The Shoemaker and the Elves

A/N: This piece was written for HDWriter in the 7th and final H/D Hols fest, originally posted on LiveJournal.

Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.

Thanks to the mods for the countless hours they spent bringing this fest to life year after year.

Thanks also to my prereaders, beta, and Brit-picker Sapphirescribe, TwilightMundi, Fr333bird, and ArcadianMaggie. You are a talented group of women and I'd be a complete mess without you.

And now, I hope you enjoy this rendition of a little holiday tale, which was first spun long ago by the timeless Brothers Grimm...


The Shoemaker and the Elves

Draco gazed down at his hands.

The soft light of his candle couldn't hide how much they'd changed. His fingers were calloused now, and thinner.

Just like the rest of him.

He'd have sighed, but he wasn't even sure he could afford that these days.

Picking up his knife, he went back to work, where he would stay hunched over his table until the wee hours caused his lids to droop and left him nodding over his leather. That's when he would finally put down his tools and return his supplies—dwindling, ever dwindling—to their rightful places before preparing for bed at long last.

Just prior to slipping beneath his sheets, he checked the wards around his home, a habit designed more to ensure the protection of his precious few belongings than to guarantee his own safety. No, those days were past, at least, those dark times when he had to fear for his very life.

The period shortly after the war had been a special sort of torment; he remembered those days as a sea of exiles and sentences, reparations and damages, acute threats and chronic loss, all coming in anguishing waves that smashed against him and his, relentlessly crashing and swirling around him, trying to drown him.

It would have been easier if he'd let them;he knows that. Others had. But he never would, ever. He was a Malfoy. To others, that may have no longer meant anything, but to him, it was enough to pull him each day from his bed. Beyond that? Well, survival was costly, and Draco had few Knuts left to spare.

He never would get beyond mere survival, either, as long as the customers refused to come, ignoring his elegant craftsmanship in favour of long-held grudges. And those few who dared step through the door of his small shop rarely paid much more than the worth of the raw materials, haggling with him, knowing the desperation behind his long-practised poise.

One day, maybe, they'd finally forgive him. Seven hells, he'd settle for forgetting if it meant he'd have enough Galleons to fill his stomach with a bit more supper each night.

Trying to ignore the vague hollowness in his belly, Draco whispered a warming spell over his blankets as he climbed beneath them, followed by a quick Nox, and with a flick of his wrist, he was plunged into the night.

Magic, at least, was still free, and for that, he was thankful.

~oOo~

Draco watched from the corner of his eye, cautiously optimistic as Hannah Abbott lifted the elegant boot to the light, examining the stitching he'd laboured over a few evenings prior. It was perfect; he knew it.

She sniffed at it anyway, setting it back down and heading for the shop door.

His heart sank. He needed to sell something.

The bell along the top of the door rang out merrily as she opened it to leave, its cheeriness in direct contrast to Draco's sinking mood.

"Unless..." Hannah hesitated from the doorway and looked back at the shoe.

Draco cringed; he knew what was coming. Still, he adopted a patient smile. "May I help you?"

"Well, it's just that the craftsmanship isn't what I would like for a boot of that price."

"Is that so?" Draco trained his eyes on the ground lest he be tempted to illustrate her obvious inability to judge quality by pointing at the haphazard hemline of her robes. She stepped fully back into his shop. A good sign.

"It is. I also question the origin of the leather—how can I be certain that the beast was ethically raised?"

Ahh yes, the morality jibe. Nothing new there. Customers were all the same; clearly the ex-Death Eater would continue always in the inhumane paths he'd been guided along as a youth.

"I assure you, Ms. Abbott, that the dragons were free range—"

"Dragon?" she sniffed.

Draco resisted the urge to hand her a handkerchief. "Yes. Peruvian Vipertooth."

Gods, the woman couldn't even recognize that it was dragon leather, much less the finest Peruvian Vipertooth leather he'd been able to find. She didn't even deserve the shoes. Nonetheless, Draco was hungry; he'd had naught but weak tea that morning and unless he wanted to gnaw on scraps of Vipertooth leather for lunch, he'd be negotiating with Hannah.

She eyed him suspiciously. "Those boots are purple. Vipertooths aren't purple."

"No," he agreed. "They're not. Thankfully, we wizards have use of a very special tool called magic—"

"Don't get smart with me, Mr. Malfoy."

"Of course. Apologies, Ms. Abbott—"

"I'll give you twenty Galleons," she said.

Draco nearly choked. It wasn't enough even to pay for the leather. "And for the left shoe?"

She scowled and turned once more towards the door.

"Wait, wait, wait," Draco said. "I'll give them to you for thirty." It was too little; it'd barely keep him alive at such a price—a single Galleon over the cost of the raw materials—but he could tell he'd never get a Sickle over that amount from Hannah.

She held his gaze for a moment. "I'll think about it," she finally said, her tone cold, and Draco knew she wouldn't.

The bell tinkled mirthfully when the door shut firmly behind her.

Returning to his workbench, Draco only barely resisted the urge to drop his head to his hands. He had to keep going.

Somehow.

~oOo~

Three days later his leather ran out.

It was late, long after sunset, in those quiet hours when even his busy hands couldn't keep his thoughts at bay as they spun fear and dark troubles into maelstroms in his mind.

He cut the last of his leather to fashion one final pair of shoes; nothing fancy, this time. He didn't even have enough remaining to make a nice pair of witches' heeled boots, but he could eke out a last pair of men's Oxfords. Perfectly crafted, as always, and classic, but plain. He simply hadn't the supplies left to do anything more.

Once he'd finished cutting the leather—rich Ukranian Ironbelly, this time—he glanced at the clock on the wall, deciding to save the rest of the work, all of the stitching and stretching and forming of the shoes, for the next day. He'd need something to do to keep his mind off his empty stomach.

Setting aside his leather and putting away his tools, Draco gazed around his one-room workshop, dimly lit by his flickering candle. Sparsely furnished, perhaps, and extremely utilitarian, but it was all his, tools acquired for hard-won Sickles or fashioned by his own hands through a good deal of trial and error. He'd lacked all outside assistance, of course, and, but for a week of lessons with a master cobbler that he'd scraped together the funds to pay for, he was self-taught in his trade. That just meant there was no one to teach him bad habits or laziness, he'd long ago decided, and he'd never have to answer to anyone but himself.

That knowledge was deeply comforting, as was the thought of his exhausted head finally resting against his pillow. Satisfied that everything was in place, he checked the wards one last time. The small shopfront, his little workshop, and the back rooms where he lived, all were secure.

After climbing into bed and spelling out the lights, he tucked his wand beneath his pillow, his arm below his head, and his blankets up to his chin.

"Well, goodnight then," he whispered to the darkness, just before shutting his eyes and falling into his customary deep slumber.

~oOo~

Draco stared across the room at his workbench, brows furrowed as he recognized the extent of his own madness. For what else could it be?

"Draco Malfoy, you've officially gone 'round the bend," he told himself.

Because really. He'd gone to bed with the leather lying just there on the bench, as he always did, but never before had he risen to a pair of completed shoes in its place.

Perhaps it was amnesia and he'd forgotten the length of an entire day. Yes, some mysterious day settled firmly between Tuesday and Wednesday, when he fashioned the pair of men's shoes sitting before him.

Or, had he actually made them in his sleep? He'd certainly told himself often enough that such a thing was possible as his fingers toiled through his more tedious tasks.

Maybe he'd finished them the night before and simply forgotten in his exhaustion. Yes, that had to be the case, he assured himself, though in truth, he remembered no such thing.

"But then," he said into the cool morning air, "why, exactly, would I have stitched them thusly?" He sipped his tea at that, ignoring the familiar scald on his tongue in favour of examining more closely the Oxfords before him.

At first the work had seemed appropriately his own—cap toed, sleek, and refined. Classic. The quality, too, was not to be missed, easily up to his highest of standards. In picking one up, though, the difference became clear. Quarter, not semi-brogue adorned that end cap, and that was not Draco's custom at all.

He set the shoe down, staring at the reunited pair, foreign footwear intent on intruding into his careful routine. He was not sure what to make of them at all. Indeed, he seemed unable to wrest his eyes away from the dark leather, shaped, evidently, by careful fingers that were not his own.

Well, fine then. His own hands were tired, so let the mystery shoes allow them rest, if they were so determined. Picking up the pair, he carried them to the shopfront, placing them in the window in view of various passersby. Perhaps someone was foolish enough to prefer quarter-brogue, he smirked. Philistines, after all, the lot of them.

Once he had placed them artfully, he stood back to admire the display before shaking his head at his inexplicable morning. "Tea," he thought to himself. "I need more tea."

