Thirty-One Days by keelhaulrose

Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8751734/1/Thirty-One-Days

Rating: Exceeds Expectations Plus

The Basics: Modern Era (2012), Action/Romance/Time-Travel, 110k

Warnings: Sexual Content, Non-Con Reference (not SSHG), Time-Travel

Hermione Granger’s emotions are raw in the heat of the Final Battle in the devastation of what Harry has told her about Snape’s memories, of Harry’s upcoming sacrifice, and the death all around her. She is given the choice by a Headmistress portrait to go back in time and change the fate of one of the war’s casualties – her former professor, Severus Snape. Little does she realize that this is no mere time turner – the Headmistress transports her all the way back to Severus Snape’s sixth year at Hogwarts in the 1970’s. She has thirty-one days to change his fate. But how?

This fic is just what I needed after reading two 500k+ highly revered epics back to back. A short, charming, witty and well-conceived fic that brings Hermione and Snape together in a realistic way. I don’t often enjoy time-travel fics because I imagine teenage Severus as being sort of a Kylo Ren-esque nightmare, but he is drawn much more subtly here. I really enjoyed his character. Hermione was even better; a razor-sharp Gryffindor spitfire who would not suffer fools or tolerate being mistreated. She’s far braver and sassier than I, a rather spineless Ravenclaw, prefer, but honestly, it’s perfect! She’s a Gryffindor! It felt right. Excellent characterizations.

I also appreciated that Hermione did not have a clear understanding of her mission; this provided so much page-turning tension. At first, she thought she should stop him from trying to join the Death Eaters. Then she thought he needed to make other friends, like the Ravenclaws. She thought perhaps she could convince him to invent a powerful antivenin to use against Nagini. Of course, the true answer involved her starting a relationship with him, and I won’t spoil the reason that this would help him survive Nagini. It was so true to Snape’s character, and so beautiful; her realization about what she needed to do nearly brought me to tears.

I will quibble that the ending, when she arrived back to the present day, was not quite what I hoped. They had this beautiful, emotional moment, which one chapter later was destroyed by Snape immediately joining the Death Eaters in his rage, but I guess that’s how it had to be. Hermione’s discovered ‘purpose for going back’ did not play out plotwise, which I found very disappointing. The method of his survival was not thematically satisfying, nor it didn’t make sense. Why even bother going back, if she was just going to meddle in the present to save him?

There are a lot of minor plot mistakes and inconsistencies like this (some of them are enumerated below in the comments.) The fic is imperfect and imprecise, almost rushed, which would usually bother me – but somehow it seemed to fit with the aggressive pacing of the fic and Hermione’s sense of disorientation. Another interesting issue were these little ‘this is what I learned today’ character reflections at the end of each chapter which felt too neat, too juvenile, like a Young Adult version of SSHG. The pairing usually needs more seriousness and heft than this fic offers; but I was in the mood for it and found it charming and refreshing.

A small digression: one of my favorite hobbies is board games. I used to think that I preferred huge, epic, all-day-long board game adventurers like Twilight Imperium III or Arkham Horror because I enjoy deep immersion and flavor. But as I have advanced in the hobby a bit, I’ve learned that some very clean, very well-designed games can deliver this feeling in a much shorter time. Arkham Horror: The Card Game for example delivers all of the awesome Lovecraftian spine-tingling adventure of Arkham Horror in a condensed version in a tiny box. I can have an adventure in one hour, put it away, and pick it up again to progress the campaign later. All of the same awesome immersion, but much more accessible and honestly more satisfying because it’s far less hassle. That is what I feel this fic is; almost all of the romance, emotional content, and satisfaction of a sprawling epic, but condensed into a tiny box, a few hours. A truffle instead of an entire cake, with almost the same satisfaction level. That’s incredibly difficult to do and I think she the author does a bang-up job delivering her story in this short length.

Lastly, I issue my standard disclaimer for all Maurader-era time-travel fics; it’s not believable that Hermione would meddle with Snape’s life but not whisper to James and Lily, ‘Do not make Pettigrew your Secret-Keeper.’ I understand all of the reasons why she ‘can’t do that’, but I find it unbelievable than anyone could resist that temptation, or that Harry could ever forgive her for not doing so. This is a huge, story-breaking issue that needed a lot more explanation than it was given. This is one of the reasons I struggle with time-travel fics.

