Title: Soap Bubbles
Pairing: Cedric / Hermione
Notes: Short little stand-alone fic set during Goblet of Fire inspired by inell's 'Hermione discovering Cedric in the prefects' bathroom' scenario. This is not AU.
Unbeta'd. I'll fix things as I find out about them. Please click on my user name - details of all my other Cedric/Hermione stories (at my livejournal) can be found there.
Hermione Granger was profoundly unimpressed. She was more than unimpressed, she was extremely irritated and underwhelmed by what she was hearing.
"You told me that you'd already solved the clue in the egg," Hermione said, glaring accusingly at Harry.
"I thought I had plenty of time ..." Harry began to say.
"You did have plenty of time," Hermione exclaimed in exasperation, her hair almost bristling.
"Give him a break," Ron protested and Hermione whirled on him.
"And you! I warned you Snape was in an extra bad mood, but no, you had to go and ..." she said, her eyes snapping with frustration.
"Oh bloody hell, here we go again. I know, all right?" Ron interrupted, rolling his eyes and then looking helplessly over at Harry.
"Will you do it?" Harry demanded.
"Will I sneak into the prefect's bathroom to 'mull' things over in the hot water just because Cedric Diggory says that it will help you think?" Hermione demanded.
"Basically ... yes," Harry told her with a wry smile, knowing he was asking a lot.
"For how long have you got detentions?" Hermione wanted to know.
"Until we have 'enough' mushrooms is what Snape says ..."
"Well when are the detentions?"
"They have to be gathered under the moonlight," Harry said sourly. "There's no chance for me to get to the prefect's bathroom for a few days at least and ... well ..."
"Time's running out," Hermione finished the sentence for him.
"And whose fault is that?" she demanded. "Besides, it doesn't have to be that bathroom, he just said ... a bath right?"
"Yeah but who knows how long it will take? You're less likely to get disturbed in the prefects' bathroom... I'm in a fix, Hermione. Will you help me out or not?"
Of course she'd do it. It's what friends did for one another and Hermione was as unswervingly loyal as she was cross about the whole matter.
In preparation, she borrowed Harry's Invisibility Cloak as well as the Marauders Map to allow her to be forewarned if somebody was approaching the bathroom.
"Boys," Hermione muttered to herself, not for the first time as she put on the cloak, crept downstairs and waited for the portrait hole to open. She didn't pay attention to the young first year who was giving the Fat Lady the password ("banana fritters") and crept out past him.
Moving under the cloak was extremely difficult given that she was carrying a heavy egg under one arm and the map held in front of her nose with the other. Any one walking through the halls might have heard a faint murmur of cross mutterings seemingly coming out nowhere ...
When she reached the statue of Boris the Bewildered, a lost-looking wizard with his gloves on the wrong hands, she located the right door, leaned close to it, and muttered the password, "Pine fresh," just as Harry had told her.
The door creaked open. Hermione slipped inside and locked the door behind her, and pulled off the Invisibility Cloak, looking around assessingly.
She stared at the bathroom in astonishment. The room was softly lit by an opulent chandelier filled with countless lit candles which flickered in a non-existent breeze. All around her was white marble and in the middle of the floor was a huge, rectangular swimming pool. Approximately a hundred golden taps were placed around the pool's edges, each with a differently coloured jewel in its handle and there was even a diving board of all things.
There were long white linen curtains hung at the windows, a large pile of fluffy white towels sat in a corner and a golden-framed painting on of a blonde mermaid who was fast asleep on a rock, her long hair over her face. Her hair fluttered every time she snored gently.
Hermione's look of astonishment grew when she stared into the bath. Freezing where she stood she realised that she wasn't alone. Looking equally startled as he sat in the bath tub, his hair drenched and plastered to his head as he leaned back relaxedly was a very wet-looking Cedric Diggory.
"What are you doing in here?" she demanded in shock.
"No offence," he said with a slight air of apology,"But I rather think that I'm supposed to be the one asking that question," he pointed out.
He didn't look particularly disconcerted by her presence but given that the ice-white foam on the water was so thick that it probably could have supported a person's weight and that foam was three quarters of the way past chest level, his modesty was fairly well protected.
Purple clouds were also hovering over the surface of the water and the jets of some of the taps bounced off the surface of the water in large arcs. The deep pool was full of hot water, foam, and bubbles and Cedric continued to study her, not moving from where he sat.
He noted the egg she was holding under her arm. "I have to say, I didn't expect Harry to send you in his place," he remarked.
