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A Jerk By Nature (or; The Night Before The Morning After The Night Before)

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A sunbeam fell in through the window, a sure sign of late morning and hence of a weekend, and Hermione turned her back to the light and burrowed her face into the pillow. But sounds were drifting into the bedroom, conspiring with the sunlight to wake her as they made their way through layers of sleep and tatters of the half-remembered dream that she clung to with stubborn determination. They were kitchen sounds, and she was in bed, and something was wrong about this. Very wrong. There shouldn't be sounds from the kitchen when she was in bed, because there wasn't supposed to be anyone else in the flat when she was asleep.

Hermione sighed, squeezed her eyes shut and hugged the pillow, resisting the conclusion that was building up in her mind. But now her dream was betraying her efforts, or was it her memory, offering glimpses of the past hours? Of hands, large and capable, exploring her body, of muscled warm strength pressing her down, moving inside her, of hazel eyes blazing with desire and of her fingers twining into wiry, golden-brown hair—

She sat up, wide awake in an instant. "Oh, drat!"

As if on cue, the door slid open, and Cormac McLaggen appeared on the threshold of the room. He wore very little in the way of accessories. In fact, the wand in his hand, the breakfast tray he was floating ahead of him and the towel wrapped low on his hips seemed to be all.

"Morning, sunshine," he said in cheerful greeting, his gaze wandering down her body with a brash familiarity that flustered her completely.

Heart hammering, she clutched the bedcovers which had fallen to her waist as she sat up, and yanked them up to her chin. Her mouth opened, but no sound came out, probably because she couldn't think of a single intelligent thing to say. And she did hate to sound stupid. Her gaze skittered away from his half-naked form and took in the tell-tale clothes strewn on the floor. A black shirt dress, completely unbuttoned, lay a few feet away from a blood red Wigtown Wanderers t-shirt, size: XXL, and a pair of jeans. Shoes and underwear were scattered in flagrant disarray.

Cormac frowned, and crossed the room, walking carefully on his bad leg and landing the tray on her bedside table without so much as a clatter. The mattress gave way for his big, solid frame as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

His mouth twitched as he studied her face, or what was visible of it with the covers drawn up to the tip of her nose. "No point in hiding what I've already seen," he declared. He leaned in, and curved a hand casually over her hip. "And touched." He rubbed her hip slowly, wetting his lips as he held her gaze, pure provocation in his smile. "And tasted."

Her voice came out muffled behind the covers. "Well, I'm not used to you seeing it yet!" She didn't even attempt to address his other claims. She wasn't used to him doing that, either, obviously, and the fact that she'd liked him doing those things very much seemed like too much of a confession at the moment.

Cormac nodded, and raised a hand to smooth over her wild bed hair. His fingers slipped into the tangles, and she remembered how much he'd seemed to like playing with it that night. "Well, do you reckon you'd like to get used to it?" he asked bluntly.

Round-eyed, Hermione just stared, and then slid back down on the pillow, dragging the covers up over her face. "I need a minute," she said faintly, and thinking back, she tried to figure out where the hell all of this had started.


"I like your hair like that."

The low drawl at her back was followed by the light, warm touch of a finger tracing her nape, and Hermione could feel the small hairs there rising in response.

"I beg your pardon?" she squeaked out, flushed and indignant. She knew all too well who was at her back, and she only wished she'd had the composure to face him without a blush and that revealing break in her voice.

Sure enough, he was smugly aware of her reaction when she turned. He was leaning on his crutch, a smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth, but his gaze was intense. Long-lashed, golden hazel. Not, of course, that the colour of his eyes or the length of his lashes were relevant to her irritation.

"Yep. I love it. Mostly because it makes me think of undoing it, pin by pin." He lowered his deep voice even more, practically whispering as his fingers played with the strands that had curled loose around her face in the steady drizzle of rain. "Lock by lock."

"My hair doesn't have 'locks'," she said flatly. Her pulse hammered near her throat as she stepped back, out of his touch. "Stop doing that," she all but barked, raising her hand and swiping his hand away. His grin told her that she'd given him exactly what he'd wanted, and she silently cursed herself. She cast a protective charm against the rain which she made a point not to extend to include him, before she grudgingly asked, "How is the leg coming along?"

Grudging though it might be, the question was asked from actual curiosity. McLaggen was Ron's rival for the Keeper place on the team, so it was only natural that she took an interest in his progress.

He glanced down at his leg. "Not bad. I can walk without this bloody thing now—" he raised the crutch slightly —"though I'm still under Healer's instructions to relieve the leg when I can." He laid a large hand across his broad chest in an eloquent and completely insincere gesture. "Granger, I'm touched. I didn't know you cared."

I don't, was on the tip of her tongue, but she just couldn't bring herself to be that openly rude. Not even to McLaggen, and not even when he was looking at her with mockery in his gaze and daring her to say it.

Instead she dug into her bag for her lunch sandwich, and leaned against the wall of the club house, turning her attention to the practice game as she took the first bite. The Wigtown Wanderers had played a season that had amazed everyone, after their manager, Rodney McFarlane, had decided to make a bold move and pick up almost an entire stable's worth of young and promising players over the past couple of years. Ron had been headhunted from the Chudley Cannons — where he'd been wearing down the reserve bench ever since they'd picked him up after tryouts — when McLaggen had taken a fall and a nasty injury to his knee in April.

Unfortunately, that had coincided almost exactly with the day she'd finally given up trying to make the romantic relationship between her and Ron work. It had happened just a couple of days after she left, in fact, while Ron was still reeling from her packing up her things and moving out of the flat they'd shared for two years. Hence, in 48 hours, she'd done the emotional acrobatics of deciding she could no longer stand to live with Ron, her boyfriend, then realising she needed to stick around to support Ron, her ex-boyfriend and, more to the point, her friend.

