Black Ink, Red Rose

By BolshevikMuppet99

Status: Complete, Word Count: 225,000, Genre: Angst/Tragedy

Read the Fic Here: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13303789/1/Black-Ink-Red-Rose

Summary: “Try as she might, Ginny can’t make herself stop loving Tom. The knowledge of his true identity doesn’t prevent the memories of how wonderful he was from consuming her thoughts. Even though it makes her a monster, she can’t stop thinking about him. And if the opportunity to help him came up, well. She was always told to listen to her heart.”

Trigger Warning: This is not a happy story, and that is reflected in a lot of the content present throughout. This story features graphic sexual assault of a minor, an abusive relationship between a teenage girl and a much older woman, a few graphic scenes of torture, self-harm, and the indoctrination of an eleven year old girl into a violent, fascist terrorist group. Pretty much everything I just mentioned ties extremely closely into the story’s main themes, and as such I will be discussing them throughout the review. I will be extremely careful with everything I say about the topics to make sure I’m discussing everything with tact and sensitivity, but if you find these topics triggering to think about, please do yourself a favor and turn back now. You have been warned.

My Thoughts: Black Ink, Red Rose chronicles the tragic story of Ginny Weasley. A young girl who, at the age of eleven, was possessed by one of Lord Voldemort’s horcruxes. However, this version of Tom Riddle was even more conniving and ruthless than he was in canon, and throughout his time possessing her, he successfully rewrote her very mind to be devoted to him in both mind and body. He convinced her of the inferiority of Muggle-Borns, and the threat that Muggles pose to wizard society, and when Harry defeated him in the chamber of secrets and freed Ginny from his control, the effects of his machinations did not simply fade. That’s the basic concept of the story right there. When freed from Tom’s control, much of her devotion and adoration for him that Tom had ever so carefully cultivated was left behind, manifesting themselves as different voices that are constantly at war inside her head. And if you’re thinking that that sounds extremely messed up and sad, you would be absolutely right.

Generally speaking, I think this fic can be divided up into three acts, so to speak. Act one features the rising action of the story, starting at the end of her first year, and chronicles the beginning of her descent into darkness. It lasts until the end of Ginny’s third year and the conclusion of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. The second act chronicles the next year and a half, and features Ginny’s public unmasking, and her slow rise through the ranks of the Death Eaters. Finally, the third act shows everything slowly falling apart with everything leading to the big climactic battle in Hogwarts at the end of Ginny’s sixth year. In this review, instead of doing my standard shtick of covering different aspects of the story individually, I’m going to cover each act of the story, before talking about some more overarching qualities of the story at the end. So let’s get into this!

Act One (Chapters 1-17): Act one of this fic is, generally speaking, quite good. It features some extremely sharp characterization, some very careful handling of several sensitive topics, and writing that, although it starts out mediocre, improves extremely quickly. To top it all off, it demonstrates a masterful understanding of canon on Bolshe’s part, as well as a talent for telling an interesting, tense, and compelling story while sticking very close to canon events.

So first, let’s talk about the characterization. Ginny is our main POV character, and she’s written incredibly well. She goes through a lot of shit in this first leg, and I’d say the majority of it is pulled off very well. Right from the beginning, the interactions between her and the rest of her family are very heartwarming to read, and I think this creates a good base point to build her corruption arc off of. Another aspect of her character introduced very early on is her self-harming in order to cope with the voices she’s constantly hearing in her head, and this is something where I was initially very skeptical. I’m innately distrustful of fanfiction stories that handle especially triggering topics (sucidal thoughts, depression, self-harming, sexual assault, etc.), and the mediocre writing that I was experiencing so far made me very nervous. However, I found this aspect of Ginny’s character to be the first place that I felt the fic really shined. The way it’s built up, and the tact that Bolshe showed when writing these scenes made them extremely resonant, and they didn’t just exist for shock value either. They’re an integral part to Ginny’s arc in this story, and they become a very effective way of showing Ginny’s emotions without just outright stating what they are, as she only scratches and cuts herself in response to specific emotional triggers. It’s honestly great stuff.

