Rachel lay staring up at the underside of the canopy above her four-poster, inexplicably unable to sleep. By now it must have been well past midnight, and she knew that her tomorrow was the first day back to class, but for some reason she was wide awake – well, she knew the reason. The question of why Cedric hadn’t appeared at dinner was still burned into the forefront of her mind.
How could she have forgotten that the second task of the tournament was so close? She’d been so elated that Cedric had made it through battling with the dragon virtually unscathed that she really hadn’t given the following tasks much thought at all. Coupled with all the drama that had followed her before the Yule Ball, plus the dance itself, she hadn’t really had spare time to think about much else. But of course there were going to be more – and now she once again had that familiar nervous knot in her stomach, thinking of having to watch Cedric risk his life once again. All for a stupid competition.
She turned over, unable to get comfortable beneath the thick down comforter. Katie’s snores from across the little tower room seemed even louder than they normally were – for some reason they grated especially hard on Rachel’s nerves tonight. She flopped back over on her back, looking at the little patch of light that the moon cast on the canopy, willing herself into sleep.
Footsteps could be heard suddenly in the corridor connecting all the girls’ dormitories, trotting quickly in the direction of the sixth-year room. Rachel sat up on an elbow, watching the door through the darkness. Sure enough, as though she had known it was coming, whoever the footsteps belonged too stopped outside the door. A loud knock broke the silence, and Alicia mumbled in her sleep and rolled over.
Quickly, trying hard not to wake her friends, Rachel slipped out of bed and stole quietly to the door. She cracked it open and blinked in the sudden, harsh light emanating from the end of the visitor’s wand. Still squinting, she recognized a fourth-year Gryffindor girl, Hermione Granger, standing there, still wearing her robes.
“What is it? What are you still doing up?” Rachel asked, her voice groggier than she’d thought. She rubbed a hand over her eyes, still unused to the light.
“I’ve been doing homework –“ Hermione began matter-of-factly, and Rachel cut her off in disbelief.
“What? We haven’t even gone back yet,” she said, amazed at how bookish this girl really was – it seemed that Fred and George really weren’t exaggerating. The fourth-year brushed this off, looking slightly annoyed that Rachel had chosen to focus on this particular issue.
“Doesn’t matter,” she said brusquely. “Look, Cedric Diggory is outside the common room and he said he really needs to talk to you. I told him you were sleeping, but he said it was really important.”
Rachel suddenly felt wide awake. She quickly hurried back to her bed, leaving the door ajar, and threw on some jeans, a white T-shirt, and a gray sweater, running her fingers through her hair and hoping beyond hope that it wasn’t too frizzy from lying on the pillow. When she returned to the door leading out to the corridor, she found that Hermione Granger was still there, looking mightily put-out.
“You know, you shouldn’t be leaving your dormitory after curfew,” she said bossily, following Rachel down the spiral staircase into the common room. The fire in the grate was now burning low; it was a wonder that Hermione found enough light to do her homework by.
“If you’re caught, you’ll get in so much trouble,” Hermione continued, talking rather fast, as though she wanted to get everything out before Rachel left the room. But all her admonitions were ignored; Rachel pushed open the Fat Lady’s portrait and scrambled through the portrait hole, and the nagging voice behind her was cut off.
Cedric was standing against the stone wall adjoining the portrait, deep in thought, but he looked up as she emerged. “I have something to show you,” he said, without waiting for her to ask why he had called her out in the middle of the night. She noticed he had the golden egg he’d collected from the silver and blue dragon in the first task under his arm. Then she became aware that his hair and skin were damp, as though he’d been swimming, and her curiosity was piqued further. She frowned, a million questions blossoming on the tip of her tongue.
“Why…?” she began, but he had already held his hand out to her, looking anxious. Giving a little sigh of resignation, she took it, and he immediately began to walk quickly for some destination unknown to her. The castle was still and quiet – most of the paintings in their frames were fast asleep – and the moon shining through the high, narrow windows provided enough light for them to see by.
They moved in stealthy silence down a staircase concealed by a tapestry, then another, and all the while Cedric made no mention of where they might be heading. She noticed that he was looking around him anxiously as though worried they would be caught, but she understood this – technically, he wasn’t supposed to reveal to her anything about the upcoming tournament task.
They finally stopped outside a statue of a wizard Rachel recognized from History of Magic to be Boris the Bewildered, and then Cedric began counting doors, stopping at the fourth from the left of the statue. “Pine fresh,” he muttered, and the door swung open with a loud click that seemed to resonate throughout the whole castle. Still holding her hand tightly, Cedric led the way into the room he had just unlocked, and Rachel followed him in.
