Aspiration (Worth the Risk #55)

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“Hugo, you’re supposed to be helping your sister make the salad, not eating all the tomatoes before they can be put into the bowl.” Hermione looks at her children and watches Hugo attempt to give her an innocent look. The innocence is betrayed by the tomato seeds on the corner of his mouth.

“Mum, I wasn’t—“

“Before you finish that sentence, remember what happens to people who tell lies,” she warns, giving Rose a stern look when her daughter lets out a giggle.

Hugo frowns and squirms before he sighs. “I wasn’t planning to eat all the tomatoes. Besides, you say that eating this healthy stuff is good for us.”

“Now he remembers that,” Rose mutters as she rolls her eyes. “Here. Have a slice of onion. It’s healthy, too.”

“I don’t want a slice of onion.” Hugo makes a face. “I like the tomatoes most of all.”

“So do the rest of us, which is why you need to stop eating them all before there aren’t any left,” Hermione says as she turns back to the lamb chops that she’s frying.

The sound of the Floo interrupts any defense that Hugo planned to make. “Teddy’s here!” Hugo says before he steps away from the counter and leaves the kitchen. “I’ll go get him.”

She glances at Rose, who seems to tense up at Hugo’s words. “Are you okay?”

Rose looks at her and nods. “I’m fine, Mum. I promised you that I’d give him a chance. It’s just weird.”

“I appreciate that promise. As for it being weird, there’s nothing I can really do about that.” Hermione looks over at the door when she hears Teddy answering a question that Hugo’s asked. She smiles when he enters the room and feels butterflies in her tummy like she’s a teenager. She still isn’t used to the effect that he has on her.

“Evening, ladies,” he says as he enters the room. For a moment, he looks hesitant when he glances at Rose but then he focuses on her and smiles as his hair turns orange. “Something smells good.”

“We’re having lamb chops and salad and potatoes and peas with carrots,” Hugo informs him. “Me and Rose are making the salad.”

“Rose and I,” Hermione corrects.

“That’s what I said. Rose and I.” Hugo rolls his eyes before he goes back to the counter to help Rose.

“Right. I must have heard wrong.” She looks at Teddy and smiles. “Good evening, Teddy. We’re glad that you could join us tonight.”

“I’m sorry,” Rose blurts out then cringes. She looks at the onion she’s cutting and frowns. “I mean, for last week. I don’t really hate you.”

Teddy looks surprised by the apology and glances at Hermione before looking back at Rose. “You’re forgiven. For what it’s worth, I had hoped that you didn’t really hate me. Now, what can I do to help?”

“You can set the table, if you want,” Hermione offers, slightly amused by how stunned Rose appears to be after Teddy simply accepts the apology and moves on. She really wants to kiss him, not only because it feels like ages since she’s had the opportunity but because he somehow knew the best way to handle Rose right now. He’s going to be good in Wizarding Welfare, especially when he gets cases dealing with children.

“Alright. That’s something I can definitely do,” he says as he walks over to her. “I want to see what you’re cooking.” He stands behind her and leans forward to stare down at the lamb chops. “Mmm. Smells good.” He rests his hand on her hip and, for a moment, she’s not entirely sure if he’s talking about the food or about her. He lowers his voice. “I really want to word-I-guess-we-can’t-say-here-either you right now, just so you know.”

“Ditto,” she murmurs before she lightly nudges his tummy with her elbow. “Maybe later.”

“Promise?” He laughs when she elbows him a little harder but doesn’t try anything else distracting. He steps away and reaches into the overhead cabinet for plates.

“Did Dil write to you, Teddy?” Hugo asks as he rips up lettuce to add to the salad. “He wrote to me and said we should visit soon. I told him that Rose is home now and might like to see the dragons.”

“He did actually write to me, just a couple of days ago,” Teddy says. “He told me that he enjoys getting letters from you and is looking forward to seeing us all again soon as well as meeting Rose. Maybe we can convince your mum to take a day off one weekend soon, and we can go for a visit.”

“That could be fun,” Hermione says as she finishes with the meat. She looks at Rose. “Would you like to go meet Dilwyn and see the dragons sometime?”

“I guess so. Hugo talks about it constantly, so it might be fun.” Rose shrugs a shoulder before she looks calculating. “Can we fly on the dragons? Hugo told me that this Dil bloke offered before but you said no.”

“You can fly on them,” Hermione says, “when you’re sixteen, like I’ve always said.”

“Mum, that’s not fair,” Hugo whinges. “We want to fly on them now. Not in a million years.”

“Five years for you, not a million.” She shakes her head. “Dragons aren’t the same thing as flying on brooms, so you should be older before you ever try.”

