February 26, 2021
Of all the tropes in modern-day literature and entertainment as a whole, few are more enrapturing than the idea of a main protagonist slipping down a deep and treacherous slope which leads into an ominous pit of darkness and danger. It is something that is probably done best in Star Wars. It isn’t something I ever watched growing up, yet even I know of the stories of descent in that series. But the prospect of an idealized character turning to the dark side or giving into his inner evils is hardly a new concept. Shakespeare does it in plays like Macbeth, which were written centuries ago. There are other stories, too. Mythology of any kind isn’t without its fair share of these tales, by example.
The point that I am trying to make is that a protagonist’s descent into darkness is one of the most intriguing arcs one can possibly craft.
The key word there is ‘can’.
Look no further for why I must qualify that than Harry Potter fanfiction. The trope of Harry going dark is probably the single most popular fanfiction trope out there. Frankly, I can see why. It really makes perfect sense. Modern-day psychology would argue that, based on his upbringing, it was actually far more likely Harry turned out closer to Riddle than how he was actually portrayed in the books. And this is no shot at J.K Rowling. Harry’s arc actually works very well with her world, because it gets across the power of resilience; something that, for all of her flaws, she does a great job of exploring throughout the series.
But the point is, the potential is there, it is just often wasted. More authors than I can count or will ever know have tried their hands at writing a story in which Harry descends into darkness. Some are more black and white. One of the more popular ones is BolshevikMuppet’s Downward Spiral Saga, and another is Kurinoone’s The Darkness Within. These are two of the more glaring examples of a Harry who is quintessentially dark and indisputably evil. Others are not so black and white. I am of the opinion that the best dark Harry story ever written is probably DarknessEnthroned’s A Cadmean Victory. This one is controversial though. One because well, in general, the fic is quite divisive, but also in the categorization of Harry. I don’t think anyone would argue that Harry is a good person in ACV, but he does eventually oppose Riddle in the end, and most of the decisions he makes throughout the story are with the end goal of destroying the monster that is Voldemort.
This brings up a very interesting question regarding dark Harry stories, and it actually ties into one of the many things I think almost all authors of this genre fail at, though it is something DarknessEnthroned did very well.
First, let me ask you the question: what does it mean to be dark? Now, the answer is going to be different depending upon who is answering it, so I’m not going to do so, but I think it’s safe to say that it isn’t black and white. This is where a lot of fanfictions fail.
In many of them, Harry becomes a mass-murdering psychopath for the sake of it and his actions have no thought nor real intention. Some stories have a gross number of horrific torture scenes simply to get across the point that Harry is dark, but this is a problem. If you need to shove it down the reader’s throat that your main protagonist isn’t a good person by writing scene after scene with no subtlety or nuance, then you have categorically failed as an author. I’m not even saying none of these scenes should be included, because that isn’t true. If it fits the story for Harry to torture someone and the scene actually serves a specific purpose, then by all means; it will probably even add to the story. But if every second scene is a gritty gore fest simply to remind your readers how awfully immoral your protagonist is, that isn’t a story. It is a collage of horrible deeds that personify the narrative shortcomings that have led into them.
The other massive problem with these stories is impatience or a lack of long-term writing ability. Now, this is something that isn’t easy. I am taking no shots at any authors who have failed in this, because it is one of the hardest things to do correctly. I’m not even saying that I am going to absolutely nail it, because who knows? I am far from perfect and I seek not to speak from a deluded highground, but simply to deconstruct where almost every single popular dark Harry story has failed.
Oftentimes, Harry is the manifestation of true evil from the get-go. Sometimes, this is handwaved away as the influence of his horcrux. Other times, it is just a lack of narrative cohesion. Many people try to portray Harry as the second coming of Tom Riddle, and that isn’t even a horrible way to go.
