by Very Small Prophet
Maybe Dumbledore wasn't the best person to take Harry on his first Horcrux hunt.
Headmaster, you are not going Horcrux-hunting in your condition. Yes, I said Horcrux; don't look shocked. Your Occlumency has been crumbling ever since you were cursed by that ring. You haven't been able to keep secrets from me for months. Ah, a cave by the sea; that shouldn't be too difficult.
What? Why would I take that little mediocrity? —Shut up, Potter— You expect him to find the others? By himself?
Oh yes, those two will be a big help.
Yes, yes, I remember what I said. Stupidest promise I ever made in my life. Very well, if you insist.
Potter, you may come with me on one condition: You will obey me, without question, in everything, or I will pitch you into the sea and let you swim home.
Well, Headmaster, I hope to be back before Draco does anything idiotic—Shut up, Potter—but if I'm delayed, I am confident you and the Order will be able to handle whatever situation arises. I have no wish to fulfill any Unbreakable Vows tonight.
Potter, come along; don't dawdle.
No, Potter, a heroic sacrifice not necessary at the moment. I will not be needing your sainted blood or anyone else's. The warding is intended to keep out enemies, not the Dark Lord himself, and in case you've forgotten, I happen to have a bit of the Dark Lord's magic with me.
[Snape rolls up his left sleeve and presses his Dark Mark against the stone. The wall opens.]
I am perfectly aware of the Inferi, Potter. They are, as you so wisely pointed out in class, not transparent. And no, we do not need to waste our time searching for a boat.
[Snape picks Harry up, flings him over his shoulder, and flies across the lake to the island.]
Stop poking about, Potter. It should be obvious even to you that you can't simply pick the locket up. Did you think the Dark Lord would make this easy? He did the Charm-work himself, and neither of us is capable of breaking his spell. The potion is intended to be drunk, and I assure you it is not any form of Cheering Draught.
Put that goblet down! Do you want to destroy what little mind you have in that pathetic head of yours? If you would ever pay attention, you would note that I said the Dark Lord did the Charm-work. He did not brew the potion. I did. The Dark Lord is almost as bad at potions as Longbottom.
It's not stupidity, Potter. Before he started destroying his own psyche the Dark Lord was more than intelligent. He could, had he wished, have been as good a brewer as Miss Granger is—which is not an enormous compliment, by the way. Miss Granger is technically skilled and completely uninspired. She would make an adequate assistant in a retail apothecary.
But the future ruler of Wizarding Britain does not work with his hands like a common labourer. He confines himself to foolish wand-waving and leaves such menial tasks as potions-brewing to lowly working-class half-bloods from Manchester.
Not that it's any of your business, but yes, I am a half-blood. And my mother's maiden name was Prince, so that's my old potions text you've been cribbing from so shamelessly all year.
Now, if you are finished wasting my time with stupid questions—
The thing is really quite simple. The Dark Lord's spells are tied to my potion, and this particular potion is extremely sensitive to a specific type of contamination. Observe.
[Snape conjures a stepstool and climbs up in front of the basin on the pillar. He undoes his trousers, aims, and fires. The moment the stream of urine hits its surface, the potion turns muddy brown and starts to smell like rotten strawberries. Snape buttons himself up and steps down.]
Well, Potter, what are you waiting for? Remove the locket. Yes, with your hand! The potion won't harm you. It's just disgusting, not dangerous. Now clean the thing off.
[Harry wipes the locket on his robes.]
Almost seventeen and he still can't cast an Aguamenti. No, don't bother now. Just give it here.
[Snape opens the locket, reads the note, and sighs.]
Poor Regulus. I wonder if he managed to destroy the real Horcrux. Probably not. We'll have to search Grimmauld Place and hope it hasn't been binned by Molly or pinched by Fletcher. Kreacher will doubtless know. Let's get out of here.
[Since they do not have to fuss with blood and boats and Inferi and psychosis-inducing potiobns, Snape and Harry arrive back at Hogwarts well before Draco's plan comes to fruition, which is a good thing all around.]
Moral: Always send a Dark wizard to fetch a Dark object and a potions master to deal with a potion.
How did Snape know his Dark Mark would open the door? He didn't. He guessed, and turned out to be right.
We don't know exactly when Snape learned to fly. McGonagall assumes, without evidence, that Voldemort taught him. Who knows? Maybe he taught Voldemort.
Harry can cast an Aguamenti, of course. He just didn't think of it, the dunderhead.
Line I wanted to use somewhere, but couldn't find a place for: "What? Oh, yes, I suppose the business about men's noses is correct in my case, but I have no idea if it holds true in general. I am not the Headmaster; I don't go about ogling other men's—"
This snippet was inspired by Chapter 29 of Loten's superb SSHG story "Chasing the Sun," currently in progress here on fanfic-dot-net. In Loten's tale, Snape finally decides to allow himself to deviate from the Headmaster's plans whenever Snape considers them to be idiotic—like the plan to murder Dumbledore, for example. Loten tells me her version of the end of Half-Blood Prince will be entirely different from mine, but this is what I came up with one afternoon after reading Chapter 29. Now go read "Chasing the Sun," which is excellent. (And make sure it is Loten's "Chasing the Sun". There is another story by that name on this site. It's good as well, but has no connection with Loten's tale.)
August 2012: I've re-posted this story in order to recover the section breaks that were lost when fanfic-dot-net re-arranged itself. I've also done a bit of tweaking and re-instated a paragraph with a reference to Hermione, which I had edited out of the original version as an unnecessary distraction. I've changed my mind; it doesn't really distract, and postulating a career as a shopgirl for the brilliant Miss Granger seems appropriately Snape-like.
My original idea was for Snape to use a simple, all-purpose neutralizer (consisting mostly of baking soda) that he generally has his first-years make shortly before Halloween. Voldie went to incredibly elaborate lengths to protect the locket, and I liked the idea of the weak point being something that Molly Weasley would keep in her kitchen cupboard. The problem was that I couldn't think of a straightforward way to explain why Snape carried such a thing on him, so I went with having him pee in the potion. It's less subtle, but I'm sure it gets more laughs. Finding an alternative for unlikely plot points instead of concocting some elaborate and even more unlikely explanation for them always improves a story.
Loten's version of this event is in Chapter 32 of her story. There are one or two points of similarity, but mostly it's quite different.