“So it’s okay if we might die when we’re sixteen but we’re too young now?” Rose rolls her eyes. “That’s such a mother answer. It doesn’t make any sense.” She looks at Teddy and frowns in thought. “What do you think, Teddy? Should Mum let us fly now?”

“I think that your mother is the one who decides that sort of thing, and that I’m not about to be dragged into the middle of this.” Teddy shakes his head. “I’m not stupid, after all.”

“Good answer,” Hermione tells him before she looks back at Rose and Hugo. “You are too young now. Not to die, since I’m hoping that I’m long gone by the time the two of you reach that phase in your lives, but to do something that dangerous. If something unexpected happened, you wouldn’t be able to react quickly enough to possibly help save yourselves. So, ask me again when you’re older, and don’t go to your father about it because I’ve won that argument with him every single time.”

Hugo sighs. “It’s okay, Rose. Seeing the dragons is really cool, even if we can’t fly on them.”

“On that note, I’m going to set the table.” Teddy winks at her before he leaves the kitchen with a stack of plates and utensils.

“I’m gonna go help Teddy,” Hugo decides as he walks over to wash his hands before he leaves the kitchen.

She walks over to the counter to stand beside Rose. “I’ll help finish the salad. Everything else is ready, I think.”

“Teddy does make you smile a lot,” Rose says softly. “More than Daddy did before he left. It’s still weird, though. He’s our age, and you’re our mum.”

“Well, I’m not sure if I’d compare twenty to twelve, but he’s certainly closer to your age than mine,” she agrees. “He does make me smile, though. I’m happy when I’m with him, even if things are still complicated.”

“Mel is younger than Daddy, too. Maybe you both just like younger people now,” Rose muses. She looks up at Hermione. “Is Daddy upset about Teddy? You didn’t like it when he started dating Mel. You were frowning a lot during Easter whenever Mel was mentioned.”

“It wasn’t that I didn’t like your father dating Mel. It was more about dealing with the fact that he’d moved on first and that Mel isn’t really like me at all. It’s hard to explain, Rose. When you’re older, you might understand it more. I promise that we can talk about it in a few years, and I’ll answer questions you might have then honestly.”

“I’m twelve. I’m not a child anymore. You’re always saying when I’m older, but I want to know now, not then.” Rose shakes her head. "Maybe you should try now."

Hermione sighs. "It's just that so much of what I'd say requires context I know you don't have. It's like if I tried to tell you about your uncle George's latest creation, but I only used terminology and concepts you won't learn until seventh-year Potions, or maybe more like, if I tried to explain Muggle e-mail to your grandfather. It requires a lot of groundwork that isn't the actual explanation, just stuff you need to be familiar with in order for the actual explanation to make sense, so it would wind up taking as long to explain as to just wait until then, and then explain."

“I hate that."

"Believe it or not, I can identify with that. Fortunately, I don't really think you'll need to be in your thirties to understand. Perhaps just sixteen or so."

"Well, for right now, I think that relationships are just a lot of trouble. Even when they’re happy, they might not really be. Victoire and Teddy broke up, and Victoire wasn’t really that sad at all. You and Daddy got a divorce, and you were sad for a while. Now, you’re happy, but I don’t think it’s just because of Teddy cause you were happier before.”

“I have to agree,” she says thoughtfully. “Relationships are a lot of trouble. It’s not easy at all, and, sometimes, it’s extremely difficult. There are times, though, when it’s worth it.” She glances up and notices Teddy standing outside the doorway eavesdropping. She ducks her head and smiles. “When those times come along, you have to take the chance and deal with the consequences. They don’t always end well, like when your father and I divorced, but I wouldn’t go back and change things, Rose. However, I think you’d be wise if you decided to wait to have any kind of relationship until you’re, oh, sixty maybe. By then, your father might actually let you have a date.”

Rose giggles and leans her head against Hermione’s side. “Daddy told me I can’t date until I’m a hundred. Sixty sounds better.”

“Hmm. A hundred is a good number,” she muses before she looks back at the door and sees that Teddy’s gone. She shakes her head and finishes the salad. “Do you want to help me get things ready to take to the table or do you want to go get drink orders from Ted and Hugo?”

“I’ll do drinks.” Rose gives her a half-hug before she leaves the kitchen.

Once she’s gone, Hermione washes her hands and starts the process of transferring things into serving containers. When she hears someone enter the kitchen, she stops and listens. “You’re not Rose,” she says as she looks over her shoulder to see Teddy.

“Hugo and Rose went upstairs to wash up for dinner. I offered to take over the drinks for her,” he says as he walks towards her. “We’ve got two minutes, at least, which isn’t time for much, but it is enough for this.” Before she can say anything, he pulls her to him and kisses her. She parts her lips and deepens the kiss, pressing against him as she curls her tongue around his.

When he lets go, she leans against the counter and looks at him. “I’ve wanted to do that since you first got here,” she admits.

