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Lesson 7) The Bird You Cannot Change (Intelligence and the Wit-Sharpening Potion)


What is wit? Is there a difference between wit, smartness, and intelligence? Many conflate being learned with having wit, while others confuse wittiness with simple funniness. However, this doesn’t get at the core of what makes a person “witty”. Wit implies both an aptitude to learn as well as a creative capacity to use and manipulate that information quickly for a desired outcome. This can include adapting quickly in an ongoing situation or just being quick with turn of phrase. This combination of capacity to learn, apply that knowledge and do so quickly has made being witty attractive. Increased wit can allow professional problem-solvers, such as Aurors, to navigate an issue more quickly; it can also allow the less popular coworker to increase her or his effectiveness in becoming the life of the office Christmas party.

Moving on, what then makes a person intelligent? Believe it or not, this is something that hasn’t been pinpointed in the magical or the Muggle community. Scientists and psychologists argue whether or not intelligence is tied to a part of a person’s personality or whether it’s connected to another aspect of their being. Many use the intelligence quotient (IQ), a standard quantitative test that many of you may have taken in school or elsewhere, as an objective measure of a person’s intelligence. However, there are problems with this test in relation to social and cultural bias, capability of the test-taker to formulate written response and other issues of alternate abstraction of thought. Generally speaking for the purpose of this lesson, intelligence is a person’s ability to relatively quickly reason, learn, think abstractly, apply concepts and plan with given knowledge. In many ways, it is the foundation of wit, while wit takes intelligence and incorporates personality and application of learning and reason.

Thus, in order to connect the concept to something we learned about earlier this year, if you’re familiar with word analogies: intelligence is to wit as strength is to endurance, at least in the scheme of potions. While intelligence potions primarily increase memory functions and may increase the speed at which an individual might read, interpret and process information, wit-sharpening potions also add an element of creativity and also free up certain inhibitions in terms of behavior.

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Wit-Sharpening Potion

Estimated Brewing Time:
Pewter Cauldron: 4 hours, 49 minutes and 15 seconds
Brass Cauldron: 4 hours, 31 minutes and 57 seconds
Copper Cauldron: 4 hours, 16 minutes and 22.8 seconds

Total Brewing Time:
Pewter Cauldron: 3 days, 4 hours, 49 minutes and 15 seconds to 5 days, 4 hours, 49 minutes and 15 seconds
Brass Cauldron: 3 days, 4 hours, 31 minutes and 57 seconds to 5 days, 4 hours, 31 minutes and 57 seconds
Copper Cauldron: 3 days, 4 hours, 16 minutes and 22.8 seconds to 5 days, 4 hours, 16 minutes and 22.8 seconds

2 L of water
8 scarab beetles1
1 ginger root2
3 hamsa feathers1
6 winter cherries2
30 mL of armadillo bile2
5 dried periwinkle leaves1
30 mL of St. John's Wort infusion2


Part 1:

  1. Add 500 mL of water to the cauldron and bring the heat to 363 Kelvin (90°C/194°F).
  2. Pulverize 8 scarab beetles to a fine powder.
  3. Chop 1 ginger root into 0.5 cm (0.2”) width pieces.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons of the scarab beetle powder to the cauldron.
  5. Stir once counterclockwise.
  6. Add 2 segments of ginger root to the cauldron.
  7. Bring the heat up to 373 Kelvin (100°C/212°F) for 2 minutes and then reduce to 363 Kelvin (90°C/194°F).
  8. Allow the potion to brew in your pewter cauldron for 35 minutes(This would be 31 minutes and 30 seconds in a brass cauldron and 28 minutes and 21 seconds in a copper cauldron.)

At this point, the potion will be a mustard yellow color, emitting a licorice scent. No steam is produced.

Part 2:

  1. Add 1 hamsa feather to the cauldron. Beware of potential splashing in this step.
  2. Stir once clockwise.
  3. Add 4 winter cherries to the cauldron.
  4. Allow the cauldron to bubble for 5 minutes.
  5. Measure out 30 mL of armadillo bile and add it to the cauldron.
  6. Stir twice counterclockwise.
  7. Allow the potion to brew in your pewter cauldron for 24 minutes(This would be 21 minutes and 36 seconds in a brass cauldron and 19 minutes and 26.4 seconds in a copper cauldron.)

At this point, the potion will be a deep red liquid emitting light yellow fumes, but no sparks. Its smell is quite similar to roast chicken.

Part 3:

  1. Remove the potion from the heat source and allow it to sit and cool for 90 minutes.
  2. While the potion is sitting, take 5 dried periwinkle leaves and crush to a fine powder.

At this point, the potion will be violet, emitting a moldy wood scent. No steam is produced.

