Chasing the Sun – by Loten

Links:
https://www.fanfiction.net/s/7413926/1/Chasing-The-Sun

Rating: Outstanding Minus

The Basics: Modern Era (2012), Angst/Romance, 490k

Warnings: Sexual Content, Violence, Gore, Non-Con (not SSHG), Torture

In her fifth year at Hogwarts, Hermione Granger takes on a new role studying under Madame Pomfrey, as she is interested in learning how to become a Healer in an effort to assist in the War. She is sworn to secrecy about the things she will learn in her role as a Healer – because unbeknownst to Hermione, Madame Pomfrey’s chief job is patching up Dumbledore’s double agent, Severus Snape. The story follows canon threads from Order of the Phoenix through Deathly Hallows; however, the deepening friendship between Hermione Granger and Severus Snape changes many canon events.

This story (as well as Loten’s other huge SSHG work, ‘Post Tenebras, Lux’ which I have not yet reviewed) came extremely highly recommended to me by the readers of this blog. I think perhaps I allowed those high recommendations to inflate my expectations. In my mind, I heralded this as the greatest SSHG work ever, that all others would pale in the light of. I saved it for the rainiest of rainy days when I was completely exhausted and needed a great, riveting story to keep me sewing on schedule (I use text-to-speech programs) and to transport me away from my stresses. Perhaps because of this combination of work stress and exaggerated expectations, I ended up very disappointed by this fic. It’s also possible that I was mixing together the recommendations for Loten’s ‘Post Tenebras, Lux’ with the recommendations for this fic – perhaps I’ll like that one better? So, please keep all of this in mind when you read this review. Many fans feel this is the best SSHG fic ever written – and perhaps it is – but not for me.

I very much enjoyed the way the author navigated her way through the actual HP books from an SSHG point of view. This is not something I see very often, nor is it a method I particularly I enjoy, but it’s done well here. Sometimes the SSHG shoehorning stretched credulity – Snape giving the Golden Trio intensely personal, on point, psychological and physical training for the War, or Snape leading the Trio on a search for the Horcruxes – but often it really worked. I enjoyed Snape’s casting of Fiendfyre in an attempt to destroy Horcruxes, and the struggle of his emotions as he did so. I liked when Dumbledore tried to leave Snape out of the Locket Horcrux adventure, which caused Snape to remark (upon seeing the potion at the Inferi lake), ‘How fortunate that you thought to bring a Potions Master who is also a Dark Wizard on this little adventure to fish a Horcrux out of a Dark Potion.’ I LOVED Ron’s clever idea to destroy the Hufflepuff cup. The characterizations are also well done, although I would quibble that both are not as interested in academia (they are described as being that way, but their conversations and choices do not reflect it.) Also, this is jeans-cigarette-emo-music grunge Snape which is not one I prefer, but it’s a viable interpretation.

The plotting is extremely slow. It worked in the beginning, because the slow, probing conversations were supported by the growing romantic tension. But once the romance had been resolved, I struggled to stay interested. The plot is a rehash of the final three books, so there was no plot/action tension and no romantic tension. Why keep reading? What could possibly fill the second 200k of the story? The emotional conversations that seemed so interesting in the first half began to feel like repetitive filler. I actually started skimming, because it seemed that each new scene was Severus’ reflection on his feelings, Severus talking to Hermione about his feelings, Hermione talking to Severus about her feelings, Severus talking to Harry about Harry’s feelings, and then a very minor plot event that starts the entire cycle over again, as everyone examines their responses to this minor plot point.

So, this is a well-written, complex, emotional fic, but there is very little tension or original plot. I think this will work excellently for some people, but it did not work for me. I am more of a cerebral meets whimsical Ravenclaw and I was bored to tears by the plethora of emotion and the extensive examination thereof. There needed to be far more talk about Voldemort and far less talk about Snape’s feelings. He is damaged, yes, and it’s interesting to examine that, but it can’t be the focus of a 500k fic without far more support than is offered here. I needed more clever original ideas, more academic connection, more characters, more plot, more action, and just /more/ in a fic of this length.

