Disclaimer: I am dead and gone from JK Rowling's Potterverse, so I can no longer claim even my own imaginary piece of it. Until my next HP self-insert, I mean...
- Bonus Omake: What if Hermione figured it out?
- Preview of the Sequel (!)
This story just topped 100,000 views! As a bonus for you all, I've decided to share this little document that I worked up some time ago and recently updated now that I've had some distance from the story. Let me tell you, it's much easier to see the flaws from here.
I've never actually seen any fanfiction authors do this, but video game developers sometimes gather their thoughts at the end of the development process in an effort to understand and improve their next product. Most of this is probably not interesting to those of you who aren't writers yourselves. I might sound pretty harsh about my own story, but since the goal of publishing this story was to improve my writing ability, it doesn't make any kind of sense for me to be defensive about it. Likewise, feel free to tear into it, since, while I very much appreciate the completely positive reviews, it's the constructive criticism that helps me improve. If you don't care about any of this, or think it will ruin your enjoyment of this perfect story, then feel free to skip on ahead to the preview at the end (or the omake, if that tickles your fancy).
Otherwise, without further ado:
I started writing this in May 2012, after only writing about 25k words of fanfiction and about 80k words of total fiction in my entire life. The plan was simple: to write a original character, self-insert (OC-SI) fanfiction in the Potterverse. That's it, no specific plot points drawn up except to have the PoV character 'fix' the events of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire using his knowledge of canon and fanon. OC-SI fics are a guilty pleasure of mine, and I couldn't find any set here.
I wrote approximately 150,000 words before I started posting it here on October 6th, 2012. I finished the story about a month later, and the epilogue was posted on November 17th, 2012. At 100k views, that's an average of 675 views per day, but over the past couple months this story averages around 300 views per day. At the peak of posting it received over 3,000 views per day. I still receive a few reviews each week, as well.
What went right?
Daphne is, in my opinion, the best character in the book...which is surprising to me because I wasn't even planning on putting her in there until after I'd written tens of thousands of words. She's the most dynamic in terms of character development, and along with Luna, she was the most fun to write. In fact, my enjoyment of writing her scenes was the driving force behind my choice to write a Slytherin!Harry fic, Harry Silvertongue (and no, it's not a cross-over with His Dark Materials. I just completely forgot about Lyra Silvertongue).
One reviewer noted that Daphne's reaction in the epilogue was quite a bit weaker than he hoped. Looking back now, I should have really ratcheted up the anger as opposed to the self-loathing that's there now. That would have really helped to break up the weepiness of the whole thing and create a nice contrast between personalities instead of having them all react the same way. Of course, I can always claim that William's imagined response was just off target.
I said way back in Chapter 2 that I was proud of the way she had turned out, but when I went back and re-read the scene a hundred thousand words later I wasn't terribly impressed. And then in Chapter 10, William started acting a little wacky (to put it nicely)...and it wasn't until I was writing Chapter 17 that I recognized the parallels between him and Luna. I had already written Harry and Hermione as being influenced by William, but Luna was the first one that made me realize that the influence worked the other way as well. I went back later and filled that in a bit (e.g. Hermione's comment in Chapter 12, "are you sure you two aren't related?").
I'm not completely happy with how William turned out, but despite the similarity I'm really happy with how Luna did. She ended up more or less exactly how I wanted.
I haven't done the math, but my story is probably about 80% dialogue, because for some reason it just flowed out about as quickly as I could act out the scenes in my head. I actually very rarely got stuck writing this because I would just skip ahead and make characters talk, then fill in the holes later. The biggest trouble with writing my other projects is this reason exactly; it's too easy for me to get bogged down in description. And at the risk of sounding boastful, I think witty banter might be my specialty. Maybe I should write screenplays instead.
It's not all amazing, I'm sure, but the fact that it came so easily to me and it often turned out funny even when I didn't have a particular joke planned. Well, I thought it was funny, anyway.
Although I credited other works of fanfiction for the mechanics of it, I think the addition of specific Elder Futhark runelore made my window into the Potterverse a bit more fun. It was interesting doing the research and then making some creative decisions on how the system might work, instead of just using it as a foreign language like JK Rowling seemed to do. And it wasn't the usual, 'this rune shoots arrows' type of approach (not that there's anything wrong with that).
