Status: Complete, Words: 396,900, Pairing: Harry Potter/Bellatrix Black, Genre: Drama/Romance
Read the Fic Here: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12317784/1/Stepping-Back
Author’s Summary: Post-OOTP. The episode in the DOM has left Harry a changed boy. He returns to the Dursley’s to prepare for his inevitable confrontation with Voldemort, but his stay there is very short-lived. He finds himself in the care of people who he has no choice but to cooperate with and they give him a startling revelation: Harry must travel back to the 1970’s to save the wizarding world.
Characterization: This fic has a fair number of characters, and it does some of them really well, and some of them…not so well. So let’s start with the positives. Bellatrix and Narcissa are both great! Narcissa shows up a lot less than Bellatrix, but when she does she’s always rather adorable, and her younger sister/older brother dynamic with Harry is an absolute joy to watch develop. She gets a lot of really funny and cute one-liners, and the story just generally comes alive whenever she shows up. Bellatrix, on the other hand, is one of this fic’s main characters, and she’s very compelling to read about. Watching Harry’s assumptions about her based on his experiences in Order of the Phoenix clash with who she is at this point in her life is a rather interesting juxtaposition, and I think she goes through a fairly interesting and engaging character arc. Lee also does a great job finding a solid, believable reason for her support of Voldemort without sacrificing a lot of the bite that makes her character so fun. Harry is also pretty good. His dynamic with Charlus, Dorea, the Marauders, and Lily is absolutely fantastic, and his relationship with Bellatrix is fairly well developed. Unfortunately, I feel like, overall, a lot of what makes this version of Harry interesting is his ability to play off the other people around him, and there are times when he is the sole focus of the story that he can be a bit boring and inconsistent. I also, unfortunately, think he’s too overpowered. Now, I understand that one of the key difficulties of writing a Harry Potter fanfiction is finding an interesting, inventive way to make Harry powerful enough to believably kill Voldemort, but….yeah this isn’t the way to do it. Having Harry just perform a ritual or two and then “unlocking” his family magic just feels a bit too much like leveling up in a video game for my personal taste. However, I will give Lee a lot of credit for the magical tattoo idea, because it makes the family magics feel far more personal to Harry, and leads to an absolutely fantastic character moment between Harry and Bellatrix later on in the story. So, I suppose Lee gets half credit for that one. I think that two out of the four marauders are fine. Not much is really done with Remus and Sirius, but I can’t really get too mad about it, because this is not a story about them. The other two marauders are fantastic though. James knowing about the future is probably the best character choice I’ve ever seen Lee make. It adds so much fantastic inner conflict and depth to his character, and makes him truly fascinating to read about. Peter, on the other hand, gets an absolutely fantastic character redemption arc. His actions have consequences, he makes actual sacrifices for the cause, and Lee does a great job showing how Harry was able to gently steer him off the path of darkness he was set on in the original timeline. Big fan of that, because Marauders’ era fics often choose to bash Peter instead, and you all know I hate bashing. Speaking of bashing, let’s talk about this fic’s villains, because oh dear me do I have some thoughts on them. So to start, Voldemort is….fine. He has some great moments, he really does. The scene early on, when he visits the Black family as “Mr. Gaunt” and tries to bring them to his side, is one of my favorite Voldemort moments out there, and I wish we got to explore more of “Voldemort the charming politician,” because it’s clear that Lee’s really good at writing him that way. Unfortunately, as the fic goes on, Voldemort kind of just devolves into a cackling, cartoony villain, and while this version of Voldemort is, as I said, fine, it’s a shame to see so much wasted potential. This fic also features a lot of the prominent Death Eaters still in school, and holy shit are they all disappointing. Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange are as boring and one dimensional as they are in basically every fic (even Prince of Slytherin doesn’t bother to develop them) so I can’t really get too annoyed about them not having any character development, and Rookwood has one or two excellent scenes with Pettigrew, but holy fucking shit, some of the others are insanely disappointing. First of all, Lucius Malfoy is bashed so much that he practically ends up in China by the end of this fic, and they don’t like bashing either. However, instead of just calling it bashing and walking away, let me also point out a bit of a character inconsistency. Lucius Malfoy is a fucking moron in this fic. He’s a whiny, arrogant, weakling who’s as magically inadequate as he is brash, and I just cannot picture this moron somehow magically becoming smart enough and subtle enough to successfully dodge Azkaban within the next five to ten years. I truly understand that he’s much younger here than he is in canon, but he should at least resemble his older self, and I just don’t see it. Anyway, I’ve been kind of dancing around it, but here we are: let’s talk about the Blacks. I think Arcturus is pretty good in this fic. I mean, he’s a bit bland at times, and it’s weird that he, a man who’s supposed to be rather elderly at this point, treats this sixteen year old boy who just shows up as an equal right away, but….fine. Harry’s the main character, he gets some special privileges, or whatever. I already mentioned that I think the Black Sisters are all really good. Andromeda’s a bit less present in the story than the other two, but she’s still definitely there and I still like her quite a bit. Dorea’s a good character, Sirius and Regulus are both decent, and….yeah that’s about it. Unfortunately, Cygnus, Walpurga, and Druella are all boring caricatures of themselves. They make idiotic decisions regularly, and generally live by none of the principals of the House of Black, and when I say that, I’m referring to the House of Black the way Lee describes them. The Black family can’t be the most feared and respected family in all of Britain is half of them are blithering fucking morons. Anyway, overall, I like more of the characters than I dislike in Stepping Back, which means that the fic does a pretty good job with its characters.
