Spellcaster – by SGCbearcub

Link: https://sshgreview.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/sgcbearcub-spellcaster.pdf
Note: Linking my old personal copy because I cannot find any hosted copies. Many fanfiction sites have gone down recently and I think this fic must have been another victim. You can see here – http://sgcbearcub.livejournal.com/ – in a recent LJ update that the author is still actively working on the sequel, so I assume she has no problem with people reading this fic.

Rating: Exceeds Expectations

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Action/Intrigue/Drama/Angst, 140k

Warnings: NC-17, Violence, PTSD, Dark!Hermione

—–

Hermione Granger, furious and bent on revenge after the death of her parents and the Ministry’s new Marriage Law, plans to bring down Voldemort and even the entire Ministry, if she has to. Step one? Marrying Severus Snape.

I am excited to review this one – it’s a real treat, very unique, and I think a lot of you will really enjoy it. I should say, though, that I’ve been reading this one for almost a year, so my review will focus on the last half, which I read more recently. (During a long break from fanfiction, I forgot which fic I was reading and read another one before I picked this one up again.)

All right, with the disclaimers out of the way, let’s get in to it. As you can tell by the summary, this is a pretty dark Hermione, similar to Cloak of Courage (actually, a lot of things about this fic reminded me of Cloak of Courage, but we’ll touch more on that later.) This is not the Hermione that we know, but the author exhaustively goes out of her way to explain why this Hermione is the way she is, both in terms of psychological trauma and in terms of added backstory (lost her link to instinctual magic as a result of a childhood accident, causing her to rely obsessively on brains and books.) This Hermione is very independent, full of secrets, ruthless, oftentimes mocking or cruel, and even a bit insane. It’s like Hermione mixed with Bellatrix Lestrange. There are definitely scenes that feel totally out of character, but it’s explained well enough for me to accept it. The author works hard to establish the changes that she has made and earns the alterations in my opinion – but this Hermione will not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Snape is also in character, although he’s a bit weak at times to me. This is becoming a trend Half-Blood Prince era fiction, it seems – there are many, many fics with an emphasis on an extremely strong Hermione and that tends to weaken the Snape. He’s manipulated by her more than once, and again, the author sort of ‘earns’ that by the way she’s written Hermione, but it’s still unsexy to me to see him outsmarted and out-magicked by this crazy Hermione.

The prose in this fic is absolutely excellent. It’s written in a bit of an unusual style; it’s exciting to me to read an author who has such a strong stylistic signature. She writes a paragraph describing something, and then has a statement standing alone, like, ‘That sad little letter was a symbol of all she had lost,’ before moving on to the next paragraph. It’s not every paragraph, of course, but often enough that I noticed it and really began to enjoy it. Her descriptions are unique and vivid. She makes bold, interesting choices like having the climactic Voldemort-defeat seen entirely through the eyes of Lucius (a character with no other screen time.) She invents a TON of fabulous Wizarding World ideas, from Rivening to the Spellnet to Binding/Copying to breaking down the science of spellcasting and linking it to Muggle science (while simultaneously exploring the ‘instinctual’ and ancient side of spellcasting which links to ancient bog-witches and druids!) The intense delve into the nature of magic also reminded me of Cloak of Courage, as I mentioned earlier, as that fic also has a vengeful Dark!Hermione exploring the nature of magic. She also invents a whole set of social rules for Pureblood culture (also done in Cloak of Courage!) There is a ton of wild, unbridled, spilling-out-in-all-directions creativity on display here that was very exciting to me.

As for the bad – the romance in this fic is a bit disappointing, I’m afraid. The author seems much more focused on plot and world-creation than the actual relationship. I suppose not all SSHG fics NEED to be romance – I’ve given good reviews to plenty of fics without it, like ‘Dark Gods in the Blood’ which is strictly a friendship buddy-cop fic. But Spellcaster seems to WANT to be a romance novel, so the lackluster romance is a problem for me. The romantic pacing is perfect; the climax of their relationship occurs simultaneously with the climax of the warplot. So few fics manage that! Amazing, right? Except…not, somehow. The romance had no pulse or body; it just seemed to happen between the pages, between the plot points and exciting ideas. There are sections devoted to it, but even those sections seem more focused on warplot than each other (which makes sense, between a Death Eater spy and a ruthless insane witch bent on revenge), but I still wish there were a bit more heat and interest in the romance. I think the author’s determination to have Hermione be so strong, secretive, and supremely clever made a romance impossible, because she doesn’t ‘need’ Snape. He feels like a means to an end, and like he has no agency, and that is no relationship. I think if Snape had actively decided to heal and bring peace to this raging Hermione, and he was able to calm her insanity and that’s what allowed her to defeat Voldemort, then the relationship would have felt real. But as it is, Hermione is in control of all secrets, power, and cleverness the entire time, and that’s not much to build a relationship on. Despite the author’s best efforts, the relationship never really feels ‘there.’

