The Professor’s Discretion – by Twelve Years in Azkaban
Rating: Outstanding Plus
The Basics: Modern Era (2009), Action/Romance, 140k
Warnings: Violence, Torture
Hermione Granger works on a potion that she hopes will separate Harry’s life from the Horcrux inside him, allowing him to live. She works secretly, not wanting to tell Harry the truth about his fate. When Severus Snape uncovers what she’s up to, he agrees to help her because he wants to find out more information about the Horcruxes and Dumbledore’s plans. Loosely follows the events of Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows.
This fic is incredible. I’ve really, really spoiled myself in the last week reading some of the best recommendations my readers could give me. The fic before this was ‘Beyond 84 Charing Cross Road‘ which I completely adored to the point that I want to write my own epistolary tale. All of that…and yet ‘The Professor’s Discretion’ is still my favorite of the week. Or month. Or year. Ever? Time will tell.
The characterizations are shining, stellar, ideal. I really don’t think I can overstate it. These characters made me question my own understanding of Snape and Hermione; particularly Hermione. The author embraces the Gryffindor depths of her character that most authors shy away from and even more impressively finds a way to explore these traits in a way that draws her closer to Snape. She thinks of others before herself – Severus is accustomed to being used by everyone and is wary of of her endless, guileless concern and care. She can babble and be an ‘eager puppy’ when it comes to a subject she is excited about – Snape initially uses this babbling to gain information on the Headmaster, but her endless chatter soon begins to mean something else to him, something poignant and lovely, which I will leave for you to discover. She is extremely loyal and refuses to give up – when ‘turncoat’ Headmaster Snape tries to push her away by playing the loyal Death Eater, she holds fast to her conviction that he is on their side. He is deeply affected by her refusal to abandon her belief in him, even in the face of danger and violence. This is not mere ‘Gryffindor stubbornness’ or ‘foolhardy girl’…this is something else, and he can not bring himself to deride it.
This fic adjusted my head-canon. Shame on me for preferring a more reclusive and reserved Hermione. THIS is the true Hermione and she still fits beautifully with Severus Snape. “The Professor’s Discretion” clicked a few more puzzle pieces in place in my head-canon understanding of this ship. For others who want to explore all of the possibilities and depths of this pairing, what better praise can I offer than that? I just read a 490k epic that I called an excellent psychological study of Snape, yet “The Professor’s Discretion” is nearly as thorough at one-fourth the length because it shows Snape’s complexities through well-conceived themes and beautifully written scenes rather than telling through emotional conversations about the past. This is extraordinary stuff. I want to read it again right now, but I have to finish this review.
The excellent characterizations extend to the rest of cast, as well. Ron and Harry are very much themselves; so much so that some of the scenes felt like the original books. There are many adventurers with the Cloak and the Map. Detentions with Filch. Peeves. All of the lovely things that occurred in the early books (and less so in JK’s final books) are present and I was very happy to see them. I loved the idea of having the Trio stay at Hogwarts during the canon Seventh Year, resisting the Carrows and defending themselves as best that they could. “No one goes anywhere alone,” Hermione tells Snape of the Gryffindors. This, in beautiful contrast to Snape’s overwhelmingly lonely and excruciating solitary existence as the turncoat Headmaster. I’m nearly crying again just thinking about it.
I think what I’ve just said touches on the most important reason that this fic rises to another level. It’s trying to say something. It’s trying to do something. It has multiple themes. You feel them, rising and falling, beating together, pulsing through the story, bringing Snape and Hermione together and bringing the Dark Lord down. It’s a work of literature, not merely a plot and a romance. It’s been a long time since I read a fic I felt this way about.
There technically no romance, though there is an extremely satisfying arc of emotional intimacy with a breath and a promise of romance. They are both focused on what they should be; Snape, on his duties and information-gathering, and Hermione on saving her friends and protecting herself and other Muggleborns. Their duties bring them together. There is no wasted time here; no hiding away having indulgent conversations for hours and days, thinking of themselves. Snape and Hermione are both dutiful individuals and would never do that. This is another head-canon puzzle piece that has clicked for me. Additionally, this focus on duty prevents the romance/intimacy arc from completing until the very end which is a deliciously positive thing. That question, that tension, that desire for more, that beautiful mist of romantic ambiguity, remained throughout.
There are a few grievances to list in my final paragraph, of course, and I suppose it’s my duty to enumerate them to you. I felt the Dumbledore was a bit too cold and calculating, though I realize it’s sort of canon with Deathly Hallows. My biggest issue is that the ending felt rushed, especially the last chapter. It seemed to be written much faster and in more of a summary than the rest of the story. I can sort of understand why the author did it – because the story is about Snape and Hermione and not the events of the final chapter – but I wanted more – much, much more. I was very sad when I clicked on the final chapter because I desperately loved the fic and was not ready for it to end. To have that chapter be little more than a summary was very disappointing.
The bottom line: I recommend this fic above all others that I have reviewed so far. I’ve loved others more, but I think objectively this is the best characterized, most well-rounded, most satisfying SSHG fic I have ever read. This Hermione is an absolutely stellar characterization, as is the Snape. The lack of on-screen actual romance is made up for by the beautifully poignant and realistically written arc of emotional intimacy, in my opinion. Read it. If you’ve already read it, read it again.
Thank you to the readers who recommended this to me.