"Oh.... oh, no, no! Oh, bugger, damnation and shite!" A breathless, feminine voice exploded into profanity just as Cormac passed the office, and he stopped in his tracks in the corridor and listened, a smirk starting to lift up a corner of his mouth. "Drat!" was the next interjection that followed, and Cormac's smirk turned into a full-fledged grin, albeit with a touch of concern.
He turned and peered into the half open door of the small office that lay at the heart of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
"'Fuck'," he suggested. "If you think 'drat' will help you get frustration off your chest, no wonder you're repressed, Granger."
She was siphoning up a big, dark pool of spilled ink with her wand from an official-looking document on her desk, but her head snapped up at the sound of his voice, and she flushed bright red. "Oh, that's... that's enormously helpful," she sputtered. "What are you sneaking about for, McLaggen? It's almost nine!"
He slipped inside, leaning against the door as he closed it. She made to get up from her chair but sank back again at the last moment, glaring at him. Granger looked overdue for calling it a day. Her hair was escaping her French braid in all directions and her reading glasses were perched on the tip of her nose. Leaning in, he slipped them off, and she glared harder, making a grab for them. He held them at arm's length.
"I know how late it is — too bloody late to be at work — and I'm not sneaking about, I'm putting in some overtime just like you. And I'm always helpful. Enormously so. Come on, say it. It helps, I swear. Say 'fuck'."
"Are you real?" she said, her eyes widening in rhetorical wonder. "Swearing like a sailor won't help anyone or anything."
"Uh-huh. Don't try for the high moral ground," Cormac said, wagging a finger at her. "'Bugger, damnation and shite' would make your mama want to scrub out your mouth with soap, as well."
"In which case, you don't have a case," she pointed out in the primly logical tone that had always made his trousers start to feel too tight at the front. Damn. She was still blushing, too — angrily, it was true, but still blushing, which was interesting. And he'd been trying to catch her attention for months.
"I have a watertight case. Listen to those words; they're not nearly as satisfying. 'Fuck' is explosive. Just say it. 'Fuck." His voice caressed the word, softly vicious, his teeth sinking into his lower lip at the 'f', the 'k' sound detonating sharply off the back of his tongue. "Fffu-u-uck!"
For a split second, he saw interest, even an unwilling start of a smile, and he winked at her. Hermione pressed her lips together as though she'd been caught out. She pushed aside the document that had been soiled by ink, took her quill and signed her name with a neat flourish to the paper underneath it, and cast a drying charm on the ink. "You're a crude prat, Cormac," she said firmly. "You've always been."
"Maybe," he conceded. "But that can be a turn-on, can't it? And it's not all I am." He sat down at the edge of her desk. His arse was one of his best points, he'd been told — sometimes in tones of insult. "Why are you so defensive around me?"
"I'm not defensive; you're offensive," she shot back. "It leaves me with little choice."
"I thought you might be fair-minded enough not to judge a bloke wholesale on how he acted at seventeen." Cormac shrugged, studying her expression which had opened up slightly at his answer. "I've fought in a war since then. Like you. Built a career, or started to. Like you. Broke off a relationship in a big messy way, like you. I'm six years older. Like you. And still a crude prat, just like you're still a prim little know-it-all, but that's not all we are, is it?"
Her lips had parted slightly, and for once she seemed lost for words. "Cormac, I—"
Sometimes, Cormac couldn't resist going for a shock effect. It had got him what he wanted surprisingly often. It had got him slapped a fair few times, too. "Mind you, the prim little know-it-all thing is still what makes me itch to lift you up on this desk and shag you until you scream," he clarified, grinning at her.
Hermione's eyes had widened at his words, but suddenly she dipped her chin and laughed, shaking her head. "You've got an amazing talent for self-sabotage," she said, almost peaceably. "You nearly had me there, you know?"
"Well, you're talented at sabotage, too, Granger." He threw the words out casually, and watched her go red and silent as his meaning sank in. "And I suspect that's why you're defensive around me — because when you think back to the last period we had any contact at all, you're not so proud of yourself."
She took a few seconds to answer. "Is it an apology you're looking for?" she asked finally. "I can admit that I do owe you one."
"No, screw that." Cormac shook his head impatiently. "You don't owe me. I'm not proud of all I did back then either. For one thing, I've learnt better ways of courting a woman than by impersonating an octopus. An octopus with a limited understanding of personal space."
"A lesson well learnt, if it's true." She still looked uncertain of his intention, fixing him with a searching gaze. "Then what do you want? Apart, you know, from the thing about me on the desk, and you making me—" she broke herself off with a flustered little hand wave —"which I assume you said just to provoke a reaction."
"A date? And then perhaps more dates? Possibly leading up to the thing that I said mostly to provoke a reaction?" he said, flashing her a cocky smile.
Hermione pressed her lips together again, but this time the smile fought free at the corners of her mouth, and she stepped around the desk, and took her outer robes from the peg on the wall. "How about we start with a drink after work?" she said, business-like.
"What, you mean... right now? Hell yes, that would be brilliant!" he said warmly, happy surprise shooting his cocky demeanour to smithereens. And he didn't even mind. He glanced at the ink-stained document at her desk. "Want me to have a try at that? I'm pretty good at it, I knock things over a lot. Big hands."
Hermione looked at his hands, blushing again in that interesting way. Then she followed his glance to the messy document, and shrugged, shooting him a sweet little smirk. "No, actually, fuck that," she said, cool as you please, and Cormac threw his head back and laughed.
He opened the door and she stepped through, and he walked by her side down the corridor, sticking his hands into his pockets to remember to keep them to himself. For the time being, at least.
A crude prat he might still be, but this time, he'd try to do it right.