Excursion (Worth the Risk #20)

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The pad of paper that’s kept in the kitchen for making grocery lists or jotting down odd thoughts that might not be remembered after cooking proves too tempting to resist. Ron said he’d bring Hugo home by nine, which could mean anytime after eight, based on past instances, so it only leaves a few hours free, which is why Hermione tells herself it’s silly to think about trying to see Teddy for such a short time. Besides, they spent most of yesterday together, so he’s probably as busy today as she is. However, that tablet is sitting right there, so close she can touch it if she just reaches out and leans a little, and it doesn’t want her to put away groceries and spend a quiet night alone.

With a muttered curse about her lack of willpower, she summons the paper and pen and writes a quick note to Teddy. It sounds ridiculous, of course. Ron took Hugo out for dinner. They’ll be back after eight. You busy? She’s normally much better at writing correspondence but the newness of the situation has her uncertain as to what to say exactly; she has no experience with hurried dates while the kids are out. She reads the note over and marks through the last sentence, changing it to, Want to get a drink?. There. That’s more specific and doesn’t make her sound like an immature teen who hasn’t ever asked a bloke out before. Not that she has.

Once she’s reasonably satisfied with the brief note, she goes out back to get her owl. “Take this letter and wait for a reply,” she tells Cliodna before she sends her off to London. There’s a slight moment of panic when she considers calling her back because, really, it’s rude to send out an invitation without more notice, and the idea of him sending back a reply stating that he’s busy makes her belly twist in a bad way. She hates rejection of any kind, which is probably one of her worst flaws. She'll certainly understand, though, if he doesn't have the time, so she goes ahead and sends the note. The possibility that he will be free makes it worth the risk that he might decline.

After watching Cliodna fly away, she goes back inside to finish with the groceries. It continues to amaze her how much stuff she has to buy every week when it’s just her and Hugo. When Ron left, it was difficult to adjust to not having to buy certain things that he liked, and to having only three people to feed instead of four people, and it’s taken her months to get in the habit of not buying Rose’s favorite biscuits or the cheese she prefers. In a few months, there’ll be another adjustment as she starts buying for just one person for the first time in, well, ever.

Despite not living with Ron immediately after the war, he and Harry were over enough that she generally kept extra food on hand for their visits. So, it’s never really just been her on her own. It’s scary to think about adapting to such a thing after so long with someone being there. It isn’t that she can’t function on her own, as she’s actually very independent and knows she doesn’t have to have someone around to feel like herself. But it’s easy to develop a habit of relying on others, whether it’s a husband or the children, and she isn’t entirely certain she can modify years of behavior that easily.

Ron has been able to do it, though, so she knows it’s possible. Of course, now he’s got Mel, who is around a lot when the Cannons are in their off-season. She travels quite a lot during the season, though, so he still has periods of time where he’s on his own. It’s probably wrong to compare herself with Ron since they’re totally different in their approach to most things, but Hermione can’t help but think that if he can do it, she’ll be able to. Still, it’s something that worries her in the back of her mind, along with dozens of other random things that like to remind her that she spends too much time thinking of and dealing with anxieties before they even become problems.

By the time she finishes putting away all of the groceries for the week, she feels restless in that annoying way that strikes her occasionally. It happens to come about most often after being around Ron and Mel, but she chooses to ignore that. It’s simple to say she’s happy for Ron, but it’s not so easy to accept that someone has taken her place in his life after so many years. Even if he isn’t suited for her anymore, that doesn’t necessarily mean she wants him to move on, especially with someone so unlike her that it amazes her they ever stayed married if Mel’s his usual type.

It occurs to her that she’s being a hypocrite as she walks into the sitting room and sits down. After all, there aren’t many qualities that Ron and Teddy share. It’s not exactly the same, since she isn’t seriously involved with Teddy or contemplating a future with him, like she suspects Ron is with Mel if things continue going well for them. She deliberately doesn’t think about what will happen if he decides to remarry. Normally, she likes thinking about possible outcomes to various things and analyzing life, but this subject is just too fresh for her to do so yet.

