Welcome to Potions 101!
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Lesson 3) It's A Kind of Magic (Tools and Brewing)
Hello, everyone, and welcome to our third lesson of the year! As I’m sure you have noticed even this early on in your Hogwarts career, we don’t all come from the same backgrounds. In my case, I grew up in a military base with a mixed-blood family before attending Mahoutokoro. Some of us grew up in cities, suburbs, or small towns, with magical families or non-magical families. Some of you may have some background in potions, while for others all the information you have learned thus far is incredibly new. But we are all here right now, together. For those of you who have watched your parents or family members brew in the home the first couple lessons will be a bit repetitive, but nonetheless important. It will be your first time putting these instruments to work on your own! As you know, next week will be your first lab, and as such it’s also crucial to teach all of you who may not have been exposed to potions regularly in your childhood the tools and tricks of the trade, so to speak.
Brewing potions is a sensitive and difficult enough endeavor even if you do pay attention to easily controlled variables, so there is no excuse for letting those variables go unheeded. Creating a potion can also be a very dangerous process that, if done incorrectly, can lead to painful injury and, in some cases, death. As such, both proper procedure and proper safety - some of which we learned in our first lesson - are some of the biggest things I want you to take away from this foundational year of Potions. However, do not fear: I promise I will be fair, if slightly tight-lipped, next lesson during our lab.
One Shaft of Light That Shows the Way (Tools of the Trade)
The most iconic tool used by the potioneer is the cauldron. Potioneers often have strong emotional ties to the cauldrons they use most frequently, and you will even occasionally see them mumbling to their cauldron during the brewing process, urging the instrument along. Now, before you mock this, imagine you are studying advanced potions techniques following your graduation from Hogwarts. You’ve been awake going on fifty hours straight confirming the alignment of the planets and other celestial bodies, gathering ingredients at precisely the correct moment, crushing or chopping the necessary ingredients, and then brewing an incredibly intricate potion of some sort with several phases and long wait periods in-between. You are alone in your lab standing over your cauldron, this one vessel that holds the potential success of such a long and hard effort. If finished correctly and if you took sufficient notes, this could mean your first published scholarly article or even a potential first patent. The potion in that pot simmers merrily, letting off gentle steam and occasionally emitting sparks. This vessel, the cauldron, is gently cradling and preparing the key to your potential success. Finally, you reach the end of that long road. Your potion is done and ready to be bottled. It is successful - you are successful. And you only have that gently hissing cauldron with which to share that quiet victory.
Cauldrons are made of various materials and come in many sizes. In different parts of the world, different materials are favored, typically in affiliation with whatever materials are most prevalent in that country. However, that is now being somewhat standardized through better trade agreements and open commerce between magical communities. In terms of size, some cauldrons can be small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and brew only the smallest servings of potions, while there are others that would easily contain a rather large human. These large cauldrons are typically used for commercial brewing, and are rarely seen in personal households. Although most European and American countries use standardized numbering systems for conveying cauldron size, there is some variation internationally. As such, make sure you research local sizing systems should you find yourself shopping in a remote location.
There are three common materials used for cauldrons in Great Britain:
Pewter is the best for beginning potions work, as it is the slowest and least expensive standard cauldron, so most young witches and wizards are able to obtain their own. It gives a little bit of leeway owing to its slow brewing time, but students should still be careful to be as precise as possible in their measurements and timing, even with this extra wiggle room available. Pewter is a metal alloy (a material composed of at least two metals) that is traditionally at least 85% tin with copper, bismuth, antimony, and occasionally lead making up the rest of its composition. The earliest piece of pewter found dates back to 1450 BCE in an ancient Egyptian tomb. All Hogwarts students should have a Size Two Pewter cauldron for their Potions class.
Brass brews potions at a medium level speed, and is slightly more expensive than pewter. This is a good cauldron for intermediate witches and wizards who have a decent grasp of brewing times and methodology. Although this is not always exactly the case, potions brewed with brass tend to brew approximately 10% faster than those brewed with pewter. Brass is also a metal alloy composed mostly of the metals zinc and copper. The levels of each of these metals can vary to create different effects in the metal. Alloys of copper and zinc have been found in the western portions of Asia and the East Mediterranean dating as far back as the third millennium before the Common Era. Similar alloys were used throughout ancient times, gradually making their way west to the Roman Empire and other parts of Europe.