I have one other major problem with this fic – and that’s that the author’s too-strong focus on theorizing, conceptualizing, brainstorming, world-building, and politics-twisting. That’s all great, but the frenetic energy of an always changing plot wore on me after a while. I started to feel that the things that happened in one chapter were barely connected to the next. The author seemed far more in love with her ideas than with sensible plotting, romantic or otherwise. Hermione wants a bunch of Grimiores. Hermione wants a bunch of Dowries. Now she’s putting Grimoires in Dowries…you mean the last 15 chapters of social maneuvering and power plays have just been for a tiny side project of Grimoire-Dowries? How long is this fic going to go on? Next, Hermione bombastically and bloodily demonstrates her role as Secret-Keeper to the Slytherin pureblood leader at the school, Yardley, for…some reason? And it’s never mentioned again? Much of fic is social maneuvering for reasons that are never really explained. Every scene, Hermione and Snape are mind-racing through the political ramifications of their actions and playing chess pieces far in advance. This is really, really cool, except that the puzzle pieces don’t seem to form a picture. I love the idea of a political intrigue dystopian Evil Ministry fic, but this doesn’t quite get there. It felt like a lot of great ideas all thrown together in a pot and shaken up.

I will say, though, that the author managed to reign herself in about 4/5 of the way through and focus on writing an excellent wrap-up. The author says in her notes that she is running out of time to work on the fic and needs to wrap it up, and apologizes for the time-jumps and heavy-handed plotting. I actually appreciated it, because it brought the focus the fic was missing back and things really started to make sense and happen in a linear fashion. I usually hate ‘tacked-on endings’ but this was done extremely well and stopped the fic from expanding beyond the author’s ability to complete, like Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time.’ (RIP Robert Jordan, I love you.)

The bottom line: A really, really excellent Dark!Hermione fic with a lackluster romance. The beginning and the ending are especially great. The middle spins out of control for a while with seemingly unrelated scenes of new ideas and new characters, but the author manages to cut to the end, eventually. If you can stand the lack of romance, the Dark!Hermione, and the frenetic idea-stacking of the middle section, you will absolutely love this fic. The quality of the writing and the fabulous ideas more than outweigh the problems.

The Five Winters – by Anubis Ankh

Link: http://anubisankh.livejournal.com/16320.html
Note: The link is actually to the author’s LJ post, where she has listed her own upload links. I thought it better to link to ‘her’ rather than directly to the uploads. If this goes down or is inaccessible, please let me know.

Rating: Acceptable Plus

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era (AU), Romance, 700k

Warnings: NC-17, Violence

—–

I am back from a long hiatus; for personal reasons and because I was stuck on this fic. It’s 700,000 words – that’s INSANELY LONG, like 7 big novels. For me this fic was in that grey area of not-good-enough-to-keep-reading but not-bad-enough-to-skip, so I was in a holding pattern for months and months trying to go back to it. I’ve given up and am posting a review, because I need to make a post here, and because I miss reading SSHG.

After the events of the Wizarding War, Hermione Granger becomes Minerva McGonagall’s Transfiguration Apprentice, earning her place amongst the Hogwarts staff. She strikes up a friendship with Severus Snape that becomes something more.

I was extremely excited when I first started reading this fic. I knew going into it that it was 700,000 words, which was exciting, because if it was good, it would be an entire SSHG series. I was delighted as I started reading – the writing is excellent, check, Snape is in character, check, one of my favorite settings (Hogwarts, with Apprentice Hermione), CHECK! How had I missed this fic? Why was it not recommended EVERYWHERE? As I continued to read, I learned the answers to these questions.

My longtime readers will know how much I prefer slow-simmering romance – I mention it in every review. This romance is VERY slow – I was probably 100,000 words in before the first tendrils of romance began to creep in (that’s the length of the average fic I review here, for reference.) The author iterates in her authors notes that she finds most fics to be ‘unrealistic’ and that SSHG should be very slow and reluctant. “I totally agree! This is going to be an amazing fic,” I thought excitedly. But as I continued, on and on and on, I started to realize that the passion/sparks were not only slow, but absent. It’s one thing to enjoy the slow, tantalizing, drawn out period of standing too close to one another, wondering if the other feels the same, resisting the urge to act inappropriately. But this fic, that delicious tension is not described, hinted at, or present. When it’s time to move forward in the relationship, they sit down and clinically discuss their feelings. The same is true for every new physical step. I understand that this is the author’s idea of ‘realistic’ and I don’t totally disagree, but…there should be a LITTLE deliciousness in there, no? I am pretty tight-laced and prude-ish to be honest but there is definitely more passion in my old married relationship than there is in this freshly minted Severus and Hermione relationship.

Similarly, the plot moves very slowly. I am fine with not having a warplot, but there should be some feeling of excitement that makes you want to stay up late and continue reading. “For Someone Special” is a great example of this: in FSS, there’s almost no plot, just fast quips and charming pieces of their every day lives that make for excellent reading. (It’s obviously unfair to compare this author to LadyoftheMasque, who is working as a professional romance writer now, but I think for fics that are 700,000 words, that quality of writing is necessary.) This fic has great writing, but it’s not great enough to read for 50 hours, as the length demands.

Lastly, and I think this was really the dealbreaker for me in this fic – I really disliked the Hermione in this fic, though I can’t necessarily say she’s out of character. The author just focuses on aspects of Hermione that I don’t really like – bossy, VERY dominant, VERY Gryffindor. I’m a bit more of a Luna Lovegood and I prefer a more understanding Hermione. This Hermione forcibly shampoos Snape’s hair, forcibly manipulates him into attending parties he doesn’t want to go to, exposes his weaknesses to Lucius Malfoy of all people because she thinks it will help her get what she wants…I was very uncomfortable with all of that. It seemed to me that she was constantly humiliating him, both publicly and privately, which is not acceptable in a relationship.