But Ginny isn’t the only character who really works for me here. Both Colin Creevey and Luna Lovegood positively sparkle with characterization, and they add a much needed vibrancy to an otherwise quite dreary story. While I definitely prefer Luna (for obvious reasons), it’s very rare for me to find a story that really does Colin justice, and I think this fic really nails that. He’s quite an interesting guy here, and I think it could probably even be argued that he’s more interesting than in canon. Also, just as a blanket statement, every Weasley in this fic is masterfully characterized. This story contains my new official favorite versions of around half of them, but I just have to shout out Percy, Molly, and Arthur for this section in particular. Although Molly and Arthur are basically entirely relegated to Interludes, all of their perspectives are extremely well handled, and it feels so incredibly refreshing to read an interpretation of them with some fucking nuance, something that fanfic seems to lack overall. Even rarer and more impressive than that, however, are Percy’s letters to Ginny throughout year three. I have never seen an entire character arc pulled off just through letters before, but Bolshe does so here with style.

There’s also a lot of very good individual character moments that both work on their own and also set up later payoffs. My favorite example is Luna giving Ginny the little statue of the two of them, but there are several others that work just as well. However, I can’t talk about characterization in this fic without talking about the actual corruption arc shit, and oh boy is it well done. Bolshe makes the bold choice of dropping us into Ginny’s head after her year with Tom, and as a result, things feel a bit weird for the first few chapters, but once we start seeing her actual flashbacks to writing in the diary, the pieces start to make a bit more sense, and from there it’s just off to the races. Ginny’s second year is quite the slow burn, consisting of little more than recruiting Colin as a dueling partner and doing some research into dark magic, so it pretty much relies entirely on characterization to propel the plot forward. Luckily for all parties involved, Ginny’s character is absolutely fascinating to read about here.

I was also struck by how interesting the plot was here. For those of you who are familiar with my Downward Spiral Saga review, you’ll know that I have shit on Bolshe before for his reliance on canon events, even when it doesn’t make logical or thematic sense to be included in the stories. Well this fic feels like a direct response to that critique, because although Bolshe sticks quite close to canon storylines in theory, he manages to weave an almost completely original story at the same time, with canon just kind of happening in the background. This makes for an engaging, albeit slow opening act and makes the eventual hard turn into proper canon divergence all the more satisfying when it does happen. But yeah, thank you Bolshe for not making me read through all three tasks of the Tri-Wizard Tournament again. I fucking hated that in DSS.

Tonally, act one is…..undeniably dark, but it’s also probably the most balanced that the fic ever is? Although it grapples with self-harm, possession/manipulation, and…..other things I’ll get into in a second, it also has an undercurrent of anticipation and excitement running throughout it, and let’s not forget that it also has the beginning of Ginny’s romantic arc with Luna. Even just as friends, these two are a bright spot in the otherwise bleak story being told here, and I think that tonal balance serves this arc extremely well. However, the big sticking point I’m guessing a lot of people will have with this section of the fic is the Higgs subplot. Basically, a 13 year old Ginny is caught in the restricted section by a 7th year Slytherin prefect, and he decides to use his position of power over her to repeatedly rape her, telling her that if she doesn’t do what he says he’ll turn her in and get her expelled, and Ginny, with her mind warped by the diary and her obsessive loyalty to Tom, is absolutely terrified of being caught and losing access to the magic she’s been learning, as well as being convinced that her family would hate her if they found out about the lingering effects of Tom’s presence in her mind. What follows can only be described as a series of brutally graphic scenes of sexual assault and abuse, that culminate in Ginny taking her first life. Now personally, I think that this was an incredibly risky move on Bolshe’s part, because if he’d made even a single large mistake, it would have not only tanked the entire fic, but it would be extremely disrespectful to the victims of similar scenarios. Furthermore, I think it was unnecessary for it to be as graphic as it was, and the story could have functioned just fine with more implications and fade-to-blacks and less graphic rape. However, I do think that Bolshe wrote it very well, and very carefully, and he deserves credit for that. He takes a similar approach to the Tonks oneshot from the Downward Spiral Saga, in that he shows pretty much everything, but spends the entire time diving deep into Ginny’s psychology and makes that the focus instead of the physical things actually happening in the scene. This brings the reader extremely close to the character and makes the scenes deeply painful to read, except that they’re far better written than the Tonks oneshot was. So do I think this was strictly necessary? Probably not. But I’m definitely not going to dock the fic points for doing a good job tackling an extremely sensitive topic, and I do think that the way it’s written lends itself very well to the type of psychological drama that Bolshe is going for.

