The common room clock read three a.m. The Gryffindors were all asleep in their beds, excepting the six who had, inexplicably, decided to pull an all-nighter.
Neville was grateful just to be included. He stoked up the fire, adding another tightly bundled log of leaves and stems. The boys all coughed as thick sweet smoke billowed out of the Floo and hung in a low blue cloud over their heads.
"Blimey, Neville, what the hell are you burning?" complained Fred.
"You're going to smoke us out," added George.
"Some kind of herb. Arrived today by owl post. Gran must have sent it. She knows I favor herbology." Neville lifted a bundled log and eyed it appraisingly. "Muggle, I suspect. It's kind of moist and sticky, though. Maybe I was supposed to let it dry out before I burned it."
Several loose leafy buds and seeds fell from the bundle down onto the floor. Crookshanks, who'd been circling and rubbing the unusual logs ever since Neville had brought them downstairs, immediately pounced. "Smells good though," Neville said as he contemplated Crookshanks, who was now writhing about on the floor and purring with uncharacteristic abandon. "Undignified, that," thought Neville, sinking onto the arm of the sofa and slowing taking aim.
George began laughing helplessly, mouth open wide, though nothing emerged but a series of wheezes. Harry was similarly afflicted, rolling about on the far end of the sofa. Lee seemed to be napping, his head in Fred's lap. Ron sat motionless, staring fixedly at a tiny spider in the far corner.
"Good one, Neville!" Fred clapped him on the back, his sudden movement dumping Lee unceremoniously onto the floor.
"What the?" grumped Lee, his head coming to rest underneath the massive coffee table. Reaching up, he removed a dried wad of gum, sniffing it hopefully. Cinnamon.
"We should play Quidditch or something," said Harry, his tone indicating it was more observation than suggestion.
"Yeah," his friends chorused half-heartedly.
"Hey, I can't feel my foot." George's tone was urgent, but sounded more amused than alarmed. He peeled off a sock and began poking and squeezing the unresponsive extremity vigorously.
Neville still sat slumped on the arm of the sofa. He'd been gazing cross-eyed at his wand ever since he'd stupefied Crookshanks. "Lumos. Nox. Lumos. Nox. Lumos. Nox." He'd never felt such well-being. "I love you," he said out loud, though to no one in particular.
Ron glared at the spider, which now seemed to be staring back quite menacingly. Its shadow was magnified ominously in the strobing light from Neville's wand. Had it moved closer? Ron whimpered and scooted towards Harry. He hoped to Merlin the whimpering had occurred only inside his own head.
Fred reached lazily for Harry's crotch, scooping up a handful of the bogie flavored beans Harry had compulsively been sorting. Harry clutched his stash of earwax ones closer to his chest. He was about to give Fred a piece of his mind when Ron moaned in his ear and pressed up against him. Wait a minute--was Ron making a move on him? For the first time, Harry contemplated how very shiny Ron's hair was, and how, when Harry squinted, just so, his resemblance to Ginny became quite remarkable. "I could do worse," thought Harry pragmatically. He made a mental note to borrow Ron's shampoo before losing his train of thought and returning to his beans.
Lee swallowed his gum and sighed heavily, levitating the box containing Hagrid's rock cakes out of the rubbish bin and back onto the table. All six boys jostled for a cake. "Needs salt," they agreed.
"We should play Quidditch or something," Harry observed listlessly.
"Yeah," came the lethargic reply.
"Seriously. I really can't feel my foot. AT ALL! " This time George sounded genuinely alarmed. He renewed his efforts, squeezing and massaging rhythmically, unconsciously keeping time with Neville's slowly strobing wand.
"Lumos. Nox. Lumos. Nox."
"Wingardium Leviosa." Ron's third attempt to drop a trainer onto the spider failed miserably. "I'm rubbish," he said in resigned disgust. "No need to tell Hermione that I couldn't get it up, though, mates… Oh, shut it!"
As their laughter died, Lee concentrated on a strangely disturbing sensation moving throughout his body, smiling with satisfaction when he finally identified it.
"Hey, Potter, pull my finger."
Harry pulled, and a brief but fiercely odiferous competition broke out. Fred was victorious, his two year winning streak still intact. An oily looking greenish vapor now wrestled for territory with the thinning blue smoke.
Ron snorted as the vile vapor floated past his head, forcing him to emerge regretfully from a wildly vivid fantasy featuring Hermione dancing naked underneath a strobing disco ball. Again, Ron found himself hoping that his whimpering had occurred only inside his own head. He nudged Crookshanks grumpily with a toe. "Rennervate, you stupid cat." Crookshanks immediately arched his back, his fur raised in hackles as he hissed and spat furiously at Ron.
"Hey, you sodding wanker. I'm the good guy. Go throw your hissy fit at that bloke." Ron jabbed his finger in Neville's direction, only just noticing that the strobing had, at some point, stopped. Ron discovered that he missed the strobing. He needed the strobing. He absolutely craved the bloody strobing. Ron could feel the unresolved strobing tension building up within him until he felt he would burst and could stand it no longer. "Neville! Wake Up!"
"Stop fondling my foot, you bloody arse!" Fred yelped, finally giving in to his own ticklishness. "Ewwwww," groaned George, hastily dropping Fred's foot and wiping his hands on his jeans. His head bobbled in happy relief as he confirmed that his own two feet were in perfect working order.
"It's a good thing you're so devastatingly handsome," Fred observed wryly, "because you're dumb as shite."
"We should play Quidditch or something," yawned Harry, rubbing absent-mindedly at his scar, which had ached vaguely all evening.
"Yeah," they murmured sleepily, settling deeper into the comfortable cushions.
Faraway, Lord Voldemort smiled.