A/N: This is the translated version of a story I wrote in German (can be found on my account, called "Chilis im Schnee"). English is not my native language, so if you find mistakes or something that sounds really strange, don't hesitate to tell me! I'm grateful for any correction.
"Can we go now, dad?"
Harry wished Albus was less jittery. But deep inside, Harry was at least as agitated as his son, although for different reasons, and the thought of Albus noticing it made him even more nervous. Outwardly, he tried to seem relaxed and to hide that it was nothing but his insecurity which still kept the two of them from finally stepping into the fireplace and travelling to the birthday party of Albus's best friend Scorpius.
Why did Albus have to become friends with him of all people anyway?
The day before, Harry had asked his wife to accompany Albus, but she had already promised Lily to take her and her friends to the Christmas market that afternoon. Moreover, she had told him honestly, she was not interested in dealing with Scorpius's father even for a second. After all, they had already hated each other in their school days.
Desperately, Harry had replied that he himself had hated him even more than Ginny, and that he didn't want to see him again either, but she had remained unimpressed.
"That's true, but I'm lucky enough to already have an appointment, and you have time," Ginny had responded.
"Can't James take him there?" Harry had kept trying. "He's already thirteen, after all ..."
"He can't. James isn't here either tomorrow. He's seeing that girl from Hufflepuff he's been talking about," Ginny had answered, grinning.
Losing hope, Harry had suggested letting Albus travel on his own, but that had made Ginny's grin disappear at once.
"No," she had said firmly. "You can't let an eleven-year-old child travel alone with floo powder, Harry! Don't you remember what happened to you when you tried to use it at my parents' house?"
Harry remembered it, and he had to admit that he certainly did not want Albus to end up somewhere in Scorpius's neighbourhood. He was sure it could not be the best one, judging from Scorpius's father.
So today there was no other option but to go with Albus, to the house of the man Harry had not spoken to for almost twenty years. The man who had nodded to him half a year ago on platform 9¾ when they had brought their children there, and whose ice-cold grey eyes had pierced through him in that moment just as relentlessly as in their school days. Harry was about to take his own son to the house of Draco Malfoy.
"Dad, we'll be late!" Albus's impatient voice startled Harry out of his thoughts. He turned around. His son was standing in front of the fireplace, expectant, the carefully wrapped present in his hands. It was Dr. Kornpurga's Small Animal Cannon, which could conjure a living small pet that conveniently vanished back into thin air after approximately an hour.
Giving up, Harry sighed and went to him. He took a pinch of floo powder from a small bottle on the mantelpiece, scattered it into the flames and took Albus's hand.
"Remember to keep your elbows close to your body. Do you want to say the address?", he asked him. "Then you'll already learn it, for later." Then you may be able to travel to the Malfoys' house alone in the future, he thought.
Together, they took a step forward into the flames. Albus pronounced the address loudly and clearly; hundreds of chimneys began to turn in front of their eyes and Harry didn't know if that was the only reason for him getting dizzy.
Before them was an elegant living room, which did not seem gloomy in spite of the high stone walls. That was partly because the room was decorated with birthday decorations which were playing music, emitting sparks, or simply buzzing through the air without pause, and because at least a dozen children were bustling around in the room. The air was sweet with the smell of a gorgeous big cake that Scorpius's mother was putting on the magnificent table. Even the people in the huge paintings on the walls, who actually looked rather serious and noble, were wearing colourful party hats to mark the occasion, and smiling at the happy children they were watching.
Harry didn't know why he was surprised. What had he expected? Had he thought that a birthday party at the Malfoys' house would be like Nearly Headless Nick's deathday party? He noticed himself getting calmer; firstly because he had the feeling that he could drop Albus here without worries, and secondly because Draco was nowhere to be seen.
"So, Albus," said Harry, "just tell me about when I should come and pick you up, and then -"
Scorpius, already holding a present in his arms, hurtled toward them and hugged Albus. "I started thinking you wouldn't come! What's that?" He grabbed the present Albus had brought. Then he dragged Albus along behind him, back to the other children, so that all of them could watch him opening the presents.
Harry stood there a little helplessly. He had to know when to come for Albus, but for such a small question he didn't want to throw himself into the fray of children around Albus, who was sitting next to Scorpius, watching him unpack. He seemed to have forgotten his father's presence completely.
No problem, Harry thought. After all, he had seen Draco's wife just now; surely she would be able to tell him how long the party would last.