She'd convinced him that he should accept the Wanderers' offer — not alone, but her urgent pleas had carried weight — and she'd single-handedly made sure he sobered up and made it to practice for the first week, until his own enthusiasm kicked back in. And two months later, she still took her lunch hour at the pitch a few days a week to watch him practice, to show him that she had his back. She'd wanted Ron to know that, ex or not, she was on his team, always would be. And it had been worth it. He'd played very well indeed after a few games of settling in, and she was happy about the way he'd found motivation and followed through.

Ron was having problems today, though. The final game of the season was coming up, and Ron's Achilles' heel was making itself known again. If he'd only had as much faith in his ability as his best results would suggest. But the pressure of other people's high expectations tended to do a nasty trick on his confidence.

Hermione pressed her nails into her palm, her mouthful of lunch turning to sawdust in her mouth as McFarlane stormed to the edge of the pitch and started yelling and gesticulating to Ron to fly down to him. The elderly Scot had an infamous temperament, evidenced by a ruddy complexion that changed to purple the moment he started to get annoyed. When things were going well, he was jovial charm incarnate. When they did not, grace under pressure was clearly not his forte. She'd knocked on the door of his office a couple of weeks ago, explaining Ron's particular weakness as she saw it and how best to get around it, and he'd been polite and charming, if a bit brief perhaps as he ushered her out.

Clearly, her advice hadn't stuck.

"Where the hell was your head, Weasley? Where were your eyes and your hands and your legs, you know those body parts that a bloody keeper uses to make bloody saves with? I have to ask because I sure as hell couldn't see any part of you doing anything out there except your fat arse clenching on the broom! Damn it, you let in one stupid goal and you freeze up like a frightened rabbit! If you'd like to ensure that McLaggen tap-dances straight back into the Keeper position when his leg's healed, just keep up exactly what you're doing, lad!"

Out of the corners of her eyes, she saw McLaggen grinning and studying his fingernails, and Hermione flushed with annoyance and pushed away from the wall. McFarlane was just warming up, she could tell, and the defeated hunch of Ron's shoulders was all too familiar where he hovered on his broom at the edge of the pitch. Didn't that ass of a manager know after all these weeks that this was the very worst way to put courage back into Ron? He needed encouragement, not a verbal emasculation! While that idiot waste of space, McLaggen, was enjoying the show, no less.

She strode up behind the manager and tapped his shoulder. "Excuse me, Mr McFarlane," she said politely. "Could I have a word?"

The look he threw her over his shoulder was frosty. "Miss Granger. How have I earned the pleasure of your displeasure this time?"

Hermione ignored the sarcastic tone, and Ron's little grimace as he shook his head at her. It seemed clear that McFarlane wasn't willing to step aside with her, so she lowered her voice instead. "Don't you think you might tone it down a bit?" she asked, her hands settling on her hips when McFarlane rolled his eyes to the sky as though appealing to higher powers for patience. "This is the Keeper on your team, not an opponent player. Why on earth do you think it does him or the team any good to drag his ego through the mud so all his team mates can hear?"

"Hey, Hermione—" Ron said quietly.

"I've known Ron since he was on the Gryffindor school team and I know that this is the very worst approach—"

She broke off mid-sentence as a hand closed firmly around her upper arm. Whipping around, she saw McLaggen meet her gaze under raised eyebrows.

"Just escort her off the pitch, will you?" asked McFarlane dryly. "For the lad's sake and mine." He waited until she was a few steps away — but not out of earshot — before he muttered between clenched teeth, "And for her own."

Red-faced, Hermione tried to wrench her arm free as McLaggen frog-marched her up the stands and toward the gate. He took no notice of that, nor, it seemed, his injury, limping up the steps on his crutch at a pace she barely managed to keep up with, and for the sake of her dignity she stopped struggling until they were at the gate and out of sight of the stands.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" she spat out at last, yanking her arm free with a force that almost had her toppling on her backside as he simply let go his grip. He threw out his free arm around her waist to keep her from falling, which only made her more angry. Fuming, she stepped back and looked up at his complacent face.

"What the hell do I think I'm doing?" he mimicked, his large hand coming up to wipe raindrops away from his brow and slicking down his short, wiry hair. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Granger?"

"I don't know what you mean," she snapped. "I'm not doing anything wrong. That manager of yours is a... a... sociopathic... rhinoceros. And Ron's already feeling vulnerable—"

He laughed at her, the bastard. "Oh, please. McFarlane isn't the sweet-talking type, but he's no worse to your ex than to anyone else. And Weasley has got a dick from what I can recall seeing in the showers, so I'm sure he's not feeling nearly a tenth of the things you imagine he does. If you think he's so bloody vulnerable, then how about if you back off a mile or so and give him a chance to show that he's got bollocks of his own?"

She'd been flushed before, from annoyance and humiliation, but now she felt her whole face heat up further from a much more personal affront. "You have no idea what you're talking about," she said after a moment. "You don't even like him, and you're his rival for the position, so why would you give a damn anyway?"

McLaggen looked at her as though he questioned her intelligence — an insult that always made Hermione bristle. "Because he's on my team," he said. "Which is looking to take the third place in the league at the moment. And I do fucking care that we make that spot, and I have no worries whatsoever about getting back the position next season." He shrugged. "Besides, Weasley is all right. I kind of like him."

"Well, he doesn't like you!" she said defensively.

He laughed again, shaking his head. "What are you, Granger, six? You don't like me, so your friends can't be friends with me either? I've talked with Weasley in the pub after practice a few times. He seemed to tolerate my company well enough. Even spilled a bit about your break-up when he got a couple of pints under his belt."

Steadily blinking away raindrops, Hermione stared at him aghast. "He wouldn't have!"

