seeking was bound to be under several feet of debris, and from what they knew of the treasure, probably in a wooden chest.

Harry had a small pile of rocks on the ground before Snape was satisfied and called a halt.

“We’d better head back. I don’t want anyone to come looking for us.” He shoved his wand into the back of his waistband and headed off through the trees.

Trailing behind, looking around the strange forest, Harry felt suddenly lonely. Before he could shake the feeling, Snape had stopped and tuned. With a closed face, he waited for Harry to catch up, then turned and walked beside him to the little rocky beach where the dinghy waited to take them back to the Muse.

Dinner was a rather boisterous affair, with everyone talking excitedly about the day. As soon as he could, Snape retreated to the lounge area to sit in a corner with his book. Harry sat with Liza, practicing the cribbage she had taught him earlier.

The ship did not provide liquor but passengers were allowed to bring their own, and a couple of people seemed to have enough for everyone. One after another, men and women would approach Snape, offer him a drink and try to get him to join them. His responses were getting shorter and surlier, and he was seriously considering retiring to their miniscule cabin when he heard Harry clear his throat.

“Sir?” Harry was doing his best to look at ease with his ‘father.’ Snape frowned at him.

“Would you like me to teach you cribbage?”

About to ask why on earth he’d want that, Snape suddenly looked around at the crowd and nodded.

Harry sat cross-legged on the floor on the other side of the coffee table in front of Snape’s couch and set up the board. He explained the rules, and dealt a practice hand. As Snape was trying to make sense of all the information coming at him in a highly unorganized fashion, Harry leaned forward and whispered.

“You may not be reading, but at least they’ll leave you alone without you having to go either topsides into the cold, or back to our cell.”

He looked at Harry’s sheepish face, and gave a brief nod.

Harry suddenly grinned. “You looked about to hex someone, and I figured that might blow our cover.”

Snape couldn’t help a small smile. Harry was certainly more perceptive than he had given him credit for. “It probably would have, at that.”

They played out the hand, Harry showed him how to shuffle, and they cut for crib.

Harry won the deal, parceled out the cards and settled back with a smug grin on his face.

“Prepared to lose?”

Snape gave him a narrow eyed glare. “I hardly think that likely.”

They played a close, fiercely competitive game with Snape pegging out just ahead of Harry. He was shuffling the deck, and Harry was resetting the pegs, when Liza and her mother joined them, Liza sitting on the floor at the end of the table and Jennifer settling next to Snape.

“Want to play teams?”

Snape glanced at Harry who shrugged. “Why not?”

They cut for teams, and Snape and Harry were partnered.

Jennifer winked at her daughter. “The novices against the old hands. This should be an easy win.”

“I wouldn’t count on it, Madam.”

Harry was shocked to see Snape smile, but he hid it by offering to get sodas for them all. He went to get them from the galley, while Liza dealt.

Cribbage is not a game that lends itself to much chatting amongst the players, except during the deal, but their silences were easy. The game was close the entire way, and they were in the home stretch when Harry, who was dealing, noticed Snape suddenly go stiff and draw his left arm close to his body. He darted a quick look at Snape’s face, and saw that his eyes were narrowed in pain. He was franticly trying to think of something to say to draw the women’s attention, when he saw Snape relax. He felt a dizzying moment of relief when he caught Snape’s eye, and saw him nod.

“OK you two,” Jennifer teased. “No secret signals.”

Snape smiled at her. “We don’t need secret signals. I can read his mind.”

Harry choked on his rootbeer, and stared goggle-eyed at his professor who looked almost as surprised at what he had said as Harry did. Snape gave him a somewhat nervous smile.

“Isn’t that right, Harry?”

“Uh, yeah.” Harry set his drink down with a trembling hand. “He does it all the time.” Memories of the Occlumency lessons darted through his mind, followed by memories of the Pensive. “And sometimes I read his.”

Snape’s look was sharp, but when Harry didn’t look away, he smiled, although this time the smile had a slightly feral quality.

Jennifer was following the subtle exchange with a thoughtful expression.

