The Phoenix, the Raven, and Prince Charming? – by Dragons Quill

Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/3530941/1/The-Phoenix-The-Raven-Prince-Charming

Rating: Acceptable

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Angst/Romance, 160k

Warnings: Angst, Torture. I did not finish the story so there could be more.

Severus Snape kills Albus Dumbledore. Harry Potter saves the world. Now, Snape is in Azkaban for his crimes. Curiously, Albus Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes, voluntarily joins Snape in Azkaban and refuses to leave his side. Hermione Granger is intrigued by this mystery – and besides, she needs Snape’s help.

This is a really interesting fic. It’s a combination of factors that I don’t think I’ve seen before – excellent, creative, original ideas and storylines combined with really, really bad writing. I actually prefer it to well-written fics with terrible ideas/characters, which is usually what you find in fanfiction.

I skimmed most of this fic because the writing was so bad – I just couldn’t fully immerse myself in it because I was constantly drawn out by mistakes and awkward phrasing. The worse offense is the author’s proclivity to summarize rather than flesh out a scene. The majority of chapters are summaries of events rather than concrete moments. This works really well for something like flashbacks – of which the story has plenty – but it feels cheatingly disappointing to read what ought to have been an interesting scene in a short summary.

There are some awkward conceptual mis-steps, too. I’m selling this idea of an idiot savant creative genius author who is only held back by bad writing, but that isn’t strictly true. For example, Hermione wants to bring Snape some comfort in prison. He is starving to death and has lost the will to live. She brings him…shampoo. Cringe. Any serious fan of the pairing should immediately recognize that this is pouring salt on an old inflamed wound of Snape’s. It’s not comforting! She ought to have brought him a collection of books or a Potions journal. There are plenty of other examples like this, too. Overall, though, the concepts of the fic were excellent and the writing was terrible. I found that dissonance interesting.

It’s also interesting to see how the writing improves throughout the story. The author gets a beta reader, which helps tremendously. She is clearly utilizing feedback from her reviews. The writing is still pretty bad at the end (for example, having a 4000 year old phoenix use the phase, ‘get the ball rolling’) but I enjoyed the meta-journey of watching the author grow.

The bottom line: Honestly, this is worth a read for almost any fan of the pairing. You’ll know right away if you can tolerate the low quality writing or not. If you can’t, well, skim a bit like I did. If you can, you might be in for a treat. Fawkes looking over Snape in Azkaban! Hermione Granger, Mistress of Horses! Snape, learning to forgive himself and find the will to live. There are great concepts and soulful insights here, hidden beneath layers of grimy writing.

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She Married Her Choice – by averygoodun

Link: http://www.thepetulantpoetess.com/viewstory.php?sid=1589
Alt link: http://ashwinder.sycophanthex.com/viewstory.php?sid=12777
Other: There is also a prequel, Marry a Choice, which I link in ‘the bottom line’ section.

Rating: Acceptable

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Teen Drama/Romance, 150k

Warnings: Dumb People, NC-17, Violence, Non-Con (not SSHG). Also, I did not finish the story so there could be more.

After the defeat of Voldemort, seventh year Hermione Granger chooses to marry Severus Snape before the Marriage Law is passed in order to prevent worse Death Eaters from drawing up contracts with her against her will. The wedding is over, and the couple returns to Hogwarts. Hermione’s seventh year is going to be difficult.

It’s been quite a long time since I put down a fic this early, especially a fic of this seeming quality. The first thing I should mention is that I only read about 4 chapters before I was so frustrated that I had to stop. So, some of you who do not share my pet peeves might really enjoy this fic, and you might also find a lot of things in the middle and later chapters that I did not that redeems it. I’d be interested in those insights, but I just can’t read this anymore, so I will review what I managed to choke down.

Let’s start with the problem, since I’m sure you are wondering. The problem is that Snape and Hermione both act like complete idiots. They both act in the moment with their emotions like teenagers (which, granted, Hermione is, but she’s shown throughout the entire series to be level-headed and cautious.) They both jump to nonsensical conclusions about each other over and over again – I call it ‘tragic misunderstandings’ and it is my biggest pet peeve both in life and in fanfics. I’m too old and grumpy to read a fic that has 3 of them in the first 4 chapters. Snape thinks Hermione is ‘spreading rumors about him’ because the school is rampant with rumors day the after their wedding. Utterly asinine. Then, Snape publicly shames her by giving her a detention and when she refuses to go, he attempts to physically drag her there. Sorry, but that’s not a character I’m interested in reading about AT ALL. He bears no resemblance to my beloved Potions Professor.