Snape is insecure, so private, and sensitive to people exerting control over him (as his father, Voldemort, or Dumbledore have for his entire life.) There is no way he would tolerate a bossy, aggressive Hermione like this fic presents. He would recoil into his protective privacy and shun her after that first ridiculous demonstration. Hermione should be wise enough to temper those inclinations around him. She can still be Hermione and boss around Ron and Harry and other idiots as much as she wants, but she should see Snape as the sensitive, formidable time-bomb that he is and treat him with a little more caution, respect, and kindness. She should treat him as an intelligent equal, not as a child with dirt on his nose. The author kept saying in her notes that Hermione was “asserting her place on the staff,” and “earning Snape’s respect” with these actions, but to me that kind of behavior would be seen as childish. Adults do not treat each other that way. I don’t mind a little Mary Sue in my fanfic, but if you Mary Sue to the point that you’ve emasculated your male lead unintentionally, there is a problem.

After all of those complaints, let’s re-iterate the good. There is a TON of good here. The writing is excellent. The author is very intelligent and everything is very well thought-out. There are some really fabulously creative ideas, like a special Egyptian-themed bracelet Hermione wears that has some very clever spoilers, inter-House politics that you rarely see in fics, and some great original characters. There is also a focus on the world as a whole, which I loved – a lot of fics tend to cozy up with just Severus and Hermione, but this fic is interested in everyone, while keeping the focus clear.

The bottom line: Despite my long paragraphs of reservations, this story really is very special. It’s amazing to have a fic this long, and especially this well-written. It definitely has its faults, for me, enough to stop reading and finish by skimming, but if you don’t mind a (very) gentle/clinical romance and a (very) strongly-opinionated Hermione, there is a lot of good here (literally LOTS, 700k. Too much for me.)

SPECIAL POST – Thoughts on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

One of the reasons I made my ‘SPECIAL POST – Thoughts on Harry Potter on the Cursed Child’ blurb was because I felt there were some things in the play that were relevant to our ship. That is not the case with Fantastic Beasts (unless perhaps Credence ends up being Snape’s grandfather, one of many theories about him), but one of my commenters asked me to write up my thoughts on it, so I thought I would. This will be a bit messy, and is not really a review, just a ramble.

First of all, I really dislike Eddie Redmayne, so I was quite dubious about the film. A Hufflepuff lead played by Eddie Redmayne? In AMERICA? About animals? Just…no. It sounded awful to me.

Perhaps it was these low expectations that caused me to be pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed the film. Was it as magical as ‘Harry Potter?’ No, of course not. But I thought there was some of that magic, and I LOVED Newt. Having an introverted, quiet, lead character felt so good. You very rarely see that – the hobbits in Lord of the Rings were the only example I could think of. Usually it’s brave, loud Gryffindors who push their way to the forefront and become protagonists. I loved how polite, how awkward, (and not affected I’m-so-charming awkwardness, which is what I dislike about E. Redmayne. It felt genuine.) and how sensitive Newt was. A guy who doesn’t really fit in with the world and does the bare minimum of human interaction…but comes alive when he enters his special world of his hobby (the suitcase?) YEAH I CAN IDENTIFY WITH THAT. Talk to me about anything and I will be awkward and quiet, but bring up Harry Potter, cosplay, or philosophy and I will talk your ear off. I almost thought he was a bit of a Huffleclaw, given his rich inner world – there are shades of Luna Lovegood in Newt, don’t you think? Fitting that she eventually marries his grandson. I thought most Harry Potter fans would totally identify with Newt and was surprised to find out that most of my HP friends did not like him.

As for the other main characters – I am neither here nor there on Queenie, Jacob, and Tina. I don’t really love them, but there are a ton of HP characters I don’t really love either, so this is not a problem for me. In HP, I love Luna, Snape, Hermione, Lupin, and Dumbledore. Out of 7 books. In this movie, I love Newt Scamander and am curious about Credence. That’s not bad. I know there will be many more characters for me to explore in subsequent movies and hopefully I will find one that I fall in love with.

I thought the best and most interesting addition to canon – and the part of the movie that felt the most magical – was the Obscurus and Obscurials. Those are a beautiful idea that absolutely felt like an organic part of the Wizarding World. If I had read about Obscurials and Obscurus in a fanfic, I would have been blown away by it. Dumbledore’s sister, Ariana, was probably an Obscurial. If you haven’t seen the articles about it, here is a direct quote form Deathly Hallows – “It destroyed her, what they did: She was never right again. She wouldn’t use magic, but she couldn’t get rid of it; it turned inward and drove her mad, it exploded out of her when she couldn’t control it, and at times she was strange and dangerous. But mostly she was sweet and scared and harmless.” Awesome! It sounds as though an Obscurus was something JKR had already come up with but couldn’t fit in to Harry Potter, so it came out in Fantastic Beasts. Haunting, beautiful, and painfully human at its core. Classic Wizarding World – excellent, excellent stuff.

