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The Elder Tree by the opaleye

Rated: 1st-2nd Years • 7 Reviews Past Featured Story
Summary: It would have been no surprise to see Vernon Dursley sitting on the frosty concrete of the empty playground one winter evening. It was not a cold winter that year. In fact, the snow had not yet fallen and Christmas was two days away.

Vernon returns to his childhood haunt after his first term at Smeltings only to encounter a strange old woman. Who is she? And what on earth is a Muggle?

This is the opaleye of Slytherin writing for The Untold Story Challenge in the Great Hall on the Beta Forums .

Nominated in the 2010 QSQ Awards for Best General Story.

Reviewer: Dory_the_Fishie Signed
Date: 11/28/09 Title: Chapter 1: The Elder Tree

Vernon Dursley has never been a character for whom I have felt any particular sympathy. He’s just been that character that I hate so much, because he’s so cruel to Harry. This fic, while it didn’t make me like Vernon any more, did do a wonderful job showing how Vernon got to be the person he is in the books. It’s a great piece of characterization, and I really enjoyed reading it.

The opening of this, with the description of the tree in the playground, is great for two reasons. First, it’s just some really nice description. I love that it gets in the way of the boys playing football, because you continued with that little sport theme in reference to Vernon playing rugby and not being able to really play football with the other boys. But mostly I just love the way you describe the tree as a soldier; you gave us just the right amount of description without going overboard, and it was lovely to read. Second, the tree means so much for Vernon and for this story. It ends up representing everything that Vernon hates in the world, and I love that you took something so seemingly insignificant and turned it into something so important. I also love that the tree is situated right in the middle of the Muggle world; it’s almost worth wondering if there’s any part of the Muggle world that the wizards haven’t managed to touch in some way.

The young Vernon that you portray here is perfect. He’s exactly who I imagine he was at that age. It’s easy to see how he grew into the Uncle Vernon we know from the books, but he still seems like a kid here. He’s not just a physically smaller version of adult Vernon, but a truly younger version who grows up to be adult Vernon. The idea that Vernon himself was bullied is interesting. To be honest, I’ve never really given much thought to Vernon as a child, but I can easily picture a bullied Vernon. It works even better because it shows why he was so determined that Dudley be important; he didn’t want his son facing the same taunts as his father. He was making up for his own insecurities, in a way. It also goes along with why hates abnormality so much; he sees normality as the only way to avoid being called names, and so he pushes away everything that threatens his nice, normal world.

With the appearance of the old woman, I found myself trying to figure out who she was. I wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be someone we’ve met in canon, and so as I was reading I was going through a bunch of really minor characters in my head. But it turns out she isn’t someone we’ve met before, and I like that. I like that there’s someone who goes and collects the Elder tree branches for Ollivander, I like that the tree is right smack dab in the middle of a Muggle playground, I like that she meets Vernon once. I just really like everything about this fic. You did such a good job in giving us this little missing moments of sorts; it could totally fit into canon.

”Excuse me, but are you allowed to do that?” This line from Vernon is great. It’s perfect that he decides to ask if she’s allowed to take the branches, because we know that adult Vernon is quite the stickler for proper rules. It’s slightly humorous that he thinks bringing up the ambiguous allowance of her actions will deter her, because it seems that in canon, wizards and witches tend to pay Muggle rules little mind. All of the dialogue from Vernon is wonderful, and I won’t quote all of it, but that line in particular was one that I liked.

But she continued to come, as normal. Love the ending. To end with the word ‘normal’ – it’s just fantastic. Really, when it comes to the tree and the witch who comes for the branches, Vernon and the other Muggles are the abnormal parts of the equation, but of course Vernon doesn’t see it that way. For Vernon, the witch is abnormal, and with this encounter, he ends up hating things that are different for the rest of his life. You showed, too, that he already had a growing dislike for such abnormal things, but this interaction to really push him over the edge was great. Overall, I thought this fic was brilliant. It’s extremely well-written and gave a wonderful insight into Vernon Dursley’s character. Excellent work, and keep it up!

