The seventh-year Ravenclaw looked up from his essay in irritation – sudden loud noises from the opposite side of the common-room table were not what you wanted to hear when trying to concentrate on translating Old Norse spell runes. His housemate from the year below had just slammed shut his copy of Advanced Potion Making, and gave the impression of someone who had only done so because actually throwing it into the fire would have drawn scandalised looks.
"Got a problem there?"
That earned him a scowl from the sixth-year. "Well, how the hell am I supposed to remember all this stuff? I'm going to fail my Potions N.E.W.T., I can tell!" As his companion rolled his eyes, he added, "Well, all right, maybe not actually fail, but I've got no chance of getting anywhere near an 'O'."
The older boy sighed. "Everyone says that in the early stages of the course. It'll probably click eventually. What are you studying, anyway?"
"Golpalott's three Laws, that's what."
"Oh, I shouldn't worry about those. You probably just need practice. Anyway," he added as an afterthought, "even Golpalott himself didn't get an Outstanding on his Potions N.E.W.T."
"Didn't you know? Professor Slughorn taught him when he was at Hogwarts. He was telling us all about the bloke at the last Slug Club meeting."
"Nice for those who got an invite," grumbled the sixth-year. "Are you serious? Old Sluggy told us in class that Golpalott was one of the best students he'd ever taught! Absolute genius, he said, only had to look at a Potions theory once and he immediately understood it!""
"Perfectly serious, yes." He turned back to his Ancient Runes homework and then decided that actually, he could do with a break. "Do you want to hear the story Slughorn told us about him?"
"Go on, then."
"Right. Well, according to the Professor – and he said he was there, so I suppose he should know – Golpalott asked to address a special meeting of the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers to announce his Four Laws for the first time …"
"Wait a minute …Four Laws?" The one-man audience for this telling of the tale made a grab for his textbook, started flipping through it, and then put it down with a curse. "There are only three listed in here. What's the fourth one, then? Are we supposed to know what it is?"
"Well, no-one knows what it is, do they?"
"Why ever not?"
"Because Golpalott always was a secretive sort, according to Slughorn. Never wrote anything down when working on a theory if he could help it, and when he had to he charmed the notes so that none of his rivals could read them. He even used to do the same with his homework, apparently."
"Selfish little bugger."
"Maybe, but Slughorn didn't mind, he said it made life a lot easier for him. But obviously the Four Laws were a big thing at the time, and he really,really wanted academic priority, so before he went in front of the Society he memorised everything he wanted to say and destroyed all his notes. Then, after Dagworth-Granger had introduced him to the assembled Potioneers, Golpalott set up some cauldrons at the front of their main dungeon and got to work. Go on then, what's the First Law?"
"It says – hang on, don't tell me! – 'a poison of the third degree of Dark Arts or less may always be alchemically inverted to determine its antidote', right?"
"Word perfect! Golpalott wrote that in the air in fire-letters, then asked a member of the audience to select an arbitrary poison from the Society's stocks for a demonstration. A Russian bloke picked out something called Atkinson's Asphyxiator; Golpalott analysed it with Scarpin's Revelaspell, and made an antidote right then and there – then drank them both and stood smiling at the audience, perfectly safe and not choking to death or anything."
"Well yeah, great, but simple single poison antidotes aren't too hard to do. We studied them back in fourth-year, didn't we?"
"Yes, but back then it was a new concept. Even simple antidotes were hard to find without the principle of alchemical inversion as a guideline. And Golpalott wasn't finished, of course. Can you give me the Second Law?"
The sixth-year sat back and thought. "Um, yeah … 'the actual effects of a combination of two or more poisons depend on whether or not they are' … er, something or other."
"'Alchemically compatible', for the record. Comes up all the time on old N.E.W.T. papers, so you'd better memorise it. It's actually partly a corollary of the First Law – it turns out that magical poisons fall into distinct alchemical classes. If you mix ones from different classes that are partial or total inverses they lose some or all of their effectiveness, but with a proper blend of ones from the same class, there can be a combination effect that you don't get from either alone. In fact Dumbledore did a lot of work on identifying the main types, he found that you could separate out most of them by the way they reacted to dragon's blood …"
This explanatory lecture resulted only in a glazed look. "Fascinating. Do we really need to know what Dumbledore did when we take the N.E.W.T.s?"
