Mid to late August: definitely not a meth lab Who: Lily and Severus What: A training montage, preparation-for-groundbreaking-potions style When: Covering a period from about 15th August through to the 1st September Where: The new alkahest safehouse Warnings: Discussions of using blood in potions
They couldn't have the workspace in an actual house, Lily had argued, because the neighbours would think it was a meth lab and call the cops, and to her surprise Moody had known what a meth lab was and argued back that they also couldn't have it in a storage facility for the same reason the meth labs couldn't--ventilation. So here they were: moving furniture into a house in a quiet Muggle neighbourhood so that the lower floor at least looked like a house and not some sort of drug-cooking establishment, while they turned the upper storey bedrooms into a study room and an ingredient store. The upstairs bathroom proved remarkably spacious once they'd pulled out a big spa bath, certainly big enough for a laboratory.
If they could get things sorted out to everyone's satisfaction, that was.
Leaving arrangements on a grand scale to Lily had been something of a struggle, if only because Severus’ control issues had control issues. This was nothing new, and he was positive Lily was well aware of how much effort it took not to weigh in too heavily on whatever conversations she happened to be conducting with Outside Agencies.
He wasn’t stupid. He was merely in a bad position to negotiate, so he sat on his hands until hearing that Lily had somehow acquired a house they were going to convert to suit their needs. It was unexpected, but at least they wouldn’t want for space. One of his biggest complaints at Mulpepper’s was the abysmally cramped conditions in the back, where most of his work was actually completed.
Eyeing the unfortunately lumpy sofa that took up residence in the sitting room, Severus sighed and tucked hair behind his ears for the fourteenth time in about as many minutes. “I think my grandmother had curtains in that same pattern,” he observed, dryly. No matter. They weren’t planning to entertain.
"They might be your grandmother's curtains, for all I know," Lily responded with a distracted smile, as she prodded with her wand to shove the matching armchair into a better angle with the lumpy sofa. She kept mentally finding herself thinking about where would be safe for Harry to play, but she wasn't sure James would ever let her bring their son into what was basically a potions lab, especially one with Severus Snape.
"Good enough for now," she declared, turning her back on the curtains. "The others will come in later and do some more touching up. Recurring light charms, make the place look lived in." Lily waved her hand; all of that sort of thing. "Let's see about the workroom." And she led the way up the stairs.
Severus sincerely hoped not, and gave the furniture one last, vaguely mistrustful look before following Lily upstairs. He’d taken some intermittent leave from work to be able to be here instead, which had absolutely flabbergasted his employer. Apparently, not taking time at any point previously and living above the shop had given the impression that Severus was now a permanent fixture. If they could pull this off, he might not have to go back.
The idea held a lot of appeal.
“We need more shelving,” he observed, idly glancing into the room they’d established for ingredient storage. They’d also need to reinforce all of the charms against moisture or odd temperature fluctuations. One never knew when plumbing might become dodgy or a roof might leak. “Maybe a couple of protected cabinets.”
"Good idea," Lily approved, and whisked her phone out of her pocket to add it to the list. "I was wondering about a Muggle safe for once we get the dragonfire--" She pulled a face. "But the weight. Magic always helps, of course." She added it to the list, though with a question mark. And was still looking at her phone as she added, "Oh, and we've got an inside line on quietly getting things from the Hogwarts greenhouses, so if there's anything you particularly want to lay in as preparation, let me know."
Once we get the dragonfire was the sort of remark that didn’t bear throwing aside as if it were a comment on picking up groceries on the way home, and yet Lily did it casually enough that Severus pulled a face. At least she was too busy on her phone to notice. Sometimes, he questioned her acquaintances and their clear lack of self-preservation.
But then he reminded himself about what he was doing right now, and had to stop himself from shattering his perfectly nice glass house.
