Cormac is five the first time a girl clocks him in the head. It startles him, knocks him to his arse, makes his eyes water, but before he starts to bawl his mother swoops in to wrap him in her arms. She hisses something about manners, clucks her tongue with disapproval, ignoring Mrs Patil when she explains Cormac had grabbed Parvati's toy without asking permission.
"The nerve," his mother says, smoothing back Cormac's hair and wiping his cheeks dry and kissing the top of his head, murmuring "I know, I know" when Cormac explains that all he wanted to do was look.
"What are you doing?" she all but squeaks.
He blinks at her as he's rubbing his jaw. "What was that for?"
"What do you mean-- you-- I'm not interested!"
"You could have said--"
"I didn't need to! I thought we were clear on coming here as friends." Katie shakes her head. "Merlin, Cormac, you're a little slow on the uptake sometimes, you know?"
He frowns. "So. No?"
Her eyes soften a bit, but when Cormac perks up at that she shakes her head hastily. "Just friends, Cor, yeah?" she says softly, and then, a slight blush when: "Kind of not into the whole boys thing."
He follows her gaze to where Leanne's dancing with Eddie Carmichael, and hey, sometimes he's not always slow. He nods with understanding and the corner of his lips quirks up. "Can I watch?"
He's still laughing five minutes after Katie decks him a second time.
"Oh, no," Katie says, shaking her head. "That way lies disappointment, my friend-- she's head over heels for Ron, you know."
He scoffs. "Weasley? Over this?" He may have flexed his muscles a little before letting the corner of his lips pull down into an affronted sort of sulk. "C'mon, Katie. I'm almost insulted."
"The heart wants what it wants," is all Katie says.
Cormac eyes her warily. "You've been spending too much time with Leanne."
Later on he wonders what Katie might have said when Hermione asks him to go with her to Slughorn's Christmas party, but she's been in the infirmary since October and when he pops by after dinner to check, Leanne is by her side, as she's been since, and he doesn't think he should be interrupting them.
Hermione doesn't end up clocking him, but the night ends a bust as far as he's concerned regardless. Not only does she spend half the time in the ladies', he also somehow manages to earn a month's worth of detention with Snape. He writes Katie a small note-- You're right, and how do I have this kind of luck with ladies whilst you've got one fawning over you even though you're unconscious? Show me your ways, woman.-- and places it on top of a small but growing pile of parchment scraps.
When she wakes up she's going to have a ton of schoolwork and Cormac life updates to catch up on.
Fortuitous may be a poor choice of words, given that the shortage of Quidditch players is due in large part to the Muggleborn Inquisition forcing half the pool of decent athletes to go into hiding. Nonetheless, Cormac isn't the sort to look a gift horse in the mouth (what was he supposed to do otherwise? Refuse on account of remorse?) so the summer after his seventh year he shows up for the Catapults' training camp.
He's only on reserve-- last year's back-up earned the starting gig-- but it's enough to travel with the team, play on occasion, and generally reap the rewards of being a professional Quidditch player.
"You've got to be careful, you know," Katie tells him after a game, knocking back Firewhiskeys with the rest of the team. She nods at a gaggle of girls in Catapult kits. "Some of them can be crazy."
"Don't I know it," he laughs. "Never know though, could be the kind of crazy that's just right up my alley," he adds with a waggle of eyebrows that makes Katie wrinkle her nose.
There's something oddly surreal with the act of getting a pint in the midst of all this chaos, some kind of forced air of normalcy that only thinly veils the panic and uncertainty heavy on everyone's minds, but the show goes on. Cormac signals for another round, places his arm around Katie's shoulders, leans in close when she turns her face to his.
"River's gotten hold of Firestarters," she murmurs in his ear.
"Is that so?" he asks, tilting his head slightly, letting an impish smirk tug at the corner of his lips. To everyone else (Witch Weekly even, if that really is Spella Strong writing furiously, furtively, in the corner) they're simply canoodling. "Enough to get the Banchory Bangers back together?"
"Not yet, not until they get their star Seeker back."
He nods. "I'll keep my eye out, let my agent know I could be interested."
She leans against him then, sighs a bit, forces a smile when the team tells them to get a room. When Cormac tugs her to her feet, leads her out the door, the catcalls and whistles follow them out. They do nothing to dissuade them but when they get home she goes to his guest room, where Leanne has been hiding since the Muggleborn Registration Act first came out, and he heads to his own.
Tragically, he thinks as his head hits the pillow and the aches of the day begin to settle and wear at his body, he still isn't allowed to watch.