But when he looked up, she was gone. The cake was on the table, but its baker had disappeared. Harry felt himself getting nervous again. Should he try to catch his son's attention once again? Should he just leave and come back in a few hours, when he saw fit? Maybe hope that one of Scorpius's parents would take Albus home? Never, he thought. Anything but Draco Malfoy in my living room.
That one last thought lodged itself in his head and Harry tried to get rid of it, tried to think straight again. Well, so he would have to bother Albus once more. He turned to face the celebrating children and ...
On the other side of the room, leaning on the doorframe with his arms crossed, stood Draco Malfoy.
Okay, forget about the "thinking straight" part.
Hundreds of feelings at once welled up in Harry. The usual hate and the disgust, sympathy, the memory of all those humiliating and unpleasant and sometimes confusing experiences with Draco at school, the threatening and unfamiliar certainty of being in his house, the contempt for Draco's whole character, and this strange fascination that somehow had always been there and that was glowing in the middle of all those other emotions like a tiny hot wire.
"Hello," Harry said eventually. To his relief, his voice sounded much more self-confident than he was feeling.
Draco's face was inscrutable. Although he still pretty much resembled his teenage self, his facial expression had changed; it was more mature, more reasonable. But the pride had not disappeared from it.
They were standing there and looking at each other, on opposite ends of the room, Harry at the chimney, Draco at the door, between them the colourful decoration and the playing children. Both of them did not know how to handle each other. They hadn't known half a year before on the platform, but that had been different, in public. It had been enough to nod to each other and go somewhere else quickly. Harry and Draco were used to avoiding each other, and when they couldn't, to treating each other with hostility, insulting and even fighting each other. For a situation like this one, as grown men, as fathers of two children who were friends, they were not prepared.
Harry took a deep breath, then he asked: "When should I -?"
A piercing scream interrupted him and several Childproof Poo Bombs with Self-Cleaning Effect from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes exploded amidst the yelling and cheering children, who scattered in all directions and tried to escape from the brown substance, which was sparkling in all colours of the rainbow.
Harry walked around the children until he was within earshot of Draco. He noticed that Draco's loose, pristine white shirt with rolled up sleeves was unbuttoned further than it should be. He forgot what he wanted to say. Draco just looked at him with his grey eyes. Then he raised his blonde eyebrows expectantly. "You were just asking me something," he reminded him.
"Oh, right," Harry said, forcing his eyes to look into Draco's, instead of keeping slipping down to the too-far-unbuttoned shirt. It reminded him of something he did not want to be reminded of. He tried not to think of it. "When should I -?"
"Is that Harry Potter?" Draco's wife had appeared in the doorway and beamed at Harry with a warm smile as she passed. She put the tray with pumpkin juice she was carrying on the table, came back to the door and shook Harry's hand. "Astoria Malfoy," she introduced herself. "It's so nice to finally meet you! I know you by sight, from school, but you probably don't know me. Do you want to drink something?"
Harry swallowed and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he saw Draco's unbuttoned shirt. He closed them again. "Thank you, but I ..." he began, but Astoria interrupted him.
"Come on, Mr Potter, one glass. I've still got a lot of excellent chilli liqueur made by my uncle." She disappeared in the hall.
Harry was getting the sense that the whole situation was developing in a different way than he had planned. Seeking help, he looked to Draco, whose face was still serious and motionless.
"So ... I'd better go now," Harry told him. "But first I need to know when I should come to take Albus home."
"Around nine," Draco said, still without emotion.
"Good," Harry replied, relieved. "Alright. See you." He turned to go.
"Would you like to drink something, Potter?"
Harry froze. Several seconds passed until he turned around. Draco's facial expression had hardly changed; perhaps it had become a little more tense, but then again, it might only be Harry's imagination.
"What?" Harry asked.
A tiny smile tugged at the corners of Draco's mouth; barely noticeable and still just as mocking as back then, although there seemed to be a tad more honesty in it. "You heard Astoria. The liqueur is really good."
Harry was still trying to understand what was happening when, two minutes later, he was standing in the spacious kitchen of the Malfoys, with Astoria and Draco and a big glass of red liqueur in his hand. Astoria laughed when she noticed that he waited until she and her husband had taken a sip, before he drank of the liqueur himself.
"Suspicious? The enmity still hasn't passed completely, has it?" she asked incredulously.
"We haven't spoken since our school days, after all," Draco said to his wife with a crooked smile; he avoided looking at Harry.
"Well, maybe you should have," Astoria grinned. "You know, Mr Potter, I've been thinking for a long time that it's best to talk about everything honestly and openly. My mother always said ..."