“Do we?” He asked, mildly. He’d only a passing inkling of what might be in the greenhouses at Hogwarts. “Can we get an inventory of what they already have ready for harvesting?” That would help for planning purposes. Acquiring ingredients would take some cunning, since they certainly wouldn’t be shopping together, and neither could buy everything alone.
"Good thought. I'll get Re--" And Lily cut herself off, kept herself busy on her phone while her brain flashed through considering whether it mattered if Severus knew where Remus was, what he was doing. Probably not. Maybe so? She couldn't--wouldn't--fall into unwise habits of trust again. Not until this was done.
"Sorry," she continued, looking up from the screen. "I'll see if I can get a list. Speaking of lists we should make a master one, of course. And then figure out how to break it up so it's less suspicious." She sighed. "Which probably means hitting the books." And she cast a sidelong glance toward the other room where they'd stashed the half-dozen books she'd been allowed to bring from Cor Tewdws, and a few of her own reference texts that she'd thought might come in handy.
Remus, seemed the obvious conclusion to the syllable Lily hastily bit off, but Severus didn’t remark on it. They were both taking risks here, both keeping secrets enough. He let it go with a glance aside and a noncommittal sound that said he was listening… but electing to swallow his natural urge to ask.
“Right. There’s probably some that I can set aside at work without anyone noticing, but it’ll have to be done slowly, especially with the more esoteric items,” Severus murmured, shouldering his way into their reading room, such as it was. “You’ll have better luck, I imagine, if you can hand short lists off to several of your confidantes.” If they could break up the shopping between a half-dozen or so, maybe no one would be able to put together an idea of what they were actually trying to accomplish.
"Last thing any of us needs is to get put on the Black Alchemist watchlist," Lily agreed. "Though if you know anyone you'd like to dump in Ministry attention, we might be able to set something up!" She gave a little dismissive laugh--entirely a joke--and frowned at her list again. "Shame I can't skim from Mungos any more. I could ask someone, but that's loads more attention than just quietly making off with the excess and discards. Oh well. One way or another, we'll make it happen." Translate that to Latin, and it could be the Lily Evans personal motto.
She flipped her notebook to a new page, and flashed Severus a brisk smile. "Now. Equipment. Come and have a look at the cauldrons we've got."
Their shelves were beginning to look- not cluttered, per se, because Severus didn’t believe in clutter placing his process at risk- less sparse, if nothing else. He’d skimmed a handful of ingredients from Mulpepper’s, the sort of thing that could be hidden away among typical waste; must re-order this because it rotted, or that because the moon turned and its efficacy was diminished, and someone brought a crup in the week before that had gotten unduly excited and taken out a whole rack of freshly-pickled organs…
There was still enough room for interpretation in their notes that Severus would rather be safe than sorry. Better they have more ingredients they didn’t need than be left wanting.
And they'd even managed to whittle down some of the mysteries in the ingredients, though there were still far too many vagaries for Lily's liking. She'd been trying to pull her weight in cross-referencing mentions of ingredients, translating old forms of common philtres to correlate the active reagents, but as always, Lily got better results when she got away from the page and into the practical.
Though this seemed to be the exception. She tilted away from her cauldron, coughing at the acrid puff of smoke, and hurriedly her wand against the rim to activate a stasis charm. "Severus!" she called, waving a hand to clear the stench. "I cannot get this variant calming draught to stabilise using dockweed. I think--what did they call it?" She flipped a page in her notes. "Crispin's Dock must be something else. Or something's changed in one of the other ingredients since the author wrote this."
That was the problem; it was all a historically movable feast.
Lily sighed, and leaned against the edge of the workbench. "Are you having any more luck?"
More comfortable than his counterpart in the research department, Severus was tucked up in their pseudo-library when the scent of char reached him. It wasn’t an unusual smell where this type of work was concerned, but that didn’t mean it was a good sign by any stretch of the imagination. Nose wrinkling, he slipped a bookmark into the volume he’d been consulting and unfolded himself from his seat to go investigate Lily’s shout.
