Today, I have a new fic, that I enjoyed enough to share on my first read-through.
The Parselmouth of Gryffindor by Achille Talon
The basic premise of this story is not, as you might first guess, that Harry Potter’s ability is more widely known and accepted, but, rather, that Hermione Granger is also a parselmouth.
Novel concept aside (the author even mentions the rarity of such fics), it derives two further advantages from it:
First, we see a Hermione Granger who is different, yet the same.
On the one hand, her outlook has more of the practicality and unique “snake logic” that she was exposed to while growing up.
On the other hand, having “what makes her special” be something others can’t take from her, like they would a title of “the smartest”, has led her to have more self-confidence.
Second, it provides a good reason to mix up the plot.
That does introduce one downside that’s somewhat apparent in the first few chapters, though. The author has a tendency to use her to avoid mistakes the canon cast made. (A pattern exacerbated in the first few chapters when first-year Ron is holding his own in a prank war with the twins without any hint that it will be explained a few years later.)
That issue is resolved once the story drifts more firmly into a lighter, less serious tone, but, until it does, it cheapens the first impression the story makes.
On that note, what makes the story really shine is the humour and how the author expands the setting… and they often blend together.
For example, Hermione’s first encounter with a goblin has the goblin wondering if she thought he was a hippogriff because the one thing she’s certain about from her fairy tale books is to never disrespect a non-human sapient.
…or Hermione managing to get past the gargoyle guarding Dumbledore’s office by poking it until it gets so annoyed it can’t play dumb, then suggesting that it ask the The Hat whether she should be allowed up.
In fact, that touches on another nice detail about this story. Just as the original books followed Harry, this follows Hermione to the same degree and it’s really entertaining to see this Hermione’s take on canon events… such as accidentally discovering the Chamber of Secrets and befriending Slytherin’s basilisk. (Which is quite an understatement for how much effect it has on the plot.)
I’ll offer one quick example to that:
“Well, Potter?” sneered Professor Snape. “Would you mind explaining how in Pyrrhus Ocelot’s name you and your toothy muggle-born girlfriend somehow found yourself in the same room as a petrified hybrid of the Dark Lord and one of your own teachers?”
Harry was obviously about to lash out against the recently-arrived Snape, who was, to be fair, clearly looking for friction. Hermione, recognizing the warning signs, answered in his place:
“Well, it all began with Professor Quirrell’s turban giving Harry a headache.”
That said, before I drift too far away from the topic of the Sorting Hat, I need to say that this is only the second story I’ve ever read, after The Lie I’ve Lived, where I truly enjoy the Sorting Hat as a character, so keep that in mind.
More generally, the story has a recurring theme of there being more sapients in the Wizarding World than canon acknowledges, and exploring the origins and implications of that fact. The nice part is that, aside from how it ties in with the general “only believable because this is light comedy” aspect of the story, it actually feels like it fits. (Unlike so many other fics which fall down because they tried to mix in species with an air of high fantasy and messed up the setting’s atmosphere.)
That includes an entertaining original character… a boggart who through the “proximity to a light, comic main character” effect, tried to copy a human fear a little too closely and gained sapience, eventually befriending Hermione and becoming a Hogwarts student.
Later in the narrative, it also develops another recurring theme: Hermione “overachieving at solving things” to the point where she finds herself becoming the puppetmaster behing Minister Fudge and Lucius Malfoy.
On the downside, for as much as I like it, I do get a sense that the story could have been so much more if the author had taken the setting more seriously. Anyone with this kind of skill level can pull off a light, comic Harry Potter story, but being light and comic like this so also limits how much depth the story can have. (ie. The same “not taking things too seriously” that excuses implausible things also limits the ability of the story to explore deeper, more complex narrative elements.) That leaves me feeling as if the tone is acting as an artificial cap on what the author could have achieved with the concept… which is a real waste for a concept as un-explored as Hermione Grander, the parselmouth.
I also worry about whether I’m sensing that, as a side-effect of the whole “Hermione, the puppet-master” becoming a little too dominant, the story’s quality might have peaked and started to decline as a result of the narrative becoming a little too shallow for the “it’s light, silly comedy” to justify it.
Either way, time will tell. As of chapter 49, I’m giving it a 4.4 out of 5. The hiccups in the initial stuff before it hits its stride pin those chapters to a 4.0 rating, while the later chapters deserve a 4.7 once they hit their stride.