As for the actual writing, it starts out very bad. The first few chapters are more on the level of mid-Downward Spiral Saga, and mark a quality drop after For Lack of a Bezoar and Echoes in the Fog. However, there is a sudden point when a sharp increase in quality takes place, and it’s really only uphill from there. This fic is, for the most part, absolutely incredibly on the technical writing front. The prose is lean and very light on telling, the dialogue has a lot of punch to it and has practically no unnecessary tags, and it’s just generally good and reads really well. Also, this section has a lot of internal monologue, but I think it’s used quite well here. Far better than the early DSS days, that’s for damn sure.

So yeah overall, Act One is pretty fucking great. Definitely had me hooked by the end, and Voldemort was back, and I just wanted to see what would happen next. I never thought I would see a convincing Ginny joins the Death Eaters story, but that’s what this was. It was dark, twisted, heartbreaking, and oh so believable. Just to keep track of where my thoughts are, this fic was a high up Great Tier for me by the time we got here. But ok, the setup is good. But how about the actual events it builds up to?

Act Two (Chapters 18-36): If Act One is great, then Act Two is nothing short of spectacular. It takes characterization to levels I didn’t even think Bolshe was capable of, it’s incredibly tense from beginning to end, it features shocking character deaths, its pacing is impeccable, and it has a plot full of twists and turns that kept me engaged the entire time. It was extremely satisfying to read on basically every level, and it turned this fic from just another decent-to-great BolshevikMuppet darkfic to something on a completely different level.

This section of the story chronicles the events starting with Voldemort’s public return, going through to Ginny’s being publicly revealed as a Death Eater, and ends with Dumbledore’s death (something as ubiquitous in fanfiction is pretty much any other canon event you can think of). So let’s dive into this frankly incredible second leg of the story, and unpack why it works as well as it does.

So the first thing I feel like I need to talk about is Dumbledore’s characterization here, because it is absolutely incredible. I liked him in DSS and a couple other Bolshe fics just fine, but this is a decisive step up from even that. See, Black Ink, Red Rose makes Dumbledore a proactive adult character, and we spend much of this act seeing him and Moody training Harry, Ron, and Hermione, as well as looking for and destroying Voldemort’s horcruxes. It’s not even like the fic spends that much time on this, in the grand scheme of things, but the little bit we do get is fucking insane! It’s fun, it’s badass, Moody and Dumbledore have great chemistry, and this entire little arc ends with Dumbledore going out in a blaze of glory, taking an entire squadron of Death Eaters down with him before finally being taken out by Ginny. As far as sequences go, I’d put this up there with the Darth Vader finale from Rogue One in my list of satisfying “fuck yes!” scenes. It’s honestly incredible.

Beyond that, I’d say pretty much everyone else is great too. This act is the one that spends some time fleshing out the non-Ginny characters, to quite an impressive effect. For example, the main canon trio get some time in the spotlight this time, and all three of them are honestly great! I mean, Hermione won’t really shine until act three, but she’s still plenty entertaining now, and watching all these characters cope with Ginny’s betrayal is just wonderful. I think a lot of this comes down to how well-characterized just about everyone is, because it just wouldn’t hit the same if they were boring. Hell, it’s not even like the fic spends that much time on their points of view, but the bits and pieces we do get from the interludes paint enough of a picture to be effective. The same is true for the rest of the Weasley family and, surprisingly, Snape. I know there’s a lot of fandom hate for Snape, but I have to respect this version of him. The guy willingly lays down his life for the cause, and allows himself to be tortured into insanity in order to protect Harry. I know I mentioned that Dumbledore goes out in a crazy blaze of glory, but Snape could honestly offer some competition. Nothing nearly as showy, but still respectable as hell.