The bottom line: An excellent psychological study and emotional look at the pain, past, and future of Severus Snape. Recommended for those who are not fans of the pairing, as it exhaustively explores the SSHG connection and the full history of Snape. Also recommended for those who enjoy thoroughly exploring emotion, through music, poetry, reflection, etc. An Outstanding in the view of the community, but for me the lack of romantic or plot-driven tension in the second half of the story made it a struggle to finish.

Edit, several hours later: I felt the need to come back and report that my feelings on this fic were not precipitated by stress or a bad mood, because I started another fic and am so far immensely enjoying it (Thirty-One Days by keelhaulrose.) There is mystery/tension in this new fic – how will the plot resolve? How will the romance resolve? I have no idea, and that’s exciting. The problem for me with ‘Chasing the Sun’ is that it runs out of excitement and tension 250k words too early.

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Recommendations?

I have an ironic request for all of you – could you recommend some fics to me? I have plenty on my to-review list but I want a shortcut to some really great ones. I took two rush sewing projects this month, meaning I am making 7 dresses when my max is usually 5. I am sewing 12 hours every day and am totally exhausted. I need some REALLY good fics to keep me going and get me through October (I use text to speech programs, so I listen as I sew.) Could you all make some recommendations? Here are some ideas:

1) Great fics that are 70-90k, as I ignore anything under 100k for the purposes of this website.
2) 100k+ fics finished after 2013 (started any time), as they are not on harmony_bites’ lists and I am almost completely ignorant of anything that is not on her lists.
3) 100k+ works in progress or abandoned fics that are nearly finished, as I have mostly ignored WIPs.

My readers have already given me tons of amazing recommendations which I have mostly burned through, so I know you guys have lots of good ideas! I am listening to Loten’s ‘Chasing the Sun’ now, and ‘The Apprentice and the Necromancer’ by satismagic is next.

Thank you in advance!

Looking for Magic – by Hypnobarb

Links:
https://www.fanfiction.net/s/2737071/1/Looking-for-Magic

Rating: Outstanding

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Action/Romance, 780k

Warnings: Sexual Content, Violence, Non-Con (not SSHG), Torture, Original Characters

Hermione Granger applies to a new-fangled wizard university in the United States because Muggleborns are unlikely to be accepted for Apprenticeships in Wizarding Britain. However, there is still a war on, and she makes time to research defensive medicinal potions and offensive weapons to use against Voldemort with her former Professor Severus Snape.

I did not consider this fic for SSHG review because it is incomplete. However, my awesome readers brought it to my attention that although it is technically incomplete, the last chapter is it good ending point and most of the plot and romance is resolved. I decided to give it a try and I’m very glad that I did. If I had not known that it was technically incomplete I would have thought that the last chapter was the intentional ending, albeit slightly abrupt. Believe me, I hate unfinished fics as much or more than anyone and to me this was totally fine. It felt 99% finished.

This is one of the most beloved and well known SSHG fics of all time. If there were an SSHG museum, this would be in it. I was surprised to discover that I had read it before, given that I never read incomplete fics. Perhaps this is the fic that gave me my aversion to them? I read (the beginning) of this while I lived in London during my study abroad semester in 2006 – the best year of my life. The updates ceased in 2009, so I was nowhere close to the end when I stopped reading. Ironically, given that I was abroad in London at the time, one of the few things I don’t like about this fic is that it is set in the United States half of the time. There are many references to the American and specifically Chicago lifestyle. I prefer my Harry Potter to stay firmly placed in Great Britain, but it’s a minor quibble.

This is one of the best written fics that I’ve ever read. The author has a great gift for humor, clever turns of phrase, creativity, original characters, inventive plot lines, and so much more. Ima LeDrox, Professor Littlehorse, and Daniel Schuler are the strongest SSHG original characters I have ever read, and they are all in the same fic! Wow. However, I do have to mention one huge mis-step as far as the writing in this fic – the author decides to switch to first person perspective about one-third of the way into the story. It really took away so much from my immersion and enjoyment. It was difficult to remember whose perspective I was reading because it would switch back and forth from Snape to Hermione, using ‘I’ instead of their names. Additionally, long internal monologues are very boring to read. A good story will ‘show’ you the character’s feelings through their actions and conversations. It was to disappointing to read the character’s thoughts rather than experience them through an inventive scene of actions.

