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

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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.

Night School / Day Job – by Melisande88

Link https://sshgreview.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/melisande88-night-school-and-day-job.pdf
Both the prequel and story proper are in one file. I am hosting my own copy because these fics went down with the Digital Quill site. I will link to an external site when it is hosted properly again.

Rating: Exceeds Expectations Minus

The Basics: Phoenix Era, Action/Intrigue, 120k

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

Hermione Granger, distraught after the brutal events that led to the fall of Voldemort, becomes a Dark Auror in order to infiltrate the remaining Death Eaters, spying for Dumbledore. Her Dark Auror trainer is none other than the Order’s most accomplished Dark Auror and former spy, Severus Snape.

This is one of those times that I feel my rating system fails a bit. There is a prequel and a main story here; I did not like the prequel at all, but the main story is pretty good. How do I factor that in? I had this same problem with The Fire and the Rose and my ‘solution’ was to give each book a separate rating, but I’m not sure that really made sense. So, this time, I’ll go with the higher rating, and just ask you to keep in mind that the prequel is nowhere near as good. (They should be read together because they are essentially one story.) Also, note that this was written in the Phoenix Era, 2005. I am posting this fic out of chronological order because I somehow missed it during my Phoenix Era postings.

Night School is a short prequel about Hermione’s Dark Auror training. I really disliked this prequel; Hermione and Severus both seemed grossly out of character. They spend most of this training playing psychosexual games and immediately jumping in to bed, which always causes my eyes to roll out of my head. I just can’t see Snape and Hermione doing that, no matter how old or how war-weary.

Day Job, the story proper, is much better. I felt as though Night School was perhaps meant as a one-off porn-without-plot short story, and then when the author decided to expand the story in to Day Job, she went back and adding a bit of exposition. This would help to explain the disparity in quality between the prequel and the main story.

Hermione’s out of character issues vanish when Day Job starts. She dedicates her entire being to her mission of infiltrating the Death Eaters. This is the Hermione I know! Focused and fabulous. The Dark Auror action plot is the best part of the story. I was very excited to find out what she would do next or what fresh danger awaited her in the (nearly literal) serpent’s den of Death Eaters. This is a ruthless version of Hermione who will seduce whoever she has to, work wherever she has to, dump all of her ‘weak’ memories in to a Pensieve; whatever it takes. She learns what works and what does not work as her Dark Auror journey unfolds. I was both scared and excited by her boldness, as was she; this is excellently written intrigue. Lucius Malfoy (after one off-putting sexual torture introduction scene that didn’t seem to mesh with the way he was later presented) is skillfully written, as is Draco. Everyone has their own motivations and secret plans; I loved watching the social mind games required for Hermione to ‘keep up’ with these Slytherin schemers.

So, I loved reading about Hermione’s adventures with the Malfoys, but sadly I did not love her time with Snape. The romance, though MUCH better than in the prequel, continued to be disappointing. They fall in love immediately, they consummate immediately, they stay apart for arbitrary reasons, and the author has to invent stupid misunderstandings to keep them apart, etc. One misunderstanding was so stupid that I rage-skimmed a few chapters, wanting to avoid the idiotic farce of my beloved non-idiotic characters. I also felt that Snape was a bit out of character. He spends most of the fic irrationally following Hermione around, spying on her, being jealous, brewing potions to bind her to him (that he later throws away, but still.) I can see that Snape would be a jealous and possessive person, but this was too much.

The bottom line: The Adventures of Hermione the Spy. The Hermione-focused action plot of this fic is page-turning and very enjoyable, but the inconsistent writing and the lackluster romance were difficult for me. This fic was well-loved when it was first written and it’s definitely worth a look unless you are strictly in the mood for romance. Keep in mind that the short prequel is not as good, has a totally different tone, and is moderately out-of-character.