However, the true main course when it comes to the characterization is the dynamic trio that is Ginny, Luna, and Bellatrix. With Ginny, it’s watching all that internal conflict inside of her finally reach its boiling point and tip over. It’s not like it ever really goes away, but she does firmly choose her side and start killing people who were close to her. I think that her whole internal thought processes are portrayed extremely well, as are the reactions of her victims. One thing that a lot of fanfic authors struggle with is giving memorable characterizations to folks who don’t get their own POVs, but Bolshe does a pretty fuckin stellar job with people like Percy and the Granger parents, just as an example. Then there’s Luna, who has to go through the tragic arc of repeatedly trying to save her best friend and lover from the darkness of her own mind, coming tantalizingly close, but then not quite getting through to her. It’s a gut punch of a character arc, and Bolshe’s version of Luna is as close to perfect as she can possibly be. When Luna is written well, causing her character any sort of pain or inflicting anything bad upon her should feel like someone murdering your child in front of you. She has this innocent purity to her that should make it physically painful to see her hurt (see Echoes in the Fog for more details), and Bolshe just nails that here. And trust me, when bad things do eventually happen to her, it hurts. It hurst fucking horribly. Lastly there is Bellatrix, and holy shit I had my mind blown a second time. Bolshe manages to strike this balance with her between deranged and composed, between insane and calculating, and between caring and abusive that makes for one of the best characters I’ve ever read in a Harry Potter fic, hands down. Make no mistake, the dynamic established between Ginny and Bellatrix is one that is as fucked up as it’s possible to be. And no, that’s not because they have a kinky, sadistic BDSM relationship. Nah the issue is that it’s a kinky, sadistic BDSM relationship with dubious at best and nonexistent at worst consent on Ginny’s part, plus with an extremely heavy dose of mental manipulation on Bellatrix’s part. Their relationship is one of the most abusive ones that I have come across in the fandom, and it is handled so well that it sometimes tricks you into forgetting it’s abusive.

See, for the entirety of this act, we only get to see their relationship through Ginny’s eyes, and those are the eyes of a young and naive girl who has already been in multiple abusive relationships, one in which she did not understand what was happening, and one in which she did but blamed herself, and as such, she has no idea what healthy consent looks like. So there are long stretches with several quite graphic sex scenes between Bellatrix and Ginny, where you as the reader will be quite literally lulled into a false sense of security in their dynamic. You’ll be so sucked into the story and Ginny’s perspective that you’ll forget that what you’re reading about is the literal definition of abuse. But then, these flashes slowly start coming through, as Bellatrix’s behaviour continues to devolve and suddenly Ginny is occasionally scared of her, the curtain is slowly pulled back to shine light on what their relationship actually is, until it eventually clicks that it was horrible and abusive the entire time, and you kind of hate yourself for forgetting that part. I honestly think that’s the best way I can explain it, although I’ll also say that if you go in looking for signs of abuse from the beginning, they’re a lot easier to spot. So maybe y’all who read this review will have a different experience than I did. But hey, I think that’s enough carrying on about characterization for one segment, let’s get into the other shit going on here.

Act Two’s plot is fucking spotless. It’s got tight pacing, some fantastic action, and it kept me engaged for the entire time. Once again, the first half of act two is theoretically compliant to canon, in the sense that it doesn’t diverge much from the skeleton of the original books. That isn’t to say that this makes it boring or uninteresting, because I was hooked for the entire thing, but it is notable that the story takes a fuck of a long time to truly and properly diverge. But when it does, oh boy does shit kick into gear. Character deaths left and right, a properly proactive Dumbledore hunting for the horcruxes, Ginny going through Death Eater training under Bellatrix’s tutelage, and all sorts of other fun stuff happens all throughout the majority of this act, and it’s fantastic. This shit should read like fucking candy to anyone who has an ounce of passion for the canon books. It’s so clever in the ways it plays with and subverts some of the later canon events, right up to and including the infiltration of Hogwarts and assassination attempt against Dumbledore. It’s….beyond good.