Author's Response: Wow, what a great review! Thank you very much. It's so nice to open my inbox and see a shiny new review waiting for me! I'm really glad to see that you felt Vernon's characterisation as a child was up to par. I didn't want to make him seem like a mini version of his adult self. He had to be distinct from that character yet remain the same person. I put a lot of work into making this fic just right and it was fun to explore a hated character. I'm also glad you found it humorous at times. Writing Vernon is very humourous so it's good that came through. The ending was definitely planned to end that way. I really wanted Vernon's desire for normality to come through and it ended up being the underlying theme for the whole fic. Again, thank you very much for the fantastic (and perceptive) review. It was a pleasure to read and made me smile :)

Illusions by inspirations

Rated: 3rd-5th Years • 2 Reviews
On the first evening back home in the summer, you seek out the beach. You pick your way through the wild tangles of green grass, boycotting the natural path that a million others have trod before.

Reviewer: Dory_the_Fishie Signed
Date: 03/31/10 Title: Chapter 1: ... those thoughts become more harsh, more blunt...

Well, hello there, Spire! I’m so glad you’re this month’s author, because it means I got to read this lovely little fic.

I first want to comment on your use of the second person. I myself am a huge fan of second person, and I’m always thrilled to see a fic that uses it well. I thought it was a wonderful choice. For one thing, it does a good job concealing the identity of the main character. But it also, I think, helps the reader identify more closely with the character. We’ve all probably experienced some sort of loss, and so we can understand, to some extent, what Cho is feeling here. When you say ‘you,’ we know it’s us. We’re right there with Cho, and it makes the fic all the more powerful.

Your writing, of course, helps with the strength of the fic. I found your imagery and description particularly great. There were many parts where I could just picture perfectly what you were saying, or completely feel what Cho was feeling. This line especially caught my eye: You pick your way through the wild tangles of green grass, boycotting the natural path that a million others have trod before. I love the ‘tangles’ of grass, and the use of ‘boycotting’ is really interesting. It suggests a particular defiance, I think, that works very well. Cho is deliberately choosing not to go the way everyone else has, which could be combination of her knowing the place so well and her wanting, perhaps, to lose herself a little.

I have to mention the use of Romeo and Juliet here. Admittedly, I’m not big on the play. I feel that it’s often misinterpreted as some grand love story, when to me it’s much more of a tragedy, and also a bit silly in some parts. That said, I am relieved you drew the parallel here as more relating to Cho’s despair at Cedric’s death than to their roles as ‘star-crossed lovers.’ The comparison is interesting, but for me, it’s unnecessary. I suppose it helps emphasize the totality of Cho’s grief, but I would have much preferred the fic without it. It just felt extraneous and tad clichéd to me. Perhaps other readers have felt differently, but I’ve seen so many Romeo and Juliet comparisons that they’ve gotten a bit old.

The idea of Cedric being present with Cho on the beach is very nice. I especially like it because we have sort of seen Cedric in ‘ghost’ form in the books, when he emerges from Voldemort’s wand. So for some reason, it seems even more possible that he would appear here (don’t ask me why, it just does >.>). It creates an even more poignant scene, with Cho knowing somehow that Cedric is there but being unable to really be with him. It’s heartbreaking, and honestly I’ve never cared much about Cho, but I was feeling for her here.

Overall, I thought this was a great piece. Great job using second person and making me actually care about Cho. Keep it up!

Author's Response: Thank you, Leanne! Especially for the comments on second person which I love feedback on, since it's one of my favourite voices. On the Romeo and Juliet thing... this was a very spur of the moment fic, something I just sat down and wrote, and they just kinda found their way into it :p Which is funny really, since the plot to that story annoys me just because it's so melodramatic imo. Thanks again :) x

Little Man by Indigoenigma

Rated: 6th-7th Years • 1 Reviews
Summary: Little boy, you're a man. Little man, you're a king.