The bottom line: This is a clever, intriguing, page-turning fic with tons of momentum and fantastic characterizations (above and beyond the norm, a truly excellent witty spitfire Hermione) and a beautiful emotional heart that nearly brought me to tears. There are some plot mistakes and inconsistencies that are disappointing, but the fic is still worth a read. If you are looking for a deep, immersive, thorough undertaking, this is not for you, but if you are feeling like a bite-sized SSHG romp that still delivers emotion, romance, and satisfaction, this is just about perfect.

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Chasing the Sun – by Loten

Links:
https://www.fanfiction.net/s/7413926/1/Chasing-The-Sun

Rating: Outstanding Minus

The Basics: Modern Era (2012), Angst/Romance, 490k

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

In her fifth year at Hogwarts, Hermione Granger takes on a new role studying under Madame Pomfrey, as she is interested in learning how to become a Healer in an effort to assist in the War. She is sworn to secrecy about the things she will learn in her role as a Healer – because unbeknownst to Hermione, Madame Pomfrey’s chief job is patching up Dumbledore’s double agent, Severus Snape. The story follows canon threads from Order of the Phoenix through Deathly Hallows; however, the deepening friendship between Hermione Granger and Severus Snape changes many canon events.

This story (as well as Loten’s other huge SSHG work, ‘Post Tenebras, Lux’ which I have not yet reviewed) came extremely highly recommended to me by the readers of this blog. I think perhaps I allowed those high recommendations to inflate my expectations. In my mind, I heralded this as the greatest SSHG work ever, that all others would pale in the light of. I saved it for the rainiest of rainy days when I was completely exhausted and needed a great, riveting story to keep me sewing on schedule (I use text-to-speech programs) and to transport me away from my stresses. Perhaps because of this combination of work stress and exaggerated expectations, I ended up very disappointed by this fic. It’s also possible that I was mixing together the recommendations for Loten’s ‘Post Tenebras, Lux’ with the recommendations for this fic – perhaps I’ll like that one better? So, please keep all of this in mind when you read this review. Many fans feel this is the best SSHG fic ever written – and perhaps it is – but not for me.

This fic navigates through OoTP, HBP, and DH from an SSHG point of view. This is not something I see very often, nor is it a method I particularly I enjoy, but it’s done well here. Sometimes the SSHG shoehorning stretched credulity – Snape giving the Golden Trio intensely personal, on point, psychological and physical training for the War, or Snape leading the Trio on a search for the Horcruxes – but often it really worked. I enjoyed Snape’s casting of Fiendfyre in an attempt to destroy Horcruxes, and the struggle of his emotions as he did so. I liked when Dumbledore tried to leave Snape out of the Locket Horcrux adventure, which caused Snape to remark (upon seeing the potion at the Inferi lake), ‘How fortunate that you thought to bring a Potions Master who is also a Dark Wizard on this little adventure to fish a Horcrux out of a Dark Potion.’ I LOVED Ron’s clever idea to destroy the Hufflepuff cup. My favorite moment of the fic (or very nearly any fic) was Snape, buoyed by his friendship with Hermione, deciding that his life was worth something and carrying out a plan to throw off the collars of both of his masters.

The characterizations are also well done, although I would quibble that both are not as interested in academia as they should be (they are described as being that way, but the included conversations are 90% emotional rather than theoretical.) This is jeans-cigarette-emo-music grunge Snape which is not one I prefer, but it’s a viable interpretation here because of how subtly and skillfully those aspects of him are presented. Snape often makes extremely important decisions ‘in the moment’ with no plan in advance, which felt out of character to me. Additionally, he spends an excessive amount of time spent reflecting on himself and Hermione rather than planning for the War or theorizing about the aforementioned important decisions (more on that later.)

The plotting is extremely slow. This is fine in the beginning of the story, because the slow, probing conversations were supported by Hermione’s curiousity about the Snape and the growing romantic tension. But when the romance had been resolved and these conversations continued, over and over again with very little plot advancement, they began to feel superflous and I started skimming. The romance was completely resolved halfway through, and the plot is one we have already ready dozens of times. There was absolutely no tension or a reason to turn the page, for me. Why keep reading? What could possibly fill the second 200k of the story? Severus’ reflection on his feelings, Severus talking to Hermione about his feelings, Hermione talking to Severus about her feelings, Severus talking to Harry about Harry’s feelings, and then a very minor plot event that starts the entire cycle over again, as everyone examines their responses to this minor plot point.

I want to be clear – the study of Snape is beautifully, painfully, artfully drawn. If you are in the mood to fully explore our dark Potion Master’s psyche, this is the fic for you. The issue is that it is 500k with no tension in the last half. Conversations (nearly) alone cannot sustain a fic of this length. I cannot believe that Snape would talk about his feelings more than War strategy, research, and Potions. He is the epitome of duty, sacrifice, discipline, repression and getting the job done. Having long conversations in bed with Hermione every day during the final months of the War just didn’t feel right to me. I needed more clever original ideas, more academic connection, more characters, more plot, more action, and just /more/ in a fic of this extreme length.