Harry quickly presented her with the deck for the cut.

The hand went quickly, and Liza was starting to gather the cards for her turn at the deal when Snape’s hand twitched, and he drew in a sharp breath while clamping his arm to his side.

Jennifer was about to say something, when Harry’s hand shot out knocking over his soda. The sticky liquid spread over the table soaking the cards. Liza jumped up to keep the soda from soaking her lap, and Harry reached for the board to get it out of the way.

“Easy, Harry.” Snape righted the overturned can as he rose. A crewmember arrived with a damp towel, and they sopped up the mess.

When it was cleaned up and the wet cards discarded, Snape moved to stand behind Harry and rest a hand on his shoulder. Harry almost stopped breathing when he felt the weight of it settle.

“I think it’s time we called it a night.” He gave a small bow. “Ladies.”

With a gentle nudge, he steered Harry toward their berth.

Once inside with the door shut, he dropped heavily on the bunk. Almost immediately he pulled his left arm to his chest with his right and closed his eyes, grunting in pain.

Harry watched the older man as he rocked back and forth, his eyes closed, his breathing stopped. Feeling suddenly weak, Harry sat on the only surface available – the bunk next to Snape.

“Can I get you something?” Harry’s question was hesitant when Snape had started breathing again.

Snape shook his head, and stopped his rocking.

“That was Voldemort, wasn’t it?”

Snape threw him a fierce look at the sound of the name, but Harry ignored him. He nodded.

“He can call you all the way over here?” Harry was pale.

“So it would seem.” Snape straightened. “Although it’s much weaker.”

“Weaker?” It was a whisper.

“Yes, weaker, Potter!” He bit the words out as he pushed his hair back from his sweaty face.

“Will he be angry when you don’t come?”

Snape snorted. “Oh, yes.”

“Why do you go?” Harry was watching him closely.

Snape sighed. “He must be stopped.”

“But why you?”

“Because, Mr. Potter, some mistakes you never stop paying for.” His tone was bitter.

Harry stared at the deck between his feet. “At least you’ve lived long enough to make mistakes.”

Snape gave him a sharp look. “Well, I shall do my level best to see that you have the opportunity to make your own life as much of a hell as I’ve made mine.”

Harry stared at him in shock, but Snape’s eyes and face were closed. After a long minute of silence, Snape opened his eyes and looked at Harry, taking in his stricken face.

“You needn’t look like that, Mr. Potter. I wasn’t hexing you.” He rose stiffly. “I’m going to bed.” His voice was weary.

“Professor?”

Snape was folding his clothes over a hanger.

“What?” He hoisted himself onto his bunk.

Harry stood up. “I’m... I’m sorry for what I said. About... about...”

Snape looked puzzled for a moment. “Forget it, Potter. I shouldn’t have started it.” He rolled over and faced the bulkhead.

Harry gawked at him. Had Snape just apologized? “You mind if I read for awhile?”

Snape looked back at him. “You don’t have to stay here.”

Harry shuffled his feet. “I know.”

Snape studied him for a moment, then once more settled on his side, facing away. “You won’t disturb me, Potter.”

Harry undressed and climbed under his blanket. He took out the book Hermione had given him for the trip. Something by Robert Louis Stevenson, called Treasure Island. He read until he fell asleep, and dreamed of pirates.

Snape lay staring at the bulkhead and silently cursing Dumbledore. What had he ever done to the old man to warrant being stuck on a boat with twenty-odd Muggles and Harry Potter. He couldn’t believe he’d brought up the whole ‘mindreading’ thing. Of course, Potter had gone for him; reminding him he had witnessed his worst memory.

Snape glowered at the innocent oak planking only a few inches from the end of his nose. It didn’t seem as though he done it out of spite, though.

Snape sighed and rolled over. The summons had taken him by surprise; thrown him off, that was all. Potter had been quick to cover. Very quick.

The soft sound of snoring caused him to lean over the side of his bunk. Harry was asleep with an open book on his chest. Leaning over, Snape picked up the book, dropped it gently to the floor and with a wave of his hand, extinguished the light.

