Susan Bones could remember the exact moment when she realized that Neville Longbottom was no longer a clumsy, awkward boy who was easily overlooked.
In late October of her sixth year, Susan had to attend Herbology class on her own, as her usual partner for the class, Megan Jones, was stuck in the hospital wing with a bad case of the flu. She and Megan often worked with fellow Hufflepuff Ernie McMillan, but Susan never cared for working with him without Megan, as she found him to be incredibly full of himself and rather boring. So when she entered the greenhouse and saw Ernie sitting at a table, she deliberately chose a work station farther away, which happened to be by a group of Gryffindors.
A few tables over sat Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. She also noticed Neville Longbottom working by himself at the table next to her. Class started and Susan found out they were to collect pods from the inside of a Snargaluff, a particularly nasty tree that looked like gnarled old stump, until agitated; then prickly vines shot out of it in defense. When Professor Sprout explained how the pod was to be collected, Susan looked at her Snargaluff hesitantly, not sure if she would be able to do the task on her own.
"The trick is to have someone distract it. Then the second person can grab the pod from inside the trunk," a voice said from beside her.
Susan turned around to see Neville Longbottom standing next to her table. "Oh, well … see that's going to be a problem. I'm not working with anyone today. I don't suppose only one person can do it?"
"You can, but it's a lot more difficult. You'll have to avoid the vines and plunge in your hands and grab the pod quickly once you see the trunk open," Neville said.
Susan looked doubtfully at the Snargaluff. Somehow she doubted the task would be as simple as Neville made it out to be.
"Would you …Would you like to work with me today?" Neville asked hesitantly. Susan turned to look at him again and found he was looking very intently at his shoes.
"You don't think Professor Sprout would mind?" Susan replied. Working with Neville would be the best solution to her problem, as not only would it solve her no-partner problem, but Neville was also the most talented Herbology student in their year.
"I don't think so … if we work fast, we can collect pods from both of our Snargaluffs before the end of the period," Neville said, finally looking up at her. His face had a rather guarded expression as if expecting her to decline his offer.
Susan gave Neville a tentative smile. "I'd like that, if you don't mind."
Neville's round face broke out in a smile as well. "I don't mind at all. Let's get started, then. We'll need to put on our protective gear first."
They quickly donned their protective goggles and gloves. Neville looked at her. "Do you want to do the distracting or the harvesting?"
Susan looked at the seemingly innocent looking stump. "I guess I'll try distracting."
"All right, then."
Susan took a deep breath and dived at the stump. All of a sudden, several long prickly vines shot out of the stump, trying to protect itself from attack. Susan held back the vines as best she could while Neville determinedly reached in to grab a pod. Unfortunately, some of the vines got away from her and smacked Neville in the face.
"Neville!" she cried, trying to grab back the offending vines. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine; just keep holding on. This tree is a nasty one."
Susan nodded and continued to struggle with the vines. It took all her effort to hold them back so they wouldn't hit Neville again. It seemed like every time she thought she had them subdued, one of the vines would get away from her. She kept grabbing at them and pushing them back down, sweat from her exertions dripping down her face. Neville reached in again quickly and managed to plunge his hand into the opening of the stump and pull out a pod. As he pulled away his pod-filled hand, the vines shot back into the trunk, making the vicious tree look harmless again.
They were both breathing hard after their exertions. Susan could tell her hair was a mess. She took her hand and pushed back the hair falling in her face. Neville was still clutching the pod when they heard Professor Spout say, "Quite enough chat over here."
Susan whirled around to see that Professor Sprout was heading towards them. "You're lagging behind, everybody else has started, and Neville's already got his first pod."
At the table next to them, Harry, Hermione, and Ron sat looking guilty at being caught talking rather than harvesting their Snargaluff. Ron quickly tried to cover for their actions. "Okay, Professor, we're starting now."
Susan turned away from the trio to look at Neville again. He had already transferred the pod to his work station, and was getting out his gardening shears to open the pod. When she moved over to join him, she noticed the injuries to his face.
"Neville, you said you were fine!" A shock ran through her as she looked over his scratched face and bloody lip.