One of my readers suggested that this fic is best read slowly, on-and-off, and savored. That could be true; I ‘gobble up’ fics very quickly because I listen to them while I work. Perhaps for this reason, it began to feel repetitious to me while it did not for others.

The bottom line: An excellent psychological study and emotional look at the pain, past, and future of Severus Snape. Recommended for those who are not fans of the pairing, as it exhaustively explores the SSHG connection and the full history of Snape. Also recommended for those who enjoy thoroughly exploring emotion, through music, poetry, reflection, conversation, etc. An Outstanding in the view of the community, but for me the lack of romantic or plot-driven tension in the second half of the story made it a struggle to finish.

Edit, several hours later: I felt the need to come back and report that my feelings on this fic were not precipitated by stress or a bad mood, because I started another fic and am so far immensely enjoying it (Thirty-One Days by keelhaulrose.) There is mystery/tension in this new fic – how will the plot resolve? How will the romance resolve? I have no idea, and that’s exciting. The problem for me with ‘Chasing the Sun’ is that it runs out of excitement and tension 250k words too early.

Recommendations?

I have an ironic request for all of you – could you recommend some fics to me? I have plenty on my to-review list but I want a shortcut to some really great ones. I took two rush sewing projects this month, meaning I am making 7 dresses when my max is usually 5. I am sewing 12 hours every day and am totally exhausted. I need some REALLY good fics to keep me going and get me through October (I use text to speech programs, so I listen as I sew.) Could you all make some recommendations? Here are some ideas:

1) Great fics that are 70-90k, as I ignore anything under 100k for the purposes of this website.
2) 100k+ fics finished after 2013 (started any time), as they are not on harmony_bites’ lists and I am almost completely ignorant of anything that is not on her lists.
3) 100k+ works in progress or abandoned fics that are nearly finished, as I have mostly ignored WIPs.

My readers have already given me tons of amazing recommendations which I have mostly burned through, so I know you guys have lots of good ideas! I am listening to Loten’s ‘Chasing the Sun’ now, and ‘The Apprentice and the Necromancer’ by satismagic is next.

Thank you in advance!

Looking for Magic – by Hypnobarb

Links:
https://www.fanfiction.net/s/2737071/1/Looking-for-Magic

Rating: Outstanding

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Action/Romance, 780k

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

Hermione Granger applies to a new-fangled wizard university in the United States because Muggleborns are unlikely to be accepted for Apprenticeships in Wizarding Britain. However, there is still a war on, and she makes time to research defensive medicinal potions and offensive weapons to use against Voldemort with her former Professor Severus Snape.

I did not consider this fic for SSHG review because it is incomplete. However, my awesome readers brought it to my attention that although it is technically incomplete, the last chapter is it good ending point and most of the plot and romance is resolved. I decided to give it a try and I’m very glad that I did. If I had not known that it was technically incomplete I would have thought that the last chapter was the intentional ending, albeit slightly abrupt. Believe me, I hate unfinished fics as much or more than anyone and to me this was totally fine. It felt 99% finished.

This is one of the most beloved and well known SSHG fics of all time. If there were an SSHG museum, this would be in it. I was surprised to discover that I had read it before, given that I never read incomplete fics. Perhaps this is the fic that gave me my aversion to them? I read (the beginning) of this while I lived in London during my study abroad semester in 2006 – the best year of my life. The updates ceased in 2009, so I was nowhere close to the end when I stopped reading. Ironically, given that I was abroad in London at the time, one of the few things I don’t like about this fic is that it is set in the United States half of the time. There are many references to the American and specifically Chicago lifestyle. I prefer my Harry Potter to stay firmly placed in Great Britain, but it’s a minor quibble.

This is one of the best written fics that I’ve ever read. The author has a great gift for humor, clever turns of phrase, creativity, original characters, inventive plot lines, and so much more. Ima LeDrox, Professor Littlehorse, and Daniel Schuler are the strongest SSHG original characters I have ever read, and they are all in the same fic! Wow. However, I do have to mention one huge mis-step as far as the writing in this fic – the author decides to switch to first person perspective about one-third of the way into the story. It really took away so much from my immersion and enjoyment. It was difficult to remember whose perspective I was reading because it would switch back and forth from Snape to Hermione, using ‘I’ instead of their names. Additionally, long internal monologues are very boring to read. A good story will ‘show’ you the character’s feelings through their actions and conversations. It was to disappointing to read the character’s thoughts rather than experience them through an inventive scene of actions.