“No,” he murmured, moving around to prop the window a touch wider. The air that crept in carried the barest promise of rain on the horizon. “Have we tried a different variety of sorrel instead of the dockweed?” Leaning, he eyed her notes.
Their attempts were young yet, but beginning to blur together in his mind. That might make it time for a break, but Severus rarely knew when to stop.
"French, sheep's and three of the most likely varieties of wood sorrel," Lily confirmed, leaning over to cross another option off the list. "None of those worked well enough for me to think it worth trying more. I suppose it might be scurvey-grass but I can't think how they'd get that in medieval Wales."
She sighed again. "I can't help feel that I'm doing this completely wrong. What if Crispin's Dock isn't just a straight replacement? Look at this--" She pointed in the cauldron, where the contents were burnt around the edges and caught in a moment of furiously coiling up to probably explode everywhere. "Clearly too much of something. Maybe we need to balance out the other ingredients."
Severus leaned, studying the pending disaster with a pinch between his brows. “Maybe… we might be failing to factor in preservatives or fixatives they could’ve been using at the time,” he muttered, “Or changes in soil… or even pollutants in the water. Everything now is slightly more acidic, I’m sure. We might need to add a stronger base to balance it.”
Straightening, he considered their lists, fingers drumming lightly on the tabletop. “We could try compensating with additional ground beetles… the darklings, I think. Or would you think the histers might be better? They’re less porous.”
Beetles were all but inert, really. Depending on the variety, they might be a solid way to outmatch an acidity problem… if that was their problem. That continued to be the question of the day.
"Porous might work better as a soak," Lily noted, and stepped in to scribble some notes. "I'll try both, and a couple of combinations as well. Oh, and I might try subbing in bark beetles, I've seen them in other recipes with dogrose hips. I know it seems like we have too much data at this point, but I remain confident that a picture will start to emerge." Or at least that if she said that often enough she'd start to be confident.
But it was such a relief to have Severus here to work with, to come in and offer the angle that she couldn't see from the dead end she'd backed herself into. She flashed him a smile as she added, "Now get back to the books so I don't have to."
Meeting Lily’s smile with one of his own, Severus nodded. “Yes ma’am,” he agreed, turning on a heel and retreating back to the other room. He had an absurd amount of research yet to do, and if Lily was going to handle the trial-and-error part of things, he might as well pull his weight in cross-referencing.
Fortunately, Severus was very fond of books, since it seemed like he’d be spending the foreseeable future buried in ancient texts.
"All right, Crispin's Dock, or at least the blend that we've worked up." Lily drew a circle around it, and then a line across to-- "I'm going to call this the calcification element, that's the chalk and the bonemeal--turned out in the end that Hebridean sheep was the best after all--and whatever that stuff was you got from your contact, I'm not sure I want to know the details. And we've got the water salinity sorted out." A stab of her pen at another circled word, and Lily stepped back to look at the overall picture.
This Muggle whiteboard was the best addition so far to their workrooms. Their workings had spilled out of notebooks when pages had started being ripped out and stuck up on the walls, her experiment results alongside Severus's carefully gleaned research details, and then they'd started overlapping, and Lily's fingers had itched to mark the connections but things had kept getting lost. The whiteboard was perfect.
And it was all distilling down--like a potion simmering down to its essence--to this web of ingredients (or ingredient clusters). There were gratifyingly few question marks left, and some of those might not come clear until they got the final necessity.
Lily pointed her pen to the red-drawn flame in the centre of the spread. "Dragonfire will be along in due course." She sighed a little; she couldn't help but worry a little when James was that excited about anything. And then her pen drifted to the box in the bottom right of the board, and she sighed more heavily. "And then there's this Quester's Need thing. I still have no idea. Do you think it might be blood?" The idea troubled Lily more than a little.
The whiteboard did, indeed, look tidier than their early wallpapering of the room. Now they didn’t appear to be plotting someone’s intricate demise, or tracking wild conspiracy theories… though in essence, neither of those things were actually too far from the truth. Severus was trying not to think in those terms, though. It was bad for morale.