The romance is good, though I confess it was not as scintillating as I would have hoped for given the length of the story. In the author’s notes she describes her story as “the longest SSHG foreplay of all time”, but it is not the best SSHG foreplay of all time. They are rarely together and much of their romance takes place off screen or through journals. This is my largest issue with this fic – there is just not enough SSHG. It is 70% fabulous warplot, subplots, and side characters, with 30% SSHG. Yes, we usually see things through Snape or Hermione’s point of view, but Hermione is often concerned with her life in America and her friends and studies there, and Snape is often concerned with the Death Eaters, Pureblood politics, Hogwarts, and the Order. I’m not sure I’d read this if I wanted an amazing SSHG fic and I was in the mood for romance.

I’ve said quite a lot of negative things, so I want to re-iterate the positive qualifies of this fic. The writing, as I mentioned above, is amazing. The characterizations are perfect. There are some deeply angsty/dramatic moments in the first quarter that are handled with incredible insight and maturity. This fic shares with the original Harry Potter stories the ability to move from charmingly whimsical antics to deeply poignant and meaningful emotion, and back again. There is just so much there; 780k words that often feel like playing in the real Harry Potter universe. I love SSHG, but I love the Wizarding World more, and this fic really nails every single character and setting. This is the most fleshed-out Narcissa Malfoy I’ve ever seen, including the original books. The author holds unwaveringly true to Lucius Malfoy, good, bad, often hilarious, sometimes ugly. I could go through each character and each plotline and talk about how clever and good it was, and how much it just felt like Harry Potter; like going home (not always; like most fanfics it is a bit uneven.) There are too many good things in 780k words to even mention, but I hope this gives you an idea.

Special gold star mention for the Final Battle. This story spent a ridiculously large amount of time on planning the battle – maybe 50k or 100k words on the Order’s preparations for the specific day. I was getting tired of it and planned to say that it was overlong, however, the length of the planning made Final Battle extremely tense and exciting, because I knew exactly how everything was supposed to go and where everyone would be on the battlefield. I was thrilled, giggling with fear and adrenaline, as I read through it. Would their plans work? Oh no, a hitch, they hadn’t anticipated that! Reading about who felled who, who died, who lived, and ‘feeling’ the battle in real-time was simply awesome. I have never read a fic that detailed a Final Battle as well as this one did. Even JK Rowling skimmed over most of the details. This is one of the joys of fanfiction, right? No publishing house editor would let 100k of battle preparation make it in to the final draft, and it was a bit tedious to read, but it really paid off in a very special way, in my opinion.

The bottom line: Recommended to almost everyone, even people who aren’t fans of the pairing. I adored the rigorously academic, geeky, research-based attraction that bloomed between Snape and Hermione; to me that is the most realistic scenario for them to become attracted to each other. The plot is sprawling and massive but excellently done. If you don’t already love the Malfoys, you will fall in love with them in this fic. Hold your breath during the Final Battle. Gaze in awe upon the splendor that is Professor Littlehorse’s Animagus. Roll your eyes when it suddenly turns into a Regency fic post Final Battle. There are problems, to be sure – the first person perspective shift is disappointing, there is not quite enough romance, and the romance that is there does not sizzle as hotly as I would prefer – but all of that is completely eclipsed by length and breadth of this magnificent fic. Enjoy it.

It All Comes Down to Time – JenKM1216

Links:
http://ashwinder.sycophanthex.com/viewstory.php?sid=12563
https://www.fanfiction.net/s/2901275/1/It-All-Comes-Down-To-Time

Rating: Acceptable

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Romance/Time-Travel, 100k

Warnings: Sexual Content, Pregnancy, Nonsense

Hermione is accidentally flung back 19 years time to the reign of the Marauders at Hogwarts. Oh, and their nemesis Severus Snape, of course.

I am not usually a fan of time-travel fics in this pairing, because teenage Severus is sort of a nightmare, right? As most teenage boys are. I love Kylo Ren and joke that he’s ‘seventh year Snape.’ He’s angry, immature, and directs his rage to all of the wrong places. They are both great characters, but they are not great romantic heroes. (Of course, I have a giant crush on Kylo Ren, but any good romance story with him would require a major growth arc.)

