Bubbles

Disclaimer:  I very much doubt J.K. Rowling would approve of the use to which I'm putting her delightful room, but I've read *much* worse…or better, depending on your perspective.  Muawhaha.

For Hermione Granger, being a prefect carried with it many responsibilities, many honors, and one enormous relief.  She had been awestruck the first time she entered the prefect's bathroom on the fifth floor (to the left of the statue of Boris the Bewildered).  Even though Harry had said it was "cool" when he came there in fourth year to work on the egg clue for the Triwizard Tournament, he had given her no idea of how extravagant this room of white marble and golden chandeliers really was.

Since the very first meeting when the Head Boy and Girl had told the eight new fifth year prefects the year's password, Hermione had contrived to end nearly every day with a leisurely, relaxing dip in the swimming pool-sized bath.  She felt entitled to it.  After all, she was laden down with more worries than any fifteen year old girl should have to face.  On top of the stress from the approaching O.W.L.s, performing her prefect duties, and her regular exacting class schedule, she had added anxiety about Harry, the Order, Voldemort's return, the D.A., and the hideous Umbridge.  Hermione wasn't one to complain, but she could not deny her time hiding from the world in this ornate, restricted setting grew more precious to her on an almost daily basis. 

As she walked the familiar passages to the hidden entrance—careful to be on the lookout for changing staircases, offensive custodians, and lurking poltergeists—Hermione took stock of this particular day's events.  By all accounts, she should be pleased.  The Hogsmeade trip had gone off without a hitch.  Rita Skeeter had gotten her interview with Harry.  It was currently on its way to Luna's father by owl post.  It would reach him tomorrow morning at breakfast. 

Hermione smile revealed her subdued satisfaction.  She had finally succeeded in an effort to get around the High Inquisitor of Hogwarts.  Dolores Umbridge was not nearly as all-powerful as she liked to think.  People should have learned by now not to underestimate Hermione Granger's abilities.  Rita Skeeter could have warned her.  Hermione was not one to take insults and offenses lying down.

Yes, that part of her day had passed surprisingly well, considering she had spent it with two people she detested.  Why this feeling of lingering dissatisfaction with everything around her?

Hermione got her answer as she passed a giggling couple whispering in one of the many dark alcoves of the castle.  The moment they saw her coming, they squealed and ran away, but she had no intention of enforcing her prefect duties at the moment.  She only envied them their moment of intimacy this Valentine's Day.

She cursed herself for sighing as she passed yet another hanging Cupid.  He would be gone by tomorrow, as would her annual angst-filled pity-party over spending another of these miserable holidays all alone.  She knew it could be worse.  Look how Harry's date with Cho Chang had gone.

"At least he had a date," Hermione muttered, her voice sounding surprisingly loud to her in the deserted hallway. 

That was ungracious of her, she knew.  It was her own fault Viktor wasn't with her today.  He had gone out of his way to be kind this week, sending her presents and Valentine's Day cards, inviting her for a romantic dinner in Hogsmeade.  Hermione had returned the gifts and declined the invitation.  She still felt it was not appropriate to be accepting gifts from a boy so much older than she.  She wrote to him, yes.  She enjoyed his company.  He was mature and intelligent and so very different from…some people.  But she refused to let it be more than a friendship, and she had many quite logical reasons for this.

And one highly illogical one.

Therein lay the root of her foul mood this February the fourteenth.  She had been wooed extravagantly by Viktor Krum, worldwide Quidditch sensation, but she had not received a single acknowledgement from…some people.  Or, if she was being completely honest with herself, one particular, tall, gangling, freckled, red-headed someone.

Hermione made a noise of disgust, determined not to think about him anymore.  It was ruining what would otherwise be quite a triumphant day for her.  She saw with relief she had finally reached Boris's statue.  Checking once more to make sure the passageway was abandoned, she leaned close to the door and whispered, "Squeaky clean."

The door opened, and Hermione instantly felt a blast of warm, muggy air hit her face.  She sighed.  Someone must have forgotten to let the water drain again.  This was the third time this had happened this month, and Hermione was almost certain it was the fault of that same someone she was not going to think about.  Especially on Valentine's Day.  Especially regarding bathing habits. 

Hermione, cheeks flushing as a mental image appeared to her, stepped inside and let the door slam behind her.  She would have to let the water drain and refill before getting her chance to relax.  Given the size of the bathtub, this easily took half an hour.  But she had learned her lesson long ago and had gotten into the habit of bringing a book along with her to read while she waited.