My biggest disappointment in the film (well, the whole FB franchise) is that JKR chose to focus on Dumbledore and Grindelwald. I feel like that is a story I am not interested in – I hope the proceeding movies in the franchise prove me wrong, but Grindelwald, the Hallows, and Dumbledore’s backstory was my least favorite part of Deathly Hallows, so I am not excited to learn more about it. I wish so much that she had chosen to do the Founders, or tell another story entirely. (I love the idea of the Mauraders, but we already know that story and are too close to it. The Founders would have been more appropriate.) I think the whole DD/GW concept is a mistake. I also think Johnny Depp’s casting was a huge mistake. I don’t care about the issues he has in his personal life; I just think casting a huge name American actor for a beloved British franchise is a wrong. He should have been a German/Austrian unknown, or a moderately known British one. Johnny Depp just feels entirely wrong. And even worse than the casting was the STYLING. The stupid bleached hair and mustache? Are you kidding me? He looked idiotic and it really took me out of the world.

Another problem with the film was that it was set in the United States. Part of what I love so much about Harry Potter is the setting in the British school system, the Victorian-like nature of many wizards, and just how charmingly British the whole thing is. As an American myself, and an ill-informed child when I first read the books, I honestly thought that JKR had invented headmasters, prefects, Christmas crackers, school houses, etc. Obviously, they just turned out to actual British things. So, a setting change to America removes so much of the magic and charm for me. I am so glad that the next film is set in France. I hope we do not see a return to the US.

I am hopeful for the next movies, though. I LOVE the idea that the next one will be set in France. I LOVE the idea that the story concludes in 1945 an we started in 1926 – we have 20 years of story to tell in 5 movies. THAT is appropriate. I know some people are worried about the 5 movies because it smacks of ‘The Hobbit’ series (which I HATED, lest any of you think I will defend any sequel) and too little butter spread over too much bread, but if each movie has a new setting, new characters, and a 4 year time jump to work with? I think we really do have the potential for an vibrant, full, amazing franchise and I am very optimistic.

The bottom line: Newt Scamander is an incredible character. I believe he’s a Huffleclaw and as a sensitive, quiet Luna-esque Ravenclaw myself, I adore him. 5 movies is appropriate because of the 20 year long story and the setting changes. Johnny Depp’s casting was a mistake and the styling choices for his character were an even bigger mistake. I’m not a fan of the DD/GW story choice, but it could be worse.

I’ll echo what I said in my Cursed Child review – we are adults now and we are much more difficult to please and much more cynical. It’s difficult for us to find magic. Let yourself enjoy the magic in the movie and try not to focus on your criticisms. Let’s see how the franchise unfolds. Nox!

Seven Preposterous Things – Bloodcult of Freud

Link: http://archiveofourown.org/works/9389336/chapters/21255608
Thank you to the commenter who let me know that this fic was recently posted on Archive of our Own! It is so exciting to me that some early SSHG authors are reposting their classic fics.

Rating: Acceptable Plus

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Comedy/AU/Romance, 100k

Warnings: Violence, Pregnancy, Kink, NC-17, Language, AU elements

Severus Snape and Dracy Malfoy have a plan to flee the British Wizarding World after the Final Battle, regardless of the outcome. Severus, hand on Portkey, makes a last moment decision to take a shocked Hermione Granger with him.

This is the second fic I’ve reviewed by Bloodcult of Freud – the first is Tyger, Tyger. It’s amazing how different they are. Tyger was a fairly serious, covering-a-lifetime, mostly classic story. Seven Preposterous is often comical, takes place over only a couple of months, and is so wildly different from most SSHG in setting and tone and character that it feels AU. Pretty much the opposite of Tyger, Tyger.

This fic spends a lot of time – at least a third, maybe more than that – on the perspectives of Millicent Bulstrode and Draco Malfoy. Millicent is very fleshed-out and interesting. I found her more compelling than the Severus and Hermione in this story. Her background is rich and detailed, delving into Pureblood culture by bringing in elements of fairy tales, which is something I had never considered or seen before. in fanfic. Those parts of the story were very fun. Draco is a bit more useless and dandy than I prefer, but I can’t really argue that it’s too far out of character.

So, Millicent and Draco are married, and they hatch a plan with Severus Snape to all escape together to the United States after the Wizarding War – Texas, specifically. The majority of the fic takes place there. They live in a Muggle home and take Muggle jobs, and rarely use magic to avoid the radar of United States Wizarding authorities. Severus is in love with Hermione and has been for years, but is reluctant to pursue her, so Hermione takes matters in to her own hands. I don’t usually give this detailed of a synopsis in my reviews, but this fic is so nutty that it seems necessary. It’s also important to note that the random insanity of these events is a major intentional theme; I am tempted to write ‘this fic is a mess,’ except that I know it was done intentionally and even the title ties in that theme. ‘Seven Preposterous Things.’ Life changes on a dime. Coincidences, foretelling, a kind word; the smallest things can shape the future. Life is wild and unpredictable.

