Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): None
Epilogue compliant? Disregards epilogue, takes place during 8th year at Hogwarts.
Word Count: 21,000 (I'm so sorry)
Author's Notes: No official warnings apply. This fic is meant to be a little bit light and fluffy—humorous, even. Nevertheless, I must warn that it's cursed. Proceed with caution.
Many thanks to the mods for giving us all another excuse to make these boys smooch, and for putting up with me (omg, seriously, thank you so much), and to my v…the heart of my hearts, the spade that dug a shallow grave for my sanity, the club with which we used to beat this f**ker into submission…I'm sure there's something sweet I can say about diamonds, too, but clearly, I'm not playing with a full deck anyway.


"This is absurd," Draco says to no one in particular, his own complaint drowned out by the tidal wave of murmured objections sweeping across the classroom. He's consumed by the overwhelming urge to storm out, demand to be excused from such a preposterous assignment. He is, after all, of legal age, and perfectly capable of leaving Hogwarts altogether should he so desire, forfeiting the useless joke of a degree he would receive upon completion of his N.E.W.T.s.

Though there is, of course, the small matter of the stipulations of his freedom set forth by the Ministry. So long as Draco finishes his schooling at Hogwarts, he won't be tried as an adult for his part in the war, and his marks will directly influence any level of probation he may be sentenced to.

As if that isn't enough incentive, guilt twists its way into his thoughts as, suddenly, his mother's pleading words echo off the edges of his consciousness. There are many struggles ahead for us, Draco. You and I, we must stand on our own. Prove that we aren't the monsters they think we are…Your father would be so proud of you– Her words had been cut off by a stifled sob before she excused herself from the room.

Draco isn't sure if anything he would ever do in life would have made his father proud, but finishing his education and rising above the stereotypical label that had been placed on him during the war was, as his mother had so adamantly insisted, crucial to the future of the Malfoy name.

This is important to both of them, so, as ridiculous as the project sounds, Draco will just have to bear with it.

Perish the thought of having to share a dormitory with any other student, let alone one of the ranks in this N.E.W.T. level Wizarding Relations class. Draco is perfectly happy in his familiar dormitory in the dungeons, especially now that such a large number of students in his year chose not to return after the war. Finally, after years of sharing sleeping space with five other boys, Draco has the entire room to himself save for one seldom occupied bed belonging to Theodore Nott. And now...

His eyes narrow even farther in disgust as he watches the professor at the front of the class. She swishes her wand over the top of a hat, charmed to contain the names of each student.

"Are you sure it's a good idea to pair off students in this class," someone calls from the back of the room. Draco doesn't turn to see who it is. He's certain it's some bloody Gryffindor trying to play the part of makeshift hero and dissuade the professor from pairing his housemates up with thedreaded remainingSlytherins.

It's then, at that very moment that Draco decides to go about this project from an entirely different angle than his first instincts had been directing him. How hard could it be, after all? Yes, he'll have to share sleeping quarters with some flowery-smelling girl, but at least they tend to be tidier than the blokes. Certainly he could survive three short months in a situation such as that. Merlin knows he's spent much longer stretches of time living in the presence of every foul follower of You-Know-Who, and, not that he has any basis for comparison, but he assumes that must be more terrifying than sharing breathing space with some Gryffindor girl.

But, Draco thinks, startled by his own traitorous imagination, what if he happens to be paired off with Granger? Surely the universe wouldn't be so cruel as to assign either of them to a sentence of death so shortly after the war. They would absolutely kill each other before the end of the first day.

Scanning the room and estimating the number of students in the course (all of the returning eighth years), he quickly calculates the odds and breathes a sigh of relief. It isn't likely they'll be paired together. Possible, yes, but not likely. Draco assiduously pushes that thought aside, determined to be an adult and accept his fate no matter what it may be.

That is, until the professor begins reading off the partners for the term. Draco's resolve is shattered when he hears the name called after his. His ears are ringing, and it isn't entirely due to the laughter and cheering that spreads like wildfire across the classroom. The last thing he remembers hearing over the sound of his own blood pounding through his veins is the voice of someone to his left exclaiming loudly that Professor Cromwell must be off her bleeding trolley.

. . .

"It's barbaric," Granger says, flipping her hair over her shoulder as she brushes past Draco and rounds the corner into the Great Hall. Her swift pace and indignant huffs aren't the only indications that she's angry. Both of her sidekicks seem to be keeping a safe distance behind as she murmurs and grumbles under her breath, sending sparks flying from the tip of her wand to frighten any fellow students who might be in her way as she marches to her destination. Draco can only stand by watching, dumbstruck and still slightly shaken from the results of this afternoon's Wizarding Relations class.

Potter catches Draco's eye, a curious expression on his face before turning his attention back to his friends and sliding into the seat across from them.

"So, fight or flight?"

Draco drags his gaze away from the Unholy Trinity and fixes Pansy with a challenging glare. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Oh, please. I saw how you reacted in there. I'm surprised Professor Cromwell didn't have you carted off to the infirmary. So, what'll it be, darling? Are you leaving, or will you stay and try to stick it out?"

"Of course I'm staying," Draco answers without much consideration, pride, apparently, taking reign over logic.

Folding his arms over his chest in a gesture that he hopes is more smug than insecure, Draco returns his gaze to Potter and his minions. He doesn't know what he's supposed to do next. Presumably, when the professor set out to assign the students such a horrendous task, it was with the assumption that most were at least civil with one another, if not already friends. He doesn't even bother calculating the odds of his current predicament, knowing how slim they are. In fact, he would have thought he'd have a better chance of spearing a pixie as it flew from the tail-end of a Hippogriff in a thunderstorm than finding himself in a situation such as this.

And just the idea alone of his mind conjuring that scenario brings attention to the fact that he's exhausted beyond all reason.

The universe must be playing some cruel trick on him. Perhaps there hasn't been enough balance restored after the war, not enough penance paid by Draco to level the playing field in this game of life. What other explanation could there be for Draco getting shafted with Harry Potter as a project partner in Wizarding Relations?

Without bothering to have lunch, Draco decides to head down to the Slytherin dorms for an afternoon kip. Not many classes for N.E.W.T. level students, after all, and come tomorrow, he'll have a roommate to unwillingly share his space with.

Draco casts one last glance over his shoulder as he exits the Great Hall. Potter is watching him go, eyes blazing with fury. Before Draco can decide how to react, his view is obscured by another brunet with equally messy hair. Only, on Theo, it isn't nearly as maddening as Draco finds it to be on Potter—or, at least, not in the same way.

"Looking for me?" he asks with a cunning grin.

Theodore Nott has been nothing but trouble for Draco over the last year and a half, showing up out of nowhere at the most inopportune times, just when Draco thinks he may break, completely loose his bloody mind over one thing or another. So, he shouldn't be surprised in the least to see him standing here before him now, with merely a few warm breaths of air between them. Draco isn't sure what he's saying, only the suggestive tone of his voice and the way his soft, full lips move around his words—which, incidentally, happens to be just enough for Draco to understand regardless of the fact that he's not even bothering to listen to Theo.

He allows his gaze to quickly traverse the other boy's body; tight, fit, with smooth skin and long dexterous fingers. Of course, it isn't anything he hasn't seen before, but it is his nonchalant way of passing approval and letting Theo know that, yes, he might just be interested in getting off with him tonight.

Theo isn't bent—at least, he doesn't think he is. He claims that, if he leaves off the kissing and gentle touching and snuggling up together after a good shag, and instead focuses solely on using Draco's body to bring himself off, it means he doesn't really like boys; he just likes to come. Draco doesn't question this flawed logic, because, for a straight bloke, Theodore Nott certainly loves cock, and that happens to work out just fine for Draco. He also doesn't bother pointing out how Theo can moan like a girl even while his throat is being fucked raw.

Draco's cock stirs at the memory, his mind flooding with images of Theo's swollen, spit-slick lips stretched around him, swallowing him down as his eyes flutter closed in pure pleasure. Theo is also unaware that he enjoys giving nearly as much as receiving; information Draco takes great pleasure in keeping to himself.

There have been a few occasions where Draco has wished his own lips were responsible for the redness of Theo's. Caught up in the moment while he's being stretched open, held roughly, and driven into, Draco does sometimes find himself considering how it might be to be touched softly, kissed slowly, pressed against another body from lips to thighs and not just hips and cocks.

He doesn't mind the lack of affection, though, of course. It isn't something he requires, least of all from his not-gay friend.

With a wicked quirk of his lips and slight jerk of his chin, Draco gestures for Theo to follow him.

. . .

It isn't typical for students of Hogwarts to have evening classes, or even, as they're calling this one, a group meeting to discuss a particularly intricate assignment, but Draco has quickly come to realise that nothing about their unofficial eighth year can be described as traditional.

Discord has begun to trickle in again, seeping through the fissures in this new-found unity and spreading like a toxic fume-if not by physical division, then at least by mood and reaction. The four student tables in the Great Hall are always crowded with people of all ages, wearing a mishmash of school colours that are intended to inspire accord. Draco, however, can still clearly determine which students are the Gryffindors (the ones wearing solemn expressions in varying degrees of loss and despair in light of yesterday's news) and the Slytherins (the ones laughing haughtily, clapping their mates on the shoulders and collecting bets from the student body regarding the outcome of the WR assignment).

If they were so determined for the rival houses to make friends, perhaps someone should have reconsidered this N.E.W.T. project of theirs.

Draco ignores the few people waving enthusiastically at him, refusing to play into the game, whatever it may be. His sole concern is as it always has been: self preservation. And whether it's dignity or freedom, Draco plans to come out on the other side of his school career with as much of himself intact as he possibly can.

. . .

The whole of the eighth year student body is standing in various clusters just outside the upper entrance to the library waiting for Professor Cromwelland Headmistress McGonagall to arrive.

It seems the widespread post-war entreaty for unity and togetherness are crumbling beyond the walls of the Great Hall. At least in there, under the watchful eyes of the professors, students pretend to all be friendly with one another, sitting together, discussing the mundane aspects of their boring young lives. Draco finds it amusing that, even after all they had each been through, they still manage to congregate in their usual groups of friends out here in the halls. He steals a quick glance at Potter who is standing close to his two best friends, staring down at the ground between his feet as Granger continues to rave about whatever it is that she stands for today.

Or perhaps it's because of all they'd been through, he qualifies.

Nevertheless, he keeps his distance from his own friends—the few who have returned. Not that he doesn't enjoy company on the odd occasion, but Draco finds that, when all the mutual bitterness and resentment is stripped away, he and his childhood friends really don't have much in common anymore.

He leans against a pillar in the corridor, pretending to be far more interested in the view of the school grounds than he's ever really been. Draco refuses to allow himself to worry about the upcoming term of social bonding and imminent mortification that will come with sharing close quarters and nearly all of his free time with Potter.

Potter, of all people. Draco almost laughs at the irony. He can't help but wonder if the whole thing is some sort of elaborate scheme set up against him.

Despite his best efforts to ignore his own feelings, nervousness and anxiety have Draco tuning out most of the meeting instead. This should, by all reason, just worry him more as it means that he'll have to rely on Potter to collect the needed instructions for the term's project, and that particular partnership happens to be the cause of said nervousness and anxiety. It's a vicious cycle with no end in sight.

With a sideways glance, Draco is able to confirm that Pansy is at least taking notes, even if she's Spelled her quill to do so while she picks at the split ends of her hair in complete disinterest. If nothing else, he can obtain the necessary information from her.
He does manage to pick up some of what the professors are saying to them. Things like "special accommodations for eighth year N.E.W.T. level students" and "...care for a charmed puffskein as if it's an infant," and "Partner means partner," stand out only for the fact that they elicit such a strong reaction from the roomful of students. At the age of 18, the idea of playing house is simply ridiculous to everyone. McGonagall insists it's an important part of human development, that it will help to give them all a much-needed glimpse into reality while building a stronger understanding and a healthy compassion that she feels some of us (Draco is glad he's paying attention here, because she is looking pointedly at him) are lacking.

"What about the weekends?" someone asks.

"As for off-days, Mr. Macmillan, you'll have none." There's a collective gasp throughout the room. "There's a reason these are called the Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests. Plenty of time to rest once you've all finished. While we do expect you and your partners to team up and share the workload, we also suggest forming some sort of agreement with one another for days off during the weekend if you should need it."

Draco glances over at Potter who's sitting across the room next to Weasley, both looking horrified. He would laugh if he wasn't certain his own expression matched theirs. Three months with Potter and little hope of a day of rest? This is most definitely cruel and unusual punishment.

