Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of Joanne K. Rowling. Any characters, settings, objects, or creatures from the Harry Potter books and movies used in this work are the property of Joanne K. Rowling, and Warner Brothers. Original characters belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the private enjoyment of readers at FanFictionNet, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.
Author's Notes (1): This story was written for a prompt by Florahart for the 2010 SS/HG Exchange on LiveJournal. It is a declaration of love for the olfactory miracle of perfume, and especially for the magical scents from the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, which inspired this story. I am indebted to the owners of BPAL for graciously granting permission to use the BPAL family, BPAL scents, and the Lab in this story. Of course, all narrative references to BPAL in connection with the imaginary world of HP are purely fictitious. Nevertheless I hope all of you will enjoy this little homage to the magic of scent.
Thank you: I am incredibly grateful to: my beta-readers, Bluestocking79 and Machshefa; my alpha-readers, Mischievous_T and Zauza; many knowledgeable friends who patiently answered some very odd questions, besides my alpha- and beta-readers especially ariadne1, Ferporcel, Juniperus, and Organic Chemist; and last but not least, my amazing and supportive friends on LiveJournal and Buzz, who helped me brainstorm, listened to endless discussions of odd details, my ranting and raving, and still cheered me on and encouraged me every step of the way – you know who you are!
THE SCENT OF MAGIC
'As perfume doth remain
In the folds where it hath lain,
So the thought of you, remaining
Deeply folded in my brain,
Will not leave me: all things leave me:
– Arthur Symons
From Hermione Granger's perfume notebooks:
Fragrances – of perfumes and potions – consist of infinitesimal organic molecules with high vapour pressures. Those volatilised compounds assault the olfactory epithelium. Once detected by the sensory neurons inside that thin membrane, scents directly impact the central nervous system of Muggles and wizards alike.
All other sensory stimuli are filtered by the thalamus.
Only perfume acts directly on the brain.
There, its fragrance is processed in the limbic system, one of the oldest parts of the human brain, and an area connected with memory, sexual and emotional impulses.
In other words: before you even know it, you have received a scent and reacted to it.
That is the effect of any ordinary Muggle smell.
Now consider magic.
A whiff of fragrance ensnares the senses, mesmerizes the mind and beguiles the soul with redolent illusions. A sniff of scent kindles desires, fuels lust and sparks depravities. An inhalation of perfume restores memory or robs all reason.
That is why magical perfumes are so dangerous, so coveted, and so bloody expensive.
2 September 1996 
'It is indeed. It seems almost foolish to ask,' says Slughorn, looking impressed, 'but I assume you know what it does?'
'It's the most powerful love potion in the world!' I exclaim. It is a difficult, dangerous, strictly regulated potion; as such, I've naturally read about it before.
'Quite right! You recognized it, I suppose, by its distinctive mother-of-pearl sheen?'
'And the steam rising in characteristic spirals,' I go on enthusiastically, 'and it's supposed to smell differently to each of us according to what attracts us, and I can smell freshly mown grass and new parchment and–'
But then sudden heat rises to my cheeks, and I do not complete the sentence.
2 September 2008
I sit at my desk and stare at a piece of parchment, smoothed soft and limp like a tissue in the course of twelve years.
The faded, innocently rounded handwriting of a schoolgirl stares back at me.
However, it is not as neat as my writing normally was at that time – no print perfect calligraphy. The upstrokes are edgy, the downstrokes executed with too much pressure. In fact, it's very nearly sloppy. Had it been a Transfiguration essay, Professor McGonagall would have had something to say about that.
But it's not an essay.
It's just a piece of parchment with some notes.
And some questions.
Questions for which I still have no answers, even after twelve years.
Also simply called 'love potion'.
Description: In cauldron or bowl, the potion can be identified by its spiralling steam, a viscous consistency, and a shimmering, silvery appearance that is best described as 'mother-of-pearl'. The potion smells different to everyone. Its unique aroma is based on whatever holds the most intense and intimate attraction for every person.
Ingredients: Information not available.
(Class A non-tradable substance; code E* PofEP – production only for educational purposes)
Possibly Ashwinder eggs. Considering the effects, probably Alihotsy leaves. And maybe the sheen of the potion is due to unicorn horn? Concerning the scent, I'd normally assume a bodily substance of the drinker has to be added, possibly tears or sweat; but there's no way Professor Slughorn could have added something like that for all students of his class – or could he? If not, a magical technique must emulate the effect. Something like an alchemical transubstantiation. But what base substance can you use for something like that?/span
Preparation: Information not available.
Effects: Contrary to its English name, A. does not cause 'love'. Love cannot be conjured by any magical means. Instead, the potion causes obsession and infatuation. It lowers the inhibitions and affects the mental stability of the drinker. The potion also acts as a powerful aphrodisiac and potency drug, at the same time increasing the fertility of the drinker. Additionally, the potion is used for divinatory purposes – supposedly it reveals one's 'true love' with its unique fragrance.
