Forged in Flames – by mswhich
Rating: Acceptable Plus
The Basics: Modern Era (2011), Action/Romance, 84k
Warnings: Sexual Content, Violence, Torture, Attempted Non-Con(not SSHG)
Bellatrix Lestrange puts a twisted curse on Hermione to prevent her from conveying vital information to the Order unless she unlocks the spell using with a Key assigned by Bellatrix. The Key is a humiliating task that will change Hermione’s relationship with her professor, Severus Snape, forever.
This fic is only 84k, which means it is shorter than what I usually review, but I read it and figured I might as well review it.
There were a lot of aspects of this fic that I enjoyed. There is a very, very clever Voldemort-defeating mechanism. The writing is aggressively paced (as one would expect in a short fic) but each scene still feels fleshed-out and whole. The characterizations are reasonably good (more on this later), including the side characters. The romantic pacing is nearly perfect; the climax of the plot almost coincides with the climax of the love story, as it should. This sounds like fairly benign praise, but in my fic experience it’s rare for this simultaneous plot + romance climax to occur (yes, yes, obvious simultaneous climax joke is obvious, well spotted) and I’m always delighted when I find it. Even an ‘almost’, as it is here.
The chief problem for me in this fic is that Snape is aggressive and lustful, while Hermione is meek and innocent. I really dislike it when still-her-professor Snape is attracted to a still-his-student Hermione without a strong established friendship. I realize because of the plot events that the sexual aspect had to come to the forefront immediately, but I think Actual Snape would have erected 10 mental brick walls between himself and Hermione after that encounter, rather than watching her and lusting after her. This is exacerbated by a busy, tired, oblivious Hermione who does not often reflect on her feelings and seems confused by Snape’s behavior. A domineering Snape can work, if Hermione is quite mature and can stand up for herself, but that does not happen here. It felt like she was an innocent child and he was her lecherous teacher because there was not enough friendship/relationship development and because Hermione was so meek.
Similarly, I struggle to believe that Snape would have initiated breaking Bella’s Key task. I think they would have brought the information to the Order, and the Order would have argued about what to do, and Hermione would finally volunteer to have the information tortured out of her (since Snape later admits this would have worked.) That whole scene was squicky to me because Hermione did as she was told (by a frightening authority figure) with very little agency or choice in the matter. There were hints of non-con because of the power dynamic that made me uncomfortable. There needed to be other people involved in the decision, or it needed to be privately initiated by Hermione. To be clear, I am not overly sensitive to these issues. I don’t mind the teacher-student dynamic as long as the relationship is firmly established first. To have Snape command her to do it without consulting other adults felt like an abuse of power (as did a lot of his other actions in the fic.)
This is now my third paragraph of complaints about a good fic, but I’m tired and rambly today, so here we are. There were a few Harry Potter as-a-whole mistakes that surprised me. Some exaples: Hermione enduring 15+ rounds of Crucio and retaining her sanity (after checking, I guess this isn’t officially wrong but most fics put insanity and death around 6-8), students brewing Polyjuice in class (nope, the recipe is in ‘Most Potente Potions’ in the Restricted Section; it would never be taught in regular class) and the Yule Ball being held every year (nope, only during the Triwizard Tournament). These seem like minor infractions, but they add up. The Polyjuice error especially made me wonder if the author was new to the pairing or even new the fandom. That lowered my immersion and interest quite a bit.
The bottom line: Very well paced, plotted and written with fun original ideas – but I struggled with Snape’s characterization. It might be personal preference because I like highly disciplined academic recluse Snape while this Snape struggled with lust, aggression, and self-control. If Hermione had been stronger and stood up for herself more, or if the fic had developed the friendship connection more, his characterization would have worked better. To be clear, it’s still a very good fic, especially if you’re in the mood for some Innocent!Hermione and TemptestousRage!Snape.