A Wand for Skitter by ShayneT
Crossover: Worm/Harry Potter
Continuing on the Worm crossover kick I seem to be on, how about an “adult Taylor Hebert reborn in the body of an 11-year-old muggleborn” story that is unusually good at focusing on the power dynamics of school children and portraying non-antagonistic dynamics between Snape and the focus character?
I think the best way to convey how this story works is to look at how she interacts with various different groups and, since I don’t feel like waiting until I’m didn’t wake up tired to re-draft this review, I’ll throw in more quotes than usual to cover up how choppy and repetitive the wordsmithing feels to me.
In Hermione’s case, Taylor’s background is used to to justify her recognizing Hermione as similar to who she used to be… even if she initially sees interacting with her to steer her in a more socially aware direction as a bit of a necessary chore. Taylor’s presence also has the side-effect of Hermione not being in the bathroom and, thus, not winding up with Harry and Ron.
I also like that the author understands Hermione well enough to recognize the implications of her choice of consequences for breaking the DA contract in fifth year:
“It’s not quite as important that we keep it secret as it was before,” I said. “That’s not to say I want anybody blabbing. But if he does start bragging to people, we’ll find ways to deal with it.”
“He won’t like how you deal with it, will he?” she asked. Hermione sounded almost gleeful.
She had a mean streak buried deep down; possibly it was the reason that we got along as well as we did. For all that she liked to pretend to be a good girl, she had a ruthless nature that I sometimes felt a little guilty for exploiting.A Wand for Skitter, Chapter 54
Harry actually isn’t introduced to Taylor quickly though. This is one of those satisfyingly rare stories where the author sees the canon timeline as something to be shaped to their vision, rather than something to re-enact. Yes, she is in the same year, but the story doesn’t give any hint of that until she’s just about to actually go to Hogwarts and he’s kept completely off-screen until the winter holidays a third of the way through, aside from when a black-haired gryffindor boy with glasses is visibly paying attention to this unusual muggleborn Slytherin who steps in to head off trouble after Madam Hooch leaves during their first flying class.
As for Draco, she manages to maintain civil relations with him and exist as a walking indicator that he should think more carefully about his preconceptions.
“You know, Professor Snape has given orders for the prefects to give a speech about you this year.”
“Most of them have likely heard about you, but there are always some that think they can make comments because they come from a good family.”
He sounded so superior to all of that.
“And what are they going to say?”
“The truth,” he said. “That your boggart is that you are going to murder us all and that bothering you will do the rest of us a favor.”
“Professor Snape says that it’s good to cull the dunderheads early, lest they breed stupidity into the next generation.”
“Isn’t it a little late for that?” I asked.
Draco shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. Does that mean I’m stupid?”
I stared at him.
Making fun of himself? That showed a level of self confidence that I wouldn’t have expected from him.A Wand for Skitter, Chapter 101
Among other reasons, because a post-canon Taylor who was shot from behind just after defeating Scion, who has been both hero and villain, and who woke up in the Harry Potter world as a survivor of an attempt to kill muggleborns on the Hogwarts roster does not take attempts by Slytherin students to bully her out of Slytherin lying down.
“If he was smart he’d have gotten a Pansy… I mean patsy to check his mail.”
Pansy gave me the finger from all the way across the table. She’d moved as far away from me as she could manage. She used the American gesture; apparently she’d gone to the trouble to learn that just for me. Apparently she’d been straining to listen in on our conversation as well.A Wand for Skitter, Chapter 55
That said, it does escalate. This is a story where murder attempts eventually happen and named antagonists eventually die. However, it’s actually not one where I’d say that feels detrimental to the story… and I don’t mind, since it’s not going full “kill a very plot-significant character to prove that ‘no one is safe'”. No matter what story I’m reading, my emotional armour is on a hair trigger, so that’s pretty much a guaranteed emotional disengagement even in professional fiction.)
