TEAM PHOENIX ENTRY: R_Grayjoy "In the Time It Takes to Drink a Pint of Ale" Title: In the Time It Takes to Drink a Pint of Ale Author:r_grayjoy Team: Phoenix Genre(s): Postwar, Alternate Universe *Hover/Click for Games Definition of Alternate Universe* Prompt(s): Infidelity Rating/Warnings/Kinks: R Word Count: ~6,350 Summary: A chance meeting leads to the disruption of Harry's perfect life. Or, the road to epiphany is paved with pints of ale. A/N: My undying gratitude to all the people who cheered me on when my writing mojo was nowhere to be found. Special thanks to eeyore9990 for all her help. Also, major thanks and kudos to the Snarry Games mods for their patience and enthusiasm.
"The wizard has a good eye."
Harry looked up from the display full of glittering gems and bits of jewelry. The man who'd spoken was tall, slender, and impressively dressed in fine robes with buckles that Harry was sure were real gold. "Er. I do?"
"That's a genuine Southern Lumos diamond, mined in South Africa and magically shaped so that there isn't even the tiniest flaw. The band is eighteen karat gold, with a Once in a Lifetime Sizing Spell embedded in it," the jeweler explained.
"A what?" Harry asked, feeling out of his depth.
"Once she puts it on her finger, it will magically adjust to fit her, and only her, for as long as you both shall live. Practical, and a fitting symbol of a life-long love."
"Wow. It sounds great." It sounded expensive.
"Well, only the best for the one you love, yes? In fact, with this ring, she's guaranteed to say yes. Literally. If she doesn't, you can return it for a full refund, no questions asked."
Harry smiled wryly. "I gather that no one has ever taken you up on that offer."
"Not one," the jeweler replied, smiling.
"How much is it?" Harry asked, already dreading the answer.
"Only one-thousand five-hundred six galleons."
Only one-thousand five-hundred six galleons. That was only about four times as much as Harry had planned to spend! But the salesman was right; Ginny deserved the best, for waiting for him through what should have been their seventh year at Hogwarts, for standing beside him through the war, and for putting up with him through three grueling years of Auror training. She might even be offended if Harry couldn't or wouldn't give her what she deserved after all that. So Harry did the only thing he could do. He said, "All right, I'll take it."
Harry was exceptionally aware of the weight of the small box in his pocket as he left the jewelry store and began making his way through the throng of shoppers milling up and down Diagon Alley. Doubts began to well up within him and he forced them down. He'd loved Ginny since he was sixteen, and it was time for him to marry her and begin thinking about starting a family. Molly had been making not-so-subtle hints for months, and even Ron and Hermione were beginning to suggest that he should get on with it. They were right, of course. Harry knew his fears were just a normal, run-of-the-mill case of cold feet, nothing more.
Lost in his thoughts, Harry realized he'd walked right by the Floo connection he'd intended to use to get home. Feeling foolish, he spun on his heel, and that was when he spotted him: a man of unremarkable height and average build who nonetheless struck Harry as decidedly familiar. Harry couldn't see the man's face, but he'd recognize that determined, ground-eating gait anywhere.
Pushing his way through the crowd, Harry followed at a respectable distance and watched. It wasn't long before he spotted a strand of long, black hair flying free of the man's hat… a hint of an oversized nose… and Harry knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was him. He didn't know how, but it was.
Swiftly, Harry closed the last of the distance between them and grabbed his quarry by the back of his robes. The man spun, and at once Harry was looking into Snape's dour, pallid face. "You!" Harry said. "You're supposed to be dead!"
"I'm terribly sorry to disappoint you," Snape sneered, his lip curling and his cold eyes flashing in a manner Harry had seen a thousand times before, but never thought to see again.
"Disappoint..? No, it's not… I just… I saw you die!"
Abruptly, Snape cursed under his breath and grabbed Harry, hauling him into the nearest alleyway. Harry staggered as he was shoved toward a grimy brick wall. "Leave it to you, of all people to see through my Disillusionment spells," Snape seethed.