"Why not?" McLaggen narrowed his eyes. "You know, I always liked your brain, Granger, but for a witch who's celebrated through the Commonwealth for her smarts, you sure can be dim. McFarlane wasn't the one humiliating Weasley back there. He was simply treating Weasley like any other player. It's much worse for Weasley that his ex is still coddling him, turning up at practices in her lunch hour and leaping to his defence against the management, making it look for all the world like he can't stand up for himself or take the treatment that we all get when we screw up."

'Dim'! "I... I—" Hermione felt faint for a moment, contemplating and then rejecting the spin McLaggen was putting on things. "That's not fair! I've been his friend for well over a decade. Of course I care that he's doing well!"

"I'm sure." McLaggen's voice lowered. "Or maybe you feel guilty because you were the one to leave, and he was the one walked out on, so you try to make up for it by being supportive. Well, your brand of support has gone over the top, sweetheart. You need to back off and give the poor sod a fighting chance to move on. It's been, what, two months since you two split up? And here you are, still circling him, still looking out for him like a clucking mother hen. Believe me, I've seen Ron Weasley's mother, he doesn't need another one to— ow!"

His hand flew to press against his cheek, blooming red in the shape of a handprint. Only the sudden, sharp sting in her palm convinced Hermione that it was her own hand that had done the deed. She stared at it in horror, her own cheeks blazing bright red.

"Fuck," he breathed. His eyes flashed with temper as she gaped, looking from her hand to his face, her anger waning for the heat of a blush slowly spreading everywhere from her scalp to her toes. Oh god, had she actually done that? Like some melodramatic soap opera heroine? All right, she'd hit Malfoy that once. But she'd only been fourteen and it had at least been a respectable punch with her fist and damn it, Malfoy had had it coming. Not that McLaggen hadn't, but—

Cormac's mouth twitched into something between a sneer and a smirk as she gaped at him. "Sod it," he drawled, and his arm snaked around her waist and tugged her in a firm yank forward. Before she'd had a chance to guess at his intention, his mouth pressed down on hers. His lips were full and soft moving over her own, tempting her to part them in a gasp (for air, she insisted to herself), and he didn't waste the opportunity to slide his tongue inside her mouth, sensually stroking her tongue, her teeth, the roof of her mouth. His hand slid into her hair at her nape, closing on her French braid in a large fistful, and he tasted of mint and cinnamon and he smelled of rain and warm cedar cologne, and she had no idea what her hands were doing in his hair, but she suspected that if she wanted him to stop she shouldn't be kneading his scalp that way...

She was boneless and out of breath when the kiss ended, staggering as he let go of her. "Nice, McLaggen," she spat out, attempting to assemble all her indignation into his name. "Some things don't change."

He sounded a tad breathless, too, but shot his reply back without hesitation. "Oh, don't even try with me," he said roughly. "Maybe you weren't asking for that, but you sure as hell were asking for something and I couldn't very well hit you back."

"Because I'm a woman?" she scoffed, forcing herself into a more upright and dignified position. "See, you haven't changed. You're still a male chauvinist—"

"Whatever you think I am," he broke her off, "it doesn't change the fact that you are lying to yourself. As if I would have scored any points with you for hitting you, or any woman. Besides, my right hook has a pretty good impact. I'm very sure you wouldn't want to make its acquaintance."

Hermione glared at him. He was right, as much as she hated to admit it. She'd have despised him for hitting her back, even if he might have been justified. Not that he was. Anyway—

Her gaze had fallen to his mouth, still red and a bit swollen-looking from the kiss, and with a sinking feeling she realised that she was imagining it moving against hers again.

"I've got to go," she said abruptly, grabbed the hilt of her wand and Apparated back to the Ministry in a rare coward's move.

In her office she cast a Drying Charm on her hair and her clothes and calmed down over an expense report and a cup of tea, alternately churning over the things he'd said about Ron and her, and trying to ignore them. It was only that night, after she'd slipped between the sheets in her little Hogsmeade flat and was trying to sleep, that it occurred to her to ask herself why McLaggen would be the least bit concerned about scoring points with her.



"And then when Campbell leaned hard to the right and caught the Quaffle from Prescott, I knew at that angle with all our Beaters engaged in defence his only chance was to drop and try a hit from below, so I basically just slammed the button of the lift and dropped a floor down—"

Ron's face was warm and animated from drink and the relief of success. Hermione and Harry exchanged an affectionate grin as Ron retold his crowning moment of glory — for the third time since the Wigtown Wanderers with friends and families had arrived at the Laughing Hippogriff to celebrate their astonishing climb in the league.

The nightclub was a relatively new addition to the wizarding night scene. It sported three bars, two dance floors — one with live music — and an entertainment act each night in the upstairs bar. Hermione, Ron and Harry were seated in the largest, ground floor bar, working through their third round of drinks.

Ron ended his tale with a deep drink from his ale, and when he set it down empty, Harry slid his chair back. "Another round?" he suggested.

"My turn," Hermione said. "I'll get it."

"Aren't you going to tell me I've had enough?" asked Ron, with a suspicious grin at her.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "You've earned a celebration, and as for the morning after — well, I'm not your mother," she said briskly, standing up.

"Hey. I know that. I know you know it, too." Ron's hand closed around her wrist, and she looked up sharply, discomfited by the small exchange. Cormac McLaggen's scathing words had been churning in her mind all week. While she hated to credit the big lout with any kind of insight, she couldn't deny that she'd backed off after that encounter, staying away from the pitch in her lunch hours and keeping well away from McFarlane during today's game.

It smarted her pride that it looked like she'd made that concession to such a rude request, but she had to admit that his words had had quite an impact as she'd let them sink in. She'd been well out of bounds, and with the clarity of hindsight she could see her behaviour in a frankly horrifying light. What the hell had she been thinking?