The problem is that they all look back to that orphanage scene and come to the false conclusion that Riddle’s destiny was a foregone conclusion at the age of eleven. Those people clearly have no idea how to read people, nor do they understand a thing about human psychology. In that orphanage, Riddle was absolutely well on the path and he already had the capacity to turn into the monster he would one day become. However, he was not the walking manifestation of evil. He was not a murderer at eleven and we see him cowed by Dumbledore quite easily. He wasn’t this infallible mastermind with an insatiable thirst for murder and carnage. He was an abused orphan with sociopathic tendencies, psychopathic affinities, and major trust issues.
The gross misinterpretation of this scene by the general fandom just summarizes everything wrong with Harry’s characterization in these stories. Most often, he is a mastermind at the age of eleven whose plans are incapable of failing. He is a murderer by twelve, has slept with half of the school by thirteen, has half the world on his side by fifteen, and has conquered Magical Britain by his majority. No one could have possibly stood in his way and from the age of eleven, he had it all won.
This is not how these stories should ever be told.
No one is at eleven what they are at seventeen. The seeds of what they will become are absolutely there, but people change and develop. Aside from being inarguably lazy and utterly illogical, starting Harry as this dark overlord at the age of eleven just immediately kills the story. By that point, there is nothing interesting you can do. It has often been said that the joy is in the journey, not the destination. While this isn’t entirely true all the time, it is very much the case in many forms of literature. If somebody is reading a long-form piece of fiction, it is because they are interested in the stories being told. If you start off the story with an invincible character with no compunctions or redeeming qualities, there is no development to be had and no conflict can exist. Without development and conflict, you have no story, therefore; you have failed from the onset.
But there are other pitfalls, as well. Even if you manage to write Harry’s character in a convincing way that isn’t just hyperbole for the sake of sating a desire to see an all powerful protagonist break the world, and even if you have managed to write a cohesive and intriguing narrative, there are other pitfalls.
I am going to use another story as an example here and I want to make it very clear that I am not taking shots at this story. I actually enjoy the fic greatly, and it is floating not far outside of my top ten favourite Harry Potter fanfictions of all time. It has one of the most well-written portrayals of Harry’s character ever and the progression throughout the five-ish years written is among the best there is out there. I admire what the author has done with Harry and other characters like Theodore Nott, Barty Crouch Jr, and even Voldemort himself to a lesser extent.
However, I’m sure you see a theme here and many of you may already know which series I am talking about.
The series is Sarcasm & Slytherin over on AO3 and despite the critiques I am about to lay out, I actually encourage those who haven’t read it to at least give it a try. Despite its issues, it does some things better than just about any fanfiction I’ve seen and the writer doubtlessly has a gift for the art, even if they have made a few questionable decisions. Their ability to show progression is something that other authors, including myself, should seek to emulate, for it is truly an ability to be admired.
With that being said, notice how all the beautifully written characters I mentioned are those typically shown to be on the ‘dark’ side in fanfiction. This is no coincidence and I use this fic not to pick on it or to call out the author, but because it is a perfect example of this particular pitfall.
S&S does an awful job of portraying the ‘light’ side of the war. It is clear the story is going for a dark Harry, but when reading it, you find yourself viewing Harry as the hero. Now, let me distinguish this. You can root for Harry in a fic where he is dark, but rooting for him and viewing him as the hero are not the same thing. He isn’t even the hero by default in this fic because of anything he has done. He is viewed by many as the hero in this fic simply because of how heavily bashed and poorly written the supposed heroes are, and that is the pitfall I am speaking of.
In order to write a compelling story, you need conflict, but that word’s connotations are not so simple. Conflict does not just mean what happens on the battlefield, conflict can mean a great many things. Conflict between sides is entirely uninteresting if one of those sides is supposed to be the ‘light’ side but they are impossible to sympathize with and completely inept. Dumbledore is probably the best example of this, not just in S&S but in general.
In S&S though, he is single-handedly responsible for throwing Sirius into Azkaban, he is collecting people by artificially making their lives hell and then ‘helping’ them in order to gain their loyalty, and he has basically tried to ruin Harry’s life at least once every year. For one thing, that is just blatant bashing and poor writing of a character who is very obviously none of the things he is being portrayed as. I’m not even against Dumbledore using some cunning and manipulating the situation every now and again; but for him to do so with such malicious intent and with no regard for those around him is ridiculous and it makes him impossible to sympathize with. Especially later in the fic when the author attempts to show him as the moral one and it just fails utterly because of what was written earlier.