"We feel that all of you are more than capable of handling such an assignment. There was a debate among some Ministry officials that it would be unreasonable to expect the project partners to live together, but given the fact that you're all mature adults, and the towers still have certain," McGonagall clears her throat, "protective wards in place, we've all come to the agreement that the benefits of this particular project outweigh the possible consequences."

A group of students laugh at this, one calling out "did they consider the consequence could be death for some?"

The glare McGonagall shoots in the direction of that boy sends chills up Draco's spine. He certainly doesn't miss being at the wrong end of any of her disapproving looks. The woman could drop a grown man to his knees with one angry arch of her eyebrow.

There's more murmuring and low whispers throughout the study room until the students are all called to order once more. Draco tunes out again, worrying his lip as he taps his quill nervously against his splotched-but-otherwise-blank sheet of parchment.

He vaguely recalls hearing mention of a weekly journaling assignment and rolling his eyes. This project was clearly developed by some Hufflepuff sap with hearts in her eyes and malice in her soul. He tunes the next hour out entirely.

With a start, Draco looks up from his ink stained parchment to the sight of Potter standing over him, waiting. He realises with a small measure of embarrassment that the meeting must have been dismissed. All the students are shuffling toward the exit with their respective partners.

"They've assigned us our rooms," he says, and for one hopeful second, Draco thinks that perhaps they've each got their own private sleeping quarters at the very least. Then Potter clarifies. "The tower just outside the door here has been arranged for the eighth years. Ours is at the top."

Draco gathers his things and shoves them into his bag, standing up and following Potter to the doors. There must have been some unanimous decision to put the two of them at the top of the tower to avoid unnecessary causalities in the event that they actually do kill each other. At least at the top of the tower, if their walls come down from a wayward Hex, no students above will suffer their same fate.

As the students file out of the library, a bright-eyed and all too enthusiastic Ministry official hands each pair a large tin labelled with the course information and content (Puffskein from Madam Gorgin's Magical Menagerie), the date, and names of the partners assigned to care for it.

When Draco and Potter approach, they're blocked from any quick getaway by a sly sidestep from the Headmistress.

"This assignment was designed to build understanding and trust among students who might otherwise disregard such important things. Matches were made based on who needed what the most." She looks back and forth between Potter and Draco, as if willing them to understand. "I'll be keeping a close eye on you gentlemen," she says in a low, almost threatening tone. "I expect you to set an example for your peers."

They each nod in understanding (and fear) before taking their tin from the other woman who winks and offers them a heartfelt "congratulations" that inspires Draco to memorise her face, filing the information away for a nasty hex the next time he comes across her.

. . .

They find their trunks waiting for them against the wall by the door upon arrival. With them, a mid-sized crate of what appears to be supplies for the puffskein project: bottles, nappies (Draco cringes), small blankets and various other little things he knows nothing about.

Their room is small. Of course, compared to the rooms at the Manor, any sleeping quarters look small to Draco, but even the Slytherin boys' dorm seemed roomier than this. And that's really saying something considering the fact that it was in the dungeons, dark, cold and damp, with only a murky view of the bottom of the lake. Somehow, this room seems stuffy, even with the wide open window on the west wall. There isn't a private bathroom, which Draco really didn't allow himself to hope for anyway, but the six foot wide partition separating their sleeping area appears to be their only means of privacy. Light pours in, casting golden sunshine across everything which should, by all accounts, make it at least seem warmer, but it doesn't.

It's not the room but the company casting a chill into the air, Draco thinks. He glances over at Potter who's taken up residence on the bed nearest the window. Draco's jaw clenches as he watches the righteous sod make himself comfortable.

"How did you establish that that's your side of the room?" Draco asks. He doesn't really care either way, but this seems a small thing that he actually can assert himself over in this ridiculously out-of-control scenario he's found himself in.

Potter shrugs, bouncing casually on the edge of the bed as if testing the mattress springs. "This is the side my trunk was closest to, so I just did. Problem, Malfoy?"

"Actually, not to point out the obvious, but this whole damn situation is rather a problem, don't you think?"

Potter's cunning smile suggests he's having a far easier time than Draco, which only fuels Draco's anger further.

"You could always do something about it, if you wanted. Or would you rather share?" His gaze is steady, challenging, triggering a tiny spark to ignite within Draco's chest.

It's faint, but there nonetheless, spreading a weak warmth throughout him. It's as if all of his dormant emotions, laid to rest in the wake of the war, are reignited with a sense-memory of pure, unadulterated hatred he feels for this sodding bastard. He's momentarily distracted by this revelation, surprised with himself and somewhat pleased that he isn't necessarily the hollow, lifeless Inferius tied to the strings of the Ministry that he's felt like lately.

Draco offers his own challenging smirk in return. He fully intends to pass his N.E.W.T.s, but if Potter thinks Draco will be playing the part of the quiet, submissive wife in this deranged game of house, he's got another thing coming.

"I might just," he replies, his gaze never faltering.

Potter cocks his head, biting the inside of his cheek and Draco wonders if it's an attempt to suppress a smile.

"I meant, switch back and forth," Potter qualifies.

Draco is certain by the glint of humour still visible in his eyes that that is not what he meant. "You think I want to sleep in sheets you've rubbed your knob all over?"

Potter guffaws, startling Draco but he quickly masks any surprise with an indignant glare.

"What is it you think people do while they're sleeping?" he asks.

Draco doesn't bother with a response this time. He simply glares at Potter in disgust. He doesn't know what other people do, but he's well aware of what it is he (and every other boy in the Slytherin dorm) got up to after the lights had gone out.

"Let's just get started," he says through clenched teeth, uncomfortable under Potter's gaze.

Draco sets the tin on the bed nearest him, sitting down beside it and making himself as comfortable as possible, until Potter joins him. He's definitely smiling now, and looking stupidly at ease as he clambers gracelessly up onto the bed, settling a bit too close to Draco.

"So," Potter begins, his tone lighter now, almost friendly. They both peer down into the open tin between them. "How should we do this? Back and forth in shifts, or, like…I dunno. Assembly line style?"

Draco slowly raises his gaze to meet Potter's. "I have no idea what that means," he says flatly.

"You know, like, pick an area of expertise and stick to it. You change the nappies, I do the feeding. Something like that."

Draco scoffs. "Are you suggesting that I'm an expert at wiping arse? Or that you're an expert at nourishment?" His eyes rake over Potter's form. He knows the other boy isn't quite thin, per se, but he's certainly lean, and the fact that he's apparently never outgrown the habit of wearing clothing two sizes too big doesn't help.

"I'm open to suggestions, and I haven't exactly heard you making any," Potter replies shortly.

"I suggest we both just try to remain civil and alive. Does that work for you, Oh Mighty Saviour?"

Potter snatches the tin off of Draco's bed, jostling the creature inside and eliciting a soft, eerily human cry from it as he storms off to his side of the room.

"Don't hurt the damn thing!" Draco says, then quickly presses his lips together, realising he's just given the impression he gives a shit about the creature. "I don't want to fail this course," he quickly rectifies. "So just...be careful."

Potter smiles knowingly, a gesture that causes Draco to groan in frustration.

He squeezes his eyes shut tightly, pressing his fingertips to his temples. This is going to be the longest three months of his life.

. . .

There's a palpable tension in the air surrounding Draco and Potter during the first day.

As much as he's loath to admit—even to himself—Draco is more nervous than angry about their time together.

What secrets will Potter find himself privy to? What humiliations will Draco be made to suffer? These are all thoughts that play through his imagination as he lies awake.

Despite the comfort of the bed and the satisfaction Draco has over having stolen the one by the window while Potter was out with Project, sleep evades him.

It's dark outside, the sun having gone down hours ago, but even still, it's brighter than what he's used to in the dungeons. With a huff, he flicks his wand, drawing the bed curtains closed tightly around him.

Even with scarcely a hint of moonlight filtering through the canopy, it's still brighter than he likes. He squeezes his eyes shut and tries to gear his thoughts to focus on one thing rather than skipping erratically about as they have been all night, but even as he tries to visualise his last evening in the Slytherin dorms with Theo, he can't help the direction they turn.

For years now, Harry Potter has been a staple in Draco's thoughts and a thorn in his side. They've both become more subdued since the war, which Draco attributes to the fact that no one is trying to kill either of them (it certainly is relaxing to not have to expect your own imminent demise at each new sunrise). Regardless of their level of maturity, Draco is sure he can still have a bit of fun tormenting Potter in subtle and harmless ways.

He smiles to himself. Stealing the window bed is certainly a good start; a harmless way to infuriate the git while, at the same time, establishing the dynamics of this temporary living arrangement. When Draco hears the door sliding open, he feigns sleep anyway. On a normal day, he wouldn't mind fighting with Potter over sleeping arrangements—or anything else, for that matter—but Draco's own thoughts have drained him, wrung him dry of his will to do anything at all but lie there with his face buried in the pillow.

The bed curtains are thrown back with a violent shudder of the magic that holds them up.

"Spoilt bastard," Potter says, not loudly enough to wake Draco had he actually been sleeping. "That's how it's going to be then," Potter says to himself.

Draco can picture Potter's stupid, monstrous eyebrows drawn down in anger and he has to muffle his laughter into the pillow. He's sure if Potter was watching, he wouldn't miss the shake of his bare shoulders.

"Fine," he says, his voice farther away this time. "You win. For tonight."

. . .

Draco wakes the next morning with the sun shining brightly in his face. Perhaps stealing the bed closest to the window wasn't the greatest idea. He rolls to his side, back to the window, with the intention of sleeping for at least another hour. He hasn't got any classes until the afternoon on Fridays, so what better way to spend his free time?

"Sleep well?" Potter asks. Draco would have to be a fool to not hear the bitter undertone.

He makes an exaggerated show of stretching and rolling his shoulders before answering.

"Actually, I did. Like a baby, in fact."

"Funny you should say that," Potter replies. "It would seem babies—or things Charmed to represent them—don't actually sleep much at all."

"Really? I didn't hear anything."

Potter shakes his head. "We aren't going to pass unless we find a way to work together, Malfoy."

"This is me trying to work together. What do you expect?"

"Well, this thing was up practically all night. I should have woken you, since I'm the one with morning classes today. You just looked too comfortable inmy bed for me to disturb you."

Draco's sleepy mind is still too hazy to respond to such a jibe, though he thinks there must be something he could say about Potter bragging that Draco was in "his" bed.

He watches as Potter wraps the creature up in a pale green blanket, cradling it in his arms as if it actually is an infant. He carries it over to Draco and holds it out in offer.

"I have to get to class. We're supposed to start brewing our Veritaserum today, so I can't be late.

Draco looks up in surprise. "I haven't even showered yet. You can't leave me with this thing."

"Of course I can. I was able to get ready for class without your help, I'm sure you can manage. Moaning Myrtle's an excellent babysitter. Besides, it gives her something to do other than watch you wash your bits."

Draco cringes in disgust.

"Here," Potter puts the bundle into Draco's reluctant arms. "Take good care of Thames while I'm gone. You can handle that, yeah?"

"Thames?" Draco asks, willing his mind to try and comprehend what's going on. "You're trying to name it after a filthy river in Muggle London?"

Potter shrugs. "No. I name-smooshed. Like, y'know, Arthur and James mashed together."

The git doesn't even have the good grace to look embarrassed over this nonsense.

"I thought it worked okay."

"You also thought your brain worked okay."

"Well, we have to call it something."

"So you went the way of dirty rivers? Might as well name the damn thing Buriganga." Draco looks down at the creature in his arms. It appears to be sleeping, or rather still, at any rate. His lip curls in disgust. "Could there possibly be a more ridiculous project to assign to 18 year-old wizards?" he asks, more to himself.

"Come on, Malfoy. It could be worse."

"Really?" Draco looks up at Potter who is gathering his school books. "I fail to see how this could possibly be any worse. So, at the risk of my own sanity having to hear you yammer on incoherently, why don't you enlighten me, Potter?" Draco snaps, quickly abandoning any semblance of civility he had been pretending to hang onto.

Potter shrugs with a careless smile on his face. "Plenty of ways," he says. "They could have made us do this all year rather than just one term."

Draco shudders at the thought.

"Small steps, Malfoy. Come on. We can at least agree on a name today. The rest can wait to be sorted out at the weekend."

"Can't its name just be Project? That's what I've been calling it so far."