She’s grateful that she and Ron were able to remain friends and that everything was amicable, because the alternative would have been devastating. However, even after three years, it's surprising how often there's another new thing she hasn't considered before, and how much adjusting there still is to do. But, it's getting better. It didn’t hurt as much today, just as it didn’t hurt nearly as much the last time, and she thinks maybe it’ll continue getting better over time.

She really has no room to be upset about Ron and Mel now, though, regardless of the circumstances, and regardless of her own level of intimacy with Teddy. Her affair with him is complicated, which seems to have become a word that she uses too much these days. She’s happy in a way she hasn’t been in years, and it’s not just the sex, which is really quite good. It’s just feeling connected with someone who seems to understand her. When he smiles at her or makes an observation that people who have known her for decades still don’t understand, it doesn't matter that he's only twenty and close enough to be family. He gets her, to be perfectly honest, and that’s just so appealing that she can’t resist, and thinking about him ---and them--- is preferable to slipping into melancholy thoughts about divorce.

She wonders if Cliodna has made it to London yet. She’s a fast owl, but it’s not a short trip, so probably not. There are still a few hours before she wants to be available for Hugo coming home, but she can’t help wanting to enjoy every moment they can steal. Keeping their relationship a secret is essential right now, but it's inconvenient, especially for situations like this one, and she wishes it weren't necessary.

Still, it can’t be helped. There’s a lot at risk to make anything public at this point. The last three weeks have been wonderful, far more than she ever expected when she accepted his dinner invitation. That night changed everything, but she can’t put Hugo through the mess that would likely accompany going public. It’s not even that she doubts Teddy’s sincerity; it’s that she doesn’t even really know what she wants beyond spending more time with him. Openly dating him will change so much more than just their lives, which makes it selfish to consider unless she knows it’s more than a passing fancy.

It’s times like this that she misses Crookshanks more than ever. There would have definitely been snuggles as she thinks too much, and he’d have licked her chin even as he wiggled in protest before settling against her. She had him for so many years that she’s not been able to get another pet since he died. He lived to see the birth of Rose and Hugo, but he was so old by then that he didn’t last very long after Hugo was born. She has so much trouble letting go, she knows, but it’s just who she is, even if she knows it’s silly. Maybe she can get another pet when Hugo goes to school. It might be time to finally let Crookshanks go when she also lets Hugo go.

She sniffles and curses herself as she wipes her eyes. Bloody hell, she’s not going to cry over a long-dead pet. It’s more than that, of course, but she’ll not let stress and worries turn her into an emotional mess. She moved past that phase years ago, for the most part, and she’s honestly stronger than that. Tears can be cathartic, certainly, but this isn’t a situation where they’re necessary. She’s happy right now, with work and Hugo and even her personal life, which she actually has at the moment.

When she hears the Floo, she glances over in surprise, wondering who it is this time. If it’s Ginny asking her to watch Lily so she and Harry can have alone time, she seriously considers inventing a migraine. While she adores her niece, she isn’t really in the mood for babysitting right now. A familiar figure steps out of the fireplace, turquoise hair longer than it was this morning. He smiles sheepishly as he holds up the note. “That owl of yours was stubbornly resistant about leaving without a message, but I wanted to reply in person.”

“I told her to wait for a reply, so she’s probably most disgruntled,” she says with a smile. “If you’re going to tell me you’re busy and don’t have time for a drink, do so quickly and leave so I can mend my broken heart in private.”

“What did I tell you about my inability to say no to you?” he asks, shaking his head as he walks towards the sofa. “As it is, my evening is free, so you‘re stuck with me.” He looks at her more closely and reaches out to wipe a tear away with his thumb. "Everything okay?"

“It's fine. Just a spot of melancholy, but I'm okay. And your hair’s longer,” she murmurs, reaching up to touch as he sits down beside her.