With the lengthy preamble completed, let’s get down to the meat of it. My biggest problem with this fic is the characterization of Severus Snape. In this fic, he’s a pitiful mess – no confidence, bad hygiene, no game with women, victim complex, and a drunk. For me, Snape is many things, but he is not a groveling slob. He works with dangerous chemicals, has three jobs, and is a spy – he has to be disciplined and on his toes at all times. His entire life is about discipline and outward strength. I think that’s the key point for me here, where I differ with the author’s portrayal – I think Snape has many of these traits (self-loathing, self-pity, frustration with his life, bad habits) but in my opinion, he goes to GREAT LENGTHS to hide his faults from others. He always wants to seem in control, in the know, in authority. He is no longer Snivellus who gets bullied; he is Professor Snape, he is formidable, and no one will dare. He keeps his insecurities and faults LOCKED.UP. Bleeding out on the floor of the Shrieking Shack, he still performed his duty with dignity, without a trace of Snivellus. This disgusting, smelly, groveling man begging for scraps from Hermione is Snivellus, not Severus, and I couldn’t get over it.

Hermione is fairly in character and Millicent is fantastic, but Snape and Draco are both alternate reality pathetic groveling slobs in comparison to their canon personalities. There are a lot of feminist motifs in the story, which is awesome, but emasculating the two male characters is going a bit too far. Speaking of motifs – it seems worth pointing out that the foursome encounters 2 abandoned infants in the course of the story that they take in and make their own. It serves no purpose in the plot. I thought the first one was weird, and then they found a second? I suppose the story is called ‘Seven Preposterous Things’ and the strangeness of life’s course is a theme, but it felt messy and strange.

The writing is acceptable. I know the author is very well read and intelligent (there are a ton of literary, historical, and philosophic references in Tyger, Tyger,) but this fic has a much more casual tone and the writing reflects that. Most of it feels rather slap-dash, definitely written for fun rather than perfection. I liked the tongue-and-cheek nature of the fic – the author acknowledges that her fic is pretty insane at times by having her characters joke about it. However, I had the feeling that the author really enjoyed writing some sections and would put a lot of detail in to them, and then would boredly sketch out other sections with minimal effort. I found most of the Millie sections more compelling and than (generally shorter) Hermione and Severus sections; it seemed like the author was a lot more interested and invested in Millie than anyone else.

Additionally, I think the author changed some of her ideas as she was writing. There is a mention of a time travel machine, and what appeared to me to be a set-up for a time travel plot – lots of weird coincidences and random things working out for the group. I thought, ‘Oh, this will turn out to have been set up by one of them from the future, coming back and placing things for them to encounter.’ Nope…although the author went out of her way to exclaim how weird the coincidences are, and explicitly mentioned a time machine, they turned out to just be coincidences. The story wrapped up with a very weird deux ex machina, which I won’t spoil, but it was just another head-scratching thing this fic does. It plays to the theme, but it makes for a very weird reading experience.

Gold star for a fascinating Millicent Bulstrode and a positively magical take on Pureblood culture. Those were absolutely my favorite parts of the fic. Millie’s backstory is ‘delightful,’ to steal a word from one of my commenters, but…this is not a Millicent Bulstrode fic review site, and the rest of the story is not nearly as strong.

The bottom line: A very strange fic. One of its themes is the madness of chance and choice, and the author sets up many ridiculous, comical situations to explore that theme. There are a lot of good ideas and fun moments, but for me the Snape was gross and unfamiliar. Recommended if you want to try something zany and enjoy humor fics (and can tolerate a pathetic Snape) but I’d skip if you’re looking for great SSHG romance.

Of Debts and Debt Collection – by Anastasia

Links:
http://www.thepetulantpoetess.com/viewstory.php?sid=5075
http://ashwinder.sycophanthex.com/viewstory.php?sid=15825

Rating: Acceptable

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Romance, 180k

Warnings: Violence

Severus Snape barely survives the battle that results in Dumbledore’s death at his hand, and completing this final duty, he finds himself unable to return to the Death Eaters. He staggers back to Hogwarts and throws himself at their mercy, where one Hermione Granger nurses him back to health.

I feel like this is going to be one of the lamest reviews I’ve written, so apologies in advance for that. Every once in a while I run into a fic that I can tell is decently good, but that I really just don’t like. I can’t quite bring myself to skip to the end, but reading it is miserable, so I put it off for months. I’ve just come back to it again, for the third time, and I still can’t read it, so I’m finally skipping to the end. It’s pretty unfair to review a fic that I’ve read in spurts, separated by six months, and finally gave up on, but here we are. So, keep that disclaimer in mind.

This fic was well-received when it came out, and it won some fic awards, and is on most SSHG rec lists. It is decently written (somewhat messily in the beginning, but improves over time.) The plot is fairly basic, but not egregiously so. It’s unique in that it has Snape on the grounds at Hogwarts with the Trio and the Order searching for the Horcruxes. 90% of Half-Blood Prince fics have Snape with the Death Eaters (as he is at the end of HBP) and have to resolve that issue somehow, with a kidnapping or communication device. This one just turns him right around and sends him back to Hogwarts.

The main problem I have with it, other than the blandness, is that everything tilts towards classic romance novel tone, which does not suit this pairing. Snape is ridiculously idealized – great at sex, great at dueling, always has a witty one liner, always supremely confident, knows exactly how to interrogate a prisoner, can get whatever response he wants out of Hermione (or anyone), etc. It’s very predictable and makes it difficult to connect with him, or with the story, on an emotional level. The supreme confidence is the worst of it. Snape is outwardly confident, yes, but inwardly? Not at alL.