He rolled over once more and drifted into sleep wondering how many hours of Crucio he’d have to endure to pay for his failure to obey tonight’s summons.

~~


For the second day in a row, Snape awoke to the sounds of the ship running before a brisk wind. He slipped out without waking Harry, and after a quick shower in the tiny cubicle, grabbed some coffee and headed topsides. The cook had asked him to take a mug to the captain, so once again he found himself talking to the old man.

“Another nice day.” Snape took in the perfect blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds.

“Ayuh. For now. Be socked in by this afternoon.”

Snape raised an eyebrow.

“Fog.” The captain explained.

“Where?” Snape looked at the dazzling water and the far horizon.

“It’s coming.” The captain took a long drink of his coffee. “We’ll put in at Oak Island a little after lunch. You folks will have plenty of time to explore, though it’ll probably be right foggy by suppertime. We’ll be staying the night at anchor there, and with any luck, it’ll all burn off in the morning.”

Snape nodded. A passenger shouted that breakfast was ready, and he went below to sit with the others at the long table. Harry arrived looking rather rumpled, and sat next to him. Apparently without thinking, Harry elbowed him in the side, pointed at the teapot and grunted. Suppressing a smile, Snape passed it without comment.

‘Dear Merlin, what did I just do?!’ Harry came awake with a shock. ‘That’s not Ron beside you, you bloody idiot, that’s Snape!’

He darted a surreptitious look at the Potions Master, but the man was looking the other way. ‘At least he’s not likely to curse me in front of everybody.’ Harry poured himself some tea and added lots of sugar. ‘I hope.’

The wind died suddenly, shortly after lunch, and it was just after two when they made anchor at Oak Island. The crew took them ashore in shifts, and they followed the well-worn path to the treasure pit. It was an unassuming looking thing. A square shaft about three feet on a side. Overhead was an old tree with bent and twisted branches. A fence enclosed the pit and there were signs with drawings, explaining the shaft, how the booby trap worked and giving the history of the quest for the treasure.

People milled around for a while, then most of them wandered off to the far side of the island, to the bay where the end of the side shaft was located. Snape and Harry had gone there first, and met most of their fellow passengers on the path as they came back. They hung around and read the signs at the shaft waiting for the others to leave.

Finally, they were alone, and Harry was looking at the fence when he felt Snape’s hand close on his arm. He rocked a bit to find himself on the edge of the shaft staring down at the surface of the water, 50’ below. The sides were lined with rotting timbers.

“There is the least amount of water in the shaft at low tide.” Snape looked around before apparating them back behind the fence. “That will be at 10:30 tonight.” He studied the woods around the small clearing. “There’s more than water that guards this place.”

“W – what’s that?” Harry had gone pale.

“Nothing you need concern yourself with.” Snape was looking up at the old tree.

“Damn it, Snape!” The words exploded from Harry before he could stop them.

Snape wheeled on him, his eyes blazing, but Harry held his ground.

Snape suddenly relaxed. “You’re absolutely correct, Potter.” He sighed. “There’s old magic here, and spirits. Extremely unfriendly spirits.”

Harry shuddered, and Snape gave him a crooked smile. “They will be my worry. I will cast the charms and enchantments to keep the water and spirits at bay. To do this, I’ll have to go into a deep trance. I won’t be able to help you in the pit at all.” He gave Harry a long look. “And I won’t be able to come out of the trance without you casting the reawakening charm when you’re back out.”

Harry met the keen black gaze and felt insulted. “You think I’d consider leaving you here?”

Snape studied him. “I think you’d consider it. But I don’t think you’d do it.”

Harry started to protest, then thought for a moment. “Fair enough.”

They spent another hour going over their plan and thoroughly scouting the area. So absorbed were they that they didn’t notice the fog weaving its fingers through the trees until they heard the ship’s bell, sounding far off and muffled.

They followed the path to the rocky beach, and realized with somewhat of a shock that the ship, the woods, the water, everything more than fifteen feet away had disappeared in a thick blanket of fog.