With that being said, the pacing could perhaps have been a bit better. Nothing detrimental, but I’d say there’s maybe half a chapter’s worth of content throughout that could be cut, and it’d probably be even more lean and filled to the brim with tension if it was. But seriously, that’s such a fucking small nitpick.

Finally, we have the actual writing itself, and I’m happy to say that it’s very good. In fact, it’s good enough that it opens itself up to a whole new level of prose critique. See, Bolshe has gotten to a point with Black Ink, Red Rose, where it’s written about as well as it’s possible to write something in what I like to call “default fanfiction prose”. This means that it’s lean, very dialogue-driven with very few actual tags, and has maximum showing and minimum telling. That’s not to say that there’s no telling, because there definitely is, but there’s a hell of a lot of showing too. More than in most fanfics out there, that’s for damn sure. However, the thing about default fanfic prose is that it can only take you so far, and once you get to the point Bolshe is at here, you as the reader will start craving more. Some kind of stylistic flair, interesting imagery, dynamic descriptions that make the scenes pop and further come to life, and all sorts of other interesting literary techniques suddenly become unlocked. It’s like Bolshe has beaten the standard issues that fanfiction prose has, but he’s now at the next level and has a whole new set of ways to improve. And keep in mind, this is honestly at least half of a compliment. Getting to the point in a fanfiction where I’m discussing things like imagery and better descriptors is something that I have only seen with one or two fanfic authors before, and although Bolshe has a long way to go before getting to the levels that those creators write at, act two of this fic also clearly demonstrates the potential that Bolshe has to go down in fandom history as one of the great fanfic authors. But also, god damn it would have been nice to get something beyond the standard fanfic prose here.

So overall, I think Act Two of this fic is freaking incredible. It gets a fuck ton right, and most of my critiques are, in a sense, compliments as well. This is easy top tier material right here, with flashes that are Crusade-Worthy. But as you probably know, the real trick with these stories is the ending. So how does Black Ink, Red Rose fair? Let’s get into that right now.

Act Three (Chapters 37-44): Act three is much shorter than the previous two, and basically only contains the climax and falling action of the story. But holy shit is it spectacular. It makes use of every single moment it lasts for, and brings Black Ink, Red Rose to a close in truly spectacular fashion. So let’s jump into this.

The best thing these last few chapters have going for them is a combination of tension and pacing. Every scene serves to further up the stakes, to drive that sense of nerve-wracking, suffocating tension further up, and to propel the story faster and faster towards its inevitable conclusion, and this makes for a fucking fantastic reading experience. Seriously, this fic became tough to put down and walk away from for any long period of time, and by the time I was in the last three chapters, I was so firmly hooked that I was walking around staring at my phone transfixed as the finale unfolded. And speaking of things unfolding…..

Act Three perfects the art of both character payoffs and canon fuckery. I could wax lyrical about all the ways it does so for a longass time, but I feel like this review is long enough as it is, so allow me to just take one example. You know that scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, during the final battle at Hogwarts, when Bellatrix dies? Let me just quote that moment for you, to refresh your memory.

Hermione, Ginny, and Luna, all battling their
hardest, but Bellatrix was equal to them, and Harry’s attention was diverted as a Killing Curse shot so close to Ginny that she missed death by an inch—

He changed course, running at Bellatrix rather than Voldemort, but before he had gone a few steps he was knocked sideways.

“NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!”

Mrs. Weasley threw off her cloak as she ran, freeing her arms. Bellatrix
spun on the spot, roaring with laughter at the sight of her new challenger.

“OUT OF MY WAY!” shouted Mrs. Weasley to the three girls, and with a
swipe of her wand she began to duel. Harry watched with terror and elation as Molly Weasley’s wand slashed and twisted, and Bellatrix Lestrange’s smile faltered and became a snarl. Jets of light flew from both wands, the floor around the witches’ feet became hot and cracked; both women were fighting to kill.