It’s not that he’s completely out of character – all of the classic Snape mannerisms and descriptions are there, it’s just this layer of Sexy Tough Romantic Hero Football Player added on top of it. Everything he does is ‘CSI Miami putting on the sunglasses and offering up a one-liner for the camera,’ you know? The worst example of this is Snape’s torturing of Lucius – that’s when I finally gave up on the fic. Snape carelessly, joyously, tortures his friend, with all sorts of great lines – but without a word on what he was actually feeling or thinking. It could have been a great scene of the author had delved in to the emotional level. The tone was completely wrong. This was a scene for character development, for sadness, for empathy, for nostalgia, but resolution to do what was needed. But no, just a bunch of cool one liners and zero emotional depth. A nice summary of the entire fic, as it happens.

As for the romantic pacing, it moves way too fast. The delicious coming-together is basically non-existent. It’s the ‘nursing him back to health, oops we’re in love’ trope that has been done hundreds of times, and not especially well here. They are kissing in the first few chapters. So, we can’t look to the excitement of romance to save this fic.

The bottom line: A fairly interesting set-up for a Half-Blood Prince fic, and well-written – but the supercool/confident Snape, rushed romance, and lack of emotional depth made the fic unenjoyable for me.

SPECIAL POST – Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

The first thing I should say is that this is not a review. I am not going over the play as a whole or addressing the quality. I am sure I will do that someday, but not today. Today is for my thoughts on two very specific subjects. The first is spoiler free, the second is not. The sections are clearly marked. Read on!

SPOILER-FREE PROLOGUE:

If you have not already done so, I would urge you to NOT read the spoilers, and to NOT read the play. Reading a script is a terrible substitute for seeing it on stage, and any serious Harry Potter fan (which I imagine you must be, if you are here reading this fanfiction review site) should see the play. If you really can’t financially, well, I guess go ahead and read it, but IT IS MEANT TO BE SEEN. You don’t read a description of the a beautiful painting and then say, ‘Meh, sounds familiar.’ Plays are a partially visual medium and the script cannot fully do it justice.

The reviews of those who have SEEN THE PLAY are five stars. Fans interviewed afterwards are crying with happiness and shining with delight. I’ve been very frustrated by the negative response to the play spoilers and script by those who have not even seen it yet! Too many people are all too happy to jump on the Internet Hate Bandwagon. It is a chance for delight. Why not allow yourself to be delighted? It is imperfect, absolutely, but there is a lot of good there, too. Take the good, hold it close to your heart, put it in your head-canon, and laugh off the rest. Don’t throw it all away because of a few bad (ADMITTEDLY, VERY BAD) ideas in the play.

As a long example: I am not a huge fan of Deathly Hallows. I thought delving into Dumbledore’s past when the Trio already had so much work to do was a bad idea. I thought introducing Hallows to hunt down when the Trio already had so much work to do was a bad idea. I thought Ron and Hermione were a terrible idea. I thought Tonks and Lupin were a terrible idea. I thought killing Lupin was WRONG, after all he’d been through. I thought having all of the Slytherins refuse to participate in the Final Battle was downright offensive. I thought ‘Draco disarmed Dumbledore and I disarmed Draco, therefore Voldemort dies’ was the very worst Voldemort-defeating plot device I had ever read. But we still found plenty of delight in Deathly Hallows, did we not? “Here Lies a Free Elf.” “I Open at the Close.” “Always.” This, from arguably her worst book.

Harry Potter has always been imperfect. JK has always been imperfect. This new play is no exception. There are wonderful moments in this play, too. Give it a chance. Open your heart to that old magic, and suspend your adulthood-induced cynicism, just for a few hours. Go see it.

SPOILERS AFTER LINE SPOILERS AFTER LINE SPOILERS AFTER LINE SPOILERS AFTER LINE
————————————————————————————

LONG THOUGHTS ON SPOILERY SUBJECT:

Soooo….can we talk about how JK Rowling seems to have joined our ship? I could not BELIEVE what I was reading. I actually have not read the full play, but I have read all of the spoilers, read dozens of reviews, watched all of my friends react on social media, scoured Twitter for more reactions, etc. I finally gave in and read one scene of the play when I kept reading (and having friends message me, independent of one another!) about SSHG undertones in that particular scene, and I couldn’t resist any longer.

That scene, read independently, is not so much Snape/Hermione subtext as it is a Snape/Hermione text. I’m exaggerating, but it really was shocking, wasn’t it? Let’s start with her calling Ron, ‘Weasley’ as she calls Snape, ‘Severus.’ Can you believe that?

If you’re reading these spoilers without any idea of what happens in the play, it’s a time-turner alternate reality where Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy (stupidly, and the play acknowledges their stupidity) go back to the past and try to save Cedric Diggory, but actually end up exploring a series of increasingly terrible alternate realities that they have to fix. In one of them, Snape, Hermione, Ron, and others are an underground resistance against a Voldemort-ruled Wizarding World. Hermione is gritty and war-weary, and seems to be very comfortable with Snape. Ahem, ‘Severus.’