Part 4:

  1. Add the cauldron to the heat source again, and add 3 tablespoons of crushed scarab beetle to the cauldron.
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of crushed periwinkle leaves to the cauldron.
  3. Carefully add 1 hamsa feather to the cauldron.
  4. Allow it to bubble and spit for 45 seconds.
  5. Stir twice clockwise.
  6. Bring the heat up to 373 Kelvin (100°C/212°F) for 50 seconds and then reduce to 363 Kelvin (90°C/194°F).
  7. Allow the potion to brew in your pewter cauldron for 16 minutes(This would be 14 minutes and 24 seconds in a brass cauldron and 12 minutes and 57.6 seconds in a copper cauldron.)

At this point, the potion will be a pale purple liquid emitting golden fumes and a mothball scent.

Part 5:

  1. Add 1 L of water to the cauldron and allow it to heat for 1 minute. Before adding the extra water, the substance inside the cauldron should look gloppy and viscous.
  2. Add 4 sliced segments of ginger root to the cauldron.
  3. Add 1 hamsa feather to the cauldron.
  4. Stir twice counterclockwise.
  5. Bring the heat up to 383 Kelvin (110°C/230°F) for 3 minutes and then reduce to 363 Kelvin (90°C/194°F).
  6. Add two more sliced segments of ginger root to the cauldron.
  7. Stir once counterclockwise and thrice clockwise.
  8. Crush 2 winter cherries in mortar, making sure as much juice is squeezed out as possible.
  9. Add juiced cherries, pulp, and skin to the cauldron.
  10. Allow the potion to brew in your pewter cauldron for 53 minutes. (This would be 47 minutes and 42 seconds in a brass cauldron and 42 minutes and 55.8 seconds in a copper cauldron.)

At this point, the potion will be muddy green with pink fumes. A musty peppermint smell is produced.

Part 6:

  1. Add 500 mL of water to the cauldron.
  2. Stir twice counterclockwise.
  3. Add 2 tablespoons of crushed scarab beetles to the cauldron.
  4. Add 30 mL of St. John’s Wort infusion to the cauldron.
  5. Stir 2.5 times clockwise. Be very precise, as stirring more or less than that might have very severe results.
  6. Allow the potion to bubble for 3 minutes.
  7. Add 1 tablespoon of crushed scarab beetles to the cauldron.
  8. Bring the heat up to 378 Kelvin (105°C/221°F) for 90 seconds and then reduce to 363 Kelvin (90°C/194°F).
  9. Allow the potion to brew in your pewter cauldron for 45 minutes(This would be 40 minutes and 30 seconds in a brass cauldron and 36 minutes and 27 seconds in a copper cauldron.)
  10. Remove the potion and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Siphon it into a phial for maturation storage.

Your final product must be violet and emit both orange steam and yellow sparks. The Wit-Sharpening Potion must smell like a combination of tangy cumin and pepper.

Maturation Notes:

The potion should be allowed to mature in a room temperature environment in direct light for 3 to 5 days. Longer maturation will give the potion greater potency, but more than 5 days of maturation will make it too powerful and unfit for wizard consumption.

To Store:

Following at least 3 days of maturation, the potion should be stored in a room temperature or slightly warmer environment out of direct light (although dark is not necessary). It can be stored safely for up to 6 months.

To Use:

The Wit-Sharpening Potion should only be taken under the guidance of a trained Potioneer or Healer. Typical prescriptions for the potion will include 15 mL being taken every 2 to 3 days. However, in the case of medical prescription of the potion, it may be given in up to 45 mL each day for up to 30 days in a row.


Please note that this potion contains infusion of St. John’s Wort. While in most cases, when used in a potion, it has proven harmless, care should still be taken when those diagnosed with bipolar personality disorder take the potion. Those who are diagnosed as such are discouraged from taking supplements and potions with St. John’s Wort unless overseen by a Healer, as this herb can exacerbate and promote manic episodes.

Overdose on the Wit-Sharpening Potion can lead to dementia and other permanent forms of brain damage. This is a result of the brain’s functions working too quickly without the proper support, thus “burning out” the brain in a sense. Those who are pregnant or who plan on becoming pregnant while taking the Wit-Sharpening Potion should not do so, as it can have severe mental and neurological impacts on the fetus.

Side effects of the Wit-Sharpening Potion include irregular heartbeats, difficulty performing some spells, tingling in the fingers and toes, raised body temperature and dry mouth.

The potion should never be consumed after six months time, since expired Wit-Sharpening Potion can lead to lost memory, confusion and permanent incapacitation. In some cases, it has even led to coma, vegetative state and full loss of functioning.