It isn’t just Dumbledore, either. James in S&S completely ignores Harry for the entirety of first year despite having only just met him once more after abandoning him the first time, he tries to prevent a fair trial in third year via his solicitor, he has no problem with his best friend being wrongfully thrown in Azkaban even after the fact, and he disinherits Harry from the family with no provocation and with nothing really to gain from it. It just doesn’t make any sense and it’s making a character who is supposed to be one of your ‘good guys’ a horrible person just for the sake of making them a horrible person.
One of the things that is most interesting about a fic in which Harry goes dark is seeing the descent. It is about knowing that it is happening and feeling horrible about the whole thing because of all the people who it is going to affect. That feeling is gone if the people it is going to effect are complete and total blites on the earth. You can make Harry dark and even evil while still giving him some redeeming qualities that make the reader want it to somehow work out. You don’t need to systematically ruin the portrayal of every character who is opposed to Harry simply to justify his actions. Again, there is no nuance to that. It is blatant hyperbole for hyperbole’s sake and it accomplishes nothing but cheapening your own story and making it inherently one-dimensional — no matter what you do in the future.
Really, I think the formula for writing a dark Harry fic is actually quite obvious and there are so many small but significant ripple effects that could come of it that I have never seen done before.
I know I just spent an absurd number of words rambling about my disdain for the butchering of this trope, but it is important to understand why this story exists. Largely, this story is being written out of spite and frustration. This trope has so much potential, yet it is almost never done well. Also, a realistic Slytherin Harry story in general is something I have always wanted to write. I know I am writing “Ashes of Chaos”, which is a Slytherin Harry fic, but even I wouldn’t argue that story is realistic, despite the fact that I love it to the end of time and back.
I remember arguing with people over what the best Slytherin Harry fic ever written was and one of the answers that came up was On the Way to Greatness.
While I think the technical writing in that story is outstanding, it is one I could never buy into because to me, it just read like Harry in a green tie the entire time. And honestly, that’s okay for a few chapters, because it is an excellent way of showing progression. But when the first four years at least are just canon rehash, I just never quite understood the point. Again, this is no shade at that story or the author and it is only one person’s opinion. They are an incredibly talented author and from a technical writing standpoint, it was marvellously done; I just found it boring, to be blunt. But I very clearly remember in that argument someone telling me it was the best because it was plausibly what could have happened when Harry was sorted into Slytherin. They mentioned how the stories I picked were so unrealistic that it was hard to buy into, which I can understand but again, I countered with realism only being beneficial so long as there is an original story to tell. At this point, I could tell they just didn’t have the capacity to put forth any valid counterpoints, so they resorted to the time-old classic of “Well, since you have so many ideas on how you would write a good, realistic Slytherin Harry story that doesn’t immediately change him and make major AU shifts from the onset, why don’t you do it yourself?”
Well… challenge accepted.
So, I want to write a realistic story in which what I think could feasibly happen if Harry was sorted into Slytherin happens. At the same time, I do not want to rehash canon and I want a Harry who is, at least eventually, undoubtedly dark.
This formula is perfect, because I think all of those things combine naturally.
See, the thing is, Harry wasn’t this all-powerful force at the age of eleven. He was incredibly gifted magically. I know people will try and say he wasn’t, but facts are facts. He mastered the Patronus Charm at thirteen and less than a year later, he went from being incapable of summoning objects to mastering the charm and using it from the forbidden forest within a couple of days. He also outduelled Death Eaters as a teen. It cannot be argued that Harry had unbelievable potential, but that’s just the thing; it was largely wasted.