Perhaps by this time tomorrow, he thinks as he sips his first full dose of caffeine, they'll make do without their ridiculous code names. (The Order hadn't thought it funny when he suggested McSexyPants for his, but then again, they also didn't bat an eyelash when he settled for Goldenloin.)
He tells the brunette still tangled in his sheets that it's best for her to be on her way, he owls the Catapults' team manager a note to say he's not feeling well. He grabs a quick breakfast in one of the few shops that remain open, shortly before lunch he pays his mother a visit. If Mrs McLaggen notices a tightness to his posture, a finality to his hug, she says nothing.
Perhaps by this time tomorrow, he thinks as he returns to his flat--
"Oh. Hello." He is pulled away from increasingly bothersome thoughts at the sight of a group seated in his living room.
"Crummy wards you've got, mate," Oliver Wood says with a sorry shake of his head.
He shrugs. His parents had hired a Charmer to set the wards to his exact specification; unless his friends decide to betray him (in which case the problem would be more than his wards), he is safe. "You haven't killed me yet."
"Katie said this'd be alright," Roger Davies says. Cormac remembers him from school-- decent enough of a Chaser, favours shooting five-hole-- and he's even seen him play professionally, from the reserve bench in the Montrose stadium. That he'd been working with the Order is new information, which is for the best. Roger stands up, extending Cormac his hand, and the others with him, Chang and Dorny and Cadwallader and Summerby, are not far behind.
"Cheers," he says once the awkward pleasantries are over and everyone's taken a seat. "Can I get anyone something to drink?"
"Have you any Felix Felicis lying around?" Jack Dorny asks to a round of nervous laughter.
"Cormac!" Katie flings herself at him in the next instant and it's painful-- dear Godric he nearly howls-- but it's also Katie, who he's been looking for all night, and she's alive and well enough to fling herself at people so it's also one of the best feelings in the world.
"Still alive," he says with a cheeky grin before he notices her tear-streaked cheeks and red eyes. "Is Leanne--"
"She's okay, she's okay," Katie tells him with a small smile. "Just-- just more banged up than we are. Madam Pomfrey's treating her."
He follows her to the east side of the Hall, temporarily turned into an extension of the infirmary. Katie rushes to Leanne; the left side of her body-- face, shoulder, arm, side-- swathed and wrapped in gauze. He watches, a few feet back, as Katie tenderly wraps her arms around her, tells her it's going to be fine.
"It was Fiendfyre, I think, or maybe something like it," someone says beside him. Cho Chang is wringing a torn, blood-soaked sleeve in her hands, folding and unfolding it carefully, methodically. "It just grazed her. It just grazed her and she was nearly consumed by the flames. Took Oliver and Jack a dozen Aqua Eructo spells to subdue it. Aguamenti wouldn't have worked."
She starts enumerating the differences between the two counterspells and why the first was better, her eyes never quite focusing, only staring off at the distance while her fingers smoothe out the cloth, fold it neatly in halves before undoing it all again. Cormac leads her to a nearby bench, makes her sit down, gets a glass of water for her to drink. He gently untangles the fabric from her fingers (Jonathan Summerby's, he later finds out-- bled to death in front of her) and sets it aside, sitting beside her and making sure she drinks. He catches the glass when it slips past trembling fingers, places an arm around her shoulder because he doesn't quite know what to do.
"I'm fine," Cho says.
He doesn't know how many weddings he's been invited to, but this is one he doesn't plan on missing. Katie is as beautiful as he's ever seen her, and even the faint red scars on her left cheek can't take away from how radiant Leanne's smile is. He gives them both a cheeky wink when he catches the bouquet and steals them each for at least a dance. They don't stop smiling, and it's so contagious that he's laughing long after he returns Leanne to Katie, settled in his seat with his eyes on the happy couple.
"Hope you're not going to just sit there all night," Ben Cadwallader says, pulling him up to his feet and dragging him back to a corner of the dance floor, where Roger and Jack are doing some kind of bastardized tango before an amused crowd. Oliver waves him hello and Cho moves so there's room for him in their loose circle.
It's funny, Cormac thinks; he hasn't spoken more than a few words to any of them back in Hogwarts, but spend a night on the brink of death and they've bonded for life.
The music picks up, their wine glasses magically refilling. Ben twirls Cho around and when he lets go, she ends up in Cormac's arms, laughing and not once missing a beat.
The lot of them stay on long past the reception, finding a local pub to carry on the loud conversation and occasional dancing. Sometime between downing the rest of his second Firewhiskey and gettting a face full of Jack's undershirt (How did he manage to take it off with the rest of his outfit still on? The world may never know.) he tips over to press a clumsy kiss to Cho's cheek.
She doesn't deck him, which is a start.