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The Best Hot Chocolate

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Sirius was tall, with sharp grey eyes and slender hands. In his new clothes he looked great. The green, Harry thought, suited his dark hair. The silvery grey in it made him looked distinguished not old, and with the blue letters tattooed onto his fingers he seemed mysterious. He didn't look like a murderer on the run from Azkaban. He looked not yet all healthy, not yet all settled, but Harry couldn't think of anyone he would rather have as his godfather.

"Come," Sirius said one evening. It was one of the days between Christmas and New Year when they were safe in Number 12, Grimmauld Place. He led Harry downstairs to the kitchen. Kreacher grunted at them and kept stirring whatever concoction he was boiling over the fire. It smelled vile. Sirius didn't as much as nod in Kreacher's direction. He went straight to the huge cupboard and got out two large cups.

"We're making hot chocolate," he said. "I'll show you how Lily made it. She had a secret recipe for the best hot chocolate ever."

"My mum?" Harry asked, which was a ridiculous question because there was no other Lily he and Sirius knew. What he meant to ask was, "My mum made hot chocolate?"

Sirius grinned at him. "She did. We used to sneak into the Hogwarts kitchen to fetch all the ingredients." He placed the two cups on the long wooden table. They were bigger than tea cups, creamy white porcelain with a blue rim. Harry had never seen them before. Sirius turned back to the cupboard and got another three cups out. "For Lily, James and Remus," he explained.

The handle of one cup was a bit crooked as if it had been Reparo'ed in a hurry once.

"All right," Harry said. He liked the idea of making hot chocolate for his parents. And Remus was upstairs, reading in the library. He would love a drink of something hot. "So how does mum's recipe go?"

Aunt Petunia had made hot chocolate sometimes, but Harry had never got any. He remembered the smell, spicy and sweet, sitting in the cupboard when he was so small that his head didn't yet touch the low ceiling, with an empty stomach and so hungry he could taste the chocolatey smell on his tongue.

Sirius brought the milk churn out from the pantry. "I'll show you." He walked down the row of glistening pots and pans hanging on one side of the kitchen. Meanwhile, Kreacher was grumbling darkly at the fire but Harry didn't catch what he said.

"This one!" Sirius chose a small, heavy pan. It was dark blue enamel inside and black on the outside. He put it on the stove. "This one will do. Kreacher!"

The house-elf was at once at Sirius' side. "Yes sir, young Master Black, sir?"

"Do you remember the ingredient for Miss Lily's hot chocolate? The one you had to get from the Muggles?"

Kreacher nodded stiffly. His large ears were twitching, with disdain, Harry thought.

"Do we still have some left in the pantry?"

"No, sir. It got bad, sir." Kreacher kept glancing at whatever he was boiling on the fire, clearly waiting for Sirius to let him go back to it.

But Sirius was taking his time, pouring milk into the pan. He lighted the stove with a Incendio and kept his eyes on the liquid. "We need it, Kreacher. Get it. I want you back with it when the milk is about to boil."

Kreacher rolled his eyes so quickly that Harry wasn't sure whether it had really happened. He wished Sirius was nicer to Kreacher but before he could add a Please, Kreacher was gone.

* * *

The next Christmas, Sirius was dead. And Stan Shunpike had been arrested by the Ministry even when everybody knew that hell would freeze over before Stan Shunpike joined the Death Eaters.

Harry was at the Weasleys, which was so much better than Christmas with the Dursleys (hours of cooking and then hours up in his room with a stale sandwich while the feast happened downstairs). Christmas at the Weasleys was even better than Christmas at Hogwarts, with only one Christmas tree instead of twelve, but this one with a stupefied, glaring garden gnome in a tutu on top. The house was full of paper-chains, and magical snow covered all surfaces. Cookies were hidden in every nook and cranny, and the smell of freshly peeled satsumas hung in the air. And the Burrow was full of people, people who loved Harry, his friends and his family.

