Conversation (Worth the Risk #3)

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“That’s not fair.”

“Who told you that life is fair?”

“No one, but I can have expectations, can’t I?”

“The problem with having expectations is that you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.”

“That’s a rather dire look at life, isn’t it? Besides, you’re lying. You have expectations, too, or you wouldn’t spend so much time making lists and planning out your days.”

“Just twenty and already an expert on human nature.”

“There’s no need to be sarcastic, Hermione. Not everyone can be as observant as me. Now quit trying to distract me from my argument that you were just completely unfair.”

“As I. And an argument would indicate that you have some sort of case, Ted. As it is, you’ve done nothing but whine about life being fair when it most certainly isn’t.”

“Right. I. Anyway, I don’t whine.” Hermione glances at him and arches a brow, pursing her lips as she begins to catalog examples of Teddy-whinage. He shakes his head, his hair turning a pale orange. “Okay, perhaps I’ve whined once or twice, but this isn’t whining. This is being helpful and pointing out that you were just flirting with me and didn’t give me a chance to flirt back.”

“I was not flirting,” she denies, looking around the lobby quickly to ensure that it was, indeed, empty. “I simply pointed out the error in your research.”

“By flirting.”

She rolls her eyes and stops herself before she begins to bicker with him. She’s far too old for such nonsense, so she gives him a superior look and proceeds out the door. It‘s a rather pretty spring day, and she‘s happy to see that it‘s not raining at the moment. The forecast predicted light showers throughout the day. She takes a breath of reasonably fresh London air and listens for footsteps behind her. When there isn’t the sound of a closing door, she bites her lip and wonders if she should turn to look.

After a couple of minutes pass and she can’t very well stand waiting without possibly looking stupid, should anyone happen to walk by, she glances over her shoulder. The door’s open, which explains why she didn’t hear it shut, but Teddy isn’t anywhere to be seen. Had it been anyone else, she’d think all this had been nothing more than a prank. However, regardless of his playfulness and sense of humor, Teddy isn’t the type for such cruel jokes.

“Did you miss me?”

She squeaks and turns her head quickly to find Teddy standing in front of her. He’s smirking and looks pleased with himself, which frustrates her. “Like a bad cold,” she says dryly, telling herself that her racing heartbeat is because he startled her and not because he’s standing so close she can smell him.

“Alas, you can’t get rid of me with a simple over-the-counter potion,” he says smugly. He waves his wand, and she hears the door close behind her. “And you were, too, flirting.”

“Was not,” she mutters before she starts to walk. She takes a few steps and stops, turning to look at him. She smiles sheepishly as she reaches up to tuck her hair behind her ear. “I don’t know where we’re going.”

“Hmm?” He glances up and his hair turns bright red for a moment before it fades to a burnt orange. She feels her cheeks flood with heat when she realizes he’s been staring at her bum. “Oh, right. Food. Do you want to Apparate or take the tube?”

Apparating would require being close to him, which might not be the wisest decision to make at the current time, but riding the tube would take awhile, and she’s actually pretty hungry now that food is in her near future. He looks a little too eager as he rocks back on his heels and smiles innocently. It’s the smile that does it. “I suppose we should take the tube.”

“I knew you’d say that,” he says as he walks towards her. “Fortunately, I don’t live too far away. It’ll just take three tube connections to get there, and the restaurant doesn’t accept bookings, so we’ll probably get there at the height of their dinner rush, but we have all night, so who cares if it takes a lot of time. It’s Friday, after all, and you're child free for a week, and I’m a man of leisure.”

“Fine. We’ll Apparate.” She narrows her eyes when he grins, hating that he basically won that round. Not that they’re fighting or keeping score. But, still, she knows he just got her back for denying she was flirting, the git. Not that she was flirting. She’s horrid at that sort of thing, so she avoids doing it if possible.

“I knew you’d say that, too,” he murmurs. He steps closer and drags his bottom lip into his mouth as he looks at her and then looks around. When he looks back at her, he seems resigned. “No one’s around, but do you prefer going somewhere more private before we Apparate? I, uh, don’t want you uncomfortable or anything.”