There's also the fact that the rune of defense (eihwaz, for those of you keeping track) looks like a lightning bolt. I mentioned that I'd never seen the scar/rune connection in any other fics, though I will admit that I haven't read a lot of in-progress or shorter works.
UPDATE: You fail me yet again FFnet! I am currently reading Arsinoe de Blassenville's The Best Revenge. That story uses Younger Futhark instead of Elder Futhark, but she made the scar/rune connection well before I even started writing! Way to go, letting me think I'd discovered something all on my own. I did allow for the possibility that I just hadn't read it yet, and the fact that it's marked as a Harry P. & Severus S. story (it's mentor!Snape, not slash) meant that I didn't even give it a look until I read her epic, ongoing Dragon Age fic, Victory at Ostagar (934,000 words and counting!).
What went wrong?
1) William is a Gary Stu.
No argument there. I made some effort early on to avoid this by greatly limiting his magic, but I went back on that later by giving him enough magic to do anything. Also, other characters' reactions to him were entirely too positive all the way up until the Yule Ball, and even beyond then it's too much. Part of this I halfheartedly explained away by William not wanting to recount the bits where others weren't particularly fond of him, but he really shouldn't be virtually universally loved.
Another piece of that is that William tended to be the center of attention too often. It is a first person story, but Harry is too much of a natural leader for him to let William take the lead so often when it doesn't involve his foreknowledge. Hopefully I got better with this at the end (having Harry or Hermione move the group along instead of William, or having him go off on his own), but most of the story I wasn't paying attention to it.
One thing you might also note is that William went in with certain expectations from characters that were unwarranted and ultimately subverted. I didn't do a good job highlighting this, but if I'd done my due diligence when it came to planning (as opposed to the absolutely none that I did) I would have made this a running theme and explicitly pointed this out in my handling of at least Ron, Luna, and Ginny, and potentially others.
On a related note, I am a bit surprised that nobody said anything bad about my handling of Draco. Would William have been able to put Draco in his place like that? I'm not sure...canon Draco is tenaciously obnoxious. Obviously I've tried to write him to be more intelligent, but since we see so little of him you're left to take my word for it.
2) William's acceptance of his sudden transportation to the Potterverse was too quick and easy.
The root cause of this is because I was too excited to get on with the story, but obviously that's no good reason. One potential solution to this would be to have William go through the first few hours or first few days as though he believed he was dreaming. This might stretch believability a bit, though, because it would seem more likely in this case that he would just spill the beans right away.
Another idea I had was to have him simply say, in an exasperated voice, "oh, not again!" This was actually my favorite idea, given the ending and the sequel, but then I would have had to change too much of my first few chapters at least regarding his reactions, if not to incorporate vague hints about where he'd been before.
3) The Bud/William name switch is confusing.
Had I known it would cause as much confusion as it did, I would have named him William from the get-go. The funny part about that is that I literally came up with that name on the fly during that conversation with Luna back in Chapter 2, and I decided I liked it better. Most other self-inserts I've read use (supposedly) the author's real name with their last name redacted, but I thought a play on my pseudonym was clever. It wasn't, it turned out.
4) There is too much Ron bashing.
One of the things I find most challenging about writing first drafts is that everything moves a lot slower when you're writing as opposed to when you're reading. As a result, it's extremely easy to overdo certain character traits and lose subtlety in the message you're trying to get across. Unfortunately, the Ron bashing is something that slipped my attention. It was probably exacerbated from reading too many fics with Ron bashing while writing this. Not that I have a problem reading such things (I'm not a huge fan of his), but it was unwarranted.
5) There is not enough description.
No, there isn't. In fact, much of what's there was added later. This is my weakness as a writer; dialogue is what gets the words flowing for me because speech can be naturally imperfect. Unfortunately when it comes to non-dialogue, I'm generally a lot more careful with word selection and therefore much slower. Ideally this is something I would have fixed if I had finished the book before I started posting, but I was anxious to get my story out there.
What was...a bit dodgy?
There were other issues that either occurred to me or reviewers brought up but I didn't necessarily completely agree:
1) William is less of a lovable scoundrel and more of a creepy lecher.