Whether the author intended to or not, she did a great job at writing this Snape and Hermione as painfully teenage. Hermione ignores the ‘little voice’ in her head warning of her all of the consequences of her actions and seduces teenage Snape. (However, she still somehow manages to avoid warning Lily and James about Pettigrew’s betrayal – to me, that should have been a much greater temptation, but she isn’t tempted at all.) Hermione and Snape somehow forget to consider contraceptive potions. Oops! That is probably my number one pet peeve in this pairing and I nearly quit reading.

The writing is also ‘teenage’ in quality, which I doubt was a conscious decision. There is a major overuse of cliches such as ‘heart beating wildly,’ ‘lips crushing into hers,’ ‘mouth gaping open like a fish,’ etc. It’s hard to define what good writing is, but one can identify the signs of its absence. Cliches are one of those signs. Another sign is short scenes that lack description or depth; more montage than scene. Most of the scenes in this fic are written this way – except for the sex scenes, of course, which are written in painstaking detail. The plot is similarly basic. Rather than coming up with a creative way for teenage Snape and Hermione to be thrown together, the author literally has them run in to each other multiple times, and then magically be seated next to each other every class. Harry manages to break the simplistic wards on Snape’s office (LOL NO) and find papers explaining Plot MacGuffins on his desk. These forced contrivances really took me out of the story.

The author seems to skip over all of the ‘getting to know you’ details like what they discuss in Potions class, or intimate discussions about their hobbies, or everyday ‘witty banter’. Hermione’s blossoming attraction to adult Snape is detailed in a few quick paragraphs. I am more interested in the interactions that formed this attraction than anything else in the story – and they are absent. Without those scenes that define them as individuals and establish the tenor of the friendship and relationship, the fic feels like it could be about any generic people. It doesn’t feel like our Hermione and Severus unless one wears Harry Potter lexicon tinted glasses while reading it and even then it’s a bit of a stretch.

The dumbest possible tragic misunderstanding I have EVER read occurs in Chapter 7. It was beyond obnoxiously out-of-character and moronic, even for a teenage Snape. Another two stupid misunderstandings occur back to back a few chapters later. As an example of how awful these, ‘I won’t let you finish and I’m storming out,’ misunderstandings are: RON of all people allows Hermione to finish explaining something that angers him. Once he hears her explanation, he understands and is sympathetic. How is the Ron in this fic more patient and mature than Snape and Hermione? That’s the level of out-of-character nonsense we’re dealing with in this fic. Perhaps even worse than the tragic misunderstandings, though, is Hermione’s character arc. She goes from being a headstrong and intelligent girl thrilled and excited by her studies, to a woman who cries herself to sleep out of boredom when she is forced to be away from her husband and child. Why don’t you read a book? Study something? Work on a project? Hermione is NOT a woman whose life ‘means nothing’ without her husband and child. OFFENSIVE NONSENSE.

Then, the only justified anger in the fic occurs when Harry finds out that Hermione was willing to meddle with the future by sleeping with Snape, but not willing to risk the future when it came to saving his parents’ lives. All she had to say was, ‘Do not make Wormtail your Secret-Keeper.’ I actually 100% agree with Harry here and probably would have cut Hermione out of my life after this. (BOTH of these time-meddling actions were wrong, but if she was going to risk one, she ought to have risked the other.) In the fic, though, Harry’s anger is presented as unjustified and Harry eventually apologizes to Hermione by buying her chocolates and groveling. I cannot wrap my head around the characters’ behavior in this fic. Everything seems upside down. Perhaps the author is a very different person than I am.

So, after all of that complaining, I should cover the aspects of this fic that are good. It is rated Acceptable which is relatively high for me. Despite my complaints about content, the writing itself is relatively error-free and page-turning in its own way. Sometimes when reading a fic, it is immediately obvious that the writing is terrible. That is not the case here. The writing is clean and flows nicely. I finished the fic, albeit with heavy skimming towards the end. I know that many of the fic’s problems are pet peeves of mine (cliche expressions, teenagers, poor decision-making, pregnancy) and that many of my readers will not be as annoyed by the fic as I was. Really, I’m struggling to muster up praise, but believe me when I say it’s not that bad, if you’re desperate for a new fic.