“I think our reputations can withstand a sighting of dual Apparation, Ted.” She’s not too concerned about being seen doing that activity. After all, it’s common enough that no one would likely think anything of it. It’s other things that she doesn’t want seen, the hand holding and most definitely the kissing, for instance. Besides, she’s not ashamed of having dinner with him, and he looks very much like he thinks she is, which just isn’t right.

“Great.” He grins and steps closer to her. “I could just take your arm, of course, but I’m cunning enough to take advantage of this situation.”

“So cunning that you’re telling your intended victim your evil scheme?”

“Victim is such a harsh word. I prefer prey, because it brings to mind hunters and sleek, sexy beasts instead of photographs that Harry always has on his desk.”

“I think that both are inappropriate terms when one is discussing dinner with a friend.”

“Well, yes, but you think too logically, which is highly annoying sometimes.”

“So I’ve been told. Repeatedly.”

“We need to do something about that, Hermione. Perhaps reintroduce you to the term spontaneous.”

“Are we going to go for dinner or stand here listening to you use your impressive vocabulary all evening?”

“Since you said I’m impressive,” he holds up his hand and shakes his head, “no take backs since I heard 'you' and 'impressive' coming from those pretty lips. Anyway, since I’m so impressive, we’ll go have dinner, so I can attempt to charm you into agreeing that age is merely a number that we shouldn’t be bothered with when the alternative is happiness. And great sex.”

Before she can even gasp at such a claim, he moves his arms around her and pulls her against him. He’s actually a little taller than Ron, so she fits against him with enough space for him to lean down and rest his chin on her head, if he wants. There’s a familiar tug as he Apparates them near his flat, though he doesn’t let go immediately after they arrive in an alley.

“You can let go now,” she tells him, cringing when she hears the breathless tone in her voice. While it’s been a little over three years since she’s had sex, it’s not been something she’s particularly missed because she can take care of her own needs well enough. With the children, it hasn’t been feasible to have anything casual, and she’s not found anyone who interested her enough to attempt something less casual. However, the way her hormones are currently behaving makes her think they’ve staged a coup and have taken over body.

“I could,” he agrees, moving his hand down her back until he caresses her bum and then he moves his hand back up to play with the end of her braid. “Just because I could doesn’t necessarily mean I should.”

“Teddy, we should go eat, if only because I’m starving and this alley smells like urine.”

“And a surefire way to ruin a mood is to mention urine smelling alleys.”

“Well, it does! You can really only blame yourself since you’re the one who brought us here. Not a very good way to impress a woman you’re attempting to woo.”

“Woo?” He grins widely as he looks down at her. “Is that what I’m doing? God, that sounds like something Gram would say.”

“Oh, just shut up,” she mutters.

“I was just teasing,” he says, losing his smile as he shifts awkwardly. “I like that you’re letting me woo you. It’s a good word.”

“It’s a rather archaic term but it sounds more respectable than seduce.”

“If seduction is done right, I doubt anyone would call it respectable.”

“You haven’t let go yet.”

“I know. Don’t want to, really. Unfortunately, you’re starting to scowl, which means you’re hungry and getting cranky.”

“I don’t get cranky.” She rolls her eyes when he arches a brow and snorts and then smiles slightly. “Okay, perhaps I’ve been cranky once or twice, but this isn’t me being cranky.”

He laughs, his hair turning violet before he leans down and kisses her. It’s just a smack of his lips against hers, but it makes her belly flop in a dangerous way. “We’ll go eat now,” he says, focusing for a moment until his hair becomes brown again. “The restaurant is just down the road. Will I get chastised if I try to hold your hand or should I not push my luck right now?”

“I think you’ve pushed your luck quite a bit already,” she tells him after a moment of consideration. It’s just dinner, and she honestly expects for him to realize by the end of it that his feelings for her are just a crush.

