"This isn't going to work, Headmaster!"
Dumbledore looked up, startled by the sudden appearance of the dark-haired wizard who'd just stormed into his office. The fact that he'd been caught unawares was clear evidence that he still hadn't fully recovered from his encounter with Tom Riddle's diary—normally he'd have sensed his visitor long before he reached the office door.
No, there was nothing to worry about, he brushed his brief concern aside. He'd gotten plenty of sleep that night—eighteen hours straight—far more than he normally did. He'd slept so much that he'd sought out Poppy the next day, but after tutting at him for half an hour about the dangers of magical exhaustion at his age, she'd given him a clean bill of health.
Pushing any remaining doubts to the back of his mind, he focused instead on the young man in front of him, "What seems to be the problem, Severus?"
The Potions Master growled in frustration. "I've tried everything; Bellatrix just doesn't trust me. She's always been frustratingly suspicious of all persons, not the Dark Lord," he frowned. "Then there's the fact that I've taken a post here at Hogwarts and that you've vouched for me with the Ministry...”
"Have you not tried explaining that the Dark Lord's requested that you take the post to spy on me?" asked Dumbledore jovially.
Snape shot him a glare before responding, "Of course, I've tried. But, she's not convinced," he drawled. "She remains firm in her belief that I'm working for you. She'll never let me see the Cup, never mind touch it…"
"I see," Dumbledore nodded gravely, but his eyes continued to twinkle as he reached into one of his desk drawers and pulled out a leather-bound text, stained in blood. "Perhaps this would help."
Snape's eyes widened in surprise, as he caught a glimpse of the title. "Is that…?"
Dumbledore nodded, "It took me a while to find, but this particular potions grimoire contains the necromantic ritual which, I believe, Voldemort intended to use for his return."
"May I?" Snape asked reverently, holding out a shaking hand towards the book, which, if the tales were to believed, had been written by Salazar Slytherin himself, with additions by various Potions Masters—some darker than others—over the years. The recipes it supposedly contained…
Disapproval flickered briefly on the headmaster's face, who hadn't expected quite so much enthusiasm—it was a very dark text. However, seeing as he'd brought it out himself, he wasn't exactly in any position to object.
"Of course," he nodded, though his expression, as he handed it over, clearly conveyed a warning against succumbing to the temptation of the darker potions and rituals contained within. "The ritual I mentioned is on page five-hundred-thirty-nine."
Snape took the tome from him gingerly and carefully flipped through the ancient blood-stained sheets, pausing only when he reached the page in question; there'd be plenty of time to examine the volume more closely, at a later date—he hoped.
"Powdered root of asphodel… re'em blood… medium heat… alihotsy…" he began to read, mumbling under his breath, "powdered unicorn horn… stir counter-clockwise… fluxweed… runespoor eggs… hellebore… bone of the father… flesh of the servant… blood of the enemy…" he trailed off, as he reached the final ingredients, his eyes widening in surprise. True he'd brewed much worse on the Dark Lord's orders, but he hadn't expected Dumbledore to…
"You actually expect me to brew this?" he demanded.
"Of course not!" Dumbledore answered sharply, his voice leaving no doubt as to his disapproval. "Just show it to Ms Lestrange as proof of your sincerity."
Snape snorted, unconvinced that the headmaster had fully grasped the depth of Bellatrix's paranoia, "And if she insists on brewing it herself?"
"You tutored Ms Lestrange during her Hogwarts years, did you not?" The headmaster smirked mischievously, the ever-present twinkle in his eyes momentarily magnified, as he imagined a grotesquely deformed Voldemort cursing Bellatrix Lestrange to within an inch of her life. "Do you honestly believe that she would risk her limited skills on such a complex potion once you remind her of the consequences of Voldemort's wrath should she fail to brew it perfectly?"
Severus shuddered. Bellatrix had always been much better at curses than potions—even as a first-year—which is how he'd wound up 'tutoring' her, if by 'tutoring' you meant doing all the work for her, including submitting a second vial of his own practical work with her name on it. Slughorn had never given any indication that he suspected, how did the headmaster…?
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. No, Potions had never been Bella's forte; he suspected even Pettigrew was probably better than her… Still, not being privy to the product of Dumbledore's imagination, he took a moment before agreeing hesitantly. "Perhaps not, but I still doubt that she'll ever let me touch the Cup."
The headmaster refused to be deterred. He reached into his robe pockets and withdrew a fortified vial—which Harry had finally agreed to leave with him. "And if you didn't need to touch it?" Handing the vial to the perplexed younger wizard, he clarified. "Basilisk venom; It should destroy the Cup on contact, if you can convince her to drop it into your cauldron."
Snape's jaw dropped uncharacteristically in surprise, and he found himself staring in disbelief at the vial in his hand. "Basilisk venom?" he asked. The substance was almost as rare as the book resting on his lap."How did you...?"
Dumbledore smiled back at him enigmatically, not deigning the question with a response.
Snape growled in frustration, but did not insist. In the brief amount of time that he'd been working for the older wizard, he'd learned rather quickly that Dumbledore was frustratingly frugal when it came to dispensing information. Trying to get answers out of the headmaster, that he didn't want to give, was an exercise in futility. Instead, gently depositing the vial in his front robe pocket for safe-keeping, and asked a different question, "And it will neutralize whatever magic the Dark Lord cast on the Cup?"
The young Potions Master groaned in dismay, but Dumbledore showed no indication that he'd noticed the other wizard's distress, "Thus far we have only used the Basilisk's fangs to destroy similar artefacts—by stabbing them. However the venom, in its pure form is certainly destructive enough that it should have the same reaction if used properly."
Snape was hardly reassured by the headmaster's uncompelling response—he was risking his life on a hunch? However, he found himself nodding slowly, despite his fears, his mind already going over possible ways to augment the destructive properties of the venom, without also destroying his cauldron in the process. Complaining would only earn him another disappointed frown, and a reminder of his promise to do anything in exchange for Lily's safety.
"Excellent," exclaimed Dumbledore, smiling genially. "I'll let you get to work, then, but do come see me later, with your cauldron, so that I can charm it into a Portkey onto the grounds, just in case."
Nodding sharply, Snape thanked the headmaster for the offer, resisting the urge to scowl at the older wizard's nonchalance and blatant dismissal. Then pivoting abruptly towards the door, he took his leave, escaping to his private potion's lab down in the Hogwarts dungeons, to experiment on possible solutions to his dilemma. Maybe, just maybe, this crazy idea might actually work…