~oOo~

Draco reckoned it was just past noon when the lightning bolt appeared pressed against the glass of his shop's display front.

Worse, the body sporting it actually entered his shop soon after.

"Potter," Draco sneered. Harry may have been a potential customer but on a day that had begun so very strangely, there was far too much comfort to be found in the familiar.

"Malfoy," Potter nodded, pushing up his glasses. "Can I try on these shoes?" He lifted up one of the Oxfords.

Draco was immediately suspicious. No one came by his shop to buy shoes. To mock him, definitely. To point and jeer, and even to spit on him occasionally, yes. And if they left with footwear despite themselves, well, it was only because even they couldn't deny the style and quality of his work. And because he was generally desperate enough to take nearly any sum. In fact, the only person who ever came to him with the intent to purchase was—

"McGonagall sent me. She said yours were the best and that they stay shiny and never need replacing. And I hate shopping.".

"Potions for the lustre, Potter, and of course my shoes are the best. Obviously. And they'll be in fine shape as long as you decide to wear them." He wished he could stop himself, really. It'd be better if he sold shoes that wore out after a while so people would have to return for new ones. He cost himself customers every time he cast the Foreverlast spell into the soles of his handiwork.

When had he become so insistent on always doing the right thing? It was probably a reaction to every insinuation to the contrary, he supposed.

Potter cleared his throat.

Draco gestured to the small padded bench along the wall and summoned his measuring device. Even if it were only stupid Potter, it wouldn't due to turn away a sale. He didn't even have a scrap of leather left to his name. "Fine, Potter. Have a seat."

Potter sat. To his credit, he looked only mildly uncomfortable.

"Were you planning on taking off your shoes sometime today?"

"Oh. Er, right." Potter slipped his socked feet from his shoes, wriggling his toes.

Raising an eyebrow as Potter's third toe poked through a hole in his sock, Draco had to admit there were at least no offensive odours for him to delicately Vanish, and that little toe did appear adequately groomed. Potter still chuckled awkwardly. "Heh. You don't happen to sell socks too, do you?"

"Not quite. But here, a simple mending spell should help." Draco knelt down by Potter's foot, lifting it and touching his wand to the worn sock. It mended within a few seconds, stitching itself back together cleanly and tightly at Draco's command.

Harry blinked; his eyelashes were long and thick. "Thanks. I'd never have thought of that, and I'm always getting holes."

"Your feet are too big for your socks; that'd be why."

Potter's feet were quite long, narrow with a classic arch and form. Draco'd noticed that right away. Some men had all the luck.

"Socks come in different sizes?" Potter looked amused. "Gods, I suppose I really should let Hermione drag me shopping."

"Why don't you send your house elves?" Merlin, if Draco didn't miss having elves, letting them scurry about with the tiresome and endless line of chores, cooking and cleaning and mending and dusting. And then there was his elf from when he was a boy, Trilly, who'd raised him up, doing all those tasks he imagined a mother might have done, had she cared to do so. Trilly'd had kind—if extraordinarily buggy—eyes. Wise too, if he remembered correctly. The Malfoys had lost their elves after the War, though. Sold to the highest bidder, he supposed.

Without waiting for an answer, Draco pulled out his measuring device, resting it against his thigh and gesturing for Potter's foot. Potter gingerly set his heel atop the metal tool, Draco adjusting its placement slightly, while noting the pleasant warmth emanating from the socked foot.

He glanced up at Potter, who was chewing on his lip. Potter met his gaze.

Something stirred in Draco, then, an unexpected little twist in his belly, a curl of heat released deep within him. Startled, Draco looked away quickly. Had he really experienced such a strange reaction to Potter of all men?

Looking back up at Harry, he found Potter blinking his green eyes back at him and Draco was suddenly intensely aware of the intimacy of being on his knees before Potter, cradling his foot just so. He struggled to swallow, something thick caught in his throat. Nerves threatened to emerge after a rather extended hibernation.

Draco dropped Potter's foot as though it were on fire. Jumping to his feet, he walked quickly to the back of his shop, dabbing his handkerchief against his forehead. "I'll, uh, I'll be right back," he choked out as he flung open the door that led into his workshop.

His heart pounded. What was that? It was just Potter. He'd measured the feet of a hundred customers, but he'd never had that sort of reaction like that before with any other witch or wizard. Potter was his former enemy; was that the cause? Was the heat in his cheeks due to the humiliation of kneeling at the feet of his rival?

Draco had to admit it was not. He had endless enemies from his past, many worse than an idiot school-aged Potter, and Potter hadn't treated him with anything but respect since, regardless of Draco's initial baiting. In fact, Potter hadn't been anything but perfectly polite in years—or at least, more than most were, anyway.

Salazar, what was wrong with him? It was just Potter.

Just. Potter.

As though it had ever been just Potter.

He let out a slow breath and wandered over to his sink, splashing his face with water. Looking in the small mirror above his sink, he towelled his face dry.

"Get a hold of yourself, yeah?" he said, as his own reflection blinked back at him. Now, best to get back before Potter left and he lost his best chance for a sale in a week, even if Potter wanted the strange pair that had unexpectedly greeted Draco that morning.

Clearing his throat, he returned to the shopfront. "Apologies, Potter, I just had to—"

Potter was gone.

Well done, Draco. He'd bloody well fucked that up, hadn't he? And he'd needed that sale...

But then, wait a moment. Just there, by his creaky old register on the counter lay a messy pile of coins and a small sheet of parchment. Draco picked it up.

I tried on the shoes. They fit great. They were so comfortable I didn't want to take them off. I guess that's silly, but there seemed to be no point in it! I had to go, so I hope you don't mind that I just left the money for you. Let me know if it isn't enough. I'm not the best at maths.

Sincerely,

Harry (Potter)

Draco read it again and turned it over in his hand. On the back appeared to be last week's grocery list, if "sale on sausages" listed between "those good biscuits I like" and "non-expired milk" was any indication.

He set the note on the counter. There was no way those shoes had fit Potter. He'd cut the leather to make them in the standard pre-fit size, knowing they'd require precise magical expansion to be the right fit for any wizard, not to mention Potter's especially long toes.

Draco stared at the pile of Galleons. Potter certainly was bad at maths. He'd left too much, a full 10% more than Draco's asking price.

Galleons, though—Gods but Galleons were good, even if they came to him via idiot Potter. Scooping the coins up, he put most in his previously empty register, feeling the weight on his shoulders lighten slightly at the sound of them spilling into the drawer. He tucked the remainder into his coin purse. He'd find Potter and give him back the extra 10%, especially since he'd walked out with what had to be terribly ill-fitting shoes. Or perhaps he could owl the money back to Potter, if he could find one to rent for a few hours. Then he'd visit the apothecary for some supplies, as he desperately needed more lilac pollen for his Steady Treading potion. New leather, he'd need that too, of course. Perhaps some Ridgeback. Oh, and food! Of course, food. Maybe enough to make a hearty stew instead of his usual potatoes in weak broth. If he was lucky, maybe he'd even have a few coins left over for a pint at some pub in town.

He warmed just thinking of it. He couldn't even remember the last time he'd indulged at all. It'd probably been well longer than a year, maybe even two. The possibility of it now brought a small smile to his lips.

Cheers, Potter, he thought.

~oOo~

It was late when Draco arrived back at his home, but the time it had taken him to find the leather he'd sought had been worth it. He'd got the Ridgeback, a flawless piece (and Draco refused to work with substandard materials), as well as a small length of Irontail, a remnant just large enough for a pair of simple boy's loafers, but as such, he'd got the stretch of it for a good price. He'd had to forgo the hoped for pint, but Draco could do without. He'd gone this long, hadn't he?

Besides, that warmth in his belly had been making itself known all day, every time he thought about the events of the afternoon, really...and, well, the tendrils of heat had gradually seemed to become somewhat dangerous as they worked their way through him, curling up into his lungs and warming his heart and all the way out into his fingers. In combination with a pint after so long without, well, it seemed safer to refrain, especially if he could spend the coins instead on additional leather and other supplies.

That had to come first, he'd reminded himself as he'd gazed at the door to the pub he'd passed on his way home that evening, imagining wizards smiling and laughing inside as they imbibed. He swore he'd even heard Potter's laughter ring out as he'd stood there.

Well, if he'd woken up loony, why should he go to bed any differently? He shook his head at himself and hurried past the entrance, lest he tempt himself any further with idealised imaginings of what and whom he'd find inside.