Allergies to the Wit-Sharpening Potion are rare, but they can include itching of the nose and mouth, trouble breathing and splotchy green spots on the hands, feet and other extremities. Should this occur, stop use and consult with a Healer immediately, as they can lead to more severe complications. Complications after long-term allergic reaction can include permanent memory loss, fatigue, and muscle deterioration.

Ingredients Note: The Hamsa
440px-Mozzercork_-_Heart_(by).jpgThe hamsa (हंस), occasionally romanized as hansa, is a magical bird known informally in the magical world as the Indian Swan. It is formally known as Anser prudens, a member of the goose family and close kin to the Bar-headed goose. These birds are not uncommon in the Asia-Pacific region of the world, but their physical resemblance to certain Asian swan breeds makes them undetectable to Muggle bird-watchers and environmentalists.

In Muggle tradition, the hamsa is a bird that is able to perform seemingly impossible feats, such as separate milk from water when the two are mixed. It is associated with creative knowledge, and in Hinduism it is the vahana (or bearer) of the Hindu goddess of creativity and knowledge and her husband, who is imbued with powers of creation.

In magical tradition, the bird is associated less with book learning or formal knowledge, but as a creature whose anatomy can make varied potions promoting quick creativity and problem-solving acumen. For instance, we use the feathers in the Wit-Sharpening Potion: instead of improving an individual’s intellectual ability, the feathers contribute to the creativity and nimbleness of the user’s thoughts, making them better able to problem solve.

The feet of the hamsa are occasionally dried and crushed into an expensive powder in the apothecary, and well-to-do artists and other creative individuals have been known to occasionally use them in creativity potions. While some argue that crushed hamsa foot in a concoction is no different from fairy wings, others say that the creativity that it unlocks is an unfair advantage, as well as a most dangerous edge in the long run. Some have reported that witches and wizards who they have known to take too much powdered hamsa foot in concoctions have ultimately gone completely mad. Research of the ingredient suggests that, while powdered hamsa foot cannot cause madness on its own, it does tend to trigger other psychological proclivities towards hallucinations, delusions, and other unfavorable symptoms. There are also many who oppose the killing of these beautiful creatures for a risky creative edge.

While the feet of the hamsa obviously should not be harvested from the bird while it is alive, potioneers should only use feathers in potions that have been shed naturally from a living hamsa. Research is ongoing as to why these feathers are effective while those collected from a (naturally or unnaturally) deceased bird are not. Many have suggested that the energetic trauma that accompanies death disrupts the effectiveness of the feathers of the bird, blocking the flow of magic to them in a way yet not understood and rendering them useless. As the hamsa is a protected bird, however, direct research may not be done on these creatures, but only on other magical creatures that exhibit the same trends.

Practical Note: Maturation
As a practical note to this lesson, I’d like to return to the concept of maturation. You may notice that, while the Estimated Brew Times of a potion vary depending on the cauldron used, the additional time added in the Total Brew Time listed does not change depending on the cauldron. This is a relatively new phenomenon in brewing annotation, as until fairly recently, witches and wizards used to allow their potions to mature in the original cauldron in which they were brewed.

As soon as the active brewing process is finished, we siphon the contents into a phial and store that phial in the appropriate temperature and light to mature. The phial is sealed as though it were ready to be labeled and stored in a potions closet or storage cabinet. Before the twentieth century, however, this was not common at all. In 1903, after noticing several potions that required maturation going terribly wrong during a period of extreme drought, South African witch Lesedi Sinistra began examining the final discarded potions. Not only did she discover dust in most of the spoiled contents of each cauldron, she also saw a great deal of sand and other contaminants.

As an experiment, Sinistra began asking that potioneers brew double the amount of the potion they planned to store - one half would mature in the cauldron and the other would be siphoned and matured in the same temperature and light right next to the cauldron. The contents would then be examined after the maturation period. The experiment yielded two key observations:

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This study enabled the average witch or wizard not only to improve the efficiency of their home brewing, but it also cut down the average maturation time of their potion by a full half day. This was an unexpected side effect of the experiment, but as you begin your journey as young potioneers (for those who do), you will find that in most studies, you will likely experience unintended results that improve knowledge of potions overall.

And this practical note takes us to the end of Lesson Seven. I hope you experienced success with your Wit-Sharpening Potion. I’m looking forward to seeing how it improves your performance on the final and beyond. Next week, we’ll be talking about stress and stress-management, as well as brewing the Draught of Peace. So if you’re beginning to feel tense about finals, never fear.


Original lesson written by Professor Lucrezia Batyaeva
Image credits here and here

In Year Four of Potions, students will focus on Physical Modifying Potions. This will include beauty, blemish removal, and even the famous Polyjuice Potion. Every lesson will include a lab exercise that will teach the student the relationship between potions and their impact on the physical body.
Course Prerequisites:
  • PTNS-301

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