The bottom line: This is a completely average fic. It’s readable, it’s page-turning, but everything about it is basic and predictable. It is filled with avoidable conflicts and tragic misunderstandings. With stronger characterizations and longer in-depth descriptions and dialogue, this could have been something. As it is, it’s passable. Barely. Maybe.

Public Service Announcement: Ashwinder

Ashwinder is back up! Here is one of the administrator’s LiveJournal entries where you can read more about what happened. The victory is bittersweet – sadly, the same day that the site was restored, we lost a beloved member of the Ashwinder community. http://sycophant-hex.livejournal.com/81895.html

Poll – the Scent of the Potions Master

So, this is weird, but I recently ordered a candle from Etsy called ‘Potions Master’ (it hasn’t arrived yet – I’ll have to let you all know how it goes) and I was intrigued by the ingredients. Here’s a link to the candle I bought.

The ingredients listed are, “simmering cauldrons, fresh lily, aged potions textbooks, the smoky fumes of brewing potions.” I agree with the first, but it isn’t specific enough to count. He does not smell like lilies, but it’s a lovely metaphorical addition. Aged potions textbooks, definitely. Smoky fumes of brewing potions? Yes, but again, it’s not quite specific enough. It’s more than mere smoke. What does a brewing potion smell like? I want to know.

Today in the grocery store, I found myself drawn to the candle aisle. The Ravenclaw in me came out to play and smelled nearly all of them. I have a few ideas, now, about what Snape might have smelled like, but I would like to hear your ideas, too! So I made a poll! This might be too weird and not receive any votes, but let’s try.

Vote in my silly poll!
http://www.strawpoll.me/13210467

(I’d prefer you voted before you read my comments for the purity of our silly data, but I’d like to give you my own comments, too. They are below.)

It’s popular in SSHG to describe Snape as smelling like sandalwood. I’ve probably read 10-15 fics where he is described that way. I always accepted that and have even bough sandalwood candles in the past for that reason. However, when I actually researched it (god, I’m so painfully Ravenclaw) I learned that sandalwood is an exotic semiparasitic tree grown almost exclusively in Australia and India. It’s a highly valued scent in men’s cologne because of its pleasant musky smell. But…is Snape going to be around any sandalwood trees? No. Is he going to use cologne? God, no! So he definitely doesn’t smell like sandalwood. How disappointing. Fanfic writers, stop using that.

I’m of the opinion that he would smell almost 100% of musty wool, because of his melton wool robes. A bit of leather/suede mixed in from his shoes and from old book covers. The rest of his smells would be environmental – wood, old stone, fireplace embers, books. Hogwarts. ❤ I don't see him drinking during the War, so no firewhiskey or wine. I love the idea of adding in some sort of potion ingredient or herb smell, but I just can't figure out what it would be. I also love the idea that Dumbledore makes the House Elves put a cheerful sherbet lemon scent in his sheets, but I've just made that up. I hope someone else finds this as interesting as I do. What do you guys think?

Posting poll link again, because I'm excited.
http://www.strawpoll.me/13210467

Pet Project – by Caeria

Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/2290003/1/Pet-Project

Rating: Outstanding

The Basics: Phoenix Era, Romance/Action, 330k

Warnings: Sexual Content, Violence

Sixth Year Hermione Granger, in her infinite Gryffindor compassion, observes that Professor Snape is exhausted. He barely eats, he never sleeps, he’s miserable – and worst of all, no some seems to notice or care. Given all that he continues to sacrifice for the Order, this is the very height of injustice as far as Hermione is concerned. She resolves to right this wrong, as only the full force of Hermione Granger’s study, intellect, and stubbornness can.

This fic is incredible. We’ll start there. I’m going to indulge in a few rambling Ravenclaw digressions for a bit, and then I’ll get back on track.

This fic is one that I missed when I did my Phoenix Era read-through. Although the fic was started in the Phoenix Era, 2005, it was not completed until 2013. Thus, it did not make it on to harmony_bites’ Completed Phoenix Epics list. I found it on her Work in Progress lists, which I recently went through to see if any of those were ever completed. I also had a commenter recommend it to me, which reminded me that I had bookmarked it – thank you!

