Fanfiction – Effects and Side Effects

While I was working on my previous review, I kept thinking of how it compares to Effects and Side Effects by Pheonix Dawn. Given that I recently re-read it, and the story I’d planned for this week didn’t produce a review in time, I guess I’m overdue to review this.

Effects and Side Effects is a harem fic… but not your typical one. Rather, it’s more a well-written “group of friends” story where most of the friends are girls who wind up sharing their romantic subplots with the guy and each other. It also has a few tweaks to the formula which really help to make it shine. (There is one contrivance, but, given how it’s played, I find it excusable.)

The story starts when, in the wake of the Ministry battle in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Voldemort’s research turns up a way to retrieve the piece of his soul from Harry… and possibly steal some of his power in the process.

Instead of being ordered to assassinate Dumbledore the following year, Draco is ordered to force-feed Harry a potion before this year ends. The mental assault behins, but Harry manages to fight it off Voldemort’s mental assault and Voldemort is left incapacitated (an elegant way to keep him out of the way so the story has time to develop differently).

However, it’s the side-effects that are most important: Harry’s magic is freed from draining and dampening effect the Horcrux had been imposing… and Harry gets turned into a girl. (The gender transformation is the contrivance I mentioned. A minor mention is made of the potion having a long list of side-effects, but this just feels too specific, unrelated to what the potion does, and convenient for the author… and I say this as someone who likes gender-bending fiction enough to run an index of it.)

The harem aspect comes in when, to ensure that Harry can share secrets with them, Susan Bones leads Hermione and several other girls through an oath which technically counts as a magical marriage.

This is where this first bit of clever authoring comes in: As long as they don’t consummate the union, the bond can be broken with no consequences… but to do so is to give up the the very secret-protecting side-effect that prompted it in the first place. Sure, they can leave at any time, but they’re not going to until Voldemort is gone… and, by then, they’ll have grown too close to each other to want to.

That’s also where the second smart decision comes in: Each girl has her own distinct reasons for staying (some personal, some political, and one will leave) and the only psychological effect the bond has is to suppress jealousy and encourage empathy among the participants. No compulsion or coercion… just giving a reasonable excuse for odds to favour the harem working out.

As for Harry’s… masculinity deficit, that’s also done well. It’s established fairly early on that, while the time frame and method are initially uncertain, he will be regaining his male form. More importantly, it’s not played up as some kind of “author’s kink” kind of situation. In fact, the story minimizes how much attention is drawn to it. Being in an embarrassing and unfamiliar body, with a freshly dead godfather and a prophecy hanging over your head, is not sexy and having the prose dwell on the minutia of one body vs. another doesn’t fit the “original, yet in-character” direction the story aims for. Instead, it’s just another reason for Harry to accept gestures and/or offers of emotional support from Hermione and crew. (I often forget that Harry is in female form or know, but I am  too focused on other details to care. That’s an excellent sign, given the nature of the story.)

Now, I mentioned that the other stories keep reminding me of this, so let’s go into detail.

In Harry Potter & the Curse’s Cure, I appreciated the amount of detail the author put into the Potter estate. It was creative, memorable, and engaging. In this story, on the other hand, they are given a “territory” to work with, but it’s an even more creative solution that I don’t want to spoil. However, I will say that they have a concealed magical extension built onto Hermione’s house after one of the girls encourages Harry to harvest and sell the Basilisk’s corpse. Definitely a unique and memorable original addition to the setting and one with major significance to the plot.

After that, the next thing that comes to mind would probably be the characters in this story. Both stories are good at enjoyably fleshing out canon characters and adding OCs (including muggles), and both stories annul Narcissa Malfoy’s marriage and turn her into an ally. However, this story has more interesting OCs and more variety in interesting interactions in my opinion. (Including actually spending a satisfying amount of time on scenes involving muggle OCs being introduced to the existence of the magical world without it feeling like the author is throwing out the HP feel in favour of their own life experiences.) It’s also a great example of how to do a “Harry befriends the goblin nation” plot well, if you don’t want to put a lot of effort into fleshing out original cultural details for them.

The final major commonality would have to be the “bring the muggle law enforcement into it” plot which comes in late in both stories. In Curse’s Cure, it’s the formation of a military corps made up of soldiers with wizarding relatives. In this, it’s MI5 and MI6 finding a legal loophole which allows them to get in contact with Harry and company… though that’s not the only muggle-magical intersection to it. Thanks to a bit of inspiration from Hermione’s father, one clever “muggles do it better” idea featured in the story is to use trap shooting gear to practice casting accuracy.

All in all, if I had to sum up this story in one word, that word would have to be either “balanced” or “well-woven”. The story has a lot of originality to it, but much of that lies in finding ways to properly implement ideas others have tried before. It has a lot of polish, but it does make the occasional mistake. It’s a FemHarry story, but that element is merely a significant part of the story, rather than dominating the narrative. It’s a harem story, but, at times, it feels like the story could have been written without the harem if only a better excuse could be found to get the girls and Harry together to plan and train and bond. It’s a “Harry’s summer” fic, but it’s got a healthy mix of other types of fics in it.

Definitely something I’d give a 5 out of 5 rating to. I’ve re-read this at least three times, it’s memorable, and I’d recommend that anyone give it a fair shot.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Fanfiction – Effects and Side Effects by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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