Hermione is slightly more in character – after all, she immediately sets Snape on fire when he manhandles her, which is exactly what any mature Gryffindor worth their colors would have done – but she also suffers from plot-contrived stupidity when the author requires it. It’s as if the author pulls everything, included the characters, out of shape in order to accommodate her ideas for fun scenes or moments, even if it does not make sense for the characters. For example, Hermione says incredibly blunt/rude things about Snape while he is in the other room and he’s angry the next day and she can’t figure out why. HMM I WONDER. Real, intelligent people are automatically anxious about being overheard and do damage control right at that moment. Hermione doesn’t think about it. She doesn’t think about anything other than her own selfish impulses at the moment. This is not how you create conflict or write intelligent chcaracters. Hermione is a bit Mary Sue, too, which is surprising in a Half-Blood Prince era fic when it was looked down on as a cliche, as it is today. Lucius Malfoy, my beloved glittering arctic fox, apparently wants Hermione for a bride. This isn’t the worst Mary Sue I’ve ever read, but it’s there.

From what I’ve written so far, you might expect that this is a terrible fic, but it really has a lot of redeeming qualities. There are a lot of fun ideas – using storm clouds and sunlight in the Great Hall for humorous effect, giving Snape chicken pox, Snape subtly coaxing and then viciously eviscerating a couple of boys hassling Hermione, Ginny smuggling Hermione chocolate mousse to comfort her after a bad day, Hermione setting Snape on fire when he pushes her too far. All of these are fun ideas, and most of these scenes are written well. It’s just the terrible, terrible, ham-fisted emotional conflict between two characters that /know better/ that ruined the fic for me. I feel like there is definitely a good fic IN the author somewhere, but this isn’t it, because her characterization preferences are not at all suited to a serious fic about Hermione and Snape. Her strengths lie in friendship, comedy, and the dynamics of a group. Maybe even a pair of emotional lovers, like Ginny/Harry or even Draco/Harry. But serious, calm, slow-to-action, always trying to outfox each other, curled-up-with-a-book Snape and Hermione? No.

The bottom line: The romantic tension is non-existent because they are married when the fic begins. Lackluster characterizations, tragic misunderstandings, and impulsive and asinine emotional conflict ruin an otherwise funny and well-written fic. Read if you don’t mind ‘teen romance’ type conflict. Note that I only read the prequel (60k, http://www.thepetulantpoetess.com/viewstory.php?sid=861 )and the first 4 chapters of this.

A Matter of Trust – by SGTRJ

Link: http://ashwinder.sycophanthex.com/viewstory.php?sid=16492
Alt link: https://sshgreview.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/sgtrj-a-matter-of-trust.pdf
Adding my own files to Ashwinder-only fics since Ashwinder has gone down for long periods of time twice now and I don’t want to have to edit the dozens of Ashwinder-only stories on this site with links to my own files every time it goes down.

Rating: Exceeds Expectations Plus

The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Action/Romance, 150k

Warnings: Violence, NC-17, Torture, Angsty!Harry

Severus Snape is a hunted man; hunted by the Aurors, the Order, and the Death Eaters. Hermione Granger stumbles across a group of Death Eaters torturing Snape and in a wild moment of compassion, Apparates him to safety.

We’re nearing the end of the Half-Blood Prince Era now, finally. I ought to be tiring of kidnappings, Horcrux hunts, and Dumbledore’s portrait, but somehow this excellent fic manages to find freshness in the fic tropes of this era. I gathered from the Author’s Notes that the author was new to the pairing and this freed her from the rampant groupthink that had developed in the ship by the end of the Half-Blood Prince era (sandalwood, chestnut curls, eyebrow quirks, lip-chewing, Dark revels.) This fic is still a logical extension of HBP so there is plenty that is familiar – even a whiff of Classic Era tropes that most well-read-in-the-ship authors had started to avoid by this point in time – but somehow, I found most of it charming and fresh.

I have to say, I really enjoyed this far more than I expected to based on the early chapters. They focused on Harry, Ron, and the Order which bored me a little bit. There is quite a bit of focus on Harry and unfortunately I did not find this Harry or his struggles particularly compelling. It’s the ‘Order of the Phoenix’ Harry who is angry and constantly struggling with his emotions.