By the time he'd finally made it back home, he was chilled to the bone and more tired still, so after tucking into his evening meal—even he'd been unable to deny himself a second helping of that!—he found time to cut his new leather for the shoes he'd make the next day. Despite the tea at his side, which he'd kept under a warming charm, he was simply too tired to progress any further. Setting aside the pieces for the boy's loafers and then the others, which would eventually become a smooth, shiny pair of trendy women's ankle boots with an only slightly impractical heel, he once again rose from his bench to check the wards and settle into his bed for the night.

It had been a most mysterious day, Draco decided, what with the shoes that had formed on their own and then disappeared almost as quickly, thanks to the bewildering and unsettling encounter with the one and only Harry Potter. Thankfully, he was certain that his night would be decidedly less peculiar, so he could get some much needed sleep. Draco's nights, after all, hadn't been exciting in years.

~oOo~

No matter how long Draco stared at his workbench, the sight before him refused to sort itself.

Two pairs of shoes.

Two. Pairs. Of shoes.

He squinted. He angled his head. Rubbed his eyes. Closed them and counted to three before looking yet again. Even whispered a hesitant Finite Incantatem. Yet there they remained, bathed in the morning light streaming from his little workroom window: one pair of little loafers and one pair of ankle length boots.

Gone was the leather, of course. But there the shoes sat. Completely finished, and shaped as perfectly as if Draco had made them himself.

But that was the problem, wasn't it? He hadn't.

Yet there they were.

Two. Pairs. Of Shoes.

Well, he supposed it did no good to leave them there on his workbench, did it? He took them to the front display of his shop and arranged them so the sunlight shone on the beautiful leather, highlighting the quality and hinting at the comfort found within.

He'd planned the heels to be a quarter inch shorter than the ones he'd found there on the women's boots. And as for the boy's shoes, well, they were a shade narrower than his standard design, but maybe someone would still want them regardless. He'd have to price them modestly, he supposed, but he hoped to at least recover the cost of the materials.

He was just taking a seat at his register to work out the prices when the bell chimed above his shop door.

"Malfoy?"

Draco nearly dropped his quill. "Potter?" He felt the heat creep up to his cheeks. It was early; the shops weren't open yet, and here was Potter, walking right into his shop regardless. Merlin, if Potter wanted to return those shoes he'd bought, Draco wasn't going to stand for it, not after Potter had worn them all day! He frowned, wishing suddenly that he hadn't spent so much of the money already.

"Look, Potter, I'll resize them for you, but you can't return them after you've worn them—"

"What? No, that's not why I'm here," Potter interrupted. A bit of his hair stuck up in the air, the opposite direction from the rest. Draco wanted to straighten it, but he shoved his hands in his pockets instead. "I really like the shoes." Harry looked down at his feet and smiled. "They're the most comfortable shoes I've ever owned, that's for sure."

"Well then why—Oh, right, because of the, ah, little error in arithmetic? Potter, you really are quite terrible at maths. Look, I meant to owl you the balance yesterday but wasn't able to make it to the Owlery until after closing. I can give it to you now, though." Draco opened his register to retrieve the extra coins he'd set aside to send to Potter.

"Wait, Malfoy, no. I hoped it was enough is all. I meant to leave you extra, hoped I did. Because I liked them so much, you know? Why, is that not on? I didn't realize, if that offended you, I just meant to..." Harry shrugged. "I just liked them, okay?"

Draco stared at him. No one left him tips. No one. Potter was obviously having him on. "Seven hells, Potter, if you're fucking with me—"

Potter squawked and spun around, and only then did Draco spot a small, wide eyed, purple and white haired boy standing behind Harry. Potter quickly put his hands over the boy's ears and glared at Malfoy.

Draco raised an eyebrow. "How was I to know you'd had a wizardlet, Potter?" Staring at the child, he realised the boy had to be at least five or six years old. Potter hadn't wasted any time, had he? Gods, why was it suddenly such a struggle to breathe, anyway?

Potter shook his head and removed his hands from the boy's head. "Malfoy, this is my godson, Teddy. He needs some good shoes."

Oh. A godson, then. Draco tried to ignore the fact that air rushed into his lungs easily again. Well, fine. He supposed Potter's godson was welcome in his shop, especially if it meant another customer. Merlin knew he couldn't take one of those for granted, even if the customer was a strange child with odd hair and a slightly runny nose.

"I want those!" The boy pointed at the display in the front window.

Oh for Salazar's sake, Draco thought as he followed the direction of the boy's finger. Of course he'd want the new pair, the pair that had just appeared from thin air—well, not exactly from thin air, but from his choice cuts of leather anyway. And of course they'd fit his feet perfectly, even though Draco's eyes told him it was impossible. And of course Potter again wanted to pay more than Draco asked for them.

His life simply could not get any stranger, Draco thought as he took a seat at his workbench after Potter had left.

And he supposed that was precisely why one Ms. Hermione Granger-Weasley opened the door to his shop not thirty seconds later, searching for a nice elegant ankle boot with a slightly impractical heel.

~oOo~

Three pieces of leather Draco left out that night, and three pairs of shoes he found the next morning: a sandal, a slingback with buckles, and one sharp pair of Oxfords.

Again, they disappeared as quickly as they'd come; each pair was purchased by noon that same day.

"Potter sent me," Longbottom explained with a shrug as he entered.

"Harry said they'd be best for my mum's aching toes," announced the Weaslette upon entering, as though challenging Draco to disagree.

"The wrackspurts," said Luna as she examined the slingback. "They prefer buckles." She paused and studied Draco, seeing him in that way of hers that made him feel naked, before finally catching his eye and smiling lightly. "He didn't say out loud, of course, but Harry wanted to ask me to tell you 'hello.' His own wrackspurts were quite atwitter, you see. Perhaps he could use a buckled shoe himself. Do make some, Draco Malfoy, for the sake of Harry's head?"

Draco'd been caught off guard by the wrackspurts, of course, but who wouldn't have been?

"I—um, all right," he'd agreed, as she grinned widely and left the shop, leaving coins in his hand that her own had kept warm.

Loony, he thought, quite a lot later that night, just as he finished laying out his newly purchased and cut leather. Eyeing the perfectly shiny silver buckle he set atop the gorgeous Swedish Short-snout, he shook his head. Bonkers, the both of us. Completely gone mad.

~oOo~

Harry came again the next day, bringing with him the first snowfall of the season. The cold wind slammed the shop door shut behind him as he slipped and slid across Draco's polished wooden floors.

After recovering his balance, Potter peeled off his gloves and pulled his woollen hat from his head, revealing a thatch of hair that stuck up in angles Draco didn't know existed. Static cling, Draco guessed. And general follicular mismanagement, of course.

Potter blinked at him. "Um, hey, Malfoy."

He sounded almost friendly and Draco wasn't sure what to do with that. Frankly, the little pinch he felt when Potter walked in was unnerving enough. He adopted a cool, professional demeanour; that was generally a safe choice. "May I help you?" Draco flicked a quick drying spell at the puddle of wet snow melting at Potter's feet and then watched as Harry loosened the scarf around his neck.

"Shoes," Potter said, stepping forward and slipping again on the smooth flooring. He grasped at the closest display and attempted to remain upright as his feet slid this way and that. "Well, boots, more precisely," he added.

Such drama, Draco thought, flicking another charm at Harry's feet to stop the flailing. Did the git not believe in adequate tread?

Harry looked grateful. "Er, thanks."

Draco nodded once, wondering when such gracelessness had become endearing. He bit back a smile.

"Right, well, boots. With lots of traction for the winter. And warm, too. My feet are always cold." Potter looked down at the worn footwear he currently sported.

"Probably because they're soaking wet."

Potter looked up and shrugged. "Probably." He hesitated. "I'd have worn the pair I got here, but I was afraid I'd ruin them in this weather."

"You don't have to justify your choice of footwear to me, Potter," Draco said, even though many of Potter's fashion choices were questionable at best. Salazar, if Draco had funds like Potter had, there's no way he'd wear such ill-fitting trousers. "Regardless, a simple waterproofing charm will work wonders. Well, lucky for you, I do have boots. The tread should suit you well in the coming months. Keep you from landing your arse in a snow bank. Have a seat and I'll bring them to you."

Draco pulled a nice pair of men's boots from a nearby display. He had made them himself a few weeks back, prior to the time when his shoes had started making themselves.

But Potter's face fell slightly when he saw them, though he quickly recovered and tried to hide the flash of disappointment.

Draco glanced at the boots. "Let me guess, you were hoping for ones with bu—"

"Do you have any with buckles, by any chance?" Potter interrupted. "Luna said I'd want buckles."

Of course she had. "Sure, Potter. A buckle to help that ridiculous head of yours."