“I don't like melancholy if it makes you cry." He smiles and leans into her touch. "Yeah, I was being silly and practicing when your owl arrived. I do that when I’m thinking sometimes,” he admits. His hair shortens until it’s the normal length, brushing against the strong line of his jaw before he shakes it away from his face. “You’re lucky I’d stopped increasing the size of my nose and lips by that point.” He leans over and brushes his lips gently against hers. “However, I’d be willing to enlarge other parts for your pleasure, should you ever feel the need.”

“Teddy!” She gapes at him and glances down at his lap as heat spreads over her cheeks. It probably says something about her that she hasn’t really considered the ramifications of his ability when it comes to that, though he alluded to it weeks ago when he was flirting. And, now, when he brings it up again, she can’t stop thinking about it. She bites her lip and glances up at him before she says, “I like you how you are, you know?”

“I know. That’s the reason I can make such an offer,” he says honestly. “You’re happy with me as I am, which just amazes me, in a way.”

“It’s a lovely offer, as it was the other time you mentioned it, but I’ll pass for now,” she tells him. “Why would I want anything more than what I already have?”

Instead of replying, he kisses her again. It deepens rather quickly and the gentle gives way to passion as she pulls him closer. When they break apart, he traces her lips with his thumb and brushes his knuckles against her jaw. “I was happy to receive your owl. And, uh, for the record, my answer is yes, I’d like to have a drink and anything else you want.”

“You’ll learn to be more specific in your acceptance,” she warns, kissing the tip of his nose before she stands up. “If you don’t mind getting out, I thought we might walk to the pub in town. They do a trivia night on Sunday that I’ve been to before, and it’s rather fun, even if it involves participating.” She hesitates a moment before she admits, “I’m tempted to forget about the drink and take advantage of you.”

“While I’m all for being taken advantage of, I wouldn’t mind a spot of trivia with a drink,” he says as he gets to his feet. “Besides, it’s still a few hours until eight, so there’s time for advantage-taking later.”

“Very logical. I’m proud.” She smirks and moves away before he can swat her arm. Taking him to the local pub is actually a pretty big step for her, because she’s familiar with people in town, even if she’s not more than casually friendly with any of them. She’s not into public displays of affection, wasn’t even when she was married, so it’s unlikely she’d do more than hold his hand anyway. Still, she’s proud of suggesting the pub and not feeling too anxious about it.

“So’m I.” He preens and kisses her before he offers her his arm. When she takes it, he leads her to the door and outside. He stops walking and his hair turns brown. “Figure I’ll draw less attention this way.”

“Probably wise,” she agrees. It’s late afternoon, and she can smell rain in the air. By night, it’ll be raining, she predicts. She loves the fresh air, and taking walks is one of her favorite things to do since they moved here. She never considered somewhere like Cumbria suiting her, but she loves it here, even if they ended up paying too much for their rundown house than they would have elsewhere. It was a good investment, as they were able to do most of the work themselves or with help from friends. Of course, if she couldn’t simply take the Floo or Apparate to most places, it wouldn’t be sensible to live so far from London and work.

“It’s really beautiful here,” Teddy murmurs, moving his arm so he can take her hand. “Peaceful in a way that London isn’t.”

“I was just thinking that.” She smiles and nods. “It’s lovely, isn’t it? When we decided to get a house once I was pregnant with Rose, we looked at property all over Britain, from larger cities to the smallest of villages, and I knew this was the right place to settle once I saw the house. Ron wasn’t as agreeable, because he thinks it’s in the middle of nowhere, but he was easily persuaded once I put my mind to it.”

Teddy shifts and looks down at the ground before he softly says, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m ready to hear you talk about persuading Ron. I mean, I know it was years ago, and I know you two were married for ages, but it’s still a little awkward to consider.”

“Fair enough.” She moves her fingers over his palm and squeezes his hand. “I don’t want to hear about Victoire, after all.”