"Well … only as background information, I suppose. But it's interesting! The main point is that no-one had formulated that theory before Golpalott explained it, and then he proceeded to demonstrate by mixing and drinking two poisons that he already knew were alchemical inverses. When nothing bad happened to him, it certainly made them sit up straight and applaud. At that stage, they were practically ready to nominate him for the Order of Merlin."
"So what happened that they didn't?"
"Remember the Third Law?"
The younger student did a good impression of someone who had the requested information on the tip of his tongue and was carefully considering whether he'd got the wording exactly right before answering, but then gave up with a shrug and riffled through Advanced Potion Making until he found the page he wanted "Got it. 'The antidote for a blended poison will be equal to more than the sum of the antidotes for each of the separate components.' Don't tell me, let me guess – that follows on from the First and Second Laws?"
"Well, of course. You have to determine if there's a combination effect from any two or more of the ingredients, and if so, work out what its alchemical inverse is and add it to the antidote …"
"How did Golpalott demonstrate that, then?"
"Again, he asked for someone to make up a blended poison, so some Transylvanian potioneer put together a concoction of Mindscour and Heartseize and something out of an old book on slow poisons called Blood Blend, and for all I know a few other nasties off the shelves. Golpalott took it and went to work casting … wait a minute. Has Slughorn told you lot yet what you do when you get a strange potion to analyse? And if he has, can you actually remember?"
"Of course!" The offended tone of this reply would have been more convincing if it hadn't been followed by five seconds of embarrassed silence. "You use … that thing you mentioned, Scarper's Revealer Spell!"
It seemed more tactful not to comment directly on the inadequacies of this answer. "Quite. Golpalott was on a roll by this time and rather enjoying putting on a show. So he waved his wand over the phial and cast Scarpin's Revelaspell –" the last two words were tetchily emphasised with a slightly raised voice "– then demonstrated how the Blood Blend and Mindscour had a combination effect according to the Second Law that stripped iron from the blood, then he showed how to work out the missing extra ingredient. He'd got them on the edge of their seats by this time, so he threw the ingredients for the antidotes in the cauldron, let it brew for a bit while he talked about the theory – then swallowed the poison, downed a goblet of the antidote, and took a bow."
"But what about the Fourth Law …"
The confused sixth-year thought for a for a moment or two, and then his face cleared. "Oh, hang on, wait a minute. I see where this is going!"
The scepticism with which this last comment had been expressed was ignored. "Yeah! It's a quantitative thing, isn't it? If he only drank a goblet's worth of the antidote, right, then there wouldn't have been enough antidote for the Mindscour itself, yeah, and so he forgot all about what he was going to say for the Fourth Law, and, um – oh, of course, he didn't have any notes left, so they couldn't find out what it would have been from those!"
"Excellent! Well reasoned."
"And almost completely wrong."
"He made sure to take plenty of antidote – there was only a small phial of poison, so a swallow would have been enough. No, what actually happened was that Golpalott didn't bother to write down the information he got from Scarpin's Revelaspell, and he forgot all about the Heartseize while he was demonstrating the other stuff. So when he drank the poison and antidote, there was just about enough time for the audience to start cheering before he dropped down dead."
"Yeah. Same reason he didn't get an Outstanding on the Potions N.E.W.T., according to Slughorn. Brilliant theoretician, but far too slapdash with his practical work."
Notes: Written for the omniocular Spells, Jinxes, Curses, and Charms Challenge on Livejournal for the prompt 'Scarpin's Revelaspell'. Oh all right, this is another case of a challenge giving me an excuse to write down a somewhat crackish little plotbunny I had ages ago about the failure to get the analysis right, but abandoned because I couldn't be bothered to come up with the first two Laws. Admittedly, it does focus on potions, but the spell plays a small but crucial part!