It’s much different to actually speak with someone and have a conversation versus lusting from afar, so to speak, so she doubts he’s very interested once he remembers that she’s a rather dull workaholic mother of two with interests in magical creature’s rights and fun things like knitting and gardening. He’ll most likely be bored before the meal ends. Despite knowing the probability reality of having dinner with him, a part of her is disappointed that it can’t be something more, even though she knows it’s far too risky and complicated to even consider.

“Right. No hand holding,” he says, smiling even though he sounds disappointed. “You’re a tough woman, Hermione Weasley...Granger-Weasley.”

“The best things in life are rarely easy, Teddy,” she tells him with just a hint of smugness. She's also rather pleased that he's one of the few who actually ever gets her name right.

He grins and bumps his hip against hers before he finally leads her out of the smelly alley. “Now who sounds arrogant?” he asks, glancing up at the sky before he focuses on the road. “Nice night out. By the way, I think we need to discuss a punishment system for every time you call me Teddy instead of Ted.”

“Yes, it’s lovely out tonight. And what sort of punishment?” She frowns at him slightly. “I don’t think punishment is appropriate when someone changes their nickname after twenty years.”

“I was thinking that every time you call me Teddy, you earn a swat to your bum,” he continues as if she didn’t speak, though he glances at her out of the corner of his eyes in a way she knows means he’s nervous. “And if you get it right, you earn a kiss. Perhaps by the end of the night, you’ll have quite a few rewards waiting.”

“There will be no swatting of bums, so you can stop those particular thoughts right now,” she warns, having to bite her lip to keep from laughing at his oh so very male suggestion. “If you continue to sulk anytime I mistakenly call you Teddy, which is a very nice name, by the way, then you can forget any kisses, too.”

He runs his hand through his hair, and she notices a flash of turquoise that fades back to brown. “So, you’re saying that my suggestion is inappropriate because it means swatting your bum, but you’re now using the threat of no more kisses in order to get me to stop thinking about your bum. Is that what your sneaky attempt at coercion really means?”

“I’m not being sneaky,” she says. “There are no threats, either. After all, we’re just two friends having dinner, so there might not even be kisses in the future anyway. God, I can’t believe I’m arguing about hypothetical kisses with you.”

“They’re only hypothetical if you resist my charm and wit,” he points out helpfully. “So, in theory, it’s not so difficult to believe that you’re thinking about kissing me. I am handsome, after all, as you said yourself not long ago, and very clever.”

“I didn’t realize that you had such a high opinion of yourself, Ted. In fact, I’d always thought you were rather humble.”

“This isn’t really normal. I mean, you think that I’m just a kid, so I have to remind you of my good qualities since I can’t very well add fifteen years to my age. If I wasn’t having to use my one chance to woo you by making myself irresistible, I’d not be talking about me much at all. Much more interesting things to talk about.”

She looks at him and realizes he’s serious. “You don’t have to do that. I’m well aware that you’re nice looking and bright. You saying it or not saying it isn’t going to change your personality. Well, if you say it too much then you’ll just start to sound full of yourself, so I suppose that’s not necessarily a true statement.”

“You’re pretty cute when you start rambling about logic, you know?” He tugs on the end of her braid and smiles before he motions to an awning ahead of them. “There’s the restaurant. I hope you’re hungry, because their servings are huge. You’ll not want to move after eating, and you’ll feel incredibly lazy for several hours.”

“Thank you for the warning. Right now, I think I can successfully eat everything on my plate,” she says, smiling when he opens the door for her. She shifts the strap of her bag on her shoulder and steps inside, immediately surrounded by the smell of garlic and oregano. Her tummy rumbles, and she’s pleased that there’s not anywhere near a crowd like Teddy hinted there might be. A hostess greets them and leads them to a table in the back.

Teddy moves ahead of her and holds out her chair, smiling charmingly when she shakes her head. After she sits down, she takes the menu and scans the beverages before ordering a glass of wine. Teddy orders the same before he stretches his long legs beneath the table, brushing against hers before he moves slightly to the side.

