Harry heard the bolts on the door slide back as he was lifting himself out of the water. He jerked his head up in time to see Moaning Myrtle make a face and disappear up one of the taps. He didn't think she'd had her eyes closed at all.
Cedric Diggory was pushing the door closed behind him, murmuring something as he shifted the change of clothing in his arms. He was in his school robes, which were a bit muddy around the sleeves as though he'd just come from Herbology. For a moment he was too busy with the door to see Harry hurriedly drop back down into the water. Then he looked up.
His eyes widened, and for a moment he didn't speak.
"Um. Sorry," he said after a moment. His cheeks were pink. "I didn't... all the prefects and captains know to set a privacy ward when they're in here. I thought the door... it sticks sometimes, you see, so I used an Alohomora..." He bit his lip suddenly and laughed. "Sorry, I should have mentioned that when I told you the password."
Harry was blushing; he could feel it. There was something about being caught in the bath that was more embarrassing than almost anything else he could think of.
"It's okay," he said quickly. "You don't have to go, or anything, I was just about to leave. I already... I mean, I got the egg clue."
Cedric was looking around for somewhere to set his clothes down. His cheeks were still pink, and he looked distracted.
"Okay," Cedric said finally. He turned. When he didn't turn back, Harry realised he was giving him privacy. He scrambled out of the bath, grabbing the heavy egg on the way. There were so many different kinds of bubbles clinging to his skin that he hardly needed the privacy. Actually he was a bit embarrassed that Cedric would see how much he'd been messing around with the taps. Like Dudley playing with bubble bath when he was five. Although not as embarrassed as he was about being caught naked in the bath, so he supposed it was all relative.
He put the egg down on the tiles by his shoes and pulled one of the fluffy white towels off the rack. He hurriedly wiped most of the bubbles away – some of them were pink, god – and then dragged his pants and trousers on. They pulled against his still-wet legs.
"Is this the first time you've put the egg underwater?" Cedric asked. "The second task is only a week and a half away."
And now Harry had something else to be embarrassed about.
"Um, yeah. I was kind of... hoping I could figure it out on my own, you know." He towled haphazardly at his hair.
Cedric turned back around then. "Why?" he asked. "I didn't figure out the dragons on my own. And," he grimaced, "I didn't actually figure out the egg on my own either. Moody gave me a hint."
Harry raised his eyebrows and Cedric grinned suddenly. "Actually, I don't think he meant to give me a hint. I think he thought I'd worked it out already. But..."
"Oh, right." Harry realised that he sounded a little sullen, but seeing that grin had reminded him of how handsome and charming and going out with Cho Cedric was. It didn't seem right that he should have a grin that disarming, or that he should think he could throw it out willy-nilly at people who were already feeling on edge from being caught in the bath. Especially a bath they weren't actually supposed to be using, even if it had been Cedric who'd given Harry the password.
Cedric was shifting the clothes in his arms – apparently he hadn't found anywhere to put them – and Harry wondered suddenly if he was waiting for him to leave. Harry wasn't actually properly dressed yet, though. He thought about mentioning that, but Cedric spoke again before he could.
"But you've worked out the clue now?"
"Yeah, I think so." He shot Cedric a look and tested his theory. "Not sure how I'm going to manage breathing under the lake, though."
Cedric laughed. "Honestly, compared to facing dragons? Breathing underwater is a cinch."
Harry shrugged. "For you, maybe. I'm probably going to be left standing there on the shore looking like an idiot while the rest of you dive in and find... whatever this is they're supposed to have taken from us."
Cedric smiled, and it was that disarming grin again, only more, somehow. It made Harry feel uncomfortable, as though he didn't quite fit into his skin properly.
"You didn't look like an idiot in the first task," Cedric said lightly. He shook his head. "Three seekers in the Tournament, and you were the only one of us who thought to use a broom. Although to be perfectly honest, I probably couldn't have outflown a dragon anyway."
"Ron told me what you did, too," Harry said quickly, uncomfortable with the praise. "Transfiguring a rock into a dog... that's pretty original. I would never have thought to do something like that."
Cedric shrugged. "Well, anyway. It didn't work that well. I think Fleur had the most powerful spell, actually. It was just bad luck that her dragon was a snorer."
Harry grinned at the picture that called up. He suddenly wished he'd been able to see the other champions face their dragons.
