Later, when spring rolled around, Hermione strode beside Neville on the way to breakfast. Her face was the shade of a sun-ripened tomato, and her eyebrows were drawn close to her eyes.
"Hermione, is something wrong?"
She looked up at him and forced a grin that didn't reach her eyes. "Of course not! Why would anything be wrong? We're going to learn Apparition soon! Did you sign up?"
"Yeah," Neville said reluctantly. "I'm already nervous about it. I've heard horror stories about people losing body parts."
The color faded from Hermione's face, and her eyebrows climbed toward her hairline.
Neville took this as an invitation to continue. "There was a witch who lost her entire face while Apparating across a lake. The healers had to re-grow it as best they could. They never did get her nose to grow back, though, so she had a hole in the middle of her face like a skeleton."
Hermione pressed her hand over her nose and mouth.
"And there was this wizard who lost his jawbone trying to Apparate to the top of a tower. Poor bloke had to eat through a straw the rest of his life. He used a Polyjuice potion whenever he wanted to go out in public or talk like a normal person."
Hermione lowered her hand. "Those stories are horrible. Where did you hear them?"
"I heard those two from Uncle Algie."
Her eyes narrowed. "Is this the same uncle who dropped you out of an upstairs window?"
Neville looked away, uncomfortable. "That was an accident, you know. Anyway, Uncle Algie is very well-traveled, so he knows a lot about the world."
"Was an accident that he held you by the ankle and dangled you outside the window?" pressed Hermione.
Neville flushed, not knowing how to answer in a way that wouldn't cast blame on his ancient relative.
"Do you know what I think?" continued Hermione, with the same righteous indignation she had for the plight of the House-elves. "I think your uncle is a magical version of Harry's uncle: a bigoted bully who only wants to scare his nephew."
"All right, look," he said, turning to meet her stony gaze, "even if he did tell those stories just to scare me, that doesn't mean they aren't true."
"Then I'll add those stories to my list of things I need to get to the bottom of."
"What else is on your list, if you don't mind me asking?"
Hermione tucked her hair behind her ear. "Well, there's this old Potions textbook…"
Neville, Dean, and Seamus sat at the same table during Charms. Neville would have liked to sit closer to Hermione, because she usually gave helpful tips. Well, that wasn't the only reason. Hermione was the first girl who had ever treated him with kindness, and she had affected him more deeply than she would ever know. At the moment, though, she only had eyes for Ron.
"Watch how you're waving that wand, Mr. Finnigan!" squeaked Mr. Flitwick, as Seamus's vinegar sprayed from his glass into the air.
"I can't help it," said Seamus, wiggling his finger in his ear. "I can't concentrate with this tinnitus."
"You have it too?" asked Dean.
"What's tinnitus?" asked Neville, feeling stupid.
"It's when your ears ring," clarified Seamus. "Though, actually I hear more of a constant buzzing."
"Oh. Now that you mention it, I hear it too."
"I wonder…" said Dean, with a thoughtful expression. He loosely waved his wand in the air, and the buzzing stopped.
Dean smiled for the first time since Ginny had none-too-gently dumped him the previous night. Neville and Seamus gave him curious stares.
"Nonverbal Finite Incantatem," explained Dean, looking very pleased with himself.
"You mean to tell me that someone cast a - a Tinnitus jinx on us?" asked Seamus. The three boys fell silent as they swept their gaze around the room, searching for the caster of the mysterious jinx. They soon settled their attention on the table where Harry, Hermione and Ron sat.
"Remember how Harry levitated Ron upside-down in the middle of the night?" Seamus asked quietly.
"Yeah," answered Neville. "He got it from his old Potions book, I'll bet."
"Don't be daft." Seamus shook his head. "The Potions book doesn't have any jinxes in it."
"Harry's does." Neville crossed his arms and leaned on the table. "Hermione said he's got an old one with all these notes written in the margins - all sorts of spells that aren't found anywhere else."
"Really?" Dean raised his eyebrows. "I'd like to have a look at that book. In the meantime, let's see how he likes the Tinnitus jinx." Grinning, he flicked his wand at Harry. Then, with a puzzled frown, he tapped his wand against his palm.
"I don't think it worked."
A/N: I sneaked in a slight hint of Neville/Hermione: you'll recall that Hermione was his first choice to go with to the Yule Ball.
If you are a wizard or witch and something mysterious is annoying you, the first thing you should do is cast Finite Incantatem and see if it goes away. =D