Snape realizes that he is dead in the True Reality the boys have come from, and Hermione says, ‘I’m so sorry, Severus.’ In most fics, Snape asking Hermione to call him by his given name is a pretty significant moment that doesn’t occur until they have been friends for quite some time. He is so closed, and hates to give anything away. He values his walls and his privacy. Does JKR know this about her character, this tidbit that the fandom has extrapolated and accepted as canon? I don’t know, but it’s hard to imagine otherwise. Snape’s response to Hermione’s sympathy? A coy, “At least I’m not married to him [in the True Reality],” referring to Ron. Teasing ‘Witty Banter,’ that glorious and ever-present trope in good SSHG fanfiction, now canon.

Next, they argue about who should be the one to go with Scorpius Malfoy and help correct the future. It requires going out into the open in this dangerous Voldemort-ruled world where Hermione is a wanted fugitive and will surely be kissed by Dementors if ventures out of hiding. Snape speaks up against her leaving repeatedly, trying to keep her out of harm’s way, even though doing so would lessen the chance of the mission’s success. Is this normal Snape behavior? No. Is this Snape/Hermione behavior? YES.

I’m just going to quote the next bit here:

SNAPE: You’re risking everything —
HERMIONE: We get this right, Harry’s alive, Voldemort’s dead, and the Augurey is gone, for that no risk is too great. Though I am sorry what it will cost you.
SNAPE: Sometimes costs are made to be borne.
[The two look at each other, SNAPE nods, HERMIONE nods back, SNAPE’s face crumbles
slightly.]
I didn’t just quote Dumbledore, did I?
HERMIONE (with a smile): No, I’m pretty sure that’s pure Severus Snape.

You can still argue that it’s platonic, of course, and I wouldn’t fight you. In fan-fiction, this exchange would be quite tepid. But from JK Rowling’s pen? For these two characters? It’s downright intimate.

Yes, yes, handwave, she declares her love for Ron and dies kissing him in the next scene (I TOLD YOU, SPOILERS.) But JK Rowling and the co-writer must have had their lips quirk in amusement with the obvious SSHG references in the scene above. They couldn’t have missed it – it is there. They saw it, and they chose to leave it in.

Not convinced? Okay, that’s fine, because there is more. When they return to the True Reality at the end of the play, there are still some changes based on the metaphorical time-butterflies they stepped on in the past. One of those changes? Hermione is no longer happily married to Ron and Minister of Magic. She is a spinster and a professor; a downright dour, difficult, and even cruel professor at that. Sound familiar? It’s hard to dismiss the intimacy of the scene above, given the additional fact that Hermione becomes Snape at the end of the play.

I think what the authors were intending to do was to create a parallel between Ron and Hermione, and Lily and Snape. The parallel draws attention to the theme of diverging paths in life, and how those paths are affected by the ones we love (the major theme in ‘Wicked the Musical’ as well.) Snape could have been a ‘DH Epilogue Hermione’ if things had worked out with Lily. Perhaps he would have owned an apothecary, and they would have had children. But instead, two roads diverged and he was torn off course by his mistakes with Lily and his grief at losing her, and he became the Snape that we know. Similarly, in the play, Alternate Reality Hermione chooses not to have Ron in her life, and the roads diverged for her – she became the acerbic professor. Hermione could have been Snape. Snape could have been Hermione. The choices they made regarding the people in their lives could have caused them to switch places; friendship and love are that powerful. It’s a fitting theme for a play about alternate realities. Choices matter, people matter, Mudblood, Potions Master, mother, spinster, friendship, love, change. “It only takes one person,” a direct line from the play.

For me, the fact that the authors even attempted to draw such a parallel between Hermione and Snape is admitting that they have similarities and compatibility. I ‘canon ship’ Hermione and Snape as compatible minds, companions, research partners, and friends. I ‘wishful thinking ship’ them as romantic partners. I think Snape might have been too damaged by the events of his life to be interested in romance, and I think Hermione is too busy being fabulous and pursuing her projects to be bothered with romance. That seems to be almost exactly what is presented in Cursed Child, and I am so, so happy for it. I am certainly not arguing that JK ships Snape/Hermione, but I think there is a strong argument to be made that she acknowledges their compatibility and similarity. That is far more than I ever expected our little SS Prudence and Potions ship to receive. It’s a great day to ship SSHG. Thank you, JKR.

I cannot WAIT to see what the SSHG community does with Cursed Child. WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.

Final note: The Ravenclaw in me can’t stand to leave this without a final note of clarity. Despite my positivity above, I do have problems with some of the plot points and some of the characterizations (including Snape and Hermione), and more, though I am still overall thrilled and excited to see the play. As I said above, Harry Potter has always been imperfect, and I think there is more good than there is bad. I will write a full review once I have seen it.

Chocolate Enchantment – by Vivian B

Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/4706835/1/Chocolate-Enchantment

Rating: Acceptable Plus

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Romance/Action, 200k

Warnings: Non-Con Pregnancy (sex was consensual, pregnancy was not), Seventh Year, Violence

Triggerish warning for this review.

Fred and George place a special potion into the Hogwarts biscuits; one that makes people aware of their own soulmates, if they happen to touch each other. It was meant to be a harmless prank, but the ancient and very serious potion has lasting consequences for a flabbergasted and enraged Hermione Granger and Severus Snape.

