Before the Dawn – by snarkyroxy
Rating: Exceeds Expectations
The Basics: Phoenix Era, Romance/Action, 350k
Warnings: Sexual Content, Mild Violence
Hermione Granger, to help the war effort, begins brewing potions for Madame Pomfrey. This gives Professor Snape more time to focus on his spy duties and his brewing research…and on the new bushy-haired guest in his potions laboratory.
This one was really tough for me to rate. I adored the beginning, and hated the end. To demonstrate how much I truly loved the first two-thirds: I sent the following Skype message to my best friend: “so good so good, this is what fanfiction should be / weeps everywhere / it feels like 2006 again / weeeeeeeeps / not even drunk / if i were i might shimmer in and out of existence and slip into the dimension where snape exists.”
The first two-thirds of the fic, the romantic story arc, are WONDERFUL. Standing too close to each other, smoldering eyes, while maintaining silence and propriety, is my favorite thing in SSHG. Hermione is of age, but she is still a student. Snape is dignified and duty-bound. They are falling for each other as they work together, but they are in denial about it both to themselves and to each other. He is called to a Death Eater meeting and she waits up all night for him, against his orders. She catches the scent of ashes and sandalwood on his robes as he leans over to correct her potion ingredient cutting. He misses her conversation in the workroom when she is absent. It’s my favorite trope, my favorite setting, and it’s that beautiful slow-burn, baked to perfection. The timing was perfect for every step (or at least, for the first two-thirds.)
Unfortunately, the last third of the fic takes a nosedive at an alarming rate. I almost stopped reading, which is incredible considering how much I loved the rest. Once the romantic plot is finished, the warplot descends. I am not against warplots; I have read some fascinating ones that I loved. It’s just that this one did not hold my attention at all. There were some attempts at twists and exciting events, but they fell flat, because I didn’t really care about any of the characters other than Snape and Hermione (and I even found myself bored with them by the end.) A boring warplot would be fine if it were a minor part of the story, but this warplot was 100k; enough for an entire epic-length fic on its own. It was quite tough to get through.
The characterizations are good, but not great. There was a bit of witty banter and snark, but not as much as I prefer. I also think Snape might have been a bit too well-behaved. I read another review of this fic that said that snarkyroxy and this story were partially responsible for the rise of Fanon!Snape in fanfiction. While I think that is a bit of an exaggeration, it’s true that Snape’s rougher edges are sanded completely smooth by the end of the story. The Snape in the beginning of the story was good, but by the end, he’s quite bland. A bit of Snape-healing is expected, but he shouldn’t become genteel and perfectly well-behaved. This could just be me projecting the boring final act onto Snape’s character, though.
Edited to add: I started reading the next fic on my list, and even though my new fic is quite terrible, I’ve been immediately pleased and excited by the Snape. He’s grumpy and biting and sarcastic and I’ve MISSED him. Because of this, I think I might have to agree that the Snape in ‘Before the Dawn’, the subject of this review, is a pretty tame, soft, Fanon!Snape after all, at least by the end.
The bottom line: The first two-thirds of this fic are slow-simmeringly sexy and extraordinary and I highly recommend them. Unfortunately, there is another 100k of boring warplot and dissembling tacked on to that wonderful fic. I honestly recommended reading until you are bored, and then skipping to the end or just putting it down. DON’T skip this fic, though! Better you read it in its entirety than skip it, because the majority of the fic is well worth it.