"Erm. Sorry?" Harry offered, although he hadn't had time to figure out whether he'd done anything for which he should be sorry yet.
"You're not," Snape said. "You've never been."
"Look," Harry said, trying to get a hold on the situation. His mind was racing so fast he couldn't sort out his thoughts. "I didn't mean anything by it. I just have rather a lot of experience with Disillusionment spells, and so I saw you. And once I did, well, you certainly couldn't expect me to let you go right on by."
Snape glanced toward the mouth of the alley and cursed again. "We cannot have this conversation here," he announced, then moved toward Harry.
It happened so fast that Harry didn't have a chance to protest; Snape's long fingers dug into his arm, and then Harry felt the press and snap of Apparition. An instant later, he was standing in a dingy room of the sort one might find above an inn of questionable repute. The tatty bed, table, and chair were the only furnishings, and they appeared crowded in the cramped space.
"Sit down, Potter," Snape said, startling Harry and drawing his attention back to him. "Let's get this over with."
Harry wasn't certain what it was they were supposed to be 'getting over with,' but he sat on the chair as directed, feeling very much as though he were back in first year Potions again.
"Well?" Snape prompted irritably. "Ask your questions. You'll only get one shot at this, so make it good."
"I thought you were dead," Harry blurted. "How--"
"--am I alive," Snape finished with a roll of his eyes. "You are so painfully predictable. Are you certain you saw what you think you saw, Potter? Do you honestly believe that I would have put myself in such a precarious position without a contingency plan? Think of all the resources I had at my disposal. Potions. Antidotes. Loyal house elves. A bloody phoenix, for Merlin's sake. Pick whichever one suits your ridiculous Gryffindor sense of dramatics; one is as good as another."
Years had passed, but just like that, Harry felt as young and foolish as he'd ever been. Were they wizards or weren't they? Harry should have learned long ago that things were rarely as they appeared -- especially where Snape was concerned. And that men such as Snape didn't die easily. "Still," Harry said, attempting to sound more confident than he felt, "I'm sorry I didn't even try to save you."
With a disdainful snort, Snape said, "Oh, please, spare me your guilt complex. It's unwanted and unnecessary. For once in your life you did precisely what you were meant to do."
Harry nodded. "Then I'm sorry for doubting you," he said. "Not just for thinking you'd died, but for all of it. All the times I was sure you were on Voldemort's side."
Snape shot Harry a look that one usually reserved for particularly loathsome things stuck to the bottom of one's shoe. "Are you quite done?" he asked in a quiet, clipped tone.
"Uhm, well…" Harry began carefully.
"Yes?" Snape cut in. "Then get the hell out of my room, Potter."
"But, wait, I--"
"Get the hell out!" Snape flung one arm out and pointed to the door.
Harry got the hell out.
Ever since he'd left the seedy inn that sat just off Knockturn Alley five days ago, Harry hadn't been able to stop thinking about his brief encounter with Snape. He kept turning it over in his mind, thinking of all the things he could have done better, all the questions he should have asked. At last curiosity had driven him back to the place. It was absurd; he didn't even know if Snape was still here, or whether he'd speak to Harry again if he was. But it didn't hurt to find out, or so he told himself for the hundredth time as he stood outside the building and gazed up at its dingy windows.
Harry had just made up his mind to begin moving towards the inn when he felt a body move in close behind him and a wand tip press to the base of his skull. "Don't move," Snape hissed in Harry's ear. "What are you doing here?"
Harry snorted lightly. "I guess I'm not the only one who can see through Disillusionment spells."
The wand tip pressed harder. "I came to see you," Harry answered.
It was a simple enough question, and one for which Harry didn’t truly have an answer. "I'm. I just. I don't know; I wanted to talk to you again."
"And you came alone?"
It happened once more; the snap and pull of sudden Apparition, and again Harry found himself standing in Snape's room. Or rather, some room that Harry assumed was Snape's. It was different than it had been the time previous. "The room's different," Harry blurted out, then immediately felt foolish.
