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Chapter 1 : One
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“Paracelsus be naught but a hasty-witted jolt-head, plaguing all pursuit of chemick with his gibble-gabble,” the young man muttered to himself, thrusting his flask down so vehemently that Albus feared the glass would crack.
“Corpus bones,” Albus thought, shaking his head silently and continuing on at the fireplace, the small laboratorium growing more stifling with each suck and pump of the bellows. In—“God’s wounds!” Out—“God’s teeth!” Each successive curse was accompanied by a fiery blast from the furnace, like licks of hellfire…or the merciful end to the suffering Albus endured at the bickering tongues of Masters Boyle and Flamel, morelike.
“In the writings of our philosophical father,” Master Flamel replied loudly and acidly, “Paracelsus doth admit that his pursuit of alchemy is not for the making of gold but to consider only what virtue and power may lie in medicines, thou great ape. Though why one would shun the making of gold, I know not.”
Boyle looked up from his labor with a shrug, although Albus saw that his eyes glittered angrily. “Forsooth, Paracelsus did do much for the study of toxins, but what of chemistry? My experiments be corrupted by his hokum on the spiritual attributes of mercury, sulfur, and salt. These elements be elements only, not the very foundations of our spiritual disposition, and to say otherwise is to keep company with fools.”
“Careful, thou Irish wastrel, with thy criticisms, or thou will lose thy position here with us as alchemist. Master Dumbledore, please kindly remind Master Boyle of what are the actual elements and of what kind of knowledge he will be able to pursue as a beggar on the Londontown streets. These blasphemies have put me in ill humor, and I must relieve myself.” And with a pointed look at Boyle, Flamel swept from the room to locate the nearest privy.
“D’anam don diabhal!” Boyle muttered under his breath. Albus knew that Master Boyle only used his native speech when truly vexed. He wondered at the meaning of the Irish words but thought it better not to ask. Rather, he lamely offered: “Master Boyle, the four basic elements are earth, fire, water, and ai—“
“Please. When you speak at me, speak at me as Robert…Albus.”
Startled, Albus stopped with the bellows, and the laboratorium grew silent other than the burbling and babbling of this or that potion. He and Masters Boyle and Flamel had known of each other for several years past but only in the capacity of alchemical colleagues. To be addressed so informally…
Albus looked up. The laboratorium was a small, cramped chamber perched precariously at the top of the rather run-down residence of Master and Mistress Flamel, or the House of the Silver Crescent, as it was so-called, for every house within the City of London was blessed with a name. Although the room spanned several strides, crossing that space would be nigh impossible for all the equipment crowding every available surface, and it was even less feasible for one to stand upright beneath the roof’s many gables.
At Albus’s back stood the open furnace. As one of the four natural elements, fire was key to much of his and the others’ work—essential for the distillation and transmutation of silver and mercury, as was his focus; for the creation—theoretically—of the Philosopher’s Stone, as was Master Flamel’s; and for whatever observations Rob—err, Master Boyle was making on gaseous properties. Of course, the other elements were present in the attic as well. Earth, in her metallic splendor—antimony, arsenic, bismuth, zinc—lay strewn across his own workspace like a not-so-blushing bride upon her wedding bed. Water flowed swiftly through tubings knotting Master Flamel’s table, as though she, too, were in a rush to transfigure herself into the aqua vitae, the Elixir of Life, that the alchemist had so bent his head upon.
And air? Why, air was in the very name of the device upon which Master Boyle labored so intently: the air-pump, although of what be its designated purpose, Albus could not yet fathom. As his eyes roved over the mess of tools—aludels for condensing vapors, alembics for distilling mixtures—and texts—ancient scrolls of Zosimos of Panoplis, Andreas Libavius’s Alchemy, fresh from the printers—they settled on the odd contraption and the long, white fingers fiddling with its knobs. Slender yet strong, connecting to a well-muscled forearm used to holding tinctures over heated coals for hours on end. As the man stretched to lift a lever on his machine, his back arched and then tensed, sending his muscles a-rippling beneath his length of burnished hair like kelpies galloping about beneath a river’s surface. He reached back down, doubling over, showing off a firm, shapely—
“—Pigeon pie for the good sirs?” Albus’s mouth watered as Mistress Flamel shuffled into the room, laboring under a tray laden heavy with vittles and nearly upsetting Master Boy—err, Robert’s air-pump as she did so. “Pray pardon, Master Boyle,” she mumbled, as the man quickly righted his experiment.
“Twas naught, good lady,” he reassured her kindly. “It be our fault for littering your attic with our noisome machinations and odorous potions. Let me lighten your load—verily, I can ne’er resist a pie made by the right beauteous Mistress Flamel!”
The frailsome woman—who surely was no beauty—blushed at the compliment, but her rosy coloring paled quickly, as she heard her husband’s heavy tread in the stairwell. The room fell silent.
“Wherefore thou be bothering these men, Perenelle?” Master Flamel said, as quiet and cold as the grave. Mistress Flamel stared, unseeing, at a point fixed somewhere beyond Albus’s head.
“Answer thy husband, thou witless slattern.”
CRACK. Albus winced at the blow, which sounded for all the world like the whip lashing ‘cross the backs of the poor souls in the stocks on the street below. Mistress Flamel crumpled to the floor, whimpering and clutching her left cheek in both hands.
“When thou speakest at me, thou willt address me as thy lord and master, slut. Now leave us to our business. We work for the greater good and will suffer no more interruptions.”
Albus stared at the stone floor. He did not look up as he heard Mistress Flamel stagger to her feet and stumble out of the laboratorium. He did not look up as he heard Robert say coldly, “I am finished with my work this day,” and briskly follow her down the staircase. And he did not look up as he heard Master Flamel say, “Master Dumbledore, the fire is in want of building.”
Albus again picked up the bellows.
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