This is the story of how Regulus came to realize that even little kings can fall.
Reviewer: Dory_the_Fishie Signed
Date: 02/25/10 Title: Chapter 1: Green and Broken Glass

Dearest Kelly, I loved this fic, and I feel terrible for not reviewing it earlier. I had every intention to, and then, well, you know how things get in the way. But I’m here now to express how much I appreciated that you wrote this for me.

Diving right in here with a bit that I loved: You’ve spent the last few months finding the perfect place to view her usual seat at the table. I mean, Regulus is totally kind of stalking Lily, isn’t he? But that’s sort of what people do when they fancy someone, especially as teenagers, and that is, after all, what Regulus is here. A teenager. I think it’s easy to forget that, because Regulus died so young and the little that we know of him from canon might make it seem like he was older than he really was. Finding the balance between the clearly intelligent and eventually brave Regulus that sacrificed himself to help eliminate Voldemort, and the teenager who probably had his share of embarrassing moments and schoolboy crushes – it’s not easy, but I think you did a wonderful job in this fic. There’s this as well: Without hesitating, you abandon your breakfast and friends and make to follow him discreetly. Again, Regulus is a bit of a stalker. I think that also works well with his being a Slytherin. He’s sort of stealthy and manipulative and secretive. Maybe that’s getting into stereotype territory, but for some reason it just melds very well with my idea of Regulus.

Continuing with the characterization of Regulus in this fic, I want to touch on the jealousy you portray. I think it’s brilliant. I think Regulus would definitely be jealous of James, who seemingly has everything Regulus wants, and also partially of Sirius, who seemingly has everything Regulus might not realize he wants. Even though Regulus has grown up as the favorite son, and he completely recognizes the status he holds and the power of his family, he’s missing things. It is – and always has been – easy to get exactly what you want. For perhaps one of the first times in his life, he can’t have something he wants. Here’s this great girl, and he can’t have her. For a number of reasons that all trace back to him, and who he is. In some ways, it’s easy to envision the path that Regulus follows. He’s searching for validation and other things he can’t really determine, and he goes looking for them as a Death Eater. Here, in this fic, he’s right at that point. He’s presumably very close to becoming a Death Eater, and it’s clear from the way you write him that he’s on that edge of uncertainty and trying to find real direction.

On another characterization note, I absolutely loved Snape in this. I just thought you wrote so well. I had no trouble picturing him or hearing him in my head; just everything was spot on. I also found the relationship between Snape and Regulus really interesting. It’s clear when Regulus is with Avery and Wilkes as well that he has some power amongst this group of future Death Eater. Even though Snape is older than him and probably at this point enjoys some real influence, Regulus deals with him in exactly the way he needs to in order to get what he wants. He’s manipulative, he knows which strings to pull. It’s perfect. No harm was done; it was only a word. Loved that line. Regulus is subtle but not impossible. He knows what he’s doing, and it’s rather remarkable. And Snape’s reaction to it all is great as well. He doesn’t really want to do anything for Regulus, but he’s going to because he understands when to fight back and when to provide. It’s something about his character that we see so many times in canon, and it’s great to see that bit of characterization in a piece like this.

Of course I have to mention the use of the second person here. You know of my love for the second person, so naturally I was thrilled to see it. I think it works really interestingly here. It could make the fic seem like a pathetic self-insertion deal, with the reader identifying a little too much with the protagonist, but it doesn’t at all. You managed to find the line between that and simply gaining an insight into Regulus’s mind. It also offers a really different and interesting perspective on characters that we seem to know relatively well (e.g., James, Sirius, Snape). Because we’re only with Regulus throughout this whole fic, we see what he sees. We experience things the way he would, and it’s a skewed view of things, but it’s really nice. It’s especially effective when Regulus is James. That little nod he gives his fellow Slytherin – it’s one of those things that just works so well in second person, because you feel yourself, in a way, giving that nod and then realizing the carelessness of your action. And just quickly, speaking of the Regulus-James, I absolutely loved the scene of Regulus changing. Just everything about that scene is wonderful. The detail completely made it. The bit about his feet being the same size? I don’t know, I just thought it was brilliant.