Romance and Action: The romance in Stepping Back is fantastic! Bellatrix and Harry are both fairly interesting characters, and they play off one another really well. Their relationship develops in a natural, believable way, and it even manages to have a bit of angst thrown in without being over the top or annoying. Let me tell you, it takes a talented author to write angst without it being obnoxious, and I think Lee pulls it off well. The tender moments work, the sad moments work, and the happy moments are great too. Lee clearly learned a lot from the mistakes he made in Honour Thy Blood, and it sure as hell pays off here. But hey the action’s also great! I can complain about overpowered characters all day long, and I did, but it’s still undeniably fun to see Harry and Voldemort fight each other and others. Harry’s duel with Dolohov is some very entertaining, popcorny fun, his various duels with Voldemort are all fairly engaging, and the one duel with Bellatrix that takes place about half way through the fic is tense and emotionally resonant. Great shit all around, good job Lee, I love it, no notes.
Plot: Now I’ve said many, many times that I’m a sucker for a good time travel story, and this is still true. I think it provides tons of interesting opportunities to do whacky, crazy shit that’s hard to do otherwise, and I think it can make for some excellent tension as well. So right away I’m sold on the premise. Then, once you put the action and the romance together, I think you have a pretty good story right there. Unfortunately, there’s also some annoying shit that I don’t like, so let’s go over that. All of the pensieve shit sucks ass. Pensieves suck in canon, and they suck in most fanfics as well. It’s a lazy, contrived way to deliver a fuckton of exposition, and it has never worked for me. I think the scene where Harry comes clean to the Marauders and Lily about his adventure through time had the potential to be the strongest scene in the entire fucking series, but it’s just completely wasted because the characters all learn about it through motherfucking pre-recorded pensieve messages, and then they just watch unbiased memories of the shit that happened to them. This scene would have been infinitely stronger if it was dialogue driven and featured the actual Harry explaining to his parents and their friends what happened to them in his future. It would have been so fucking good, and I’m very sad that we will never get that version of the scene. Besides that though, I don’t really have too many issues plot-wise. It’s fairly solid, it mostly makes sense, and it’s pretty entertaining too. Also, I suppose now’s a good time to mention the four Omake that Lee wrote, set in the Stepping Back timeline that feature Harry as a magical archaeologist crossing over into other fandoms and having adventures there. They’re all really engaging and fun, and I honestly hope Lee keeps writing them, because there are essentially limitless possibilities there.
Dialogue: The dialogue is great! I don’t really have much to say here, because I don’t have any critiques or anything like that. It flows really well, each character talks in a distinct way that makes sense when you consider their character traits, and when characters interact it’s always really entertaining. Good shit, no notes.
Writing Mechanics: This is Lee we’re talking about here. All of his fics except for Honour Thy Blood are pretty mechanically tight. The spelling’s all accurate, most of the grammar is correct as well, not really much to complain about here, except for a few minor errors, but who really gives a fuck about those, am I right?
Overall: Stepping Back is The Black’s Resurgence’s best story to date. The characters are compelling, the action is intense and engaging, the story is intriguing, and the romance between Harry and Bellatrix is adorable and has just enough angst to be interesting, but not so much that it gets irritating. I’m a big fan of the character arc that Peter Pettigrew goes through, as I feel like his character often gets bashed a lot, and it’s really cool that TBR goes a different route than normal with it. I’m also a big fan of the way Arcturus and Charlus are written. They have a wonderful dynamic, and it’s fun to watch. Finally, the rest of the marauders are characterized pretty well too, as is Lily. Overall, it’s a great fic! The fact that it’s a rare pairing makes it even better! I highly recommend giving it a read.
Also, this fic has a short companion one shot called The Fulfillment of Love that is a short dramatization of Harry and Bellatrix’s first time. It is not a smut story, nor does it feature smut at all, but it’s very cute, and I’d also recommend checking that out. It doesn’t get its own review because it’s just a 2k words one shot spinoff that’s connected to this story, so I figured I’d just mention it here and say that if you liked Stepping Back you’ll probably like this fic too. Just to spice things up, I’ll factor this oneshot’s quality into my final verdict on this fic. It’s a good, sweet oneshot, and I think it enhances Stepping Back quite well.
Read The Fulfillment of Love here: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/13198920/1/The-Fulfillment-of-Love
Final Thoughts: If you like action/adventure fics, Stepping Back is for you. If you like well written romance, Stepping Back is for you. If you like time travel that makes sense and is entertaining to read about, Stepping Back is for you. I like it a lot, it was one of my faves when I first read it, and it’s still one of my faves now. Sure it has dumb shit here and there, but most fics have at least a little bit of that kinda thing, so it’s not too big an issue. Go give it a shot, you probably won’t be too disappointed.
Tier: Top Tier
Written on 05/20/2021