The Sugar Quill
Author: zzzFF Cal  Story: Practice Makes Perfect  Chapter: Default
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Practice Makes Perfect by Cal

Practice Makes Perfect

By Cal

"Detention Longbottom. Tonight"

Neville Longbottom cowered in the corner of the dungeon, a lumpy puddle of potion oozing around his feet. How could two of the finest Aurors in a generation have produced that? Severus gave him one final, contemptuous glower and then strode to the other side of the room to put the fear of Snape into some other members of his O.W.L. class.

That evening a hesitant knock on his office door signalled Neville's arrival. The boy couldn't even assert himself on a piece of wood; how could the Sorting Hat have chosen him for Gryffindor?

"Where's your cloak?"

"My cloak?" asked Neville, "I'm sorry, professor, it's in the dormitory. I thought…"

"I very much doubt it. I haven't time to waste while you fool about, so you can take this one. Mind you don't make a mess of it."

Severus picked up the bag from his desk and marched out of the room, settling his own cloak over his shoulders. A contemptuous glance over his shoulder revealed Neville, stumbling along in his wake. Detentions that needed a cloak normally meant the towers, or the greenhouses, so he could see the boy growing puzzled as they headed out of the entrance hall and away from the castle. From the looks of things real panic set in once they were within sight of the Forbidden Forest.

I wonder, is he more afraid of the things he's heard about the forest… or of me?

Neville swallowed nervously a couple of times as they reached the first, twisted trees. His eyes flicked from the shadows that clotted around the undergrowth, to the face of his companion. One final glance at Severus, then he took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and stepped under the branches.

Me then.

Surprisingly, Neville seemed to perk up after a few minutes. Apparently Professor Sprout's stout defence of the boy in the staff room had some basis in fact - he clearly found the various plants fascinating. Severus kept a wary eye on him - he was just the type to forget the dangers and start to dawdle.

"Do you know where to find venomleaf Longbottom?"

Neville looked scared again. Venomleaf was deadly poisonous and strictly controlled by the Ministry. Not something to order from a normal supplier with Umbridge sniffing round the place.

"At the foot of dead oak trees, on the north side… it prefers a damp soil with plenty of leaf mould and…"

"I'm not asking you to cultivate them, just to find some!"

Neville nodded and scampered off the path towards a likely seeming tree. He disappeared behind it for a second.

"I've found some sir!"

"Keep your voice down you stupid boy!" Severus hissed. A few hundred yards away something roared and they heard a splintering crash as a substantial tree snapped.

"Stand over there and stay out of my way."

Gloves, which he had carefully inspected for holes. Gold shears - the sap would eat straight through steel or silver. Severus placed a jar on the ground beside the patch of fleshy, dagger-shaped leaves and started to carefully snip off the best looking sprigs and drop them into the container. He wanted at least a year's supply - no point in risking this kind of trip twice. Acrid fumes rose from the cut stems and made his eyes water.

"EXPELLIARMUS !" Neville roared.

Years of potions training came to the fore: Severus put down the shears and the last sprig of venomleaf, quickly but carefully. He took only a couple of seconds to turn around, but in that time Neville had cast two more curses.

At the troll.

It was a half-grown forest troll, about eight feet tall. They moved faster at that size, over short distances. It had a look of confusion on its pasty grey-green face; Neville's first spell had made its club fly out of its hand; and his subsequent efforts had caused its eyelids to swell shut. The Jelly-Legs Jinx seemed to work more slowly on trolls: it managed another couple of steps before tripping and falling heavily. Roaring in frustration, it used its huge hands to pull itself toward Severus, clawing great furrows in the forest floor. Leaves had stuck to the saliva drooling down its chin.

Potions worked very successfully on trolls, but only when you had time to brew them in advance. Severus picked up the jar of leaves, grabbed Neville's sleeve, and ran.

They were halfway across the lawn before he slowed down. Neville was in a bad way, sobbing for breath. They finally came to a halt just outside the pool of light spilling from the open front door. Severus wondered if the boy was going to be sick as Neville bent over, trying to ease the cramps in his stomach and sides.

"You surprise me Longbottom. You've improved considerably compared to what I remember of your third year performance. You must have practised most diligently."

Severus remembered being questioned once by Frank Longbottom; he had been unable to tell what the man was thinking. Neville, by contrast, showed every emotion on his flushed, earnest little face. At the word "practice" he flinched so obviously that even a fool like Umbridge would have caught it.

Pathetic .

"Give me the cloak."


"Shut up. Give me the cloak and go back to your common room. If you mention what just happened to anyone, absolutely anyone, you will regret it."

"Don't I have to…"

A Slytherin released from detention this early would have been half a corridor away by now. Severus snatched his spare cloak back and glared. Neville finally fled, rather slowly, still clutching his aching sides.

Potter, Weasley and Granger. It must come back to that unholy trio somehow.

Severus carefully cast an illusion on his precious jar, making it seem full of relatively harmless silver bryony. Once he was certain that the entrance hall was clear he went in, heading for the Headmaster's office.

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