“No!” Mrs. Weasley cried as a few students ran forward, trying to come to her aid. “Get back! Get back! She is mine!”

Hundreds of people now lined the walls, watching the two fights, Voldemort and his three opponents, Bellatrix and Molly, and Harry stood, invisible, torn between both, wanting to attack and yet to protect, unable to be sure that he would not hit the innocent.

“What will happen to your children when I’ve killed you?” taunted Bellatrix, as mad as her master, capering as Molly’s curses danced around her. “When Mummy’s gone the same way as Freddie?”

“You—will—never—touch—our—children—again!” screamed Mrs. Weasley. Bellatrix laughed, the same exhilarated laugh her cousin Sirius had given as he toppled backward through the veil, and suddenly Harry knew what was going to happen before it did.

Molly’s curse soared beneath Bellatrix’s outstretched arm and hit her squarely in the chest, directly over her heart.

Bellatrix’s gloating smile froze, her eyes began to bulge: For the tiniest
space of time she knew what had happened, and then she toppled, and the watching crowd roared, and Voldemort screamed.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 36

Now, there is a lot of discourse about this scene in the Harry Potter fandom, but the general consensus I’ve seen is that it would have worked a lot better had Bellatrix and Molly had some kind of established history, and it honestly wasn’t worth taking this moment from Neville to give Molly this cool moment, no matter how admittedly badass it is. But now imagine in Black Ink, Red Rose, the amount of weight a confrontation like this would have.

Bellatrix and Molly have an established history dating all the way back to their days in school, and now Bella has seduced Molly’s daughter, and ensured that Ginny will remain forever loyal to the dark side. This scene feels like at least three emotional arcs converging on one another and resolving together in a genuinely beautiful way. It’s tragedy in its best possible form, as we see this through Ginny’s eyes and are forced to experience her grief, even as we want to cheer for Molly’s triumph at the same time. It has no right to work as well as it does, but it works so, so well, and that’s honestly the magic of this whole fic.

Honestly, at the end of the day, Act Three is just the perfect conclusion for me. Even looking at the last chapter and the Epilogue, it has such thematic cohesion and brings it all together into such a beautiful, chills-inducing, tragic way that I can’t help but absolutely adore it. I imagine a lot of people hate this fic for making it end in tragedy, and never allowing things to get tangibly better for Ginny, but even if you hate that, you have to admit that it works on both a thematic and emotional level. This was never a story about getting better. It’s a story about trauma, abuse, and the resulting downward spiral that can result from it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Final Thoughts: If you can’t tell, I like Black Ink, Red Rose. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that I love it. This fic feels like a triumph for Bolshe, as it’s basically a second attempt at the Downward Spiral Saga, just executed to near perfection. While the DSS stumbles, and trips, and gets bogged down in pointless scenes and mediocre at best prose, before ultimately sticking the ending with the landing, Black Ink, Red Rose has a rocky beginning full of stumbles and errors, but once it really gets going (around chapter ten or so), it fucking gets going. I haven’t been this sucked into a story in a long as fuck time, probably not since I first read Alexandra Quick. And although I don’t think this fic begins to approach the level of quality AQ has, I do think it’s fantastic overall. The strongest aspects are the themes and emotional beats, and the weakest aspect is the technical writing (even if it’s much better than the vast majority of the fandom), but everything in between generally errors on the side of great, rather than the side of average or worse.

This fic may not be for you, and if you’re really bothered by anything mentioned in the Trigger Warning at the beginning of this review, you should probably stay away from it, but to everyone else, I cannot recommend this story enough. Get through the first few chapters, and experience the glory and the suffering of the rest of the fic. It is fantastic, it is emotionally resonant in a way that most fics could only dream of being, and I’m confident that you’ll….well, maybe not like it, but at the very least find it thematically cohesive and emotionally moving.

Tier: Crusade-Worthy

Written on 12/06/2021

%d bloggers like this: