You know, I’m going to preface my review with a bit of honesty. I’ve recently read a story focused on Petunia and Harry’s interaction before Hogwarts and really didn’t like what was done with it. So much so, in fact, that I nearly didn’t read this story because of it. But now I’m here to admit to the entire planet that it was a good thing I did so anyway.
It is a fine line to walk when writing Petunia. There is such a temptation to either turn her into a fire-breathing monster or to make her out to be a carbon copy of that sad little girl who lost her best friend/sister in The Prince’s Tale, but you were able to use a bit of both and turn her into the Petunia we knew from the very early chapters of Sorcerer’s Stone. She still resented Harry’s presence but showed the signs of knowing what was happening and being spooked by the tell-tale signs of magic in Harry. The title in itself is evidence to that with the recurrence of ‘funny business’.
Harry well and truly had my sympathy in this story. You did so well in illustrating the subtle neglect that he had suffered but not making it sound so…it’s hard to pick a word, but I’ll go with demonic. It’s just a fact of life to him that when he is perceived to have misbehaved, he gets pent up in the cupboard and doesn’t get fed. Yet when he shows outrage at this, it’s not because of the treatment itself, it’s because he had honestly not done it. This shows the true mettle of Harry’s character as seen in the series, and it underscored his characterisation tidily.
I really like how Harry was able to work this out. We see in the series that, while Hermione is the major brain behind the Trio, he is not without powers of deduction himself. While his stealth left something to be desired, he knew that Dudley was a prime suspect in setting him up and that the necklace had to be connected to his mum in some way for Petunia to treat it with such disregard. I adore his fearlessness and his bravado in being willing to attack Dudley for screwing with him and getting him into trouble. That is just so indelibly Harry, charging into action with little regard for personal safety.
And as for Dudley, I think for the time period he was in the story, he was appropriately meat-headed and manipulative, so that makes a triad of wonderful characterisations on your part.
The tokens of Lily ate at me a little for a couple of reasons — one good and one not so much. When Harry was musing over his prior adventures in the attic, I wanted to mother him so badly. No child should have to wonder about their parents in such ways, hardly knowing their names, let alone what their hobbies were. Sure, we all know that it wasn’t a knitting needle he was holding, but for him not to realise, it’s truly heart-breaking to contemplate.
On the same vein, though, Harry playing around with the wand did sort of seem strange to me. We know from Ollivander’s that one swish of the wrong wand could decimate a room, so it strikes me as a bit odd that he could fiddle around with a wand and not have anything of note happen. Also, I do hesitate a bit at the idea of Petunia storing an envelope from the magical world without the letter it came with, if at all. If, because she subliminally misses her sister, she is hanging onto this missive, it makes sense that it would actually be in the envelope. I’m definitely not saying that your version is wrong, but it is something to think about.
The plot! You’ve managed to spin a tale of intrigue without even setting foot outdoors or having to involve police to find the culprit. And what a culprit! You genuinely had me wondering what awful git was lurking in the house, nicking jewellery, and then blaming Dudley for being an awful, awful brat for framing Harry. But you managed to throw a neat little kink into the works by having the necklace in essence steal itself when it sensed that it was about to be taken away from its rightful place.
In terms of the story being a mystery, I think it was suitably so. I think it was a proper mystery in that Harry, the main character, was still trying to figure out what had just happened and never quite did, but as an audience, readers are satisfactorily informed of important events and facts. The most notable instance of this was the end. I understood what the necklace was, and I wanted to badly to tell Harry about his mother and about how she and Petunia used to be friends and that the necklace had likely been Lily’s attempt at an olive branch between them. But this is part of the wonderful way you told the story, the way you spun your mystery. The fun was almost more in Harry’s personal exploration than it was in figuring out the whodunit aspect.
Your writing style is very clean and easy to read. I appreciate how you use clear, concise language to depict two different stories in the necklace’s history and the current events in the search for it, yet I was never lost or wondering which subject you were on. The duality of the tale was so well done, and I felt satisfied at the end with both the results of the story and how I got there as a reader.
If I were to offer one piece of advice, it would be to do something about the way you add dashes. The way they currently read, they look like plain old hyphens. It does present a minor challenge when reading to discern whether it is a strange hyphenated word or a dash. This isn’t hard to fix, especially if you use Microsoft Word (in any edition from 97 and newer). You can either add a space after a word, type out your dash, and then add another space, which makes work out like this – a clear and legible dash. Or you can type your word, add two dashes, and just type the next word. It auto-connects the dashes and elongates it—which is also easy to see and tidy (whether to add spaces before and after is up to you). It’s by no means a flaw in the story, but I think fixing this would greatly add to the flow of your story and take away the chance of the minor hiccups I had while reading.
Overall, this is one fabulous story, especially for a first-timer. I seriously cannot believe that this is your first fic. I lurked your author page and was gobsmacked to find that you’d never published anything here before. There is such good quality in your work that I would expect from someone whose page is a bit more lengthy, so hurray for you! That just tells me that, if you stick with it and keep writing, you can easily become one of the better authors in MNFF. Definitely one with the best usernames (unlike my obnoxious one, lol).
Thank you for reading my thoughts on your story, and I hope that I was able to encourage and help you today. You’ve written a lovely fic, and I sincerely hope that you continue to publish on the site. You’re a decent storyteller, and with any luck, I hope to see you again soon on the most recent list.
Author's Response: Wow, Jess! Thank you so much for this incredible review! I appreciate everyone who has posted a review for me, but you really took a lot of time. As for this being my first story and not having much in my profile, I do hope to do lots more. I am definitely an "older fan." Let's just say my first fandom was Star Wars -- when the originals were out! And I wrote a little bit of fan fiction then, but that was before the Internet. Since then, I've been writing novels and trying to get published, and even landed a literary agent, but you know what? It's no fun. And until you get published, you really don't have readers to interact with -- just critiquers and editors and people you're trying to sell to. When I discovered HP a short three years ago, I really started wanting to write fan fiction again but until I saw the May challenge, didn't really know what to write. Hopefully this will inspire me! And I will work on the dashes. The submission process and the HTML were a bit alien to me. Thanks again. (and I hope it was okay to post this kind of response here. Again, I'm definitely a newbie here.) Robin
Nice :) ! Totally in-character.
Thanks to all of you who have reviewed--and so quickly! I was a bit nervous about posting, but this has been so much fun! Thanks again.
Good story, almost shows Petunia with a heart.
I always like reading fics about Harry before he knew he was a wizard. I think that the way you give Harry 'survival instincts' like knowing when to stay out of the way, brings him more into character. I also like the fact that Petunia would keep a necklace that Lily gave to her. They were sisters, after all, and whatever happened between them can't change that.
I thought that Harry's lack of knowledge of his past would make the story boring, but actually, it made me more interested to see his childlike ideas, such as the fact that he thought of Lily knitting blankets for him. Basically, this was a great fic. Thanks for writing it
Super cute! Well done!
Lots of Love,
Rene Luna Smith
I loved the way you made me picturise the whole situation-especially the necklace inching towards Harry :) -Maimi
I liked this story a lot! I felt really sad for Harry and felt like kicking Dudley for getting Harry into trouble like that ;). I loved Petunia for some reason, though. Your characterisation of her was spot on. I loved how she wanted to keep the necklace because Lily had given it, though she didn't really like her. Kind of shows that she still treasured the moments when they used to be very close friends. You did a really good job with this one :) Keep up the good work! --Nadia
Author's Response: Thanks to all of you who have reviewed--and so quickly! I was a bit nervous about posting, but this has been so much fun! Thanks again.