Dinner was quieter that night, people easier with each other and not trying to impress. Afterwards, Harry and Snape played Liza and Jennifer at cribbage, but the men were so preoccupied that they lost badly. After missing the opportunity to peg six, Harry set his cards down in disgust.

“I’m sorry, I can’t concentrate tonight. I’m gonna go read.”

“I may as well, also.” Snape stretched as the four of them stood.

Jennifer smiled up at him. “Do you have to?”

Snape looked down into the pretty face of a woman who knew nothing about him, nothing about his past, and felt a wave of intense loneliness wash over him.

“It’s for the best.” He gave her a gentle smile, and followed Harry to their cabin.

Harry sat on his bunk and kicked his trainers off with more force than was necessary.

“I don’t need babysitting.”

Snape gave him a look of genuine surprise. “I didn’t think you did.”

“Then why did you follow me back here?”

Snape sighed as he swung himself up on his bunk. “I live in this closet too, Potter. I wanted a place to think and prepare where I wouldn’t be disturbed. Tell me I’m not going to be disappointed.”

Harry threw himself onto his back and scowled up the bottom of Snape’s bunk. He didn’t answer.

~~


Someone was shaking Harry’s shoulder. He tried to push the hand away but it persisted.

“Come on, Potter. Wake up.”

Harry sat up and looked around, for the moment confused.

“I fell asleep?” He rubbed his hand over his face. “Didn’t mean to.”

“Just get ready.”

Harry could hear the tension in Snape’s voice and felt a rush of guilt. How could he have dozed off like that? He scrambled into the hiking boots with the heavy lug soles that Hermione had gotten him, and pulled a navy blue anorak over his maroon sweatshirt. Snape was wearing his black jeans and the black jacket. He looked more like the man Harry was familiar with, and he found this somehow comforting. Harry ran his hands through his hair making it all stand on end. Snape gave him a disgusted look.

“Ready?”

Harry shrugged. “I guess.”

Snape wrapped one long hand around his arm and they were standing in the fog by the pit.

“Whoa!” Harry teetered a bit. “I definitely gotta practice that.”

They checked out the perimeter and Snape took some ‘readings’. He cast a light down the shaft, and they could tell the water was quite a bit lower than it had been earlier. Snape cast a number of protective spells around the clearing before settling himself against the trunk of the old tree.

“All right, Potter. This will take me a little while. When I stop talking, the shaft will be safe to enter. You know what to do?”

Harry nodded and tried not to look frightened. He must not have succeeded very well, as Snape gave him a long look. “You’ll be safe. Here inside the circle, you’re safe.”

“Yes, Sir.” Harry took a deep breath, and gave Snape a sickly smile.

Snape lifted an eyebrow at him before settling back and taking several deep breaths. Closing his eyes, he started to chant, low and soft. Harry watched spell bound for several minutes before a shifting in the air startled him. A cold breeze touched his cheek, and he shivered. Snape fell silent, but there was a moaning among the branches of the trees. Harry saw dark shapes dart between the trees in the swirling fog, and his mouth went dry.

’Oh, bloody hell!’ Snape was silent; he was supposed to be moving.

Lighting his wand, Harry stripped off the anorak, took a deep breath and levitated himself into the treasure pit. Down and down he floated, the air becoming colder and damper with every foot he descended. The walls of the shaft were now covered with a rich growth of seaweed and barnacles. A little further, they was replaced by brown slime.

After what seemed an eternity, Harry felt freezing cold water flood his boots as his feet settled into a couple of feet of ooze.

“First step down.” Harry muttered to himself. He collected his thoughts for a moment, then pointing his wand downward, spoke clearly the command to summon the Philosopher’s Stone. Nothing happened. Harry closed his eyes and concentrated, then tried again. He heard a sucking noise and something cold and wet landed in his hand. He wiped the muck off it, and studied it in the light of his wand. It was smaller than the other stone had been – about the size of a walnut, but the same deep red. Stuffing it hurriedly into his pocket, he looked upward.