However, it is a 350,078-word completed story that covers the entire arc of winning against Voldemort, and it does do a pretty good job of getting the tone and scale for such an epic endeavour right, so that helps both Taylor’s approach to problems and the eventual character death fit in.
“So what do you intend to do about it?” I asked. “They just tried to murder possibly a quarter of the students remaining in Hogwarts. Whatever you think of muggles, do you think they’ll leave their children in this school once they found out what happened?”
“Nobody was hurt,” he said.
“Wizards think like that,” I asked. “Because they can heal from almost anything. Muggles are a lot more fragile, which means they ware even more protective of their children. If you don’t believe me, just ask professor…”
He waved his hands.
“I’ll think of something. The important thing is that you don’t spread rumors that I had anything to do with this.”A Wand for Skitter, Chapter 69
Snape’s role in this is as a reluctant reformer at Dumbledore’s behest, including teaching her how to make dangerous potions safely after she re-creates Neville’s accidental boil-creating potion and almost kills Avery with an overdose of it when retaliating against an envelope full of Bubotuber pus.
“Giving people the benefit of the doubt will be the death of you,” Snape said.
“Not everyone can be redeemed.”
“And if I’d felt that way about you?”
Snape was silent for a moment. “It’s not normal for a child to be thinking about how to make me bleed to death.”
“I’d suspect that some of your students might disagree.”
There was a sound of expelled air, almost like Snape was trying to suppress a chuckle.A Wand for Skitter, Chapter 7
As hinted at by that quote, Snape’s character and interactions with Taylor are, in and of themselves, worth reading for. For example:
“So you don’t think you need to check in on me?”
“I know I do,” he said. “But not because you are afraid. Compared to the hole I found you in, this must seem like a castle.”
“It is a castle.”
I stared at him, giving him a flat, unamused look. One should not encourage bad jokes; I’d learned my lesson with Clockblocker.A Wand for Skitter, Chapter 8
All in all, it’s hard to make solid statements about characters’ roles because it uses that good kind of character writing where, if a character isn’t growing and changing, then the focus character’s perception of them is. (For example, it’s hard to sum up Snape succinctly, because, aside from being a complex character, Taylor keeps getting into situations that cause her perception of his opinion of her to shift.)
It also has some satisfyingly novel world-building and changes to the plot.
For example, Taylor gets detention in the Forbidden Forest, not because something is killing unicorns (because, in this timeline, Voldemort returned the year before Harry and Taylor went to Hogwarts), but because they’ve been keeping an eye on a unicorn mare who may need help with a difficult birth and that blend of threat (the forbidden forest) and peace (the Unicorn herd) is seen as suitable for students who have been caught fighting.
…or the castle having to be cleared of an infestation of new boggarts after Taylor’s class got traumatized by what the boggart turned into for some of them. This is returned to on several occasions, partly for plot reasons such as this:
The mercenaries in the front were backing away, green light flashing.
“You can’t kill me,” one of the Taylors said. “You think a Dark Lord would send you to kill one little girl? He’s sent you to die!”
Why were the Boggarts here, all of them?
It was the fear. The fear of over a hundred men, so thick that even my insects could smell it. It had to attract them like bees to nectar.A Wand for Skitter, Chapter 114
…and partly for humour reasons. Both because it’s an amusing concept to read about teachers hunting down reports of monstrous versions of her loose in the castle and for moments like this:
As I went to bed that night, I saw the bodies of everyone I’d ever known piled in the corner.
“Riddikulus,” I said, pointing my wand.
The boggart skittered away and I went to sleep. My dreams weren’t good.A Wand for Skitter, Chapter 79
All that said, the concept and how it’s implemented have a certain unavoidable “Author self-insert goes to Hogwarts” flavour to them. No matter how much an author dresses it up by finding or extrapolating an existing character who would agree with their perspective, that’s somewhat unavoidable when you have a crossover character rising to the challenge of steering history in a Harry Dresden-esque fashion… and it’s not helped by being written in first-person perspective.