Once the SSHG arc really gets going, it’s very compelling. It’s my very favorite standing-too-close-to-each-othe while focused on Voldemort and stirred with two drops of introspection and one drop of academia. The author might be new to the ship, but her insights about Snape are accurate, interesting, and thoughtfully drawn. These insights aren’t new or ship-shaking, but they are clarified in a fresh corporeal form. She understands that Snape’s acerbic tongue is an armor that he wields to keep people away – he isn’t merely an asshole. He’s a wounded boy who turned into an asshole to protect himself. She also does something with the Dark Mark in relation to Snape’s character that I found both interesting and original, though I disagree with the results a little bit.

I do think Hermione is probably a little too timid and a little too understanding, but that’s my preferred version of her because it’s a bit more like me. For those of you who are a more Gryffindor, you might find her patience out of character. For me, though, it worked perfectly; and it certainly complemented this version of Snape.

I keep mentioning a feeling of ‘freshness’; it’s one of the greatest strengths of the story for me. It’s all familiar, but somehow new. Snape and Hermione work together to create a potion to defeat Voldemort, but the potion is a new idea that is clever and thought-provoking. They have to gather rare potions ingredients, but the ingredients are much more than a substance in a bottle and lead to an exciting adventure. That sense of wonder and newness is really what we read fanfiction for, isn’t it? We want to visit the world again, breathe that Hogwarts air again, and when the ideas are fresh and clever enough, we can (almost) believe it’s our beloved world and not merely ‘fanfic’. I found that wonder again in this fic. The ideas are not amazing, not transcendental (like the ideas in The Lioness Prophecies or Looking for Magic), but wonder-giving all the same. The only whiff of staleness in the entire fic was Angsty!Harry, and even that had a few unique aspects that I did not expect.

The next paragraph is spoilery, but I think it’s important to know before you read; consider yourself warned.

The start of the fic focuses rather cheerfully on the Order and Trio before progressing to a fairly innocent romance (this adult Hermione is very innocent which I like but some may not.) Next, though, the fic takes a bit of a turn and explores some dark aspects of war – there is a major character death, then a MAJOR character death, then a rather disgustingly dark portrayal of a minor character. Perhaps I should have felt this leading toward an unhappy ending, but I did not. I know some people insist on happily-ever-after in their fics but for me, I don’t mind darkfic and unhappy endings – Chaos is Come Again is one of my all-time favorite fics – but they have to be /earned./ Chaos is Come Again spends the whole fic meditating on a very dark character study of Snape. It could not have had any other ending, in my opinion. However, this fic sets up a happy ending and snatches it away. There is a lot of angry reaction in the comments and I think their anger is a result of the dissonance between the set-up and the pay off. The ending feels like a broken promise.

The author has an unfinished sequel, which I read, because I wanted more. Strangely, it was all really, really bad. The villain is forced and awkward in a way that did not feel authentic to me at all (many pages of A Matter of Trust were wasted setting up this lame villain for the sequel), and the talks between Snape and Hermione are artificially drawn out and stilted. I felt like the author threw away the ending of a /great/ fic (A Matter of Trust) in order to set up a barely readable unfinished sequel. I wish so much that she had condensed the entire sequel into three or four chapters and made it the true ending of A Matter of Trust. That would have catapulted this to my highest rating, for sure.

The bottom line: The beginning is a little slow and too filled with Angsty!Harry. The ending is somewhat unsatisfying in order to set up an unfinished sequel. The middle, however, is excellent, excellent SSHG and as a result I really recommend this to almost all fans of the pairing. This is a careful, thoughtful, intelligent, believable character study of Snape with great slow-burn romantic pacing. Just…imagine your own epilogue.

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.

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.

Pet Project – by Caeria

Link: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/2290003/1/Pet-Project

Rating: Outstanding

The Basics: Phoenix Era, Romance/Action, 330k

Warnings: Sexual Content, Violence

Sixth Year Hermione Granger, in her infinite Gryffindor compassion, observes that Professor Snape is exhausted. He barely eats, he never sleeps, he’s miserable – and worst of all, no some seems to notice or care. Given all that he continues to sacrifice for the Order, this is the very height of injustice as far as Hermione is concerned. She resolves to right this wrong, as only the full force of Hermione Granger’s study, intellect, and stubbornness can.