The potency of the potion increases between conclusion of brewing and consumption.
The effects of A. manifest nearly instantaneously. The drinker acquires a pale and unhealthy complexion and exhibits signs of obsession. Hallucinations may occur. The object of his attraction is perceived as the most wonderful thing on earth, and is often identified with light phenomena, e.g. 'a ray of purest sunlight'. At the same time, drinker grows more and more excited and aggressive, until complete loss of control occurs.
– freshly mown lawn on the Quidditch field: a damp fragrance with a sweet-sour tang that tickles
– the clean, slightly starchy scent of Scrivenshaft's student issue parchment from the pack I gave him for his last birthday
– his hair, freshly washed with my Muggle shampoo, smelling squeaky and wet, of honey and lemon
Professor Slughorn's Amortentia:
– freshly mown grass, but definitely not from a Quidditch lawn; it's a much 'warmer' scent, and somehow spicy
– new parchment, yes, but not Scrivenshaft's cheap stuff … a smooth scent, with a subtle perfume – perhaps from a custom-made parchment treatment?
– also hair, I think, but not wet or damp; dry hair. Hair and herbs … somehow soapy … and it smells a lot 'hairier' than Ron's hair
I still remember writing that note.
Cowering in the Charmed shelter of drawn curtains on my four poster bed just after lunch – the ink I spattered on the coverlet in my hurry to write down what I knew – brutal black on soft sage-green – its earthy, sharp tang mixed with the cloying undertone of Lavender's vanilla-sweet young-girl's perfume – the way my heart raced and my throat constricted – the trickle of sweat itching between my breasts …
Linked to scents that shocked me deeply, this note, and what I did, thought, and smelled that day, is still present for me in a way that even some of the most gruesome memories of the war against Voldemort are not, or at least not anymore. (Thank Merlin for that.)
This phenomenon, at least, is easily explained by how odour information is processed and stored in the brain. The olfactory system is anatomically tied to the limbic system and the hippocampus, to long-term memories and emotional memories. That way, smells can create overwhelming flashbacks, and even just remembering scents can bring back the past more vividly than any photograph.
After Hogwarts I went to Muggle college in America and earned a B.A. in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, where I participated in a work/study program at the Monell Chemical Sense Center. So I know a lot about olfaction now – and about chemistry, biology, culture, and the links between them.
Amortentia, however …
Even after twelve years, I have more questions than answers.
I still don't know either the ingredients or the recipe for Amortentia.
In the States – where I also did my apprenticeship working for the Muggle and the magical branch of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab – Amortentia is not just 'strictly regulated', permission for brewing limited to educational purposes. It's simply illegal there. Unless you have good connections to the black market, there's no way to obtain the potion. I haven't smelled it again since that day in Professor Slughorn's classroom. And it's even more difficult to get hold of someone who can brew it … and with a normal salary, absolutely impossible to get said someone to divulge either components or formula. Not that there's any guarantee that witch knew either to start with.
I like to think, though, that my guesses concerning the ingredients have improved over time. Definitely no unicorn anything in that potion. But I'm certain I was right about the Alihotsy leaves and the Ashwinder eggs. I'd even bet my sweet round arse that Mooncalf milk and ground Occamy egg shells are in the recipe. Probably some spiralling shells or other. And Devil's Snare in one state or another.
Not sure I'd risk my life for the idea of Lamia's tears as an ingredient; but there's something sinister in it, and it's not something simple like the mucus of a virgin's orgasm.
At least I'm a good deal more certain of what I actually smelled on that balmy September day in 1996.
Yes, I definitely did smell freshly mown grass. Just as I said.
But, just as I wrote on that parchment, it was not the short lawn on the Quidditch field, glistening with dew on a summer morning, as green as the sky was blue, and as sweet and as sour as the first time I fell in love.
The head note of Amortentia that struck my nose first was a meadow at the height of summer, redolent with herbs at noon, with the heat permeating the ground, and golden grasses whispering waves over that sun-dried clearing in the midst of the woods.
And I didn't just smell parchment; what my naïve nose registered was a heart note of fine vellum, probably scented with magical perfume – for only magic may capture the fragrance and essence of lilies. (Muggles can only emulate that odour, building compositions that deceive a lazy nose into believing that yes, this is the scent of lilies.) And newly bound books. Only that explains the hint of leather at the back of my tongue; new parchment in the wizarding world is far removed from the stink of liming and fleshing of Muggle history.
The hair still stymies me.