"I'll be okay, Susan," Neville replied, as he quickly punctured the pod and efficiently squeezed out pale green tubers.
Susan looked at him doubtfully. "Maybe I should try harvesting next. I didn't seem to do a good job holding back the vines last time."
Neville looked up from the wriggling bowl of worm-like tubers. "You were fine, Susan. Those vines could have gotten away from anyone. But we can switch jobs if you'd like."
Somehow Susan doubted it would have happened to him if someone else had held back the vines, but she nodded. Neville got up from his stool and went over to the Snargaluff. Susan joined him quickly, waiting for Neville to act so she could grab the pod from the opening. While Neville dived at the stump and quickly subdued the vines, Susan reached in to grab out another pod as fast as possible. Soon she had a large pulsing pod in her hand, and the vines were receding back into the stump. Susan felt a tingle of elation and gave Neville a triumphant smile as she held up her prize.
She and Neville worked quickly for the rest of the period collecting several more pods from their Snargaluffs. Professor Spout even came by to congratulate them on collecting the most pods in all the class. As Susan was putting her things away, she looked over at Neville again.
"Neville, thanks again for offering to work with me today. After what we just went through, it's obvious I wouldn't have been able to handle the Snargaluff on my own."
"It was nothing, Susan. I'm sure you would have been fine on your own without my help," Neville said, looking down at his bag instead of at her.
"No, I wouldn't have," Susan said resolutely. "I would have been lucky to have harvested one pod, let alone the eight that we managed to harvest together. Not only that, I'd probably look worse than you do right now. I'm really sorry about not holding back those vines for you."
"Its okay," Neville replied, finally looking up at her. She could see the split lip and scratches were causing him some discomfort. "A quick trip to Madam Pomfrey will sort out these injuries. I'm used to visiting her anyway." Neville gave a little laugh as he tried to lighten the mood by making fun at his own expense.
Susan cast a rueful smile at him. "If you say so, Neville." She hoisted up her packed bag over her shoulder and turned to leave. She stopped and turned back when she heard Neville call out her name.
"Susan! I-I wouldn't have let the Snargaluff hurt you, you know. I-I would have helped you if I saw you having any problems," Neville said with a sincere look on his face.
At that moment that Susan Bones realized there was more to Neville Longbottom than she had ever imagined. She had never really paid attention to him in the past, but after today's lesson, she was seeing him in a whole new light. No longer the clumsy boy she had once seen him, he was a boy who was willing to help someone in need, even at a cost to himself. As she looked at him, she found herself growing hotter in the face and developing a strange elated feeling in her stomach.
"Thanks, Neville," Susan said with a shy smile. "I really enjoyed working with you today."
"Maybe … maybe we could work together again sometime?" Neville asked in a shy but hopeful tone.
"I'd lik-" Susan started to reply, then abruptly remembered Megan in the hospital wing. She'd been Herbology partners with her since Hannah Abbott left, and she didn't think Megan would be too thrilled if she suddenly announced she wanted to work with Neville Longbottom instead. "I-I'd really like to Neville…"
Neville seemed to deflate a bit and look resigned. "But?"
"See, Megan Jones is my usual partner for Herbology, and she was only missing today because she's in the hospital wing with the flu ..." Susan said, wishing she could have a more positive response to Neville's offer. Somehow the thought of changing Herbology partners was extremely appealing, but she couldn't do that to a friend, even though the temptation was great.
"I understand." Neville sighed as he picked up his bag. "Goodbye, Susan." He started towards the door, his shoulders slumped slightly.
"Bye, Neville," Susan called after him, watching him leave the greenhouse. For some unknown reason, she felt unsettled by the exchange … as if she had missed out on something important. Sighing to herself, she picked up her own bag and began the trek bag towards the castle. She could barely make out the outline of Neville in the distance. She decided that she would drop off her bag in her dormitory then visit Megan in the hospital wing before dinner. She smiled a bit to herself as she thought about all she had to share with Megan, though maybe she'd keep Neville's offer to work with him in Herbology to herself for a while … no sense upsetting Megan over something that wasn't going to happen anyway.