She tugged on her wrist, but Ron was drunk, stubborn and apparently inspired by some liquid-induced courage that made him hang on to her hand. "I'm sorry for what happened at practice last week."

She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, knowing there was only one thing to say. "No, I am sorry. You got your chance to play just when I'd walked out on you, and it made me feel so rotten. I didn't want to ruin your big chance. But I didn't mean for things to get out of hand, I just wanted you to know that — well —" her voice got a bit wobbly and she swallowed hard. "That I still had your back, I suppose."

"Yeah, I don't think anyone missed the point," Ron said with a grin that made her laugh a little despite herself. He slipped his hand down from her wrist, wrapping her fingers in his instead. "Why do you say that — that you 'walked out on me'? I know I was kind of a wreck there for a while, but that doesn't mean it was all your fault. I knew just as well as you that things were bad. Relationships don't thrive on great sex and fights alone."

"I'll buy the next round," Harry said, pushing his chair abruptly back again and half-rising. "I don't actually need to hear this." He could, however, not get past Ron, who was planted firmly in his chair leaning forward over the table, and he sank back with a sound that approached a groan.

"That's okay," Hermione said, giving him an apologetic smile. "I said I'd get it, and I mean to." She squeezed Ron's hand once more before letting go, rather glad for the escape. "We're all right, aren't we?"

"Sure," Ron said fervently, grinning at her. He made a movement as if to grab her hand again, opening his mouth to say more, but she was already on her way and she mouthed 'just a minute' over her shoulder, making her way to the bar.


She'd made it to the front of the bar throng, and had ordered two pints for the boys and a glass of water — two pints of ale were more than enough for her — when someone put a hand on her shoulder. Definitely a man's hand from the size of it. Glancing down she saw two long, jeans-clad legs and one crutch.

Speak of the devil.

"Granger," he said. He was grinning at her as though he'd caught sight of a dear old friend, and Hermione had a strong urge to take the glass of water that the bartender had just set on the bar and splash it in his face. "Looking good."

The tips of her ears felt warm as she fought the urge to button up her dress a bit to reveal less cleavage. Not that she was displaying so much; the little black shirt dress was stylish and sporty more than seductive, but she had no doubt that Cormac was taking it all in. He was wearing his Wanderers t-shirt himself, blood red with a silver meat cleaver emblazoned on the front. His face had a faint flush from drink and his light brown hair was in some disarray. Some floozy had probably just run her fingers through it.

"What do you want?" She picked up the first of the boys' pints. "Didn't get it all off your chest last Friday?"

"I actually wanted to talk to you about that."

"Well, I don't want to talk to you about it," she said, her temper flaring. "Or rather, to have you lecture me in public on my very personal life and making assumptions about—"

"I apologise." He exploited her moment of open-mouthed surprise to lean across her and take the second pint as it was set on the bar, securing it in the crook of his arm, and then took the first out of her hand. "These are for Potter and Weasley, yeah?"

"Yes," she said, irritated, "but I — hey — wait!"

"I'll be right back," he said over his broad shoulder. "Don't go anywhere, all right?"

Jaw clenched, she followed him with her gaze to Ron's and Harry's table, saw Ron greet him cheerfully and Harry with more reserve. Harry sent her a look that asked if she was all right with this turn of events, and she shrugged, taking a few sips of her water.

She'd no idea what he wanted, but truth be told, at the moment it seemed almost as awkward to go back and pick up the conversation with the boys.

Cormac slapped Ron's shoulder and left the table, coming her way.

"You see, I'm kind of a jerk by nature," he said without preamble, putting an arm around her shoulders and steering her through the throng to a vacant spot further down the bar. "Got it from my dad. My mother always used to tell me that I get it honestly so I need to constantly work against it. And I'm better than I used to be, I swear I'm actually pretty close to the definition of nice most of the time, but sometimes — well sometimes I forget, and sometimes it's just too easy to be a jerk."

"You're a drunk jerk," Hermione observed, setting her glass on the counter.

"Not that drunk. And I'm a jerk on a — a mission to make amends," he swore in a solemn tone. "Which is all uphill work with you, Granger, so I think I should get some credit for trying."

"Is this your apology? Because what I hear is you talking about yourself."

He sighed, leaning in closer. "All right, let me spell it out to you. I actually meant to help, on Friday. And instead I guess I came across like an arrogant ass because I got frustrated, and you're so — so damn stubborn and—"

She pressed a palm to her forehead. "You know, ending an apology with another insult isn't really advisable."

"I was going to say, and sexy. When you're being all feisty like that."

The words came uncharacteristically quiet, and she looked up to check if he was having her on. But there was only honest interest in his gaze, and she felt her face go hot in an instant. "Um. Well, thanks," she said uncertainly. "I guess." She frowned. "You're frightfully stubborn, too, though. You're one to talk."

"I like your hair like that." He raised his hand and touched the mass of hair falling unrestrained over her shoulders. Sipping at his glass of firewhisky, he grinned at her over the brim. "And here I'd hoped you'd say 'frightfully sexy'."

She rolled her eyes, reluctantly amused, and just as reluctantly pleased by the admiration in his eyes. "Dream on," she said — not quite truthful, because there was no denying in that moment that he was sexy, less abrasive than usual, but still as bold as brass.

And her admitting that Cormac McLaggen was sexy must be her cue to leave and find some sober-up potion. "Apology accepted," she said with a nod and sideways smirk at him, and turned to go.

"I really like your hair like that," he called after her, and it turned her smirk into a grin as she steered back towards the boys.

She'd only got a half-dozen paces through the crowd when she got a view of the table and stopped on the spot.