“I think our research would indicate blood is the most likely missing component,” Severus hedged, not for the first time. Lily was uneasy with the idea, understandably, but he tended to be more flexible on the subject. Pragmatism usually won out with him. “Though with any potion involving a human component, we might be able to get by with saliva or hair, if we adjust for the proper ratios.”
With hair, they’d need to compensate for lost moisture, but saliva tended to function quite nicely… so long as the subject providing it fasted for a solid 24 hours, first. Allowing food as an extraneous variable was wildly problematic for obvious reasons.
Lily grimaced. Adding anything of themselves to the potion just started to feel uncomfortably close to Dark, for her money. Not to mention that she wasn't sure she wanted any part of herself coming into direct contact with Voldemort's soul-fragments, even in the name of destroying them.
She didn't want to dismiss it out of a feeling, though. Severus had a lot of good reasons for thinking that. It would be foolish to ignore them.
And yet. "It's the Need part that makes me wonder if it might be more complicated. Need isn't--" She waved a hand, as if she could dredge the right words out of thin air. "It isn't biological. It's intent and decision. I don't know how you could capture that, though," she admitted. "Unless we get all Macbeth and recite our plans over the cauldron."
“I don’t think recitation would accomplish the task,” Severus deadpanned, though something in the set of his mouth said he was trying not to laugh at the image. Lily had a better sense of the dramatic than he did, so she’d probably be aces at the proper inflection. “Need and want are often synonymous, however erroneously, and want is often depicted as a matter of the heart… bringing us back to blood.”
Intent might be more flexible, but decision sounded uncomfortably like they might have to start splitting out memory or other parts of brain, and Severus was still using his, thanks.
He leaned back, looking over the board again as if he might glean inspiration if he stared hard enough. “What if we could represent the thing we need in a more tangible form,” he suggested, after a pause.
Lily wasn't so much staring at the board as through it, a frown creasing her brow as she thought furiously. You could pull a memory out into a Pensieve, so you could detach and make use of other aspects of thought? Might Muggle visualisation techniques be useful in this? Hadn't Petunia said something about a meditation coach who talked about externalising your goal?
Maybe she was getting a little far afield.
With a shake of her head, Lily turned back to Severus. "Sorry, I just nearly signed us up for yoga. I think that's a last resort. What did you have in mind?"
Severus blinked, blinked again, opened his mouth… and then thought better of it, closing his jaw with a snap of teeth. Better to take a moment to regroup after that suggestion. “What if we included a literal statement of intent?” He said, after a considerable pause. “Written on parchment. We’d have to account for the properties of the paper… or not use paper. There are plenty of options that might dissolve more readily or not throw the potion’s balance.”
There were edible papers now, weren’t there? They didn’t have to talk pressed wood pulp… or they could consider linen, perhaps. Write on fabric, or even see how small they could manage a message and get it onto one of the existing ingredients. People wrote on grains of rice, didn’t they? Severus was sure he’d seen that advertised last Valentine’s Day, for hopeless romantics who wanted to literally make the smallest gesture possible.
"Oh." The frown cleared from Lily's face as she considered that suggestion from all angles, and liked the way it looked. "Oh yes. Sort of like an ancient Roman curse tablet. Focusing through written invocation. Given the age of a lot of these suggestions that we're working with, I'd think parchment or vellum rather than paper, though perhaps papyrus. Or I suppose something like linen, it's not like the message has to have any sort of longevity--oh."
Her eyes widened and she grabbed hold of Severus's arm as though it were the idea she'd just had. "Wait, isn't there a bit in one of them--" She turned and looked at the stack of books--most of the best hints at process they'd found--but didn't even know where to start. "Didn't one of them say something about filtering, and we just assumed it meant philtre but what if it doesn't?"