"I should probably go..." he started.
"Oh, you don't have to!" Cedric jumped in, and then he flushed dark pink again. "I meant... uh... Oh, fuck, I don't know what I meant."
Harry hesitated. He looked down at his egg. He glanced at the rest of his clothes stacked not-so-neatly on a chair. "I'm sorry, what?" he asked finally.
Cedric was still blushing, and he didn't seem to be able to look at Harry, and it was just... bizarre. Cedric Diggory was charming and charismatic and self-possessed and completely unfairly good looking, and in what universe would he be blushing and unable to meet Harry's eyes?
"I didn't mean to tell you to come to the Prefects' Bathroom," he blurted, and Harry blinked. "I was going to give you a proper clue, tell you to put it under the water. I know what's fair, and you told me straight out about the dragons, you didn't give me some dumb hint like 'Go check the Life of St George out of the library' or something."
"So... why didn't you?"
Cedric glanced at him and then away. "I can't believe I'm having this conversation," he muttered.
"What conversation?" Harry shook his head. He was beginning to be frustrated. "I don't think we're having a conversation at all, you just... you make these cryptic comments as though I should understand."
"Well, maybe you should." Cedric looked directly at Harry this time, and even though he was still blushing, his gaze didn't waver. There was a lock of dark brown hair, heavy with condensation, falling over into his grey eyes, and Harry found himself wondering surreally how many times Cedric had to push it back every day. Twenty? Thirty? Did other people reach out and do it for him? "You're standing half-naked in a bathroom with a boy who just asked you to stay," Cedric continued. "Maybe you should understand."
Harry stared at him for a moment. And then he blushed. Hard. And he was staring at Cedric and Cedric wasn't correcting what Harry was obviously thinking and that was just making him blush harder. And really it was all terribly confusing, and possibly Cedric was doing it deliberately?
There were a lot of things he wanted to answer. Are you serious? and Why would you want me? and You don't like boys, and for that matter, I don't like boys. Somehow what came out was, "You don't have to come onto me just to keep me away from Cho, you know."
Cedric just stared at him.
"Or... maybe that wasn't what you were doing."
Cedric shook his head slowly. "Maybe not," he said.
Harry became aware that he'd picked up the heavy golden egg again and was hugging it against his chest like a security blanket. He put it down on top of his shirt and robes on the chair, needing to have something to do while he sorted out his thoughts. Then his hands felt useless and empty and he wished he hadn't put it down.
"Do you want me to –" Cedric started, at the same time that Harry said, "I didn't mean that –" He halted the spill of words and looked up again. Cedric was biting his lip, and for a moment he looked anguished and indecisive. Then he said, in a rush, "Can I kiss you?"
Apparently this was the trigger for some kind of disabling mechanism in Harry's brain. He felt his mouth open, and he gave a sort of diagonal jerk of his head which honestly could have been a Yes or an Oh god go away. Cedric must have decided to take it as the former, since he stepped closer and put a cautious hand under Harry's chin to tilt his face up.
He felt Cedric's breath on his lips a moment before he felt his mouth – softly, so softly as though he was being incredibly careful, or as though he didn't quite know what he was doing.
Only that didn't seem likely. Not when he was Hufflepuff's golden boy.
Harry made some kind of noise, something like 'uh' or 'um', muffled by the other boy's mouth. Cedric stumbled back.
"Sorry, I'm sorry," he said. His cheeks were scarlet. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have – I know you don't – oh, just. Fuck." He shut his eyes for a minute, then opened them and tried a smile. It failed and twisted off his face. "I honestly didn't plan to do that," he said.
"It's okay," Harry said. He wasn't sure what he meant.
"That wasn't why I told you to take your egg to the bathroom," Cedric said. His tone was earnest, as if was terribly important that Harry understand this.
Harry rubbed at his mouth with his fingertips, wondering why it was tingling. Cedric looked disheveled somehow, which was silly since they hadn't even really kissed – not the way people usually kissed, under stairwells and behind the Quidditch shed. But Cedric looked as though someone had been tussling his hair, running their fingers through it. Harry hadn't done that, had he?
He realised that he was staring at Cedric's hair rather than listening to what he was saying.
"I didn't even – I didn't mean to tell you to come here, you know."