A girl was sitting so close to Ron that they seemed fused together, her arm slung around his shoulder and their heads leaned together with tender familiarity. Harry had made himself scarce. As she watched, Ron slid his hand into the girl's long, blonde hair, stroking it back and caressing the scars on her cheek as he leaned in to kiss her, and Hermione made a sound in her throat. It was Lavender Brown. And everything about the way they looked together indicated that this wasn't just a spur-of-the-moment tryst.

"Oh, hell no," Cormac said, close at her back. He must have followed when she stopped dead in her tracks. There was anger in his voice as he turned her to him, one hand around her shoulder, and took in her expression. "The bloody arse didn't bother to tell you? He fucking swore he would!"

"I... I think he tried," she said, dazed. "I mean, he was going to, but I was going to get the drinks and then you intercepted me, and—" She broke off, turning to look up in his face. "You knew all along?" she asked warily.

His expression was grim. "C'mon," he said. "I'll trade you my firewhisky for your water. You look like you need something stronger."

He steered her to the bar to pick up his drink and then away from it, down a flight of steps that led to the dance floor in the basement, and drew her into a shadowy nook on the landing. The rock music thumped hard through her body, and just a few feet away, the dance floor was full of writhing, rocking, jumping shapes. Hermione didn't protest when Cormac pushed his glass into her hand and took hers and put it on the floor. On the contrary, she brought the glass to her lips, tipped her head back and swallowed the content in two large gulps.

Afterwards, she coughed until she was bent double against his chest and tears were blurring her vision. "'m okay," she wheezed. The firewhisky burned down her throat and into her belly, and soon, it didn't feel so bad. Straightening up, she leaned against the cool brick wall. "You did know," she said abruptly, as she thought back. "That's why you told me to back off, wasn't it?"

Cormac sighed. "I ran into Brown meeting him after practice one night, and... well, it was bloody clear what was going on. I told him first thing the next morning that if he didn't tell you, I would. He swore he would, and that was a week ago."

With Ron's determined, apologetic look fresh in mind, she shook her head and ran a hand back through her hair. "I guess he dreaded it because he knew it would make me feel like an idiot, and he knows how I bloody hate to feel like an idiot." Groaning, she tipped her head back against the wall. "I feel like an idiot. She's been coming to the pitch, while I was acting like he was still pining for me.... Everyone knew, then?" How humiliating. She wanted to crawl into a ball in the corner behind her and pretend the last weeks had never existed.

"No," he said quickly. "I think they've tried to be careful, and that it's not been going on all that long. It was just the one night that I saw them. Come on, Granger—" he placed two fingertips under her chin and raised it up, his mouth quirking up to a half-smile. "Don't feel like an idiot. Well, not for any other reason than you broke a big freaking Quidditch taboo by being an outsider arguing with the manager, when, fuck it, not even the damn owner of the club argues with McFarlane in that mood. But I have a suspicion you might have done that either way. You can be terribly shirty, you know. The thing with Weasley and Brown was only part of the reason I told you to back off." He hesitated and studied her face, his eyes narrowing a little. "Are you hurt?" he asked. "I mean... do you still have feelings for him?"

"Oh," she said quietly, "oh no, not like that. It didn't work out for us, and he's just a friend now, it's not like I begrudge him moving on, although to be honest, Lavender Brown wouldn't have been my first choice of person to be replaced by, so I'll admit that was kind of a shock, but that's just petty really and I think she might probably be good for him. Better than I ever was."

She wished she could have another drink after saying all of that.

"To each their own," Cormac muttered. "If you ask me, Brown isn't half the woman you are."

Hermione looked up in his face, and it was impossible to ignore the message there. He wanted her. Fancied her, even. And was it so very wrong of her to find that feeling pretty good, right now? His eyes seemed all gold-and-black, pupils wide as he watched her, and he licked out to wet his lips and she remembered with a small catch of longing in her throat exactly how it had felt to have those lips moving against her own, the taste of cinnamon and mint on her tongue.

She held his gaze. "I wasn't asking you to kiss me that day," she said. "But now I am."

He parted his lips on an intake of breath, and leaned a hand on the wall, right next to her face. His slight smirk was somehow both mocking and vulnerable. "And if I do, will I get a slap in the face for my trouble?"

Breathless, she shook her head. "Not this time."

"If you're counting on me to be too noble to take advantage of you when you're feeling low, you've picked the wrong bloke," he said roughly. "I've wanted to do this for too long."

He cupped his free hand around her jaw, holding her still for him as his mouth lowered on hers. She met him halfway, more than halfway, surprising herself with a moan that seemed to just tumble out of her as he rubbed his lips sensually over hers and slid his tongue into her mouth without preamble.

It was a kiss that went from nothing into explosive heat in a matter of seconds. He tasted of firewhisky, this time, bright and smoky like the scent of bonfires. A shock of lust stabbed through her as he moved closer, angling his head sharply to make up for the difference in their heights, and her hands darted up to clutch at his shoulders, her body swaying in against his. His sheer determination was a turn-on, his single-minded exploitation of the opportunity, and she felt her muscles tense in pure, intent want, going up on tip-toe in her low heels to meet him better, her nipples prickling and tightening as her breasts were flattened against his hard chest.

His hips rubbed lewdly against her stomach and left no doubt that he was hard for her already. The answering twisting ache of desire low in her belly made her knees feel shaky, and she gripped tighter at his shoulders. There were people passing in her side vision, and they seemed barely there, but still her mind raised a small, prudish protest. "Cormac," she murmured against his lips.

He pulled away to meet her gaze. His eyes were hooded, darkened with desire, and she knew he could read the same limpid heat in hers. "Yes, that's me. I'm glad you're aware," he said slowly.