"Project?" Potter looks genuinely troubled at this suggestion, and Draco thinks that, perhaps he's taking this assignment a bit too seriously.

Preparation for future spawn with the Weasley bint, he thinks.

With a sigh, Draco concedes. "Fine," he says. "We'll think of something after your potions class."

. . .

Draco, though he hates the idea of accepting advice from Potter on any matter at all, must admit that asking Moaning Myrtle to keep an eye on Project was rather a genius idea. The girl is ridiculously attention-starved and jumped all over the opportunity to help. It's quite nice to be able to wash himself without her hovering in the corner complimenting his arse or trying to discuss his various scars.

Even over the spray of the shower, he can hear her annoying high-pitched voice cooing at Project, saying things about how lucky the creature is to have such an attractive pair of daddies. Draco wants to hex the bint. He wonders briefly what level of magic it would take to curse a ghost, but then he shudders at the thought, remembering second year.

He casts a drying spell in the shower cubicle before Summoning his clothing. Normally, Draco is not modest with his body, but there's something disturbing about the idea of being naked in front of even a fake baby.

He spends the rest of the morning grudgingly carrying Project around with him. He's got nowhere to be, so after breakfast, he takes his time walking the grounds outside, enjoying the cool autumn air. There are other students walking about down by the lake. It seems Draco isn't the only one on Project duty. Several "couples" are even pushing prams around. Weasley is sitting beside the water, doing a poor job of calming down his crying puffskein and Draco wonders how long it will be before he tosses the thing into the lake.

. . .

He finds Potter in the library, sitting at a table with Granger beside him. There's a faint buzzing noise in the air as he approaches them, and by the way Granger is using somewhat aggressive hand gestures and seems to be speaking with no sound at all, he reasons they must have cast Snape'sMuffliato charm. Too many times had he tried to eavesdrop on conversations between his father's colleagues as a child, but Severus had always been quick to cast that one. He flicks his wand, murmuring the spell to cancel the charm.

"Potter."

The sudden sound of his voice seems to startle the other boy, causing his quill to skitter across his parchment, leaving a trail of inky destruction in its wake.

"Your turn to take this thing," Draco says. He plops the puffskein onto the tabletop, eliciting an indignant huff from Granger.

Ignoring them both, Potter draws his wand and siphons the still-damp ink from his essay.

"You haven't got a class until half three. I've got four bloody inches, Malfoy."

Draco arches an eyebrow questioningly, one corner of his lip quirking up in what could easily be construed as a smile, if such a thing were even possible.

"That's tragic," he replies. "I'm sure the Weaslette will be incredibly disappointed. If she isn't already, that is."

Granger gasps at Draco's innuendo.

"Regardless," he continues, "your personal issues are not my concern. I've got studying to do and I've had this thing in my care all day."

Potter looks at Granger apologetically. "I'm going to head out with Malfoy," he says. "We've got to discuss our current living and studyingarrangements."

He rolls his essay up carefully before shoving everything into his bag and scooping up Project off of the table. Draco exits the library, not bothering to wait for Potter.

He's sitting on his bed when his out-of-breath partner finally arrives, dropping his heavy bag onto the floor with a hollow thud.

"Don't worry, Malfoy. I've got it," he says.

"Of course you do, Saviour. Nothing you can't handle, I'm sure," Draco says.

Project begins to fuss in Potter's arms.

"It might be hungry," Draco offers before Potter's confused expression has the chance to form words. "There's a bottle in the bag on my trunk over there."

"Oh," Potter manages eventually. He sets the now-crying bundle down on the bed as he rifles through the bag.

As the crying gets more persistent, Potter becomes more desperate until he's finally just dumping the contents of the bag out atop Draco's trunk, tossing dummies and vests about carelessly. Draco crosses the room, snatching the handful of clothes from Potter and shoving them back into the bag.

"Are you completely incompetent?" He pulls the baby bottle out of the side pocket, thrusting it into Potter's hand before returning to his bed.

"It's empty," Potter says dumbly.

Draco picks up his book, flipping it to the page he left off on. "Of course it is, you prat. You have to mix the pig's milk yourself." Draco looks up to see Potter staring at the empty bottle in revulsion as he pats Project with his other hand in an attempt to quell the crying.

Draco takes a deep breath and counts to ten before getting up and crossing the room once more. He picks up the crying puffskein and gestures toward the bag.

"Side pocket," he says impatiently.

Potter pulls several small phials out of the pouch, eyeing them cautiously.

"Honestly, Potter. Did you not feed the thing at all last night?"

"I didn't need to. Didn't you listen to Professor Cromwell in the meeting? It was charmed to be easy on us the first night. It fussed a bit, kept me awake, but I didn't need to feed it or change it or anything."

"Well, just pour one phial into the bottle and add warm water."

Potter does as he's told with the phial, and then points the tip of his wand into the bottle to cast Aguamenti.

"Warm water," Draco repeats, unsure of how well Potter was listening to him. "Not too hot or you'll burn the thing."

"How do you know so much about this stuff?" Potter asks as he recaps the baby bottle.

Draco shrugs, passing Project over to Potter. "Some of it's common sense," he replies. "Some of it I learnt from reading the project manual that came with the packet of coursework." Draco grabs his book bag and heads for the door. He'll get more studying done before class if he doesn't have to babysit Potter while Potter's babysitting Project. "You should try reading it," he says just before closing the door behind him.

. . .

He tells himself that he can do this. He can be civil to Potter and get through this assignment with his sanity and dignity intact. But as Draco sits in the centre of his bed, rocking a swaddled puffskein, bottle of warm pig's milk in hand, he decides that dignity is something that went down the loo along with the first shit of the first nappy he had changed upon waking with this…this at 3am.

To make matters worse, though, his one quiet moment of solitude (Merlin, did it take forever to get this thing to fall asleep), has now been interrupted by angry huffs and low murmured words of frustration from Potter's side of the room.

He tries not to look, not to acknowledge Potter at all, but to focus all of his attention on the Transfiguration book he's got propped on one knee instead.

It's Saturday, which means that Potter should be at Quidditch practice leaving Draco the afternoon alone to study, but apparently, there's something more important at the bottom of his trunk. Or, at least, there should be.

After ten minutes of futile searching, Potter gives up, exiting the room empty-handed and in a hurry, no doubt late for practice.

Draco scoots to the edge of the bed, careful not to wake the sleeping Project. He sets it down in its crate-turned-cradle and flops himself back down onto his bed to finish his studying.

When he wakes three and a half hours later, it's to a strange sense of panic he isn't quite used to anymore, as if his mind is searching for something the rest of him hasn't quite caught up to yet. It's a mere second before the cogs click into place and Draco realises what he's looking for. With a gasp, he jumps up, scanning the room in a wide-eyed almost-panic.

"I've got it," Potter says. He's sitting in the chair near the window, shadowed in the dim glow of the setting sun. Project is sleeping peacefully in his lap.

"It's my evening," Draco says, still not fully awake.

"You looked exhausted. Just thought I'd help out a bit."

He wants to snap at Potter, tell him that he doesn't need his help, and to just fuck the hell right off, but in truth, he did need the rest. He nods instead, offering a quiet and reluctant "thanks" which elicits a snort of laughter from Potter, setting them right back on a more level playing field.

"You haven't seen my Snitch around here, have you? I usually bring it to practice with me, but I couldn't find it anywhere."

Draco chuckles and drops back down onto his bed. "I gave it to Project to chew on. Should be in the bag over there."

The look on Potter's face is priceless.

. . .

"So, did you think of any names for it yet?" Potter asks.

Apart from the occasional venomous remark toward one another, their conversations have been limited to arguing over names for the damn creature. Draco couldn't care less what the thing is called on their papers, but it's all too easy to infuriate Potter and watch the vein in his neck swell with anger and tension.

"No, and I honestly don't care to try," replies Draco. "Name it whatever you want."

"Well, I tried that, and you got all huffy over it."

"Okay, then name it anything you want that's not idiotic."

"We should probably come up with something together, anyway. I think the main idea of this project is to get us all to communicate better with one another, trust each other, take on responsibilities but also learn to share them."

"Is it?" Draco asks. He's still examining his own essay, not even interested enough in this conversation to bother looking up at Potter. "I was under the impression it was designed as an extremely efficient form of birth control."

Potter groans in frustration, a comical sight as he bounces in place, patting the back of Project in a soothing manner.

"Look, Malfoy, I'm not exactly thrilled with this arrangement either, but since there isn't much we can do about it, can't we at least agree to try and work together?"

Draco sighs, squeezing his eyes shut to force his frustrated thoughts into control. Potter is right. The damned assignment would go much more smoothly if they could cooperate with one another.

"Yes," he says finally. "But that doesn't mean I have to name it, does it? Why don't you just come up with something simple."

Potter looks down at Project, silently contemplating. "How about Albus Dobby?" he asks finally.

"Are you off your fucking trolley, Potter? We are not naming that thing Albus Dobby!"

. . .

Potter is a right bitch. And Draco doesn't mean that in the typical "horrible bint" sort of way (this time). He's more like an actual female dog protecting her pups and snapping at every hand that reaches near one.

He knows shockingly little about infant care. Even Draco, who was raised as a privileged and only child, manages to function as a fake parent better than The Boy Who Knows Everything. Yet, Potter is surprisingly protective of Project. He's always standing over Draco's shoulder, barking out nonsensical instructions until Draco snaps at him to back the fuck off or do it himself.

Draco, in the meanwhile, is doing his best to maintain some semblance of civility and keep the peace (if one can even call it that) while teaching Potter the proper way to do things.

"No," Draco says, hanging onto his patience the best he can. "That isn't how you do it, Potter." It's only been a month, and already Draco is planning the score to his own funeral. Frustration, he's certain, is a fatal malady. "After you clean the sodding thing, you take the nappy," he folds the cloth properly for the fifth time to show Potter, "and you put it on the thing, folding the sides up like this to pin it in place."

Potter huffs indignantly, then releases a pained squeak as he sticks himself (for the seventh time) with the pin.

"It's a stupid assignment, anyway. Useless, if you ask me."

"Well then," Draco says, not bothering to look at Potter as he goes back to writing his essay, "I should point out that I actually didn't ask you."

"Oh, come on, Malfoy. You can't possibly think this is a good idea."

Draco, of course, agrees with Potter that the assignment is absurd, but he won't say it now. To agree with Potter on any level at all would be like adding fuel to a Fiendfire.

"I'm sure you can see how it will be of some use to you, Potter. If you plan to spawn a hundred gingers with the weasel girl, you'll need to be well versed in the art of nappy changing. Even you can't escape that fate."

"Not that it's any of your business, but I'm not with Ginny, and I won't be having any children."

This revelation surprises Draco, and he finds himself visibly jolted by Potter's admission. Quickly composing himself, he turns back to the task of rolling his socks and notlooking at Potter in wide-eyed surprise.

"You mean you don't intend to populate the wizarding world with dozens of mini Chosen Children?" He nearly adds a snide comment about how it would be the first generation of Weasley offspring whose parents could actually afford them, but he isn't sure if that would come off as quite the insult he would intend it to, so he bites his tongue instead.

"You seem to be taking an awful lot of interest in my personal life, Malfoy. Is this something I should come to expect regularly over the next two months?"

Draco huffs an undignified snort of laughter. "Please," he says derisively. "I'm just concerned for the future of the world."

"Of course you are," Potter replies, doing an impressive job of matching Draco's tone. "You've always been quite the humanitarian, haven't you?"

Draco refuses to rise to the bait. If it is the ministry who's set this arrangement up in a skilled attempt to sabotage his intentions to graduate and thereby avoid being tried as an adult for his part in the war, Draco would rather live a hundred terms in shared quarters with Harry Potter than let them win.

He chooses instead to address another matter rather than preaching to an unwilling congregation about the woes of his troubled youth.

"Even if you don't plan on having children, this assignment is still a pertinent lesson in social interaction. Which, I might add, we both seem to be failing at miserably at this point."

"I don't see any reason for it. It's like they're punishing me."

Draco glances over his shoulder, catching an icy glare from Potter before turning away again.

"Right," he replies. "I suppose the Great Harry Potter shouldn't be expected to get on well with plebeian society." Draco slams his trunk shut and snatches his wand off the bed. "I plan to get through this assignment, even if it means learning to live with you, so I suggest you either suck it up and do the same, or pull some of those strings you've always had attached to the bullocks of authority and weasel your way out of things again."

Draco leaves the room on a gust of fury, either Potter's or his own, he can't be certain.