"Of course it is," Snape said as he swiftly moved from behind Harry. "Did you honestly think I'd stay in the same location once you knew where to find me? According to the Prophet, you're an Auror these days." Snape stood facing Harry, wand upraised and one eyebrow quirked questioningly.
"Er, yes. Well, I just finished training. There's to be a ceremony later this week, and then they'll give me an assignment," Harry said, trying his best to regain his bearings. "Astounding. You mean to tell me they actually made the Savior of the Wizarding World go through a full three years of Auror training?" Snape mocked.
"Trust me, it's been work," Harry said grimly. "If anything, they were harder on me because of who I am, not easier."
"How many people now know I'm here? Or more to the point, how many Aurors are outside waiting to take me to the Ministry?"
"None! There's no one," Harry said. "I didn't tell anyone that I'd seen you."
Snape met Harry's gaze for a long moment, seemingly judging the truth of Harry's words. At last he lowered his wand tentatively and muttered, "Well, I suppose the Auror training would explain how you managed to circumvent my Disillusionments."
"That, and the fact that I generally use them myself when I'm out in public. In case you hadn't noticed."
"Hiding from your adoring public?" Snape sneered. "That would rather seem to defeat the purpose of being famous."
Harry sighed. This was an old mode of attack from Snape, and Harry had long since grown inured to it. "Look, I know you don't believe this, but I never wanted fame. I just want a normal life. A good job, a good wife, couple of kids maybe."
"You've never settled for normal, Potter. Mediocre, yes, but not normal."
"Ha bloody ha. You know nothing about me, Snape. You never cared to know anything about me."
"I know more than you think," Snape said. "I know you came back because you simply couldn't stay away. Your obstinate streak is rivaled only by your abominable curiosity. You've always had a habit of putting your nose where it wasn't wanted."
"Snape," Harry warned, "I'm not your student anymore."
"And yet I still have to put up with you. No doubt you came here hoping to find out more about how I survived and what I've been doing since the war so abruptly ended. Perhaps you thought I needed your help in some way. That would appeal to your savior complex, yes?"
"Fuck you, then!" Harry said, advancing two steps in Snape's direction. "I don't know why I bothered to come here. I suppose I reckoned, now that the war's over, you might be prepared to behave like a civil adult towards me. Obviously I was wrong."
With that, Harry spun on his heel, burst from the room, and stormed out of the inn. He was three streets over before he realized two things. First, that Snape had been at least partially right about his reasons for wanting to talk to him again. And second, that he'd bollixed up his opportunity.
Three days later, when Harry returned to the inn, there was no sign of Snape. Presumably he'd concluded whatever business he had in Diagon Alley and was long gone. Or else he simply didn't want to deal with Harry again and had changed inns. That was also a distinct possibility. Harry spent some time wandering around the area with his eyes peeled just in case, but the search turned out to be predictably futile
After that, Harry turned to writing to Snape, asking him for one last meeting. Initially the missives came back unopened, but Harry persisted. If Snape was right about his obstinate streak, then eventually the man would have to give in and reply. Harry knew that he should be focusing on Ginny and his job right now, but he just couldn't seem to get his peculiar run-ins with Snape off his mind. So he continued bombarding Snape with owls while the ring rested in his pocket, neglected.
Twenty-seven owls later, a return message came. It was nothing more than a small slip of parchment with an address and a time scrawled across it, but Harry nearly leapt for joy nonetheless. He'd anticipated it taking quite a few more owls.
The address turned out to be that of a small pub in an out of the way part of Muggle London. The brick building with its grimy windows and tattered awning had clearly seen better days. Typical Snape, Harry thought, then pushed the front door open and stepped inside.
Despite the murky lighting, Harry instantly spotted Snape sitting in the far corner of the cramped room. He sat with his back to the wall, a glass of some murky liquid resting on the crooked table in front of him. Harry hesitated only an instant before making his way over.