"Will it help my head too? Luna said buying buckled boots would be good for my heart." Potter frowned. "Not that I think there's anything wrong with it, but best not to take any chances, right?"

Well, Draco couldn't exactly disagree, as he'd adopted the same as his own motto when he had decided that staying alive was important to him. He went to retrieve the silver buckled pair that had appeared on his workbench that morning. "Better?" he asked, holding them out for Potter to inspect. "Merlin knows I wouldn't want to be responsible for breaking Potter's heart."

Harry's eyes shot up to meet Draco's, who immediately flushed a deep red. "That's not what I meant—"

Potter grinned. "It's fine, Malfoy. Those boots look great. Comfortable. And if you made them, I'm sure they're very stylish."

Draco carefully regarded Potter for hints that Harry was mocking him. He had so little to spend on clothing these days, but he'd always taken pride in his attire, dressing as smartly—if no longer quite so elegantly—and using a fair number of complicated spells and potions to keep the threads tight and weaves unworn. He sometimes wondered if he was actually fooling anyone. But Potter seemed genuine. "Yes, well, I try," Draco finally replied. "Now, take off those horrid trainers and let's try these on, shall we?"

Potter bent to unfasten his laces and slip off the old shoes. His socks were soaked, grey and sad looking, and clung to his feet.

"Gods, Potter," Draco muttered, aiming another spell at Harry's toes. A split second later, the cotton was once again fluffy, white and nicely dried.

"The frequency with which you are levelling spells at my feet is slightly alarming," Potter said, his eyes crinkling into a smile.

"Yes, well, I must say, your blocking skills have got decidedly slower in your old age," Draco pointed out.

"I wasn't trying to—Hey! We're the same age. I'm not old. Gods, we're not yet nearing thirty!"

Draco just smiled as he knelt and helped Potter slip his now warm, dry foot into the new boot. He felt a bit warm again himself.

"Don't you need to measure to get the right size?" Potter asked, and Draco found himself studying Harry's mouth, noting how his lips were quite chapped. Draco wondered if he should offer him a bit of salve.

No, he decided, Potter was a paying customer, not some mate over for tea. Turning back to the boots, Draco focused on the task at hand. "They'll fit," Draco assured him. "Somehow, they always fit," he mumbled. Even Potter's long feet.

Sure enough, the boot slipped right on.

Potter reached for the buckle at the same time as Draco did, their fingers brushing. Potter's hands were still reddened and cold from the outdoors. Draco nudged Potter's away. "I've got it," he said. It was his job after all, wasn't it?

The other boot was next, and Potter merely watched as Draco slipped it over his heel and buckled it after. Draco sat back then as Potter stood and took a few steps. Potter looked pleased with himself. "They look all right, don't they?" His smile broadened. "I love them," Harry said, glancing at Draco. "It's like walking on clouds. Or kittens. Not that I walk on kittens. Though I did step on McGonagall once by accident." He snorted. "I think she wanted to give me detention but I was twenty-two by then."

Draco couldn't help but smile slightly in response. "No kittens in the boots, Potter. I assure you. But there is a special lining coated in a potion I developed last year. Helps soften the impact of each step and makes everything inside seem especially soft."

Potter nodded. "It's great. You should apply for a patent."

"I could, but of course they wouldn't give it to me," Draco said firmly, unwilling to let Harry's optimism cloud his judgement regarding the heavy politics surrounding the ministry patent office. "So I'll keep it as my secret instead, thank you. Now, back to the boots—they're fully waterproofed, of course, as well as snow, slush, puddle, lake, and fountain-proofed. They're made of certified free range, hand-cut Ironbelly, and the laces were grown sustainably north of York and sung to in the light of the quarter moon, as is their preference. I've also maximized the Steady Treading coating to minimize slippage, and—"

"I'll take them," Potter said, admiring the look in Draco's mirror.

Draco had to admit they looked good on Potter, the leather tight around his muscular calves. Draco swallowed. Took excellent craftsmanship to make Potter look that good, he told himself.

Harry caught Draco's eyes in the mirror; Draco found he had trouble looking away.

Something buzzed then, though, and Potter grimaced as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small vibrating box. "Sorry, Malfoy, I have to run."

"Of course." Draco forced a polite smile. "Did you want the boots? I can have them owled to you."

"I'll just wear them," he said, flustered, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a handful of Galleons. "You didn't say how much..."

He handed the coins to Draco, glanced at the pile and then added a second handful. "Is that enough?" he asked, eyebrows furrowed, and clearly in a rush.

Draco, meanwhile, nearly choked. "More than," he nearly squeaked. "Here, wait." He tried to hand Potter back at least a portion of the exorbitant sum. "Wouldn't want you to overpay again."

"Keep it," Potter told him, heading for the door. "I want you to. I really do have to go, though," he added as he wrapped his scarf around his neck and pulled his hat over his head.

I'm not your charity case, Draco thought as he watched Potter's chaotic attempt at redressing himself.

Potter reached for the door but stopped short before opening it. Turning back, he looked at Draco. "Bye, Malfoy. Thanks." He flashed a quick grin and was gone in a bluster of wind and snow and December.

Draco was left nodding, staring dumbly at the spot where Harry'd stood moments before, wondering whether he'd rather thank or clobber this grown up Harry Potter, or, thinking of those chapped lips, maybe do something else entirely.

~oOo~

No matter how many pieces of leather Draco left on his workbench each night, he returned to find shoes to match in the morning.

And the same number of customers always came calling that very day.

Magic, thought Draco. Of a type he couldn't conjure with a wand or potion or charm.

He was leaving seven, eight, even nine sets of Irontail or Ridgeback or Green belly on his table each night, for with every sale he could purchase even more supplies.

And his hands! Salazar, his fingers! They were no longer destroyed from stitching and stretching, no longer raw and cracked, full of scrapes and cuts and needle pricks and callouses. Well, he still had the callouses, but that was all right. He'd discovered through the years that a man required a few, or it was evidence that his life required more effort.

His stomach, too, was becoming less concave, as were his cheeks, thanks to heartier meals. He stuffed himself some days, filling the hollowness that his belly had known for years.

Somehow, though, he'd still never made it for that pint. Unnecessary extravagance, that. Who knew when the shoes would stop appearing or the customers would stop buying and return to disregarding him and his wares?

Nerves weren't the reason that kept him from going in, not at all.

Which was why, later that evening, cold in the frigid winter winds, he stood outside the little pub even longer than normal, with what certainly felt like a small surplus of coins heavy in his pocket.

He very nearly went in that time. Almost.

But, who knew what the future held for him? And if the next morning brought more mysterious shoes and subsequent sales, well, maybe tomorrow would be a better day to get that pint. More responsible, that was for certain. And so, instead of stepping into the warmth emanating from behind that heavy wooden door into that cheery little pub with the windowsills decorated with evergreen and candles and rich velvet bows, he went home to his small empty rooms and his cold, hard workbench, and toiled long into the night, cutting the leather in hopes that magic, again, would find him as he slept.

~oOo~

Potter came by for a third pair of shoes not four days later.

He left with them, of course, and left Draco with far too many Galleons and toothy smiles in the process. Draco return owled a few of the former to Potter, but could think of no way to send back the latter.

The fourth time Potter came by, Draco was confused; that morning he'd woken to find plenty of shoes, but they'd all been for witches. Most had already been purchased by the group of Ravenclaw women intent on finding new heels for their various holiday gatherings. In fact, by the time Potter walked in, there was only one pair left. And, Draco thought, glancing at the sparkly pump with the stiletto heel and satin bow, unless Harry had a bit of an unconventional personal life, Potter'd be unlikely to want them.

As it turned out, Potter wasn't after shoes at all, but a drink at the pub, with Draco, instead. He'd asked, his green eyes bright and hopeful.

For the first time, Potter had to leave Draco's shop disappointed. Because Draco couldn't. He couldn't! Not when it was this close to the holidays and customers kept coming and he was using every spare moment cutting all the leather he could. Needed to take advantage of extra shoppers and the Christmas cheer or holiday psychosis that had them offering Draco Galleon after Galleon.

After Christmas maybe he'd find time fora pint—with Potter or without—he told himself as Harry left, his cheeks slightly pink and his jaw tense after Draco had turned him down without explanation.

Because how could Draco explain that it was mostly because he was scared? Scared to change a thing when every morning he woke to a mysterious gift, and that was not something he took lightly. It wasn't as though good fortune fell into his lap often. He couldn't explain the shoes but he was afraid they'd stop appearing if he altered even the tiniest thing, and a drink with Potter—that wasn't insignificant in the least. Even more, Draco feared Potter himself, because Harry was dangerous, making him feel certain things, and hope for others, all the while customer after customer entered his shop because of Potter's recommendations.