"Don't be crass," she said, a flash of surprised hurt making her put her palms against his chest to shove him away. Except she didn't. Her hands curled into his shirt, and she looked up into his face and recognised honest doubt and uncertainty there. It took the wind right out of her sails. "I know who you are. You're a jerk, but you're a jerk on a mission to be nice. Most of the time. You didn't want Ron to hurt me. You kissed me when I was sixteen and I was disgusted because I wasn't supposed to feel things like that about anyone else than Ron, and certainly no one else when I touched myself at night. But I was still very young, then. And rather silly in some ways, I suppose."

The surprise that had left his face naked for a moment gave way for want again when she mentioned touching herself. He seemed to consider her sharply. "Is that true?" he murmured.

"Oh, yes. I told myself I was repulsed, and, well, I was. I didn't like being turned on by a boy I didn't like. But I was. I guess you've always turned me on, and I've never liked that you did." She pondered that for a second. "Except I think I like you a lot better now."

"You think?" He gave a brief laugh, and suddenly angled himself different, herding her into the darkest corner of the nook they stood in. He let his crutch fall to the floor with a careless clatter, and holding her gaze in quiet challenge, he unbuttoned her shirt, well below her bra, then dropped his gaze to watch as he slid his hands inside her shirt, under the cups of her bra, to curve around her breasts. He squeezed slowly, his calloused thumbs brushing over her nipples, and smiled at the sharp jolt through her body, the soft moan that startled out of her. "Does this make you more sure?"

She closed her eyes and squirmed restlessly, both from the building waves of arousal in her body and from the knowledge that anyone walking by would be able to guess what was going on, even if they didn't see her directly behind his large frame. It was embarrassing, but it was erotic, too. And strangely liberating, although the three drinks she'd had that night probably had something to do with the way she gave herself over to it as though it were simply a delicious fantasy, where anything was allowed.

"I'm sure I like you... a lot better now," she said, smiling despite herself, and he was the one moaning then, as if her smile was an aphrodisiac just as potent as the feeling of her breasts in his hands.

"If you let me take you home, I'll give you more reasons to like me," he vowed, with a flash of a grin back, full of mischief and that infuriating confidence. But it didn't infuriate her at all, at the moment. It was only exciting, sexy as hell.

There was a second, maybe, when she weighed the possibility of saying no, of pulling out while there was still time, but no more than that. She nodded, her throat all at once feeling so dry that her voice came out a whisper. "My place." She gripped her wand, focused on the destination, and Apparated them both straight into her bedroom.

In the summer night, the room was not much darker than the night club they'd deserted. The air was pleasantly mild even with the window ajar. Cormac stumbled on his bad leg as they arrived, grunted out a curse but caught his balance at once.

She made a sound of concern as she realised. "I Apparated away from your crutch."

"Forget it," he said gruffly. "It doesn't matter." His fingers were in her hair, and she tilted her head back and let him tease the unruly, thick masses out in his big hands. "Beautiful," he murmured. "I fucking love your hair. It's like a force of nature."

Hermione blushed with the admiration in his eyes, the earnestness of the compliment. The arrested look on his face made something come to mind, something that seemed important to clear out of the way. She raised a hand to touch his jaw gently. "Cormac," she said, "there's something I need to tell you, before we... On Quidditch try-outs in sixth form, you know, your seventh, when Ron beat you to the Keeper's position—" She breathed in deeply, with a shameful cringe inside even after all these years. "I cast a Confundus charm on you. It was me who did it. And I'm really sorry. It was cheating, inexcusable, and I felt guilty about it even then."

He'd looked rather wary at the start of her confession, but at her near-whispered revelation he just blinked, and stilled with his hands in her hair. After a moment, he shook his head and chuckled. "Yeah? You've picked the right time to tell me, because I honestly couldn't give a flying fuck right now." He dropped his hands to the front of her dress and started opening the rest of the buttons, and Hermione just stared at him.

"You're not angry?"

"It was years ago. Who cares?" His fingers gripped the hem of her dress and eased it slowly up her body. She was staring into his teasing eyes until the dress came up over her head.

The dress fell on the floor, and she stood there in her plain white bra and knickers, yet she was too preoccupied to even worry whether her underwear was a tad too prim. "But I'm sorry," she insisted feebly, almost affronted by his nonchalant reaction. "It was wrong of me."

"What is it you're angling for, sweetheart? A spanking? Anything to please my lady." A playful smack to her backside made her yelp with mild indignation, but it was hard to maintain any kind of temper faced with the warm laughter in his eyes. "It's all right," he said, cupping her cheeks and kissing her, hungry, yet oddly gentle. "You were, what, sixteen? And I was a jerk. Oh hell, was I ever a jerk at seventeen. Now please, can we get back to the part where we're five years older and about to have sex?"

"Oh." She gave him a wide, sheepish smile. "Yes, all right, and thank you. That bothered me, actually." She kissed him back softly, relaxing into the smooth, sensual warmth of lips and tongues while her hands rucked up the bottom edge of his shirt and tugged it up his torso.

He helped her get it off him, tossing it beside her dress on the floor, and she sank her teeth into her lower lip in concentration, running her hands curiously over his broad chest and teasing with her fingertips through the hairs curling there, so different from Ron's nearly apple-smooth chest. She brushed her thumbs over his nipples and he half-closed his eyes and grunted, his hands digging harder into her bottom.

"Come—" he tugged her to him, her back to his chest, and slowly turned them. She was confused until she realised what he was aiming for. She looked straight into the full-length mirror on her wardrobe door, and the look of them, her in her underwear, Cormac still in his jeans and boots and so much larger behind her, made her whimper.

"Looks nice, yeah? You're gorgeous." He nuzzled into her hair while he opened the clasp of her bra at her back and eased it down her shoulders, dropping it to the floor. "Take them off," he murmured, with a seductive little nip at her earlobe and his thumbs hitching into the edge of her knickers. "Look into the mirror while you do."