"Potter," Snape greeted less than enthusiastically as Harry took the seat opposite him. "I only agreed to this meeting because it was clear your notes were not going to stop coming until I either agreed to see you or sent your owl back stuffed, roasted, and boxed. Whatever you feel you must say, just say it and leave me in peace. You have until I reach the bottom of this pint." As if to illustrate his point, Snape picked up his glass and took a swallow.
"Right. Okay." Harry said, attempting to organize his thoughts under pressure. "What I really wanted to say was… Well, I really wanted to apologize. Properly. You saved my life more times than I could count, and I still refused to believe that you could be trusted. Maybe you're right about my stubborn streak." Harry gave a lopsided smile.
"Maybe?" Snape lifted an eyebrow and drank from his glass again.
Harry fought not to roll his eyes. "Look, you might not be a very nice person, but when it comes right down to it, you're a good person. And I think you're probably one of the bravest people I've ever met. So I'm sorry I called you a coward and gave you such a hard time all those years."
"Stop, stop! For the love of all that's sacred, enough already." Snape placed his head in his hand and muttered, "God save me from noble Gryffindors." Then, "I didn't do it for you."
The conversation, such as it was, lapsed into silence and Snape drank once more. The glass was now half empty and Harry was fast running out of time. He struggled to recall what else he'd meant to say, but every topic seemed taboo.
"Come now, Potter," Snape goaded. "This meeting was at your insistence. And you still have half a glass."
Harry would never know what prompted him to say what he said next. "I'm getting married."
"Congratulations," Snape said dryly.
"Well, at least, I'm planning to get married. I haven't asked her yet."
"This is generally a prerequisite for getting married, yes."
"Very funny. I'm going to ask her this Friday, I think," Harry said. "There's going to be a big dinner at the Burrow and most of Ginny's family is going to be there, and Hermione…"
"One step closer to that normal life you so crave," Snape remarked, a peculiar smirk stretching his lip.
"Yeah…" Harry said, then fell silent again.
Snape snorted, then lifted his glass and downed the remainder of the liquid in one long drink. As he rose to leave, Harry protested, "Hey, that's cheating!"
"Slytherin, Potter," Snape said. "Deal with it."
Harry received his first work assignment, and life became so busy that it was two weeks before he had a chance to write to Snape again. This time, however, his first owl came back with a new slip of parchment and a new address. The address was that of another run down pub where Harry found Snape sitting with another pint of ale.
"Thanks for meeting with me again," Harry said as he approached Snape's table.
Snape sniffed. "Save your pleasantries. Your time is limited. I believe you recall how this works?" he asked, indicating the full glass before him.
"Yeah, and I recall that you cheat," Harry said, smiling slightly.
Seating himself at the table, Harry nonchalantly asked, "So, how are you doing?"
"I'm fine, Potter," Snape said, his tone one of warning. He lifted his glass and drank deeply, clearly indicating to Harry that he wouldn't speak about himself.
"Erm. That's good," Harry said, feeling oddly disappointed.
"So, how is life as an Auror?" Snape managed to sneer the word in such a way that it sounded like an insult.
Smiling ruefully, Harry replied, "I hadn't realized that it would involve quite so much paperwork." Quickly he amended, "It's good, though. Busy. I really think I'm settling in."
Snape fixed Harry with a penetrating gaze, and Harry fought not to squirm in his seat like a student caught cheating. Harry's words hadn't entirely been the truth, and Snape seemed to realize it. The truth was, Harry felt a bit like a fish out of water at work, despite his three years of training. Something about the environment or his duties wasn't quite what he'd always thought it would be. The senior Aurors assured him that he'd find his footing quickly enough, however, and he was sure they were right. After all, they'd been in his position once.
"How did your proposal go?" Snape asked suddenly. "I assume everyone was thrilled to have a Chosen One in the family?"
"Er, I didn't ask her yet," Harry said.
"Oh? So much for Gryffindor courage."