. . .

Moaning Myrtle has taken to haunting the fourth floor corridor and tower in addition to her usual bathroom pipes, it seems. It isn't easy to spot her there in the light of day with the sun shining in, but she never lets Draco slip by without making her presence known.

"There's the ickle baby pudding-puff," she says with a self-satisfied giggle as he side-steps her on the stairs turning Project away protectively.

"Oh, please," she says with a sly smile. "I'm good enough to watch it while you wank in the shower but I can't say hi outside of the bathrooms?"

Draco does not even merit this with a response. Myrtle laughs again maniacally.

"What a cute little family you make. And I always thought you loved me," she says with an exaggerated pout. "I knew the two of you would come to your senses sooner or later." She makes some exceedingly annoying kissy-face at Draco before something behind him catches her eye. With a grin, she drifts back against the wall. "Here he comes now," she says.

Draco looks back, catching sight of Potter at the bottom of the stairs, hefting a heavy load of books.

"Him?" he asks Myrtle. "He hasn't got any senses to come to."

"Now now, parents shouldn't fight in front of the wee ones." She giggles again before disappearing through the wall.

Draco glances back once more, secretly admiring the way Potter's arms flex under the strain. Quickly, he shakes the thought from his mind and makes his way up to their room.

. . .

He wakes in the night to the disgusting sound of sniffling and quiet sobs. Peering out into the darkness of the room, Draco is unsure of what to expect exactly; he can't see Potter's bed because of the partition that separates their sleeping areas, but even if he could see, what would he do? Is it possible Potter is awake, lying there in his bed crying? Could he be sleeping and having a terrible dream?

Draco debates for a moment whether or not he should Levitate his pillow around the partition and fling it at Potter to wake him. Then he decides he rather likes his pillow and doesn't want to lose it (he wouldn't want it back if it smelt like Potter, after all).

Draco curses under his breath. He's always been terribly awkward with crying people. At his father's funeral, he wasn't even able to comfort his own mother with more than an awkward arm around her shoulder or a gentle pat on the back.

He supposes he could just cast Muffliato and go back to sleep, ignoring the snivelling boy in the bed beside his. Pulling his wand from under his pillow, Draco does just that. He smiles proudly when silence encompasses him once again, and burrows down into his covers willing sleep to take him back.

Sleep, however, ignores his silent pleas. Draco instead lies awake, twisting his blankets in his fingers and worrying his lip; two nervous habits he never lets show in the light of day.

What if Potter really is having a nightmare? Draco knows all too well what it's like to be unable to escape the monsters that reside in one's subconscious. What he wouldn't have given for someone, anyone, to wake him on those nights—save him from the all-consuming fear that he couldn't free himself of.

He turns to his side and stares at the dimly lit partition as if he'll be able to see right through it if he concentrates hard enough. This, of course, isn't possible. So, with a defeated sigh, Draco waves his wand, whispering Finite Incantatem and sits up in the centre of his bed. He considers calling out to Potter to avoid actually having to witness his tears, but eventually, he decides to get up and go over there.

When he peeks around the side of the partition, Draco is more than a little surprised to see Potter sitting on the edge of his bed, wand light glowing around him showing a perfectly tear-free face. He's quietly shushing Project as he rocks the thing to and fro. That's when Draco's sleep-addled mind catches up to him and supplies the information that it's Project who is crying and sniffling.

"What's going on?" he asks, startling Potter.

"I'm not sure," he replies, looking down at the bundle and patting it lightly. "I think she's Charmed to keep us up all night on purpose, but this time, it seems different. She's sort of...rattling inside, and...well, is it possible for these things to get sick?"

Draco moves from his place beside the wall, taking a seat next to Potter and looking over at the puffskein.

"I don't know. I suppose it could. They are charmed to function the same as a human infant, aren't they?" It really doesn't look well; heavy eyes blinking up at them, but not really focusing on anything and, even in the pale wand light, Draco can see a discolouration in its fur.

"What are we supposed to do then?" Potter asks, tone almost frantic. "Is there something we can give it? A potion or...I dunno. Anything?"

"Let me see." Draco reaches out to take the bundle from Potter, but he quickly turns away.

Unknowing and overprotective bitch, Draco thinks. "I'm not going to hurt the damn thing, Potter."

"Maybe I should just take her to Hagrid."

"Or perhaps I should take her to Madam Pomfrey," Draco says defensively. He's stung that Potter seems not to trust him, but he supposes it goes both ways. "What would that oaf know?"

"That oaf teaches Care of Magical Creatures, you wanker!"

"And this magical creature is Charmed to be like a human, you nitwit!"

Their shouting seems to upset Project more, as the sniffling and sobbing grows even louder.

Draco drops his voice to a low (but dangerous) tone. "Clearly you weren't able to do anything useful as of yet, so why don't you give the thing to me. I'll take the last half of the night, then we can take it to the infirmary in the morning."

"Are you out of your mind, Malfoy? If something happens to this thing, we both fail the course."

"Really?" replies Draco sardonically. "I hadn't thought of that. I'm the one who has everything to lose here if this thing dies, Potter. You can trust me to at least keep it alive until morning."

"Hagrid is my friend. He won't care that it's 2am."

Draco's jaw clenches in frustration. There's really no use in arguing with the git.

"Fine," Draco says (he finds himself saying that rather often, in fact, just to shut Potter up). "Let's go, then."

Potter looks at Draco, brows drawn down in confusion. "You're coming with me?"

"Of course I'm coming with you. Do you think I'd trust you to go on your own? Knowing you two, you'd probably pump it full of some strange Muggle medications and then chant lullabies around its carcass."

"Wow." Potter shakes his head. "Some people really don't ever change, do they?"

"Apparently not."

. . .

They don't speak as they make their way down to the grounds keeper's hut, and Draco can feel the tension radiating between them.

Potter only has to knock once before the door swings open, revealing the giant salivating dog. Draco takes an unconscious step back.

"Harry?" The grounds keeper's voice sounds scratchy from sleep (or firewhisky), but pleased. "Yeh aren't s'posed ter be out and about at this hour." He glances out over Potter's shoulder catching sight of Draco. "And with Malfoy? All right, you two. What's goin' on?"

"He's my partner," Potter says. "For this Wizarding Relations project," he quickly rectifies at the look of sheer confusion on Hagrid's giant face.

"Right right." Hagrid is still staring at Draco in surprised confusion. "Guess yeh better come in then."

. . .

Draco sits quietly in the corner of the hut, giant coward dog's head resting on his lap, dead weight that's making his thighs tingle but he dares not move for fear of waking the beast and having a repeat slobber bath.

"Looks like a case o' Snuffles ter me," says Hagrid as he examines the lethargic puffskein.

It's taken him an hour to come to this conclusion and Draco has nearly dozed off twice. If it weren't for the fact that the giant oaf was waving a burnt and tattered umbrella at Project, he may have let himself nap for a bit. As it is, though, he doesn't trust Potter not to agree to something completely idiotic and get the damn thing killed, thus causing them both to fail their assignment.

"She'll have to stay in full-time care for a bit. They've made it right hard teh diagnose with these extra charms they put on 'em. A magical creature Charmed to be like a human infant and it comes down with a rabbit disease." He shakes his giant scruffy head.

"Is it curable?" Potter asks.

"Sure it is. Migh' take a few days to get 'er back to normal. She'll probably need an IV and some specially blended potions. She'll need proper care and close attention for the next two or three days."

"We aren't leaving it here," Draco says, more to Potter than the other man.

"'Course not," says Hagrid.

"We can just…stay here with her, I guess," replies Potter, looking down at the sick puffskein now.

"Are you out of your mind, Potter? I am not staying here for the next three days." Draco would rather not even stay for another three minutes.

"Thank goodness fer small favours," says Hagrid. "I couldn't live with yeh that long, Malfoy." He casts a sympathetic look at Potter. "Sorry, Harry." Potter has the nerve to laugh. "Poppy'll be better equipped to take care of this. You'll have to take the little gal to the hospital wing."

. . .

Draco doesn't bother with I told you so's as they make their way up to the infirmary. It would only cause another argument, and he's rather tired after only half a night's sleep. He imagines Potter is worse off than him having been awake for the first half of it as well.

Madam Pomfrey is slightly dismayed at the thought of caring for a non-human patient, but when Potter (with his fortuitous charm and winning fucking smile) explains the situation and that they've come to her on Hagrid's orders, she accepts the three of them into her infirmary and finds them an available bed.

"Probably from you taking him out in the cold that day, Malfoy."

"Or from your brilliant suggestion to have Moaning Myrtle watch him in the steamy bathroom while we shower."

"Not together!" they both say as Madam Pomfrey looks back at them questioningly. She shakes her head.

"I'm certain it isn't anything either of you did. No need to argue, unless of course you want to be thrown out of my hospital wing. I'll not have your bickering disturbing my other patients all night."

As they pass through the oddly crowded ward, she explains to them that there's been a vicious cold going around since the change in weather. There are a few typical injuries as well: a Transfiguration assignment gone awry, leaving one student with gills and a severe case of the bubble-ups, a transfer student with Doxy bites, and a second year girl who got a little too close to the Slytherin Quidditch practise this afternoon.

"It wasn't me," says Draco, sensing the accusation emanating from Potter as Madam Pomfrey points them to an available bed and walks away. "I don't even play Quidditch anymore."

"I've noticed," Potter says. "Why not?"

"I've got more pressing things to focus on this year than a game that won't be able to benefit me in life." He takes a seat in the chair beside the bed. Potter sets Project down, rolling the blankets around him like a nest and then sits in the chair across from Draco.

"Doing things that make you happy are always beneficial, aren't they? They keep you sane, make it so that you don't take life too seriously."

"I have plenty of things that I do to maintain my sanity and happiness, Potter."

"Oh? Like what?"

Draco glares at Potter as he searches his mind for an answer. All he manages to come up with are a handful of snide remarks, though. Instead, he says: "Why don't you just go back to our room? I can stay here and make sure nothing happens to Project."

"I'm not leaving, Malfoy, but nice try."

"It's only going to cause problems if we both stay."

"Then maybe you should go," Potter says a bit too loudly. Madam Pomfrey shushes them from her place beside the second year Quidditch accident's bed. His voice returns to a whisper. "We don't both need to be here."

"Then you go."

"You could just shut up and try to be nice for the next few days, you know? I'm sure it won't kill you. It's not like I'm asking you to share a bed with me or anything."

"This time," replies Draco.

They stare at one another over the hospital bed that holds Project. Draco watches carefully as Potter's jaw clenches, eyes narrowed in an expression that's far more amused than angry. Draco tries to maintain his hard expression and not look at Potter's lips as his tongue peeks out to moisten them, or his stupid caricature eyebrows, or the slight swell of that neck-vein. Draco swallows hard, willing himself not to stare at that vein—not to stare and fantasise about tracing its path with his tongue.

The very thought of this desire startles Draco to his senses and he quickly looks away, eyes wide with horror. He silently curses himself. He can'tpossibly be attracted to Potter.

Pressing the heels of his hands against his eyes, Draco sighs in frustration. It isn't until he starts to see bright explosions of light behind his lids caused by the pressure that he finally looks up, blinking away the bleariness.

Potter is watching him, one (annoying) eyebrow cocked as he smirks at Draco.

Fuck, Draco thinks. There it is, as clear as day. He most definitely is attracted to Potter. Draco drops his head to the mattress between them, muffling his distressed sob against the bedclothes.

"It's critical for me to get good marks on this assignment," he says when finally he's composed himself.

"N.E.W.T. scores are just as important to me, Malfoy," replies Potter.

Draco laughs dryly. "I seriously doubt that."

"That's because you're a bloody self-important prat," Potter says through clenched teeth.

Draco lowers his voice to a whisper so as not to draw attention from Madam Pomfrey again. "What exactly is it that you're here for, Potter? Haven't you done enough to merit a degree without having to test for it? You'd think the wizarding world's Saviour would be granted certain privileges the rest of us aren't."

Potter levels a glare at Draco, silence stretching between them like an angry elastic band.

"I don't owe you an explanation, Malfoy," he says finally. "But if you must know, I'm working my arse off to get accepted for Auror training.

Draco nearly laughs—not because Potter's dream is absurd, but because he, Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived to Save the Bloody World, has to actually work his arse off to get into Auror training. Draco would have thought they'd be trying to recruit him by any means necessary by now.

"You don't need to work for a living," he says, watching as Potter's eyes shift about the room.