Unlike Draco, she looked Harry straight in the face when she spoke; he smile was honest, her pale face, framed with dark hair, was friendly and beautiful. How did a rat like Draco manage to get himself such a great woman?, Harry wondered. Then he cast a side-glance at Draco and had to admit to himself that he could actually understand Astoria. Draco was of a very peculiar, fascinating beauty; tall and slim, those intelligent, piercing, light grey eyes, immaculate white skin, and that smile ...
All of a sudden, Draco looked at him, and Harry quickly looked back to Astoria, who was still talking. He felt himself blush. The clutter of feelings which had accompanied him during his school days was back, and he knew that Draco sensed what was going on inside him. Harry had always taken it to be teenage hormones gone astray. Never in a thousand years would he have thought that those feelings, which contradicted all reason, those feelings which only Draco Malfoy had ever been able to provoke in him, could still be there even after twenty years – and this time he saw them more clearly, through the experienced eyes of an adult. This time, he understood what would have never come into the mind of his teenage self: In spite of all contempt, in spite of all the circumstances, he found this man attractive. There was no other way to put it.
"Draco has told me a lot about your relationship in school, Mr Potter ..." Astoria said, laughing.
At that moment, there was a deafening noise in the living room; it sounded like the Small Animal Cannon had gone crazy and the whole room was suddenly filled with hundreds of parrots.
"Mama!" Scorpius shouted.
"Excuse me for a second." Astoria put down her glass and rushed to the living room.
A deep, gelid silence fell over the room. Harry took another sip of chilli liqueur. Neither he nor Draco knew what to say. Draco took another sip of chilli liqueur as well. Harry tried not to look at Draco and looked at Draco's shoes instead. But his eyes slowly slid higher, along Draco's tight black trousers, until they reached an area he definitely did not want to let his eyes slide along; even less when Draco was wearing such tight trousers. He didn't want to, but he still did.
He was getting hot. His face became red. He began to sweat. And only when his eyes got watery did he realise that this reaction had nothing to do with Draco or his trousers, but with the chilli liqueur. He gasped for air.
Looking at Draco, he was indignant to see that he was grinning.
"Too hot for you, Potter?" he asked, and at that moment he sounded just as mischievous as he had as a thirteen-year-old. "Come."
He opened a big double door which led to a stone balcony. "Cool off."
The cold December air was like a blessing to Harry. He took a deep breath and slowly started to calm down. Still breathing heavily and with a burning feeling in his stomach, he let his eyes wander across the adjacent, snowy forest, which was lightened only by countless stars.
Draco stood next to him, illuminated from behind by the warm light falling through the double door from the kitchen onto the balcony. He had brought his chilli liqueur. Harry's liqueur was still in the kitchen, and he was not planning on fetching it.
"What was so funny about that?" Harry asked when he was able to speak again.
Draco grinned again. "Sorry. No offence meant. It was just a funny situation ..." He paused. "And a little habit, perhaps." He looked at Harry with feigned consciousness of guilt.
Harry threw a glance back to the kitchen; Astoria had not yet returned.
"What did your wife mean, that you told her a lot about ... our ..."
Draco leaned against the snow-covered parapet and did not seem to be bothered by the cold snow soaking his shirt. "I just told her about my school days. And sometimes you were a part of them, Potter. Whether I like it or not."
Harry didn't say anything. He was sure that Draco knew exactly what he was thinking about. That Draco was thinking about it as well. About that one moment. About that one, short, tiny, disturbing thing which nobody except for the two of them knew about.
About that one day in their sixth year on which Harry had been following Draco secretly, wanting to find out what he had been up to. That moment in which Draco had noticed it and, in an empty corridor, had suddenly turned around, grabbed a startled Harry and pinned him against the wall, holding his wrists firmly in his hands.
"What do you want from me, Potter?" he hissed. His voice was full of hate, his eyes full of despair. "Fucking hell, can't even you leave me alone?"
Harry tried to free himself, but he didn't succeed. When he tried to kick him, Malfoy rammed his knee between his legs so hard it made Harry whimper. And he left his knee there, firm and relentless, so that Harry did not dare make another movement.
"I'm having enough problems already, I don't need you to make it all even worse," Malfoy said.
"What am I doing? Is it forbidden to use this corridor?" Harry asked as coolly as possible. He noticed that Malfoy's white shirt under the loose tie was unbuttoned much further than it should be.