They were standing in a massive bathroom that was dominated by a large pool in the center of the room. Adorning the ornately tiled edge of what Rachel now assumed to be a sort of lavish bathtub were taps embedded with little gemstones. The tiles were still slippery and slick with water and bubbles – now it was evident why Cedric had been wet when he’d come to fetch her from Gryffindor Tower. A sort of muffled sobbing was coming from somewhere unseen – Rachel recognized the sobs as those of Moaning Myrtle, the ghost who haunted a girls’ toilet.
“Why on earth did you bring me to a bathroom, Cedric?” Rachel asked, more confused now than ever. This really wasn’t her idea of a good place for a midnight jaunt, to be honest, but she knew there must have been some crucial reason for the meeting spot.
“Hold on,” Cedric said, and crossed to the pool’s edge. Kneeling down, he twisted a few of the taps at random, and the room began to steam almost immediately as perfumed water and large, iridescent soap bubbles began spilling from the bejeweled spouts. Rachel watched in fascination, coming to kneel beside him as yellow and red bubbles rose to the surface.
Cedric turned to look at her expectantly, as though he had proved some elaborate point, but she merely stared back at him blankly, still unable to comprehend his train of thought. “Bubbles,” she said at last, hoping that she was at least on the right track.
He laughed for the first time that evening, the warm sound echoing brightly around the stalls and tiles of the bathroom. “I haven’t gotten to my reason for bringing you here yet. Be patient,” he teased, and then his smile dropped gradually as he reached behind him for the golden egg. Taking it carefully in his large hands, his thumbnails found a groove in the smooth gilded surface. For the first time Rachel noticed the little hinges on one side of the egg.
A split second later, the egg fell open, revealing its hollow insides – and a shriek unlike any she had ever heard screamed to the ceiling, seeming to come from the egg itself. Instinctively Rachel reached up and clapped her hands over her ears, and Cedric did the same, dropping the egg by his ankles. This, however, did nothing to deaden the sound, magnified as it was by the acoustics of the room.
With a mighty kick, Cedric sent the egg whizzing into the foamy water he’d just drawn, and the screaming stopped at once, to be replaced by a kind of warbled bubbling sound. Rachel cautiously lowered her hands – the egg might float, and she wanted to be prepared.
“They’re mad,” she said firmly, both eyeing the spot where the egg now lay at the bottom of the bath; great bubbles seemed to be issuing from it, disturbing the otherwise calm surface of the water. Cedric laughed again but nodded in grudging agreement. “Barking, the whole lot of judges,” he said.
“But what’s any of that got to do with the second task?” she asked.
“Put your ear to the water,” Cedric said, and, leaning over the edge of the massive tub, did just that, laying his cheek on the foam. Hesitantly, Rachel followed suit, acutely aware of how close their faces were to each other. And then she heard it. Calling it singing was certainly a stretch, but some kind of vaguely musical sound did now seem to be coming from the egg. She closed her eyes in concentration, and the faintly distant lyrics of a semblance of a song came to her.
“Come seek us where our voices sound,” she whispered aloud, and sat up on her knees. Cedric did the same, nodding gravely, and began to recite the rest of the odd lyrics. She closed her eyes again to listen to them, their meaning become strangely clearer as she listened to his voice.
“So you have to find something – something whoever is singing has taken,” she said slowly, once she had heard the full song. “And you’ll have an hour to recover it, or it’ll disappear forever. Is that it?” Cedric nodded, but still looked rather grim, which she didn’t understand; after battling a dragon, surely he could do a scavenger hunt.
“There’s a bit more to it,” he said. “The singers are merpeople. Which means that I’ll have to recover whatever it is from somewhere underwater.” And then Rachel understood.
“How are you – you’re going to hold your breath underwater for an hour?” she said, not being able to help the look of incredulity that spread across her face. Cedric shrugged, but it was affirmation enough – that was certainly what the egg seemed to be implying. She leaned down to the water again, hoping she might hear something he had missed. But the egg’s song remained exactly the same as it had been the first time she’d listened to it.
Suddenly, she became aware that Cedric had moved away from the pool’s edge – she’d been concentrating so hard on the clue that she hadn’t noticed him get up. She scrambled quickly to her feet and, looking around, saw him standing in front of a narrow window on the opposite side of the door. His face was half-cloaked in shadow; the dimness of the light made him look suddenly vulnerable and scared, and that frightened Rachel.
Slowly, not making a sound on the damp floor, she crossed to him and wrapped her arms snugly around him from behind. She felt some of the tension in his shoulders ease slightly, and laid her cheek against his back, hoping to convey to him her trust and confidence. He seemed to need that right now.