"It's not that. It's just… I'm waiting for exactly the right time to do it. I want it to be perfect, you know?"
Snape gave Harry an incredulous look but didn't say anything more about the matter. He merely finished his drink and exited the pub.
From that moment on, however, the ring seemed to weight more heavily in Harry's pocket. It called to him silently, nagging at him, a constant reminder of the duty he was neglecting. Eventually he quit carrying it with him everywhere he went and secreted it away in his sock drawer, only taking it out when he was certain he'd be seeing Ginny. Still he waited for a perfect moment that had yet to present itself.
Over the weeks, Harry continued to meet with Snape on an irregular basis. The meetings were always on Harry's schedule, at Harry's insistence. He'd send Snape an owl, and Snape would reply with the address of some dimly-lit pub or another, sometimes wizarding and sometimes Muggle. Harry didn't know why Snape continued agreeing to see him, but he didn't ask for fear that Snape would stop.
Gradually, their sessions took on a more casual, conversational tone. Their time was still measured in pints of ale, but after a while, Snape didn't seem to be in such a hurry to finish the glass. Snape still refused to speak about himself, however, and the conversation nearly always centered on some aspect of Harry's life. Harry wasn't entirely satisfied with that, but he knew not to press too hard and to keep his "abominable curiosity" in check.
Harry never told Ginny -- or anyone else, for that matter -- about his meetings with Snape. If Snape wanted anyone to know he was alive, he'd reveal himself in his own time. Harry figured the man had earned the right to some peace. Still, it gnawed at Harry's conscience that he was keeping this secret from Ginny, and he felt as though he were being unfaithful to her in some nebulous way. At the same time, though, he enjoyed having something that was just his.
The owl had arrived early in the morning, and Harry had felt the same little thrill he always experienced when one of Snape's notes came. His elation had quickly turned to confusion when he'd seen the address written on the slip of parchment. While all the previous addresses had been in or near London proper, this one was considerably outside. In fact, Apparition coordinates had been attached.
Curiosity getting the better of him as usual, Harry had arrived at the indicated location at the specified time. Now he stood before not a pub, but a house, and although the house was small and set back some distance from the nearest road, it wasn't dingy or run down in the least. Perplexed, Harry did the only thing he could do. He walked up the path to the front door and knocked.
Moments later the door swung open and Snape greeted Harry with, "Your punctuality of late is most disconcerting, Potter. If you're not careful, people may begin to mistake you for a responsible adult. Of course, I know better."
Before Harry could even get his bearings and reply, he was being ushered inside and a bottle of ale was being shoved into his hand. "Is this your house?" was all he could manage to ask.
"No. The Muggle owner is tied up in the basement for the night," Snape deadpanned, opening a bottle of ale for himself.
"I really hope you're joking. I'd hate to have to arrest you just when we were making so much progress," Harry teased nervously.
Snape rolled his eyes. "Yes, Potter, it's my house."
Harry took a moment to examine his surroundings then. He was in a small sitting room, the walls of which were lined with bookcases. Two armchairs and a coffee table dominated the center of the room. The furnishings were spartan but neat; the bookcases orderly. Something about it was perfectly Snape-like, and yet it was somehow not at all what Harry would have imagined had he been asked to picture Snape's home.
"Why are you so surprised?" Snape asked, startling Harry out of his musings.
"I'm not surprised, it's just…"
"You're surprised," Snape said as he took a seat in one armchair. "You'd imagined me living in some run-down hovel, brewing illegal potions for pocket change and eating rats for dinner. Admit it."
Harry grinned abashedly as he took the other chair. "Yeah, okay, I might have imagined something like that. Minus the rats. Ugh!"
"I told you I was fine, Potter. I don't need a savior."
"So I see." Harry hesitated a moment before venturing, "So, er. What do you do, then?"
Snape drank from his bottle before answering. "Contract work. I brew potions for two major suppliers. Medicinal potions, largely. It's all very legitimate, I assure you, Auror Potter."
