“I’m looking for a love potion.”

“Of course you are.” It was that time of year again, when teenagers came to the mall seeking far more potent things than they could handle. He had a variety of substitutes that he’d sell them, from concentrated moonlight to seahorse hormones, but he never gave them exactly what they asked for. “Prom’s coming up, yes? And there’s someone in particular that you want to go with you?”

“Well, not quite,” the young man replied.

“Oh? Then what is it for?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Then, I’m afraid I can’t help you,” the salesman crossed his arms. “This isn’t the kind of thing that I can just sell without knowing how it’s going to be used.”

His customer rolled his eyes. “That’s it? You’re not at least going to try to sell me some imitation like you do with all the other kids?”

“Well, I-“ were they catching on?

“Please. I wouldn’t be here if I thought you were just some fraud. It’s clear to me that you’re the real deal, a professional alchemist. No fake could trick so many people into thinking they’re in love. But I see what you’re doing, and I’m impressed.”

“Well, I’m flattered you think so,” he eyed the boy carefully. “But flattery’s not enough to make me change my mind. What do you intend to do with a love potion?”

“And that’s why I cannot tell you,” he shot back. “If I tell, you can trick me like you did all the others, and if I make up a story, you’ll end up selling me the wrong thing. The only way I can be certain that you’ve sold me a real love potion is for me to tell you nothing about how I’ll use it.”

“And what if I sold you a placebo? There’s always the chance that your recipient would fall in love just the same. Could you really ever know for certain whether or not the potion changed anything?”

“If it didn’t work at all, that would be obvious. I don’t think you’d leave that much up to chance.”

“But perhaps I would. Or perhaps I am indeed a fraud who cannot make a real love potion, and instead swindles high schoolers who don’t know any better into buying fakes. Or perhaps there is no formula for a universal love potion, and every individual batch must be tailored individually to the case of the person who ordered it. Perhaps there is no such thing as love at all, or at least, no such thing as love as you know it. Perhaps the potion was first synthesized by a culture with a radically different definition of love than your own, and what you gain from it, you cannot recognize as love. Perhaps the potion exists, but it instead grants a different kind of love, such as that between a parent and child, or that between owner and pet, and ruins any possibility of romance. Have you considered the answers to these questions?”

“I have,” he nodded. “But these are questions that nobody could answer except an alchemist like you.”

“You are correct,” the shopkeeper replied. “But these are also questions that only an alchemist like me would need to ask- which leads me to the problem of you. You’re not interested in the potion’s results. You’re not looking for anyone’s favor, or to experience its benefits for yourself. You’re interested primarily in the contents, and what you need to say to convince me to give them to you. I get it now. You fancy yourself an alchemist, and want to copy my formula for yourself.”

He lowered his head. Guilty.

“I have to admit, I’m impressed- not many people your age take up the work these days. I’ll tell you this much: no matter what I sell you today, you’ll also leave with all those questions in your head, and so long as they’re present, you’ll never be sure if what you obtained is a real love potion. The only way to truly know if such a thing is even possible is to succeed in creating one yourself.”

What is a cocktail but a genre of potion? Learn about a classic in With Bourbon and Lemon Juice.

Sometimes the container is just as important as the concoction within, as elucidated in On Clawfoot Bathtubs.

Perhaps a love potion doesn't need to exist at all to work. Black Pear Wine exhibits such a loophole.