The younger witch said nothing, but continued to sift powdered sparrow's brains onto the scale. The digital readout glowed: 1.873 grams... 1.941 grams... 1.982 grams... 2.110 grams.
"And electric cauldrons take forever to heat up properly," the older witch continued. "My mother got one back in 1963, thought it would be all the rage. 'Works just as well as a fire', she always said. 'So much cleaner than an open fire' she always said. Well, let me tell you, she stuck to that story through a hundred different potions that were either tepid or overboiled. She finally got rid of that thing in 1977. Or was it 1978? Anyway, she went back to charcoal fires. I've never used anything else. You just can't get any control with an electric cauldron."
The younger witch picked up an eagle's talon, sharpened to a fine point. She carefully scooped up a bit of the powder on the scale: 1.911 grams. Gently, she used her left hand to tap her right wrist; a minute sifting of material dropped off the tip of the talon: 2.000 grams. With a smooth motion, she lifted the little tray and dumped the contents into the mouth of the cauldron.
"I'm not one to judge," said the older witch, "and I'm sure you get good results, but just look at all those gadgets and dials! I don't want to have earn a college degree every time I want to make a potion! Every extra gadget is just one more thing to break. Give me the good old cast iron cauldron and a good old charcoal fire. I'd put my potions up against anything you young witches can make with these fancy things."
From a small refrigerator under the counter, the younger witch took a bottle of virgin's tears. After consulting the spellbook, she used a micropipettor and a sterile polypropylene tip to withdraw exactly 760 microliters. This she added directly to the cauldron.
"And I don't see the point of being so deliberately modern with your measuring. Every one of my spellbooks calls for so many pinches of powdered sparrow's brains, so many drops of virgin's tears, so many twists of rattlesnake skin, or whatever. I've never understood this obsession with grams of this and liters of that. It all seems so unnecessarily complicated."
"Potion making is essentially chemistry, Aunt Lilith."
"Potion making is an art, dear. I'm sorry to have to correct you, but I think you've gotten the wrong idea from that school you went to. I'm not surprised, since you couldn't have learned any magic there. Who wants to make a potion exactly the same way each time? The uncertainty is part of what gives magic such charm. The only way you can tell a good potion maker from a poor one is how well she can improvise, zing a little of herself into her potions while she's brewing them. I've done quite well with all of my potions, I'll have you know."
"Yes, Aunt Lilith, I know all about your potions."
"And what is THAT supposed to mean? My potions were winning awards since before you were born, young lady."
The younger witch wiped her hands and turned to the control panel. She turned on the coolant pumps for the copper jacketing around the high-voltage electrodes.
"Your potions are famous for the strength of their effects," the younger witch said, "but also for the unpredictability of their side-effects."
"You can't have strength without side-effects. That's just how it is."
"That may have been true in the past, but I aim to change that." She finished programming the high-voltage power supply for the induction coil elements, checked that the field lines were clear and turned on the power to the burst-discharge capacitors. They hummed as they began to charge up. "I'm going to make potions ten times stronger and a hundred times longer lasting, and I'm going to do it without any side-effects at all."
The older witch sniffed. "Well, you certainly don't lack for ego and ambition, my dear. I'm sure you're quite clever enough to do something no one else has been able to do in over a thousand years of witchcraft. Of course, no one would ever have guessed you had such potential after all those disastrous potions you've been brewing since you were eight years old. You never could simply read a recipe from a spellbook and follow it properly, but I'm sure that's all changed now, although I can't see any reason why it should have. It's just that I feel such pity for you, dear. And for your dear mother, as well. When I think of all the money she must have spent on tuition for that school, it's no wonder that you -"
"Mother didn't spend a single gold piece on my education. She was, if anything, even more opposed to what I'm doing with my potion making than you are. I was able to go to M.I.T. because I won a full-ride fellowship. My double major in chemistry and electrical engineering was my own doing, no one elses."
"Which proves my point exactly."
"And what point is that, Aunt Lilith?"
"That a bunch of useless studying at some school that never heard of magic can't possibly help you when it comes to witchcraft."
"On the contrary," the younger witch said. "I'm going to launch a new era in precision potion making. What I'm about to do will revolutionize the manufacture of potions, charms, wands, hexes, sigils and every other physical expression of eldritch force."
She set her finger on the button marked INDUCTION FURNACE: ENERGIZE
"My witchcraft will be a perfect marriage of magic and science. Within twenty years, my form of witchcraft will be the only form of witchcraft. And it all begins today... right now."
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