"He and Ron are on evening detentions with Snape until further notice," Hermione said distractedly setting her things including the egg at the side of the swimming-pool-sized bath, a frown on her brow.
"And as a good and loyal friend you agreed to sneak into the prefects' bathroom and try to solve the clue in the egg?" Cedric asked her.
"Yes," she said, her frown deepening as she wondered what on earth she was supposed to do with the egg. Would the heat cause it to speak to to her, would it open of its own accord? She didn't want to ask Cedric ... he'd already done his part. Any more and it was probably unfair.
"You keep frowning like that and you'll get wrinkles," he told her lightly.
"I don't have a lot of time, you'll leave of course?" she demanded, still frowning at the egg as if it would cough up its answers in response to her scowl.
Cedric shook his head. "Not likely, Granger. I just got here, I've had a long day and I'm enjoying this bath too much. You'll either have to wait or ... just get in - there's room enough for the both of us," he said jokingly.
He stared in astonishment when Hermione didn't answer and glanced around the bathroom. Her irritation with Harry was growing rapidly.
"Is that canary yellow thing yours?" she asked, pointing at a bath robe which was hanging neatly from the wall.
Cedric raised his eyebrows. "If you're asking if the bathrobe which is in Hufflepuff house colours belongs to me, then yes it does. If you'd like to borrow it, then you're welcome to it," he said, looking quizzical.
Hermione marched over, grabbed the bath robe and walked behind a screen. She shrugged off her school robes, slippers and socks and pulled the heavy, thick, soft fabric around herself. It was made of terry-towelling and smelled of fabric softener and an elusive scent which she assumed was aftershave or soap.
It covered her from neck to toe ... possibly even more given that it was overly long and trailed on the ground. She tied the sash around her narrow waist tightly and made her slow, awkward way out from behind the screen, ignoring the sound of muffled laughter that escaped Cedric as he watched her shuffling out inelegantly.
"Very fetching," he commented as she pinned her hair up and made her way to the edge of the pool. She didn't respond and slid into the water purposefully.
It was so deep that her feet barely touched the bottom. If Cedric hadn't been there and she wasn't wearing such a heavy robe, she might have been tempted to paddle around but the robe became sodden and incredibly heavy as soon as she entered the water. As it was she trod water for a few moments before sitting on the steps by the edge of the pool and stared at the egg expectantly.
"How's my bath robe?" Cedric asked quizzically, his grey eyes alight with amusement.
"Wet," she said absently, still staring at the egg fixedly. The hot and foamy water with clouds of different-coloured steam wafting all around her was pleasant but no stroke of brilliance was coming to her. There was no sudden moment of enlightenment. The egg was just sitting there, silent and annoying.
Hermione stretched out her arms, lifted the egg in her wet hands. "No don't open it above the water!" Cedric exclaimed abruptly but too late.
The wailing, screeching sound filled the bathroom, echoing and reverberating off the marble walls, but it sounded just as incomprehensible as ever, if not more so with all the echoes. She snapped it shut again, worried that the sound would attract someone.
"Put it in the water," Cedric told her easily.
"You couldn't have told me that to start with?" she demanded in annoyance, turning to stare at him directly, aware that the steam was making her hair curl dementedly around her head. She had never realised that Cedric had such nice broad shoulders. Apart from his head they were all that she could see of him given the fact that the foam was so dense.
"You looked like you didn't want anyone interrupting you," Cedric said with a trace of gentle irony in his voice. Hermione Granger's faintly bossy air didn't desert her even when she was sitting in his bath, wearing his bathrobe and interrupting his quiet time. A single-minded and focussed individual, her mind was clearly on things far important than the naked prefect sitting a short distance away from her. A boy more arrogant than Cedric might have been piqued at the singular lack of interest and embarrassment she displayed.
Hermione lowered the egg beneath the foamy surface and opened it. This time, it did not wail. A gurgling song emerged from it, a song whose words she couldn't distinguish through the water.
"You need to put your head under too," Cedric told her mildly when she glared at him accusingly as if to say: "It doesn't work!"
"I'll close my eyes but you may want to cover up your dangley bits if you're self-conscious," she told him absently, studying the egg with faint frustration and not hearing the choke of laughing astonishment from Cedric.