This fic is incredible. We’ll start there. I’m going to indulge in a few rambling Ravenclaw digressions for a bit, and then I’ll get back on track.

This fic is one that I missed when I did my Phoenix Era read-through. Although the fic was started in the Phoenix Era, 2005, it was not completed until 2013. Thus, it did not make it on to harmony_bites’ Completed Phoenix Epics list. I found it on her Work in Progress lists, which I recently went through to see if any of those were ever completed. I also had a commenter recommend it to me, which reminded me that I had bookmarked it – thank you!

Many epics are written over the course of real-life years, but it is very unusual for one to span EIGHT real-life years. I believe this is the first one I have read that was written over such a long period of time. I found this process delightful on a meta level. The fic starts out exploring Phoenix Era themes – Dark!Harry, Misguided!Dumbledore, Pureblood!Snape, Occlumency/Legilmancy, the Mauraders vs. Young Snape, and the Prophecy. The first third or so of the fic focuses mostly on these motifs. Then, as Half-Blood Prince descends, the author (skillfully, subtly) starts to weave in those new ideas – HalfBlood!Snape, Ruthless!Dumbledore, Slughorn, and Invaded!Hogwarts. Mercifully, she does not attempt to cram in Horcruxes or Snape killing Dumbledore, as both would have conflicted with her established plots. She adds in a few things from Deathly Hallows as well – Lily, Snape’s certainty of his own death, Badass!Neville, Occupied!Hogwarts. Many of my readers are relatively modern fans of the SSHG ship, and it’s difficult for you to understand what I mean when I talk about a ‘Classic Era’ fic, and how different in tone and content it is when compared to a Half-Blood Prince era one. Each ‘era’ has new themes and content that writers tend to fixate on, and they really are, in most cases, quite distinct from one another. This fic is an excellent remedial course in Phoenix Era, Half-Blood Prince era, and Hallows era fics, because you can feel the tone, themes, and content shift as the chapters and years pass. If you’re interested in this, make sure to read her Author’s Notes and track the changes. I found it fascinating.

I also want to give a bit of a disclaimer that this fic was practically tailor made for me. Sixth/Seventh Year Hogwarts meeting-of-the-minds that blossoms in to actual romance after Hogwarts is my favorite setting for SSHG. Hermione taking on Snape as a (VERY secret) ‘project’ is one of my favorite premises, because I find it to be very true to both characters. I prefer a long, lingering getting-to-know-you journey before romance. I love the mentor/mentee dynamic (that eventually blossoms in to equals.) I love the ‘meta’ aspects of fic-reading that occur because of the eight year writing span. This fic hits every one of my buttons, and obviously, a lot of my positive regard is going to be generated because of my preferences. I will try to be objective, though.

All right, actual review content, let’s go! We’ll start with the characterizations. Because the fic is so old, they feel a bit ‘Classic Era’ and traditional in their roles of school girl and Potions master. Hermione is VERY much herself circa Order of the Phoenix, which is of course, an innocent, overeager, idealistic Gryffindor. She has all of the tenacity and intelligence that we always see, but modern fics tend to make her a bit more powerful and mature – that is not the case here (although she matures considerably as the fic progresses.) Snape is deliciously in character. I believe Snape’s characterization was my favorite part of this fic – it really felt PERFECT to me. Absolutely perfect. Harsh teaching methods (but for the greater good), regretful and bitter about his past but committed to correcting his mistakes (for himself, not for anyone else), resentful of Dumbledore’s control and meddling but full of care for the old man, unrepentantly hateful towards Harry both for being a symbol of Snape’s failures and because he sees Harry as carefree/careless despite his responsibilities – the greatest of sins to trapped-in-a-web-of-duty Snape, masks upon masks for the Slytherins/Trio/Voldemort – masks to the point that he forgets what it’s like to be vulnerable and pushes everyone away out of habit. I don’t need to tell you all what Snape is; you know. This fic gets it. He’s not Fanon!Snape or Dark!Snape or SadLonely!Snape or SexyMasculinePowerhouse!Snape or OverlyTortured!Snape – he’s just truly Severus Snape, with aspects of all of those various Snapes. Perfection.