Harry at eleven was extremely naive and very malleable. He had never been shown genuine affection in all the time he could remember. So naturally, he latched onto not just the first person his age who showed him genuine kindness, but their ideologies as well. Harry not only becomes best friends with Ron and is later incapable of turning down his very questionable apology, but he quite literally models himself after Ron. He takes a liking to Quidditch after Ron preaches about it for ages, he is frequently shown playing wizard’s chess, and he takes a lackadaisical approach to his studies. This last one may seem baffling. How could a student thrown into this magical world care so little about learning not just the magic, but about the world itself? Well, the answer is simple; the first person this malleable, attention-starved child latched onto didn’t care; hence, neither did he.
Now, Harry does eventually evolve. He doesn’t just follow Ron the entire series. By the end of it, he truly is the leader of his group and he has grown into his own. The point I am making here is that at eleven, Harry was ridiculously easy to influence and honestly would have latched onto just about any ideology; even if it might not have happened quite as quickly for… certain groups.
Well, as simple as it is, that is the basis of “Harry Potter and the Perversion of Purity”.
And that is honestly the beauty of it and where so many dark Harry fics fail. The seeds are already there and planted. You don’t need to make wide-scale changes to Harry’s character or his situation off the bat, because the story is right there and can be easily told. It honestly takes a shockingly small number of changes to have massive, wide-reaching effects on not only Harry’s character, but the plot and world around him. You can change one or two things and all of a sudden, your overarching year plots are only vaguely recognizable in the future.
Which is really the beauty of this story, in my opinion.
I actually changed very little. I give Draco a sister, but that is mainly so I can modulate his character a bit and plausibly write him in a more competent way while still keeping him in character. It’s also so that, during their first meeting, Draco has someone there to make sure he doesn’t immediately botch the introduction to one of the most important figures in the world. There are also just some fun character things you can do with a female Malfoy as the family’s heiress, but those will come later.
But honestly, outside of that, I didn’t change much.
Harry’s first meeting with Draco goes favourably and he chooses to sit with him and his friends instead of Ron on the Hogwarts Express.
It’s such a simple premise, but it changes so much.
The hat wanted to put Harry in Slytherin but it didn’t because Harry protested. This way, his perception of that house won’t be poisoned from the beginning and this malleable, easily influenced child will be firmly under the thumb of those who will abuse that fact and do everything they can to mould him in the way they see fit.
That is literally all you need to change in the beginning. For Harry, he basically starts off as his canon self. He is a touch more gifted, but he doesn’t have a grasp on wandless magic prior to entering Hogwarts. He doesn’t get a wand at seven and train all this time, he isn’t and will never be a child politician, and he doesn’t have an IQ of about 250. He is just maybe a touch more gifted and, largely because of his new friends’ influence, more eager to learn and significantly more invested in his studies. These aren’t major character alterations. They’re just small things that will make a massive difference in the long-run.
Even other characters… I really haven’t changed them all that much. There will be no manipulative Dumbledore here and frankly, I am quite certain there will be no Dumbledore bashing at all. He is going to be every bit as good as he was in canon, and I think it can be argued that if I have changed anything about him, I may have just made him even more competent. Another frequently bashed character is Ron, but that won’t happen here. Does he like Slytherins? No, of course not. Does he go out of his way to harass them, instigate with them constantly, and call them all a bunch of slimy snakes at every available opportunity? No, that would make no sense. He didn’t do it in the books and I haven’t made any changes before the story starts that would make him do it in this universe, so why on earth would that make sense? I don’t like Hermione, but she won’t be bashed in this fic either, really. It might seem like it for a few chapters, but that is really just Harry being a biased narrator.
Honestly, the character who I probably changed most in this story is Riddle, and I haven’t changed him nearly as much as I did in “Ashes of Chaos”. I just think his adult self is completely inept in canon, so this Riddle is more so an evolved version of his teenage self as opposed to a completely different person with the strategic abilities of a chess veteran who, in his hundreds of games, has failed to win a single match.