~oOo~

After the eleventh day, Draco opened his pantry to find it stocked. He wasn't sure how it happened, a natural cumulation of supplies added daily, he supposed.

On the twelfth day, Draco realised he'd saved enough to order supplies in bulk, saving further Galleons.

On the thirteenth, Draco had fully restocked his potions supplies and had enough potions brewing to replenish his medicine cabinet, as well as ensure plenty of tinctures and brews for his work.

The fourteenth, Draco went shopping. Not for shoe leathers or laces, but for clothes for himself: a new jumper to replace his threadbare one and two pairs of trousers. He added some nice, thick socks as well, and several pairs of pants—the former offering comfort against the winter chill. As for the latter, well, a pair of nicely fitting underpants would give any man a right boost.

People generally ignored him as he shopped, busy with their own errands, but he received one tentative smile from a Hufflepuff teen who'd purchased girl's flats from him a few days prior. It surprised him, and it took him a moment to return the sentiment, but he did, smiling genuinely back at the girl.

Rather Hufflepuff of him, he decided.

As he walked home, he passed the pub yet again. He didn't go in, but on the fifteenth day, he owled Potter.

~oOo~

Standing in a pile of grey slush outside of the pub, Draco was seemingly unable to take the final few steps to reach the door. He had half a mind to turn around and return home.

Potter would be inside, waiting for him.

But then...

Home. Home was better. He could work, after all. Should work. And Potter would get over it. Merlin knew why he'd asked Draco anyway.

Draco turned to leave when a gust of wind came up behind him, pushing him forward instead, causing him to step in a large slushy puddle. Bugger.

He sighed. This was not going well. He really should just go.

"Malfoy!"

Draco stopped short. Double bugger.

"Malfoy," Harry said again, coming up behind him, his breaths puffs of white in the cold air. "Sorry I'm a few minutes late. Ready to go in? I could use a pint." He flashed a goofy sort of smile at Draco.

Draco nodded dumbly and let Harry lead him forwards. "Right. Sure. A pint."

Harry held the heavy wooden door open for him and Draco could smell the spice and hops emerging from within. So too, the low buzz of chatter reached his ears, a myriad of voices, overlapping words and phrases forming a conversation he wasn't yet a part of. But maybe he could be.

He looked at Potter, who was breathing into his hands, warming them.

Maybe...

Draco stepped inside and looked around. An older wizard behind the bar filled glasses with a practised ease. Another poured a round of fresh drinks to a group of young friends. One balding wizard with a hooked nose sat alone at the bar, chattering with either himself or...well, no, definitely to himself; there really was no one else around.

The wooden floors were worn beneath his feet and the tables had lost a great deal of their shine, but it was friendly enough. Candles flickered, bathing the room with a soft light, and yes, there was a bit of greenery even, tucked into corners and ornamented with sprigs of berries or red velvet bows.

He relaxed his shoulders and nodded at Potter, who began to lead them through the maze of patrons. He could do this. It was comfortable. Not too bad at all. He might even be able to fit in here. Yes, surely he could come back again instead of waiting out in the cold and wondering. Everyone was minding their own business, not paying him any mind or—

"Bloody Death Eater scum."

Draco felt, rather than heard, the room go silent.

His eyes flicked around the room as Harry jostled to step in front of him. "Who said that?" Potter hissed, immediately on the offensive.

"Well look at that; Harry Potter, defending the Malfoy spawn," a red-faced wizard spat, his eyes as glassy as the empty pint glasses sitting before him. "Like the pretty little Death Eater was worth savin'. Never thought I'd see the day."

Potter growled and reached for his wand, but Draco grabbed his coat and held him back. "Don't. It's not worth it," Draco warned. "I'll just go."

Wresting himself free from Draco's grasp, Potter stepped forwards until he reached the man's side. "Were you perfect at fifteen, then?" Harry asked. "In the middle of a fucking war, would you have left your family? You think you—"

"Potter, enough!" Draco said, but Harry simply ignored him in favour of his ranting. Draco tried again to get Harry to stop, but failing once more, he turned and headed briskly for the door. He didn't want to cause trouble; he'd just end up in the papers and lose the small stream of business that had started coming his way. No, he had to go. It just wasn't worth it.

The bartender's nod was surprisingly kind but Draco barely saw it as he headed outside and back into the cold December night.

Who was he trying to fool anyway? He retied his scarf as he walked quickly around the corner of the next street and, after taking a moment to compose himself under the silent stars, he Apparated back home where he belonged, ignoring the faint crunch of snow and gravel that indicated Harry might have been coming after him.

~oOo~

The knock sounded just as Draco's wards warned him that someone was at his front door.

"Not now, Potter," Draco called from his work area where he sat with his tea and a stretch of leather, trying to to decide whether he trusted his shaking hands with sharp tools.

"C'mon, please?" Potter asked anyway.

"We're closed. Please come back in the morning."

Potter simply knocked again. "Please, Draco."

Draco stiffened at Potter's use of his name. "Why?" Draco went to the door, not to open it, but because yelling from across the room was entirely uncivilized.

"Because it's cold out?"

"You didn't listen to me. People like that aren't worth the trouble," Draco said firmly.

"You mean you're not worth it."

"No, I mean they aren't, Potter. It only makes it worse, arguing. Gives them what they want. Salazar, I don't need you to try to protect me either. I'm perfectly capable of handling matters on my own," Draco insisted.

And he was. He didn't need Potter or Potter's Galleons when the git overpaid each time. Didn't need Potter trying to buy him a drink. And most of all, he didn't need Potter's pity.

"Will you please open the door?" Potter asked quietly.

Sighing, Draco gave in and unlocked the bolt. "Fine. What do you want?"

"Can I come in?" Harry simply asked with a half smile as he ignored every one of Draco's blatant social cues to the contrary.

Draco studied him for a moment before finally nodding and stepping back so Potter could push past.

"Potter, look; I appreciate that you keep sending people here to buy shoes, recommending my work. That's great, really. Can't thank you enough." Draco swallowed. "But you've done enough now. And you can't fix the world by giving me too large a tip or by telling off some hateful prick in a pub."

Potter just ignored him, though, instead meandering through various shoe displays before finally heading towards the door that led into Draco's workshop. "May I?" Potter asked.

Draco huffed in frustration. Potter was maddening. "Would it matter if I said no?"

"Probably not," Potter grinned, then pushed open the door.

Following a few steps behind, Draco watched Harry take in the various tools, machines, and other shoe-making paraphernalia. Potter ran his finger over the edge of the worn wooden workbench before finally wandering over to the far door that opened into Draco's tiny living space. Luckily, Draco'd shut that particular door earlier, and Harry could keep his prying eyes to himself. "No, that's my house and I'll thank you not to enter."

Potter frowned. "Then where will we get glasses?" he asked, reaching into his bag and pulling out a bottle of Blishen's Firewhiskey.

"Oh for Merlin's sake." Shaking his head, Draco moved to block the door.

"Look, it's not a fresh pint at the pub, but I thought we could still sit and have a drink."

"It's not...Potter, just—No. Okay?

"I don't care if it's messy, if that's the problem," Potter insisted, reaching for the doorknob.

"Bloody hell. I'm not messy!" Draco denied hotly, batting Harry's hand away. "It's small, okay? I don't have—there's nowhere to—Look, I don't have company often, so I don't need—"

"You know I grew up in a cupboard, right?"

"Look, why don't you just go—Wait. That was true?" Draco had always assumed that was just rumour, Potter's tragic beginnings. He hesitated. Was he actually considering letting Potter in?

"Yeah. Nice, huh? So, c'mon then. You have glasses? If not we'll just have to pass the bottle back and forth, and I haven't done that since I was seventeen and hiding from Ron's mum."

"I have glasses, Potter, but—"

"Gods, Malfoy, you're as stubborn as ever."

"Me?" Draco squawked. "You're the one who—"

"Look, are we going to go in or not?"

Bloody hell, were Potter's eyes always so green? Folding his arms across his chest, Draco frowned. The door was shut solidly behind him and he liked it that way. But here Potter was, trying to see inside anyway.

Oh, fuck it all. In for a Knut...

"Fine."

Potter's eyes lit up and he reached for the doorknob at Draco's side. Draco found himself unable to breathe when he realised how close Potter was as a result, Potter's hand right at his waist.

Everything seemed to be moving far more slowly than normal, the air heavy. "Wait...Potter..."

Potter met, and held, his gaze and Draco's knees felt a bit funny. He tried to clear his throat but couldn't quite even manage that.

"You know what?" Potter asked then, breaking the silence and quirking his lips into a smile. "Let's just have a drink, okay?" He lifted the whisky bottle.

