In Annulo – by LadyoftheMasque
The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Romance/Action, 360k
Warnings: Seventh Year, Sexual Content, NC-17, Non-Consensual SSHG
At the start of her seventh year, Hermione Granger receives a letter and a magical correspondence ring from someone claiming to be a spy in the Death Eater camp. When Dumbledore was murdered by the Traitor, he lost his only contact to the Order. He’s hoping Hermione will be his new liaison, passing on his information to those who need it.
Full disclosure: I had read this many years ago when it was first published. Lady of the Masque is my favorite fanfiction author of all time; her For Someone Special is one my favorite fanfics. I was predisposed to love this fic. I did a full re-read for this review.
It is, obviously, outstanding. It’s Deathly Hallows and the hunt for the Horcruxes in an SSHG context. There are so many amazingly clever ideas – the betrothal correspondence ring and guardian, Chronomancy, Diario di Lucrezia Borgia as an incredibly Dark potions book that judges the worthiness of its reader, Artifacts and Artificy, having Dementors eat the soul out of Horcruxes (GENIUS!), delving into the function of origin of the Dark Mark, and more. So much of this story hits the sweet spot of magical, whimsical, practical, and funny that the real Harry Potter does.
I love Snape and Hermione’s function in the warplot. They spend huge amounts of time researching, creating charms, creating Potions, gathering information. They take an intellectual approach to defeating the Dark Lord – which is the way it should be! So many fics send them on cloak and dagger action adventures, or have them ignore the warplot completely in favor of their romance. This is what they REALLY would have been doing – using their brains and books to find a chink in Voldemort’s armor. Snape and Hermione are in love, sure, but their focus is 100% on Voldemort. They even sometimes ‘use’ each other and hide things from each other, if necessary, to the further the fight against Voldemort. These aren’t the kind of people who get swept up in passion and forget their circumstances, and this fic remembers that.
Hermione is absolutely, fabulously, beautifully in character. One thing I especially loved about her is how close she is with Harry and Ron. Many fics shove the boys them out of the picture or villainize them in order to focus on Snape. Hermione LOVES Harry and Ron and they are absolutely part of her life. This fic seamlessly and believably bridges the gap between her friendship with Ron and Harry and her romance with Snape. She remains close to them all and interacts with them all throughout the story.
Snape is a bit out of character in the beginning (it’s explained – because he is in disguise and because he has his own agenda, but it still bothered me.) My biggest problem with Snape (and Hermione, by extension) is that he introduces sexual talk and content in his first few interactions with Hermione. No way that Snape, alone in the heart of the Death Eaters, would jeopardize his only link to the Order with blatant sexual advances. Especially with Hermione Granger, his former student! Ridiculous. My face just fell and I groaned in disgust when it happened. As a result, the romance happens way faster than it should. (The fic is 360k! Why rush?) There is also way too much smut. Metric tons, enormous boatloads, full continents, of smut. WAY too much. Maybe I’m just a prude, but I was annoyed by the amount of sex they had. Multiple times every time they see each other? Come on. They have much better things to do with their time. I didn’t find it believable for either character. There is also a non-consensual SSHG scene, which I almost always find out of character, but in the context of the moment of this story, I believed Snape might have done it, as difficult as it was for me to read.
Despite my gripes about the early romance and the overabundance of smut, the pacing of the romance and warplot are mostly tight and page-turning. The romance peaks early, yes, but there are little hurdles to be overcome that kept it from feeling resolved and boring. Their romance begins in writing and then must progress to real life. Hermione knows Snape by an alias, and must learn to accept his true identity, essentially resetting the romance (but in an organic, realistic way, not in a Tragic Misunderstanding sort of way.) The warplot is almost perfectly paced, though I think it sagged a bit in the middle, and there is a little deux ex machina speed cheat in order to find the last few Horcruxes. Ideally, I would edit the entire fic down by 100k by removing 90% of the smut and tightening up the pacing in the center of the story; but honestly those are minor gripes in the greater picture.
The dialogue and descriptions are just wondrous. In my review of ‘For Someone Special’ I called LadyoftheMasque the Reining Queen of Witty Banter and here, 50 epic-length fics later, I support my original assessment. No one does hilarious, clever dialogue like she does. Not even JK Rowling. So many of the conversations, insults, snark, descriptions, and wry observations are pure gold. For the entire cast of characters, not just Snape and Hermione. I wish I could write like this.
Super duper gold star to the scene at the end of the story in the courtroom. It was so witty, tied so many lose ends together, and had so many fun reveals, jokes, and cameos. It was just so…Harry Potter. It took me back to Hogwarts, and back to that magic. At the end of the day, isn’t that why we read fan-fiction?
The bottom line: I had read this fic before, and I still stayed up until DAWN finishing it on my re-read, because I couldn’t put it down. I have been reading and reviewing fics for a long time now, and this one thoroughly impressed me, almost without reservation. Skim through the excessive amounts of smut, forgive Snape being a bit too forward in the beginning, and you’ll love this beautifully painful, charmingly whimsical, amazingly clever, deeply romantic adventure.