She took a great breath, closed her eyes and slid under the surface. Beneath the surface of the water, she heard a chorus of eerie voices singing to her from the open egg she held in her hands:
seek us where our voices sound,
We cannot sing above the ground,
And while you re searching, ponder this:
Wove taken what you'll sorely miss,
An hour long you'll have to look,
And to recover what we took,
But past an hour- the prospect's black,
Too late, it's gone, it wont come back"
Hermione pushed herself back up to the surface with an effort, the bath robe dragging her down. She broke the bubbly surface, shaking her hair out of his eyes. The sodden bath robe felt even heavier now and hung like a stone. Her hair dripped down her face as she wiped the water out of her eyes.
"Hear it?" Cedric asked.
"Yes ... 'Come seek us where our voices sound .. .I need to listen again..."
She sank back beneath the water. It took three more underwater renditions of the egg's song before Hermione had it memorised; then she sat on the step for a while, thinking hard, while Cedric sat and watched her.
"Well?" he asked her expectantly.
"Really bad doggrel," she said absently. "And no melody of which to speak," she remarked and Cedric looked amused.
"I suspect musical merit wasn't the foremost consideration when formulating the clue," he told her.
"Harry has to go and look for people who can't use their voices above the ground. . . ." she said slowly. "I wonder who could that be?"
Cedric didn't answer. Hermione stared around the bathroom, thinking ... if the voices could only be heard underwater, then it made sense for them to belong to underwater creatures. She ran this theory past Cedric who smiled at her.
"You're on the right track ... but you might want to think faster ... before all the bubbles are gone. ..." he teased her.
"Underwater ..." Hermione said slowly. "What do you suppose lives in the lake, apart from the giant squid? Anything in there have a human voice? Oh!"
Hermione's eyes had fallen on the picture of the snoozing mermaid on the wall.
"There aren't merpeople in there, are there?"
"Very good, Granger," Cedric said approvingly. "It took me heaps longer to figure it out. Harry knew what he was doing when he sent you in his place," he commented with a smile.
"That's it, isn't it?" said Hermione excitedly. "The second task is to go and find the merpeople in the lake ... and get something back that they've taken! It's so simple!" she said, putting the egg back by the side of the pool, happy to have solved the issue.
Breathing out in relief, her gaze fell on Cedric again who was smiling at her with undisguised admiration and amusement.
"What?" he asked her, seeing the expression on her face.
"You're naked!" she said accusingly, as if noticing for the first time.
"Well, I am taking a bath," he pointed out reasonably. "It's customary in most circles to take your clothes off when taking a bath," he said. "For most people anyway," he said, his eyes travelling over the sodden yellow bathrobe.
Hermione didn't know where to look and might have leapt out of the water if the bathrobe hadn't been quite so heavy.
Cedric started to laugh. "You're only starting to get shy now?" he asked her incredulously. It seemed that now that she had solved the mystery, the reality of the situation was just dawning on her.
Hermione was blushing hotly, profoundly grateful for the thick foam and rising steam.
"I was wondering why you weren't more embarrassed before".
"And I'm not the slightest bit embarrassed even now," she said unconvincingly, gazing at a point a short distance to his left, not meeting his eyes. "It's just human anatomy, nothing mysterious in the slightest. My parents are both dentists after all".
"Aren't they the Muggles that look at your teeth, though?" Cedric asked questioningly.
"Body parts are just body parts in the scheme of things," Hermione said, clearing her throat, trying to forget the fact that a completely naked and extremely good-looking young man with wet, dark hair was sitting just metres away from her.
"But you've never seen my body parts," Cedric said wickedly, his mouth curving in an unholy smile as he watched her turn even more pink.
"I'm sure they're nothing to write home about," Hermione said loftily. "Don't think for a moment that I'm a prude, I'm very widely read," she said, clearing her throat and meeting his eyes for one second before she gazed off into the corner again, apparently deeply fascinated by a curtain.
"Is that so?" he asked her appreciatively. "And which books in the library would you have been looking at that might deal with the matter of male anatomy?" he asked her teasingly.
Hermione's mind moved frantically and she could see that he was silently laughing at her.
"Well," she said with feigned airiness. "Clearly you don't know the original reasons for the discovery of the Engorgio spell," she told him. "It all began of course when a wizard with feelings of inadequacy resorted to using a spell to try to impress a young witch of his acquaintance ... Naturally the witch was no fool and that was when Reducio was discovered ... and she was able to ascertain exactly how ... unendowed he truly was ...I've seen the illustrations and it is impossible to shock or embarrass me," she told him coolly.
Cedric burst out laughing. "You just made that up!" he accused her, looking genuinely amused at her outrageous claim.