Harry had an idea Cedric had already told him that. "Sorry, what?"
Cedric raked his hand through his hair. (Oh. Maybe he ruffled his hair himself.) "I was going to just say, 'Take the egg into the bath with you and put it under the water.' Only I got as far as bath and then I realised that I was thinking about the Boy Who Lived in the bath and I just – I think I started babbling a bit. And then the Prefects' Bathroom popped into my head because the bath thing pulled up a couple of – of fantasies that I honestly didn't mean to think about, and before I knew it I'd said it out loud and then – I just kind of had to escape."
Harry could feel that his mouth had fallen open. Cedric slid his eyes over to him and then looked away, colour cresting on his cheeks once more. "You didn't need to know all that detail," he said.
"Is that...?" He had to stop and clear his throat. "I mean, you said the Boy Who Lived. Is that why you... um, kissed me?" Oh god, his cheeks were going to catch fire. "Because I'm Harry Potter?"
Cedric stared at his fingernails. He looked wholly miserable. "I don't know. Maybe? I don't think so, but there's this whole..." He looked up. "Do you know how big a deal it was to my dad that I beat you at Quidditch?" He looked away again. "I think I might have bought into the hero worship thing a bit. Which is so embarrassing, because you're pretty amazing but you're still more than two years younger than me. But, god, you didn't even blink when you told me we were up against dragons for the first task."
"... I guess I'd had time to get used to the idea," Harry managed.
Cedric shrugged, and mustered an apologetic grin. "So, I've probably embarrassed myself enough. But you – you know, you should ask Cho out. I think she likes you."
Harry gaped at him, the abrupt change of subject making him slow.
"But you're going out with Cho," he said. This was, he realised, something that ought to have mattered to him before this. When Cedric kissed him, for example.
Cedric blinked. "No, I'm not," he said blankly. He looked at Harry more narrowly. "That's what you meant before, isn't it? When you said that thing about keeping you away from Cho? But that's... I mean Cho's great, don't get me wrong, but it's not like that."
Harry hesitated. He hadn't felt sure of very much this year, not after he'd got everything so confused last year. But the dull ache of jealousy over Cedric and Cho – that had been a constant. "You went to the Yule Ball with her," he said. As though he could remind Cedric and Hufflepuff's golden boy would say 'Oh! Cho. Right, yes, that Cho, of course I'm going out with her.' "You hold hands in the corridors. You carry her books to class for her. I don't mean – I don't want to sound as though I've been watching you two or something, but..."
"We're not going out," Cedric said again. One side of his mouth was trying to rise into a smile. "Cho knows that I don't feel that way about girls. She's fun. We're friends. And... yeah," he waved a hand, "we kind of flirt more than I do with my other friends, but that's because we both know it doesn't mean anything. It's just... it's nice, you know. Comfortable."
"Oh," Harry said eventually. He got the impression Cedric expected more than that, but he didn't know what to say. Cho wasn't going out with Cedric?
"I think she would have gone to the ball with you instead, actually, if you'd asked her," Cedric said. "I kind of... got the impression you had a crush on her, so I wasn't sure why you didn't."
"I did," Harry admitted. "I was too late."
"Oh, right." Cedric scowled slightly, looking down at his shoes, and then looked back up again. He was smiling once more, although it looked a little strained. "You could ask her out now, anyway. It's not actually too late. She's not with anyone."
"Right. Um... thanks. That's... thanks."
"Yeah. So, anyway..."
"Yeah, I'll just... finish getting dressed."
He sat down on the cushioned wooden chair, carefully setting his egg down on the marble floor beside him; one time listening to it shriek in the echoing acoustic of the bathroom had been more than enough. He shrugged his shirt on, aware of Cedric watching him from the corner of his eye. Cedric who wasn't going out with Cho after all.
He couldn't work out what he thought of that. He could ask Cho out again, maybe to a Hogsmeade weekend. Oh god no. He fumbled a button.
He really wasn't sure he could. It had been traumatic enough the first time.
No, none of that. He was a Gryffindor. House of the brave and... stupid. Fearless, that was it. He could ask Cho out again if he wanted.
He got to the bottom of his shirt and realised he'd buttoned it up wrong. He flushed – Cedric was still watching him – and started again.
Did he want to ask Cho out?