Severus didn’t quite fumble at the contact, but there was a definite hitch to his breath that he’d like to pass off as excitement over their newfound direction. “Yes,” he agreed, quickly moving away to snag the book in question. He recalled where he’d seen it, thumbed right to the proper marker, and skimmed the text with a light fingertip. “Here. So if we assume… ah. We would need to run a few trials, weighing out writing materials… and we’d have to take care with ink.”
Another pause, Severus staring at the page and the place his finger rested on the text, and he made a thoughtful noise in the back of his throat. “Or we could combine them. What if we don’t use ink at all?”
He mimicked writing with his fingertip, then looked up to Lily with arched brows. “What if we used blood?”
Lily opened her mouth purely on reflex, but every sensible argument she had to make--like, blood makes terrible ink, it fades and flakes very quickly--didn't matter at all if the words were intended to be transitory, to be washed away in--literally into--the filtering of the developing potion. All she was left with was: "But it seems so close to something dark." Which sounded feeble and naive even to her. Her shoulders hunched a little, unhappily.
Severus would have to concede that, yes, it didn’t sound good… but little of this did, really, so what was one more stone on the pile? Tilting his head, he studied Lily a moment, gaze shrewd but not necessarily sympathetic, and offered a mild, “Or we can do some research on inks, I suppose. Possibly use charcoal.”
He was willing to consider other options. No answer was the answer, not when they were having to tweak this potion so heavily already.
The look Lily gave Severus was complicated. She was grateful for the offer, but she knew--as well as she was sure he did--that they couldn't afford to go tip-toeing around her squeamishness if it might be the difference between seeing this done and failing utterly. "We should try everything." She sighed. "Let's work up a viable testing scenario and see what results we get. Even on blood. And perhaps if it's blood from both of us that will also divide any attendant risk..."
Her voice trailed off as another thought occurred to her. If that did spread the burden, could they spread it further? After all, it wasn't just them who needed this, they were merely the representatives of a larger group who were all relying on this. Part of the strength in the Order, after all, was that it worked together, that they drew on each other.
If it was anyone else, likely Severus would’ve simply bulldozed right through any particular concerns on the matter. He didn’t care to allow sensibilities to interrupt his work. They had little place in progress, so why dither about it? But. It was Lily, and he’d run roughshod over her feelings enough when they were children, and… well. He was willing to allow her to come to her own conclusions, here.
Even if he was sure his conclusions were correct. She’d get there in time.
The trailing end of her remark was caught, examined, and Severus hummed as he followed it to obvious conclusions. “Do you imagine that your… cohorts would be willing to contribute to the cause, as it were?” He asked, arching his brows. That would benefit them on several levels, though he imagined some might have reservations similar to Lily’s.
Lily considered it. "Well, there's no shortage of Gryffindor willingness to leap into the unknown if it might have heroic benefit," she noted dryly. "And it feels better. I know--" She gave Severus a sidelong look with a little smile. "That's no basis for competent potioneering. But we're not just dealing with any old potion for any old purpose. And if we're looking to destroy parts of a wizards who's pushed the boundaries of magic as it is commonly understood, albeit in unpleasant directions, I think perhaps we can do with a little extra."
Somehow, through extreme application of willpower, Severus managed not to make a face at the idea of Gryffindor willingness. More like Gryffindor stupidity, but. Not a helpful thing to mention here and now, not with present company. “All right,” he conceded with a dip of his chin. “I can do some looking into papers and parchments if you want to go consult the others regarding blood donation.”
Lily nodded. "All right then." She set her pen back in the little tray at the bottom of the whiteboard, and looked over the whole layout of it again. "We're nearly there," she murmured, and smiled, tight and satisfied. "We're going to do this."
Even Severus had to crack a smile at that. “We are,” he confirmed, and it felt like truth. This wasn’t over-confidence and it wasn’t a pipe dream. They had all the pieces, more or less; some fine tuning was needed, and there was a missing ingredient or two, but… Those didn’t feel like insurmountable obstacles anymore. This was happening.