The romance is good, though I confess it was not as scintillating as I would have hoped for given the length of the story. In the author’s notes she describes her story as “the longest SSHG foreplay of all time”, but it is not the best SSHG foreplay of all time. They are rarely together and much of their romance takes place off screen or through journals. This is my largest issue with this fic – there is just not enough SSHG. It is 70% fabulous warplot, subplots, and side characters, with 30% SSHG. Yes, we usually see things through Snape or Hermione’s point of view, but Hermione is often concerned with her life in America and her friends and studies there, and Snape is often concerned with the Death Eaters, Pureblood politics, Hogwarts, and the Order. I’m not sure I’d read this if I wanted an amazing SSHG fic and I was in the mood for romance.

I’ve said quite a lot of negative things, so I want to re-iterate the positive qualifies of this fic. The writing, as I mentioned above, is amazing. The characterizations are perfect. There are some deeply angsty/dramatic moments in the first quarter that are handled with incredible insight and maturity. This fic shares with the original Harry Potter stories the ability to move from charmingly whimsical antics to deeply poignant and meaningful emotion, and back again. There is just so much there; 780k words that often feel like playing in the real Harry Potter universe. I love SSHG, but I love the Wizarding World more, and this fic really nails every single character and setting. This is the most fleshed-out Narcissa Malfoy I’ve ever seen, including the original books. The author holds unwaveringly true to Lucius Malfoy, good, bad, often hilarious, sometimes ugly. I could go through each character and each plotline and talk about how clever and good it was, and how much it just felt like Harry Potter; like going home (not always; like most fanfics it is a bit uneven.) There are too many good things in 780k words to even mention, but I hope this gives you an idea.

Special gold star mention for the Final Battle. This story spent a ridiculously large amount of time on planning the battle – maybe 50k or 100k words on the Order’s preparations for the specific day. I was getting tired of it and planned to say that it was overlong, however, the length of the planning made Final Battle extremely tense and exciting, because I knew exactly how everything was supposed to go and where everyone would be on the battlefield. I was thrilled, giggling with fear and adrenaline, as I read through it. Would their plans work? Oh no, a hitch, they hadn’t anticipated that! Reading about who felled who, who died, who lived, and ‘feeling’ the battle in real-time was simply awesome. I have never read a fic that detailed a Final Battle as well as this one did. Even JK Rowling skimmed over most of the details. This is one of the joys of fanfiction, right? No publishing house editor would let 100k of battle preparation make it in to the final draft, and it was a bit tedious to read, but it really paid off in a very special way, in my opinion.

The bottom line: Recommended to almost everyone, even people who aren’t fans of the pairing. I adored the rigorously academic, geeky, research-based attraction that bloomed between Snape and Hermione; to me that is the most realistic scenario for them to become attracted to each other. The plot is sprawling and massive but excellently done. If you don’t already love the Malfoys, you will fall in love with them in this fic. Hold your breath during the Final Battle. Gaze in awe upon the splendor that is Professor Littlehorse’s Animagus. Roll your eyes when it suddenly turns into a Regency fic post Final Battle. There are problems, to be sure – the first person perspective shift is disappointing, there is not quite enough romance, and the romance that is there does not sizzle as hotly as I would prefer – but all of that is completely eclipsed by length and breadth of this magnificent fic. Enjoy it.

It All Comes Down to Time – JenKM1216

Links:
http://ashwinder.sycophanthex.com/viewstory.php?sid=12563
https://www.fanfiction.net/s/2901275/1/It-All-Comes-Down-To-Time

Rating: Acceptable

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Romance/Time-Travel, 100k

Warnings: Sexual Content, Pregnancy, Nonsense

Hermione is accidentally flung back 19 years time to the reign of the Marauders at Hogwarts. Oh, and their nemesis Severus Snape, of course.

I am not usually a fan of time-travel fics in this pairing, because teenage Severus is sort of a nightmare, right? As most teenage boys are. I love Kylo Ren and joke that he’s ‘seventh year Snape.’ He’s angry, immature, and directs his rage to all of the wrong places. They are both great characters, but they are not great romantic heroes. (Of course, I have a giant crush on Kylo Ren, but any good romance story with him would require a major growth arc.)