He frowned, his fingers stilling on his shirt as he mentally investigated the state of the crush. It was like prodding at a bruise to see if it was still tender, and then figuring you must have the wrong arm because you couldn't even find it. Except no, that wasn't entirely true. There was still something there, but it seemed to have transformed. The crush, if it was still a crush, wasn't focused as it had been before on Cho with her hair shining in the sunlight on the Quidditch pitch. Now it seemed to be about the ache of jealousy he felt when he saw Cho and Cedric looking so charmed and happy as they shoved against each others' shoulders in the hallways.
Only, Cho and Cedric weren't going out.
Cedric was still looking at him, a little twist to his mouth that wasn't happy, and Harry touched his own mouth. It was still tingling a little. He was allowed to ask Cho out if he wanted, only Cedric was standing there, and he...
Harry wasn't entirely sure when he'd got to his feet and moved closer. Cedric's eyes widened a little, and he moistened his lips unconsciously as he looked down at Harry. Harry only knew that, really, he was better at the act first, think later mode of operation, and he'd sort out the Cho thing – and maybe the straight thing – later.
"..." Cedric swallowed and tried again. "Uh, yes?"
Harry had to stand on tiptoes, and then finding the right angle was a little awkward. Cedric helped as soon as he caught on to what was happening, though, ducking his head and folding his fingers into the back of Harry's collar. And then... yes, then there was Cedric's mouth, soft against his. Harry felt himself make a tiny frustrated sound. He shifted his feet, trying to strain up a little closer.
Cedric made a noise in his throat. His mouth fell open a little way and the tip of a tongue was nudging Harry's mouth open. Harry felt somehow that it was important to catalogue the sensations – maybe so that he could explain this to himself later – and so there was Cedric's breath, warm against his cheek as he pulled away for a second, and Cedric's hair tickling soft against his forehead, his ears, and Cedric's robes under his hands, threaded into his fingers (when had he put them there?) Hands lifted his glasses away, which would have mattered more if Harry had had his eyes open. Then the lips were back, at the corner of his mouth, biting oh-so-gently at his bottom lip, and Harry was almost certain that he let out a soft moan when that happened. And that would have been embarrassing, except that the only thing that seemed to matter just now was getting closer somehow. He wound one arm around the taller boy's neck (really, Harry would happily face Voldemort again if he could just have his growth spurt right now), pulling him down and wriggling a little nearer.
Cedric smiled quickly against his mouth and nudged his lips open a little further, tongue darting inside, briefly touching Harry's in a way that made his breath trip. He tried replicating the movement, and when Cedric made a pleased noise and pulled the arm around his waist in tighter, he got a little bolder.
Harry was only barely aware of where they were, so it was something of a shock when Cedric pressed him backwards against the wall and his elbow knocked sharply against one of the heavy brass taps and turned it on. The hard rush of pink and blue foam soaked his sleeve and made him jump back reflexively, the back of his knees fetching up against the side of the bath. He grabbed Cedric's arm for balance, which turned out to be a bad idea as Cedric was already leaning forward. He stumbled heavily against Harry, and there was a moment of frozen inevitability during which Harry knew that his knees were going to buckle and they were going to tumble backwards. "Shit," he gasped, and everything else was banished in the impact of two bodies and tangling limbs and blue vision and swallowed water.
He scrambled his way back to the surface, winded and spitting water. His eyes were stinging and his vision was misty – did he lose his glasses? No, that's right, Cedric took them off.
He turned to check on Cedric, pushing his sopping fringe out of his eyes, and found him coughing pink and blue bubbles. "I think I –" (he stopped to cough) "– swallowed –" (more coughing, some sputtering) "– actually rather a lot of that foam." He was barely audible for the last two words.
They stared at each other for a moment, and then Cedric started to laugh. "You should – you should see yourself," he said. (More bubbles, floating bright and incongruous out over Harry's head.) "You look like a –- drowned rat."
He tugged at Harry's hair, smoothing it to one side. "It's all spiky," he said.
Harry grinned. "Yours has bubbles in it," he said. He reached out for one, popping it with his fingers. "Actually, you're covered with bubbles." Harry felt as though he'd swallowed some too. There was a giddy, bubbly feeling in his chest that had something to do with falling in the bath, and something to do with the fact that Cedric was still touching his cheek, and something to do with Cedric's sopping wet clothes that were plastered to his chest and speckled with pink and blue bubbles clinging to the lines of his hips and shoulders. He didn't know if the feeling was going to come out as a laugh or as something else.