(It’s also reminiscent of “adult Harry Potter” stories where Harry is an Auror or an unspeakable or something else and gets thrown into a situation. “Teen character, but aged up to adulthood” is a common technique fanfiction authors use to try to build an author surrogate or achieve OC-like results without accepting the reputation original characters have for poor quality writing.)
Good stories always suffer more from doing that than mediocre ones because there are so many stories that feel like that, unusually well written or not, and it becomes more noticeable as the story gets better.
I’m not sure whether it helps that her “jaded old soldier in a child’s body” personality makes many others see her as legitimately a potential threat if she snaps or whether that’s also close enough to certain “edgy” tropes that show up in various stories for its overall effect to balance out to zero.
It’s also interesting in that it starts to dip into Harry Potter Book 7 territory at around the half-way point, but then climbs back out of it fairly quickly… and, like in many other moments, it turns to clever original world-building to be familiar to canon events, but different. (eg. Their raid on the Ministry to destroy the source of the Trace… though I’ll caution that is a bit of a dropped plot thread, not really coming to anything.)
A moment later we were inside. Two more doors, and we reached what I thought had to be the source of the Trace.
I’d come across a historical record of the Ministry stealing an Analytical Engine; it had been created by Charles Babbage in the late 1830s as one of the world’s first computers. The official, muggle record was that it had never been completed by funding issues, but the truth was that he had been confunded and obliviated, and the engine had been stolen.
The Hogwarts Express had been acquired in a similar way, stolen from the very muggles that the Wizards determined to be inferior.
The engine was really nothing more than a primitive calculator, but my guess was that they wouldn’t have kept it here for that. They wouldn’t have enchanted it if they didn’t need it, and the timing… it had been stolen shortly before the Trace had been implemented was suspicious.A Wand for Skitter, Chapter 77
(It’s nice to see Taylor recognizing that fraud or not, Gilderoy Lockhart knows PR, and going to ask his advice. Funny enough, in this timeline, thanks to spending time with Taylor, Hermione recognizes that Lockhart is a fraud early on.)
I do think it felt a bit surprising in an “author straining suspension of disbelief” way to have the Triwizard Tournament still crop up as an event, but at least playing with the timeline meant that Viktor Krum was too young to be part of the Durmstrang group, so that changes things up a bit, and the most novel part is probably that there isn’t a fourth champion.
I won’t spoil it, but there’s also an elegantly crafted point at the end of one chapter when I honestly started to worry that some accidentally discovered dark magic was going to make her walk the same path that turned Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader… so desperate to gain the power to change things that they can’t see the road they’re walking.
Taylor IS sometimes overpowered, but, as mentioned, it reminds me more of Harry Dresden as I know him from the first Dresden Files book and a bunch of fanfiction. Yes, overpowered, but the narrative is engaging enough and satisfying enough to justify it as a means to an end.
The tone is darker than a lot of Harry Potter fanfiction, but it is a Worm crossover.
That said, there are occasionally moments of humour. For example, when Taylor decides to use exploding snap cards as the detonator for a barrel of gunpowder to take out a squad of Death Eaters.
The bugs had to slap the cards down with a certain amount of violence, which meant that I’d had to use nightmarishly large bugs. There had been some in the bowels of the castle that I hadn’t even been able to identify, including some spiders the size of a grown man’s fist.
In an effort to confuse the people watching, I’d set up a little green felt on the top of the barrel, and I’d dressed the spiders up in cute little gamblers outfits. I’d hoped that the incongruity of the scene would slow whoever saw it down for long enough.A Wand for Skitter, Chapter 87
The way Voldemort goes down is very fitting and the epilogue is also surprisingly novel and satisfying. (Maybe it’s because it has that classic sci-fi flavour that I really need to get more of.)
…oh, and it does have (very) infrequent typos. I noticed a “Sevarus” and a “styill” (still), among others.
In the end, I’ll give it a 4.4 out of 5. It’s a satisfying and enjoyable story.