Copper is the fastest brewing cauldron material, and as a rule of thumb, tends to brew potions approximately 10% faster than brass cauldrons. Only a skilled witch or wizard should use a copper cauldron, as they can be a bit tricky owing to the much more rapid brew time. The faster brew time also makes it more likely to make a mistake or ruin the potion: a shorter brew time also yields less “wiggle room” for differences in timing. It is also unwise to use these cauldrons for potions with the longest brew times, as quite often a good deal of the strength of these slow-brewing potions is gained by a longer period of the ingredients sitting and brewing with one another. Copper is not an alloy, but rather a pure chemical element containing atoms of only one type. We will cover more of that in Year Two, so don’t worry if you don’t understand that now! There is evidence that copper was used as far back as nine to ten thousand years ago, and the Chalcolithic Period, commonly known as the Copper Age, marks a period of time when this metal was in popular use before the discovery of the alloy bronze, which is a harder metal.
On occasion, other materials are used for cauldrons in Great Britain, but these materials tend to be a bit rarer and a good deal more expensive. Gold and silver cauldrons are two such examples of this. Silver cauldrons are actually among the best to use, with the least likelihood of brewing failure as well as a smooth, easy brew time. The effects of potions brewed in silver, particularly in conjunction with certain phases of the Moon, tend to be heightened, and they quite often have a longer shelf life. If you ever decide to be a fully-fledged potioneer, a silver cauldron is definitely worth the investment. Finally, the fire crab also makes a wonderful cauldron, but owing to their frequent poaching for their shells as well as the gems found on their shells, international wizarding laws have created sanctions protecting colonies in the Fiji Islands. However, they are still traded with some frequency on the black market. Being caught with a fire crab shell sold on the black market has hefty fines, however, and carries with it possible time in Azkaban prison.
As mentioned in the safety procedures, you must always bring your dragon-hide gloves to class in order to protect you when handling dangerous ingredients, goggles to protect your eyes from splashes and sprays, and your wand. Remember, some ingredients are not only caustic, they may also try to bite: keep alert at all times, and never grow lackadaisical when brewing or preparing ingredients.
Other important implements you will find at your brewing station at the lab next week include a set of scales to measure your ingredients as well as measuring cups for liquids and a ruler for solids that must be added by measuring length. You will also want a sharp knife to ensure you are cutting ingredients cleanly and a cutting board. Many prefer a silver knife for this, as it tends to cut magical ingredients the most cleanly, but it’s up to you. Some ingredients must be crushed to a fine and even dust or ground into a smooth paste with a mortar and pestle. Stirring during the brewing process should actually be done with your wand (never stick your wand into the potion, though!) but you may have a wooden stirring utensil of some sort as well. This wooden spoon or other implement is often used to stir the potion after the brew time is finished to ensure an even consistency or to add Flobberworm mucus for texture.
This leads us to an important concept, which is the definition of measure, also known as standard measure. Sometimes you will see some potion recipes that state "mix 3 measures of Flobberworm mucus" or any similar instruction, but what is a measure? Simply put, a measure is a standardized unit of volume, similar to a tablespoon or a teaspoon. However, a standard measure is slightly larger, and contains approximately 40 mL of material. I have brought a wooden standard measure for you to examine and get a feeling for how much it contains.
Please make sure that you always have cauldron cleaner, and that you always clean your cauldron thoroughly after you finish bottling your potion. If you don't remember to clean your cauldron, or if you do so sloppily, any remnants of your old brews will interact with anything new that you try to brew. As you will learn when you start seeing different potions’ interactions with one another, this could have some pretty harrowing and unpleasant outcomes. It is also important to clean all of your implements between use, as even individual ingredients can react poorly with one another and taint your brew.
Remember, a well-ordered station is an efficient one. Try to sort your ingredients in order of usage and lay out your implements in a sensible, orderly manner. This saves you the trouble of groping around just to find the scales buried under haphazard bags of nettles as your potion slowly turns mustard yellow and then melts the bottom of your cauldron.
The Flame that Burns (Brewing Processes)
While the casting of charms and other spells requires a tremendous grasp of willpower and concentration, as well as precise wand movements and incantations, the art of brewing potions requires another level of patience and precision. Potioneers often find themselves balancing the volatile nature of magical ingredients with very specific brewing times and methodology. It is very important to follow directions when brewing a potion in a non-research based scenario. Inexperienced potioneers in particular can cause some rather nasty effects on themselves and others if they don’t take proper precautions.
Firstly, it is a good idea to prep ingredients in advance, at least to the extent that you can. If certain ingredients can be measured out, chopped, ground, or similarly prepared in advance, this takes some of the pressure off of you when brewing. However, many ingredients must be freshly cut, juiced, ground, or measured in order to be properly effective. Also, some ingredients can only display their full capabilities during certain moon phases or other celestial alignments. This is something we will discuss in further detail at a later time. For the purpose of our labs now, all of your ingredients will be provided for you at the beginning of the lab. They will all be properly aged, and, at least in the beginning, there will not be too many tricky processes.