I agreed with this to a point...re-reading some of the early versions of my scenes was painful. I toned it down and added more positive reaction from the girls, but I will freely admit I still got carried away with the innuendo on occasion. Adding more characters who didn't react to him as well might have helped with this, too.
2) The William/Hermione/Harry love triangle went on too long.
This has some merit because 'romantic' relationships between kids in their mid-teens are generally measured in months. I think the three characters, the way I've written them, are stubborn enough that the dragging-on of the love triangle is believable, but the main issue is that their interaction was too repetitive. The stream-of-consciousness plotting of the first half (or more) of the story is to blame for this.
3) William's final plan was stupid, and it got him killed in the end.
First, JK Rowling left her universe wide open to too many story-breakers. House Elves really are too powerful, and time travel as she wrote it can be far too easily exploited. Also, I've read stories that get really into the incorporation of Muggle weapons and technology, but I'm never that big a fan of it. The latter two can be explained away by William not having ready access to them, but there is almost no excuse to not use House Elves except to increase dramatic tension. I even poke fun of this in my first oneshot, A Kiss of Cliched Proportions.
But discounting the story-breaking elements, hopefully I at least indirectly covered most of his thought processes on why William discarded various plans. Yes, I personally would have chosen something far less dangerous. Perhaps William was too enamored with his secrets and trying to avoid getting caught by Dumbledore, but it would have been safer to simply spill it all to him on the day of the Third Task and let him set up the trap. There's no guarantee that he would have done so, of course, but that's at least a reasonable plan that William never considered. Considering there was also no guarantee that William's ambush would have gone off as planned either, it's arguably a better one.
But that would also be less exciting, so...
4) You killed William, you dirty son of a bitch!
Sorry! But you'll note that William is simply gone from the Potterverse, not dead. In Chapter 8 I sort of foreshadowed this ending, saying something about dying just sending me back.
Bonus Omake: What if Hermione figured it out?
As you've probably forgotten, I mentioned back in Chapter 18 that I started writing a scene where Hermione figured out my secret. Well, I actually wrote a couple thousand words of it back then before I realized how much trouble it caused, and I saved it in case I wanted to use it later. This isn't as polished as my usual stuff (assuming my usual stuff IS polished) because it's a first draft, but it might still be interesting to you.
This scene takes place in the Room of Requirement just after Daphne threatens to hex William if he tells Astoria about his plan, not realizing he wasn't talking about Horcruxes. Hermione picks up on the fact that Daphne knows something that she and Harry don't, and calls William out on it. In the story, he successfully distracts Hermione by talking about the Greengrass library, but in my first draft she doesn't fall for it.
I hope that's my out, and I shake my head. "She knows far less than either of you. I realized after she told me about her family that she could be a valuable source of information. So I hinted to her in vague terms that I know what Riddle has done to try to attain immortality and that we're working on a way to counter that. She knows how dangerous that information is. She confronted me before the Ball because I still haven't confided in her, and she was worried that I would bring Astoria into it instead. I promised her I wouldn't. I never told her my original reason for befriending her, so she was worried you were going to bring up what plots she does know about."
All mostly true statements, but I still look mainly at Harry, who is nodding, to try and avoid Hermione's usual secret detector. Between Hermione and Daphne, how am I supposed to make it through the year without spilling everything?
"No." My blood turns to ice at her flat voice.
"What?" Harry asks.
"No, that's not it," Hermione says. Her chocolate eyes come back into focus and bore into mine. "You would have told us that."
I sigh heavily and slump into my chair, trying to buy time while I figure out what to say. I can't tell them that I know who put Harry's name into the Goblet of Fire, because when I refuse to reveal Moody/Crouch, they would take it to Dumbledore or McGonagall. That's the one piece of information I shared with Daphne that I haven't with them. "I told her that aside from that, I have some information from my past that I'm going to act on, and that I would like her input when I do. I swear on my life and my magic that it's to help you. Please don't ask what it is, I can't...I just can't tell you."
I don't look at them when I admit that, and I close my eyes afterward. It seems like their feelings of betrayal are almost palpable, so my eyes shoot open when Hermione takes a deep breath and speaks. "I believe you, but why do you feel like you can talk to her but not us?"
I release a breath I didn't realize I was holding. I shouldn't tell her this, but... "There may be some danger to me..."