Hermione was blushing up a storm, but she was helpless against the exciting roughness of his voice. This was something different, something a bit wicked, but wasn't that what she'd wanted when she'd decided to jump Cormac McLaggen? She held his gaze in the mirror, and eased down her knickers, shimmying out of them and tossing them with a flustered little giggle at the rest of the clothes on the floor.

He smiled, too, but there was an edge of tension to it. His hands spanned her waist. They were long and broad, almost covering her midriff. He slid them up to her breasts, and pinched her nipples gently, toying and teasing and coaxing more low, needy sounds from her. "You told me that back then, at school... when I kissed you it made you feel things you were only supposed to feel when you were touching yourself and thinking of Weasley. So... did you ever think of me when you touched yourself, Hermione? Did you ever try to think of Weasley but ended up coming with my face in your mind, instead?"

She licked out to moisten her lips, and thought back, although she already knew. The fantasy was tumbling back into her mind as he asked, bringing that still familiar wave of guilty excitement. That didn't mean it was easy to say it. "Sometimes," she whispered hesitantly. "I started thinking of Ron, but... I couldn't help it that you got into the fantasy instead. You seemed to know about sex. That was exciting."

He moved a hand down behind her, and she felt him open the flies of his jeans and take out his erection. He felt large and hot against the small of her back, and she leaned back against him, wiggling restlessly as arousal coursed through her — from the wickedness of their words, from his fingers on her breasts, from the hot length of his cock pressing against her back.

Cormac took her hand, and placed it on top of her curls, before his own hand slid lower, a fingerpad circling her clit. She made a sound close to a sob, undulating her hips to match his motions. She was soaking and slick and the touch felt unspeakably good on her swollen flesh. He pushed a knee between her legs and she took the cue at once and spread her thighs wider, and when his finger dragged down between her folds and slid long and thick inside her, a cry escaped her, her legs buckling for a moment so she had to lean heavily against him to keep her balance.

He dragged the finger almost out, then pushed it back in, fucking her slow and easy. "Touch your clit. Tell me your fantasy. What did you think of me doing to you?"

With a breathless, stuttered-out moan, she moved her own hand down the couple of inches to her clit. She closed her eyes, breathing hard as she rubbed herself.

"Open your eyes, Hermione." When she complied with the instruction, she found his gaze intense on her in the mirror, his mouth slack with lust and his jaw tense. "Tell me. Did I come to you, in the dream?"

"Yes," she said, on shallow, staccato breaths, pressing her fingers down on her clit in rhythm with his finger pumping in and out of her. "You came... to my bed, in the dorm. With the bed curtains drawn. And cast a silencing spell so no one would hear if I... made noises."

"Mmm." His lips brushed her temple and he rubbed his cock lazily against her back. She could feel a warm streak of moisture there, could hear the catch in his breath revealing that this was turning him on just as much. "Quite a scoundrel, wasn't I? What then?"

"You were so big," she whispered. "You lay down on top of me, and your hands pinned my hands and your legs pinned my legs. There was nothing I could do. But I didn't really want to."

"No, you didn't. Because you wanted me too, just as much as I wanted you." The teasing husk of his voice made Hermione moan, rubbing herself faster, and he immediately picked up the pace with his finger inside her as well. "Tell me more."

"You kissed me... that way that disgusted me," she gasped, short of breath, her body tightening around him as her arousal grew. She could feel her wetness sliding down her inner thighs. "Except it didn't, not really, and you slid your... your cock inside me and moved slowly in and out until I came, and you came too. You... made me say your name as I came. It made me feel so... oh... so..."

"I know, sweetheart." Cormac pinched her nipple harder, and twisted his neck to kiss her, awkward and sloppy at that angle, and when he spoke again his voice was rough and blunt, no longer coaxing out her fantasy. "I want you to come like this. Want to see you. You're so fucking close, I can feel—" Panting hard, he added a second finger inside her, and his free arm went around her waist to hold her firmly against his rocking hips with his hard cock slipping and sliding against her back.

Hermione cried out, her inner walls gripping his two fingers, slick and squeezing. He was thrusting into her fast now, even roughly, and she let all restraint go and let her fingers fly in a messy, sweet blur over her clit, grinding down into all the wet and throwing her head back on his shoulder between a gasp and a scream of his name as she felt the hard, releasing pulses begin.

"Ohgod, yes," he hissed, "fucking gorgeous." He pressed his mouth against her neck, and while she was still jerking and arching with pleasure there was hot wet spurting over her spine and the small of her back and her bottom, and her knees gave way and she watched it all in the mirror as his arm tightened around her waist and held her up like a raggedy doll while he moved in his last, shaky thrusts against her bum.

"Oh," she sighed, "oh, my god." She was dazed and even a bit shaken in the aftermath, but willingly turned in his arms when his grip on her waist eased up.

Cormac kissed her, lazy now, teasing, but still demanding kisses. "Not done with you yet," he muttered, his breath still ragged. "Want to lie between your thighs and eat you out. That will get me hard again, no worries. And after I've made you come a few times that way, I'm going to pin you down on the bed and slide my cock inside you and make your naughty little fantasy come true. Would you like that?"

It was probably idiotic to be blushing after what they'd done — Hermione was astounded, as flushed as she was, that her face could even feel any hotter. But as much as his suggestion turned her on, it dawned on her how much she'd actually revealed in the intense haze of arousal, and it made her drop her gaze, abruptly and ridiculously shy. "Um...," she replied.

"Or," he said, his voice softer and his gaze searching as he cupped her face and made her look at him again. "You can be on top, and you can ride me at the pace you enjoy best, the way it's easiest for you to come. Or any way you like. Believe me, I'll be happy."