He deserves Lily more than you ever could. You know, I think James gets a lot of crap in the fandom. People quite like to ship Lily with other characters, and even though there are obviously about a billion James/Lily fics out there, there are also a fair number of people who sort of despise the guy. But James was really the one who was there for Lily and who, no matter what anyone says, Lily loved and chose to be with. I have my Lily/Whoever ships, to be sure, but in the end I’ll always be James/Lily, and I love fics that have the other character realizing the epicness that is James/Lily. Here, I think it says a lot about Regulus’s character as well. It’s mature of Regulus to understand that he isn’t right for Lily, but it’s also back to that low self-esteem thing of just being a teenager and not thinking you’re good enough for anybody or anything.

So, to sum up, I loved this. Wonderfully written, of course, and thank you so much! -squishes-

Author's Response: I'm so glad that you liked it! It was very strange to write what I considered to be "your" terrirory - second person, Maurader Era. But anyways. I totally agree with you about James. I appreciate Lily with other characters, but there's just something that you can't really deny about the two of them together. *squishes*

Must Be/Maybe by Indigoenigma

Rated: 3rd-5th Years • 5 Reviews
Summary: There is always the question of what must be and what simply may be. No matter the answer, the question is one of the most difficult to grapple with - something both Remus and Tonks quickly find out.
Reviewer: Dory_the_Fishie Signed
Date: 02/25/10 Title: Chapter 1: Fools

Let me just revel for a second in the brilliance of getting two Kelly fics in two swaps, because, you know, that’s completely awesome. I feel exceedingly lucky. Thank you!

I’m going to start out with the title, because. How much do I love the title? So much. Aside from it just being nice to say, and nice to hear in my head, and nice to look at, I love the meaning behind it. It really reflects the uncertainty and, conversely, the absolute certainty of Tonks and Remus’s relationship. Tonks is sure she loves him, sure she wants to be with him, and Remus doesn’t want to let himself love, and he refuses her. And then he accepts her, and they’re together, but there’s always some level of regret, isn’t there? Especially with Tonks’ pregnancy and Remus’s leaving. It’s just a rocky relationship in a lot of different ways, even though it’s something that’s totally right. Not everybody is a Remus/Tonks fan, but I definitely am (which was probably evident from the fact that I requested a Remus/Tonks story, y/y? >.>), and I think you managed to really capture their relationship, just with the title. So, brilliant.

I also love the simplicity of this story. It takes place in a relatively brief period of time, just this one morning-after, and that sense of time is so wonderful. Particularly with the owls interrupting their sleep – it’s so clear that this isn’t some long, drawn-out deal. It’s a very short moment of not knowing and not being sure and needing confirmation or trying to undo something that’s already done. I just love it. And, skipping to the end, I love that it took just a few words from Tonks for Remus to realize that, yes, he wants this.

All of the other men she had known in school or from work weren’t as interesting or as kind or as funny as Remus, even when he was exhausted and mentally drained. This is something that I think perfectly summarizes Remus. Despite all his faults – and of course he has them, just like any other person – Remus is one of those good people. He just is. He’s inherently kind-hearted and lovely, and even on his bad days he’s better than a lot of people. And this is what Tonks knows and Remus struggles with. It’s why Tonks is good for him. She pushes him to believe that he’s worth something, and here, reading it straight from her mind, we get see how fully she believes in Remus. It’s so wonderful to see, and so beautiful for their relationship.