"No!" Hermione says, shooting up off her chair and glaring at me.
I smile grimly. "...and that's why. From your past actions, Harry, I know you believe that some things are worth risking danger for, but I don't think you would let me take any of it. I think you wouldn't be happy unless the only risk is yours."
Harry's jaw clenches in response.
"So you're like Dumbledore," Hermione says softly, "withholding information because you believe you know what's best for Harry."
"Ouch," I say with a grimace. That is especially painful because it's true. "Yes, I suppose that's what I'm doing. My only excuse is that my past gives me a very significant advantage over Dumbledore." I pause, trying to gauge exactly how much they hate me now, which turns out to be a mistake. My heart feels like lead at the hurt in Hermione's face. "I-I told you that you would hate me when you found out, Hermione. I'm sorry that...that..." I want to say more, but the lump in my throat seems to have halted my ability to speak. I stand up and turn around, walking to the wall where the exit should appear.
It doesn't. But I can't face them, so I stand in front of the wall, biting my lip to stop myself from breaking down.
"Harry," Hermione says, finally breaking the silence. Her voice is emotionless. "Will you let me speak to William alone?"
I'm shocked enough by this that I turn around to find Harry equally surprised. "Y-yes, of course."
He stands and I find I can't look into his eyes. "I'm sorry," I say as he walks toward the exit.
"We won't be long," Hermione promises.
With a last look back that I don't have the heart to return, he walks out and closes the door gently behind him.
Hermione regards me silently, I can tell, but I still can't look at her. "You knew about the dragons, you knew about the egg... You know what's going to happen, don't you?"
Without meaning to do so I jerk my head in surprise at her, which gives her all the confirmation she needs.
"You knew Harry was going to be entered, and how the rest of the school was going to treat him. You knew Ron would get angry, then relent after he saw how dangerous it was. That's your advantage over Dumbledore. That's why it would be so bad if he found out!"
I flop bonelessly on the couch, not knowing what to say.
"It all fits, and it's no wonder it took me so long to puzzle out, because it's completely mad!" She stares at me, chest heaving from speaking so fast. "William, say something!"
"I know some," I admit grudgingly.
"I knew it!" She exclaims, jumping up. "How is this possible? What does this mean?"
"Hermione, I know this didn't work the last time I asked, but please don't follow these lines of reasoning."
"William! I already figured it out! You have to tell me everything!"
"You don't understand, Hermione, my presence here is changing things. The more I change, the less I know. The less I know, the lesser the chance I have to change what really matters. I can't...I can't tell you about what's going to happen, because then it won't, and we'll lose our best opportunity."
"Our best opportunity for what?"
I look at her seriously. "At destroying Riddle once and for all."
She pales and sits back down heavily. "That's what you're planning...William, you can't do it alone. Please tell me you won't try to do it alone."
I chuckle grimly. "I'm not that crazy, Hermione. You know the prophecy, Harry is the only one who can get rid of him." My face falls at that. "And I'm manipulating events, and people, including you and Harry, to stack the odds heavily in our favor for when he has to face the monster."
"But don't you see? I can help you!"
"I'm sorry, Hermione, you'll want to keep everybody out of danger. That's how Dumbledore operates, too, you know. It saves lives in the short run, but costs dozens or hundreds more in the long run."
She looks hurt, which once again crushes my heart. "I would just listen to you...support your decisions. Only suggest better ones."
"You would try to the best of your ability, I believe that completely. But if the plan forming in my head to act on that information comes to fruition, you will try to stop it. I can almost guarantee that."
"Maybe that's for good reason."
"It is for the best reason, but I still can't let you do it." I say, which confuses her thoroughly.
She ponders that statement for a few moments, then she gasps in shock. "Back up: you know when Harry is going to have to face Riddle, don't you?"
"And if I tell you or Dumbledore when, what's going to happen?"
"We'll stop him from...William! You aren't seriously going to let him!"
"Hermione, what did I just tell you? You and Dumbledore...hell, most people would stop him, and you might save a life or two in the short term. And before you ask: no, it's not Harry's. Harry lives through it, like he always does. He duels Voldemort and escapes. Do you want me to start listing the people who die in the future I know? Do you want me to tell you how bad it gets?" I'm standing up now, my voice raised.