“We’ll find something,” she said, speaking earnestly in the dripping silence of the bathroom. “There’s got to be some way to do it, or they wouldn’t have set the task in the first place. You’re going to do great, Cedric.”
Cedric turned, a ghost of a smile flickering across his face, and it was his turn to wrap her in a hug. She didn’t care that his sweater was still slightly damp; she clung to him tightly, attempting to convey all that she was feeling. She’d been scared before, but that was before the first task – she knew he could do this.
“Thanks, Rach,” Cedric mumbled into her air, and she drew back, smiling confidently up at him.
“We’ll go to the library every evening, if we have to. Okay?” He grinned and nodded, and then, for the second time that day, surprised her with an unexpected kiss. This time, the intensity of that kiss scared her a little, but she brushed the thought quickly from her mind less it latch on there and take hold of her, as it had when Cedric’s name had come out of the cup.
Cedric summoned the egg from the bottom of the bath and drained the water and bubbles from it. Holding on tightly once more to Rachel’s hand, they left the bathroom, Myrtle’s sobbing (which had ceased during their conversation) resuming just before the door swung shut behind them. The path back up to Gryffindor Tower was largely uneventful, though less hurried than the trek down to the bathroom had been – they were really in no hurry to leave each other now.
“Tomorrow evening, Ced. The library,” Rachel smiled as they came to a halt outside the portrait of the Fat Lady, who was snoring rather ungracefully against her gilded frame. Cedric nodded, and Rachel was relieved to see that he hadn’t looked as strained as he had in the shadowy light from the room.
“Thanks, Rach. Good night,” he said softly, and left a light kiss on her lips before creeping away, checking for Filch or Peeves before disappearing from view down the end of the corridor. Rachel smiled slightly after him and then turned to go into the common room.
To her shock, someone was sitting on the sofa before the fire, which had now been reduced to ash – two people, as a matter of fact. Both heads jerked up quickly as the portrait of the very irate and sleepy Fat Lady swung shut behind her, and then she recognized them. Her face felt as though it was on fire.
“What are you two still doing up?” she hissed, quickly crossing the common room and sitting on the armchair adjoining the couch that the Weasley twins occupied.
George gave her a broad grin and grabbed one of the little white boxes that were sitting on his lap – it was about the size of a deck of cards. Rachel recognized the box at once and, rolling her eyes, she opened it; two sweets, one purple and one orange, fell into the outstretched palm of her hand.
“Just doing some top-secret little touchups on our latest Skiving Snackbox,” said Fred with a cheeky smirk, naming the products the twins had been working on in private since the beginning of the year – they were supposed to get you out of class if they worked all right, although they’d been having difficulties. “Can’t let others see the merchandise, after all.”
“But I’d wager my last Galleon that what we’re doing up late is not nearly as interesting nor exciting as what you’re doing out of bed after hours,” George interrupted, his eyes twinkling with mirth even in the dim light that two o’ clock in the morning afforded.
“None of your business,” Rachel said, sticking her tongue out and rising quickly from the chair, depositing the sweets back in George’s hand.
“Hey, that’s not fair!” laughed Fred. “We told you what we were doing!”
“Good night,” Rachel said firmly, unable to keep a grin from sliding across her face, and she march resolutely over to the spiral staircase that led up to the Gryffindor girls’ dormitories.
It was only once she had climbed underneath her covers once more, being careful not to wake Angelina, Alicia, or Katie, that she allowed her thoughts to wander back to the egg and Cedric and the second task that was approaching with each tick of the second hand. She pulled the covers up to her chin and turned over, watching an owl swoop by the narrow window.
She knew that he could do it – hadn’t he conquered a dragon last fall, and come away with only a fairly minor burn to show for it? That certainly wasn’t an easy feat, to be sure. She had no idea how he was going to manage to stay underwater for an hour, but surely something in one of the library’s books could help them – and if helping Cedric was a little illegal, well, so be it.
The last thought on her mind, though, was not of the second task, nor the issue of holding one’s breath for an hour. The only thing she could focus on was how much power had been behind the kiss Cedric had given her that evening.
A/N: The further I get in this story, the less I want to post chapters, because I firmly refuse to believe that this story shall ever come to an end. And yet here we are at chapter thirteen out of twenty! Wow - that's just crazy stuff right there. Credit goes once more to LadyMalfoy23 for helping me (again) figure out this chapter, and even more so to Sarah, for making me laugh, keeping me sane, and sticking by this story like no one else.
PULSE PULSE PULSE. (That's an in-joke, that is.)
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