The romantic pacing is excellent. I think it will be too slow for many of my readers, but I really enjoyed the detailed consideration of the developing friendship. Too many fics skip this! There are sooooo many lovely things to explore in this pairing – why rush? Sometimes slow romances can be clinical or tepid (as in The Five Winters) and that is not the case here. The friendship-into-romance is a tender, natural, beautiful life-form that is fully and delicately nurtured with each new page and with each new understanding that the characters gain about each other. Lovely stuff. Regrettably, there is a disappointing ‘tragic misunderstanding’ meant to roadblock the relationship that lasted for a handful of chapters, but it wasn’t bad enough that I had to skip ahead (as I often do for tragic misunderstandings.) After that, the romance felt a bit clunky and rushed (comparatively) as it had to contend with the descending warplot. Still, though, the romantic arc climax coincides with the warplot climax, which is always my hope for epic-length romance. It’s remarkable that she accomplished a tandem finish in a 338k fic.

I adored the writing in this fic. The world feels really fleshed-out, with believable and interesting minor characters. She somehow writes charming, sympathetic, and funny House Elves – even JK Rowling was not able to do that! I also really enjoyed Professor Vector, Neville Longbottom, and Ron. Yes, Ron – most fans of this ship dislike Ron, including myself, but there are a few fics that manage to make Ron likeable and give him some redeeming qualities. This is one of them. His loyalty and steadfastness are a great help to this fic’s Dark!Harry, and his usefulness as a Chess General as the war descends is really well done. A lot of fics describe Ron as a Chess General, but this fic shows him making excellent tactical decisions and cutting to the heart of complex situations. That is not easy to write! I also love that the author takes each of the Trio members on a coming-of-age journey. When you start reading the fic, you might be turned off by Innocent!Hermione, Angry!Harry, and BigDumb!Ron, but stick with it. Each of them matures and grows and is a powerful, passionate, mature witch or wizard by the end of the story. This author writes a full story that has themes and involves everyone; there is much more here than mere romance. That is not easy write, and I really appreciated the effort to create a whole story of value. For me, it works beautifully.

There is a lot of creativity on display. Hermione is dedicated to her books, her research, her checklists, and her innovative solutions. This is Hermione! I loved her solutions to Snape’s problems, especially the enchanted item of protection. It may be one of my favorite fanfic inventions ever. I loved the way she stumbled across the idea, I loved her struggle to make it and I loved her eventual success (and the way it wasn’t quite what she expected.) The Voldemort-defeating device is clever, although I’ve read something similar before (FAR more clever than the stupid Deathly Hallows wand technicalities. I will never get over that.) I really enjoyed this author’s version of Arithmancy; a confusing magical topic that most authors avoid. (Arithmancy was explored really well in A Walking Shadow, but I believe that’s the only other Arithmancy-heavy fic I’ve read.) It was a fantastic device for foreshadowing and creating tension in the warplot. There is also an exploration of House Elf culture and motivations that is splendidly done. Many authors avoid House Elves because Dobby was so damn annoying (rest in peace, free elf), but this author does an excellent job handling them. Somehow, she manages to make them so interesting, sympathetic, and crucial to the plot. The combination of great minor characters and great magical ideas really made this feel like the Harry Potter books through an SSHG lens, and that’s about the highest praise I can give to any fanfic.

I do have a few criticisms to levy, of course. The overall plot pacing was a bit uneven. It’s no surprise, as it was written over eight years in real-time. Unevenness seems bound to happen. The middle section stalls out for a while; there are many many conversations and developments that could have been better resolved in a descriptive section to keep the pacing tight. The writing is still page-turning and filled with delightful conversations – I absolutely could not put it down – but the middle section was not as good as the rest. I was also a bit disappointed with the romantic content. Yes, I loved the slow meeting-of-the-minds in the first third, but I felt that the most exciting part of the romance (the space between realizing you care for the person and acting on those feelings) was short-changed a bit. There are only a handful of romantic scenes between the first kiss and the full consummation, and it would have been better to explore that area a little more. The consummation was a bit awkward for me, because it took place somewhere that I felt others could barge in at any moment and I was stressed out the whole time. It just didn’t quite feel right due to the lack of physical build-up. So, although the romantic pacing was great, the romantic content in the latter stages of the relationship was not as good as it could have been. Lastly, I found Dark!Harry really tiresome, and was very relieved when he finally chilled out. Harry is one of my favorite characters and I don’t like it when he is out-of-character for plot, even though it was explained very well here.