She is on the verge of tears so I look away, but I can't back down. "H-how soon?"
"I can't tell you specifics, it's too dangerous," I answer, forcing myself back to calm. "But I will say that Riddle is currently some sort of homunculus in the care of Peter Pettigrew. If only I'd been sent back to your First Year, I could have had somebody collect the Horcruxes and destroy them then, and when Harry defeated Quirrell, it would have been over. But now, even if the Horcruxes are destroyed, we still have Voldemort's body to contend with."
Her eyes are haunted. "What about the one in Harry?"
I look at her seriously. "The only way I know for it to be destroyed is how it's destroyed in the original timeline: when Harry is struck by a Killing Curse from Riddle himself."
"No! You mean we lose?"
"No, actually...Harry doesn't die. I'm not sure exactly what happens, but it's only the piece of Riddle's soul inside Voldemort that dies. Harry comes back and duels him again – his third time – several years from now, and kills him once and for all."
Her jaw drops. "So we win?"
I grimace. "Nobody wins in war, Hermione. There are only survivors. That's what I'm trying to prevent."
"W-who? Who dies?"
I raise an eyebrow at her. "You sure you want to know something like that?"
She clenches her jaw, but nods. "I want to know who you're fighting to save, when clearly you could have left everything to play out normally."
I look at her seriously. "I suppose a few choice events might change your mind. There is a mass breakout from Azkaban – every single Death Eater there." She pales, but presses her lips together resolutely. "Remember the vanishing cabinet? Why do you think I know about that? A certain person who shall remain nameless fixes it in a few years, and several of the current residents of Azkaban come to visit Hogwarts." When that only gets a lip tremble, I push a little harder. "Dumbledore is murdered that night." She bursts into tears at that, so I stop. "I told you—"
"No! No, keep going."
I give her a hard look, but she doesn't relent. "After Dumbledore is gone, there is little left to stop Riddle from essentially taking over. Muggles in this country are subjected to almost constant terror attacks. Hermione, you use the Memory Charm on your own parents. You remove all traces of yourself from their memories and convince them to move to Australia."
She bawls her eyes out now, and I'm sure she's had enough. But still she pushes. "But they live, right? Who d-dies, William? Just tell me."
"It's not just adults, Hermione – the final battle takes place at Hogwarts, where lots of damage is done to the castle and many students take part against hundreds of Death Eaters, including current students. And plenty of people die between when Voldemort comes back and then. Severus Snape. Colin Creevey. Alastor Moody. Lavender Brown. Amelia Bones. Cedric Diggory." I look at her sadly. "Remus Lupin...Fred Weasley...Sirius Black."
"Remus was married by then, Hermione. He and his wife had a baby. They were both killed a couple months after that."
"No..." she throws herself on me, burying her face in my shoulder and crying.
"Do you see? They aren't the only family destroyed by letting Riddle get away to gather his Death Eaters. He has less than twenty when Harry faces him the first time. He has two hundred when he faces him the final time. I have to do this, Hermione. I have to."
She doesn't come up for air for a long time.
So you can imagine why I had to go back and throw Hermione off my trail. Do you think I would have been able to convince her to keep quiet? True, I convinced her about smaller things like the Room of Requirement and the prophecy (although some reviewers found even that stretched believability), but when it comes right down to it, I just didn't see that working.
And now what you all (or at least, maybe, some of you) have been waiting for...
With practiced ease I slide the key into the keyhole and open the mailbox. Under the influence of muscle memory I start closing it again after the briefest of glances. But this time, my hand and my heart stop at the exact same moment. My mind goes completely blank when I find a single letter lying within, affixed with quite a bit of postage...international postage. No name is written with the return address – a jumble of numbers and letters I barely register as an address before I tear open the envelope. My eyes skip straight to the end, straight to the signature at the bottom. As soon as I see it, my head swims, my eyes go blurry, and my arms start shaking.
My world goes dark.
My eyes shoot open.
Or at least, I think they do, but apparently my world decided to stay dark. My sense of balance tells me I'm lying flat on my back, but that's all I really know. Feeling around for the letter, I come up with absolutely nothing except the knowledge that the floor is a lot dirtier than any post office has a right to be. Also, there's a wall. Smothering a stream of curses at my jammed fingers, I sweep my legs outward and listen carefully for rustling paper.