“Not quite the same for comparing, but I’d not talk about her. Figured that might make you uncomfortable.” He smiles down at her. “So, Hugo went to dinner with Ron?”

“He and Mel took him to a Quidditch scrimmage and dinner.”

“Mel? She’s the, uh, girlfriend?”

“Yes. Demelza Robins. She was a Chaser with the Cannons years ago until she suffered an injury and decided to become a healer. You might remember it being in the Prophet, as it was quite a big story in Quidditch circles back then. A star player at the height of their career leaving the game always seems to cause such shock amongst fans.”

“I’m not really into Quidditch that much, but the name is somewhat familiar. You, um, okay with all that?”

“I don’t mind that you don’t like Quidditch.”

“Brat. That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

She sighs and looks up at the sky. “It’s difficult. I’m glad that Ron’s happy, you know? And I’m friendly with Mel, but there’s awkwardness because of the situation. She’s a good person, though, and she made Ron work for the first date, which I admire. With his name and reputation, he could easily have become a target of some fame-hungry slag.” She smiles wryly. “It doesn’t matter that the war ended nearly twenty years ago; we still have that ‘hero’ status.”

He studies her a moment and tugs on her hand, pulling her closer as he moves his arm around her shoulders to give her a hug before he takes her hand again. “I can’t imagine how difficult it must be, but I’m glad you like her relatively well. It would be worse if you hated her, I figure. Though, you know, I happen to be quite smug about the fact that I'm dating a real life heroine," he teases. He squeezes her hand and becomes serious. "You do know I'm not interested in you for that reason, don't you? I'm not like that."

“Yes, I know. If you were like that, we never would reached this point. And, yes, it would be much worse if I hated Mel,” she agrees, leaning against him slightly as they walk towards town. “She’s completely clueless about how to deal with Hugo, which makes her more approachable, maybe. I think Ron really likes her, though, so I suppose I have to adjust and learn how to deal with her if I want our friendship to continue to be genial.”

“When Gram told me that he was seeing someone, she mentioned that it was ‘some fit blonde athlete’ but I’m glad that she’s tolerable, at least.”

Hermione smiles. “I think it’s funny that your grandmother is such a gossip when she acts so above such things.”

“I love Gram to death, but she definitely thinks she’s earned the right to have a set of standards for herself and a set for everyone else to follow,” he says. “With the way she talks sometimes, you’d think she was a hundred instead of in her late sixties. She’s also not nearly as old-fashioned about some things as she likes to pretend.”

“Do you worry what she’d say if she found out about us?”

Teddy glances at her and bites his lip before he looks ahead. “Honestly? No, because she shouldn’t care so long as I’m happy. I mean, if you love someone, you accept their choices, like you do with Ron and his new girl. Maybe that makes me selfish, but I don’t care who knows, even if I do respect your choice for it to be a secret now.”

“It doesn’t make you selfish, Ted.” She considers his words as they finish the rest of their walk in peaceful silence, just enjoying the late afternoon sunlight and fresh air. When she was younger, she was optimistic and idealistic, too. She could easily see herself making that same statement back then, before she grew up and realized that things aren’t usually that easy. And other people are affected, in this case, due to their connection with her. There are times when she misses the days of passionate optimism, but there’s no going back to what once was, and she likes the woman she’s become, flaws and all.

They arrive at the pub, one of three in town, and she greets a few people she recognizes from shopping at the grocery and butcher on occasion. While she usually goes to the large supermarket in another town, she tends to buy most their meat at the butchery because it’s just better, in her opinion. She’d buy more things at the grocery in this town, but their selection is rather limited, and she likes having choices for when she wants to be thrifty, which is often. She introduces Teddy as a friend, deliberately vague as to what sort, and he doesn’t seem to mind.