"I was going to say nice. Regular."
"It is rather dull, admittedly, but it's simple enough, and steady, and affords me plenty of time to work on my own potions and spell research."
Harry recalled the Half-Blood Prince's Potions text and the sort of "research" Snape had done in his younger years. He wondered if Snape was still fascinated by the kind of spells that were designed "for enemies," or if his interests had turned to slightly less lethal things these days.
"Nothing to say, Potter?" Snape prompted.
"I'm glad for you then. That's--"
"Even more boring?"
"Well, you always said I was abysmal at Potions," Harry replied, flashing a grin.
"I always said you were abysmal at essentially everything, but since when have you ever paid me any heed?"
"Since you came back from the dead," Harry said soberly. "That's a fair bit impressive, you know. But then again, I suppose I did it as well. Maybe not so much with the impressive, on second thought."
Snape waved one hand dismissively. "Yes, but in my case it required caution, planning, and skill. In your case it was just sheer dumb luck."
A smile slowly spread across Harry's face. "Yeah? Well, your caution, planning, and skill aren't all they're cracked up to be. If they were, I still wouldn't know you were alive. As it is, I found you without even trying. Literally!"
"Dumb luck," Snape repeated. Then, "I'm done with my ale. Get out of my house, you cretin."
As Harry left Snape's house that evening, his feeling of being unfaithful to Ginny returned tenfold. Something about meeting Snape in his own home felt more intimate, and more clandestine. Still, Harry was delighted that Snape was finally willing to share some aspects of his life with him, and he wasn't about to end the meetings now.
The next slip of parchment Harry received from Snape contained only a time and no address. Guessing at the meaning, Harry returned to Snape's home and found him waiting with ale in hand. From that point forward, the location of their rendezvous was assumed. As time went by, Snape very gradually became more forthcoming. He was still as blunt and sarcastic as he'd ever been, but his insults had long since lost their sharp edge. Oddly, Harry thought he could see a bit of the younger, more open and impetuous Snape from the Pensieve memories lurking beneath the surface.
In between meetings with Snape, Harry attempted to spend more time with Ginny. Although it weighed more heavily than ever, he began carrying the ring frequently again, resolved to not miss the ideal opportunity to propose when it arrived. Harry was certain his guilt must be written all over his manner and expression, but Ginny never said anything about it, so his secret -- and Snape's -- remained hidden.
"…And then Auror Finkle had the nerve to tell me I'm too emotionally invested in my cases! Can you believe that?"
"So I told him--"
"Why are you an Auror?"
"Why are you an Auror?"
"Because it's what I've wanted to be ever since I was in fifth year."
"Do you really think that's a good enough reason to keep doing something?"
"What better reason is there?"
"How about because you enjoy it?"
"Why don't you try to publish your research?"
"We've been over this, Potter."
"I know, I know. But if you don't want people to know you're alive, and you don't think anyone would publish you under your real name anyway… then why don't you use an alias?"
"Because that's…. No, that's absurd."
"Because it's your idea, and all of your ideas are absurd by default."
"I'm serious. You should do it."
"…I'll think about it."
"Why haven't you proposed to Miss Weasley?"
"I told you already; I'm waiting for the perfect moment to do it is all."
"What will you do if this "perfect moment" never comes?"
"And if it doesn't? How long are you willing to wait?"
"As long as it takes, I suppose."
"You're an idiot. Just in case you'd forgotten."
"As if you'd ever let me forget."
When Snape opened the front door, Harry thrust a bottle of champagne into his hands. "Here, I brought this," he said. "I realize it disrupts the routine, but don't worry -- you can still throw me out on my ear after you've finished a glass of it."
"Dare I ask what's prompted this?" Snape asked, taking the champagne and leading Harry into the sitting room.
"It's been six months," Harry replied, shrugging. "Six months since I spotted you in Diagon Alley and narrowly avoided being hexed inside out. I thought it was worth celebrating."