“Ditto.” He runs his fingers through his green hair and takes a few breaths. “Can I just say that it’s not easy to stand here being good instead of pushing you onto the counter and having my wicked way with you? I know, I know. The kids and not the right time. Still, certain parts of my body don’t really understand the difference between ‘good time’ and ‘really horrible time’. Also, for the record, so not fair that you can make me feel like this after just a kiss.”

“It’s good that you don’t let certain parts of your body guide your actions then,” she says, unable to help smiling as she looks at him. “For the record, I think it’s definitely fair since you have the same effect on me.”

“See, not a good thing to admit when I can’t do anything about it.” He reaches over and touches her cheek. “Rose seems to be better.”

“Well, after Friday, I think just about anything would be an improvement. But, yes, she’s trying. I don’t think it’ll be anything she accepts whole-heartedly immediately, but she’s willing to give our relationship a chance, so that’s something.” She looks at the door then says quietly, “I think that the divorce affected her more than I ever realized, which makes me feel like maybe I was selfish or just a bad parent for not noticing before now. I mean, I knew the children had problems with it, just like Ron and I both did, but I thought that they got over it in time.” She shrugs a shoulder. “Being a parent isn’t easy, and the sense of failure is more common than it ought to be, yet I know that I’m lucky to have two amazing children.”

“You’re a brilliant mother, Hermione. No one is perfect, and there will always be times when you can’t predict or know something. The important thing is that you love them, and they love you, which they do.” He kisses her forehead before he steps away. “I watched you with her earlier, and I didn’t want to interrupt or anything, so I just went back to finish helping Hugo. She’s going to be okay, even if it takes time. Maybe not about us, but I have to hope that she will be since I really don’t foresee wanting our relationship to end anytime soon.”

Every time he references the future, she can’t help but want to take a moment to examine the possibilities. It’s nice to hear him make plans for them weeks from now and to hear him talk about their relationship in a developing sort of way, but it also scares the part of her that likes to have the power and plan everything because this isn’t something either of them can control. Her relationship with Ron proved that, after all.

“You’re doing it again,” he mutters. “None of that, understood?”

“None of what?”

“Thinking too much. I can sense that logical side dying to take over.”

“I wasn’t—“ She catches herself before she lies and smiles sheepishly. “Fine. Maybe I was thinking, but that’s just part of who I am, as you well know.”

“I know it is, but not tonight. The kids will be back soon, and there’s great food to eat, and I really hope that I can stay for a little while once they’re in bed so that I can word-we-can’t-say-here you. A lot.”

“A lot, huh?” She leans up and kisses him briefly. “That sounds like a good plan.”

“You’re not going to scold me for telling you what I’m plotting?” He traces her lips with his finger before they hear footsteps on the stairs. Dropping his hand quickly, he mutters, “Bugger. I’m supposed to be getting drinks, not snogging my girlfriend. Rose will be so disappointed in me.”

She laughs when he hurries over to the fridge and removes a jug of pumpkin juice. “I’ll have pumpkin juice, too,” she tells him as Hugo and Rose enter the room.

“Mum, you’re not done yet?” Rose asks as she joins her at the counter. She frowns and looks from Hermione to Teddy and back again. “Ugh. That’s so gross.”

“What’s gross?” Hugo asks as he picks up the bowl of salad.

“They’ve been kissing.” Rose makes a face and shudders. “You’re too old for that, Mum.”

“I don’t think anyone’s too old for kissing,” Teddy points out as he looks at Hermione and arches a brow.

She shrugs a shoulder because she doesn’t know how Rose figured out what they’d been doing. “Teddy’s right. Your grandparents kiss, after all.”

“And it’s gross then, too.” Rose rolls her eyes.

“Least they did it when we weren’t here,” Hugo tells Rose matter-of-factly. “Come on, let’s get the food on the table. I’m starving.”

“You’re always starving,” Rose mutters as she picks up the bowl of mashed potatoes and follows Hugo to the dining room.

“Your kids are too observant and clever,” Teddy points out as soon as they leave.

“I’m starting to realize that those two traits aren’t necessarily positive all the time.” She shakes her head. “I don’t know how Rose figured it out.”

“Oh, I do. Your hair is mussed and your lipstick is smeared,” Teddy offers helpfully. “I was too worried about getting caught in the act of not doing what I was supposed to that I didn’t think about it. Next time we’ll know better.”

“You’d better not be kissing again,” Rose calls out as she returns to the kitchen.

Hermione reaches up to smooth down her hair and looks at Teddy, wondering if he feels like a teenager caught snogging by a parent because that’s sort of how she feels right now. She rolls her eyes when he flashes a cheeky grin and picks up the plate of lamb chops. Next time, they’ll be more careful.