The Crucible, the Retort, and the Still
"Professor, I only have two weeks to get my project right. I would hate to miss the deadline for the St. Mungo's internship just because I was too daft to tweak a healing potion properly. I simply can't figure out where I'm going wrong," Lily whined. She knew she had whined, but she had been at her wit's end.
"My dear, I'm sure you'll do just fine. You'll figure it out soon. You're one of my best students, you know."
With those words, Professor Slughorn had patted Lily on the shoulder and jovially walked away. Lily had been extremely frustrated.
Slughorn had convinced Lily to look more intently at the healing properties of poisons, as they were versatile. Despite her reservations, Lily soon discovered that Slughorn had been right. Many poisons were indispensable for medicinal use, which was the only reason she had ever consented on working with anything even remotely considered dark in the first place. To Lily, even the impression of using the dark arts was unconscionable.
Atropa Belladonna- or Deadly Nightshade- was the poison she had chosen. Upon initially cutting the purple stalks and inhaling the disagreeable odor it exuded upon being first opened, Lily had made a face. One to five grains of powdered root was as much as could be used without killing a person. It amazed Lily that something so deadly could also be used to help others. Prepared in various ways- the plant was helpful for treating diseases, was an antidote, and could be used as a pain reducer- amongst many other things. However, the same plant had been used to poison entire troops, and was a feature in many mythologies. Neither dark nor light, the plant itself just was. It helped her to think of it that way.
After having carefully prepared her ingredients, Lily had decided to leave the brewing of her potion until after dinner. It was unthinkable to her that anyone else would use her Belladonna or her workspace. So, it was with great surprise that upon returning to the lab, Lily saw an unattended cauldron at her usual station. It was obvious that someone had been making something with her Belladonna. She warily walked toward the cauldron.
Lily immediately recognized the potion as one of the deadlier ones. Someone had been preparing a potion that would effectively render the Belladonna undetectable by most magical means. It also rid the plant of its bitter taste when ingested. Lily certainly wouldn't be ingesting that particular potion, as it was intended to kill. The deep purple color of the potion swirled beguilingly in the cauldron and deepened even further when she unthinkingly added the last of the deadly plant, being careful that it didn't come into contact with her skin. Whoever the eventual recipient was, it was unlikely that either they- or those who investigated the cause of their death- would ever know what hit them.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" a deeply timbered voice inquired close to her ear.
His voice washed over her and put a now familiar burning deep inside of her being. He was dark, he was dangerous, he was intense, and that burning feeling inside was the entire reason she had cut him out of her life in fifth year. She couldn't be too careful when it came to Severus Snape. He wasn't safe- not like James. She was all too aware that he had changed from the awkward boy she had known.
"It's deadly," she mused in return.
"Which makes it all the more lovely. The most deadly things always are," Severus huskily intoned, while observing the potion.
His curtain of hair obscured his eyes from her, but Lily detected more than a hint of admiration from his tone alone- admiration for the potion and for her. She didn't need to gaze into his eyes to know that.
"Who's it for?" she boldly asked, staring directly where his eyes were hidden.
"Someone who will die a most poetic death, which is more than most of us could hope to ask for," Severus drawled evasively.
"No, I mean, who requested the potion?" Lily queried in undaunted manner.
"One of my associates," he answered simply.
"A Death Eater," she accused, her tone knowing.
Smirking maliciously, Severus glibly replied, "I'd say the Death Eater would be the one ingesting this potion, Lily."
"Fine, don't tell me then," she retorted huffily.
Her stirring rod resumed its vigorous infinity motion in the cauldron, punctuated more intently by her annoyance. Why she had decided to stir and finish his potion with her stolen ingredients, she didn't want to ponder.
"Leave it to simmer," Severus commanded, seemingly unperturbed by her sudden foul mood.
She didn't stop stirring immediately. The motion calmed her more than it ought to have done. A hand reached out and lightly grabbed her wrist, while another gently pried the stirring rod from her hand.
Pulling her along just as gently, Severus continued, "I've something for you."
Lily told herself that she was tired. That was the reason she let Severus, whom she hadn't spoken to in nearly two years, essentially hold her hand to show her Merlin knew what.
He took her back to the storage closet and left her at the door while he brought back a bunch of lab implements she had never seen before.
"What is all of that?" she found herself hesitantly asking, in spite of herself.
She kept telling herself that she didn't care about whatever it was that Severus wanted to show her, but it was a lost cause. Her curiosity was piqued.
He smiled enigmatically.
"You'll have to wait and see."
He walked back over to her lab area and set everything down. Then he picked up an oddly shaped flask with a rounded base and a long neck that was bent down and tapered. Severus saw Lily's impatience and raised an eyebrow at her as if to chastise her.
"This is a retort."
That was all he said before he turned to the cauldron and ladled a significant portion of the potion into it. He then turned and placed the full retort on a stand that connected to another, smaller flask.
"All of this is known as an alembic. Most would call it an alchemical still."
"Not that this isn't fascinating, Severus…"
He held up a hand to stop her and gave her an amused smirk.
He then lit a burner under the retort, and in a matter of minutes, Lily watched entranced, as the potion boiled and distilled into the smaller flask.
"Some potions need to be transmuted, or refined, if you will."
When the process was finished, Severus handed her the smaller flask.
"The healing potion you were having difficulty brewing."
Lily flushed out of guilt, embarrassment, and because she had once again misjudged Severus Snape. Of course, in his usual fashion, he had encouraged her to believe the worst of him. Her face was the same color as her hair, she was sure of it. She meekly took the flask from him.
"Thank you, Severus," she said softly.
He looked almost shy, which was an odd contrast to the passion and sensuality he had been exuding not long before.
"Most potions texts don't mention that sometimes older alchemy methods need to be incorporated in order to obtain the best results. Slughorn would have never known how to help you."
Lily knew that Severus wasn't being arrogant in his assessment. He really was that much better than Slughorn. She awkwardly tried to start a conversation with him.
"You were having me on before- so I'm your associate now?"
Severus' look turned serious again.
"Fellow students count as associates. Look, don't look too much into this, Lily. I know we're not friends anymore. You wouldn't accept that from me anyway."
His pride and her inability to forgive- they were both quite a pair.
"Maybe I was wrong," she tentatively responded.
"Maybe I was too."
In that moment, they both understood the other, perhaps for the first time ever. Yet, it was too late for them already and they both knew it. Their moment had passed. Severus turned to go, but stopped before he reached the door.
Lily immediately looked up from the amazing healing potion that Severus had somehow made from one of the deadliest poisons. She was still in awe of his remarkable skill.
"Do you- do you think- I mean- do you think it possible for a person change? Become better?"
She could see him swallow thickly. He was once again the young, unsure boy she had once known.
"Like the potion?" She mused. "Severus, if anyone would be capable of such a feat, it is you."
He nodded and then turned and gave her a genuine smile.
"Well, just like that potion- I'd only be willing to do it for you."
Then he walked out of the door and out of her life. Somehow Lily knew then that Severus would turn out all right. She smiled at the thought.
Author's Note: (Not merely lab implements, crucibles, retorts, and stills can be seen by alchemists as representing the soul. A crucible -or cauldron- can represent openness for learning or filling. A retort is a sealed flask that can represent sealing oneself off from the world. The still represents extraction and purification. When used together one can distill not only potions, but also figuratively speaking, one can make a tincture of their positive aspects.) I hope you enjoyed my little fic. It wouldn't let go until I wrote it. Please read and review.