Snape paused mid-step and gave Harry a dubious look. "You're punctual and you remember dates? You're not intending to propose to me, are you?"
With a bark of laugher, Harry said, "Hardly! And I only remember the date because it was the same day I bought Ginny's ring."
Setting the bottle down slowly, Snape said, "You mean to tell me that you've had a ring for six months, and you've utterly failed to propose in all this time?"
Harry shrugged. "Yeah, well, I know it seems like a long time, but you know I've been waiting for the right--"
"Potter, when are you going to admit that your "perfect time" is never going to come?" Snape said, his expression growing dark.
"It will! I just don't want to rush things, and--"
"You don't want," Snape said, "to marry Miss Weasley at all!"
"Yes I do!" Harry protested. "Of course I do! I bought the ring didn't I?"
"Under duress, no doubt," Snape sneered. "If you wanted to marry her you'd have done it by now. Instead you've been here, spending increasing amounts of time in my house and drinking my ale."
At Snape's words, a familiar flare of guilt sprang up within Harry, but he forced it down. "But that's… That has nothing to do with anything! I can't spend all my time with Ginny, and I like talking with you. So what?"
For a long moment, Snape held Harry's gaze, then quietly he said, "I believe there's a bit more to it than that." With a determined stride, he advanced on Harry.
In the small sitting room there was nowhere for Harry to go; in an instant he was backed against a bookshelf with Snape standing inches from him. "Oh?" he asked dumbly.
Leaning forward, Snape murmured near Harry's ear, "I do believe you like me more than your would-be intended."
Some corner of Harry's mind realized then that he and Snape were of a height now and, oh god, when had that happened? Snape was so close, so close, and Harry couldn't think around the feel of the heat radiating from Snape's body, around the sound of his own heart hammering in his ears.
Snape moved back slightly to look at Harry again. "Tell me I'm wrong," he demanded, his expression unreadable as he awaited Harry's response. Harry swallowed once then opened his mouth to speak, but no words came.
Without warning, Snape surged forward like a striking snake and kissed Harry, greedily, messily. He sucked Harry's tongue into his mouth and drew with it the tiniest of groans. The kiss was strange and unexpected and imperfect, and Harry gave in to it utterly. He'd never thought about this, never even considered it, but oh, it was good, and he wanted more.
Frantically, Harry reached for Snape, twisting his fingers in the fabric of Snape's robes and pulling him closer. Snape fell against Harry with a gasp, pinning him to the bookshelf. Harry couldn't even be bothered to care about the shelf that dug into the small of his back painfully, because suddenly Snape's hard cock was pressing into his hip.
As Harry's own cock began to respond, he groaned and struggled against Snape, seeking the perfect friction, the ideal position. Snape moved against him in turn, hard, fast, and demanding. They shifted together, fell into a jerky rhythm, and then something else pressed uncomfortably into Harry's thigh.
The small box that held the ring. The ring. Oh. Oh god. Ginny.
Abruptly Harry put his palms on Snape's chest and pushed him away. Snape stumbled back a few feet, looking dazed and startled. "I can't," Harry said, bringing his hand up to wipe the moisture from his mouth. "I can't… I. Oh fuck. I have to go."
With that, Harry half-stumbled, half-ran out of Snape's house without looking back.
After leaving Snape's house, Harry resolved to put Snape and the incident firmly out of his mind. He requested no more meetings with Snape, choosing instead to focus his attention on Ginny and his job as he should have been doing all along. He spent more time with Ginny and her family, desperately seeking comfort and familiarity, but all the while, he couldn't shake the nagging sense that something was terribly wrong. Snape still leapt into his mind with disturbing regularity, and Harry couldn't help feeling guilty for having left him so abruptly. He now felt oddly as though he were being unfaithful to Snape somehow, and although he told himself it was absurd, the feeling persisted.