“OK, relax, this is easy. Snape showed you how.” He rose steadily about a third of the way, then started losing momentum. Quickly he raised his feet, and jammed the lugged soles of the boots against the slimy wall of the shaft, pressing his back into the wall behind him. The salt water from the slime soaked through his sweatshirt, making him shiver. Suddenly, his feet slipped, and he slid a few feet before pressing harder and stopping himself.

“Shit, shit, shit!” Harry wiped the sweat off his face and tried to calm down. A few more deep breaths, and he was ready to continue. Rather to his surprise, he floated upward with ease.

Some twenty feet from the top, he lost momentum again and once more stopped to rest. It was much easier to hold his place against the walls here, as he was higher than the normal water level and the walls were dry. A brief rest and he was on his way again, rising gently clear of the shaft and coming to rest in the clearing next to Snape.

“Snape!” Harry shook his shoulder. Snape didn’t move. A wave of panic washed over Harry before he shook his head in disgust. Touching his wand to Snape’s shoulder, he cast the awakening charm.

Snape shook his head and opened his eyes. A roaring sound behind Harry made him jump and he swung around, his wand ready. The sound of the shaft rapidly filling with water surrounded them, then with a whooshing noise, water surged several feet into the air, flooding the clearing. It subsided quickly, gurgling and hissing its way back down the shaft.

“Wow!” Harry could see why treasure seekers had failed to reach the treasure for all of these years.

“You have it?” Snape hissed in his ear.

“Of course!” Harry was insulted that he thought he might have come back without it.

They were back in their cabin.

Harry laughed with relief as he climbed out of his wet and slimy clothes. He was about to say something when he noticed Snape was fairly vibrating with tension.

“What is it?” Harry whispered, growing still.

Snape shook his head, but Harry glared at him. He capitulated.

“I don’t know if the spirits can follow us or not.”

“Can’t we cast some kind of barrier, or shield, or something?”

“Maybe.”

”Maybe??

Snape shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. Go to sleep.”

“Right.” Harry climbed into his pjs, slipping the stone into his pocket. “I’m not going to sleep.” He fixed Snape with a glare.

“Fine.” Snape swung up onto his bunk, fully clothed. “Stay awake then.”

Harry lay back on his bed, glowering up at where the maddening man lay.

~~


Harry couldn’t breath. Cold fingers snatched at his body and tightened around his throat. Cadaverous faces with the flesh falling off of them swam in front of his eyes. He tried to scream, but couldn’t get enough air into his lungs. He tried to strike out, but cold arms wrapped around him, holding him tightly.

He was flung to the floor, and came up gasping and choking and fighting. Once again, an arm came around him but this time it pulled him back into the solid wall of a warm chest. Harry fought. Not the arm holding him but the ghastly, rotting faces in front of him. The dead fingers fastened around his throat again, and he heard a roaring in his ears.

~~


“Potter!”

Oh, gods, he’d fallen asleep in Potion’s class and Snape had caught him. Harry started up and choked. He coughed until tears came to his eyes and was only vaguely aware of being helped from the floor to the edge of his bed. Gradually, the world stopped spinning and came into focus. He was sitting on his bunk in the tiny cabin of the boat.

“Potter, are you all right?”

Harry blinked at Snape. “What happened?”

“The guardians of the treasure pit came.” Snape conjured two steaming mugs, then, pulling a small vial from his pack poured a couple drops in each. He handed one to Harry, who eyed it suspiciously.

“I’m hardly going to poison you at this juncture.” Snape took a sip of his own and sat next to Harry.

Harry sniffed then sampled the brew. It tasted like very strong, very bitter coffee – only much worse. He choked as the hot liquid bit into his raw throat.

“This is worse than Skelo-Grow!”

Snape took another swallow and thought. “I believe you may be right. It gets better though. Drink.”

Harry took another tiny sip and discovered it was indeed better. A third sample confirmed it as better still, although it was a very long way from being a beverage of choice.

“I wish it was chocolate.” He muttered gloomily.