"Right. Yeah. Okay," Draco found himself agreeing. Turning and opening the door and showing Potter in, he let out a deep breath. "It's not..."

"Not the Manor? Thank Merlin for that!" Harry said, looking around. "It's great. Brilliant."

Cringing, Draco surveyed the barren room with his sparse furnishings and absent décor. "You can have the chair, if you want. I'll just get some glasses." He took Potter's coat and gestured for him to take the seat at the small table. He headed to the cabinet above his sink, hoping that he could find two matching little glasses. When he turned back to the table, though, Harry wasn't there. Instead, he found Potter sitting on the floor, leaning up against the wall closest to Draco's Floo, a merry fire already sparking and crackling in the hearth.

Gods, he didn't even have a proper place to seat Potter. Well, it was Potter's fault to begin with, coming over unannounced. Handing the glasses to Harry, Draco went to find two small cushions, and after giving the better one to Harry, he sat down nearby, accepting gratefully the glass handed to him in return.

"Cheers." Potter lifted his own.

"Yeah, cheers." Draco took a tentative sip while trying to appear confident. The spicy drink heated his throat and all the way down to his stomach. He tried not to cough; he'd forgotten that bit. Licking his lips lightly, he glanced up from the glass in his hands to find Potter watching him. His stomach grew warmer still as he looked back down, even though he hadn't yet had a second sip.

He couldn't think of a thing to say.

Potter...he lived in a different world than the one Draco knew; he always had. They had nothing in common—well, except that Harry was wearing the buckled boots he'd got from Draco, but Draco hardly wanted to discuss shoes. He glanced quickly at Harry, who was frowning slightly. Gods, Potter was probably regretting this already.

The silence wore on. Fuck it all, Draco had to say something.

"You can use Mister's Most Shining Elixir for your buckles—" he started saying, just as Harry opened his own mouth.

"Er, so I'm a poof."

"Keeps the metal nice and shin—wait, what?" Draco looked from Potter's boots to his face, which was slightly flushed.

"A poof. You think my buckles aren't shiny?"

"I think there are a few fingerprints, yes."

"Well, where would I—."

"Owl order it from Canada. They have the best elixirs, I've found. It's all the tundra. If you order on Tuesdays, they'll waive the Owl post fees."

"Thanks for the tip. Shiny is good."

"Yes, well, it's fine either way."

"Which? The fingerprints or the..."

"The..." Draco hesitated. "Because I am too."

"Fingerprinted?"

"Yeah."

"Yeah."

Harry went back to frowning and Draco studied the floor in between sips.

"You can call me Draco."

"You can call me Harry," Harry echoed.

"I rather prefer Speccy Git, if you don't mind."

"You don't have glasses," Harry teased.

"For you, you—"

"Poof?" Harry's green eyes danced.

Draco faltered. "You keep saying that."

"Emphasis, Draco," Potter said. "Wouldn't want you to forget."

"Thanks, Harry. I'll keep that in mind."

They smiled shyly at one another and Draco watched as Harry took a sip of the Firewhiskey, his throat bobbing as he swallowed. The low light made the shadows dance as he did so.

"I'll just... shall I?" Harry gestured vaguely at Draco.

Draco wasn't sure what Harry meant, but decided he was all right with finding out, so he nodded. Crawling towards him rather ungracefully, Harry came to a stop at his side.

He proceeded to refill Draco's glass.

And really, Draco's heart should not have sunk quite as much as it did. Merlin, what had he thought Harry had been about to do?

He couldn't take his eyes off Harry's lips, parted slightly as he poured. They weren't chapped any longer. That was good, though Draco could've recommended a good salve for that, too, though the best ones weren't from Canada, but New Zealand, thanks to the plethora of kangaroo tear extract. The Owl post costs would have been exorbitant, though, considering New Zealand didn't ship free on Tuesdays, except in August, and who needed lip balm in August anyway? Not him. And not Harry either, apparently, as his lips were no longer chapped at all, even in mid December. They were, however, still parted, and moist, a bit, from the drink, and Draco found that the effect was alarmingly attractive.

With Harry sitting so close, Draco's staring must have been obvious. He took another sip of his drink for something to do. He felt warm all over now and it didn't help that Harry's eyes were dark behind his glasses. The side of his foot rested against Potter's boot. It was—

"You could get contact lenses, too, from Canada," Draco offered, deciding it was better to speak instead of thinking about the press of Potter's foot. Besides, contact lenses were originally Muggle before wizards had improved on them, so he figured Harry might appreciate the suggestion.

"I like my glasses," Harry said, and Draco had to admit that he sort of did too. But then, he'd not seen Harry without his glasses, had he? So how did he know for sure? "May I?" he asked, "Your glasses?"

"Okay," Harry agreed, his voice low, his eyes following Draco's hands as he gently lifted them from Harry's face.

Studying Potter's features, Draco decided he looked quite vulnerable without the glasses. Very different, all nose and thick eyebrows. He didn't know if he liked it.

"Well?" Harry asked, reaching for the glasses, his hand uncertain until it landed on Draco's wrist and then slowly traced up along Draco's fingers until he reached the thick frames, which he retrieved from Draco's grip and placed back on his face.

Draco shrugged and found all of the things he actually thought regarding Harry's face refused to be said. "Contacts make your eyes tired anyway. You wouldn't want them."

"So you like my glasses?" Potter suggested with a smirk, elbowing Draco.

"Yes," Draco admitted grudgingly. "But you have serious issues with fingerprints. And very hard elbows."

"Part and parcel of being a poof."

Draco snorted inelegantly. "I hadn't forgotten."

The hour was late, and Draco was tired. But this drink with Potter, it wasn't bad. He wasn't sure he wanted it to end. His Firewhisky was gone though, and more would be a bad idea. Draco hadn't had as much as a Butterbeer in ages, and he already was feeling mellow and warm and slightly...not crisp. Decidedly uncrispy. Certainly not less than adequately crisped. Draco blinked his heavy eyelids. Well, not quite right, anyway.

Judging by the way Potter'd sort of half melted against the wall, he likely felt the same.

Harry chose that moment to set his own empty glass aside and stretch out until he lay curled on Draco's rug before the fire, the cushion tucked under his head. It was terribly undignified, and a bit forward, really, as Draco hadn't exactly invited Harry to have a nap on his floor. But then, Potter looked surprisingly comfortable, and Draco rather enjoyed the whole not being alone situation.

So he joined Potter on the floor. It was horribly unrefined; he hadn't done such a thing since he was a child, but it seemed to make sense just then, somehow.

"I can go," Potter said. "If you want." He studied Draco. "It's been a long day, and I guess I was tired. I mean, I probably shouldn't Apparate, but I can—"

Draco's words came out slowly. He must've been more tired than he originally realised. "It's fine. But, the floor, don't get—"

"Fingerprints?"

"Drool," Draco corrected. "Not on the floor, if you don't mind."

"I don't drool," Potter protested.

"Sure you do. You're a poof," he said, mostly because he'd found teasing Potter earned him smiles in return.

"Is that so? All poofs drool? Even you then?"

"Except me. I personally have no issues with excess saliva."

"Yeah? Use it all, do you?" Potter was grinning at him, Draco could tell, despite his face being half smushed into the cushion. Even that look was attractive on Potter.

"That's quite enough from you," Draco insisted. Where did Potter get his manners? Mocking one's host was not on.

But Potter just looked at him through sleepy eyes, reached over and touched his finger to Draco's face—causing Draco's breath to catch in his throat. Running the finger over the side of Draco's jaw before dropping his hand heavily against the floor, Potter mumbled, " 'M'tired," before scooting slightly closer and pulling off his glasses, setting them side.

Harry's breathing soon evened out and his features relaxed to become unguarded as he dozed. Draco realised that he'd been mistaken; Harry Potter was beautiful without glasses as well.

Draco cast a warming spell over them both before setting aside his wand. He supposed he wasn't exactly averse to a short nap.

~oOo~

When Draco next opened his eyes, it was either five minutes or a few hours later; he couldn't quite tell. But it was definitely still the middle of the night, and Harry Potter was even more definitely in the room with him.

"Sorry, I guess I fell asleep," Harry said rather needlessly, as he sat up and stretched. "I should go."

"All right," Draco said, gathering their glasses and sending them to the kitchen with a flick of his wand. He wasn't sure he wanted Potter to go, but sleeping on the floor was unlikely to do their backs any favours and as for the bed, he wasn't sure that was a good idea. Besides, Harry had only mentioned having a drink; hadn't said a word about after. And for all his talk of being a poof, Harry hadn't indicated he'd any particular interest in Draco. As for himself, Draco wasn't at all sure what he wanted, except, perhaps, to continue to sell shoes. He'd grown accustomed to eating sufficiently and didn't care to return to evenings spent with his stomach growling.