"Maybe I'd rather not be a lazy layabout and waste my life," Potter responds. He looks down at Project and shrugs. "And…when someone tells me I can't do something, it only makes me that much more determined to prove them wrong."

Driven by instinct alone, Draco nearly tests Potter's claim by telling him to try keeping his mouth shut for the rest of the night. He finds, oddly enough, that, when Potter isn't actually trying to pick a fight with him, he's surprisingly good company, though, so he decides against it.

Draco can certainly respect Potter's answer. It's the exact reason he himself intends to enter into Auror training, if they'll allow it.

"What about you?" Potter asks, voice a bit kinder now as if some of the frigid ice has been chiselled away between them. He watches Draco, waiting for a response, genuinely curious.

Draco swallows nervously, not particularly wanting to tell Potter, but seeing no reason to deny him. After all, Potter did offer his reasoning.

"I'd like to have a future, too," he says. "I plan to get into Auror training as well, if it'll be allowed. And if I don't pull exemplary marks in my N.E.W.T.s, I'll be sentenced to probation which could very well be five years with no magic. I have to complete my education here at Hogwarts or the Ministry has reserved the right to try me as an adult for war crimes."

"War crimes?" Potter says, eyebrows drawn together in confusion. "Is being a spoilt arse really a war crime?"

Draco chuckles at this statement. He wishes it were as simple as that. Being charged as an arse would be immeasurably better than being charged as an accessory to dozens of murders.

"Afraid not," he replies. "They've got plenty of other reasons."

"That's ridiculous. They can't do that to you."

Draco cocks an eyebrow and looks questioningly at Potter. "They're the Ministry for Magic, Potter. They can do anything they bloody well like."

Potter shakes his head, one finger trailing distractedly along the top of Projects head as he watches her sleep. "I'll testify for you. They've really got nothing on you, Malfoy. If anything you helped our side."

Draco is stunned speechless by Potter's willingness to assist him. He doesn't know what to say, so he simply offers a small smile and nod.

"And as for the Auror training, it seems that, since we're both determinedly working toward the same goal, we should definitely try a bit harder to work together."

"I suppose so. Maybe if we live through this, we could survive the unlikely possibility of being teamed up as partners if we both make it through."

They both laugh at this, earning another stern glare from Madam Pomfrey. When she walks back into her office, Potter picks up the more serious topic of conversation again, this time more quietly.

"Do you regret it?" he asks.

Draco doesn't look at Potter, but he can feel his gaze on him as he waits for a response. Draco entertains the idea of laughing to mask the pain he feels at the memories, but there isn't anything funny at all about the question.

Images play through his mind in rapid succession; poisoned wine, a cursed necklace, Astronomy Tower, magical cabinets, torture, fear, death, blood, and then his own mixing with water on the floor of the bathroom as Moaning Myrtle screamed…so many memories that Draco has to force his eyes to meet Potter's in the hopes that it will bring him out of his own mind.

He nods slowly, eyes still locked on Potter's. "Yes," he says so quietly it's barely a breath.

Potter seems to hear it, though, or perhaps he just sees the truth in Draco's own eyes now. He nods once as if to say that he understands and then another achingly long silence stretches out between them before Potter breaks it.

"Can I see?" He gestures toward Draco's shirtsleeve.

"Why?" Draco asks defensively.

Potter shrugs. "Just curious, and I thought, since we seem to be getting on all right for the moment–"

"What? I'd take off my clothes for you? You'll have to try harder than that," Draco says before he's actually had the chance to consider his statement. He snaps his mouth shut firmly, lowering his head again in the hopes that Potter won't notice Draco's face flushing with embarrassment.

"It wouldn't matter anyway," Potter says softly. "Just thought I'd ask."

Draco folds his arms over his chest and sits back in his chair. Neither of them speak again for the rest of the night.

. . .

Everything seems a bit easier after that. Once Project is released from Madam Pomfrey's care, they return to the rest of the world together. Draco finds that, rather than fighting over every little thing, both he and Potter have taken to actually talking to one another.

As the days pass, something almost pleasant shifts around them. Draco doesn't know exactly when or how it happens, but he finds himself somehow falling into a sickening routine of domesticity with Potter.

They take turns in the evenings reading to Project. They've found the sound of their voices seem to be soothing to the creature, so in a desperate attempt to get her to stop crying one night, Draco opened a book and began to read. It quickly became part of their normal (Draco wonders when it became okay to use that word in this situation) routine. He thinks that perhaps Potter enjoys being read to more than Project, though, and when he allows himself a moment to examine his reasoning for coming to this conclusion, he realises that it's because Draco very much enjoys the sound ofPotter's voice when it's his turn to read. He assumes (hopes) it might be the same for Potter.

Draco has also discovered that, while he is definitely not an expert arse-wiper, he's certainly better at fastening a nappy than Potter is, and, somehow, Potter is always exemplary at getting Project to fall asleep. It's strange, really, how well they seem to get along when they aren't firing hexes at one another. They talk about things to pass the time, from Quidditch to school work to family. It seems they have more in common than Draco would have ever cared to admit before.

Granger spends most of her time ranting and raving in the common room, standing tall on her make-believe podium while people go about their business, mostly ignoring her. She's even begun passing out flashing badges recently, protesting the cruelty of their Wizarding Relations assignment.

"WAFT," she says with a level of confidence that could only be bought in a phial. "The Wizarding Alliance for Fair Treatment! We must take a stand," she declares passionately. "If we don't, who will?"

Potter turns toward Draco to hide his laugh from her, and Draco has to bite his tongue to keep from laughing out loud himself. He focuses instead on the thought of how nicely her head seems to have grown to accommodate her front teeth.

Weasley swallows nervously before taking his seat beside Granger on their couch by the fireplace. Draco watches, amused as Potter tries to catch his friend's eye, shaking his head almost imperceptibly. It's no use, though, and just as he gives up trying, Weasley begins to speak. Potter cringes, squeezing his eyes shut tightly against the impending onslaught of the lecture he must sense building in the air around Granger.

"I kind of like having a puffskein, actually," says Weasley. "I mean, I've wanted another since I was a kid and Fred used mine as a Bludger." Granger looks as if she might have an aneurysm. "Why bother, 'Mione? Remember how things turned out with SPEW?"

Draco closes his Transfiguration book and quickly leaves the vicinity. He has no desire to hear any more about how unfair it is to the puffskeins to be humiliated and treated as if they're nothing more than a child's doll. If anyone is being treated unfairly in this project, Draco thinks it's certainly thestudents who arebeing made to suffer through it. He leaves the common room and finds a quiet corner table in the study section of the library instead.

Draco really did have to admire Granger's vehemence. She's always been the one to keep up with in all their classes, the one with the highest marks in nearly every subject. So, for her to adamantly refuse to participate in a N.E.W.T. level assignment came as quite a shock to everyone. Perhaps if Draco was in Granger's good graces, he'd be able to get out of this ludicrous project as well.

He thinks, just for a moment (one second of murky, deluded, unwelcome consideration) that perhaps he would have been better off with Granger as a partner.

It isn't a wholly realistic notion, of course, because, while every moment spent with Potter in the beginning had been wrapped in either silent disdain or infected with stinging words and a kill-or-be-killed atmosphere, at least some of the Ministry's attention had been diverted by Granger's campaign.

"Mind if I join you?"

Draco looks up from his opened book, catching sight first of a spinning, blinking WAFT badge, and then a pair of tired green eyes. He doesn't bother asking Potter why he can't just find another table to sit at, and Draco refuses to allow himself to consider why it's okay, but instead, scoots his belongings over in silent invitation.

Potter sets his book bag down, removing his Advanced Potion-Making textbook before Transfiguring his bag into a temporary mini cradle to put Project in.

They sit in companionable silence for over an hour, side-by-side, elbows and knees occasionally brushing against one another (if Draco didn't know any better, he'd almost think it was deliberate) as they each pour over their respective study material.

Finally, when Project begins to gurgle and coo, making herself known once again, Draco looks up from the pages of his book. Potter, it seems, was more tired than Draco had assumed. He's sleeping soundly with his cheek resting on his potions book, glasses folded up in his hand.

Draco takes them gently, unfolding them and sliding them onto Potter's face. He collects the rest of Potter's things and puts them into his own bag. The Transfigured cradle can serve as an easy carrier for Project. He nudges Potter's shoulder as Project squeaks and babbles.

"What? I'm not all that bad," he says to the oblivious creature before nudging at Potter once more.

Potter blinks up at him, confused.

"Come on," Draco says as he gathers everything up and casts a Lightening Charm on his (now double weight) book bag. "Let's get to bed."

Potter's eyes drift closed again sleepily, a soft smile forming on his lips. "Not tonight, dear," he mumbles. "Too tired."

Draco swats the back of Potter's head good-naturedly before taking his wrist and tugging him along out of the library.

. . .

"Couldn't they have charmed these things to be cuter?" Draco asks, peering down into the cradle, barely resisting the urge to poke the puffskein with the end of his wand. "I mean, isn't half the reason mammals care for their young supposedly because they're too tiny and adorable not to?"

Potter hums noncommittally, staring down at his potions book. He's been studying for the better part of an hour now, and the fact that he hasn't even turned the page once is not lost on Draco.

He watches as Potter absentmindedly drags the end of his wand back and forth over his bottom lip, lost in concentration or just thought, Draco can't be certain. It's such a strange thing, really, Draco thinks, how not so long ago, he would have given his magic to just punch Potter on that very lip. Just once. Now, though, the urge he has regarding said lip is on the opposite side of that spectrum.

Dragging his focus away, Draco huffs an exasperated sigh and looks instead back down at Project who is gazing up at him fondly. He can't help but smile. It's a silly thing, really, to grow fond of a puffy little creature that's been forced upon him against his will. This must be similar to the Muggle condition Draco has read about; Stockholm Syndrome, he thinks.

"Well," Potter says, still not looking up at Draco. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Draco almost laughs, stealing another glance at Potter who quickly brushes his fringe away from his eyes before pulling his bottom lip between his teeth.

Draco's lips move soundlessly for a moment before he finds his voice again. "We should go, Project. Take a walk and leave Potter here to his studies." Draco can't stand being in the same room with all the lip chewing and silent concentration.

"You don't have to go," says Potter, looking up from his book for the first time all evening. "And why are you still calling her 'Project'?"

Draco shrugs. "Nothing better has come to mind yet. Besides," he looks down at the little furry creature and smiles, "she likes it."

"She does not." Potter scoots to the edge of the bed and stands up, rolling his shoulders before stretching his arms up over his head.

Draco nearly whimpers at the sight of a small sliver of smooth skin that's exposed when Potter's shirt rises. "Oh, yes. Likes it a lot," he says in something of a trance.

"My name was better," Potter says, and this finally snaps Draco's concentration back to the actual topic.

"Thames?" he says. "Come on, Potter. You wouldn't name an actual child Thames, would you?"

"Well, no. I guess I wouldn't. I just…" Potter shrugs then sits back down on the edge of his bed. "I'm not going to be having any children, but if I did, I think I would have liked to name them for someone who meant something to me."

"You talk about yourself as if you're dead, Potter. You're only 18 years old."

Potter shakes his head, looking over at Project. "What about you?" he asks. "What would you name a child?"

"I wouldn't."

"Oh, come on," Potter says, smiling (smiling!) at Draco. "When you have children–"

"I'm not going to," Draco interrupts.

"I'm sure you will eventually," Potter replies.

"No, trust me. I won't be." Draco is careful to enunciate every syllable, hoping to leave no question in Potter's stubborn head.

"Someone has to carry on the Malfoy name, don't they?"

"All right, Potter. We're having a little heart-to-heart here, is that it? A Hufflepuff moment in which we discuss feelings and personal revelations? Fine. I'll play along. I'm not having any children ever, Potter, because I like boys."

Potter's mouth drops open in mute surprise; the exact reaction Draco was hoping for.

"But," Draco continues, feeling both incredibly proud of the effect his admission has on Potter, and terrified at the realisation that he actually told him in the first place, "If I wasn't bent, and I actually did sleep with a girl, and I actually did get her pregnant, I would name the child something terribly clever that would also serve to clarify my take on the situation, like…Accidentia Mistakey."

It's meant to be a joke, but Potter isn't laughing. In fact, he's still frozen in place from his initial shock of Draco saying that he likes boys.

. . .