“As you no doubt wish I was Lupin.” The bitterness in Snape’s words made Harry study him closely.

“No, Sir.” He reply was slow and distinct. “That thought never crossed my mind.”

Snape threw him a sharp look, but said nothing.

“How did they get in here?” Harry rubbed his bruised throat.

Snape took a deep breath. “I let them.”

“You let them!”

“If they were not banished, they would continue to follow you until they got their treasure back. To banish them, I had to face them.”

“And you didn’t think this was worthwhile telling me?” Harry was furious.

“I’m sorry, Potter.” Snape set his empty mug on the floor. “It seems we make a career out of underestimating you.”

Harry gawked at Snape. An apology and a compliment in one sentence?

“So,” Harry tried to keep his voice steady, “they won’t be back?”

“No, we’re free of them.” Snape sighed.

“Them? There may be others?”

Snape gave him a small smile. “You catch on quickly. But, no, I don’t think anyone else knows about the stone.”

“Yet.” Harry was pale.

“We’ll be home soon enough and the stone will be destroyed.”

Without thinking, Harry reached into the pocket of his pajamas and pulled out the stone. He held it out on the palm of his hand.

“You take it then!”

Silence filled the tiny cabin as Harry’s words sank in. He had just offered the gift of immortality to the man who, a few short years ago, he had been convinced was trying to steal it, if not for himself, then for Voldemort. The man he had always hated and feared. The man he held responsible for Sirius’ death. Harry faltered.

Snape watched the series of expressions chase each other across Harry’s face. Shock, speculation, doubt.

Harry saw a flicker of something behind Snape’s eyes, then, taking a deep breath, he made his decision, and pushed his hand a few inches further forward.

“Go ahead.”

Possibilities exploded like fireworks in Snape’s mind as the stone glowed softly in the lamplight. They died as quickly as they had blossomed. He lifted a sardonic eyebrow.

“I think not.”

Harry studied Snape for a moment, then gave a brief nod and stuffed the stone back in his pocket. He drained his mug, suddenly dizzy with fatigue. Harry felt Snape take the mug from his fingers, then ease him back on the bunk.

“Did you drug me?” Harry tried to focus on Snape’s face.

“No. It’s just the antidote and the reaction setting in.” He pulled a blanket over the youth.

Harry started up. “I don’t want to go to sleep!” His eyes were panicky.

“It’s all right, Potter.” Snape’s voice was gentle. “You’re safe.”

Harry wanted to say something, but couldn’t form the words. He was asleep when Snape stood and slipped out of the cabin.

~~


The deck of the boat floated in a cocoon of fog. Moisture condensed on the shrouds and dripped to the already wet deck. Snape stood facing east and cleared his mind. Five minutes later, a huge pair of wings fluttered and formed out of the fog, and a large bird came to rest lightly on the shoulder of the man.

“Hello, Fawkes.” His voice was soft. He tied a note to the Phoenix’s leg and the bird lifted off silently.

For fifteen minutes he stood motionless, hardly breathing, until the bird once more formed itself out of the night. Snape retrieved the note from the bird’s leg before gently running a finger down the scarlet neck.

“Thank you, my friend.”

The bird gently tweaked a strand of the man’s hair before once again taking wing.

Snape took the note back to the cabin. He assured himself that Potter was sleeping peacefully before unrolling the parchment and studying the spidery script. He barely contained the snort the note engendered.

Well done, both of you. I insist you stay for the final day of your trip, so you can relax and enjoy yourselves. Albus

Removing his clothes at last, he turned out the lamp, and hopped up on the bunk. A loud ‘thunk’ sounded as his head connected solidly with a low beam.

Severus Snape lay in the dark and cursed Albus Dumbledore long and creatively.

~~


A/N – I admit to playing fast and loose with historical fact. While Oak Island and the treasure pit do exist, they are not located off the coast of Maine, nor are they open to the public. It is true that the treasure is still there, as it has been for over 200 years. That makes it about a hundred years older than the schooners, but, hey, this is fiction, right?




The Quest by smoke [Reviews - 22]


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