"Stop following me," Malfoy whispered, and now his voice was as desperate as his eyes. "I can't handle it, Potter. You're driving me mad."
Harry didn't know what to reply to this. For what seemed like minutes, both of them stared into each other's eyes, their faces only inches apart. Both were aware that Malfoy felt the throbbing in Harry's private parts on his knee, and that Harry saw how Malfoy's piercingly bright eyes kept sliding to Harry's lips, both were breathing heavily, and both wondered where the line between hate and passion was, and whether there even was one.
Malfoy's face got closer to Harry's, in his cold eyes nothing but hopelessness and the merciless certainty that there are some things which simply cannot be changed. Harry could smell him, and something welled up in him like a wave in the sea, something he could not quite figure out.
Then Malfoy took a sharp breath and pushed Harry away. Malfoy stepped back and looked him over from a distance, horrified and hateful, with an expression that looked as if it had only now become clear to him just who the other boy was.
"Fuck you, Potter," he whispered with an almost tearful voice. "If you ever follow me again ... I'll kill you!"
Then he turned and ran down the corridor. Harry looked after him, confused and upset, rubbing his aching wrists.
"I haven't told her anything regarding the fact that you had a pretty confusing appeal with me, if that's what you mean, Potter," said Draco, waking Harry from his memories.
"Pardon me?" he asked, looking at Draco. In the glow of the light from the kitchen, Draco's face didn't seem so cold anymore, and Harry couldn't deny that his smile looked incredibly charming. He must have worked on that since Hogwarts.
"Come on. Don't pretend you didn't notice," Draco said quietly.
There was a sound in the kitchen. Harry turned his head. Astoria came into the kitchen, a few parrot feathers in her hair, and showed them the thumbs up through the glass door with an exhausted smile, before raising her wand and busying herself with a cooking pot on the stove. Harry noticed that he had not yet seen a single house elf here.
"She's nice," said Harry, ignoring what Draco had just said.
"She's fantastic," Draco responded with a small and almost sad smile. Both of them watched Astoria through the balcony door. Harry was not sure whether she could even make out more than their silhouettes on the dark balcony.
"Do you love her?"
The words had tumbled out before Harry had even become aware that he wanted to say them.
Draco took a long drink of chilli liqueur before he spoke. "Wow, Potter, a little early for personal questions, isn't it?"
"You just got very personal, too ..." Harry countered.
"Yes," Draco confirmed, "but that was about myself. I didn't ask anything about you."
Harry had to admit he was right.
"I did notice that there was ... something. Between ... between us," Harry finally muttered. "But I never wanted to think about what it was. And I would never have expected to talk about it one day. Especially not with you."
"Why did you save me from the Room of Requirement that day?" Draco asked impetuously. It seemed as if he had wanted to ask that question the whole time. "You put yourself in danger doing that."
"Now you do ask me something," Harry said. "Without having answered my question. Do you love her?"
Draco laughed quietly. Harry remembered that day, the broomstick beneath him, the flames all around him and Draco, screaming with fear, his arms wrapped around him, his body pressed to Harry's back.
"Does it matter?" asked Draco. For a few seconds, he looked suggestively at Harry; then he turned his head to face the kitchen again.
For a while, they were standing there in silence, watching Draco's wife, until finally she took the cooking pot from the stove, carried it out of the room, and made thirteen plates follow her by themselves with a skilful move of the wand she had clamped between two fingers.
Harry pulled his cloak tighter around him. Now that the effect of the chilli liqueur was wearing off, he began to feel the coldness of the December evening.
"Aren't you cold?" he asked Draco. He examined what he could see of Draco's upper body through the semi-unbuttoned shirt. "I'm getting cold just looking at you."
Actually, he was getting rather hot looking at him, but he would never say that.
"I've always been quite adaptable," Draco said with a shrug. "Plus, the chilli liqueur keeps me warm." As if wanting to prove this, he took another sip.
Harry's eyes were still clinging to the naked skin of Draco's chest. The same chest he had seen through the partly unbuttoned shirt twenty-one years ago, when a sixteen-year-old Draco had pinned him against the wall. The same chest which had pressed against his back almost twenty years ago; not surrounded by snow, but by fire. Very slowly, Harry reached out his hand and stroked the pale, soft, unexpectedly warm skin with two fingers. Draco froze.
Harry didn't know what he was doing himself. For that one moment, they were not grown-up, married family men, but they were the two confused, sixteen-year-old Hogwarts boys again, and yet the whole situation was more mature, more conscious. Harry pushed the fabric of the shirt aside and exposed a nipple. It was hard.