The understanding in his eyes made her weak in the knees for a reason separate from the arousal that was undeniably also part of the explanation. Her hands went to the edge of his jeans, which were pushed down halfway on his hips, and started easing them down over his bottom. "It's still early night," she whispered, feeling bold and suddenly so light-hearted that all she could do was look at him and smile. "I want to try it all."

Cormac let out his breath in a sigh, his lips hovering close to hers, and all she heard before he kissed her again was a firmly muttered, "Me, too."


After perhaps ten seconds with her head under the covers, she heard the doorbell ringing. One long, three short, one long, two short, firm and cheerful.


Hermione peeked up over the edge of the blankets, meeting Cormac's gaze. He raised his eyebrows, and looked over his shoulder in the direction of the door.

"Are you going to get that? Or shall I—" He started to get up, smirking at her, and she jumped up with a gasp of protest.

"No. I'll get it. I'll—" The rest of the reply was lost in the hurry as she scrambled out of bed and dove down for her dress on her way to the flat's little hallway.

She discovered too late that she stood there with a blood red, extra-extra-large-sized Wigtown Wanderers t-shirt in her hand. By that time Ron was knocking on the door and calling her name, and she was only too aware that she had the wards set up to let him in.

"Hermione? You asleep?" he shouted, and Hermione groaned and quickly pulled the t-shirt over her head. It fell down like a tent to her mid-thigh, just as Ron eased the door open and peeked inside. "Hermi—? Oh." He stared. "Everything all right?"

"Of course—" She remembered Lavender then, and straightened herself with dignity, assuming a posture as though she were wearing her best work robes rather than what was obviously a very large man's t-shirt. "Why wouldn't everything be all right?" she said, staring him down.

He sighed and leaned against the door until it closed. "Shit. All right, listen, Hermione, please? I'm sorry. Lav said she'd looked up and seen you leave last night and that you looked shocked, and I bloody well know I should have said something before, but I didn't want to—" Ron raised his hand to his hair, messing it up with a look of dismay. "To make you feel like you'd been doing something stupid, coming to practices and looking out for me while I'd started seeing another girl, because honestly I was worried about your reaction to it being Lavender, of all the girls I might have fallen for, and I put it off much too long. But I swear I was meaning to tell you before you found out that way."

With a grimace, she averted her gaze, rubbing one cold bare foot over her other ankle. "You haven't murdered me yet for humiliating you in front of your manager, so I suppose that makes us even. And I know you tried to tell," she conceded. "I mean, I realised you were going to say something more last night, but I found the whole subject rather embarrassing, and... I was kind of glad to get away."

"With McLaggen." Ron's lips curved up in a hesitant smirk. "He's here, then?"

She blushed brightly. "I'm, um... why do you think that he's here?"

"A Wigtown Wanderers t-shirt that size? Come on, I may not be a deductive genius of your standards, but I'm not stupid. And he seemed very happy to have intercepted you last night."

Hermione dropped her gaze, prepared for a barrage of warnings about Cormac. "I know he was a jerk in school, but—"

"I know. He's not so bad. I kind of like him."

"Really?" She rolled her eyes and had to grin. "He kind of likes you, too."

Ron grinned back. "Until I beat him to the Keeper's position next season, I reckon."

"Get lost, Weasley." Cormac wandered into the hall in his towel, scratching his chest lazily. "Hey, you kind of interrupted—"

"Ah, sorry, mate." Ron pushed away from the door, apparently not hearing Hermione's quickly interjected, 'Breakfast!'. "Um, okay, I just wanted to explain — you're cool, then, about Lavender and me?"

"Sure," Hermione said, after a second's irrational, grudging hesitation, because it was after all Lav-Lav. She gave an abashed nod of her head over her shoulder. "And you're okay with—?"

"Sure, yeah, yeah." Ron had his hand on the door knob, and grinned as he backed out. "Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt—"

"That's all right," Cormac said.

He firmly pushed the door closed just as Hermione again cried out, "Breakfast! You just interrupted breakfast!" She scowled at Cormac. "You gave him that impression on purpose!"

He shrugged. "What difference does it make? He's no idiot, he knows you wouldn't be having breakfast with me wearing nothing but my t-shirt unless we had sex last night. And speaking of breakfast, the tea and scrambled eggs are getting colder by the second."

He held out his hand to her in invitation, a question in his eyes, and she bit her lip and put her small hand in his large one, feeling a pleasant jolt inside at how nice it felt. "Cormac," she said hesitantly.

"Yes?" Something in the tone of her voice must have alerted him, because she could feel the muscles tense in his hand as he watched her.

"I did some thinking—"

"For five seconds," he said quickly. "You should give it more time."

"It was ten seconds at least before Ron rang the doorbell, and I thought really hard for those ten seconds. And I, well, I just have a gut feeling, I suppose." She stepped closer and put her arms around his waist. "You asked if I'd like to get used to it. To you. Well, I would. I think I really like how it feels so far."

"You think," he said with a wry smile, one arm going around her, his hand smoothing her hair down her back.

"I'll have you know, I'm pretty good at thinking." She tipped her head back. "But scratch that. I'm sure I like how it feels so far. I'm pretty sure I could get used to you seeing me naked in the morning, even."

Cormac grinned. "Starting now?"

She toyed, rather coyly, with his chest hair. "Breakfast first," she reminded him.

"You could have it naked."

"Just me?" she protested, with a scandalised little grin up at him. "Certainly not."

"Oh well, in that case..." Cormac winked at her and tugged his towel loose with a bit of a flourish. In the next moment she was scooped up in his arms, and carried to bed with barely a limp and her legs happily flailing, his t-shirt coming off her so fast she had no time to register how it happened.

They did have breakfast — re-heated — in bed, both of them naked, forty-five minutes later.