Whether the author intended to or not, she did a great job at writing this Snape and Hermione as painfully teenage. Hermione ignores the ‘little voice’ in her head warning of her all of the consequences of her actions and seduces teenage Snape. (However, she still somehow manages to avoid warning Lily and James about Pettigrew’s betrayal – to me, that should have been a much greater temptation, but she isn’t tempted at all.) Hermione and Snape somehow forget to consider contraceptive potions. Oops! That is probably my number one pet peeve in this pairing and I nearly quit reading.

The writing is also ‘teenage’ in quality, which I doubt was a conscious decision. There is a major overuse of cliches such as ‘heart beating wildly,’ ‘lips crushing into hers,’ ‘mouth gaping open like a fish,’ etc. It’s hard to define what good writing is, but one can identify the signs of its absence. Cliches are one of those signs. Another sign is short scenes that lack description or depth; more montage than scene. Most of the scenes in this fic are written this way – except for the sex scenes, of course, which are written in painstaking detail. The plot is similarly basic. Rather than coming up with a creative way for teenage Snape and Hermione to be thrown together, the author literally has them run in to each other multiple times, and then magically be seated next to each other every class. Harry manages to break the simplistic wards on Snape’s office (LOL NO) and find papers explaining Plot MacGuffins on his desk. These forced contrivances really took me out of the story.

The author seems to skip over all of the ‘getting to know you’ details like what they discuss in Potions class, or intimate discussions about their hobbies, or everyday ‘witty banter’. Hermione’s blossoming attraction to adult Snape is detailed in a few quick paragraphs. I am more interested in the interactions that formed this attraction than anything else in the story – and they are absent. Without those scenes that define them as individuals and establish the tenor of the friendship and relationship, the fic feels like it could be about any generic people. It doesn’t feel like our Hermione and Severus unless one wears Harry Potter lexicon tinted glasses while reading it and even then it’s a bit of a stretch.

The dumbest possible tragic misunderstanding I have EVER read occurs in Chapter 7. It was beyond obnoxiously out-of-character and moronic, even for a teenage Snape. Another two stupid misunderstandings occur back to back a few chapters later. As an example of how awful these, ‘I won’t let you finish and I’m storming out,’ misunderstandings are: RON of all people allows Hermione to finish explaining something that angers him. Once he hears her explanation, he understands and is sympathetic. How is the Ron in this fic more patient and mature than Snape and Hermione? That’s the level of out-of-character nonsense we’re dealing with in this fic. Perhaps even worse than the tragic misunderstandings, though, is Hermione’s character arc. She goes from being a headstrong and intelligent girl thrilled and excited by her studies, to a woman who cries herself to sleep out of boredom when she is forced to be away from her husband and child. Why don’t you read a book? Study something? Work on a project? Hermione is NOT a woman whose life ‘means nothing’ without her husband and child. OFFENSIVE NONSENSE.

Then, the only justified anger in the fic occurs when Harry finds out that Hermione was willing to meddle with the future by sleeping with Snape, but not willing to risk the future when it came to saving his parents’ lives. All she had to say was, ‘Do not make Wormtail your Secret-Keeper.’ I actually 100% agree with Harry here and probably would have cut Hermione out of my life after this. (BOTH of these time-meddling actions were wrong, but if she was going to risk one, she ought to have risked the other.) In the fic, though, Harry’s anger is presented as unjustified and Harry eventually apologizes to Hermione by buying her chocolates and groveling. I cannot wrap my head around the characters’ behavior in this fic. Everything seems upside down. Perhaps the author is a very different person than I am.

So, after all of that complaining, I should cover the aspects of this fic that are good. It is rated Acceptable which is relatively high for me. Despite my complaints about content, the writing itself is relatively error-free and page-turning in its own way. Sometimes when reading a fic, it is immediately obvious that the writing is awful. That is not the case here. The writing is clean and flows nicely. I finished the fic, albeit with heavy skimming towards the end. I know that many of the fic’s problems are pet peeves of mine (cliche expressions, teenagers, terrible decision-making, pregnancy) and that many of my readers will not be as annoyed by the fic as I was. Really, I’m struggling to muster up praise, but believe me when I say it’s not that bad, if you’re desperate for a new fic.

The bottom line: This is a completely average fic. It’s readable, it’s page-turning, but everything about it is basic and predictable. It is filled with avoidable conflicts and tragic misunderstandings. With stronger characterizations and longer in-depth descriptions and dialogue, this could have been something. As it is, it’s passable. Barely. Maybe.

Public Service Announcement: Ashwinder

Ashwinder is back up! Here is one of the administrator’s LiveJournal entries where you can read more about what happened. The victory is bittersweet – sadly, the same day that the site was restored, we lost a beloved member of the Ashwinder community. http://sycophant-hex.livejournal.com/81895.html

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