I have spoken about not changing things, but I want to dissuade any worries here and now that this story will be a canon rehash. It may seem somewhat like it for four or five chapters, but it diverges fast. Starting with the troll scene, I start slowly veering away from canon and by the end of year one, major changes have been made. As in, the way year one’s final chapter ends is completely unrecognizable from the canon ending. Slight spoiler: it does not end with Harry on Platform Nine and Three Quarters. The further into this story I get, the less and less I will be following canon. By the time fourth year concludes, I don’t actually expect to follow it at all, except for the odd event that sort of needs to happen.
I don’t really think I need to explain how this story differs from “Ashes of Chaos”, but I’m going to do it anyway. They are both Slytherin Harry stories that start in first year, but the similarities basically end there. AoC makes several large changes to Harry’s character before the fic even starts, as well as to the world around him. With the exception of a single bit of retconning a major-ish canon event that actually has nothing to do with Harry, as well as Diana’s — Draco’s sister’s — inclusion, this fic does none of that.
More than anything though, the writing in the two fics is just drastically different. “Ashes of Chaos” — as much as I love the story — starts off quite rough. My writing in this story’s first year is miles ahead of AoC’s first year, and the style is just completely different. AoC’s first year was 160k words, and its second was nearly 400k. In short, the story’s pacing is absurd. I love doing that in AoC, but it does not work for every story and the pacing in that fic is absurd because I was using that as a tool to learn. For a more in-depth explanation about that, see my blog post for the end of AoC’s second year.
PoP is different. All of the years will be paced similar to how the books were paced. That is my goal, at least. They may end up a bit longer, but the differences in word count won’t be drastic. For example, book 1 is about 86k — 10k words more than Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I don’t plan on any year being 300-400k words. My goal is for every single year to read like a novel, not like a behemoth. Again, I love that style for AoC, but it does not work here; so I am not employing it. This story just also is written in a style closer to HP. AoC was sort of me trying out a bunch of different styles and seeing which one worked. This is me having found my style and consistently applying it. In a lot of ways, this is what I think Harry Potter could have been if it was much darker and written for adults.
In short, it is the complete opposite end of the Slytherin Harry spectrum. AoC is an immediate AU that diverges from canon right off the bat, is a WBWL fic, and is an absolute titan in regards to pacing. This is a novel-length series that features a realistic Harry and very few changes from the get-go.
I do hope you guys enjoy this story, as it is one I have had in mind since reading Dethryl’s They Shook Hands series all the way back in 2018. Again, I wanted this to feel realistic, natural, and like a series of novels and until recently, I just did not have the confidence to do that. But I have it now and here we are!
Massive thank yous are extended to all of my betas, as well as my editor, Fezzik. In particular though, massive props go out to both Regress and 3CP. I met these two on Discord back in June and I can genuinely say they have become two of my favourite people in the world. Along with another of my betas, Raven0900, they are the ones who largely convinced me to write this fic and helped give me the confidence that I could pull it off. They have also been intimately involved in the planning of the story and have helped to architect some of the story’s coolest ideas. I can’t wait for you all to see what is planned, and I thank them for their contributions to the story. 3CP is also doing the audiobook for this fic as well, so massive props to him for that and he has my eternal gratitude for doing so as a friend and free of charge.
I do hope you all enjoy what is to come and I hope this shed some light on the story, as well as some of my thoughts. The first chapter of this fic is available to any of my Discord members and it will be posted on there every second Thursday. That might become weekly at some point, but we’ll have to see how it goes. If you are particularly keen to read ahead, you can sign up to my Patreon page. Patrons at the $5 tier and higher have the first thirteen chapters of this story. That is the entirety of book one, and it equates to about 86,000 words.
I thank you all in advance for your support on this story and I would ask that if you do enjoy what you read, you support it with follows, favourites, and reviews on fanfiction.net. I know a lot of my Discord members don’t do that for my fics, since you read it on Discord anyway. This is perfectly reasonable but if you do appreciate the work that goes into it, support on that platform would mean the world to me. Patronage is of course welcome too, but just helping the story grow on FFN means the world and is extremely helpful in more ways than you could imagine. It should be up on there in the coming weeks… maybe.
I hope you have enjoyed my long-winded ramblings and as always, stay tuned for more to come.
Stay safe and happy reading!
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