More than seven months after the purchase of the engagement ring, Harry's Perfect Moment finally arrived. It was a dinner at the Burrow, and for the first time in ages, all of Ginny's brothers were there at the same time. Fleur was visiting with Bill, and Ron had brought Hermione. Everyone close to Ginny and himself was present. Molly had just waved her wand to clear the table, there was a slight lull in the conversation, and Harry knew that this was it; this was the opportunity for which he'd been waiting. He cleared his throat, reached into his pocket, prepared to stand, and… hesitated. Harry hesitated, and the moment passed.
Harry hadn't been able to get out of the Weasleys' house fast enough after that. He barely waited until everyone was finished with pudding before he Flooed home, then Flooed and Apparated his way to Snape's house. When he arrived, the small house was dark. Harry frowned, wondering whether Snape would retire so early, and started up the path to the house. As he drew nearer, he could see that the curtains were gone from the windows. A knock on the front door received no answer. Peering into the windows revealed rooms emptied of their furnishings. Harry laid one hand on the railing and smiled sadly, then sat down on the front step to think.
When Harry walked into the jewelry shop, the proprietor's eyes lit up in recognition. No doubt he hoped that Harry was back to buy a wedding band -- one nearly as exorbitant as the engagement ring he'd bought, with any luck. Harry almost hated to disappoint the fellow.
"Aah, welcome back," the jeweler greeted. "What can I do for you this fine day?"
It was a fine day, Harry thought, if a difficult one. Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew his previous purchase and held it aloft. "Actually, I'm here to return this."
For several seconds, the man could only stare at Harry in open astonishment. "She said no?" he finally asked.
Harry shrugged. "She didn't say yes."
As Harry left the shop, he felt as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders; the weight of the ring, the weight of a life he'd never truly wanted. This had been his final scheduled stop of the day. He'd already put in his resignation at the Auror Headquarters. Oddly enough, no one there had seemed terribly surprised, or bothered to put up more than a token protest. Harry knew with absolute certainty then that he'd made the right decision.
With no further tasks to perform, the rest of the day belonged entirely to Harry. It was strange and frightening, yet distinctly thrilling to finally be living his life wholly for himself. Making a sudden decision, he crossed the road and headed into Quality Quidditch Supplies. Somehow, it seemed like the ideal first stop in Harry's new future.
From the outside, the house appeared small and secluded, but neat and entirely normal. This time Harry wasn't the least bit surprised. Smiling to himself, he swiftly made his way to the front door and knocked.
Several moments passed before the door swung open at last. Standing in the entryway, Snape crossed his arms and scowled out at Harry wordlessly. Harry held up two bottles of ale and grinned. Snape slammed the door in his face.
Undaunted, Harry knocked again. This time when the door opened, Snape said, "What are you doing here, Potter?"
"Well," Harry replied, "I've been following the publications of this brilliant bloke named Julian Prince who's just come out of the woodwork in recent months."
"Mmm, and I've been reading in the papers about Harry Potter, the next up-and-coming Quidditch star. I thought you said you weren't interested in fame."
"Okay, so I might have been partly wrong about that. I don't really mind fame so much, as long as it's actually for something I've done by my own choice."
"Hmph. The Prophet seems to report it if you've simply walked down the street "of your own choice" these days," Snape remarked. "Yet the one thing I haven't read about is your impending nuptials to one Ginevra Weasley."
"Gin and I broke it off ages ago," Harry said dismissively.
"Indeed?" Snape prompted.
"Yeah. Right after I realized something."
"Dare I ask what?"
"I was never unfaithful to her."
Clearly puzzled by Harry's line of reasoning, Snape looked at him a bit like a kneazle had just climbed out of his pants.
Harry went on, "I was never unfaithful to you, either."
"What are you prattling on about, Potter?"
"There was only one person to whom I was ever untrue," Harry said. "You were right about everything, you know."
"Of course I was," Snape said. "I must admit, however, that you lost me when your logic flew out the window some time back."
"Let me in and I'll explain it all to you," Harry ventured.
For several heartbeats, Snape didn't move. Then, very slowly, he opened the door wide and stepped aside, allowing Harry to enter his home.
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