“Everything I’ve ever had here is good, but the lasagna is probably my favorite,” he tells her before he scans his menu. “Though the ziti is really good, too.”

“Lasagna actually sounds quite nice,” she decides, noticing there’s a three cheese lasagna that sounds really tasty. “What are you having?”

“I think I’m going to have veal parmesan,” he murmurs thoughtfully. “Or the ziti. I’ll decide before our drinks get back.”

She laughs and shakes her head. “Either one sounds quite good. I’m starving,” she admits, closing her menu and looking around. It’s a nice restaurant, small and quaint, and candlelight adds a nice atmosphere. She looks across the table at Teddy and smiles. “Dinner was a good idea, regardless of what happens after.”

Before he can say anything, the waitress brings their wine and a basket of breadsticks that are calling her name. She swears she can hear them begging for her to eat them, so she reaches for one as soon as they finish ordering. They’re hot and slick with buttery grease, and one bite confirms that they’re delicious.

“Good, aren’t they?” he asks, shifting in his chair as he stares at her.

She smiles sheepishly when she realizes she’s been moaning and nods. “Yes, they are.”

He returns her smile and takes one for himself. She watches him rip off a piece and toss it in his mouth before he licks garlic butter from his fingers. “They’re also more than a little messy.”

“I noticed,” she murmurs, taking a drink of her wine as she looks away from his wet lips. “How’s your grandmother doing? I need to stop by for tea sometime soon. It’s been far too long since I have.”

“Gram’s Gram. She stays busy and still finds time to Floo call me so she can nag about remembering to do my laundry and cleaning the toilet. You’d think I hadn’t lived on my own for two years now, the way she goes on sometimes.”

“She only nags because she loves you. At least, that’s what I plan to tell Hugo and Rose whenever they get tired of my nagging.”

“Oh, I know. She’s smashing, really, but it always amuses me. My flat’s so tiny that it doesn’t really take a lot to keep it tidy, you know? George paid enough for me to cover rent and utilities on something small, and I don’t make much more as an intern. It’s enough space for me, so I don’t really care right now, but I eventually want something bigger.”

“You’re still young enough that a one bedroom flat is enough space,” she says. “My first flat gave tiny a new definition. I swear, there was barely enough room for Harry and Ron to visit for Sunday brunch. I didn’t mind, though, because it was all mine. I actually missed it later, when Ron and I first married. He was working for George, like you used to, while he was training, and I was barely making anything in Magical Creatures, so we couldn’t afford anything too grand at the time. It suited us, I suppose, but I was relieved when we both finally got promotions and could afford something better.”

“George is a good boss, but I’m glad that I’m working somewhere with more of a future now,” he tells her. “It took me time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life, and I think I know now. Working as an intern has taught me a lot, you know? I’ve been able to evaluate things and decide what suits me and what doesn’t.”

“How did you get interested in law?” It’s something she’s actually never asked him, but she’s always been curious. Since they’re drinking wine and conversing over delicious breadsticks, it seems a good time to get nosy.

“I don’t really know,” he admits. “I’m not really sure it’s for me, for a career, but I guess it seemed a good opportunity to find out how I like it. I want to make a difference, do some good to balance all the bad in the world, and I’ve always admired you. No, I don’t mean in a way that has anything to do with my, uh, feelings.” He smiles shyly and runs his fingers through his hair. She hopes that his hand is clean because, otherwise, his hair will get buttery now. “Harry is always really proud of you whenever you win a case, which is quite a lot, and I spent a lot of years hearing what a difference you were making in our world. It appealed to me, the idea that maybe I could help people, too.”

“Harry likes to brag about his friends,” she murmurs, smiling fondly as she thinks about him. “But he makes a huge difference, too. The department, under his leadership, has become phenomenal. What made you choose legal instead of enforcement?”

“I don’t want to catch people committing crimes,” he says simply. “That’s not for me at all. No offense to Harry or Ron, but I’m just not the type of person who would get satisfaction from that, you know? I want to help prevent the crimes, if I can, and I’d really like to help make sure everyone’s treated fairly.”