Only this year, Hermione was missing because she was still fighting with Ron. Ron had hidden the atrocity of a gift Lavender had given him in their room. Harry found it shoved underneath their school books. He stared at the ugly golden necklace, and a wave of relief swept through him. Ginny would never give him something like that. She hated it when someone called her 'sweet-heart.' And Harry was sad, too, for as much as he liked Ginny, he wished for someone else entirely to send him a gift. Or a letter, at least. He turned to the two pieces of Christmas mail he'd received, a non-descript card from the Dursleys, and the mouldy, heavy letter from Kreacher. A slimy maggot was crawling over its Owlpost stamp.

Downstairs Mrs Weasley was calling everyone to the living room where she was serving home-made egg-nog.

He should make mum's hot chocolate, Harry thought. Walking down the rickety stairs, he recalled the secret recipe Sirius had told him. He needed a large jar and at least a pound of quality dark chocolate, to make enough for all the people who would be joining the Weasley Christmas dinner.

"Mrs Weasley," Harry said, standing underneath a mistletoe that hung over the threshold to the big kitchen.

She turned and the diamond stars on her new blue witch's hat sparkled in the candle light. Harry could see that she'd been crying. Bloody Percy, and bloody Scrimgeour and the whole lot of them.

"Yes, Harry?"

"I'd like to make hot chocolate. My mum's old recipe." It sounded silly but Mrs Weasley's eyebrows shot up immediately.

"Oh, Lily's famous hot chocolate." She put down the punch bowl full of egg-nog on the cupboard. "It was always such a treat when she made it for Gryffindor House." A small smile spread across her face, and she looked beyond Harry to where Mr Weasley and Professor Lupin were sitting deep in talk in the living room. A paper garland was draped over Lupin's shoulders. Mrs Weasley turned back to Harry. "You have Lily's secret recipe? Who...? Ah. Sirius."

Harry nodded. "He taught me how to make it. Last year." Last year when Harry had thought that he'd move into Grimmauld Place to live with his godfather. Last year when Sirius had been alive. A quick, sharp pain twisted in Harry's heart, then it was gone. He didn't think he would ever remember Sirius and not feel this pain.

Mrs Weasley already opened the kitchen cabinets. "You need, let me guess... Icing sugar, cocoa powder, of course." She grabbed a large orange box. "What else do you need, dear?"

Harry grinned. "Dark chocolate and cornflour. Do you have a large jar for mixing?"

Mrs Weasley took more boxes from the cabinet, and Harry helped her Levitate an enormous bottling jar from the pantry into the kitchen. "But there was a special ingredient, wasn't there?"

Just from her tone of voice, Harry could tell Mrs Weasley was very curious about what Lily had added to make her hot chocolate that luxurious and tasty. He gave away nothing, though, just tried to look mysteriously. It was a secret Potter family recipe, after all.

* * *

The next Christmas, Ron was gone. Harry and Hermione had set their tent up at the chain-link fence of a deserted junk-yard. Hermione had gone into the nearby town to buy them a real dinner (they had lived off mince meats and orange juice for the last couple of days). With the tent safely under a Muggle-Repelling and a Disillusionment Charm, Harry wandered off for a walk and found a small neighbourhood store. He stepped inside with the intention to get a beer for himself and a can of Coke for Hermione, which she secretly loved but would never admit to.

Five minutes later he came out of the store – in a bit of a hurry. Hidden beneath his coat, he carried a quart of milk and small boxes of cornflour, icing sugar, and cocoa powder. It had been no problem to find Lily's secret ingredient for the best hot chocolate. The Muggle store even carried spices, and Harry'd snatched a small jar of ground cinnamon from the shelf. He would have to make do with a slab of cooking chocolate but they would have mugs full of hot chocolate tonight.

*

When Hermione was back and they had eaten delicious spaghetti Bolognese and a whole tin of sweet, soft pears, Harry brought out his ingredients.

Hermione's eyes lit up in the candle light. "You didn't pay for these," she said, a fact not a question but her voice was warm.