The bottom line: For me, this is a nearly perfect fic. The writing is excellent, the banter is witty, the characterizations are spot-on (considering Hermione’s age and remembering that she matures as the fic progresses), the House Elves are ridiculously charming, the warplot is inventive – this fic gets high marks across the entire board. I think for some readers the romance will feel too slow, but I really believe you will still love the fic. I recommend this without reservation to any fan of the pairing – I even recommend as a ‘gateway fic’ to those who are NOT fans of the pairing, because the romance is so believable. Thank you for finishing your fic, Caeria; it’s amazing.

Night School / Day Job – by Melisande88

Link https://sshgreview.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/melisande88-night-school-and-day-job.pdf
Both the prequel and story proper are in one file. I am hosting my own copy because these fics went down with the Digital Quill site. I will link to an external site when it is hosted properly again.

Rating: Exceeds Expectations Minus

The Basics: Phoenix Era, Action/Intrigue, 120k

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

Hermione Granger, distraught after the brutal events that led to the fall of Voldemort, becomes a Dark Auror in order to infiltrate the remaining Death Eaters, spying for Dumbledore. Her Dark Auror trainer is none other than the Order’s most accomplished Dark Auror and former spy, Severus Snape.

This is one of those times that I feel my rating system fails a bit. There is a prequel and a main story here; I did not like the prequel at all, but the main story is pretty good. How do I factor that in? I had this same problem with The Fire and the Rose and my ‘solution’ was to give each book a separate rating, but I’m not sure that really made sense. So, this time, I’ll go with the higher rating, and just ask you to keep in mind that the prequel is nowhere near as good. (They should be read together because they are essentially one story.) Also, note that this was written in the Phoenix Era, 2005. I am posting this fic out of chronological order because I somehow missed it during my Phoenix Era postings.

Night School is a short prequel about Hermione’s Dark Auror training. I really disliked this prequel; Hermione and Severus both seemed grossly out of character. They spend most of this training playing psychosexual games and immediately jumping in to bed, which always causes my eyes to roll out of my head. I just can’t see Snape and Hermione doing that, no matter how old or how war-weary.

Day Job, the story proper, is much better. I felt as though Night School was perhaps meant as a one-off porn-without-plot short story, and then when the author decided to expand the story in to Day Job, she went back and adding a bit of exposition. This would help to explain the disparity in quality between the prequel and the main story.

Hermione’s out of character issues vanish when Day Job starts. She dedicates her entire being to her mission of infiltrating the Death Eaters. This is the Hermione I know! Focused and fabulous. The Dark Auror action plot is the best part of the story. I was very excited to find out what she would do next or what fresh danger awaited her in the (nearly literal) serpent’s den of Death Eaters. This is a ruthless version of Hermione who will seduce whoever she has to, work wherever she has to, dump all of her ‘weak’ memories in to a Pensieve; whatever it takes. She learns what works and what does not work as her Dark Auror journey unfolds. I was both scared and excited by her boldness, as was she; this is excellently written intrigue. Lucius Malfoy (after one off-putting sexual torture introduction scene that didn’t seem to mesh with the way he was later presented) is skillfully written, as is Draco. Everyone has their own motivations and secret plans; I loved watching the social mind games required for Hermione to ‘keep up’ with these Slytherin schemers.

So, I loved reading about Hermione’s adventures with the Malfoys, but sadly I did not love her time with Snape. The romance, though MUCH better than in the prequel, continued to be disappointing. They fall in love immediately, they consummate immediately, they stay apart for arbitrary reasons, and the author has to invent stupid misunderstandings to keep them apart, etc. One misunderstanding was so stupid that I rage-skimmed a few chapters, wanting to avoid the idiotic farce of my beloved non-idiotic characters. I also felt that Snape was a bit out of character. He spends most of the fic irrationally following Hermione around, spying on her, being jealous, brewing potions to bind her to him (that he later throws away, but still.) I can see that Snape would be a jealous and possessive person, but this was too much.

The bottom line: The Adventures of Hermione the Spy. The Hermione-focused action plot of this fic is page-turning and very enjoyable, but the inconsistent writing and the lackluster romance were difficult for me. This fic was well-loved when it was first written and it’s definitely worth a look unless you are strictly in the mood for romance. Keep in mind that the short prequel is not as good, has a totally different tone, and is moderately out-of-character.