Cedric's smile became a little more wicked. "Actually, it's quite a sexy kind of spiky," he said, smoothing the hair over Harry's ear.
"Oh?" Harry felt his own smile trying to break out again. "Is it quite a sexy drowned rat look, too?" (My god, he thought wildly. I'm flirting.) Cedric laughed low. He moved closer, shifting his hand from Harry's hair to his shoulder blade.
"I think you might be the sexiest rat I've ever seen." He grinned.
Harry had a half-hysterical thought about Peter Pettigrew and tight leather trousers.
He looked away and lifted an arm, half-heartedly wringing out the sleeve. "I feel silly for getting dressed again, now," he said. Cedric choked.
"Oh, shut – that wasn't what I meant." Harry reddened again. He darted a glance over, noticing for the first time that Cedric's robes were open and the top two buttons on his shirt were undone. Had he done that? He had a half-hazy memory of twining up and closer to the warm body in front of him; had he actually tried to burrow inside his clothes?
"I wasn't complaining," Cedric said, grinning wider, and – oh, he'd just said that out loud.
"I didn't –"
"Ooh!" Harry nearly dislocated a shoulder jumping back through the water as the scandalised shriek rang through the bathroom.
She was floating cross-legged above the taps, her eyes wide.
"Wet boys in the bathroom," she purred. "Wet prefects snogging, all their clothes dripping wet."
Harry opened and shut his mouth a few times. The only thing he could think to say was, 'I'm not a prefect,' which he didn't think would be very helpful.
Cedric was staring at Moaning Myrtle. "You're – no, who on earth are you?" he asked.
Abruptly Myrtle's mood changed, and Harry didn't need to see the woebegone expression chasing its way across her face to recognise it. "Nobody remembers you when you d-d-die," she said. She burst into noisy sobs.
"Oh god, Myrtle, don't," Harry said. Cedric turned a mystified glance on him and hoisted himself up onto the side of the bath. He got to his feet and put a hand out to tug Harry up. "How do you know a ghost I've never even seen before, Harry?"
"She mostly lives in the girls' toilet," Harry muttered, taking his hand. Cedric raised his eyebrows.
"I'm not going to ask what you do in girls' toilets."
"We were making Polyjuice potion," Harry said. He was out of the bath now, and he busied himself with wringing out his shirt, conscious of Myrtle's continuing sobs. "We wanted to... actually never mind, it's complicated and stupid."
He looked at the ghost, who had her face buried in her spectral hands. Her shoulders shook. "Myrtle. Myrtle, please! Don't cry. He didn't mean it like that."
"How didn't I mean it?" Cedric asked. Harry turned towards him, wanting to say that he wasn't helping. Instead he saw him whiten and crumple at the knees. Harry moved forward and caught him without conscious thought, stumbling under the hefty weight of a suddenly boneless seventeen-year-old boy. He was aware that Cedric was coughing again, great hacking coughs that shook his body and expelled dreamy swirls of rose and azure bubbles. They floated balloon-like up to the ceiling, but Harry was only peripherally aware of them. He stared down at the white-faced, shaking boy whose weight was dragging him down towards the tiles.
"Is he going to die?" Myrtle was suddenly tearless and right by Harry's ear. She pushed her face closer. "He's quite pretty. If he doesn't make any more cruel comments I might let him share my cubicle."
Harry bit his lip, trying not to panic. Cedric really was shaking badly. "Myrtle, could you please – please go and get Madam Pomfrey for me? I think maybe he really shouldn't have swallowed that – that foam."
* * *
"The bath potions in these taps are not designed to be imbibed." Madam Pomfrey gave Harry a severe frown. He wondered whether she supposed he and Cedric had sat about with juice goblets, telling each other, 'Mm, try the orange sparkly one, it has quite a kick.'
"I'm sorry," he said. "He's going to be fine, though, right? Can I see him?"
She frowned again. She was currently blocking the entrance to the hospital wing, which Harry had been hanging about since Madam Pomfrey had had Cedric brought in – collapsing and coughing multi-coloured bubbles all the way.