"You see," he said quietly. "You are cold."
He felt Draco's heart beat under his fingertips. Ginny suddenly emerged in his mind's eye. Ginny, whom he loved more than anything else in the world, and yet here he was, alone in the dark with Draco Malfoy, Draco Malfoy of all people, while their sons were playing next door and Draco's wife was serving them dinner, and he wanted nothing more than to unbutton Draco's shirt even further.
"Yes," Draco agreed. "Yes, I'm cold ... Maybe ... we should go back in." His voice sounded completely different from before, shaky and weak. He wasn't holding his chilli liqueur elegantly anymore, but was clutching it so tightly that Harry was afraid the glass might burst.
Harry nodded and drew his hand back. He swallowed hard.
In that moment, Astoria returned to the kitchen and put her head through the balcony door.
"Don't you think it's time to come in? You'll freeze out there!" she said before going back in.
Harry took a step toward the door, but Draco took his hand to hold him back.
"Why did you save me, Potter?" he asked again. His voice was back to normal again, not a trace of weakness left; maybe it was even a little cooler than before.
Harry hesitated. He threw a portentous glance in the direction of the kitchen, to Draco's wife, before looking back at Draco. "Does it matter?" he asked, with raised eyebrows and the ghost of a smile.
Draco let go of his hand. His facial expression reminded Harry of Draco's younger self. Frustrated, insecure, disillusioned, and the heroic attempt to cover all that with a cold mask of arrogance. He was more successful at that than he had been back in the days. Harry watched him for another second, shaking his head incredulously at that man who fascinated and, at the same time, disgusted him more than anything else, that man whom he apparently could only hate or desire, but nothing in between.
One behind the other, they went back into the kitchen. "Potter has to go home now," Draco told his wife.
"Are you coming to fetch Albus later?" asked Astoria. "Or should I bring him?"
"My wife will surely be home by nine," Harry answered friendly. "I'll ask her to pick up Albus."
He said goodbye to Astoria, then he shook Draco's hand.
"It's been a pleasure, Malfoy," he said with a serious face which made his words seem almost solemn. He forced himself to look Draco in the face and not lower.
Draco was not as successful. His gaze wandered from Harry's face to his feet and back in such a blatant way that Harry wondered if he didn't worry that Astoria might notice.
For a short moment, reflected in Draco's face there was all the admiration he had been feeling for Harry for such a long time without even beginning to ever show it. Then his lips curled into a smile. At first sight, it seemed to be scornful, but then Harry realised it was a sad smile. The bitter smile of somebody who accepted his fate grimly and without complaining.
"For me, too, Potter," he said.
When they walked through the living room together, where their sons were having dinner with the other guests and several guinea pigs from the Small Animal Cannon, Harry felt as if he had just woken from a dream.
"Dad! Why are you still here?" Albus shouted from the table, surprised.
"Dad, you wanna see me turn a black guinea pig into a brown one?" Scorpius yelled, grabbing a squeaking guinea pig with his left hand and a Childproof Poo Bomb with his right.
Draco laughed. It was the first time in his life that Harry heard him genuinely laughing. "No, Scorpius, I don't want to see that," he said. He threw a side glance at Harry as if wanting to say, "Kids ...".
Harry laughed, too. Suddenly the both of them were nothing but two fathers of two sons who were friends, two men in their thirties who had long since found their place in life, who had everything they wanted, and whose only connection was their children, who were playing here innocently without having a clue that the skin of Draco's chest still burned hotter than any chilli liqueur ever could.
Harry scattered the floo powder into the chimney. Before walking in, he turned around once more and gave Draco a smile with pinched lips. Draco reacted with a short nod, just like back then on the platform.
It doesn't matter, thought Harry, when the flames surrounded him and one chimney after the other turned by in front of him. It doesn't matter what I once did at seventeen for whatever reason, and it doesn't matter what Draco Malfoy feels for his wife. I've got my life, and I love it.
When he stepped out of the chimney in his own living room, Ginny and Lily were just coming in through the front door. Lily ran to him and flung her arms around his neck before her mother told her to come back to the hall to take off her shoes. After that, Ginny greeted him with a long kiss.
Three hours later, when all three children were in bed, he followed Ginny, who was wearing only a whiff of a negligée, into the bedroom. She threw him onto the bed and bent over him with a seductive smile, and nobody could tell him that this was not pure bliss.
The fingertips of his right hand were still tingling where he had touched Draco.