By The Santi
Status: Abandoned, Word Count: 147,700, Pairing: Harry Potter/OC, Genre: Adventure
Read the Fic Here: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/5353809/1/Harry-Potter-and-the-Boy-Who-Lived
Summary: “Harry Potter loves, and is loved by, his parents, his godfather, and his brother. He isn’t mistreated, abused, or neglected. So why is he a Dark Wizard? NonBWL!Harry. Not your typical Harry’s brother is the Boy Who Lived story.”
My Thoughts: Harry Potter and the Boy Who Lived is a Harry Potter Fandom classic. It has over 13,000 follows and favorites on fanfiction.net, its DarkLordPotter review submission has an ungodly number of messages, and it is one of the most universally known and liked stories in the fandom. It is successful from both a numbers perspective, and a fandom reception perspective, which is a genuine rarity. Normally it’s kind of one or the other. You have your stories like Harry Crow, which did great numbers while facing the hatred of the larger fandom, and then you have stories like Alexandra Quick, which didn’t do very good numbers at all, but has been met with almost universal acclaim from anyone who’s actually bothered reading it. My point is, most people either like or love this fic, which is why I know I’ll be ruffling a few feathers when I say that this fic is overhyped, overrated, and pretty fucking mediocre. But please, hear me out on this one, and also welcome to my review of Harry Potter and the Boy Who Lived by author and certified fandom leaver The Santi. Today I will do my best to unpack what parts of the story work, what parts really don’t, and what it was about this fic that appealed to so many people. Let’s get started.
Harry Potter and the Boy-Who-Lived is a progression fantasy that chronicles a Harry raised alongside his twin brother Nathan, the real Boy-Who-Lived, as he goes to Hogwarts, realizes it’s so fucking easy, caters to morons, and ignores the potential of the gifted, so he transfers to Durmstrang and fucking destroys his classes and becomes a magical prodigy and oh my god wow look at how good Harry’s doing in his classes! Are you happy yet? Your favorite protagonist is doing well in school! And as much as I might mock the “author has a wank about Harry being good at school” trope in general, I do have to admit that it’s written in a very satisfying way here. Once Harry’s at Durmstrang, the classes he’s in do genuinely feel difficult, and Santi really puts in the effort to make sure Harry’s victories at that school feel like proper achievements. I don’t think I have ever found reading through a list of grades as satisfying as when I was reading this fic, and keep in mind, I’m very much including my own fucking grades!
But even beyond that, I think it’s clear that a lot of behind-the-scenes effort went into the crafting of this fic, especially the world-building. Durmstrang feels like a properly fleshed out school, with tons of little details being dotted around the story to complement an already memorable foundation. This fic is essentially responsible for popularizing the “Harry goes to Durmstrang” trope, and I think a large portion of that popularity comes from how memorable and intriguing this fic’s Durmstrang is. The Santi successfully crafts a narrative in which the story does not often stop to explain anything about the school, and instead just shows us everything we need to know through Harry’s interactions with it. This is also in line with what Durmstrang narratively stands for in this fic, as a school that doesn’t stop to allow stragglers to catch up. As such, the readers are made to feel as though they’re also at Durmstrang, and then are allowed to feel real nice about themselves as they figure out what the dynamics of the school are like for themselves. But that’s enough about Durmstrang, let’s get into some characters.
So to start on the positive side, I like Harry. While he’s not the most interesting protagonist to ever exist, and he shows no sign of character growth beyond “becoming chill with dark magic” over the course of the 12 chapters that were released before abandonment, I think his consistent adoration of learning and the fierce loyalty he feels to his family and friends (even when he thinks his brother is being an idiot) to make for a very endearing and pleasant character to follow throughout the story. I also like Viktor Krum as Harry’s best friend in the story. His characterization is entertaining and, I think, a reasonable extrapolation of canon!Krum. Finally, there’s Calypso Rosier, who many people have hailed as one of the greatest original characters to ever be created for a Harry Potter fanfic. I’m not most people, in fact I find her to be a pretty middle of the road character in terms of intrigue and development, but she serves as a serviceable love interest, and she functions in the plot well enough that I don’t mind her. In fact, she’s pretty entertaining to read about at times. And in all honesty, I think that’s really the best thing I can say about this trio of characters. None of them are especially deep, but they’re all entertaining to read about and service the story quite well.
Unfortunately, rounding out the list of Durmstrang characters is Viktor’s girlfriend Kira Megara, who is just…..an intense combination of aggressively boring and also annoying? There isn’t even an attempt to make her character change in any way, and every time she shows up I want to gouge my eyes out with a shard of glass. Speaking of bad characters, everyone else! I don’t find Harry’s parents to be very compelling, Dumbledore is aggressively uninteresting, Nathan is just canon!Harry but worse, Sirius, Remus, and Snape are all there, and Ron gets bashed to the Moon and back every time he shows up. Quite honestly, the only character who doesn’t exist at Durmstrang who I don’t have some level of overwhelming negative feelings about is Hermione. Not because she’s especially well-characterized or….well, present in the fic, but because she has the occasional enjoyable interaction with Harry that makes me smile. It’s fun reading a smart!Harry story where he actually respects and gets along with Hermione because of their shared love of learning.
Now I will acknowledge that this story’s incomplete, abandoned state means that there could very well have been planned character growth down the line that never came to fruition, however I kind of feel like the first two and a half years of the story having little to know growth for any of its characters, even the ones I like, is a flaw on its own merits, so I’m very comfortable criticizing it for that.