"Nope. You had the money." Harry Transfigured the jumper Mrs Weasley had given him for Christmas last year into a large bowl. It came out dark green with an odd ornamental band at the outside. He looked at it more closely; the band consisted of a row of crooked H's. He glanced over to Hermione to check whether she was really all right with him having nicked the ingredients.

Hermione was curled up in her old armchair, Tales of Beetle the Bard open in her lap. A soft smile played on her lips as she pulled out her own wand and Conjured – from thin air, as much as Harry could tell – two dainty white cups, each with a fine golden rim and forget-me-nots on the inside.

Harry poured the dry ingredients into his green bowl and used his wand to blend them into an even mixture. "Could you maybe Conjure two more cups?" he asked. He'd made mum's hot chocolate only twice in his life. But already he could not imagine drinking it without having cups set out for her and dad.

Hermione didn't ask for whom, simply Conjured two more cups and Levitated them onto their table. They were very similar to the other ones, with red roses painted on the inside. Harry used Sirius' old penknife to shave small pieces off the bar of cooking chocolate, and while it was not as finely grated as Sirius had taught him, it would do. With his wand he brought the milk to almost boiling temperature (they had been making hot tea with their wands on this entire camping trip), then spooned the chocolate mix from the bowl into the hot milk. It smelled spicy and sweet and for a moment he was back in the old kitchen at Grimmauld Place with Sirius at his side, telling him stories about Lily and James.

The mixture was bubbling, with tiny pieces of chocolate floating in it. Harry's wand whisked quickly until Harry told it to stop. His mum's hot chocolate was ready, the texture smooth, thick, and foamy. He poured the steaming drink into two cups, one for Hermione and one for himself. That's when he realised there was another empty cup sitting on the table, set apart from the rose cups, on its own. Like theirs, it had forget-me-nots painted inside.

Hermione gingerly closed Tales of Beetle the Bard and got out of the armchair. She took her usual spot at the table, at the side where the third cup stood.

The empty milk pot was trembling in Harry's hands. "Could you...?" he whispered. He hadn't heard from Malfoy in months.

Hermione gave him a look, halfway between fond and exasperated. The fifth cup she Conjured looked differently. It had a silver rim and spikey green leaves painted inside. Harry couldn't help but smile when he sat at the table beside Hermione. Everybody he loved was here, dead and alive, in person or in porcelain.

* * *

The next Christmas, Voldemort was dead. So was Tonks. Remus. Colin. Fred. Lavender. Snape. Everybody was dead. Harry, too, was dead.

Death was lying on a stiff white bed. Death was a darkened room with an eerie blue light in one corner. Death was strangers in lime green robes feeding him, washing him, getting him in and out of the bed.

Harry knew there was an outside of this room. He could think, I am in St Mungo's. I am in the Janus Thickey Ward. Mr and Mrs Weasley brought me here. He remembered the celebrations after Voldemort's death. He had been happy then because it was over, because they had done it. It had felt unreal, as if Harry was back in the bright mist that had formed into his very own King's Cross when he had been dead before. But he knew that he had been happy during the celebrations, even when he could not remember the feeling anymore.

Now he was lying with closed eyes, listening for... for anything really. Approaching footsteps, the uncanny thumping of a thing in the corner. But there was nothing. Harry was alone. Nobody was coming. There was nobody here but the dead. Tonks. Remus. Colin. Fred. Lavender. Snape. It was only logical to assume that Harry was dead, too.

He opened his eyes. A golden angel swayed above him. The soft blue light made its wings look purple; it held a miniature trumpet to its lips. There was no sound. Of course not, the figurine wasn't even magicked. Harry squinted and discovered a thread leading from the angel's golden-curled head up to the ceiling where it was fastened to a hook Harry had never seen up there before.

A fresh, woodsy smell was in the air. Harry turned his head. In the corner stood a Christmas tree. It was small, barely waist-high, but complete with red candles and gleaming apples. Silver stars peeked out of the thick green branches, and on top a sparkling fairy sat as if on a throne. It waved at Harry with its tiny silver wand.