Nothing. What of the letter itself? I try to picture the letter as if I could remember something from it, but all I can picture are generic paragraphs. I can't even remember if it was addressed to me specifically. But I do remember the signature: Ophion...the serpent coiled around the egg that birthed the universe, according to some story in Greek mythology. Ophion was also the subject of the pendant I had carved a lifetime ago for a dear friend. But what could that possibly mean? Was it she who sent the letter, and if so, why would she sign it like that? Perhaps her sister? Neither option made much sense, at least not without reading the rest of the letter. Damn it, what did it say?
Okay, so taking stock of my surroundings is apparently worthless. I can't see, so I'm not about to go exploring just yet. It smells...stale, I guess; I smell a pervasive, earthy odor that isn't exactly pleasant but neither is it enough to be discomforting. I do hear some distant noise, but it's just that: indistinguishable, distant noise. However, my own shifting and rustling indicates I'm in some large room, but beyond that I know nothing. I feel...what do I feel? Suddenly it hits me all at once.
I feel...magic! It's back! I poke and prod at it just like I had so many times before...before I died. I remember waking up this morning like I did every morning and wondering if it was all a dream, but here I am, laid out on a dirty floor who knows where, jammed fingers throbbing too painfully for a dream. And yet I can feel my magic once again there in my gut, a comfortable presence that I had missed all that time. Was it the same? I can't tell; it seems calm at the moment, though I distinctly remember it once roiled within, eager to escape and be shaped to my will. Was it just that I never paid that much attention? Tentatively I pull off a couple separate streams like loose threads, except they snap back to the source when I release them, as expected. Obviously it's invisible so it doesn't really have a color, but it doesn't feel like the pure white magic I twice felt before in extreme situations. I wonder if I can even access it anymore, considering...what happened. But clearly this normal magic – cyan, I decide is its color – is back. Am I back, then?
A growing clatter jolts me out of my internal diagnosis just as I decide that I should conjure a light, and faintly reflected light gives me my first view of my surroundings. It's an enormous room with cracked and grayed marble walls and pillars along either side. The light is filtering through the doorway in the center of the wall to my right, and I'm reminded of some kind of old formal hall in a castle despite the apparent lack of any furnishings whatsoever. Suddenly a group of people burst through the door – four of them as far as I can tell, since my view of the door is unobstructed by the columns – and one collapses on the floor.
"You people are crazy," the collapsed one says, and then pulls off a helmet. Wait, a helmet? The castle thing might not be too far off the mark.
I consider eavesdropping for a little while, but I really don't want to piss them off. I decide to take my chances with revealing myself. "Hello?" Their heads whip around and the one with the flashlight aims it right at me. A flashlight...so batteries appear to work wherever we are. I flinch at the sudden brightness after spending so much time in the dark. "Can you help me?"
"Who's there?" A female voice.
"I...uh...William," I say, deciding on the spot to use my old imaginary name. It sounds odd on my tongue now. I stand and brush myself off, looking down to find myself wearing the same jeans and polo I had been wearing at the post office. "I just woke up here a minute ago," I say as I walk slowly toward them, my hands up in front of my eyes. I figure besides shading my still adjusting eyes it lets them see I'm not armed. "Where am I?"
There was nothing but silence behind the light for several moments, then the light turns away to reveal a short, red-haired girl dressed in normal clothing. What the hell? Didn't the first guy have a helmet of some sort on? It could have been a prop or something...
And there you have it: the first thousand words or so of the 10k word first chapter.
So, not what you were expecting? I left a little, tiny hint about where William ended up, but no names because that's just too easy. But I have grand plans for this adventure, and they may involve tackling the question that is often answered in other OC SIs but never answered in this one: why William ended up in the Potterverse in the first place. And they may involve a reappearance of a character from this story!
Yes? No? I'm working on a number of other projects at the moment, so no promises on when I'll start publishing it. And no promises that the final version will look exactly like this...I can never resist tweaking these things as I go.
And this is the last update I will be making to this story, unless you find some errors for me to fix. Do you agree with my analysis? Did I miss anything? Thank you for reading, and a big thank you especially for all of those who left me reviews, especially the extensive constructive criticism that helps me grow as a writer.