Fandom: Harry Potter
Prompt: 106. Praise out of season, or tactlessly bestowed, can freeze the heart as much as blame.--Pearl Buck.
Summary: Lily Evans is unhappy with her marks.
Notes: I own nothing. A big thank-you to betas such_heights and softlyforgotten! ~1200 words.
Praise Out of Season
"Well done, my dear! Another inspired essay!" Slughorn set the parchment down on the desk in front of Lily and moved away.
She picked it up and scanned it quickly. O, and he hadn't made any comments on the part about using meadowfoam oil in place of calendula oil at higher altitudes. She turned to Severus, seated beside her, with a triumphant grin.
"Looks like we were right about—" She broke off when she saw the look on his face. "What's the matter, Severus?"
"Nothing." He moved a hand to cover his parchment, but not before she saw the red A across the top.
"Let me see that," Lily demanded, holding out her hand.
There was a pause, and then Severus moved his arms off the desk, crossing them in front of his chest. Lily took that for permission and snatched up the essay.
Not a bad theory, read Slughorn's handwriting in the margin. But in practice, meadowfoam oil doesn't hold the infusion of burdock root the way calendula does.
"But—" Lily looked down at her own parchment again, though she knew exactly what it said. "But he didn't make that correction on my essay!"
Severus shrugged and took his "acceptable" essay back. "Doesn't matter," he said.
"Of course it matters! If it's wrong on your essay, then it should be wrong on mine as well." She stood up and made her way to the front of the dungeon, past the other students bustling towards the door, and came to a stop in front of Slughorn's desk.
"Excuse me, Professor," she started, clutching her essay. "About my mark on this—"
"Hmmn, what? Oh yes, fine work, Lily, fine work." Slughorn beamed at her and got to his feet. "Still, you can't ask for higher than an O, can you?" He chuckled and patted her on the shoulder as he went by.
"Er—no, sir, it's just that—"
But he was gone, up the stairs and out the door before she could catch him and make him listen.
Severus was in the corridor when she emerged from the classroom.
"He didn't want to hear it," Lily said. Severus fell in beside her, and they headed up toward the main level of the castle.
"Of course not," he said. "Your work will always be perfect in Slughorn's eyes."
Lily made a strangled noise. "But it's not fair."
Severus glanced at her sidelong. "You'd rather have lower marks, just to make things 'fair'?"
"Yes! I'd rather get a mark I deserve!"
"Gryffindors," Severus muttered. Lily let it pass. He went on in a louder voice, "You're not going to be able to change him, so you might as well get used to special treatment."
"I'll talk to him before Thursday's lesson," she decided. "I'll show him both essays, then he'll have to change one of them."
Severus stopped then, and pointed a finger at Lily. "Do what you want with your essay, Evans, but you are not dragging me into this. My advice for you is to take what you can, while you can." He turned and headed back down the steps, leaving Lily on the staircase, a bit startled by his sudden vehemence.
Lily turned up early for the next Potions class, but Slughorn didn't arrive until the bell. She tossed a frustrated glance at Severus, who only smirked.
When she once again failed to get through to Slughorn at the end of the lesson, Lily decided that more drastic measures were called for. That Friday night, she and Severus met as usual in the library. When they were done with the Potions essay, Severus went on to the Defense Against the Dark Arts work while Lily began writing a second essay for Slughorn.
Severus rolled his eyes at her, but she was determined. One way or another, she was going to make Slughorn realize that she was not perfect.
She was scanning over the deliberately bad essay on Monday, while the class milled about waiting for Slughorn to appear. The essay was too short, it was based on incorrect assumptions and faulty reasoning, and to top it off she'd cast a Confundus charm on her spell-check quill before writing it, so that whole paragraphs were barely legible. There was no way Slughorn could give this anything more than a P, and that would be generous.
Class started, and Slughorn collected their essays to mark while they worked on this week's potion. Lily held her breath as her parchment went into the pile with the others. She had the real essay as a sort of back-up—in case Slughorn accused her of something dishonest, she could always say she'd turned in the first draft by mistake, and produce the other. After all, she wasn't trying to get detention or anything.
As the hour wore on, Lily found herself watching Slughorn more and more instead of concentrating on her cauldron. Surely he'd graded hers by now? Somehow she'd thought she would be able to tell, to see the disappointment in his eyes, or something.
Severus jogged her elbow. "If you don't add the dragon blood in the next two minutes, you'll ruin it."
Lily reached for the vial. "Maybe I should ruin it," she sighed. "Just to show him."
"Don't tell me you're feeling sorry for yourself because you're the teacher's pet?" Severus' lip curled.
"I am not—" She paused. She could hardly deny it at this point. "I don't want to be the teacher's pet. It's not fair."
Severus shook his head, eyes focused on his cauldron. "Life isn't fair, Evans. Good things happen to people who don't deserve them, and bad things happen to people that don't deserve them. If you can't change the one, why would you bother trying to change the other?"
The timer for the potion went off before Lily could think of a suitable reply. Slughorn was handing back essays and peering into cauldrons, and she was starting to feel nervous again. Just before he got to their desk, she ducked down to put her books away to avoid facing him.
"Gryffindor courage," she heard Severus say, and she stepped on his foot before straightening.
"Sorry about that," she said sweetly, and then picked up the parchment Slughorn had left on the desk.
E. For 'exceeds expectations.'
Severus was looking over her shoulder. "He must have pretty low expectations."
Lily shoved the parchment into her bag. "It's not funny, Severus. What am I going to do?"
"For the last time, Evans, what you are going to do is stop worrying about it. Slughorn doesn't grade the NEWT. You'll still have to work hard and study if you want to pass that, so who cares what he writes on your stupid essays in the meantime?" With that, Severus joined the crowd of students at the door.
Lily sat at her desk another long moment. Maybe he was right. It didn't make her feel any better about it, though. She picked up her bag and headed towards the hallway.
Maybe life wasn't fair. But that was no reason for her not to try her best, and maybe she could earn every bit of the praise Slughorn gave her.