They work mostly in shifts. N.E.W.T. level students haven't got many regular classes; just a handful of strenuous courses whose workloads wax and wane like the tides. It happens that the two of them are lucky compared to some of the other WR teams of this assignment. Potter and Draco share only two of the same classes, leaving the rest open to alternating back and forth between them.

Meals in the Great Hall aren't as terrible as Draco had assumed they would be. He'd worried at first about being laughed at, ridiculed over toting a furry makeshift infant around with him, but as it were, there were so many other puffskeins being carried in slings wrapped around their assigned caregivers that no one really noticed when he had his.

"Doesn't Potter ever take that thing?" Pansy asks, gesturing toward a sleeping Project. She takes the seat next to Draco as he cuts his carrots.

"We take turns," he answers. "And where's yours? Do you never have to carry it around?"

Pansy smiles, raising an eyebrow at Draco before casting a glance around to see who's within earshot. "Nope," she says, apparently satisfied with their lack of company. "Turns out Longbottom's quite the paternal type, and the only incentive he needed was a quick handjob in the corridor that first night." She smiles proudly. "I didn't even have to use my mouth. Some people are so easy to please."

Draco gags around his mouthful of carrot. "Your mother would be so proud," he says after swallowing (with difficulty).

"Maybe you should try that."

"Maybe you should fuck off and choke."

She clicks her tongue, picking at her salad. "Such a prude."

"No," Draco replies, too engrossed in his lunch (or disgusted with his friend's confession) to look at her. "But I would prefer you restrict those debauched activities for a more private place where I'm not at risk of witnessing anything that will cause permanent psychological damage."

"Sorry, love. You know the wards they set won't allow us to cross the room to each other's beds."

Draco had nearly forgotten about this, given the fact that he and his partner are of the same sex, the wards don't apply to their room.

"There's always the loo," Draco says, scooping up Project and leaving the table.

. . .

Draco's one and only free day is spent in Hogsmeade breathing in the fresh, cool air and having a pint (or three) in Hog's Head. Half of the patrons in there aren't from around here; just visiting on shady business, he's sure. The other half are eighth year students who, like Draco, want to be left alone to simply think (or drink) in peace.

It's quiet in here, but for the crackle of the fire and a few muffled voices from around the pub. After a couple of weeks with either Potter or Project (usually both) in his company at all times, it feels almost foreign to have a moment to himself.

He looks around the room at the pathetic collection of people, noticing several of them, including the barmaid, wearing WAFT badges. Draco washes down his laughter with a gulp of ale. He chastises himself for wishing that Potter was there to laugh with him. Perhaps he's grown more used to his company than he thought.

Or, perhaps Potter simply just isn't all that bad. He's good company, knows how to cheer Draco up and when to keep to himself and leave well-enough alone.

When Draco stumbles in sometime after midnight, Potter is sound asleep in the bed by the window. He considers flopping down beside him, pretending to have not noticed he was there, or worse, snuggling up next to him with his face buried between the pillow and Potter's neck. He suppresses his laughter, clamping his hand over his own mouth to keep from waking his…

Draco is horrified at the half-formed thought. Potter is not "his" anything. He isn't certain where that train of thought was headed—his partner, hisfamily, his friend—but none of the possibilities are any less terrifying than the last.

Draco climbs into the empty bed, tossing the blankets up over his head in an attempt to hide from his own drunken deliberation.

. . .

"Are you serious?" Pansy says, but it isn't a question at all.

"Shut it and budge up," Draco replies, sliding over to make room for Potter.

"This is a bit above the outline of this term's WR assignment, Draco. Potter sitting with us for dinner? Really?" She looks shocked and Draco wants to laugh.

He supposes it is a rather strange thing for his friends to get used to, but if Potter's haven't made a great deal of it as of yet, his certainly shouldn't.

Potter slides into the vacant seat beside him, smiling over at Draco and causing his heart to skip wildly. For a split second he entertains the idea of jabbing his fork into his own chest, but quickly decides he wouldn't want to have to explain his reasoning to anyone.

Project is wrapped in a pink blanket, looking content as she chews on a toy Snitch when Potter picks her up and places her on his lap.

"How was practice?" Draco asks.

"Excellent," replies Potter. "We've got a new chaser on the team and she's amazing. We'll definitely be giving Slytherin a run for their galleons this year."

Draco can't help but smile. Potter will always have an affinity for Quidditch, and Draco finds his enthusiasm quite contagious. He smiles back despite the fact that he should be defending his house, and passes a carafe of pumpkin juice instead.

They talk casually about their day as if it's perfectly normal for the two of them to do so, and as Potter spoons carrots from his stew and drops them into Draco's and Draco fishes the sliced shallots from his bowl and places them in Potter's, he realises with a small jolt of horror that it actually isnormal—at least, for the two of them.

Pansy is absolutely gobsmacked as she watches the entire exchange with her forkful of potatoes frozen mid-way to her mouth. Draco pretends not to notice, though it would be impossible not to. She stares at them, motionless, for the better part of a half hour as they eat their dinner.

. . .

"Busy?" a hushed voice comes from behind Draco, sending a shiver up his spine.

He whips around, already wearing a small smile. It isn't until he sees the boy whom the voice belongs to that his expression falls into a frown. He doesn't know why he thought it was Potter; the two sound nothing alike. While Potter's voice is low and soft, with a barely discernible lilt of playfulness, Theo's voice is an octave higher, sharp and confident. He supposes the mistake was a combination of the deceitful tone and Draco's own wishful thinking.

"What does it look like?" Draco asks, dropping a book down on his stack.

Theo makes a show of peering around the side of Draco, pretending to actually consider his question.

"Looks like you may have some reading to do." He takes a small step toward Draco, smiling down at his lips as he licks his own.

Draco frowns in confusion, wondering for a brief moment if Theodore actually means to kiss him. He takes an unconscious step backwards and it isn't until Theo matches his confused expression that he realises he's even done it.

"Is something the matter?" asks Theo.

Draco opens his mouth to respond, but words seem to fail him.

Is there something the matter? he wonders.

By all reason, there shouldn't be, but he finds his disappointment in the fact that it's Theo who's now gazing at him with a mixture of mischief andneed rather than Potter is quite surprising.

He shakes his head, answering Theo's question and attempting to clear his thoughts at the same time.

Draco's got no reasonable excuse to turn down any advances from Theodore. Figuring guilt isn't an actual excuse, that is. He's got nothing to feel guilty about, after all. Just because they're getting on well and Draco has found himself stupidly attracted to Potter, and just because they've been tossed together in a strange little made-up family doesn't mean that Draco has any obligations to Potter.

"I thought you looked like you could use some…company," says Theo, one corner of his mouth quirking into a wicked smile. "Fancy a quick shag?"

Draco smiles back this time. He thinks perhaps it would be a good idea to fuck Nott tonight, anyway; relieve a bit of the one-sided tension that's been building up lately. Perhaps it'll help to clear his mind once again, making it easier to think straight around Potter.

"Isn't 'quick' the only option with you?" Draco asks, picking his books up off the table and shoving them back into his bag.

"Ouch," replies Theo. "Cheap shot, Malfoy."

"I'm up for it," Draco says, ignoring Theo's attempt at feigning injured pride. "As long as you don't talk." He's not sure how well he'd handle another round of disappointment at the sound of the wrong voice.

Potter has taken Project down to the game keeper's hut for his promised visit, after which, he'll be spending the evening in Hogsmeade with Weasley and Longbottom and their respective puffskein charges. He asked Draco along for dinner, but the whole thing seemed a bit too bizarre for him to take seriously. He said he would consider it, it would certainly be a comical sight to see, but he'll have to pass on Potter's invitation.

. . .

Theo makes small talk as they walk the long corridor to the tower. Draco doesn't bother to listen to what he has to say. He isn't particularly interested in what Theodore and Hanna Abbott have got up to in the stairwell while their puffskein is sleeping.

The silvery form of Moaning Myrtle drifts up to them as they turn into the tower, effectively putting an end to Theo's blathering. She's got her usual teasing smirk on her lips as she approaches, but as her eyes rest on Theo, her smile wanes. Draco has to snicker at this, recognising the reaction to be the very one he had upon seeing Theo tonight in the library.

"Not very nice, I'm afraid," she says as she moves around them, examining Theo with a critical eye. She stops circling and hovers in front of Draco, even though he hasn't stopped his ascent. "I don't think Harry would approve of the company you keep while he's away."

"Oi! What's wrong with the company?" Theo asks.

"Look," Draco says to her, ignoring Theo altogether. "Potter isn't my boyfriend, all right? I don't owe him anything."

The room is warm and stuffy when Draco pushes the door open. They haven't left the window open since Project had been sick, not wanting to risk a relapse. Draco wishes now that he had, though, as he's suddenly finding it almost hard to breathe.

He's more irritated than he rightfully should be by the hand on his lower back guiding him to the edge of the bed.

"That's Potter's," he says as he steers them toward the other.

"So?" says Theo, his hands both on Draco now, moving slowly around his waist and fiddling with his belt.

Draco sighs, squeezes his eyes shut tightly, and swats the clumsy hands away to finish the task on his own.

Theo chuckles from close behind him, slipping his hands up the back of Draco's shirt.

Draco shivers at the feel of them on his bare skin, rough and cold and nothing at all like he imagines Potter's would be.

"Fuck," he whispers, frustrated with himself for thinking of Potter at such a time.

Theo takes this as an invitation to get on with it. He slips one hand down the front of Draco's trousers, rubbing his cock through his pants while the other hand caresses Draco's stomach. Draco feels the warmth of Theo's breath against his neck and he wonders for the second time tonight if Theo actually intends to kiss him. Draco isn't sure how he would feel about that anymore. When Theo presses his mouth to Draco's shoulder, it certainly isn't for the kiss Draco half expected. Instead, he parts his lips and scrapes his teeth along Draco's skin.

Theo pushes Draco's trousers and pants down over his hips, leaving him completely naked and exposed.

"Turn around," he says. "I want to see you."

Draco suppresses an irritated groan but does as he's asked.

"I want to taste you," Theo breathes, and now (finally)Draco's cock takes some interest.

In true Theodore Nott fashion, he wastes no more time with touching and foreplay. Dropping to his knees, he grips Draco's thighs, kneading gently before dragging his tongue up Draco's shaft.

As Draco watches his cock slip past those gorgeous, full lips into the familiar heat of his mouth, he thinks that perhaps it's okay for Theo to not be gay, so long as he's not gay with Draco once in a while when the occasion strikes him to explore his options.

Draco looks down at the messy head of dark hair and nearly comes at the sight. He refuses to allow himself to even pretend for one second that it's Potter who's sucking him off. Somehow, it just seems it would be wrong. All the fantasies Draco has allowed himself to have about Potter involved kissing and touching, among plenty of other things; not just shallow need or primal instincts.

Closing his eyes, Draco tips his head back, relishing the feel of a hot, wet mouth around him. He's so lost in sensations that he almost doesn't feel the ripple of magic as the door is pushed open.

Almost. But he does feel it, and his eyes snap open just in time to witness Potter's horrified expression. His arms are full of books and puffskein-baby products, which explains why he'd used magic to open the door.

He nearly drops Project in his haste to retreat, but manages to keep hold of her, casting Draco one last look of utter disgust and loathing as he exits, leaving the door wide open.

. . .

He doesn't see Potter again until lunchtime the next day in the Great Hall. Potter watches Draco approach, but quickly looks away, refusing to acknowledge him even as Draco stops right beside him.

"You didn't come back last night," Draco says. "It was my turn to take Project while you slept."

Granger and Weasley stare at Potter, both wide-eyed and motionless as if waiting for something to spring lose.

"I managed fine without you, thanks," Potter replies, pushing his plate away and standing.

"That isn't the point," Draco begins, but his words are cut short by a sharp look from Potter.

"Go fuck yourself, Malfoy," he says, voice so full of hate that it nearly knocks Draco backwards.

Granger's jaw drops at Potter's casual use of such foul language, but she says nothing as he walks away.

Draco stares after him for a moment, unable to wrap his mind around what's just transpired. When finally he comes back to his senses, Granger and Weasley are gathering their friend's belongings.

"Don't," Draco says. "I'll get his things to him. Just…just leave them."

Weasley glares at him, but stops what he's doing. Draco scoops up Project and all of Potter's belongings and heads out of the Great Hall after him.

He knows Potter has an afternoon Herbology class today, so he doesn't bother following him out the front doors of the castle. Instead, he takes Project back to the tower to wait.

Potter doesn't come home, which leads Draco to wonder when exactly this ridiculous little room at the top of the tower became "home," and why in the fuck he cares, anyway.