I think, in the span of just a couple thousand words, you understood Remus and Tonks better than a lot of authors do with a couple dozen chapters. Remus and Tonks lend themselves well to one-shots and brief moments, I think, and you executed that perfectly here. This fic is what I love about the Remus/Tonks relationship. It’s simple but beautiful, and it conveys the indecision of these two characters in even being in a relationship. Just, lovely job. I heart you loads for writing it. -squishes-

Author's Response: Leanne, it was an absolute pleasure to write this for you. I'd never written Remus/Tonks before and I'm incredibly pleased that you enjoyed my interpretation. I found that I greatly enjoyed writing them. Thank you for being wonderful. *squishes*

Dancing Petals by Sapphire at Dawn

Rated: 1st-2nd Years • 7 Reviews
Summary: It's Dudley Dursley's fifth birthday party, and Aunt Marge has just whacked Harry around the shins for doing too well at musical statues. Sad and lonely, Harry takes comfort in the small daisies that are littered at his feet. However, for one adult watching, the child's actions cause less than comforting memories to resurface.
Reviewer: Dory_the_Fishie Signed
Date: 03/31/10 Title: Chapter 1: Chapter 1

Usually when I’m looking for a fic to review for SPEW, I choose authors that I know or fics that have been recc’ed to me, but occasionally I just scroll through the recently added page and pick something. I’m so glad I did that this month, because I stumbled upon this lovely little fic.

I’m just going to dive right in with a bit that I particularly liked: Her favourite bulldog, Ripper, was snoozing in her shadow, one small beady eye half open as if he was scanning for trouble makers. I like this line for a couple of reasons. First, the casual mention of Ripper is a great way to incorporate canon without being obvious about it; it’s a nice way to bring us more fully into the setting, because we know little details like this. I also like the image of Ripper sleeping with one eye half open, because it’s humorous and slightly frightening at the same time, and for some reason I can totally see this dog doing that. And finally, and this is something I’ll get to in a bit, it’s just written well. The use of ‘snoozing’ instead of the more common ‘sleeping’ caught my eye for some reason. It just stood out to me as en example of what is clearly a wide vocabulary, and shows that you’re thinking about the words you put in a sentence.

I love the idea of this fic. Young Harry isn’t something I’ve read often, so admittedly I don’t have much to compare this to, but I still think this is just a wonderful look into his life before we meet him at eleven years old. It fits perfectly into canon and could very well have happened. I mean, we did learn about the musical statues thing from canon, but the way you’ve built around such a small mention is great. That’s what I love about fan fiction – you can fill in missing moments and still have them work within the established world. In this fic, you simply did a great job writing your own story, but keeping it in line with what we already know.

He watched as the thin petals opened and closed like the wings of a butterfly, unaware that many years ago, his own mother had sat like this, charming the flowers in the exact same way. This is just a lovely line. I love imagining young Lily sitting there like young Harry; it creates such a nice parallel. It’s a bit sad at the same time, but in a good way, you know? I just love it. And the imagery of the petals like the wings of a butterfly is, again, simply good writing.

The second half of this, with Petunia, is great. I have never been a fan of Petunia, not even when we learned more about her in the later books, but the insight here was really good. The idea of splitting this short scene between Harry and Petunia is in itself great, but the way you wrote Petunia was also just spot-on. Her discomfort at Harry doing magic, her attempts not to think about her sister – they were very in-character. Again, fits perfectly with the Petunia we know from canon. I also loved Harry’s little, “It’s not hurting you.” I can so picture him saying that, and his simple defiance of her and her absurd hatred of all things different.

Overall, I think this fic displays a really strong grasp of language and writing. I mentioned the ‘snoozing’ thing before, but that wasn’t the only part that stood out to me. Just your word choice in general, I think, shows a mastery of language. It’s clear from this fic that you know how to write. The story flowed really well and is just, well, good. Keep up the great work, and thanks for such a lovely read!

Author's Response: Oh my goodness! I think this might be the best review I've ever had! Thank you so much for all your wonderful comments, they really mean a lot! Thank you!