Hermione laughed despite herself. "Maybe, but it's plausible don't you think?"
"Believe me, no wizard with a brain in his head would use the Engorgio charm anywhere near his ... how did you put it ... dangley bits?"
Hermione covered her face with her hands, still unable to believe that she had said that. Cedric was still laughing, utterly charmed by the refreshing frankness of the girl who had interrupted his bath.
Late that night, Hermione lay in bed staring through the darkness up at the ceiling. She wasn't imagining it. Her hair and her skin all smelt of the soapiness of the bath ... Cedric's soap ... The image of him lingered as clearly as the scent of him ...
Oddly enough, instead of getting out of the bath immediately, she had sat in the bath tub, feet kicking through the water as she leaned back and they had talked.
"Don't worry, I won't let the bubbles disappear," he had assured her with a grin, topping up the foam and the bubbles from time to time. At one point, he had charmed a giant, rainbow-coloured soap bubble so that it floated towards her playfully and she had reached up and caught it in her hands, laughing. To her disappointment, it had popped as soon as she had touched it and Cedric had laughed at her look of disappointment.
"What's wrong Granger?"
She had smiled wryly. "Magical soap bubbles vanish just like Muggle ones ..." she told him ruefully. "I guess it makes me sad that something so wonderful can just disappear like that - in an instant ..."
Cedric had shaken his head. "Don't go all metaphorical on me, Granger - it's just a soap bubble. I'll give you as many as your heart desires," he had told her and she had laughed at her own foolish whimsy.
She couldn't recall all of the things of which they had spoken, only known that she knew that she liked him very much and enjoyed speaking with him. Her had a clarity of thought, a frankness of manner and an innate kindness that was very attractive. It was very satisfying to be able to have such a free-ranging and thought-provoking conversation with someone so insightful and interesting.
She loved Ron and Harry. They were her friends, her dearest friends but she knew that she irritated them. Her bossiness, her assertiveness, her thirst for knowledge, her conscientiousness ... Although she was not quite a year older than they were, sometimes the gap seemed larger ...
There had been something in Cedric's smile that was admiring and intrigued. Her strong personality hadn't appeared to repel him in the slightest. She knew that he was involved with Cho and there had certainly been nothing in his behaviour that would have dishonoured his relationship with Cho, but there was just a certain something in his eyes. A dawning awareness and realisation of unspoken possibilities.
The day after her visit to the prefects' bathroom, a large bulky parcel wrapped in brown paper appeared on her bed. Picking it up curiously, she turned it over in her hands. Opening it up, she smiled in disbelief as a familiar bright yellow bath robe spilled out onto her bed. There was a note with it.
A souvenir of your illicit swim in the prefects' bath tub.
PS: Maybe next time you'll feel brave enough to dispense with the robe ...
She laughed and picked up the robe, feeling its softness against her hands, raising the fabric to her face and breathing deeply.
Soap ... the scent of Cedric's soap. She had visions of soap bubbles, foam and smiles filtered through tinted steam. The scent called to mind shared laughter and amused conversation. She smiled slightly. Despite herself, she couldn't stop herself thinking of all of the unspoken possiblities ... the things that might end up coming to pass between her and a certain grey-eyed prefect with the lingering smile and happy laugh.
The next time Hermione held up the bright canary yellow Hufflepuff bathrobe that belonged to a boy whose name had been Cedric, the expression in her eyes was very different. This time, her hands were not quite steady. She lifted up the robe and breathed in deeply. She could have sworn that she could smell soap ... a tang of aftershave ... scents that called to mind a boy with a laugh in his eyes.
She put the robe back on her bed, folding it carefully, her fingers moving across the fabric like a blind person and indeed she was blinded by the sting of tears in her eyes. She blinked rapidly, her mouth tightening. Her fingers touched the fabric again, recalling that whimsical smile. She had felt so many emotions since his death. Shock, horror, grief, pain and anger that a human life was as fragile and transient as a soap bubble.
Most of all, there had been a feeling of fierce and overwhelming selfish regret that now she would never know what could have been.
She found herself wondering over and over - if things had been different, could the two of them have one day become friends? She shook her head in disbelief, trying to dismiss the futility of her thoughts.
She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly and deliberately, wiping her eyes. Her mouth curved into a faint but determined smile as she remembered his teasing sallies and the look of warm admiration in his eyes.
If they'd ever had the chance to speak again ... she felt quite sure that they most certainly would have become friends...