There is one important thing you should know about this rating; it dropped about a full rating in the course of several chapters, where something that deeply offended me was presented as easily forgiveable and understandable. I’ll get into it later so you can judge for yourself whether or not it would bother you, but I thought it fair to mention that the fic certainly qualifies for a higher rating, if you subtract my disgust and rage over that one particular incident.

I very much enjoyed the beginning of this fic. The ‘potions accident’ trope is something that was often used in the Classic Era, and I haven’t seen it much, if at all, in Half-Blood Prince. It was refreshing to see the crew in their Sixth Year at Hogwarts (the book includes the events of the Half-Blood Prince, happening off-screen) and to have a soul mate potion as the inciting incident. The difficulty with these potions is, of course, the forced intimacy it creates. It’s rather difficult to write an exciting romance when the protagonists are being forced together emotionally and physically by an outside force like a potion (or a marriage law, or a kidnapping, blah blah…I can’t remember the last time I read a fic where they just fell in love of their own accord.) The romance progressed much too quickly for my tastes; marriage and consummation happen in the early chapters of fic. That leaves the reader 180k of warplot to muddle through.

That said, the warplot was well-written and enjoyable. The author really takes her time with each Horcrux, coming up with clever ideas and implementing them in realistic ways. The Trio, realizing that Horcruxes are a bit too much for them to tackle alone, recruits Order members on the quest when their expertise is needed – Bill Weasley for Curse-breaking and disabling of Cursed objects, McGonagall for Animagus training, Lupin and Tonks for Ward-building and training, etc. Each Order member only knows their specific piece of the puzzle, so no one is given full knowledge of their Horcrux quest. Additionally, the Trio takes a cerebral, let’s-plan-ahead approach to defeating Voldemort. They talk about the best plan for defeating him and develop a spell that will let them accomplish that. They study Occlumency and hexes. They take a Muggle police approach and put their current knowledge up on a board to consider visually, which gives them a breakthrough in the Horcrux hunt. The Trio in this story are smarter and more careful than the real Trio, and for me, that was very enjoyable.

Hermione and Snape’s characterizations are where we run in to trouble. I found Snape to be too possessive and domineering – not horribly, but just a bit. Hermione is a bit of a GentleAngel!Hermione, too pliant and open to his manipulation and demands, with too many people in love with her. As an example of what I mean – someone (Lupin, Ron, Bill at intervals) grip her upper arm and leave bruises, and then Snape gets enraged about it. He casts an ancient Greek spell on her that shocks anyone who touches her with romantic intent (no spell on himself that does the same.) The spell also allows him to ‘call her to his side’ at any moment (no spell for her to do the same.) Misogynistic nonsense. None of it seems to bother Hermione. This makes the romance between them quite wooden, with him constantly ‘crushing her lips’ and her ‘sinking into his arms’ and other generalized romance cliches that do not belong to this pairing. I rolled my eyes quite a bit at the romance scenes.

Despite my annoyances, I was still very much enjoying the fic – until Snape purposefully and intentionally gets Hermione pregnant without her knowledge or consent. In fact, she believes that he is giving her Contraceptive Potions and has expressed that she has no wish to get pregnant. Voldemort says that he wants Snape to get Hermione pregnant in order to enrage Harry. THE REAL Severus Snape would have discussed this with Hermione and probably the entire Order before taking action, but this Snape takes it upon himself to give her a Fertility Potion, and let her be pregnant for a long time, unbeknownst to her, without saying a word. She puts herself and the child in considerable danger by turning into her Animagus form, taking serious injury while destroying Horcruxes, Apparating, etc., because she does not know about the pregnancy. Snape apparently doesn’t consider this. That is bad enough, but willfully impregnating her against her wishes is unforgivable. It is just as bad or worse than physical rape. It is life-rape.

And let me be clear – there is no explanation. There is no reason for him not to tell her. Snape even thinks to himself, ‘I should tell her right now, but she’ll be so upset, and I just can’t deal with that right now.’ That’s his reasoning, apparently. Emotional inconvenience. I would not have forgiven him so easily – I very well might never have spoken to him again. I would still meet him once a fortnight for a tryst so I wouldn’t die of potion-induced madness, but I would shut him out of my life completely, or at least for a very long time. I usually am pretty calm and prefer characters to be calm, but this is one situation that required Unspeakable Rage (while still listening to explanations first of course, which Snape does not have in this case.) But no, Hermione basically shrugs it off and is happily engaging in sexual activity with him just hours afterwards. I was shocked and furious. I actually quit reading at that point and skimmed to the end.

I have spent a lot of this review complaining, but I want to emphasize again how well-written the fic was, and how much fun the fully-functioning, fully-intelligent Order and Trio were. There is a lot of good here, despite my previous two paragraphs.

The bottom line: Read it for an excellent Horcrux adventure and great writing. If you don’t mind a domineering Snape, and the non-consensual pregnancy doesn’t enrage you, definitely give it a try. For me, the romance was a bit too bodice-ripper cliche and I could not forgive the purposefully-inflicting-an-undesired-pregnancy-upon-an-unknowing-woman issue.