Many epics are written over the course of real-life years, but it is very unusual for one to span EIGHT real-life years. I believe this is the first one I have read that was written over such a long period of time. I found this process delightful on a meta level. The fic starts out exploring Phoenix Era themes – Dark!Harry, Misguided!Dumbledore, Pureblood!Snape, Occlumency/Legilmancy, the Mauraders vs. Young Snape, and the Prophecy. The first third or so of the fic focuses mostly on these motifs. Then, as Half-Blood Prince descends, the author (skillfully, subtly) starts to weave in those new ideas – HalfBlood!Snape, Ruthless!Dumbledore, Slughorn, and Invaded!Hogwarts. Mercifully, she does not attempt to cram in Horcruxes or Snape killing Dumbledore, as both would have conflicted with her established plots. She adds in a few things from Deathly Hallows as well – Lily, Snape’s certainty of his own death, Badass!Neville, Occupied!Hogwarts. Many of my readers are relatively modern fans of the SSHG ship, and it’s difficult for you to understand what I mean when I talk about a ‘Classic Era’ fic, and how different in tone and content it is when compared to a Half-Blood Prince era one. Each ‘era’ has new themes and content that writers tend to fixate on, and they really are, in most cases, quite distinct from one another. This fic is an excellent remedial course in Phoenix Era, Half-Blood Prince era, and Hallows era fics, because you can feel the tone, themes, and content shift as the chapters and years pass. If you’re interested in this, make sure to read her Author’s Notes and track the changes. I found it fascinating.

I also want to give a bit of a disclaimer that this fic was practically tailor made for me. Sixth/Seventh Year Hogwarts meeting-of-the-minds that blossoms in to actual romance after Hogwarts is my favorite setting for SSHG. Hermione taking on Snape as a (VERY secret) ‘project’ is one of my favorite premises, because I find it to be very true to both characters. I prefer a long, lingering getting-to-know-you journey before romance. I love the mentor/mentee dynamic (that eventually blossoms in to equals.) I love the ‘meta’ aspects of fic-reading that occur because of the eight year writing span. This fic hits every one of my buttons, and obviously, a lot of my positive regard is going to be generated because of my preferences. I will try to be objective, though.

All right, actual review content, let’s go! We’ll start with the characterizations. Because the fic is so old, they feel a bit ‘Classic Era’ and traditional in their roles of school girl and Potions master. Hermione is VERY much herself circa Order of the Phoenix, which is of course, an innocent, overeager, idealistic Gryffindor. She has all of the tenacity and intelligence that we always see, but modern fics tend to make her a bit more powerful and mature – that is not the case here (although she matures considerably as the fic progresses.) Snape is deliciously in character. I believe Snape’s characterization was my favorite part of this fic – it really felt PERFECT to me. Absolutely perfect. Harsh teaching methods (but for the greater good), regretful and bitter about his past but committed to correcting his mistakes (for himself, not for anyone else), resentful of Dumbledore’s control and meddling but full of care for the old man, unrepentantly hateful towards Harry both for being a symbol of Snape’s failures and because he sees Harry as carefree/careless despite his responsibilities – the greatest of sins to trapped-in-a-web-of-duty Snape, masks upon masks for the Slytherins/Trio/Voldemort – masks to the point that he forgets what it’s like to be vulnerable and pushes everyone away out of habit. I don’t need to tell you all what Snape is; you know. This fic gets it. He’s not Fanon!Snape or Dark!Snape or SadLonely!Snape or SexyMasculinePowerhouse!Snape or OverlyTortured!Snape – he’s just truly Severus Snape, with aspects of all of those various Snapes. Perfection.

The romantic pacing is excellent. I think it will be too slow for many of my readers, but I really enjoyed the detailed consideration of the developing friendship. Too many fics skip this! There are sooooo many lovely things to explore in this pairing – why rush? Sometimes slow romances can be clinical or tepid (as in The Five Winters) and that is not the case here. The friendship-into-romance is a tender, natural, beautiful life-form that is fully and delicately nurtured with each new page and with each new understanding that the characters gain about each other. Lovely stuff. Regrettably, there is a disappointing ‘tragic misunderstanding’ meant to roadblock the relationship that lasted for a handful of chapters, but it wasn’t bad enough that I had to skip ahead (as I often do for tragic misunderstandings.) After that, the romance felt a bit clunky and rushed (comparatively) as it had to contend with the descending warplot. Still, though, the romantic arc climax coincides with the warplot climax, which is always my hope for epic-length romance. It’s remarkable that she accomplished a tandem finish in a 338k fic.