Retrieving Harry's coat and handing it to him, Draco watched him button it up. "Thanks for the drink, Potter."

"Harry."

"Right, Harry." Draco smiled tentatively as he led Harry to the door that led back out through the workroom. "Through here—"

Draco stopped short when he opened the door though, because in the workroom, there were—no, it couldn't be, it was impossible, but there they were anyway—

House elves.

The Malfoy house elves.

Six of them, right there around his workbench. Pinky, Trinket, Trilly, and Puck. Even Hatcher and little Batsy.

And they were...

Hard at work. Making shoes.

Draco stared as Trilly, ancient now, with her little hands that were best suited for stroking his hair as she sang him lullabies, struggled to cut thick leather. The others, labouring around her, sewed and stitched and stretched and bound in a flurry of soles and needles and laces.

"I—" Draco had no idea what to say. He glanced at Potter who was frowning.

Turning to him, Potter's eyes were cold. "I thought you'd changed."

"What?" Draco looked at him aghast. "Wait! I didn't ask—" The elves startled at the sound, first noticing Draco and Harry, and proceeded to start shrieking while running around the workbench, occasionally crashing into each other.

Harry frowned. "Right, Malfoy."

"But I didn't know! I had no idea—"

"Oh, sure, you just woke up every morning and thought shoes were just magically appearing on your workbench, did you?"

"Well, I..." Draco shrugged helplessly. "Yes?"

Harry shook his head. "I'll be going now."

Draco watched as Harry disappeared with a crack.

The elves Apparated away soon after, one by one, in a series of cracks, leaving behind no further explanation as to why they'd been there in the first place.

"Trilly?" Draco said softly as the last elf vanished. He'd so loved her comforting words when he was younger. It was embarrassing the way he yearned for them again now.

And Harry, why had he been so angry anyway, to see the Malfoy elves making a few shoes? He was a right prick assuming whatever he assumed about Draco, without even letting him explain, even if Draco couldn't exactly explain it all himself.

Draco looked around his deserted workroom. It was a mess now, filled with scattered bits of half-finished shoes, upended stools, spilled ink, torn leather, and, possibly, one slightly broken heart.

~oOo~

Draco couldn't sleep after that.

Tossing and turning in his bed, he eventually gave up, rose before dawn and returned to his workbench. He had no new shoes ready to put on display the next morning, so he set about finishing those that the house elves had started. By the time the sun rose, Draco's fingers had fallen into their usual rhythm of stitching, and he'd finished one pair completely and had started in on a second.

The work was therapeutic, the careful placement of each stitch. He hadn't realised how much he'd missed it, the feel of the raw material in his hands, the art and craftsmanship that went into each shoe, and the knowledge that his labouring would bring some witch or wizard a good deal of lasting comfort and style. Over the past fortnight he'd identified a few slight changes the house elves tended to make to his designs, and even adopted some of them himself, though he'd never prefer open lacing on men's dress shoes, never!

As he worked, Draco's mind wandered to the sudden appearance of the house elves—he refused to think of the idiot Potter—and he really couldn't fathom why they'd suddenly shown up after seven, nearly eight years had passed. Eventually, he decided they must have still been Malfoy elves, somehow still tied to the Malfoy name, no matter what the Ministry had done with them after the war.

He wondered if the elves knew that Lucius was gone and only came at night because they were afraid of Draco himself now, thinking Draco had followed in his father's footsteps even when it came to his cruelty. Or maybe the house elves didn't know that he was the lone remaining Malfoy and had only come at night fearing Lucius would once again claim them.

They were only house elves, but Draco knew what it was like to live under his father's thumb, especially through the years where the Dark Lord had squeezed every ounce of decency from Lucius' heart. And these house elves, they'd been abused, badly, and they'd seen their companions die beside them whenever the Dark Lord felt the need to assert his power over the weak and defenceless.

Draco had worked hard to regain his own independence since then, never again wanting to be a slave to another's whims. As for the elves, a part of him wished the same for them. It was crazy to think it—every pureblood he knew would think him mad, and he wasn't so sure they were entirely wrong—but perhaps he should grant the Malfoy elves the same freedom. Draco didn't need them, really, not in his tiny house, and certainly not all six of them. He wasn't even sure he should be responsible for feeding extra mouths. He'd dreamed at times of one day of acquiring a single elf to help around the house, but not these elves who only came to him because they were bound to Lucius' shadow.

Merlin, he certainly had enjoyed their help with the shoes—his fingers had healed and his stomach had been filled because of their aid—but part of him missed actually making the shoes himself.

That was a thought he'd never dreamed he'd have, yet, there it was.

Freeing the Malfoy elves would be easy enough. A bit of clothing as inconsequential as a tired old sock or a threadbare shirt would do. He didn't have much but even he could find something like that in his small wardrobe.

But then, perhaps instead—and truly, he'd officially gone 'round the bend now—well, perhaps he'd give them their freedom in a manner more befitting how much they'd helped him. Yes, he could do that. There'd be no worn socks for the Malfoy elves; instead, he'd make them each a little pair of shoes.

~oOo~

Christmas, Draco decided as he stitched by candlelight at his little wooden table. He could finish them by Christmas, the six little pairs of shoes. If he hurried, they'd be ready just in time, and he'd give them to the elves then, in little packages. Perhaps he could even find bits of ribbon for bows. Trilly had always liked bows.

It wouldn't be easy, he had only a few days, and he'd left the workshop and most of his tools to the house elves who continued to appear night after night as long as Draco stayed out of the way.

He could at least try.

Draco hadn't known whether the house elves would come back again at all, but he'd left cut leather for them in the hopes that they would. And return they had, night after night. Draco kept out of the workshop, didn't enter during the long night hours. Instead, during the day, between handling customers, he designed special shoes for peculiar house elf feet.

While Potter never returned, other customers did, and he suspected those customers sent others because business was steady throughout the day. People came with small smiles and Galleons and left happy with their purchases. The Falmouth Falcons even contacted him about possibly making new boots for their Quidditch players come the new year, though nothing was yet put on parchment.

And more than one former customer smiled at him outside of his shop, too, which Draco enjoyed, even if he assumed it meant they were under a little too much holiday stress, smiling at a former Death Eater in the middle of broad daylight like that.

Regardless, Draco found himself far too busy to accomplish much during the day, so he worked on the special shoes long into the night.

His actions weren't entirely selfless, he knew. Because keeping busy helped him from thinking of...kept him from imagining...well, kept his mind off anything but shoes and house elves and maybe Christmas, because Christmas was everywhere by that time of year.

No matter how tired he was when he finally went to bed, however, the moment Draco closed his eyes, he saw Potter's green eyes and stupid smile, and that hurt worse than any accidental needle poke caused by exhausted eyes. So he worked in his kitchen until his cramped hands would work no more, until about the time when the sun threatened to appear in the east. Only then would he give in and go to bed and try not to think about things he'd dared to hope for. He thought of them anyway though—those few days when hoping seemed reasonable and life seemed fair and his future seemed as though it could be even a little bit better than good.

~oOo~

When Draco went to bed on Christmas Eve, he left, on his workbench, six little boxes tied with six tiny ribbons, each with a small name card attached.

The next morning, when he opened his eyes and made his way to his workbench, he found he wasn't alone. Trilly, with her pink checked apron and eyes as buggy as he remembered, was waiting for him, perched on his stool and humming what sounded like an off-key Wizarding Christmas carol.

"We is wanting to be thanking you for the gifts," Trilly explained, hopping down from her seat. "Puck and Trinket and Batsy and all of us is wanting me to be thanking you for the shoes." Trilly was practically glowing, she was so happy as she admired her new shoes, which were on the wrong feet, but then, her apron was also upside down and inside out, so maybe wrong to her had seemed just right.

He was glad she liked them—he'd made hers with especially nice silver buckles. He remembered that she'd always liked shiny things. He'd used the special elixir on the silver, of course; didn't want her having to polish her own shoes. Although, now that he thought about it, that might have been fun for a house elf. It was hard to tell.

Trilly's smile was ear to ear though, so he decided he'd done all right. "Happy Christmas, Trilly."

"Happy Christmas, yes! We is wishing you happy Christmases too." Trilly beamed up at him. "And now, I is singing you a Happy Christmas song that you is liking."

"Uh, okay. Thanks, Trilly." It wasn't like he had somewhere else to be, so Draco sat down on his stool and listened as Trilly held his hand and sang a rather warbly version of Jingle Spells. It was just like he remembered.

