[second post of the day.]
By the time Harry had exited the Three Broomsticks, it was growing late. He didn't want to go back, even with Sprout and McGonagall affixing glares on their faces (well, mostly his Head of House. Stern didn't fit Sprout in the slightest). Instead of heading towards where they were rounding up the children, Harry did a dogleg, backing up and turning - walking down a disused street - nearly an alley. At the end of it, Luna Lovegood stood, her eyes turned up to the sky, her arms raised as if she was imitating a tree.
She spun slowly, lowering her eyes towards Harry's as if she'd known precisely where he was, even in the snow. "There you are!" She said with a smile. "Have you had any luck with presents?"
Harry shoved his hands in his pockets, "An idea, yeah. But nothing concrete just yet."
Luna smiled, "I always love surprises! And something tells me you'll have something magical."
There was just something in how Luna said magical - a surge of excitement, a belief in something above the level of normal reality.
Yes, she'd like the gift Harry had in mind.
"I like the cold," Luna said, "But I don't like to shiver, so I think I'll be heading back to Hogwarts now."
Harry nodded, sad to see her go.
"If you want to take the long way 'round, hang a left here and keep walking. There's always a seat open at the Hog's Head, and most of the teachers won't willingly set foot in there." Luna said with a gentle smile.
"Thanks!" Harry said, grinning. He'd heard of the Hog's Head, of course - from Hagrid, who had gambled there, and then from the Twins, who had tried (many, many times) to get firewhiskey out of the barkeep. That Luna was suggesting it - meant that he might be able to kick back a little there. Just stretch out and relax.
It was dirtier than High Street, the one he turned onto, with the more modest shops. Somehow, Harry felt a kinship to all of them - the little shops for the ones of modest means. Had Hagrid brought him here, and not Diagon, he'd have spent much less time staring at the Wizarding World.
This wasn't sparkly. It wasn't that nearly pretentious shine. It was worn, and shopworn, and lovingly cared for. Shops with more pride than wealth, the exteriors kept as pinstraight as the interiors.
The Hog's Head had some of the same familiarity. Harry stood at a slight angle to the door, watching it open and close as a few patrons walked in and out.
Hoods up? Check. Harry thought, imagining himself going into a Star Wars Cantina. With the heady fumes of firewhiskey pouring off the place, that might not be far from the truth.
Back to the wall, Harry thought, you don't know who's here. Harry walked in softly, sitting down at a booth that he carefully picked to be not to far from the front. It wouldn't do to sit in the back booths. Those both said power, and dark dealings out of the light.
Turning halfway, so that his back pressed into the corner of the booth, Harry studied what he could see. Tattered people drinking together, someone running what looked to be a card game - genially, and a half dozen people at the bar.
Including Severus Snape.
Harry suppressed a brief moment of panic. He was fairly certain that the owner of the Hog's Head took care of his own business. If Harry put too many feet out of line, he'd be thrown out. Snape wouldn't need to get involved (he might Take an Interest, anyway, but if that was the case, Harry was already sunk).
"What'll it be, Lad?" The human wall of a barkeep asked. Harry looked at the man a bit closer, thinking how he reminded him of Dumbledore - except rolled in dirt and smelling of goats.
"A Butterbeer?" Harry asked, trying to not let his voice crack. If he wanted to be here, he was going to have to act the part.
"Good choice. One galleon, paid up front." The proprietor's face split in a craggy smile.
That was highway robbery, Harry thought - less offended than either Ron or Hermione would be. "That's a lot for a Butterbeer," Harry said, changing his mind about putting a golden galleon on the table when a toothy looking soul looked him up and down with hunger. Instead, he slapped down fifteen sickles.
"The Butterbeer's 5 knuts. Young whippersnapper like yourself takes a full table, he pays for a full table." Yellowed teeth laughed down at Harry, who hurriedly slapped down four sickles.
"Two for the information." Harry said, pretending a standoffish gratefulness.
The gruff man simply nodded, and rustled back to the bar.
Snape seemed like he was a carved statue - the thinker, to be precise, his back curved hard as he sat on the barstool. He certainly hadn't seemed to see Harry - in fact, he looked so morose that Harry wondered if something had happened.
Glancing about, Harry realized - no one looks that unhappy.
Having served higher paying customers in the meantime, the barkeep came back, sloshing Harry's butterbeer onto the table. "Here ye go, ya lightweight plonker."
Harry nodded, suppressing a smile. He's making me out to be more than just a lil kid. Harry tilted his chin up at Snape, "What's wrong wi' him?" Harry knew he was taking a chance, but he put five sickles on the table for it, as if that would be enough.
"He only comes down looking like that when McGonagall's been taking pieces out of him." The barkeep said with a shrug. "Ain't my business, and he never talks."
Harry sat there, enjoying the butterbeer and keeping track of the conversation. It wasn't like Harry really thought he was doing good here, not really. But, for once, he could be Just Harry. Or, in this case, just non-descript kid-in-booth. That was fine too.
[a/n: Have you heard the phrase "a cat is fine too"? Leave a review?]