She was settling her bag next to one of the white marble benches when a strangled noise from her left brought her up ramrod straight.  She willed the noise away even as she turned to the source of it.  There, treading water in a mountain of red, white, and pink foam—Pansy Parkinson had insisted on using Madame Miranda's Hearts and Flowers Bubble Bath collection for Valentine's Day; Hermione had tried very hard not to imagine why—in the middle of the bathtub, was one very wet, very red, very embarrassed Ronald Weasley.

Hermione felt the color in her own cheeks heightening, but she couldn't seem to pull her eyes away.  Ron was almost lost in the midst of the bubbles, but the signature ginger hair was plastered to his head and the sides of his face by large amounts of water.  His shoulders were visible, and Hermione barely suppressed a giggle as she realized they were as freckled as his face.  A pink rose lingered on one of his very pink ears, and white foam dotted the tip of his nose.  Even through her own mortification, she cataloged the sight away for future reference.  He was adorable.

It was a long, tense moment before Ron found his voice.  "Er, Hermione, what are you doing here?"

With a start, Hermione realized precisely how awkward this situation was and forced her eyes to focus on the mermaid in the picture, who—she noticed with some resentment—seemed to be lost in a fit of giggles watching them.  She had nearly forgotten what Ron's question was before she realized she was expected to answer it.  "I, er, came for…a bath," she stumbled, holding up her bag as evidence of her intention.  Then, thankfully, cool logic returned to her, and she stared accusingly at him, while she shot out, "You're supposed to lock the door when you're in here."

Hermione wondered whether Ron was more embarrassed or angry at her scolding.  It was impossible to tell from the scarlet tint of his face.  "I forgot," was his sullen reply.

She snorted her disbelief.  "You forgot to lock a public bathroom?"

"It's not public, and no one's ever tried to get in here when I was before." 

Angry, Hermione decided.  He was definitely more angry than embarrassed.  Good.  This…situation would be easier to cope with if they were both in familiar bantering mode.

Ron's eyes lighted on something that made him grin triumphantly.  "Besides, you didn't lock it either."

Hermione whirled around, checking the door, remembering as she did that she had forgotten to use the Locking Charm as she entered.  Resentful at being proved fallible, she fixed him with a cold glare.  "I was thinking about other matters."  She defended herself with a haughty lift of her chin.

She had expected Ron to laugh at her arrogance or spit out some retort about how she was always thinking, but he did neither.  He returned her glare with one of those intense stares that made shivers run down her back.  "So was I." 

His voice was deeper, throatier than Hermione remembered it ever being, and she suddenly wished herself any place but here.  That look, that voice were dangerous to her self-possession, and if one thing had saved Hermione from making a fool of herself over her best friend, it was the tight rein she kept on her emotions.  They were too close to the surface already tonight, and the longer she stayed here the more they came undone.

"I…I'll just go then," she stuttered, backing further away from the edge of the tub.

"No, it's all right.  I was about done anyway."  Ron began moving towards the towel shelf, apparently unconcerned with her presence. 

Hermione's eyes widened.  Surely, he wasn't planning on getting out of there while she was watching, was he?  Her brain told her to flee, while something else kept her feet stuck to the floor.  She couldn't blink, and she couldn't breathe.  She felt at once as if she was in a nightmare and the best dream of her life.

And then, Ron's hands had landed on the edge of the tub, and he was hoisting himself out of the water.  Struck dumb, Hermione watched—mouth hanging slightly open, it must be admitted—as the liquid poured off his skin.  Droplets rolled off his shoulders.  Water trails cascaded down the lines of his back.  She hadn't noticed how Quidditch practice had broadened his shoulders, had given his upper body so much strength.  For the first time in her life, she thanked God for wizarding sports.

Ron was out of the bath, and Hermione released a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding as she saw he was wearing swim trunks.  He grabbed for a towel without once glancing at her.  If he had seen her gawking at him, he didn't comment on it.  She was grateful.  She didn't think she could stand being teased at this moment in time.

Slowly coming back to earth, Hermione's logic once again came to her rescue.  She watched him rub the excess water out of his hair for a moment and then asked, "Why do you wear shorts to take a bath?"

Ron looked up from under the towel. He seemed boyish once again as his ears gained color.  "Oh, that," he muttered.