But that’s enough on characters, how does this story’s plot function? Within the 12 chapters published on FFN, the story of Harry Potter and the Boy Who Lived can basically be summed up as “Harry Potter, brother to the Boy-Who-Lived, goes to Durmstrang and is awesome at magic.” This is very similar to many other stories that focus on Harry being awesome at school, but the difference here is that it’s actually executed quite well. Harry rising through the ranks at Durmstrang, earning the respect of his teachers, and getting good grades actually does feel really satisfying to read about, and I think a lot of that comes down to The Santi’s frankly brilliant idea to make Durmstrang use final projects instead of final exams. This means that each year, the reader gets to watch as Harry pulls together these innovative and impressive magical projects for each class using everything he’s learned that year, and it creates for a very satisfying mini-finale every couple chapters. Not to mention, The Santi is super creative with these projects, which makes the finales even more fun.
In fact, I think fun is a really good word to describe this story. The Durmstrang chapters are all just…entertaining, and that’s enough. Unfortunately, there’s a good chunk of this story not set at Durmstrang, and I find that it generally stumbles a lot more there, a long with a series of rather unfortunate missteps. See, the Hogwarts chapters that are used to open the story are quite poor. None of the characters really work for me, and it at times feels like The Santi is bashing the very concept of Hogwarts itself. I personally think the story would be far more compelling if Hogwarts was actually a good school, and it was just that Harry didn’t feel as though it met his rather unusual needs. Instead, it feels like the professors are against the very concept of learning, and it becomes an established part of the story’s world-building that Hogwarts intentionally fosters an atmosphere of mediocrity. There’s also the issue that none of the chapters in which Harry interacts with his family feel very fleshed out or interesting, which I think is an enormous shame. The entire premise of the story is Harry becoming a dark wizard despite growing up loving his family, and being loved back in turn, and yet I never feel like their relationship is genuine or believable.
The result is a story that, at times, shines out as one of the most purely entertaining stories on fanfiction.net. Whenever I am entrenched in the Durmstrang chapters, I can lose myself and read a good two or three chapters back to back and have a great time with them. However, there’s always a Hogwarts chapter or a summer chapter or a letter from Nathan Potter summarizing this year’s canon events to push me out of the story and leave me annoyed and frustrated.
Not to mention, the prose is decidedly mediocre from beginning to end. It goes through some slight improvements, but god damn those opening chapters are laughably bad.
Finally, there’s the matter of abandonment. Now, I feel like there are times when a story being permanently incomplete is something that detracts from the overall quality of storytelling, as it means that there are plot threads, character arcs, and themes left forever hanging, which can lead for an unfulfilling reading experience for the reader. However, I really don’t feel like that’s the case here. The story was actually abandoned at a decently narratively satisfying moment, and even though it’s likely to leave you wanting more, it’s not bad enough to warrant docking points from it or anything like that.
So with all that in mind, I think Harry Potter and the Boy Who Lived belongs somewhere between the Good and Great tiers, and since I’m feeling generous today, I think I’ll slightly round up.
Tier: Great Tier
The DarkLordPotter-exclusive Chapter 12-17:
Now before I go, some might be upset if I didn’t mention the draft chapters posted to the DLP forum. My understanding is that these have been beta-read and lightly edited, but were also not up to The Santi’s standards of quality for posting, so I think including them in my official review would be in very poor taste. So that’s why they’re getting their own little section. I read these chapters after I wrote the main body of the review, and I’ll just briefly go over my thoughts on them, before giving a second score that factors them into account. To be clear, that score means nothing and will have no impact on the tier this fic gets placed in.
Now one thing that is to be expected is that the DLP chapters are worse than the ones on FFN. They aren’t properly edited, they have more errors, and the prose are sloppier. That is fine, it is to be expected, and will not be the subject of this portion of the review. What I want to talk about is the plotting, because the first thing you’ll probably notice when you embark on these chapters is that it starts getting really boring. I think this is mostly because the premise of “Harry learns magic at Durmstrang and does well in school” can really only be interesting for so long, and the interesting thing about HPBWL is that the abandonment on FFN happens right around the time the concept wears out. But to give credit, the Harry-Calypso romance is fun.
So after the first couple of boring chapters, we get another god-awful summer chapter that is boring and dumb and I did not like it. Then we get the Quidditch World Cup, which has what is possibly my favorite scene from the DLP section, which is Calypso meeting Harry’s parents. It’s some nice, pleasant-to-read fluff that made me smile, and that’s exactly what it was trying to do. The rest of the chapter works pretty well too.
Then we’re off to year four, and it at first has some promise. The idea of Harry trying to enter himself into the tournament presents an engaging challenge that I was invested in seeing Harry solve, he had to pull out all the stops to figure it out, and the Santi came up with a clever, innovative solution to the age line. However, he makes the absolutely baffling choice to make Harry fail to enter the tournament. The result is a series of chapters that were almost impossible for me to be invested in, and even though I liked the Yule Ball chapter because it set up some entertaining messy teen drama, it was then abandoned so we’ll never see how that would have played out.
Also, I can’t not mention that the ridiculous Ron bashing lurking in the background until now is thrust right to the forefront of the story in a way that is virtually impossible to ignore, and I can’t fucking stand it.
Overall, the DLP chapters have some absolutely baffling plot decisions that completely burned through all the good will I had towards the fic up until that point. Even with the improved writing, I don’t think these chapters would have worked if they were published on FFN, and I doubt the fic would be nearly as beloved as it is today if they had been. I personally would have bumped this story down to a mid-level Average Tier fic.
Written on 01/18/2022