Project squeaks and gurgles from within her cradle, and when Draco doesn't respond, she begins to sob, demanding his attention.

He supposes it's been a long afternoon for both of them with Draco doing little more than moping about and pacing the room. He doesn't even knowwhy he's in such a foul mood. It isn't like he hasn't spent plenty of time on Potter's bad side but usually, he at least has a solid grasp of what he had done to anger him (and it had almost always been on purpose). Sure, Potter has the right to be cross with him. It's their shared quarters that Draco was fooling around with Theo in, after all. But over the last two months, Draco and Potter seem to have settled in with each other surprisingly well. They get on fine, do homework together, read to each other, stay up late into the night talking (even after Project has fallen asleep), they've even begun spending their one "free" day per week with one another when the whole point to said free day is to get the hell away from one's fake family.

It's odd how easily they've fallen into this routine together, how natural it's become for them to rely on each other.

Ridiculous, really, Draco thinks as he pats Project and continues to pace the room. The crying doesn't stop and it's well into the night before Draco finally gives up all hope of Potter coming to the rescue—for either of them.

"Looks like it's just you and me tonight," he tells Project as he tries (yet again) to get her to take a bottle.

Her cries are alternating between shallow, weak sobs and full-on wails. Draco doesn't understand how she hasn't exhausted herself yet. Justlistening to her is exhausting to him. He even tries lying her down on his bed beside him just to give his arms a rest. Nothing seems to work.

In his tiredness and frustration, he suddenly finds himself angry with Potter.

He should be here. This is their project to care for together, and Potter knows that Draco is pants at getting the damn thing to go to sleep. Besides, it was Potter's turn to read to them.

"I don't know where he is, all right?" he says to Project (but mostly to himself). "And I don't care."

The angry tone of his voice only causes more crying and finally Draco gets up and moves them both to Potter's bed.

Perhaps the smell of him alone will be enough to relax the hysterical creature. He builds a nest of Potter's pillows, placing Project in the centre before stretching out beside it. After a few minutes, the crying does subside for the most part, and with it, Draco's frustration. He can't say for certain if it's because of Potter's bed and the comfort of his scent (for either of them), or just sheer exhaustion and loss of will to fight, but eventually, they both fall asleep.

It feels like only moments later when Draco is awoken by Potter shoving at his shoulder roughly.

"Get up, Malfoy," he says, tone unkind. "You'll be late for class if you don't get moving."

Draco drags himself out of bed, too tired to do anything but glare at Potter.

. . .

The next week is a long one. In fact, if Draco hadn't been paying such close attention to the calendar, he would swear that the days were moving backwards.

He tries to keep to himself, but the assignment does require quite a bit of interaction between him and Potter. Their time spent together is now mostly in the open, neutral area of their common room (with plenty of witnesses at all times).

He and Potter seem to be back on the same footing they'd started off on at the beginning, not speaking to each other unless absolutely necessary, snapping at one another over the most ridiculous little things, sitting at opposite ends of their study table in the library as they each do their homework separately.

Draco despises the weakness he feels inside over the whole situation. He is absolutely not attached to Potter, but the ache in his chest would certainly suggest otherwise.

He glances up from his essay and catches Potter glaring at him, hate radiating off of him even at this distance. Draco has no idea what it is that he's done to earn himself such high levels of contempt from the Chosen Pillock, but two can most definitely play at this game.

He gets up, storming out of the library and sending Potter's papers falling to the floor with an angry flick of his wand as he passes. He doesn't bother looking back, but he smiles in satisfaction as he pictures Potter on the ground gathering them all up and trying to put them back into order.

"Oh, that was very mature," says Pansy, rushing to catch up with him.

"He started it," replies Draco. He doesn't bother slowing his pace.

"And so was that," she says with a chuckle. "Honeymoon's over, I take it?"

"If by 'honeymoon,' you mean temporary truce, it would seem so."

"What happened, Draco? Aren't you going to tell me?" Pansy grabs hold of Draco's arm in an attempt to gain his attention.

She manages to earn herself a sharp warning glare and a clipped "Nothing happened" as he jerks his arm free of her grasp. "We weren't friends when this began. Why is it so surprising that we aren't now?"

"Oh, bollocks," says Pansy. "You certainly looked like friends. More than that, if you ask me."

"I didn't ask you." Draco ignores her next rebuttal as he makes his way down the corridor.

He just wants to be left alone to seethe (or pout or sulk or whatever the fuck he wishes). The universe, it seems, has other plans for him, though. He's next met with the obstacle of a more-annoying-than-usual Myrtle attempting to block his path.

"That wasn't a very nice thing to do," she says.

Draco continues to walk past her. "I've never given the impression that I'm nice."

"Of course you have," she replies. "You forget that I know you, Draco. And it might surprise you to learn that I actually know him, too."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"The funny thing about boys is that they talk when they think nobody is listening. And," Myrtle flips a braid over her shoulder and schools her features into a disdainful frown, "lucky me, I've always been rather good at appearing to be nobody."

. . .

Another week passes in which Draco and Potter refuse to even be in the same vicinity as one another (Draco is told that Potter is staying in Weasley's room). Even Granger is getting tired of it, which is really saying something considering the fact that she's still buried neck-deep in WAFT campaigning. The morale in the eighth year common room is surprisingly low, but Draco isn't so presumptuous to think it's because of the two of them. That is, until the new Gryffindor chaser corners him outside of the potions lab one afternoon threatening to turn Draco's bits to a set of earrings if he doesn't fix Potter's "sulking, bullshit attitude." He doesn't have time to process the threat as his focus seems to be fixed on the curl of her lips as she snarls at him. He thinks that (maybe?) she might be missing a front tooth (or several), but he can't really tell through the fine mist of spit flying from her angry mouth.

He ignores her (nervously), and makes his way to the library to finish journaling the week's experience with Project and his hostile partner.

He hates to think that his sleepless nights (even when he doesn't have Project) and his irritability are due to the fact that he misses Potter, but he'd be a fool to deny it, even to himself.

Draco is tired of being harassed and blamed by their peers for Potters lousy mood. Has no one noticed that he, too, hasn't quite been himself? It isn't all his fault that the idiot refuses to be around him. Draco isn't the one who left their shared room in an attempt to escape. Nevertheless, he finds himself the centre of attention each time he walks into the crowded common room, people glaring at him and whispering behind their hands.

Between Granger and the WAFT clan, Bitching-and-Moaning Myrtle, Possibly-Toothless Chaser, and now even Pansy (the traitorous bint), Draco has scarcely a moment to himself for studying. As he makes his way down the fourth floor corridor toward the tower, he sees Pansy talking to a nearly-invisible Myrtle. They glance his way, but Draco quickly ducks into a nearby cupboard, carefully clicking the door shut behind him.

It actually looks like a good place to do a bit of studying, he thinks. It's a long and narrow broom cupboard with a small window high up at the end, allowing for the perfect amount of daylight. Draco blows dust off of one empty shelf and drops his bag onto it. The wall at the back of the cupboard (more like storage room, as it's quite a bit larger than just a cupboard) is lined with old broken and worn-down school brooms, some of which are chained to the bricks of the wall as if the confiscator had been worried about someone trying to Accio them, which, he realises, is probably exactly the case now that he recalls Potter's success with the Dragon egg task during the Triwizard Tournament in fourth year.

There isn't much for him to conjure a chair out of, but he's sure he can make something a bit more comfortable than the floor out of perhaps a shelf, so Draco reaches for his wand to do just that. But, of course (of fucking course!) his wand isn't where it should be. Nor is the damn thing anywhere in his bag, he concludes after dumping its contents onto the floor and rummaging through them.

He must have dropped it in his haste to get out of the line of sight in the corridor. Draco wraps his fingers around the doorknob before pressing his ear to the solid wood to listen for unwanted company. Hearing nothing, he decides to risk it, but when he turns the doorknob, nothing happens. There's no click of a release, no catch on a spring that should very well be present; the handle just turns and turns and turns. He's stuck, with no wand, and no hope of escaping on his own.

Draco wrings his hands, pacing back and forth in the limited space before the door, willing himself to not panic. It isn't like there's a lack of air in the small room, and with it being barely past lunch, he's got plenty of daylight left. He's a bit more relieved when the realisation of the fact that it's Saturday washes over him. Saturdays are always the Gryffindor's Quidditch practice day. Though Draco isn't sure what time they hold practice, he knows Potter will come looking for him. Even if he refuses to speak to Draco, they still have an assignment to do together, and Potter will expect him to take Project while he's at practice.

Comforted by this knowledge, Draco allows himself to relax a little. He slides down the floor, back against the wall, and pulls a book out of his bag. He may as well get some studying done until he hears people out in the hall beyond the door.

. . .

Barely an hour has gone by when Draco does, despite his own resolve, begin to panic a bit. The cupboard is hot, which is unusual for a drafty old castle. Perhaps Draco is only imagining the heat in his worry. He takes his school robes off, casting them to the ground and rolling up his sleeves before combing his fingers through his hair.

He wonders how much longer he'll be trapped in there. What if Potter decides to have Myrtle watch Project and doesn't bother coming to look for Draco after all? It wouldn't be the first time. Would anyone else notice his absence? Did Pansy and Myrtle actually see him out in the corridor? Arethey responsible for his current predicament?

He's about to start yelling for help when suddenly the door opens with an oomph and Potter comes stumbling in.

"Wait!" Draco calls as he scrambles to his feet. "Don't shut the–"

The door slams closed behind a tired looking Potter.

"What?" he asks, turning around and grabbing the doorknob.

"It's no use," says Draco. "Won't open that way. You'll have to use your wand."

Potter looks confused, brushing sweat-dampened hair off of his forehead and examining the room from his place by the door. "I don't have my wand," he replies.

"You what? What do you mean you don't have your wand? How could the Great and Powerful Harry bloody Potter be caught out without his wand?"

"Get stuffed, Malfoy. I was at Quidditch practice and dropped my gear—wand included—just outside this room before coming in here."

"Why in the hell were you coming into an old unused broom cupboard, anyway? Homesick?" Draco's words are meant to sting a little—he knows of Potter's past with his awful family since the night they stayed up sharing stories of their childhood—but he still isn't prepared for the fleeting look of hurt that passes over Potter's face, quickly replaced by anger.

Draco watches silently as Potter moves about the small space in search of an alternate escape. The window is too high up (from both inside and out), and after carefully examining each broom, Potter seems to decide that none of them would fly anyway.

"Someone did this on purpose," Potter says as he tries the door for the hundredth time.

"Not just a pretty face, then, eh?" says Draco. "Genius, too, aren't you?"

Potter shoots Draco a look of surprise, staring for a moment before pressing his eyes shut and sliding to the floor.

"I can't be trapped in here," he says. "I'll die."

Draco flinches at the sting in his tone. Surely Potter can't hate him so much that even a short while in confined quarters with Draco would mean certain death. Haven't they come a long way from that, after all?

"I'm so thirsty," says Potter. "I knew I should have gone straight to the Great Hall after practice."

Draco almost feels sorry for Potter. He remembers what it was like to finish with hours of Quidditch practice and be absolutely parched, desperate to get to a nice, cold glass of water.

"Shouldn't have skipped lunch," he replies bitterly, apparently not feeling sorry enough for Potter to not feel the need to be a twat. "I hardly ate a thing, but filled up on ice cold pumpkin juice. I'm practically sloshing over here," he says, exaggerating the truth for no reason other than to be an arse. "Poor Potter."

He expects Potter to get angry, rise to the bait and call him every name he can come up with (perhaps Draco just misses hearing his voice), but he doesn't. Instead, he stares at the wall across from him blankly, tongue slipping out and tracing along his lower lip.

Draco is now entirely convinced this is a plot against him. No accident or coincidence could possibly be so cruel.

"Where's Project?" he asks when Potter doesn't say anything.

"Project isn't a name," replies Potter.

"Neither is Harry."

They glare at each other.

"Myrtle has her. She'll probably come looking for us if we don't turn up soon."

. . .

By the look of the shadows stretching across the storage cupboard from the light of the small window, Draco can tell that hours have passed. Potter looks miserable; exhausted and beaten and not really focused at all.

For a moment, Draco thinks Potter may be projecting his own sleep and water deprived delusions onto him as a silvery form appears in the room above them. It's hard to see with the angle of light coming through the window, but as Draco blinks his eyes into focus, the form speaks, revealing that it's actually Moaning Myrtle.