Hermione waited patiently for him to continue, but he didn't.  He wrapped another towel around his waist and started gathering his robes.  "Well?" she prompted.

Ron sighed and turned to face her, as if sensing an explanation was inevitable.  "Harry told you about the night he came in here, right?"

Still unsure where this was leading, Hermione nodded. 

Ron groaned.  "Well, it's obvious, isn't it?  I didn't want Myrtle…you know…watching me."  He shuddered as he let out this last part.

It took all Hermione's willpower to hold down the laugh building inside her.  She didn't think Ron found it as amusing as she did. 

As if on cue, Ron scowled at the mirth written across her face.  "It's not funny."

"No," Hermione intoned solemnly.  "Not funny at all."  She held her straight face for as long as she could, then grinned.

A moment later, Ron grinned too.  His smile became a chuckle, and his chuckle a laugh, and within a minute, they were both collapsed in giggles.  Hermione felt all the tension and awkwardness dissipate between them.  It was such a relief to have a friend she could laugh with.  Jokes seemed few and far between these days.

She hardly realized how close Ron had come to her during these proceedings until the last echoes of their sniggers fell away.  Only then did she notice that a scarce few feet separated them, that Ron's chest was still bare, and that he smelled refreshingly clean and wonderfully…him.  Her breath caught, and the smile left her face.

Ron's own grin lasted mere seconds longer.  His blue eyes looked down upon her with that unfathomable, intense gaze she had seen in them so often lately.  It unsettled her greatly.  It was almost like he was memorizing her, inside and out.  The thought was both exhilarating and terrifying.

Hermione couldn't meet that intensity.  If he looked too long into her eyes, she was sure he truly would see everything there was to see in them.  And then, he would know, and she would never be able to face him again.  She averted her stare to his left shoulder, still amazed at how smooth his skin looked when wet.  She wasn't sure why, but she wanted to count every single freckle on his body. 

A red bubble heart still lingered on his upper arm.  Hermione lifted her hand to wipe it away.  She was surprised by how cool his skin was to her touch.  She was even more surprised when he jumped away from her.  Her eyes flitted back to his in confusion, another of those horrid blushes rising. 

"I'm sorry.  There were bubbles…"  She faltered.  It seemed such a stupid thing to do now, but she hadn't been thinking at the time.  It had been instinct really. 

"No, it's…all right."  Hermione was startled by the hoarseness of Ron's voice, the subdued panic in his eyes.  He frowned, took a deep breath, and tried again.  "It's better than all right."

Hermione felt the rush of pleasure start somewhere in the region of her toes and work its way through her body.  The flush of her cheeks now had much better cause than mere shame.  "Oh," she managed, her brown eyes stumbling into his.  "All right then."

Ron opened his mouth to respond, choked, shook his head, and took a step past her.  "Night, Hermione."

"Night, Ron."  She rushed to hide the disappointment she felt at his withdrawal.  For a moment, it had seemed like they were finally getting somewhere.  But, as usual, Ron was running away from it.  She wondered why she even bothered anymore. 

With a defeated sigh, Hermione pulled the plug and let the water begin its slow draining process.  She waited to hear the noise of the door opening and closing, but it didn't come.  She summoned all of her Gryffindor nerve and turned to face the exit.  Ron was still standing there, watching her with a look she couldn't begin to define—not even with her extensive vocabulary.

They were frozen that way for a moment, but Ron had apparently come to some kind of decision.  He marched back across the room, and Hermione felt his hands encircle her upper arms.  Hermione was trembling, but whether from fear, anticipation, or a mixture of the two, she was not entirely sure. 

"Did…did you want something, Ron?" she stammered, unable to bear this loaded silence.

Ron nodded.  The power of speech was beyond him for a moment.  When he finally spoke, it was in that same low voice she had first heard only tonight.  "We're friends, right, Hermione?"

Confused, Hermione frowned.  "Of course we are.  Why do you even have to ask?"

Ron's eyes never left her face, but they traveled down to her lips.  Hermione wet them unconsciously.  His eyes leveled on hers again.  "Because if you don't tell me not to, I think I'm going to do something that friends just don't do."

Hermione's brain stopped functioning.  For the first time in her life, she was incapable of thinking an intelligible thought.  A word that was more like a gasp escaped her lips, but she was quite sure it was encouraging enough from the look on Ron's face.  He was terrified, overjoyed, and nervous all at once.