I adored the writing in this fic. The world feels really fleshed-out, with believable and interesting minor characters. She somehow writes charming, sympathetic, and funny House Elves – even JK Rowling was not able to do that! I also really enjoyed Professor Vector, Neville Longbottom, and Ron. Yes, Ron – most fans of this ship dislike Ron, including myself, but there are a few fics that manage to make Ron likeable and give him some redeeming qualities. This is one of them. His loyalty and steadfastness are a great help to this fic’s Dark!Harry, and his usefulness as a Chess General as the war descends is really well done. A lot of fics describe Ron as a Chess General, but this fic shows him making excellent tactical decisions and cutting to the heart of complex situations. That is not easy to write! I also love that the author takes each of the Trio members on a coming-of-age journey. When you start reading the fic, you might be turned off by Innocent!Hermione, Angry!Harry, and BigDumb!Ron, but stick with it. Each of them matures and grows and is a powerful, passionate, mature witch or wizard by the end of the story. This author writes a full story that has themes and involves everyone; there is much more here than mere romance. That is not easy write, and I really appreciated the effort to create a whole story of value. For me, it works beautifully.

There is a lot of creativity on display. Hermione is dedicated to her books, her research, her checklists, and her innovative solutions. This is Hermione! I loved her solutions to Snape’s problems, especially the enchanted item of protection. It may be one of my favorite fanfic inventions ever. I loved the way she stumbled across the idea, I loved her struggle to make it and I loved her eventual success (and the way it wasn’t quite what she expected.) The Voldemort-defeating device is clever, although I’ve read something similar before (FAR more clever than the stupid Deathly Hallows wand technicalities. I will never get over that.) I really enjoyed this author’s version of Arithmancy; a confusing magical topic that most authors avoid. (Arithmancy was explored really well in A Walking Shadow, but I believe that’s the only other Arithmancy-heavy fic I’ve read.) It was a fantastic device for foreshadowing and creating tension in the warplot. There is also an exploration of House Elf culture and motivations that is splendidly done. Many authors avoid House Elves because Dobby was so damn annoying (rest in peace, free elf), but this author does an excellent job handling them. Somehow, she manages to make them so interesting, sympathetic, and crucial to the plot. The combination of great minor characters and great magical ideas really made this feel like the Harry Potter books through an SSHG lens, and that’s about the highest praise I can give to any fanfic.

I do have a few criticisms to levy, of course. The overall plot pacing was a bit uneven. It’s no surprise, as it was written over eight years in real-time. Unevenness seems bound to happen. The middle section stalls out for a while; there are many many conversations and developments that could have been better resolved in a descriptive section to keep the pacing tight. The writing is still page-turning and filled with delightful conversations – I absolutely could not put it down – but the middle section was not as good as the rest. I was also a bit disappointed with the romantic content. Yes, I loved the slow meeting-of-the-minds in the first third, but I felt that the most exciting part of the romance (the space between realizing you care for the person and acting on those feelings) was short-changed a bit. There are only a handful of romantic scenes between the first kiss and the full consummation, and it would have been better to explore that area a little more. The consummation was a bit awkward for me, because it took place somewhere that I felt others could barge in at any moment and I was stressed out the whole time. It just didn’t quite feel right due to the lack of physical build-up. So, although the romantic pacing was great, the romantic content in the latter stages of the relationship was not as good as it could have been. Lastly, I found Dark!Harry really tiresome, and was very relieved when he finally chilled out. Harry is one of my favorite characters and I don’t like it when he is out-of-character for plot, even though it was explained very well here.

The bottom line: For me, this is a nearly perfect fic. The writing is excellent, the banter is witty, the characterizations are spot-on (considering Hermione’s age and remembering that she matures as the fic progresses), the House Elves are ridiculously charming, the warplot is inventive – this fic gets high marks across the entire board. I think for some readers the romance will feel too slow, but I really believe you will still love the fic. I recommend this without reservation to any fan of the pairing – I even recommend as a ‘gateway fic’ to those who are NOT fans of the pairing, because the romance is so believable. Thank you for finishing your fic, Caeria; it’s amazing.