Of course by now I know that the base note was simply oily hair. But a dozen names come to mind that fit this description. First and foremost, Harry; but also Draco, Goyle, Professor Flitwick, McLaggen, Ginny, Padma (though curiously not Parvati), and of course Professor Snape. But he apparently never washed his hair at all; I know what the girls and Harry and Draco used. And if my Amortentia has anything to do with Goyle, Professor Flitwick, or McLaggen, I'll sign up for the nearest Catholic convent tomorrow.
The shampoo I smelled was made of basil, mint, cilantro, and lemon. And it was not liquid. It was a soap bar. So either that hair belongs to an old skool pure-blood, or to a half-blood from Poole or thereabouts, shopping at the first Lush store during the hols.
So, while I do know more than I did twelve years ago, it's not enough.
And Severus refuses to brew Amortentia for me, much less teach me how it's done. He says since Professor Slughorn showed the potion to my class in sixth year, I know everything about it that I need to know.
Unfortunately, by now I know Severus well enough to realise when he won't be budged.
If I told Ron about my predicament, he'd snort and say: 'What do you expect? It's Snape we're talking about here!'
The thing is, it's not.
I mean –
Of course he's still Snape. His name is still Severus Snape (no frills, no middle name), and he still lives in Spinner's End, and he still dresses in black (mostly; he does have a dark blue dressing gown, and bucket loads of colourful winter socks).
His DNA is … probably … the same as it was before.
(Not that I have samples I could have tested; or that he would allow me.)
But he's not the Snape we knew.
That is – Harry, Ron, and I – when we were children – when we – when he –
… if we knew him at all.
On the window sill behind my desk lies the perfume bottle Severus gave to me when he accepted me as a journeywoman, on my journey towards becoming a Perfume Mistress.
It is an antique double-ended bottle, a dodecahedron carved out of a ruby, with golden ends forming the head of a phoenix and the head of a sphinx.
It is a little too fitting.
He is the phoenix, rising from the ashes of his former lives.
He is no longer a spy, no longer a soldier, no longer headmaster, no longer pawn nor professor – though still a teacher (this, I'm aware, the most uncomfortable part of his calling).
He is no longer hated, no longer reviled, though neither revered nor loved.
Still sad, I think, living with him as I do.
At least he smells like that: an almost invisible, flighty head note of ethyl alcohol – which is perhaps the most common carrier medium for magical and Muggle perfumes alike; a heart note of sadness, bitter and astringent as Lamia's tears – one of the most expensive ingredients of magical perfumes; and a base note of suffering, biting like phoenix ashes – one of the darkest components of magical fragrances. A sad smell. And almost an anti-scent instead of a unique personal fragrance. Just like when I was a teenager, when he also smelled only of an echo of his work … mutilated potions ingredients, potions spilled and spoiled. I remember mentioning that to the boys, who immediately brought up their pet theory that he really was a vampire after all. But even in sixth year, I knew exactly what Snape was, and where his loyalties lay. And I got very angry at the boys, not speaking to them throughout dinner and for the rest of the evening.
But he is not 'Snape' anymore.
He is a Perfume Master now. The only one in Britain, and rumoured to be the best of all living Masters of magical perfumery, that most elusive and exclusive art of magical alchemy and potion making.
And I am … well, I still have more questions than answers. Perhaps I am looking for them in the wrong places.
And the bottle?
Is still empty, although I began this stage of my journey more than a year ago.
… and now my Master calls.
'You did not join Potter and Weasley yesterday to see Teddy Lupin off.' A statement, not a question. Uttered softly, in a smoky voice. When I was a teenager, he whispered silk across my skin. Shivered syllables down my spine. Just by announcing our homework, or chastising Draco – ever so softly. Since Nagini, Severus' voice has changed. Smoke and sand and stone. No longer silk and whisky and agony.
I sent Teddy a gift voucher in time for his first Hogwarts shopping at Diagon Alley. He's starting school a year early. After working from home during Teddy's childhood, Remus has accepted the position as DADA teacher once more.
'Why?' Severus asks. His black eyes – yes, they are black; I don't know what colour they were before, but ever since Nagini, they've been black, lightless – focus on me. His gaze doesn't bore into you anymore. Sometimes I think all his aggressiveness was spent in that war. Just like Ron and George seem to have used up all their laughter and all their joy in its course.
Severus asks mildly. Almost kindly.
Yet there is no option of evading his questions. Those black eyes are like mirrors. All I see in them is myself. And that is not always a pleasant sight.
'Minerva invited me for tea last week,' I reply. 'So I've seen what Hogwarts is like now. I don't think a few hundred excited children and their no less agitated parents can improve the setting.'
The way Severus raises an eyebrow instead of actually resorting to the use of something as prosaic as words has remained the same.
I inhale. Exhale again.
We're in the living room.
Its scent has become one of my favourites. A head note of fire – in such a small room, a regularly lit fireplace must be the first thing an educated nose experiences – followed by a dusty, almost dirty heart note of books – old books, cheap books, used books – and a base note of sacrifice.