A few people stare and whisper, which unsettles her, but she does her best to ignore them and enjoy her pint. Teddy notices and glares before she can stop him, but a quick kick under the table turns his attention back to her. “Just ignore them,” she murmurs before they continue talking about the upcoming week and work. A couple of older women join them when it’s time for trivia, and Teddy soon has them both charmed into behaving like giggling schoolgirls instead of women older than herself. He does it so effortlessly that it amazes her, and she doubts he even realizes just how captivating he can be.

As they settle into playing trivia, she begins to relax more. The looks and whispers of a few can’t ruin their fun, and many others don’t seem to notice or care that they’re together. The questions are all Muggle related, of course, so Teddy doesn’t know a lot. He scowls a few times when he misses an answer or seems completely lost, but he shrugs it off and laughs before trying again. It’s funny, but she likes seeing him at moments when he’s not at his best, because it’s all too easy to focus on all his good points and forget that he’s not perfect. His flaws help define him, after all, and she likes that he gets annoyed when he gets the wrong answers.

By the time trivia is over, with their team placing second and the winners earning a good-natured vow of a rematch from Ted, it’s almost eight. She’s torn between being disappointed that there’s not going to be time for anything physical and being happy after spending a lovely evening with Teddy. The latter wins out because, really, they can shag other times but the trivia and laughter with new friends can’t be captured at any free moment without a child around.

It’s raining lightly when they step outside. “I thought it was going to rain,” she says. She glances at him. “We can Apparate to the house, if you want.”

“It’s just drizzle, so we won’t melt if we walk,” he tells her. “Up to you, though. It’s nearly eight, and I don’t want you catching cold if we get soaked.”

“Like you said, it’s just drizzle, so we’re unlikely to get soaked unless it gets worse,” she decides. “We can walk, if only so I can enjoy a little more of your company before reality once again intrudes.”

“Damn that reality,” he whispers before they start the walk out of town and back to her house. After they walk awhile, talking about questions they missed and comparing their lack of knowledge when it comes to Muggle things, which is rather embarrassing for her since she is a Muggleborn, he takes her hand. She appreciates that he waits until they’re far enough away for anyone to be likely to see them, when she knows he’d have had no problem taking it at anytime during the evening.

They’re nearly to her house when it begins to rain more heavily. Teddy looks up at the sky and laughs, shaking his head as his wet hair fades from brown to burnt orange. When he looks down at her, she feels a twisting in her belly that she decides not to analyze right now. He lowers his head and kisses her, right there on the side of the lane as rain falls down on them.

And she lets him.

In fact, she raises her arm and tangles her fingers in his hair as she kisses him back. He moves his arms around her, dragging his hand down her back to gently cup her bum as he pulls her closer. His other hand moves up until he’s tugging on her hair as the kiss deepens. She parts her lips and their tongues flick against each other, noses bumping as they shift, and then he’s curling his tongue around hers and she’s sucking gently and the cool wet rain is refreshing against her heated skin.

When they finally pull back, she blinks away raindrops as she looks up at him. He smiles and caresses her cheek before he brushes a kiss against her forehead. “Let’s get you home before you catch cold,” he murmurs. There’s a nerve in his cheek that’s twitching, which makes her think he’s resisting the urge to just say bugger it all and kiss her again. He sighs and takes her hand, pulling her along beside him. “Have to get you back before Hugo returns anyway.”

“Right. It’s later than I expected,” she says softly, walking beside him as they finish the trip home. When they arrive at her house, she casts drying charms on their clothes after they get inside. “There, that’s better.”

“I don’t know. I kinda like you wet,” he admits, giving her a playful leer. “Seriously, thanks. For drying my clothes, of course, but mostly for inviting me out tonight. I had a lot of fun, even if I didn’t get taken advantage of. There’s always next time, right?”

“You’re awful.” She laughs and kisses him slowly. After she pulls back, she says, “Yes, there’s always next time. Sweet dreams, Teddy---Ted.” He grins and kisses her once more before he takes the Floo back home. She smiles as she sits on the sofa, reaching for a pillow that she hugs against her chest while she waits for Hugo to come home.