That was all Hermione had time to see, before she noticed his face bending awkwardly over hers.  Her eyes fluttered shut of their own accord.  Either a moment or eternity later, she felt Ron's nose bump hers.  Then, his head twisted, his lips brushed softly across her mouth, and she was kissing Ron. 

She was kissing Ron.

Hermione had previously thought that when the moment came when Ron finally made his move—if that day ever did come—she would be thinking a million things, worrying about getting the kiss just right, worrying about what would happen afterwards.  But at this moment, she found she didn't have a care in her head.  It was better than an hour in the prefect's bathroom. 

It was better than candy, and Christmas, and getting a hundred percent on a test, and being sorted into Gryffindor, and being made prefect, and putting Rita Skeeter in a jar, and slapping Malfoy, and freeing elves, and petting Crookshanks, and saving Buckbeak, and saving Sirius, and anything else she'd ever done in her whole entire life.  She was kissing Ron.

And then, it was over, and Hermione was still in his arms.  She could feel the smooth skin of his chest beneath her fingers and marveled that she could feel his heartbeat as well.  It was just as it should be.  Strong, and steady, and so comforting to her.  Like Ron.  She wanted to tell him that.  She wanted to tell him her whole life so far had been waiting to kiss him, and her whole life after would be kissing him again.  But at the same time she didn't.  It sounded silly, and she felt silly.  She didn't care.

When she finally had the courage to raise her head, Hermione found Ron looking down at her with a mixed expression of joy and disbelief…and an adorable trace of red about the ears.  She smiled shyly up at him, and he grinned back down at her.  They stood there for a long time.

Hermione forgot to worry.

~*~

Hermione didn't remember much about the next few hours.  She knew she and Ron had kissed some more—and gotten better at it, she thought with a rising blush.  Ron had eventually stopped it, or maybe it had been her, or maybe they had both known they had to stop at the same time.  Then, Ron had mumbled another good night and left, reminding her with a cheeky grin to lock the door behind him.

She knew she had to have taken a bath, because her hair was wet now, and she was in her nightdress and dressing gown as she made her way back up to Gryffindor Tower.  But she could not remember much about it or about her walk there.  Her surroundings seemed rather blurry and indistinct in this bizarre dreamlike haze she was in. 

Hermione felt entitled.  She had enough stress in her life.  One day a year to live in a dream was not asking too much.  She realized things would probably be tense and awkward with Ron tomorrow.  But that was for tomorrow.  Tonight was for dreaming.

She murmured the password to the sleepy Fat Lady and stumbled into the empty common room.  It was past curfew, and the only light was the dim orange glow emanating from the fireplace.  Chocolate boxes and wrapping paper were strewn carelessly around, mixed in with the usual assortment of forgotten schoolbooks and cloaks.  Hermione thought the tower had never looked lovelier. 

A clumsily wrapped pink and red box was centered on the table closest to the entrance, and Hermione went to it, hoping against hope that it was for her.  It was.  Ron's messy handwriting stared up at her from the card on top, and she smiled fondly as she opened it.

Hermione,

I've been wanting to give you this, but I wasn't quite sure how.  I hope you like it.  It's okay if you don't. 

Happy Valentine's Day.

Ron

Hermione's smile grew as she read the words over again.  It was so like Ron.  She could almost picture his ears turning pink as he wrote it.  Lost in reverie, she almost forgot about the present.  Almost.

The wrapping paper was discarded with no little trouble.  Ron never had been stingy with tape.  When she finally pulled off the lid to the box, Hermione saw several bottles settled inside it.  She cringed at the idea of more perfume like he had gotten her for Christmas.  The thought was wonderful, but the smell…

Cautiously, she lifted out one of the clear plastic bottles.  Inside was a fluid much thicker and milkier than perfume.  Hermione grinned as she lifted out more bottles full of assorted colors and textures of Madame Miranda's Pop-Resistant, Longer-Lasting, Soothing-Formula Bubbles (For the Witch With Too Much Worry).

Hermione made her way slowly upstairs to the girl's dormitory, the box held close to her chest.  Valentine's Day wasn't so bad really.  She had gotten one up on Umbridge.  She had kept Rita Skeeter in her place.  She had given Harry some wonderful advice.  She had gotten a perfect gift.  She'd kissed Ron. 

For one night, Hermione Granger wasn't worried.