This conversation reminds me uncomfortably of the questions I pondered just a few minutes ago in my room in the attic.
His question is neither due to idle curiosity nor to cruelty, as Ron would claim.
Magical perfumery is a branch of alchemy vacillating between potions, Dark Arts, and Divination. Although we use the Muggle model of head, heart, and base notes for our daily work, magical perfumes have seven notes – the notes of the chakra, or energy points, of the human body. Crown, brow, throat, heart, solar plexus, sacral, and base chakra have to be balanced to create a magical perfume.
And if the perfumer's magic is unbalanced, that will carry over into his or her art …
'Friendships change,' I admit at last.
Not all friendships survive time, distance, and adulthood.
I don't bother suppressing the bone-deep sigh, since that's the whole point of having a Master. Without honesty – including emotional honesty – he cannot lead me, cannot teach me. There's a reason why the most famous alchemists in past ages were couples. Fiancé and fiancée. Husband and wife. Like Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel.
'I never thought this could happen to us,' I whisper and am astonished at how much this hurts.
He looks at me with that peculiar black, bleak gaze.
Of course he does.
Later, I lie in my bed under the sloping roof of my attic bedroom.
Hogwarts was beautiful last Wednesday when I went to visit Minerva.
So different from the memories that unto this day fill my dreams and nightmares.
I took a walk when I was there, visiting Hagrid and Neville – or rather: 'Professor Longbottom'.
I also walked up to the library. Madam Pince is going to retire next year – she's grown old and brittle, but her biting humour is as fierce as ever. And her book polish still smells like heaven: of beeswax, lanolin, and cedar wood oil. As always, she asked me if I'd like to be her successor. Over the years, that has become something of an inside joke between us. Irma is not a warm-hearted woman; neither am I. Still, we are not without feeling. And of all my friends at school, she is the only one who kept in touch throughout all of these years. She was also the only one who did not only know that my parents and I had planned for me to go to America for Muggle college, but why I went.
After the Final Battle I went to Australia as soon as I could to get my parents back. Aurors accompanied me; at St Mungo's, my parents and I got the red carpet treatment. Of course, my parents' memories were perfectly restored. We were – supposedly – reunited in bliss. At least that was the headline of the Daily Prophet.
Yes, my parents did remember everything again. And they even agreed with the hard choices I had made. Unfortunately, magical memory restoration only recreates factual reminiscences. It cannot conjure up the emotions connected with remembrances.
In other words, my parents recalled just fine that I was their daughter. Nevertheless, they felt nothing for me. They had a more meaningful relationship with their Muggle postman in Australia than with me.
We are friendly, even cordial nowadays. Therapy and distance do help. But they give me for my birthdays and for Christmas what I gave Teddy: gift vouchers. Useful, and convenient, to be sure; but also non-descript and neutral.
While at Hogwarts – for the first time in twelve years – I went hunting for scents.
The scents I remembered: the perfume of classrooms (the top note sweet and sour, from the laughter and the sweat of children, the middle note parchments and wands, the base note earthy, cheap ink), the scent of the Great Hall (with a head note of puddings served at the last meal, a heart note of laughter and the beeswax of many floating candles, and a base note of old, often cleaned stone), the fragrance of Gryffindor Tower (female and male scents mingling into a boisterous chaos of fierce, bright scents), the dark aromas of the Forbidden Forest, grass and woods and roots and danger …
I smelled grass: at the lakeside, on the Quidditch Field, at the edge of the Forbidden Forest.
I inhaled parchment: in the classrooms and in the library.
And even hair: the fur of Hagrid's creatures, Minerva's old-fashioned hair tonic, the sweet whiff of children's soap wafting towards me from the lower dorms in Gryffindor tower.
But I did not find a trace of hidden meadow, ripe with the spicy scent of herbs – although at the beginning of September it was still the right time of the year for just that scent. And I only encountered the well-remembered odour of cheap Scrivenshaft's parchment in the classrooms and that of old, respectable tomes in the library. Never sweetly scented vellum or new treasures wrapped into shiny calf's leather, tinged golden with fresh polish. Much less that unique base note of oily hair washed with a solid shampoo of basil, mint, cilantro, and lemon.
 Source: Chapter Nine, 'The Half-Blood Prince', in 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' by Joanne K. Rowling.
Author's Notes (2): Positively weeks of research went into this story before I wrote the first word of the first draft of the first chapter. I can't even begin to reconstruct which passage from which textbook inspired what take on olfactory magic – so please feel free to ask questions if you don't understand something or if you are curious about any detail of my story, and I shall do my best to answer them (IF you provide a means for me to reply to you, that is). The main textbook I relied on was 'Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume' by Mandy Aftel, and I can heartily recommend it to everyone who is interested in perfume.
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