Nectarine: four stars for what is usually a five star fruit. Eating a nectarine is often a messy affair. The juice – not nectar, as its name might suggest – dribbles down your chin and collects in a strategically placed bucket. The collection is then diluted with water and sold to thirsty passers-by. The proceeds of the sale can then be used to purchase more nectarines. An excellent fruit and an excellent investment. This particular specimen was slightly underripe, and produced less juice than was desired.

Some weeks passed, and my eldest nephew could still consume only orange juice. His allergic reactions grew more severe, and soon even the slightest dribble of nectarine juice would set him off. We quarantined his room first, setting up nectarine traps to insulate him from all danger. Then, as his sensitivities heightened, we found it necessary to quarantine the west wing of Salamander Manor, followed by the entire manor itself. I devoted myself to finding some way to denature the nectarines, to somehow isolate and destroy the harmful component. I cleared out the stable closest to the orange grove and set up my own laboratory. Here, I was far enough from the manor to experiment without bringing any danger to my nephew. I amassed a collection of laboratory equipment: bunsen burners for heating mixtures, glassware stills for separation and purification, chromatographs for compound analysis, Klein boots for ensuring proper lab hygiene, fluted tubes for storing volatile compounds, and a well-stocked inventory of consumable reagents. I first set about identifying the variables. I separated the ferromanganese by electrolysis. I synthesised the manganese dioxide. I precipitated the magnesium chloride. Over several months, I did nothing but repeat the same process with different variables. Each time, I preempted the result. Nothing. I was now sleeping rarely, and felt dizzy when I stood up. I walked slowly and unsteadily, semi-crouched to lower my centre of gravity. I only dimly remember knocking over the bunsen burner, and seeing the manganese catch fire.