Jane unclutched her fingers slowly. Her gaze drifted over the surface of the lake, taking in the beauty of the glittering water. Mesmerized, she let go of Toadmila's arm and took a step towards the reflected moon.
“Is this magic?” she asked.
Toadmila rubbed her arm and moved it up and down, left and right, trying to get the blood going through it again.
“Beauty is a form of magic, in a way,” she said when she could feel her arm again. “But it doesn't come from a wand or a cauldron”
Jane had reached the edge of the lake. She squatted down and reached her hand into the water. She pulled it back so fast that she tumbled on her back.
“It's hot!” she said, getting up. “Why is the water hot? This is magic, isn't it?”
“The water reaches deep into the ground,” Toadmila said, leaning to test the water with one finger. “And it's not that hot.”
“But it's cold under ground,” Jane protested. “That's where we keep our food so it won't spoil.”
“Lower than that,” Toadmila said, wiping her fingers on her standard robes. “much deeper than that, the earth is hot, so hot that rocks melt and flow like liquid embers.”
“That sounds like magic,” Jane said.
“Magic or not, it will help,” she said. “Now take off your clothes.”
“You said there'd be no dancing naked with goats!” Jane protested, covering her fully dressed chest with both arms.
“No dancing and no goats,” Toadmila agreed. “But you'll have to take a bath in the lake. I won't look if it bothers you.”
She turned around, staring at the sky.
“It won't bother me,” Jane said, “we all bathe in the river in summer. All the kids.”
That was quite different from the baths Toadmila was used to, at the Academy, where the girls' bathroom had individual bathing booths strictly protected from prying eyes not just by walls, but also by powerful anti-skrying wards, just in case the boys got curious and tried to misuse the crystal balls in the Divination laboratory, as, of course, they always did.
“You're not exactly a kid anymore,” Toadmila noticed, still intent upon the patterns of the stars.
The only answer was aloud splash behind her.
“Don't drown,” Toadmila said coldly. She turned around and found herself alone. A moment later, Jane's head popped out of the water.
“This is really nice,” she said. “I've never had a hot bath before.”
“You'll have to unbraid your hear,” Toadmila said, kneeling by the abandoned bundle of Jane's clothes and dragging out of it the things she'd had the girl carry.
“Rub this into your hair,” she added, handing Jane a jar, “and rub this onto your skin.”
She gave Jane the small, translucent slab she'd been working on earlier, reaching gingerly over the water. Jane did as she'd been told, and soon the air was filled with shiny bubbles and a soft scent of roses and jasmine.
“What is this magic?” Jane asked, blowing bubbles out of her hands.
“Soap,” Toadmila answered coldly.
“No way! Grandma makes soap. It's hard and rough and it burns your skin and makes it itchy for weeks. This isn't soap.”
“Different recipe,” she said. “But it's soap. And no, it won't burn your skin. It just cleans it. Just make sure you rinse it all off.”
The bath took a long time. Toadmila had not thought about the bubbles when she'd planned the time they were going to need. She hadn't realized how much she'd taken for granted the mundane luxuries she'd enjoyed at the Academy: the delicate soap, the hot water, the healthy meals, the spells that kept the rooms warm in winter and cool in summer. Jane, on the other hand, seemed to have never had a proper bath before, or proper soap. She was fascinated with it, blowing bubbles and chasing them until they fell on the surface of the water. Toadmila thought she looked like a kitten chasing butterflies.
“When you're done,” she said, placing another jar by the side of the lake, “get out of the water and rub this into your skin. It will keep it from getting itchy from the soap.”
She left Jane to play with her bubbles and turned her attention to the girl's clothes. She passed a quick cleansing spell through them, and added a softening spell. She considered changing the fabric of the outer garments, or at least the color, but she decided against it. Too much magic would have certainly stood out, and the villagers hated magic. Behind her, Jane was sneezing.
“This is magic,” Jane said, sniffling.
Toadmila cast a weak heating spell and watched it spread like glowing mist.
“This is magic,” she answered. “And you should get dry, or you'll catch a cold.”
She hadn't brought a towel, but she still remembered how to make one, weaving it out of the air with her wand. That was another spell she'd thought she'd never need.
“I mean your soap, and this ointment,” Jane said behind her. “My skin is so soft. And so pale. I thought only noblemen had pale skin.”
“They do tend to bathe more,” Toadmila admitted. “A lot more.”
She remembered how the boys always complained about Augustus Lefroy hogging the boys' bath. Sh didn't know for sure if all noblemen did that, but she assumed they were all like him, and just as annoying.
“How am I going to go back to the village looking like this?” Jane whimpered. “Even my clothes are different.”
Toadmila turned around to find her fully dressed and looking utterly dejected. The girl's eyes were brimming with tears.
“It's not that pale,” Toadmila said, taking Jane's hand and comparing it to her own. “Moonlight makes everything look whiter. There was nothing in that soap to bleach your skin. It just cleaned off all the grime. Summer was quite a few months ago. I don't suppose you've bathed since then.”
Jane shook her head.
“No one has. The water's too cold.”
“You'll look fine in sunlight,” Toadmila said solemnly. She threw the towel over Jane's hair, and tried to give her a reassuring smile. “That's it. The ritual is over. Tomorrow, when you see that John of yours, just talk to him to complete the spell. Say something nice.”