"So what do you think you'll do now that you're free?" Draco asked when she'd finished.

Trilly just laughed. "We was already being free!"

"You...what?"

"We is house elves for Hogwarts. We is working hard there! Trilly is feeding the children and Pinky is to be dusting and Hatcher is even sometimes helping in the gardens. But we is free elves." Trilly looked delighted at this, which Draco knew had to be unusual for house elves, but then, most house elves hadn't worked in the home where the Dark Lord had taken up residence.

"Then why were you helping me?"

"Little Draco Malfoy, you is not being so little any longer, but we is watching you grow up and watching you make shoes. But Trilly is overhearing Headmistress that you is needing help! So Trilly is telling Pinky and the others to come after the other childrens are in bed. And we is helping you make shoes. We is very careful not to break anything. And we is sewing and stitching for you."

Draco didn't know what to say. "I...you came because you wanted to help? After everything that they...? Thank you, Trilly. I don't...just...thanks."

Trilly came over and patted his knee. "You was being a boy. You was a naughty boy who was pulling Trinket's ears and chasing Batsy into the fountains, but you was being a boy. Master Lucius, he was being a man who was being a boy. Trilly was not liking that at all. But we is not to be fearing him any longer; we is free elves."

"Indeed." Draco was at a loss. "Well, thanks. For coming anyway."

"Can we be coming back to help you sometimes?" she asked eagerly. "We is wanting to, sometimes. And we is good shoemakers."

"Uh, sure. Of course. If you want. That'd be...fine. Thank you."

"Trilly is being an old elf now, though. Trilly's hands is hurting sometimes, from the cutting and stitching. Trilly is being good at cleaning though, can Trilly be doing that instead for you? The house is needing Trilly to be dusting."

Draco smiled. "All right. But only if you sing for me too, sometimes."

Trilly smiled gently and took his hand. "Trilly is already singing to you every night, little Draco. You is just not being awake to hear her." Before he could ask her about the elf magic they'd been using to get the shoes to fit perfectly, she squeezed his hand briefly. "Happy Christmas," she said once more and quickly Apparated away with a pop.

She was, of course, completely free to do so.

~oOo~

Later that day Draco took a walk through the nearby streets.

He passed a few Muggle churches where bells rang out, and sometimes, there were people singing. It was pretty, Draco decided, and he stopped to listen to bits of the ceremonies.

He liked the singing better than the storytelling. He kept hearing a tale of some newborn baby being put in a trough for goats, and why goats would want to eat an infant, he'd never guess. And he snorted aloud when he heard the bit about the three magi who brought the baby spices. Merlin, the silly Muggles; they'd never figured it out that mixing the Frankincense with the Myrrh counter-clockwise in a pot of heated milk during the month of the winter solstice would keep the baby from getting colic.

The shops he passed were all dark for the holiday and the park was abandoned as well, the day icy and the sky grey. He sat on a park bench for a little while anyway, until eventually his fingers got cold despite his warming charms. It was then that he, too, decided to head home. On his way, he plucked a sprig of berries from a bush he passed before he left the park and snagged a small branch from a pine tree along the block before he reached his own.

A little sentimentality seemed appropriate at Christmas, even for him, he thought as he walked along. He sniffed the pine branch, inhaling the woodsy, earthy scent. They'd always had a tree for the holidays when he was little, and Hogwarts had always been covered in decorations through the month of December.

When he got home, he put them on his little table and set about making his dinner. It wasn't nearly the feast that almost everyone else was enjoying that day, but it was a bit better than he'd done in recent years. At least it wasn't his normal stew thankfully, and the day before he'd purchased two little Christmas cookies for afters from the little bakery down the street. No one in the shop had glared and turned him away because Death Eaters didn't deserve sweets.

It was good Draco had been recently reminded about the folly of hope, or he'd have been tempted to be a bit full of it.

~oOo~

Draco sat back in his chair and put his hand on his belly, sticking his stomach out as far as he could. Still flat as flat could be. Perhaps by next year, if he kept eating so well, he'd have a little bump to show for it.

He flicked his wand a few times, and the kitchen started cleaning itself accordingly. Once that was done, he wandered over to his fireplace and stared at the fire burning. On a whim, he found himself Summoning a cushion and curling up with it on the floor.

It wasn't very comfortable and he didn't enjoy it half so much as he remembered. He felt a bit silly too, so he sat up again. He wondered how many shoes he'd need to sell before he could justify purchasing some Firewhiskey. The whisky was why he'd so enjoyed lying there and watching the fire last time, even if Potter had been blocking his line of vision at the time.

Draco sighed. This was the best Christmas he'd had in years. He'd taken a nice walk and heard a choir sing, and his house smelled like pine. He hadn't worked at all, having taken the full day off, and he'd even had Trilly sing to him, like when he was little. And Merlin knew his stomach was nice and full.

Still, there was something—

A sound caught his attention, breaking his train of thought. Draco tilted his head toward the door of his workshop. Was someone knocking? He must've forgotten to set his wards after arriving home.

Except...everything was closed for Christmas. Surely no one was wanting to buy shoes at this hour. Trilly and the other house elves simply Apparated in and out, and he never had any other visitors.

Well, except for one.

Draco swallowed and held his breath, listening.

There it was. Another knock.

Slowly, very slowly, Draco got to his feet, and then forced himself to walk leisurely through his workshop and out to his shop front. He kept his eyes on the ground the entire way, refusing to look up. He didn't want to look through the glass display to see who was at the door.

Not just yet.

Because every moment he didn't look meant another moment the curl of heat in his belly could grow, hope filling places that he didn't know had space left to fill.

He wanted it to be Potter. He was furious with the git, of course, for not listening and assuming some terrible behaviour on Draco's part. But he wanted it to be Harry anyway. And he was afraid to look up and have those hopes dashed.

When he reached the front door, Draco still refused to look up.

The knock sounded again. Gentler, unhurried.

"Let me in?"

Draco couldn't help it, his eyes blurred when he heard the voice. As he stood there, he found himself grasping the door frame for support. Since when did Draco Malfoy ever get what he hoped for? But the voice... it had been...

"Please?"

Draco nodded and unlocked the door, opening it slowly. Not looking up, not looking up.

A pair of dark grey boots with shiny silver buckles stepped into his frame of vision. They were full of slush and dirt but Draco wanted them right there on his clean shop floor anyway.

"Draco, I'm sorry. I thought you were—oh, it doesn't matter what I thought—I was wrong, and I should've let you explain."

Draco nodded again and cleared his throat. "Yes. You should have."

"McGonagall told me, when I stopped by Hogwarts this afternoon to wish her a Happy—well, anyway, she told me what you'd tried to do, and I'd realised what an arse I'd been, thinking you'd somehow forced them to work double shifts or something while taking all the credit—I don't know. It doesn't—look, I'm sorry, Draco. Gods, I'm terrible at apologising."

Frowning, Draco finally looked up, meeting Harry's green eyes. "I haven't done anything wrong in about seven years, Potter. And trust me, it's been tempting, every time someone turns me away or spits when I walk by. But I haven't, and yet, no one ever believes I've changed."

"That's not true. I believe it. I do! I just...I don't know. I was an idiot. I don't know what I was thinking. But I'm not the only one, either. McGonagall, she knows, and so do your house elves, and other people, they're catching on too. Neville said the other day that you'd seemed different, when he came by. I think we've all grown up, or are working on it, and we're all changing. I'm still terrible about not thinking before I act and I'll probably never remember to get the wrinkles out of my robes, but I'm trying. And people will start to see you have too."

"Perhaps. Well, then, apology accepted, Potter. You can shut the door on your way out." Draco turned away, certain that Potter had simply wanted to get that off his chest so he could enjoy the rest of his hols guilt-free.

"I...oh. Okay. Right, then."

Draco heard the door open, but when it didn't shut afterwards, he turned. Potter stood there, biting his lip. "I just wanted to...Happy Christmas."

Draco let out a deep breath. "Happy Christmas."

"Right. Er, okay, I guess I'll just be—" Potter frowned. "Wait, we're mates now, yeah?"

"I suppose, yes."

Harry stepped back inside, quickly shutting the door and heading over to where Draco stood. "Good," he said, wrapping him in a tight hug. "Happy Christmas, Draco," he murmured.

"Happy Christmas, Harry," Draco said quietly.

Potter didn't let go, so when he felt Potter's breath soft against his neck, he turned slightly. The warmth was intoxicating.

Harry's cheeks were flushed and his green eyes bright. And his lips...well...they were chapped again, raw and red.

Draco kissed them anyway.

And Harry kissed him back.