"You boys are still here?" she says with a giggle.

"You knew we were here this whole time?" asks Draco. "What are you waiting for? Go get help!"

"Now now," she says, waving a disapproving finger at Draco as she narrows her eyes at him. "I told you, boys only bother to talk when no one is around to listen. I thought this would be best for you both. Alone in a cupboard, no prying eyes or meddling friends. Just the two of you." She laughs again, a sound that serves to elevate Draco's anger with her. "So kiss and make up, or you'll be in here forever. You boys are really making this much more difficult than it needs to be."

"Where's Tia?" asks Potter.

"Who the hell is Tia?" Draco snaps, not even concerned about the level of jealousy that he's showing.

Potter groans, not bothering to look at Draco. "The puffskein, you nitwit."

"Oh. Where the hell did you get Tia from?" asks Draco.

Potter shrugs one shoulder. "You," he replies. "You suggested Accidentia Mistakey, so I just shortened it to Tia."

"Your puffy is just fine," Myrtle says. "I wouldn't let anything bad happen to her."

"Go get Hermione, Myrtle," says Potter. "We need to get out of here. I need water. I'm dehydrated."

Myrtle rolls in the air above them as she laughs at this. "And why should that be any concern of mine?" she asks. "I've told you before, Harry Potter, if you die, I'll be more than happy to share my toilet with you."

Potter leans back against the wall again, his eyes half closed and breathing shallow. "Just get me some fucking water then, if you insist we stay here."

"Oh, it isn't me," she replies. "It's the two of you who are being too stubborn to see what everyone else sees. If you want out, you only have to be honest with yourselves."

With another gleeful laugh, Myrtle disappears through the wall toward the corridor.

Potter and Draco stare at each other for a long while, neither saying anything, each of them just trying to evaluate their situation and, maybe (for Draco, anyway) determine exactly what Myrtle had meant.

Potter's lips part as if he means to say something, but just before he's had the chance, a loud crack sounds from near the shelf. There's no house-elf to be seen, but upon a neatly polished silver platter, there are two small glasses of water. Condensation trails down the side of each glass and Draco barely has time to register how refreshing it looks before Potter has taken a glass and drunk the entire thing in one large gulp.

He sighs in satisfaction, but still looks quite thirsty and spent. Potter closes his eyes, tilting his head back against the wall. Draco notices how dry his usually-soft looking lips have gone, and notes that he must really be dehydrating.

"Here," he says, doing his best to keep his tone as bitter as possible. He hands Potter the other glass of water.

Potter lifts his head slowly, his eyes distant but still so full of disdain.

"Take it before I change my mind," Draco snaps. It's easier to maintain anger than it is to show weaknesses like sympathy.

Potter licks his lips again, but doesn't move from his spot.

"I'm not going to nurse you. If you want the damn water, you'll have to take it."

"You may need that," says Potter.

"I've already told you, I'm full on pumpkin juice from lunch."

Potter looks like he means to argue more, but then he presses his lips together, nods once, and accepts the offered glass.

"Thank you," he whispers.

His voice sounds weak; not from hunger or thirst, not even from exhaustion. The look in his eyes tells Draco that it's more from having to swallow his pride and say those two words to someone he'd rather spit on.

Draco nods, leaning back against the wall and resting his arms on his drawn-up knees.

They're silent for a long while afterwards and Draco can't tell if Potter is sleeping or just keeping to himself to avoid another exhausting exchange. He guesses it's most likely the latter excuse, as that's the reason he himself has said nothing.

The quiet is interrupted by Draco finally, unable or unwilling to pretend he's trapped in this cupboard alone any longer.

"How are we going to get out of this?" he asks.

"We'll have to talk, sort things out between us, I suppose," says Potter.

"Is there something to sort between us?" asks Draco.

Potter nods. "Yes. Plenty, actually."

Draco is more than a little surprised by the calm, almost subdued tone of Potter's voice.

"We could start with the thingthat ruined everything."

Draco looks up in surprise to find Potter watching him intently, completely focused and more alert now than he had been since entering the storage cupboard hours ago.

"Ruined…everything?" Draco says dumbly. "What on earth are you talking about, Potter?"

"You and Nott and your stupid…blowjob," says Potter, clearly surprising himself if the look on his own face is any indication.

Draco nearly chokes on a laugh. Talk about straight to the point, he thinks.

"That isn't your business," Draco says when his surprised laughter dies down.

"Well," replies Potter. He looks like he's horrified at the sound of his own voice. "It bothers me. And…and I thought you should know." His jaw clenches and his nostrils flair.

He can't tell if Potter is more angry with Draco or himself.

"And why does it bother you so much?" Draco asks, his own fists clenched now. He knows he shouldn't be provoking Potter, but it's just so easy. "Is it because you want me for yourself?"

"Maybe!"

"Maybe?" Draco asks, his voice faltering at the end of the word, making it come out as more of a question than the angry statement he had intended. "Maybe?" he repeats after Potter's response has finally reached his awareness.

Potter shrugs, his indignant expression giving way to uncertainty as he casts his gaze to the wall beside them.

"Maybe," he repeats more quietly now, timid. "Maybe I want that with you…more, I mean." Potter still isn't looking at Draco. His eyes seem to be on anything but as he drags himself to his feet and tries the door again.

Draco is flabbergasted. His thoughts are spinning in a hundred different directions, most of which lead to the conclusion that Potter is (must be) taking the piss. He's too shocked, too sceptical to even speak. He simply sits there, staring at Potter in silence and utter disbelief.

"I don't mean shared custody of some strange and needy creature, either. I want..." Potter swallows nervously, shakes his head, then forces his gaze to meet Draco's. "I want you. Just to myself. Without Pansy or Nott or...Tia."

"Project," Draco corrects for lack of a better response. His mind is still reaching desperately to catch hold of Potter's words.

"Damn it, Myrtle!" Potter shouts, slamming his fist against the solid wood of the door.

Draco flinches at the sickening crack that he knows is not the oak giving way.

"Fuck," Potter says quietly, sounding defeated as he rests his head against the door and drops his injured hand to his side.

He glances up as Draco approaches him and, surprisingly, doesn't even bother to pull away when he takes Potter's hand and begins to examine it.

"Is it broken?" he asks. There's definitely several small cuts from the force of the impact, but he can't really tell if any of Potter's bones have suffered the same fate as his skin.

"Yes," replies Potter with a shrug. "Feels like it, anyway." His eyebrows crinkle in confusion. "She put something in my water," he says quietly.

Draco's eyes snap up to meet his. "What?" he asks.

"Myrtle. She…I think she put Veritaserum in the water. Something isn't right."

"How would she even get a hold of," Draco begins. "Oh shit," he says as his own thoughts cut his words short. The N.E.W.T. level potions class has been brewing Veritaserum. Draco looks at Potter, still holding the bleeding hand between his own, and then he smiles. So, you mean to tell me…"

"Draco," says Potter. "Please don't."

"Draco? Oh, Merlin. This could be so fun."

"Or emotionally traumatising." Potter snatches his hand away and takes a step back. "Please, I know it'll be difficult for you, but don't do anything stupid."

"Stupid?" Draco asks, taking a step closer. "Me? Why, Chosen One, what could I possibly do that would be stupid?" This is just too good to let rest. Clearly Myrtle had intended to get the two of them to confess some deep secret affection for one another, but she didn't take into account that Draco actually might not drink the water.

"Don't call me that," Potter says, managing to evade Draco's actual question without even realising it.

"What would you prefer I call you?" Draco is close now, so close he can see the slight tremble of Potter's lips with every exhaled breath.

"Just Harry," Potter replies. "You…" he swallows nervously, his gaze flicking down to Draco's lips and then back up to his eyes again. "You always call Nott 'Theo,' I want that. I want you to call me by my given name."

Just when Draco didn't think he could possibly be more surprised, he is. He can't believe his luck. Potter is actually confessing his desires to Draco (and they involve Draco!).

"Okay, Harry," says Draco. That name on his tongue sends a shiver up his spine, and it would seem Potter has the same reaction.

He shudders slightly, leaning back against the wall and nearly smiling through his nervousness.

"I should probably ask, since you're inclined to tell the truth, if it's okay for me to take advantage of this situation, or if you would really rather I didn't ask you anything at all."

Potter shakes his head, and then nods, then presses his fingers up under his glasses and groans in frustration. "I don't know," he says.

Draco takes a step back. He finds the whole situation rather funny, but if Potter is at all uncomfortable, he doesn't want to press.

"No, don't do that."

"Don't do what?" asks Draco. "Don't ask you anything? Don't come too near?"

"Don't back away." He still looks almost pained as he speaks, and it makes Draco want to hunt Myrtle down and make her pay.

"Why didn't you drink the water?" Potter asks. Obviously he'd be far more comfortable if Draco were in his same state of vulnerability.

"I wasn't thirsty, and I wanted you to have it."

"This isn't fair."

Draco returns to his side of the cupboard, masking his disappointment with a small laugh. Potter's right. It really isn't fair for him.

"You can trust me to be truthful with you, Harry, even if I haven't taken a potion for it."

"How do I know that?" asks Potter. "How do I know you'll be honest with me just because I'm being forced to be honest with you?"

Draco turns and looks at him, watching as Potter's gaze traces the line of Draco's jaw, coming to rest on his lips again. "You obviously trust me on some level you aren't consciously aware of."

"Oh? What makes you say that?" Potter asks as he pushes himself off the wall now.

"Because, Potter. You told me without any prompting on my part that you thought Myrtle had slipped Veritaserum into your water. If you didn't trust me with that information, you would have most certainly kept it to yourself."

Another long silence stretches out between them as Potter considers this. "Oh," he finally replies. "I guess you're right then. So, what now?"

"What do you want now?" Draco asks, not really meaning to bait Potter, but pleased it came out anyway.

Potter smiles timidly, causing Draco's chest to tighten at the sight. "I'd like to kiss you. Just…for starters."

On second thought, maybe he doesn't want to make Myrtle pay. In fact, maybe he should request that Project is to be given to her once the assignment is over and the Charm is lifted. She could probably use the company, after all.

Draco smiles, finding himself surprisingly happy for the first time in a while. His heart is skipping wildly in his chest and suddenly his mouth feels far too dry to be able to kiss Potter at all, but he thinks (Oh, God, he hopes) that he'll manage.

He nods. "Do you have to ask, though?"

"Yes," says Potter with a laugh. "Apparently I do. I guess I needed to know that it'll be mutual, or consensual, or…I dunno. I just. I want you. And, since I'm being brutally honest, I sort of also want to re-kill Myrtle."

"Right. And since I'm being honest, I can say that I pretty much stopped listening to you around the time you mentioned a kiss. And yet I'm still waiting."

Potter crosses the small space slowly, stopping just in front of Draco, so close he can smell him (sweat and Quidditch leathers and boy).

Draco searches his eyes for a moment, still not entirely convinced this isn't some hoax or dream. Before he has any more time to consider it, Potter's lips are on his, soft despite how dry they looked so recently, warm. He slips one hand around Draco's waist, the other (the injured hand) gently resting on the side of his neck.

With a click, the door swings open beside them. Neither of them bother to look as they hear giggling coming from out in the corridor. If Draco had to guess, he would say it's most certainly Myrtle and Pansy, possibly even Granger, too, but they don't break apart long enough to turn their heads.

Draco moves closer to Potter, pressing their bodies together as he deepens the kiss. He pushes his fingers up into Potter's hair (something he's wanted to do for quite some time now), which causes a soft moan to escape Potter, much to Draco's delight. It would seem Harry does like to be kissed and touched and, oh, could Draco ever get used to this.

They pull apart for a moment to catch their breath, hands and fingers still touching, exploring slowly. Potter's fingers brush along the pale, unmarked expanse of Draco's forearms as he stares down.

He lifts Draco's hands in the space between them, turning them up so that he has an unobstructed view of Draco's wrists.

Surprise, confusion, and relief are all present in Potter's expression when finally he looks back up to Draco's face. Draco shrugs one shoulder, unsure of what (if anything at all) to say.

Potter looks down at Draco's left arm again, dragging his hand over the smooth skin there as if rubbing it may reveal a hidden Dark Mark.

"I never had it," says Draco.

This somehow earns a very agreeable reaction from Potter as suddenly his mouth is on Draco's again, hot and sweet and perfect as he pulls Draco against him and groans in satisfaction.

"It's about time," one of the girls call from out in the corridor.

Potter reaches over and slams the door shut again.