Self-heating cauldrons do exist, and while many technological advances in the magical world seem a bit overdone, if you can get your hands on a self-heating cauldron for simple daily brewing, it may be worth the investment. It may sound lazy, but those cauldrons are engineered to hold steady temperature throughout the interior, and it really does make a small difference when compared to adjusting and readjusting your cauldron over a fickle flame. I personally prefer an actual flame, since I’m wary of adding additional magical energy to my potions, but that should really only impact more complex and difficult potions.
Once you have all of your ingredients, your plan of attack, and your cauldron heated, it’s time to start adding your ingredients. Many recipe books will walk you through step by step, and it is integral that you make sure that you follow their instructions exactly. Ingredients must always be added in the correct order. This is very important, as the magical and thermal energies that precipitate the brewing cause certain ingredients to react with one another at certain times. If you add ingredients out of order, then these reactions cannot happen and your potion will not brew properly. More complicated and portable household potions books may not have specific instructions listed, but instead simply list ingredients in the order they are added. These texts assume that the witch or wizard is familiar with the general recipe, and simply need the list of ingredients to trigger memory.
Another important component is stirring with your wand. As I mentioned previously, do not stick your wand into the potion! As much protective magic as your wand holds, that is never, ever a good idea, and your wand wood will not thank you for it! Hold your wand over the cauldron, say the incantation, and move your wand in slow, steady circles. We’ll discuss this more next lesson. That said, stirring the potion in the correct direction, either counterclockwise or clockwise is very important. Also, please ensure that you stir the correct number of times at the proper time. All of this is integral, as the interaction between your wand’s magic and the magical and mundane ingredients must happen at the correct time in order to produce the desired chemical and magical reactions. Stirring too little will not excite the particles enough for the reaction to occur. Stirring too much will over-excite the particles, and could cause an extreme reaction.
Potion brew time is the total amount of time it takes to brew a potion. We measure the active time you spend brewing your potion as Estimated Brew Time (EBT), although depending on the cauldron, brew times may vary slightly. Extended brew times are one of the reasons many are deterred from potions and incorrectly view it as difficult and time-consuming. While your potion may take a total of three (or even thirteen!) hours to brew, for example, you may only be actively involved for an hour of that process. Nonetheless, you cannot simply wander away from your cauldron, as you have to ensure nothing is going awry in the process. It is wise to bring a little busy work that you can do while keeping an eye on the potion. Many witches or wizards knit, sketch, read the newspaper, or perform similar activities while their potions are brewing. Those who brew their own potions typically make the brewing area inviting and comfortable with pictures of family, friends, and loved ones so that it’s a comfortable lab or “closet”.
So, skipping ahead in sequence, you followed all of the instructions, and your potion is brewed correctly! Now you need a means to store it. Currently, the most common storing mechanisms used for potions storage are glass or crystal phials. These phials can either be completely clear or slightly tinted for potions that may require storage in dark or dim areas for maximum efficiency. The potion can either be poured through a funnel into the phial, or a Siphoning Charm can be used to appropriately bottle the potion.
Many potions can be used immediately after brewing. However, some require time for the ingredients to mature and for certain chemical and magical processes to “settle”, for lack of a better word. Additional magical reactions may have to occur. Most texts will list this maturity as the Total Brew Time (TBT), so be mindful of that as well. As well as the TBT, most detailed recipe books will also indicate how long a potion can be stored before it should be safely discarded. It is important to consult the expiration date before using a potion.
Always label your phials clearly with the name of the potion, effect, ingredients, date brewed, expiration date, usage, and any warnings about allergies or side effects. Having all of this information is crucial to ensure you do not confuse potions or expiration dates, or that if any emergency prompts someone to have to access your potions cabinet, they can find the proper potion immediately. If you keep certain potions on-hand for specific allergies or to treat chronic diseases, it’s wise to keep those very clearly labeled or marked for easy access.
Once you have reached this stage, you are ready to choose the appropriate place to store your potion for future use. There is some methodology to this as well, and I will explain and demonstrate how to properly store your potion following next week’s lab. With this, I will let you go and prepare yourself for next week, when you will be doing your first lab, the Cure for Boils! Good luck, and have fun with your quiz and extra credit essay, if you choose to complete it.
Original lesson written by Professor Lucrezia Batyaeva
Image credits here, here, here, here, and here
It's A Kind of Magic
The Doors of Time