“Law doesn’t always guarantee that we can do that, though,” she says. “It can be frustrating to know someone is guilty of something and be unable to do a bloody thing about it. It used to get me too much, honestly, but I’ve had to learn how to step back. I’m surprised Ron put up with my moods for so many years before I learned that separation. Once I had children, though, I just couldn’t bring work home with my moods because they’re attuned to subtle differences like that.”

“I know. That’s one reason why I’m not sure it suits me best. I mean, you do amazing things. You’re able to help defend people who deserve the help, and your efforts to get legislation changed are brilliant. I don’t know if I’m patient enough to wait for the system to work, though. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? I love the work I’m doing with your department, but I just don’t know if I can see myself happy at it in ten years.”

“It doesn’t sound terrible, Teddy. It took me a few years before I found somewhere that felt comfortable and right for me. I loved my work with magical creatures, and everything I was able to do there. In fact, the idea of being in law was appalling to me back then. Then I realized just how much I could actually do with the right focus and effort, and it was a great match. You have to try things sometimes before you‘ll know what fits you, I guess. I understand what you‘re saying, and I do hope you find something that fits you better eventually.”

He nods and smiles. “I think I will. For now, it’s a good job, and my boss is brilliant, so I don’t have any complaints.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere, Lupin. You still have to reorganize the latest case files and transcribe the depositions by next Friday.”

“I don’t mind the organizing, but the transcription is a pain in the arse.” He rolls his eyes. “Yes, I said arse. You don’t have to scold me for bad language.”

“It’s just habit,” she says defensively. “Even more so since I had Rose and Hugo. Ron’s language is quite foul on a good day, so I developed the habit of pointing it out when we were young. Now, I tend to do it without even realizing it.”

“It’s okay. I actually think it’s charming, mostly because you don’t realize you’re doing it.” He bites his lip again and stares at her mouth before he looks away. Their food arrives, and they lapse into comfortable silence as they begin to eat. The lasagna is just as good as he promised and also a large enough serving for two people easily.

By the time she’s finished half her meal, she’s on her second glass of wine and they’re talking intermittently about work and family. It’s a relaxing meal, one of the better evenings she’s had in awhile that didn’t involve spending time with her children, and she’s glad that she accepted his invitation. The reason they’re having dinner and the undeniable question of their attraction to each other lurks around them, but it’s surprisingly easy to just lose herself in talking and the meal. Still, when he accidentally moves his leg against hers or their hands touch when they reach for bread, the attraction flares up and they both drift off for a moment before they pick up where they left off.

It isn’t until they leave the restaurant, after she insists on paying her share since it’s not an official date, that he brings up the one thing they didn’t discuss during the nearly two hours they sat talking and eating. He says it casually as they’re walking towards his flat so she can Floo home, and she misses a step because she doesn’t expect him to be quite so blunt and open about it.

“You know, there are no rules or laws that say what is and isn’t the right age difference between two people who connect. There are plenty of old men with younger women on their arm, and society barely even bats an eyelash. That’s in both worlds, actually. I know it’s not necessarily traditional and that we’re not really usual considering our close history, but I really don’t see how age can be an issue.”

“There are a lot of issues with the concept of us dating and being involved, Ted,” she murmurs. “Age is just one factor. While society, as a whole, might be quite tolerant with age differences, I’m not sure it’s something that I can overlook, no matter how mature you are for your age. I have children who aren‘t much younger than you, and your godfather is my best friend. It‘s just complicated, not to mention that a generic society isn‘t at all our family and close friends, which makes things far more personal and complex.”

“So, it doesn’t matter what I want or even what you want?” he asks. “Because some people might whisper about us and say nasty things, you’ll just ignore the possibility that we might make a good match? I don’t want to do anything to hurt your kids, Hermione. I adore them, you know? I just think that we’re worth the risk of at least trying. We might not be meant for each other, so you could end up being right all along, but I can’t stop thinking about you and wanting to try.”