"Mr Diggory is still expelling bubbles," she said. "He will, of course, make a full recovery given the appropriate treatment."
"Oh, good." Harry sagged a little. He hadn't been able to forget the deep shaking that had torn through Cedric's body when he coughed. "What's the treatment? Is it something painful?"
Pomfrey pursed her lips. "Bed rest, principally," she said. "You may come in, I suppose, as you're so curious. I can tell you and Mr Diggory at the same time."
She was right. Cedric was still coughing up bubbles. He was propped up in bed, white-faced and weak. He was wearing dry hospital pajamas now, which made Harry conscious of the way his own clothes still dripped and stuck to his skin. A lazy swirl of bubbles traced a pattern around the ceiling above Cedric's head, new ones joining the pattern each time he coughed.
Cedric tried to smile when he saw them come in, but he was interrupted by a blue bubble forcing its way past his lips.
"Hey, Harry," he said when he could speak. "Did you get rid of that weird ghost?"
"Hey." Harry smiled involuntarily. Cedric looked pathetic and sort of cute, with his wan face and charm-dried hair beginning to feather. "Myrtle disappeared in a sulk when Madam Pomfrey told her you weren't going to die."
Cedric grimaced, coughing again. "God, what an ignoble way to die. Being found partially dressed and choking on bubbles in the Prefects' Bathroom."
Pomfrey made a "hmm" sort of noise, and Cedric jumped a little. "Ah, where we were... having a tutoring session." He smiled heart-meltingly at Pomfrey. "It can be so hard to find a spare table in the Library, don't you find, Madam Pomfrey?"
She raised her eyebrows, signaling I don't believe a word that comes out of your mouth, Cedric Diggory. Still, Harry thought she softened a little.
"Madam Pomfrey says you mostly need to just stay in bed for a bit," he put in. Cedric looked up sharply.
"A fortnight," Pomfrey said.
Harry frowned, trying to remember what it was that sounded wrong with that. Cedric made a sharp choking sound and struggled to sit up straighter.
"I can't! You know I can't. The second task is a week and a half away!"
Harry blinked. Oh. Yes. That was it.
Madam Pomfrey pursed her lips severely. "You most certainly can, Mr Diggory. If you do not wish to pass out and sink to your death during the task, you will stay in that bed."
"But..." Harry looked from one to the other. "But he'll be disqualified from the Tournament if he misses a task." Cedric nodded fervently, staring at the school nurse as though he could will the right response out of her.
"Yes, I imagine so," she said. "A good thing, too. A more dangerous waste of time and resources I've never seen. Dragons! Dragons, in a school. The organisers must be soft in the head."
Cedric fell back against the bed as she turned and stalked away. She said something over her shoulder about fetching a potion for him.
Harry looked at him uncertainly. There was a wretched sort of twist of guilt curling in his stomach. It had been entirely his fault that Cedric swallowed the bath foam. People would probably say that he'd sabotaged him deliberately, when they knew.
If they didn't say worse things.
"It... it's not that bad, really," he said. "The Tournament's not brilliant."
Cedric turned and gave him a hard look. "Easy for you to say," he said. "You didn't even want to be a champion. I did actually put my name in the Goblet of Fire, you know." He stared moodily at his fingers on the coverlet, and coughed out another blue bubble. "Eternal glory awaits," he said.
Harry glared back. "Pretty stupid kind of glory. Facing dragons and fetching treasures just so you can get your hands on a cup."
There was a tense silence. Harry could hear Madam Pomfrey bustling about preparing something in the next room.
"Oh... hell," Cedric said. He turned to look at Harry. "I really... I really wanted that cup, you know. I suppose it seems dumb to you when you've had... fame and glory for years. But it would have been... It would have been nice." He made a weak attempt at squaring his shoulders. "Never mind. You'll win for Hogwarts, we'll have to make sure of that. Then I can be noble and gracious and look like a good sport when I shake your hand at the end." He grinned weakly.
"I am sorry," Harry burst out.
Cedric waved the apology away. "Do you know what you're going to use to breathe under the lake?"
Harry shook his head.
"I'll teach you the charm I was going to use," Cedric said. His smile got slightly wicked again. "We can have another tutoring session if you'd like."
Something in Harry turned over a little.
Anybody could see that Cedric minded about the Tournament rather a lot. But... Harry bit his lip and grinned.