Someone had dragged the one chair in the room closer to the bed. Harry would have thought that Ron or Hermione, Neville or Ginny were visiting and had stepped out while he was asleep. But lime green robes had been carefully placed on the chair. The healer who owned the robes had probably stepped into the bathroom. Harry sat up slowly. There was no light coming from the crack underneath the bathroom door. It had to be dark outside, Harry realised with a look to the curtained window. What was a healer doing in his room in the middle of the night?

A soft curse from the hallway made Harry move back against the wall. There was shuffling, more cursing, and the squeak of the doorknob. In the blue light Harry could see it turn. The door swayed inward and –

Draco Malfoy entered the room. He was tall and lean, his face too thin, too sharp, the same git as always. A vague memory flashed through Harry's mind, of lime green robes and white-blond hair. At his trial, Malfoy had been sentenced to twelve months of volunteer work at St Mungo's. But what was he doing in Harry's room?

Malfoy held two steaming paper cups in his hands. There were stains on his otherwise pristine white shirt, from trying to open a door with both hands full of hot beverage, Harry assumed.

"Oh, you're up," Malfoy said. "The Tea Room is such a mess. Everything tastes the same, and by the same I mean awful. And everything is always close to boiling. I swear they have some demon from hell in charge of temperatures at this place." With a sigh of relief he placed the cups on Harry's nightstand. The overly-sweet, vomit-inducing scent of cheap chocolate wafted towards Harry. The cups were red and had tiny wreaths printed all over them.

Malfoy was rummaging in the pockets of what had to be his healer's robes and brought out his wand. He cast a Cooling Charm on the cups, then handed one to Harry.

"Merry Christmas, Potter," he said. He let his wand disappear in the back pocket of his trousers and sat down on the chair. His hair looked bluish in the soft light.

Harry carefully wrapped his hands around the cup. It was warm and comforting, and the concoction was no longer steaming. He stared into the sluggish brown liquid. It smelled... Well, awful about covered it.

"My mum had a secret recipe." His voice was raspy and very soft. He surprised himself by pushing on. "A recipe for hot chocolate. It's delicious, the best hot chocolate I've ever had. You need cornflour, icing sugar, cocoa power and dark chocolate. Quality chocolate." Harry's mouth was watering. He could almost feel the rim of a porcelain cup against his lips, and the spicy taste on his tongue. "And cinnamon. You need cinnamon."

Malfoy nodded. "I loved playing with cinnamon sticks as a child." His gaze moved back and forth between the cup in his hand and Harry.

"And there's a Muggle ingredient. It's a secret but Sirius told me. Er, he was my godfather and –"

"I know who Sirius Black is, Potter." The haughtiness in Malfoy's voice was so familiar Harry had to smile. Malfoy took a sip of his hot chocolate and shuddered.

"I'll make hot chocolate for you when I'm..." Harry stopped. He was in St Mungo's. He was in the Janus Thickey Ward. Mr and Mrs Weasley had brought him here. Above him was a golden angel with a trumpet. In the corner stood a Christmas tree. Draco Malfoy was sitting beside his bed, looking tired and smug and so strangely beautiful it made Harry's heart miss a beat.

"When you're all right again and out of here," Malfoy said. "Whereas I'll have to stay and answer Gilderoy Lockhart's fan mail for another seven months. Whilst drinking awful tea, I may add." He raised the red cup and smiled at Harry.

I will be all right again, Harry thought. He took a sip from the hot chocolate, and it was watery and much too sweet and tasted like coughing syrup. And yet... He would be all right and leaving St Mungo's. He would step out of this room, he would walk out of the hospital and into Diagon Alley again.

"I'll pick you up on your last day, Malfoy. And then I'll make my mum's hot chocolate for you."

"It'll be summer," Malfoy grumbled but there was a happy glint in his eyes.

Harry knew it would be the best hot chocolate of his life.

*fin*