“It’s not that easy,” she points out. “I don’t know what the right choice is, in all honesty, and you were right earlier. It does scare me. It’s been longer than you’ve even been alive since I worried about dating or wasn’t in love with Ron. I’m nearly forty and have a job that takes up a lot of my time and two children who take up the rest of it. You’re young and could honestly have your choice of many suitable young women. Not to mention the fact that I used to change your nappies and watched you grow up from a baby into the man you are today. Those are frightening things to consider along with everything else.”

“I know, Hermione. If I didn’t believe that what I feel for you is real, I’d never have started all this. I might be impulsive in some areas of my life, but I’m not when it comes to relationships and personal things. If anything, I’m too cautious there. I just don’t want to always wonder ‘what if’ or risk never having something that was right for me.”

She sighs and shakes her head, following him into his building as she thinks about everything that‘s happened tonight. For once, she has no idea what to do or say. A part of her wants to say bugger it all and go for it, but there are so many factors, and she just can’t do something that rash when it will affect others, most importantly her children. She doesn’t want to end up sneaking around for casual shags, and she really doesn’t want to end up getting hurt. The latter is something foremost in her mind, because it’s hard to consider any possibility that could come from all this that wouldn’t result in things ending eventually.

He doesn’t say anything as they climb the three flights of stairs to reach his flat. She’s been here before, but she’s never been more aware of the little things as she is now. The book lying on the sofa where he’s been reading, his trainers by the door, his shirt lying on the back of his chair, and various other small things that just remind her of him and make the space feel like a home.

“You’ve really done wonders with your space,” she says softly.

He looks at her and shrugs, running his hand through his hair as it becomes dark blue. “It’s a bit messy, but I try to keep it neat.” He shifts nervously and says, “Thank you for having dinner with me tonight.”

“Thank you for asking,” she murmurs. She walks over to him and kisses his cheek. “I had a lovely time, Teddy. Really.”

“So did I,” he whispers before he turns his head and brushes his lips against hers. Her resolution to leave and put an end to this madness is temporarily forgotten as he moves his arms around her and pulls her closer. His hand is shaking, she realizes when she feels it against her neck before he deepens the kiss. When he pulls back, he caresses her cheek and traces the curve of her jaw with his thumb. “Can I see you again?”

She reaches up to touch his hand and moves her head so she can kiss his palm. “We shouldn’t,” she sighs, closing her eyes for a moment as she just enjoys the feel of him against her.

“Maybe not, but we can,” he says, moving his hand to rest at the small of her back.

“I don’t know if I can,” she admits quietly, opening her eyes to look up at him. “I’m not sure if I can take the risk but I’m also no longer certain that I can just go back to how things were before because it’s all changed now, hasn’t it?”

“I don’t want to go back,” he admits. “I want you to take a chance so we can see what happens. Can I see you again?”

“You see me every weekday for work and during family functions,” she murmurs, smiling wryly as she reaches up to brush his hair back from his face.

“Please, Hermione?”

She bites her lip and shakes her head slightly. “I should go home,” she says, leaning up to kiss him lightly before she walks to the fireplace. She tosses in the Floo powder and calls out her address. Instead of stepping through, she grips the mantle for a moment and tries to make sense of all the things running through her mind at the moment. There are too many thoughts, but she can’t help feeling like she’s made a mistake. It’s illogical and foolish, but she can feel it in her gut.

She looks over her shoulder and sees him staring at her, looking helpless and frustrated, which suits how she feels. “Yes,” she whispers, watching his eyes widen before he starts to smile. “God, I know it’s wrong and we shouldn’t, but yes, you can see me again in this way. Good night, Teddy.”

She steps through the Floo before she can change her mind or give in to the urge to kiss him more. When she steps out into her sitting room, she goes and sits on the sofa, pulling her legs up so she can rest her chin on her knees while she thinks about everything that’s happened in the last few hours. It started with a lurid fantasy about someone inappropriate and somehow she now finds herself having agreed to a real date with a man eighteen years her junior. She groans and pulls a pillow over her face as she wonders when life became so bloody complicated.