Disclaimer:  If you recognize it, it belongs to the goddess, JKR.  Another of my MSSfics (Missing Severus Scene Fics).  I hope you like it.

The Potion Master's Dilemma

His would be the best!

His would be the most difficult!

His would be the one to stymie the potential thief!

A crumpled wad of parchment flew across the room, missing the fireplace by several feet.

Well, it would be if he could string together two words in a somewhat coherent fashion!

Professor Severus Snape, Potions Master at Hogwarts, was rather stymied himself.  He had just returned to his chambers from an exhausting staff meeting.  Albus had asked many of the professors to devise a protective charm, spell or potion to shield the Philosopher's Stone from…well, Albus did not say who was after it but, after the incident at Gringotts, everyone was on edge.

And he himself had his suspicions…but no proof.

Not yet, at least.

He sat at his desk, staring at the blank parchment in front of him.

"This is ludicrous," he muttered, rubbing his forehead wearily.  "I'm a Potions Master, not a Poet Laureate."

Looking up, he sighed as he took in the sight of many crumpled wads of parchment piling up next to the fireplace.  Picking up his wand, he sent them all into the fireplace where they incinerated nicely.

"Well, that is one problem solved.  What on earth am I going to do?"

Standing up, he walked over to the small table upon which stood a small flask.  Inside was a remarkable potion, which would allow a person to step through a particularly nasty magical fire unscathed.  Without this potion, the person would turn into a small pile of blue ashes…very smelly blue ashes.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out another small flask, only slightly larger, and placed it on the table as well.  This one would be for the person who wanted to back out…a second wall of fire.  The two bottles were different in colour, design and size.  There was no indication as to what they contained.

"The coward's potion," he mumbled as he looked at the two bottles and thought about the enchantment.  "This has to be more difficult.  Two bottles is not enough.  I need to have at least three bottles of something harmless…but what?"

He walked over to a small cabinet and opened the doors, peering inside with interest.

"I must not put anything too strong or else they would end up in a stupor," he commented as he looked through the many bottles of liquor.  "Certainly not 'Latte di Suocera'…they might not regain consciousness until the next day.  Perhaps crème de menthe?  No, that would smell too much like the potion.  I need something different.  Something very innocent which looks like the poison and yet different from the potion."

His eye fell on a pretty purple bottle and he picked it up with a nod of satisfaction.  "Nettle wine.  Perfect."

He summoned three small bottles of various intricate designs and proceeded to pour a measured amount of wine in each.   Closing the wine bottle carefully, he returned it to its place.  After ensuring that the stoppers on the three little bottles were secure, he carried them carefully to the table to accompany the other two.

"Now, to add a touch of danger.  Two bottles of poison.  Reductus poison, I think.  Something…rather awful…painful," he smirked as he remembered Albus' directions to make it as close to impossible without being impossible.

He walked back to the desk and picked up his wand, waving it at the wall with a special revealing spell.  A locked cupboard appeared.  Severus produced a set of keys from his robes and quickly found a tiny, intricate key made of silver.  It fit the lock and he opened the doors.  Inside were a number of tiny bottles, covered with dust and cobwebs.  It had been some time since he had last been asked for a sample of this particular area of his vast expertise.

It still gave him a twinge of shame to remember what he had initially used these potions for.  Working blindly for the Dark Lord, producing any and all the potions he required…he did not realize the full extent to which his dark skills were being applied until he was 'asked' to witness a Muggle being forced to drink a carefully concocted poison that made her die an agonizing and prolonged death.

And the others laughed, thinking it great sport.

And he returned home and threw up.

That was when he went to Albus and told him everything he knew.  He had fully expected to be administered the Dementor's Kiss but Albus had another use for him.

Severus never looked back.

With hands that shook slightly, he took out a bottle made out of obsidian, stoppered with silver.  Summoning two more small bottles, one of ivory and one of jade, he poured a small amount of the poison into each.  He tried to ensure that all the bottles contained similar amounts of liquid.  He quickly closed the obsidian bottle and returned it to its hiding place, swiftly lowering the shielding charm so that he would not have to look at it any longer than absolutely necessary.

Carrying the two last bottles over the table, he began playing with various placements of the seven bottles.

"It must not be so obvious.  The eye is automatically drawn to each end…it must be somewhere in the middle…unnoticed…unobtrusive," he muttered as his brow furled with concentration.  He placed the bottles in several arrangements before finally deciding that he had found the one that he felt would baffle any wizard.

Severus looked at the arrangement carefully, circling the table to see it from different vantage points.  No.  The right bottle did not stand out and that was exactly the effect he was hoping for.  Even if the person took a guess, chances were that they would aim for one of the bottles at either end.

"Now, for the difficult part…instructions.  Should I write it in a special ink?  Should I hide the parchment?"

He walked back to his desk and sat down on the rather uncomfortable chair.  Picking up the quill and caressing his chin carelessly with the tip of the feather, he thought about what to write.

…and thought

…and thought.

"What would confound most wizards?" He asked out loud.

"You are talking in riddles again," a portrait hissed quietly, obviously trying to fall asleep.

Severus was about to say something rather uncomplimentary to the portrait when he stopped, mouth open and eyes wide with sudden inspiration.  The portrait looked at him nervously, wary of any sharp objects that might be lobbed in its direction.

"Perfect!!  No one would understand it if I pose it as a riddle.  No wizard worth his salt knows a thing about logic or reasoning or intuition.  If they can't point a wand at it and cast a spell then they are lost.  It's brilliance.  It's sheer brilliance."

The portrait groused at not being thanked and left to find Sir Cadogan with a formal complaint. 

Almost laughing, Severus scribbled frantically for several minutes, writing and re-writing the lines until he finished with a grand flourish of his quill.

"This is messy…I need to rewrite this properly," he thought, chewing the end of his quill tentatively…a habit from his school days that he had not quite banished.

Taking out fresh parchment, he carefully rewrote the entire paragraph in his precise, neat handwriting.  He scanned it quickly, going through the logic in his mind, and was quite pleased.

"Yes, Albus will like this…nearly impossible without actually being impossible," he thought.

With a satisfied smile, he placed the seven bottles in a small pouch and carefully made his way out of his chambers and to the Headmaster's office with the parchment clutched in his hand.

"I'll be sorted a Hufflepuff before anyone can decipher my spell.  There is not a wizard out there who will be able to do it," he thought, allowing himself the smallest of satisfied smiles.

And, with that thought, he walked confidently down the corridor.  Even the seven bottles clinked against one another softly inside the pouch with an almost Slytherin arrogance that no wizard would discover their secrets.

A/N:  He was right, wasn't he?  After all, it was a witch, not a wizard who figured it out!  And it did follow Albus' instructions…almost impossible not actually impossible.

A/N2:  Latte di Suocera (translated:  Mother-in-law's milk) is an extremely potent liquor…highly intoxicating!

A/N3:  The Hufflepuff quote is from Drusilla (baieta to you, my dear) and the idea of the bottles clinking with a Slytherin arrogance belongs to my wonderful beta-reader, Tessie!