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.